I know that I owe you all a post about judging barbecue at Harpoon, but time is catching up with me and remembering the specifics of the various dishes is getting harder and harder with each passing day. Oh, how I long for the days when you could photograph the food. I think the next time I judge, I'll bring a notebook with me to take notes.
While this may be a bit of a cop out, but I'm going to try my best to give you the full run down of what remains in my mind. I can't remember enough about any one entry to give you the full process of scoring that particular piece of meat.
First up to be judged, is chicken and it's my favorite. We received six samples and the first thing I noticed was that the turn-ins have taken on a new look. After a class by the Smokin' Triggers last year, many of the teams have begun submitting their food on a putting green of parsley. It's very pretty and offsets the meat beautifully, but looking at box after box of parsley gets boring quick. I know you don't judge the garnish, but c'mon folks. Show some creativity here!
A few judges at my table complained about having to scrape the parsley off their meat before sampling it. One judge said that if it sticks, he eats the parsley because that's the way the cook presented it. He then said that he scores the meat down because the taste of parsley takes away from the flavor of the meat.
The chicken submitted was almost exclusively thighs, but one entry was the middle, two bone section of chicken wings. That entry was the unanimous favorite at my table.
Ribs were next with most entries composed of baby back ribs, but my table received two spare rib submissions. Nice! One entry of spares was badly burnt and over cooked, but apart from that nothing stands out in my mind.
Pork came in third as it always does and again, nothing stands out in my mind.
Brisket was the final category and by the time this arrived, I really didn't want to eat any more food. It's always the case. One judge and I were discussing that he felt the same way. He and I wondered if brisket scores are affected by it being the last food category turned in. While it's the most difficult of the competition meats to cook properly, does it get the respect and fair shake it deserves coming after the judges are too full to eat? Would brisket be better served if it was judged first?
My brisket samples ranged from OK to almost inedible. One piece was so tough that I couldn't bite through it. Another was so dry it actually snapped in half when I lifted it off the plate.
There are a couple of new trends that I noticed. One, teams are only finishing one side of the entry. The side that lain on the parsley or lettuce was often left un-sauced or seared. It's interesting, but I wonder why a team would do that. When putting the meat in my mouth, I usually keep the top up. With the sauce only on top, all those flavorings are not the first thing my tongue experiences. Did that affect the scores? Maybe.
Another was that this was the year of Blues Hog sauce. It seemed that every other entry in every category was sauced with Blues Hog. As a judge, it got pretty boring and I had to fight the urge to score the teams down for this. It wouldn't be fair to penalize a cook because 10 other teams used the same sauce.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the food at this year's Harpoon. There was a conformity to the entries as if they were all prepared by the students of one teacher. There was very little uniqueness to any entry. Even the guys over at iQue noticed it...
"One take-away thought I had was so many teams are cooking in a similar fashion its getting harder to standout. I think I saw a Backwoods Smoker and a bottle of Blues Hog sauce at almost every contest site at Harpoon."
The grilling contest the next day was a real disappointment. At last year's event, I had some of the best food I've ever eaten. It was the first time I've ever given perfect scores. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, but nothing stands out as great this time.
The categories in the Summer Sizzler (the grilling contest) were: fish, beef, lamb and chef's choice.
I remember a really good Chilean sea bass with a ginger touched sauce as being my favorite of the contest. Two of the beef entries looked like melted hockey pucks in the box and most of the lamb submissions didn't taste like lamb. The one exception was iQue's lamb pictured in this post. (Thanks for the photo guys!)
I thought the grilled lamb medallions, only cross hatched on top, were the best meat I had all weekend. One judge noticed that the medallion he sampled was not cooked evenly as the side that was cross hatched on the grill was more "done". Mine, however was cooked perfectly. Unfortunately, the pulled lamb in the box was boring and didn't help the score.
So that's it. One man's experience of the event. Harpoon was a lot of fun and the food was good, not great and a bit boring as too many folks are using the same flavors. But I can't wait to get back. It's a great contest. There's something very unique about Harpoon and well worth the trip.