Monday, October 27, 2008

Judging, Sayville

For the second time since becoming a KCBS certified judge, I judged a contest this past weekend. It was the battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, Long Island, New York. This experience reminded me again that I am really a cook, not a judge.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I respect those who come and judge BBQ contests. They take time out of their lives, and spend in some cases a great deal on gas or hotels to come and serve as a judge, and do not get paid for their efforts. From what I have seen, most come and make their best effort to be fair and judge each entry on its merits. They have an important role in BBQ and I appreciate them as a cook.

The only thing that really bothers me about the judges in the two contests that I have done is that many will take the tiniest nibble of their food, then pack all the rest into plastic bags and coolers to bring home. This process kind of creeps me out. I picture them sitting down to dinner with the family, with this nice platter of BBQ with one bite out of each piece at the center of their dining room table.


They should not allow judges to take food they have scored home. I feel the judges that only take the tiny bite are not doing the cooks any good by doing that. They should take at least one big bite, maybe two. Maybe bite both sides of the rib. But saving any of the entry to bring home should not be an option.

I would rather that they require 10 samples in the box, so there is extra food for judges to bring home afterwards.

But that is not my biggest problem with judging. One of the main reasons I like to cook BBQ contests is being there for the weekend, seeing friends, enjoying adult beverages and what not. And of course, the actual cooking of the food, and the challenge of cooking it just right.

When you judge, it is different. You arrive Sunday morning, and you are not allowed to converse with the teams. You can kind of walk past and wave, but you are not really supposed to stop at anyone's site and talk to them. Then, when it is over, it is also hard to visit with anyone. The teams are all in breakdown mode, they have been there all weekend, and really all they want to do is get their gear packed up so they can get out of there as soon as the awards are over. You kind of feel like you're in the way.

However, the hardest part for me yesterday was the drive. Out the door at 5:30 a.m. and it was two and a half hours to get to my brother's place in Montrose, New York to pick him up. Then, another two hours driving to Sayville. We decided to stay until the awards were handed out, but it turned out they were not scheduled to begin until five and didn't actually start until 5:30. We didn't get on the road until 6:30, and it was just before midnight that I walked in my door at home. And because I took the SUV, I spent around $60 on gas alone.

When I judge in the future, it will be a lot closer to home.

Oh yeah, the food. I'm not going to be one of the haters who says "everything was terrible." There was some of what I consider to be bad BBQ, but I also tried some really good food. One of the rib entries was outstanding, and we didn't have any really tough brisket out of all 6 entries. Several chicken entries were good too, with both nice flavor and bite through skin.

The worst entries of the day were two of the pork turn ins. Both had the appearance of cat food, this cold, mushy pile of unappetizing pork. Both tasted a little better than they looked, but all at our table agreed that these were the worst two entries of the entire day.

I do take my judging responsibility seriously though. I feel that my scoring is fair, accurate and thoughtful. I don't give out too many 9's, but I also don't give out many 5's either. I actually did give a 4 yesterday, it was a rib that was so tough you could barely bite it.

So in the end, it was an OK day. The weather was nice, and it was nice to visit with friends, and see Clint and Smoke In Da Eye win the contest. However, all things being equal, I would have rather picked up some BBQ from one of the local slop joints, spent the day with Sheila and Max, and watched the Giants-Steelers game on the plasma.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Big Week In BBQ

It's a big week in the BBQ world, and for the most part Q Haven will be on the sidelines for it.

This Thursday through Saturday is the Jack Daniel's World Invitational BBQ, which in my opinion is the most prestigious BBQ contest there is. There are others that are bigger, that have larger payouts, but no contest is harder to get into than The Jack. In case there are any readers who are not aware how it works, you have to win a state championship to even have a chance to go to the Jack. If there are more than one championships in a state, there is a draw to determine which team goes. Some states like Vermont only have one, so they are an automatic qualifier. Others, like Missouri have more than 30 contests each year, so winning that draw is much more difficult.

Q Haven qualified for The Jack by winning our second ever contest in 2006. However, we have not won a contest since. I would really like to go back someday.

Also this weekend is the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, NY. We cooked this contest last year and had a great time, but we have so much going on with Max, and it turns out Sheila will be in California Friday and Saturday anyway, that I decided not to cook it this year. However, my brother Cristiaan and I will be heading down to judge on Sunday. It will be fun to see everyone, but I would much rather be cooking.

So when is our next contest? I don't know. I hear the "Freeze Your Butt Off" contest is going to happen again this winter. I'll probably cook it if it happens. In the meantime, there will be lots of practice...

To read about Q Haven's 2006 trip to "The Jack" click HERE

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pork, The Other White Meat

My competition pork recipe has been pretty much the same for the last two years. But it is very different from when I first started cooking BBQ.

When I got my first smoker, I started cooking pork using the "Mr Brown" recipe that I found at the Virtual Weber Bulletin Board web site. For someone first starting out cooking Q, this is a great recipe. By the time I cooked my first contest in May of 2006, my pork recipe had changed somewhat, but was still based on the Mr. Brown recipe. However, I turned the pork in without sauce at that contest. Here is the picture from the turn in box at Rhode Island.

To me, this box looked super dry. It scored 12th out of 21 teams.

The next contest we cooked, I changed it up and used pulled, chunks and slices of pork in the box. This took 13th out of 33 teams.

This box was kind of a mess looking at it now....and it is the only time I have ever turned in sliced pork.

Anyway, the next few contests, it was pretty much the same, with pork scoring in the middle of the pack. I knew that I had to make some changes to push it over the top. I made wholesale changes, using new rub and sauce, and I also started injecting. The first time I tried this recipe in competition was at the Jack Daniel's in 2006. It was our best BBQ result of the Jack, taking 20th place. Here it is....

Since then, the recipe has been tweaked and the presentations have changed, but overall my pork is pretty much the same. It has gotten some really good calls, including 3rd place out of 35 teams at Westport last month. While I love change and experimenting, this is one category I will be leaving alone, at least for now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Food Porn

Well, since everyone else is stealing the idea from Mike Boisvert of the Lakeside Smokers blog, I might as well do it too....

Grilled Swordfish with Lobster Cream Sauce

Monday, October 06, 2008

New England Represents at the Royal!

The New England teams that cooked at the American Royal in Kansas City this past weekend certainly represented well.

iQue finished 8th overall out of more than 400 teams in the open competition, and I Smell Smoke was 20th overall. Transformer BBQ took 11th place ribs out of the more than 400 teams. In the invitational, I Smell Smoke took 1st place in chicken.

After hearing so much about the Royal, I really want to cook it. Someday....

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

American Royal This Weekend

This weekend is the American Royal, certainly one of the biggest and most prestigious BBQ contests of the year. I have never cooked it or been to the Royal, but am planning to do so sometime in the future. We were qualified for the invitational contest in 2006, but had a vacation to Jamaica planned for the same week and decided to just go to the Jack.

New England will be well represented at the Royal. Transformer BBQ, I Smell Smoke!!! and iQue will all be cooking the Royal this year. Also, the Brothers in Smoke, Phil and BBQ from New York are making the trip.

Brendan and Julie Burek, Transformer BBQ

Chris Hart, iQue

Steve Farrin, I Smell Smoke!!!

Phil Rizzardi,

Good luck everyone!