Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pork in the Park!

This weekend Wicomico County put on the third annual Pork in the Park event. It's a national barbeque cook-off sanctioned by the KCBS. I guess that means if you win, you get to go to the show and vie for the title of national champion!

Friday evening Joanne and I served beer for the JayCees. We had fun, and got some BBQ for dinner from Three Phat Boys catering.

Saturday I went back in the AM and participated as a BBQ Judge! I got suckered into being a Table Captain, so I didn't get to rate any food. I did, however, get to taste a lot of entries. I left the tent with several take home boxes full of BBQ goodness, and shared my spoils with fellow JayCees who were on beer duty.

Random observations about being a BBQ Judge:
1. Be prepared to eat a lot of BBQ. Think of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners combined.
2. Table Captains have to keep track of paperwork and bring entries to the table. Be sure to delegate responsibilities for the lucky judges - have them get more paper towels, bottles of water, crackers, etc. Expect them to share their food with you if there isn't enough of an entry for you, too.
3. If you are entering an event, be sure to include extras above the minimum amount you must submit. Sometimes ribs stick together, which could leave a judge without anything to taste. The judges also like it when there's plenty to go around for the table captain and others in the tent. It's a karma thing.
4. Don't enter food that's covered in sauce. A little sauce is OK, if it accents the meat. Some entries were so sauced up that's all you tasted. Somebody entered sausage that tasted like it was turned into candy. It was so gross that I had to spit it into a napkin. There were few dry rub entries, so they really shined and had a leg up on the others.
5. Charcoal matters more than you think. One team was using Kingsford briquettes and lighter fluid. The briquettes aren't bad, per se - if you pre-burn them so that all of the black soot is gone you can get heat and smoky flavor. If you don't it makes the outside of the meat taste funny. Same with lighter fluid. But if you're cooking "low and slow" it's almost impossible to get rid of all the fluid, meaning that your meat will absorb a funky petroleum taste. The judgest learned quickly which entries to avoid. Many people like Cowboy brand. My personal favorites are the Competition Blend from Wicked Good Charcoal and the Big Green Egg charcoal from Royal Oak.
6. BBQ is salty. I felt like I ate a huge bag of super salty popcorn for hours after I finished judging, with pickled lips, etc.

Because of the use of numbers, we had no idea who would have the best BBQ. Turns out that this team IQ did very well, winning overall, 2 or 3 first places, and 2 second places. They made a few grand in prize money. The team sponsored by the ultimate hot sauce store Peppers were a big suprise - they placed Top 10 in just about everything and won second overall.

Despite the several inches of rain and all the lightning that we received over the weekend, I thought that the event was awesome. Being a judge was a great learning experience - on my good tries I'm right up there with the best, and at worst I'm better than the people who use lighter fluid! If I can continue to improve my consistency and learn a little more each try, I'll be a champ in little time.

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