Today couldn't have been a better day; I mean it was a BEAUTIFUL day here in middle Georgia for a barbecue cookoff. Temps last night got down to right at 40 degrees and this afternoon topped out around 75 degrees. It was truly something else.
Earlier this year I'd become a trained CBJ in GBA and shorly afterwards obtained my GBA certification as well as my MIM/MBN certification after judging 2 competitions. As I've done more competing in the last few years, it had been a while since I've judged an MBN event. My first draw today was on-site whole hog. This IS by most any stretch of the imagination the holy grail of judging.
My first draw in this event was the recent Memphis In May rib champion, Bubba Grills. Of course, Lonnie & team are amazing, but their hog this morning was simply over-the-top. Lonnie was burning his hand and fingers extracting the meat for me. I sat there listening to his spiel, the whole time I was taking in the aroma of the Q, squeezing it for moisture and tenderness, and of course eating freshly extracted pieces from the back, ham, loin, shoulder, ribs, etc. 15 minutes of judging heaven.
While their presentation is simply awesome, I’m not one to favor larger teams, or money (there were teams with even more impressive rigs here today than Lonnies).
My next draw was another very accomplished team and a great hog cooker, Jurassic Pork. Not nearly as impressive a presentation, but worthy of a perfect score none the less. Another wonderful hog there, an equally amazing aroma, bark that was very impressive particularly for a hog, and just wonderful meat. The team made one small mistake that cost them slightly; they’d chosen to use smaller pieces of meat pulled from the hog, and literally the distance from the hog to the table was longer so it took another minute to get it over to me. It was slightly breezy this morning and still a little chill in the air, so the meat wasn’t nearly as hot and had just begun to dry out a tad. It wasn’t nearly as tender as it could’ve been, so that got my 9 there and my overall 9.9 vs. the 10.0 for Bubba Grills. Tight competition and a wonderful draw to be a judge.
My third draw for the day was a local-only team who cook a pretty darned good hog, but honestly not in the league of either or the two other’s I’d sampled.
At the end I had a tough time deciding whom to give my overall 10, but the tenderness and freshness of the hog from Bubba won my 10.
This is a long story but I actually am getting to a point, one that surprised me a little, and I’m reminded of why on-site is so much different than blind judging. I don’t know the final standings, but Jurassic Pork made it to finals in whole hog, and today Bubba Grills did not. MBN weighs blind judging significantly higher than on-site so that folks enamored with glitz of larger teams don’t unduly penalize smaller teams who might make better barbecue. I like this part (the higher weighting of blind). Obviously the blind box was the difference. I didn’t get to see their blind boxes, but I know these two teams, I’m certain they both got 10’s in appearance. However, whole hog can dry out quickly if allowed to cool. I’m certain that the product the judges who opened those blind boxes was very different than the barbecue that I was allowed to sample straight from the hog.
30 minutes later, after all hog judging was complete, I wandered over to the grazing table and was able to pick out these two teams barbecue by the sauces that were presented with them. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to recognize either, as they were VERY different than what I’d judged.
The lessons to draw from this are probably many. Cooks need to know that from the time they close up that clam-shell box to the time it’s opened by judges can be 10 to 20 minutes some times, and they’re not necessarily stored in warm conditions, so the barbecue has had lots of time to cool. When testing their recipes, test how they taste 20 or 30 minutes after pulling them and allow it to cool. What may be AWESOME when hot and steaming may not be nearly as impressive after it’s cooled.
For judges, well, more than anything else, if you ever get the chance to judge MBN on-site, please do so. Not for the impressive “show”, but to get to sample award winning competition barbecue HOT, straight from the smoker, pulled right there in front of you and almost immediately to your mouth. Truly, THAT is something else!!!! As good as the barbecue can and often is in our tent at the table when judging blind, it’s a whole different story when it steaming hot freshly pulled… Seize the opportunity!!!