I'd cooked with a team (Q'n for Fun) 4 or 5 times by now and I thought that I knew what good BBQ was supposed to look & taste like. The fact that I couldn't make it look or taste like that is beside the point. :>)
I was judging with my buddy, John, who is a Master CBJ and a comp cook and he's the one that got me started in this sport/hobby/obsession. We got there early enough to get seats at the same table and he started introducing me to some of the judges that he knew. I made it a point to introduce myself to the Reps and our Table Captain and let them know that they had a newbie in the house. I asked the T.C. to keep an eye on my scores and let me know if I was way off from the other judges' scores because I didn't want to be giving 6s and 7s if everyone else thought it should be 8s & 9s or vice versa.
Now, I'd been warned that there would be 2 to 3 pounds of food put in front of me that day so I had better not eat breakfast and pace myself if I didn't want to be overly stuffed before we were done judging. BUT ..... when that first chicken box opened and the tantalizing smell hit my nose - well, it was all that I could do not to grab that box from the Table Captain & dig right in. Somehow I managed to restrain myself, but it wasn't easy! After we got all 6 samples on our plates it was time to taste, evaluate & score each entry. And that, my friends, is a whole lot harder than it sounds. We had some thighs that must have been dipped in honey (I'm not big on sweets) and we had sliced chicken breast that was very moist & tender. One was tough and dry. Each entry has to be judged on its own merits "as presented by the cook" and no comparing entries to each other! I did the very best that I could do to judge each entry fairly and to the best of my ability.
As a cook, I knew how much time, work and money went into these contests, and as a judge I'm not supposed to think of this. The only thing that I'm supposed to worry about is this a good example of what the cook was trying to create? I must have done ok because our Table Captain said that my scores were right there with the other judges most of the time.
I think that I learned more from talking to the other judges in between categories than I did in the judges' class. After 50 or so contests I'm sure that I learned more by talking to the other judges. "What did you think of number three?", "Number six was all about chili powder - nothing else!", "Number two was one of the best ribs that I've had all year!", "Number four was going good with his sliced and pulled pork - then he ruined it with those chunks!". Like I said, you can get an education at a judging table.
One of the big surprises, at least to me, was that there were a few entries that just flat out were not what I would call competition quality. Not many, but still a few. At the time I wondered why anyone would turn in something like that after paying the entry fee, buying the meat, doing all of that work - why, why, why?
Now, five years and 50 contests later, I understand that sometimes things just don't go right no matter what you do, but you're gonna keep on trying until you get it right.