BBQ Events: Judging the Snowshoe
The competition barbecue season has begun here in the North East. The Annual Snowshoe Grilling Contest was held on March 29th and was another outstanding success.
I didn't cook, but I did judge. Last time I wrote about judging the Snowshoe I got into a large debate with many of my readers about my opinion on one entry. This caused some great discussion that remains unsettled to this day. Hopefully my opinions this time won't be so controversial.
The Snowshoe attracts some of the best teams in the North East; I Smell Smoke, IQue, Purple Turtle, Dirty Dick, Q Haven, Wildwood BBQ, Transformer, forgive me if I left you out. Even if I didn't mention the team, this is a tight field of competitors. These are the creme de la creme of barbecue.
The Snowshoe has four food categories for the competition. This year they were fish, steak or fillet; Sausage fattie, a traditional fattie is a log of uncased sausage, think a Jimmy Dean sausage, that has been seasoned and smoked; Beef of any kind and Vegetable.
Each judge receives six samples of each category to critique. We judge the food on appearance, taste and tenderness. Sounds simple right? Believe me it's not and contrary to what many cooks believe most judges take their responsibility very seriously. Especially in a field as tight as this. As in a KCBS event, this is a blind judging contest. Judges have no idea who cooked what.
First up was fish. My table of six judges received two tuna samples, two salmon entrys and two of white fish, possibly halibut. Both pieces of tuna were topped sesame seeds and lightly cooked leaving the center rare to raw. I found the pieces of tuna very interesting, but not particularly flavorful. They were both the same thickness, both cooked the same way, but one was very chewy and almost tough.
One salmon entry was breaded and one was simply presented grilled and topped with a maple based sauce, which was my favorite. One whitefish sample - halibut maybe was breaded and topped with a mustard sauce. I liked this a lot as I cook fish this way often, but this piece was a little undercooked and a bit under seasoned. The other, I have no memory about.
Next was the fattie. Now I already told you what a traditional fattie is, but the organizers of the Snowshoe defined the fattie as follows: " *A “fatty” is basically a sausage roll without a casing (think Jimmy Dean). It is made of ground meat and may be either stuffed with other ingredients, or have ingredients mixed throughout. It can be pre-seasoned. It may not be pre-cooked or contain pre-cooked ingredients." So that opened up the field quite a bit.
At our table, we didn't receive a single traditional fattie. First up was a large mound of sausage that had been hand formed and a little spicy. It was ugly as sin and had a very strange spice mixture that just didn't do it for me.
One sample was a rolled and stuffed pinwheel style log that was stuffed with what could have been stove top stuffing. The meat in this roll was different from any sausage I had ever had. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that the meat here was a single piece of meat pounded thin and rolled around the stuffing. Wait a minute, it was much like a piece of braciole. It looked great, but when I took my sample from the box, most of the stuffing fell out. Eating it, I found the meat very tough and the stuffing mushy which provided too strong a contrasts in textures. As my teeth fought with the meat, the remaining stuffing fell into my mouth or onto my shirt.
Another fattie that stands out in my mind was the traditional fattie type sausage that was laid out, topped with a cheese mixture (goat or creme cheese) and rolled up jelly roll style and cooked. I enjoyed this on immensely, but some of the other judges at my table didn't like the combination of sausage and cheese. (!??!) The last fattie I recall, was prepared in a very similar style to the last, but included nuts and fruit in the stuffing which was a nice touch. The nuts provided a great textural contrast to the soft stuffing and sausage, but it was very bland. Unfortunately I don't remember the others which I guess says something right there.
I'll tell you the rest tomorrow, but as Ted Allen said to Richard Roeper last night on Top Chef when Roeper said that the "experts" were being too hard on the cooks, "We have to pick it apart." Or something like that. That's part of being a barbecue judge, especially in a contest where the teams are so damn good. It really comes down to the little nit-picky things. If I was served ANY of the entrys from this event at a meal, I would be one very happy camper.
Today's random barbecue link: Uncle Bub's BBQ
Thanks to the New England BBQ Society for the photo from the Snowshoe.