Your Beans and Mystery Meat Need Help

In Food, Volunteer Events on 02/05/2012 at 3:15 pm

For the past two years, your very own HTF has been moonlighting as a BBQ judge.  The first experience was at the San Antonio BBQ Cook-Off, reviewed here.

Since then, I have picked up on a few things which might be helpful for anyone out there who participates in these types of things or has just been generally intrigued by the whole thing.

Since I still claim to be no expert whatsoever, let’s name these the Seven Highly Recommended Suggestions  (and Three Commandments for Judges).

1.  Taste, texture, smell AND visual representationMultiple things get reviewed.  Utensil in hand, the lid is peeled off and BAM!  There is the mighty First Impression, which is (completely unscientifically) calculated at 82% of the overall score.  If it looks weird, it’s probably going to taste weird (even if it really doesn’t).  Here’s a trick: put the food in the container that will get turned in.  Set it to the side for about ten minutes.  Sit down and open it.  Look at it like it’s the first time.  Then you will see what we judges do.  Remember there is no ambiance for us, just a throwaway container and a scorecard.

2.  Bacon is not your savior – Ok, bacon is delicious. I know this, you know this.  And while bacon tends to put people in a happier place, it is not going to make the sun shine, the flowers bloom or your weirdly cooked meat the winner.  There is no magic ingredient, so before you get all crazy and start slapping bacon around everything piece of shrimp, jalapeno and quail breast, just remember, the person next to you is probably doing the same.

3.  Distractions – Just like in real life, under the judges tent, distractions are everywhere.  Tables with chatty judges, MCs who wont stop spouting the rules over and over, saltine fatigue, water bloat and problematic toothpicks.  Not to mention eyeballing the person before you to ensure they didn’t double dip their spoon or fork or worse, get all touchy touchy with their (gasp!) fingers.  Make your entry a sound bite, something that is immediately interesting and tasty looking.

4.  Now is not the time for experimentation – Know your audience.  Most of the time, simple is good.  Simple is also, surprisingly enough, not very common.  Everyone is boarding the crazy train to make themselves outstanding.  But here’s the thing: the judges can not compare entries to one another, which means if it is just delicious, it will get a high score.  Which will move you into the next round.  I’m looking at you, Beans people.  I had burned beans, super sweet beans, beans that smelled like Earl Grey tea and beans that had the color of a misty day.  But if I had a beans with a little cilantro, onion and jalapeno, they would have received a score at least three points higher than any other.

5.  Look for loopholesThe rules of each cook-off are a bit different.  Be creative within the limits of the law.  Sometimes a You Pick It category allows for dessert.  Bust out something interesting!  Now, this does not contradict the suggestion regarding experimentation.  If you are doing a standard entry, try simple.  If you are looking for wacky, make it good.

6.  Think like a judge – Judges are only allowed one bite of an entry.  That’s right, one little nibble of that delicacy of your blood, sweat and tears, delivered with kid gloves.  So make each bite count.  Better yet, tell us your best bites: cut up little pieces for us.  All we get is plastic cutlery so ready-to-go selections allows for personal preference like middle or ends, instead of hacking away at a slab of meat just for a taste.

7.  Don’t be the worst – Judges talk.  Occasionally the really awesomes make an appearance in the exodus discussion but what we really go on and on about are the bad ones.  Number 11 for beans, hello are you out there?  Although you have no idea those beans were yours, let me tell you, they were TERRIBLE.  Seriously bad.  Burned, grey, leaving everyone at the table stumbling for a carrot and fresh bottle of water.  Be noble and don’t submit burned food.

Now for the Judges:

1.  Don’t touch the food.  Seriously, gross.

2.  Stop talking.  It is hard enough to factor multiple items of one bite of anything, score, cleanse a palate and wipe your memory.  Your prattle is not helping.

3.  Don’t be a jerkface.  Judge an entry on its individual merit, not how you would have done it or like it.  Remember, people work hard on this stuff and not just for the duration of the event.

Keep those containers and green grapes coming!  See you at the ***** Cook-Off!

“The Evil Side of Orville Redenbacher” medical fact – Popcorn Lung is a really bad thing and could result in a lung transplant.


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