New England BBQ Society - Judging the Snowshoe
Way back on March 18th, Militant Squatter (Vinny), Smoker (Steve) and BrooklynQ (me) all of the BBQ-Brethren fame, drove up to Abington Massachusetts to judge at the New England BBQ Society's annual Snow Shoe Challenge.
We were supposed to meet at my house in Brooklyn at 5:30 AM (God - why do they start these events so early?) to make the cook's meeting in Abington at 11:00 AM. At 5:45 AM I called Smoker and was greeted with a sound asleep "Hello? Huh - Oh sh-t the alarm never went off" and a round of laughter. Smoker and Squatter were just a few minutes away.
So after a quick stop at the ATM and the gas station we hopped into Bagel Boy for some world famous Brooklyn Bagels with a schmear and were on the road. Little did I know that Smoker is some sort of right wing nut with Michael Savage's phone number programmed into his cell phone. But Smoker doesn't like talking politics. But that's alright, Smoker is a good guy. After four hours were we discussed everything from how to brine chicken to solving the world's crisis we arrived in Abington for the event.
The Snow Shoe Challenge is held on the grounds of the VFW hall in Abington. It is really a nice spot with a large parking lot, beautiful hall and large wooded fields in the back. The weather was a little cold, but it was a clear day and absolutely still.
We got there a bit early and introduced ourselves to the organizer,Gary of the world famous BBQ team Lunchmeat and wondered around among the teams. I've discovered that both Squatter and Smoker are a bit shy and I just whored myself while pushing Grillin' on the Bay, NYC's first sanctioned BBQ contest was being held to benefit the St. Mark Sports Association on March 25, 2006 in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn.
So after our judges meeting where we all swear to uphold barbecue and the American way of life, we sat down to do what we were there to do... Judge!
Now since this was not a KCBS sanctioned BBQ contest, the food categories are set by the contest organizers. For this event, the categories were, fish, beef, sausage and vegetable. Also, this event was judged by NEBS rules which are based on KCBS rules with some slight modifications.
For those of you not familiar with the KCBS judging process, each team cooks for a table of six judges. Each judge get's a judging plate where after critiquing the presentation box, the judge takes a sample of each box on put it in an assigned space on the plate. Only after all the samples are plated are you allowed to judge for taste and tenderness.
Smoker egged me on to take pictures of the turn-in boxes. I checked with the guy repping the contest and was told it was OK as long as it didn't interfere with the judging. So instead of taking pictures of the boxes, it was easier to take pics of my judging plate.
There were four categories...
From my left to right - that's Salmon with a BBQ sauce that overwhelmed the fish, Salmon with a nice rub, Chilean Sea Bass with a boring saffron sauce, Swordfish which was my favorite with a nice pepper/tomato salsa and a very good Salmon with some traditional BBQ flavorings..
From my left to right - Some sort of chicken with vegetable combo, A very good pork sausage that was ruined by the apple stuffing, A home made patty with lots of vegetables, chicken and pork I think, and A classic Italian pork sausage in gravy. (That's tomato sauce for you non-Italians or Brooklynites.)
From my left to right - Rib eye maybe with what tasted like canned gravy, Fillet migon with BBQ sauce - same sauce that was used on the first salmon entry, Fillet mignon with a tasteless bernaise sauce, Fillet mignon again with a parsley, lemon pesto which was tasty but overwhelmed the meat, and finally a flank steak that I really liked the flavor of but was really tough.
And finally vegetables...
From my left to right - That's a grilled stuffed portabello mushroom, stuffed with spinach, garlic, bread crumbs and cheese. The mushroom was overly marinated and tasted primarily of vinegar and the stuffing was tasteless. An over smoked stuffed tomato which was stuffed with an unrecognizable corn and bread mix. Stacked grilled white and blue potatoes held together with a rosemary stalk and sauced with a traditional scalloped potato sauce (It took third place). A good grilled sweet potato and red pepper mix. And finally a sweet potato pie tartlet topped with Merigne with chocolate covered cherries, which took first place.
Here's a pic of the turn in box when it got to my end of the table of the sweet potato tartlets...
Now - is this a vegetable or a dessert? If I was running the event, I would have disallowed it on a couple of levels. I didn't think it was a vegetable dish, to me it was a desert. Two, the tarts were not made on site. And three - what was the main ingredient - wheat and flour or sweet potato?
Overall I thought the food was OK, but nothing really stood out as great. I heard the same comment from a lot of the judges. But now I'm wondering to myself if the judges, me included, become super critical when judging. I mean - people took time to come up with these recipes and they must have thought they were outstanding when they decided to cook them. So are the judges just too tough?
Here's a picture of the legendary Dirty Disk's niece and son as they walked the stage for their stacked potato third place vegetable win.
If you don't know of Dirty Dick and the Legless wonders, you haven't spent any time on the KCBS competition BBQ circuit. They're a legendary team that usually places in the top three of any event where they compete.
It look's like the next generation is being groomed to accept the crown.
The winner's of the Snowshoe Challenge were...
Grand Champion: Green Moutain BBQ
Reserve Champion: Personal Fowl
The Grand Champion is determined by which team has the highest total points for the contest. So even if you don't win every category, as long as you place well in each, you can become Grand Champion
And in each category, the winners are....
Fish: Smokin' Bones
Sausage: Personal Fowl
Beef Steak: Faux Pas BBQ
Vegetable: Green Mountain BBQ
Oh, one more thing, we have our share of cooler packing judges in New England too. The judges are allowed to take home their leftovers after a contest. But this has become a bit of a political issue amongst the cooks in the KCBS circuit. Personally, I don't care, and I know I won't be taking home food after a contest. I can't imagine it would be any good by the time I got home.
The folks who put together the Snowshoe Challenge deserve a great deal of praise. It was an extremely well run and fun contest. Even though the day was bitter cold, everyone had a great time and no one complained about the weather.
As you may know, The Hampton Smoker and I put together NYC's first BBQ contest - Grillin' on the Bay for the following weekend. We owe a huge debt to the organizers of the Snowshoe. We watched everything they did and tried to model our event on their actions. They provided a great model for us and a tough act to follow.
And finally a picture of our table captain. The table captians are really the unsung heros of any contest. They do alot of the work, and rarely get fed enough. Here he is cutting up the fish entries for the judges. The Snow Shoe rules allow presenting fish whole and having the capts cut it up for the judges. I don't remember his name, but he was dumbfounded when after the second turn in he offered Smoker some new crackers for the next category and Smoker turned him down saying as he tapped his watch "No thanks, I'm done. I've got to get going." I've never seen a jaw drop so far so fast.
Overall a splendid time was had by all.