At this event, every brisket box presented to my table contained slices and burnt ends. Or what may or may not have been the cook's attempt at burnt ends, as most were cubes of very chewy, but tender meat. None were particularly smokey as burnt ends tend to be. All of the slices in the boxes were on the thick side, but most were very tender.
In terms of flavors, no one entry sticks out in my mind. Two reminded me of pot roast with no noticeable smokey taste. One had an odd sauce on it that I've tasted before at other contests and in other categories. This sauce always leaves me with a strange apple cider vinegary after taste that lingers long. Little did I know it would reappear in the sauce category.
With the judging of brisket, the official KCBS
part of the contest was over and we judges were asked to stay and judge a sauce category. I've never judged a sauce category before so I had some quick discussions with a couple of other judges looking for tips. My main concern was on appearance of sauce. How do you judge that? KCBS rules are not comparative judging, so you are to judge each sauce on its own merits. One judge came up with a good set of guidelines and that's what I tried to follow.
When I was told it was a sauce category, I expected that the "sauce" we were to judge would be a barbecue sauce, but no, the reps repeatedly pointed out that this was a "sauce" contest, not a BARBEQUE sauce contest. Any type of sauce was a legal entry.
They then told us how we were to judge the sauce. Sauce would be presented to us in small plastic cups with lids. We were told to take each cup, open it and judge it for appearance. Each sauce was to be judged for appearance before we could move on to taste.
For taste, we were told to break a saltine cracker in half. We were told to dip one piece of the cracker into the sauce and to taste that. Then we were instructed to dunk and swirl the other piece of cracker, taste it and then score each sauce for taste. Again, we were told to judge each sauce for taste before we could move on to the final judging criteria, tenderness.
Judging a sauce for tenderness is a kin to judging water for wetness, so the reps came up with an interesting twist on scoring the final criteria. Instead of judging for tenderness, we were told to judge each sauce against the other, to comparatively rate the sauces, based simply on which one we liked best. The top sauce was to receive a score of 9, the next 8 and so forth until the lowest rated sauce on your table would receive a 4.
I thought judging the sauces was difficult up to that point, but when asked to lay them out, for lack of a better term, in best to worst, now that was close to impossible. It wasn't that hard to pick out my favorite sauce, it was fairly difficult to pick out my least favorite sauce, and it was close to impossible to rate the sauces in between.
I was glad that my table received only bbq sauces. I know one team submitted a caramel sauce. While I would have liked to have tried it, it raised an interesting question; how do you comparatively rate a caramel dessert sauce against a vinegar bbq sauce? I don't think it can be done. It's really comparing apples to oranges.
But everyone had a good time in the end and that's all that matters.
A final note about this contest. From my point of view as a judge and from my experiences there, this was a first rate, well run event. The reps, the ever lovely, Lovelys did a great job. Talking with the cooks after the event, they told me that everything was great the entire weekend and that the organizers did a fantastic job of making them feel welcome and appreciated. I hope this becomes an annual contest. Connecticut needs one.