Wednesday, April 30, 2008

KCBS Judging Class

This past weekend I attended the KCBS judging class at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club in Maynard, Massachusetts. I had wanted to attend a judging class for a long time, but this was the first time I was able to make it to one.

While I am planning to judge once in a while, I wanted to attend mostly as a cook. As a competition cook, we live and die by the scores given to us by judges. The ones that give us high scores are cheered, the ones who give low scores are cursed. I have to say, that I didn't learn a tremendous amount that will help me in competitions. But I did learn a lot overall.

When I arrived, it was good to see that Brendan Burek of Transformer BBQ and Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke!!! were going to be cooking for the class. At least I knew that we would be eating some good Q.

I was impressed to see that Mike Lake, President of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, had flown in from Illinois for the class. Since there were more than 80 new judges being trained, apparently the organization felt it was important for him to be there. I thought this was a great bonus for the people who attended the class.

Mike Lake and ubiquitous New England KCBS rep Ken Dakai instructed the class. They did a really good job of explaining the important role of the judges. I believe this was Ken's first judging class as an instructor, and he did a great job. I probably haven't said it before in this space, but Ken and his wife Kathy make a tremendous contribution to competition BBQ in the Northeast. They deserve a lot of credit for what they do, and it is appreciated.

While there were some experienced cooks there, clearly many of the attendees knew very little about competition BBQ. This was clear by many of the questions and the wide differential of scores early on in the class. The instructors did a good job of explaining how important it is to be consistent as a judge, and you could see the difference as the class went on.

However, there are a few people in the class that I hope my food never ends up at their table. One guy didn't want to give a score higher than a 5 for anything. Another guy was a bottomless pit of inane questions. But overall, I feel a lot of good judges have just entered the pool. As the class wrapped up, we took the oath of being a KCBS judge, which reads....

"I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each Barbeque meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be an Official KCBS Certified Judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbeque and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever."

And at that point, I became a certified KCBS judge! My name tag will be arriving soon in the mail, and I already have a hat with pins to wear when I judge. I expect to make my judging debut at the Peter's Pond contest in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in June.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This Weekend

Going up to Maynard, Massachusetts Sunday to get myself trained to be a certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judge. I've wanted to take a judging class for a long time now, but have not been able to make any of the classes that have been held in the area.

It should be interesting. I've cooked more than a dozen contests now, and this should be a good learning experience for me.

Also, officially submitted the application for the Oyster Bay grilling event May 10th on Long Island. I already have a good idea of what I am going to cook for three of the categories, which are chicken, beef steak and pork chops. Saturday, I'm going to do a practice run on oysters, which is the fourth category. Sheila will be in California for the weekend, so I have all day Saturday to cook and eat. Probably not the best thing for my waistline but it will be a great day of gluttony.

Something is holding me back from sending in the application for the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest June 20-22. Don't get me wrong, I really want to cook the contest, but Sheila will be into the 9th month of pregnancy and I'm really not sure being away for three days is the right thing to do. She could go into early labor or something and I would miss the whole thing.

Chances are, it will be fine, as her pregnancy has been going along well. Over the last month, she has seriously started showing, and the kid sure is moving around and kicking. It's becoming more and more real.

By the way, it's a boy, and his name will be Max.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Smoke and Steam

We have decided to enter the "Smoke and Steam" Grilling Contest" in Oyster Bay, Long Island New York on May 10th. We were unsure whether or not to enter this one, as Sheila will be around seven months pregnant about that time. However, since it is a grilling contest, we don't need to bring a whole lot, and it sounds like it will be a cool venue and event.
Now, time to figure out what to do with the oyster category!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

BBQ Guru Follow Up

I just wanted to follow up on Sunday's first cook with the BBQ Guru.

I loaded the charcoal pan for the Backwoods party pretty full with Kingsford and wood chunks, but I definitely could have gotten more in there. I set up the Guru blower, plugged everything in, and clipped the temperature probe in the middle of the cooking area. Third rack from the top.

I set the Guru temperature to 225 and started around 15 briquettes and placed them in the charcoal basket in the corner next to where the blower was. Slowly, the temperature climbed to 225, and it just stuck there. For three hours. Then I opened and foiled two racks, and left a third in unfoiled.

Closed back up, around 10 minutes later it was back at 225. Stayed there for another hour and a half.

Once the ribs were glazed and pulled, I closed up again and left it empty. Another hour at 225 until I decided to shut it down. Incredible. I can't wait to try this out on an overnight cook to see exactly how many hours it will go before having to add fuel. One thing is sure, I will be able to sleep very well at contests with the Guru minding the store.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Coolest Thing Ever

Maybe not ever but I love my new BBQ Guru! My brother gave me the Guru DigiQ 2 for my birthday last month,and the first cook with it is going on right now. Three racks of ribs going, I'll post some pictures afterwards.

Update: Didn't take a picture of the finished product, but they came out really good. Below is all that was left!

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I had meant to cook these at the Snowshoe, but ended up making them when we got back. So good!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Cooked the Snowshoe Grilling Challenge last weekend in Abington, Massachusetts. I felt pretty good about the recipe plans going into the event, but it just didn't work out well. The team list was strong, but I feel we could have done much better with better execution.

We got on site at around 7:30 AM. That was plenty early, as the only thing we were cooking that would take any time is the sausage fatty. The rest of the categories, fish, beef and vegetable, were all short cook recipes.

Our setup was bare bones. Since it was sunny, we didn't even take the pop up tent out of the Ford Explorer. Two tables, two plastic bins of supplies, one cooler. We fit everything for the event in our SUV, and didn't even have to tie anything to the roof. We did all the prep at home Friday night, so all we really had to do was show up and cook.
The fish category, I had planned to play it safe and do a grilled swordfish. That's something I have cooked many times before, and gotten several calls for it. However, while I was on the way to buy fish, Sheila called and pitched a recipe for a pistashio encrusted salmon. We talked about it and decided to give it a try.

How did it taste? Well, we will never know. I only purchased one large Atlantic salmon filet, and we cooked it whole, and turned the whole thing in. It was finished with a teriyaki glaze, which I had planned to drizzle from a squirt bottle. However, a chunk of the dice in the sauce clogged the top of the squirt bottle, and when it came out it blasted a huge blob of sauce on the fish. I tried to salvage the appearance but it didn't look that great.
The fish took 9th place out of 17 teams. I could not find a judge to admit having eaten it. It appeared to be very moist. If any judge cares to admit having it please shoot me an e-mail to and give me some feedback.

Next was sausage fatty. In case you do not know what that is, it is sausage (usually breakfast) either stuffed or mixed with cheese and other ingredients, then hit with some BBQ rub and smoked. I used my usual fatty recipe,and it just missed the mark, taking 6th place.

Next was beef of any kind. This was our worst category of the day. I cook steaks all the time, both at home and in grilling contests. However, with the strong team list, I decided to cook a tenderloin. I seared it, then roasted it with a gorganzola panko crust. Finished with a red wine reduction. I didn't have enough usable pieces so I had to half them, and the box did not look good. 12th place.

The final category was vegetables. We decided to make vegetable quesadillas, with Sheila's famous salsa, jalapenos, a blend of cheddar and jack cheeses, finished with a dallop of limed sour cream. We could have assembled these hours earlier. However, we didn't. We barely made the steak turn in time, and were scrambling to get these finished and in the box. Still, took 6th place.

So overall we got no calls and finished 9th place of the 17 teams. Could have been better. You can't make key mistakes like I did and expect to finish among the top teams that were at the event. While I was unhappy and a little embarrased by the showing, it's not the end of the world. We learned a lot and will be ready for the next one, whenever that is.