From the Judges Table
What’s in the Box??
By Bill Jones, MABA Board Member and KCBS Master Judge, Table Captain, & Life Member
In the movie, Se7en, you already know what’s in the box, (Spoiler Alert) “her pretty head”. If in a KCBS clamshell for turn in, a totally different set of items and thankfully so. As a judge we anxiously await each and every box to see what’s inside.
I recently attended the National BBQ Conference in Jacksonville FL. If you ever get a chance to attend one I highly recommend it. Some of the greats of BBQ come and share their passion from marketing sauces, to competing, to selling product, to running a catering business or restaurant. One of the several classes I took this year was titled “Inside the Minds of Competition Cooks and Judges”. Since my wife will sometime ask the same thing – “what were you thinking,” I figured I would attend and maybe see if they could tell me.
The panel was made up of a few names you may be familiar with – Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon, Jim Elser, Chris Lilly, Carolyn Wells, and Will Cleaver.
What I wanted to share with you was a couple of the topics that came up in hopes this may help some of you with your turn-in boxes. If it does, checks can be sent to my home address.
Sauce. The issue of over saucing meats and presenting sweet on meats was discussed heavily. Cherry flavored brisket is not the way to go. Chicken that is so thick and gooey one needs to take a knife and scrape off the excess before tasting to see even what kind of meat it is. Ribs like candy bars. Pork so sweet dentists are opening offices just for the judges to visit for a cleaning after contests. The entire panel pushed for teams to get back to BBQ. As Tuffy said – “a LITTLE heat and a LITTLE sweet go a long way in limited amounts.”
Areas of the country. Those that travel know they need to sometimes adjust what they serve in the boxes. Knowing ahead of time what regions of the country look for in taste is crucial to scoring well. However, you must practice that and know what the changes do to your entries. Jim Elser commented on how he changes when he goes to Kansas versus Florida or Arizona. Hard to fault him with that when he has won 7 GCs already this year alone.
But the best box commentary was this one…one team asked Myron a direct question regarding their burnt ends and they were not scoring well when they included them. After a few back and forth comments and questions with that team and Myron, it became clear that the team had turned in boxes WITHOUT burnt ends and had actually scored higher in those comps. But when they did turn in burnt ends their scores dropped. Now maybe you may see where this is going – that team sure did not. They continued to ask what did they need to do. Myron finally got their attention when he said. “G _ D _ n son, your burnt ends suck, stop putting them in the box”. The whole room erupted. We all know what needed to be done. But that team just did not see it the same way. The old definition of insanity comes to mind – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
As a KCBS Master Judge, I have seen all sorts of things. I have had boxes where I wish the team had only put one item in as that cut were 9s all day long. But they went the extra step and put something else in that just was not good. This past weekend I had two identical brisket entrees – slices and their rendition of burnt ends. Slices would have received 9 and 9 for taste and tenderness. Burnt ends…let’s just say one was a 2 as I had to spit it out (as did two other judges) and the other was a 3 as I was able to get it down. And somehow it stayed down. KCBS does not direct us how to adjust our scores in these cases. So it is left to the judges to mark as they see fit. Those two teams had no chance at Brisket with the scores I gave them, as did my table mates. Had they only given us slices, they might have won, or at least gotten a call.
And yes, I am well aware of the preconception of judges who expect certain items in the boxes. I will admit there are such judges out there. I will apologize to each of you now for those few judges. In talking with the judges at my tables, I find the overwhelming majority are not those type of judges. So you maybe want to consider only putting your best in the box and letting the chips fall where they may. Because I believe a bad judge who is looking for certain items to be in the box, even if you put what he or she may want to see in the box, is going to kill you on score if it’s not good.
Good luck to each of you and I hope this will be of some help.