All of yesterday's news that's fit to print?
It seems that our friends at the New York Times are a bit behind the times when it comes to barbecue. They finally published an article about Grillin' on the Bay and the KCBS judging class held back in April! Readers of this blog already know all about it.
Nonetheless, it's a good article and it does mention the Grillin on the Bay contest that Matt aka The Hampton Smoker and I put together back in March. Enjoy.
The Pay Is Awful, but Judging Barbecue Has Its Rewards
By DANA BOWEN and JOSH OZERSKY
Published: July 5, 2006
Franklin Square, N.Y.
Meat awaits the judges at the Grillin' on the Bay Contest in Brooklyn - Photo by: Melissa Horn (WTBBQ edit: That's fish being judged - not meat!)
ON a Saturday morning, 56 people filed into a nondescript office building on Hempstead Turnpike here to learn how to eat barbecue. And how to taste it, smell it, prod it and otherwise determine whether it is worthy of honor — and cash prizes.
As barbecue competitions become more popular around the country, skilled judges are increasingly in demand, especially in the Northeast, which has no great history of the smoking pit.
The number of contests sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, competitive barbecue's most influential governing body, has risen in the past five years, to 220 a year from fewer than 60, said Carolyn Wells, the executive director. So the organization has been training more judges — 8,000 have been sworn in over the past decade — but until recently few New Yorkers were among them.
The students here, mostly local men who spend many weekends little more than an arm's length from their backyard barbecues, had paid $70 each to cover the five-hour class and membership in the Kansas City Barbecue Society. (Members of the society paid only $45, for the class.) After studying the rule book and signing the judges' code of conduct, they would qualify to rate events like the fourth annual Grill Kings competition, with 50 teams, at Belmont Park on July 15 and 16th
As the instructor, Jerry Mullane, outlined the scoring system, students learned that the rules of barbecue are not intuitive, but they are exacting.
"How much sauce can you have?" Mr. Mullane asked, pointing to the bottom of a plastic-foam box like the ones competitors use to deliver meat to tables of six judges. "We say a 50-cent piece." That is, bigger than a dab, smaller than a puddle.
Students patiently scribbled notes as Mr. Mullane, a restaurant owner from suburban Philadelphia and a longtime judge, listed acceptable garnishes: parsley and cilantro, yes; red leaf lettuce and crinkly greens, no.
Stomachs were growling by lunchtime, when each table was presented with a dozen meat-filled boxes: three variations each on chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. But hunger did not cloud the students' criticism.
Debbie Knicos, who runs a cookie business out of her Long Island home and barbecues on a kettle grill she converts to a smoker, raised an eyebrow at a box of haphazardly arranged chicken thighs. "There's no lettuce," she whispered, penciling in low marks for appearance, moderate marks for taste and tenderness.
"In places like Kansas City everyone's a judge, and they let people out of work to judge," Mr. Mullane told the class. Events in New York, like the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, where some of the country's top pit masters cook in Madison Square Park, are more about bonhomie than championship titles.
Still, interest is growing in the Northeast. "We used to be a clique," said Mr. Mullane, who started judging around the country 10 years ago with his wife, Linda, after their son left for college. Now there are new judges at every event, he said.
Barbecue judges are not paid, but many believe that the smoked meat they consume — about two pounds at each contest — is fair compensation. Mr. Mullane, a man whose girth suggests a sincere love of food, revealed tips for getting even more.
"If you get there on Friday you're going to have a great time," he said, describing the night-before party that unfolds while competitors are cooking. "The best way to get food is to say, 'Wow, that's a great smoker!'"
Many of the students were looking for cooking tips, too. After learning that perfectly cooked brisket should expand and contract and that ribs should not fall from the bone, Walter Ejnes, the president of a medical education company, revised his recipe. "I overcook my ribs," he wrote via e-mail after the event. "One hour less on the smoker might make them even better."
During breaks, the students hobnobbed with the competition barbecuers who prepared the meat for the class: Phil Rizzardi, who competes for Barbecue Brethren, a Long Island team, and Nancee Gell of Norwalk, Conn., whose team, representing Purple Turtle Catering, won top prize at Grillin' on the Bay in Brooklyn in March. It was the first competition in New York City sanctioned by the New England Barbecue Society, which follows Kansas City Barbecue Society rules.
Mr. Rizzardi said later that he was a little dubious about the class. A grease fire did in the ribs, he said, but that did not keep many students from awarding top marks. No experience beyond the class is required for certification.
"It kind of concerns me!" Mr. Rizzardi said. "These are our future judges of America."
The ribs, overcooked and charred, didn't go unnoticed by a few competitors who were among the student body, hoping to glean what judges are looking for.
"I wanted to see the inside of the game," said Lou Elrose, a k a Big Lou, a retired New York City police officer who cooks on the competition circuit with Adam Perry Lang, the chef at Daisy May's BBQ USA in Manhattan. Mr. Lang won the grand championship last year at the Great Pork BarbeQLossal in Des Moines, the first New Yorker to do so.
Mr. Lang, like most restaurateurs who moonlight as competitive barbecuers, has taken the judging class. He arrives at competitions early to shop local supermarkets and eat at local barbecue places, in an effort to understand the mind-set of local judges. "You want to know your audience," he said.
He uses sweeter flavors when competing in Kansas City, more vinegary undertones in the South. And he relies on tips he has picked up on the circuit, like injecting meat with marinade to keep it moist.
Judges warn, however, that if dark liquids are injected, they could streak the meat, drawing demerits for appearance. Not Mr. Lang's award-winning pork butt recipe, which has a hint of soy-spiked fruit. But he doesn't inject his meat at his restaurant.
"Competition barbecue," he said, "is its own art form."