I'm back from judging Harpoon and let me tell you the Harpoon is a great event. It doesn't pay much, it only holds about 45 teams, it's not in the best location, it doesn't have indoor facilities, it usually rains, but the Harpoon has a great vibe. Something, besides the free beer, encourages the teams to put out their best.
One great thing about the Harpoon is that it attracts a couple of top teams from outside the Northeast. One team there this year was TheSlabs.com and another was Smokin' Triggers. Both are legendary on the KCBS circuit, but don't visit Yankee territory very often. Unfortunately, with KCBS judging being blind, I have no idea if I got to try any of their food.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I take my judging responsibilities seriously, as does every judge I know. I think long and hard about my scores before I commit them to paper. I always makes sure that I eat from various parts of the samples trying the middle, top and bottom, left and right sides.
I always sample whatever the cook puts in that box. If there is sliced and pulled pork, I sample all of it. If there's dark and white meat chicken, I sample all of it. I believe in giving the cook the best shot at a perfect score.
It's not always easy. Like it or not most competition barbecue is just "average." One of the most common discussions amongst cooks and judges about the judging criteria is "What is average?" "Can you define average?"
Many cooks believe that by simply getting a box in on time they deserve an "average" score. I disagree, but can average be defined? Most people say no, but I'm going to try.
A quick flashback to the points awarded in competition judging: Nine (excellent), Eight (very good), Seven (above average), Six (average), Five (below average), Four (poor), Three (bad), Two (inedible), One (disqualified). All items are judged on three criteria: Appearance (of the meat only -- not how it is presented), Taste and Texture.
So what determines an average score? Here's my take, your mileage may vary....
To receive an "average" score, a meat must meet the KCBS definition of its category. It must be barbecue. It must be properly cooked, presented well and seasoned properly. The judge must be able to taste the meat as well as the seasonings and/or sauce.
Pretty vague huh? Yeah. But to be "average" across all categories I think the definition has to be. Want details for each category? That's another bunch of posts.
At Harpoon, the scores I assigned ranged from 9 to 5. So tomorrow I'll get into some real life experiences on how I scored some of the Harpoon competition foods. We'll talk about the long and winding road from "excellent" to "average" to my lowest assigned score, the dreaded "below average".