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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Other Side of the Table: Adventures in Judging

Well, Hope and I judged our first competition this weekend. We judged the Warren All-American BBQ Fest in Warren, PA. It was a 17 team comp, so it did qualify as an American Royal and Jack Draw qualifier. Diva Q was the main draw for the weekend.

We became CBJ because we wanted to see if we could learn a few tips and tricks. I must say, it was very informational. I had another competitor at my table judging as well, Brian from Rubber City Smokers. We were lucky enough to have some quality veteran judges at our table that were more than happy to give us insight into what judges look for. Sorry, no pics, other than the fair itself as KCBS has banned pictures being taken in the judging area during the judging process.

Some random thoughts from the weekend:

We have switched to chicken legs at a fellow competitors urging and have had good success. We saw nothing but thighs yesterday. Most good, some not so good. Brining is the way to go. A brined entry just stands out if done properly. The flavor profiles were pretty much the same. Although one was overpowered with cinnamon and another was scorching hot with pepper. The judges were raving about breast entries they have gotten in the past and asked me and Brian why we don't do that more often. We basically said that we don't have the stones to do that considering that they can dry out. Then, they suggested to cook side by side and put in the better of the two, or even both if they turn out nice. I really believe if you could get breast in a box and make it good, you would grab the brass ring.

Out of the ribs, only one stuck out at the table. Perfectly cooked, good bark, nice sweet profile. My guess it that it was Butchers Honey Rub. The vet judges do like sweet. Keep the tomato out of your sauce as well. We had rib with a pasty tomato like sauce that did not go well at all. Finally, when you cut, cut at the bone farthest from the rib you are looking for on both sides. The judges just seemed to like that.

As for pulled pork, the judges hate that category we found out as there are many different types they have to sample. Pulled, chopped, sliced. If one is not as good as the other, the bad will pull your scores down. The judges were saying that if you put one great sample of one type in the box, it is better than going 2 out of 3. For example, I was ready to hand out a 999 for this one pork entry. The money muscle and chunks were perfect. Great bark, taste and tenderness. Then I got to the pulled. It was overpowered with a citrus/vinegar sauce. Really sour. It pulled the taste score down for sure. Finally, don't over sauce. The veteran judges do not like tons of sauce on their pulled pork.

Brisket. What can I say here? The burnt ends I got were not sauced at all. Just rerubbed, dipped in Au Jus, and put back on the smoker. Most were good, but if your rub is salt heavy, go light. We had one that was a pure salt cube and the vets at the table were not happy with that. Fat is ok on a burnt end, but trim it off the flat. Also, this was the only category that I handed a 6 out in. I gave a 6 for tenderness. I got a piece of flat that I could have used to make a slingshot. If you are going to miss the tenderness on your brisket, miss it on the overdone side for sure. The veteran judges do not take kindly to rubber bands. If you have a rubbery one and don't have any time, cut it thin (but you knew that already)

Generally, try and add flavor throughout your meat. Do not just give smoked meat with sauce. With different samples in front of you, those entries did stand out. I would also say that over 50% of the pp entries did not inject their butts. I was leaning toward not injecting for our next comp and probably will not. The non-injected entries tasted more like pork.

Strangely enough, when we compared entries after judging, we pretty much agreed with our individual assessments. I was surprised at that.

I hope that this helps any team out there. I found it enlightening for sure. I would highly recommend becoming a judge if you have a team. It allows you to get some insight from veteran judges and allows you to see what the flavor trends are out on the circuit. We will try and judge at least one contest per year for sure.

Some pictures from the day:

My favorite barn:

There was a 4H horse competition for the kids:

Lunchtime, no que there though:

My favorite t-shirts:

Congrats to Flying Porkers for taking Grand Champion and Ribs n'At for taking Reserve Grand.  Ribs n'At get a special shout out.  Reserve Grand is great any day of the week.  But, on your first time out?  Outstanding!  Keep up the good work.  Here are the Full Results.

Finally, a big congrats to John Beard and Melissa Anderson for putting together a quality competition your first time out.  Hopefully you can work out some of the bugs and make this competition bigger and better next year.  Thanks for being gracious hosts.

Thanks for stopping by,



  1. I am glad your judging experience was helpful. Every judge is different and have different tastes. I have never heard of judges hating categories. Pork shoulder happens to be my favorite. It is always prudent to only submit your best meat. He should of left out the pulled. It is funny that you mentioned fat on the burnt end. The last contest I got a burnt end cube of almost all fat. I scored appropriately. We have another contest this weekend. Good times.

  2. I do like some fat on my burnt end. But, I agree, I do not like a cube of fat...