I judged my first barbecue competition on Sunday, a non-sanctioned event at the River Rand Bowling Center in Des Plaines, Illinois.
I have a two reasons that persuaded me to become a Certified Barbecue Judge. First, I am generally disappointed with the quality of barbecue available from restaurants and want to try better offerings. Second, I want to taste first hand (first tongue?) how the barbecue I produce on Salivator Senior compares to competition quality barbecue.
The Winter Burn Off Barbecue Contest is in it's second year. They had six teams in 2006 and 18 this year. In order to avoid frostbite, the meats are limited to those that can be prepared in one morning - sausage, chicken, and ribs. A Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned contest includes four meats, two of which take overnight cooking - pork and beef brisket - along with the chicken and pork ribs.
Above are the six sausage samples that I judged. I found out something right away. The level of seasoning and spiciness that I prefer in barbecue does not win barbecue contests in the Upper Midwest. My choices of favorites for each category were 180 degrees off from the consensus of the other five judges at my table. One of the judges was also a competitor and said that he has to tone down his seasonings in order to place well in contests. The idea is to offend as few judges as possible.
The good news for me is that a barbecue contest is a "meat" contest. Not a contest for the best sauce or other seasonings. On that score the entries were excellent. Wonderful smoked flavor and good cuts of meat presented well. The ribs in particular were almost all cooked perfectly. With the right amount of smoke, they were moist and not overcooked.
Judges also get to keep their leftovers. Ziplock bags work great for this, my 17 year old son was the beneficiary of chicken and ribs, but not much sausage.
Another brush with greatness
Present at the Burn Off, but not competing, was the reigning Jack Daniels World Barbecue Champion, Scottie Johnson of the Cancer Sucks Chicago team. Scottie was kind enough to stop for a photo. That's his traveling trophy from The Jack under his arm. I'm not sure that he ever puts it down.