BBQ Contests: Judging Chicken at Blues, Views and BBQ
Yes folks he still has opinions to share! This isn't a photo blog after all. With that in mind let's get down to the nitty gritty of the event; the food. First off, I only judged the KCBS sanctioned BBQ contest at this event. On Saturday, there was a NEBS sanctioned grilling competition and an Iron Chef competition that I don't know anything about. Sorry but you'll have to look elsewhere for that information.
In all KCBS sanctioned contests cooks are required to cook the following four meats: 1. Chicken, 2. Pork Ribs, 3. Pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt) and 4. Beef Brisket.
I was there to judge these foods but the organizers had a surprise in store. We were told that we would be judging BBQ sauce as well. Contest organizers can add additional categories to an event, but without the first four, and many do, KCBS will not sanction an event.
First up in the judging pool is chicken. Now I love BBQ chicken, smoked or grilled, it's all good to me. Chicken is by far my favorite food on the grill. We had some interesting chicken submitted to our eyes, our nose and our palate at this event.
The first entry I tasted was a very nice mellow seasoned thigh. I really liked my first bite. The skin was bite through tender and the spices and glaze complimented the flavor of the meat. My first reaction was that this was going to score very well. Being the dutiful judge that I try so hard to be, I flipped over this thigh and took a bite from the other side. What the hell happened? Was this meat bad? I couldn't believe this was the same piece of meat! How do you score this? What would have been my reaction if I got the bad side first?
Up next was a real surprise; a spicy thigh! In competition judging, you are usually presented with sweet to very sweet seasonings. I was glad that someone decided to take a risk and add some heat.
The next entry had the judges scratching their heads during presentation. It was obviously chicken and the eight or so "pieces" were laid out in the box with flat leaf parsley as a garnish. While that is OK and perfectly acceptable, the skin on the chicken curled up around the edges of each piece! It reminded me of Sally Field's habit in The Flying Nun or worse.
Thinking more about that chicken, it would have been perfectly at home in a Wes Craven slasher flick. Taking it out of the box, the chicken fell apart in my hands. All it needed was some red sauce for blood and the imagery would have been complete. The flavor wasn't bad, but it was very overcooked. Unfortunately, I and one other judge I spoke with were unable to determine exactly what cut of chicken the entry actually was.
Next was a box with chicken that was so badly burnt, all of the pieces of chicken were pitch black. Now I don't think this was what the cook was going for, but whomever he or she was did an amazing job of getting the skin completely and evenly black. It was so dark that if you told me they were spray painted, I would have believed you. Flavor wise, it was burned and dried out.
This box elicited the often repeated comment from a judge, "Why would they submit that?" Whenever I hear that comment I know that the judge is not a cook. Things happen in the pit and the cook submits the best he/she has. Sometimes the only food the cook has to submit is something that is burned, dried out or even undercooked. We were in that position at New Platz when we submitted our over cooked brisket.
Next was another bone in chicken thigh but with a SPICY sauce. To me it was just under the point where the heat overwhelms the meat and other flavors. I was still able to taste the meat, the heat and the tomato base of the sauce. This was the only entry where I ate the entire piece.
I felt it was nicely done, but I could see this seasoning possibly overwhelming other judges. Some judges say that spicy entries dull the taste buds, which affect the judging of the next entry, but i don't believe that at all. Take some time, eat some crackers and some water before moving on (which you should be doing between entrys anyway) and you'll be fine. Part of being a judge is putting aside your personal preferences and trying to determine if the cook obtained the flavor and tenderness they were after, all the while remaining in the world of barbeque. Yes, it's as vague as it sounds.
Unfortunately, I don't remember much about the last entry. I guess it was average competition BBQ. Now before you all go off on me, for all I remember it could have been really good and above average, I just don't remember how I scored it. We're not allowed to take photos and I'm going by some quickly written notes.
I've only mentioned one presentation so far and it was a parsley presentation, and it wasn't the putting green presentation I railed against in a previous post. At this event I only saw one parsley putting green. All the others were a mixture of lettuce and or parsley. Have the cooks changed their ways because of me? Does my blog have so much power and influence? I think not. I certainly hope not! I'm still learning this game.
I'm really glad to see the cooks shaking things up a bit. The putting green presentation is very nice, but in my never to be humble opinion, it's bad for the sport of competitive barbecue if everyone is using the same presentation or flavorings. And I think the scores reflected the judges approval of the new flavors and presentations. Red Planet BBQ won this field followed by some others who usually don't see the top five. Good job all of you.
And that looks like a great place to stop tonight. More on judging the Blues, Views and BBQ Contest tomorrow.
Photograph of the BBQ chicken courtesy of BBQ Info. Photograph of The Flying Nun courtesy of The People Quiz.