What’s In The Box?
By Bill Jones, MABA Board Member and KCBS Master Judge, Table Captain, & Life Member
Last issue we talked about the National BBQ Conference and what a panel of some of the top cooks in America tried to help teams understand. Quite simply – you hurt yourself more by putting less-than-stellar product in your box then it would be to have it in there over concern a judge may be expecting to see a certain cut offered.
In looking back over my time as a KCBS judge, I have seen some very, very, beautiful boxes. And many of them were NOT the same ole same ole muffin tin chicken or brisket with burnt ends. Some went way off the BBQ standard. I do not know if the team just wanted to see what it would score and maybe it be the next Myron Mixon muffin tin chicken idea or maybe they were a new team and this is what they thought would score well.
So keep in mind, I cannot say what my other judges scored the boxes/ideas below. I can only say it does not for me, and the majority of the judges, have to be the same ole boxes.
Chicken – Breast meat slices, flats and/or drummettes – seeing more and more legs these days, saw a whole chicken one time – two legs, two breasts, twp thighs, and two wings. Talk about a heavy and a tight box! All have their own concerns. Breast meat can dry out quickly. Legs can have the skin pulled up in a lollipop look or left on the bone. A recent box was thigh and leg still connected and had grill marks on the skin. Taste and tenderness were BOTH excellent. My favorite box I ever saw was smoked drummies and flats. Drummettes and flats lined up like little soldiers in four rows. They had a great color to them and they just popped in the box. At the same contest, a thigh was turned in with what I could best describe as thick gooey black roofing tar ¼” thick on it. No one looked forward to tasting that entry and it scored very poorly.
Ribs – Over sauced as mentioned in the previous article is an issue for more and more judges. Ribs don’t have to be dry, just not 3/8” thick gloppy sauce. We as judges keep seeing teams on Facebook or The BBQ Brethren commenting on “it’s not a greens contest” or in this case ”it’s not a sauce contest.” But teams fail to follow that same advice and cut back on the sauce to let the meat shine. One of my worst boxes I ever judged was NOT over sauced…just overcooked! Burnt in fact, so bad the bones were popping through the crusty, petrified, burnt meat. That was bad enough but the team looked to have at the last second thrown the bones in the box and ran, and then fell on their way to turn in. The even funnier thing was there were only 5 bones in the box. As bad as those five were we all wondered how bad bone number six was that the team chose not to include it?
Pork – LOVED a box I had once which had three meat selections in it with three different sauces applied. The NC chopped look had a NC vinegar based sauce on it. The money muscle was a Memphis flavor and the pulled meat was Kansas City flavored. We normally, as routine, see the same flavor on all the meat in the box and that’s fine too. I just thought that team went above and beyond and their selections fit the meat itself. I rewarded them for that choice.
Brisket – And this is the one I hear teams comment on more than anything else. “If we don’t put burnt ends in the box the judges are going to score us down.” Yes I am sure there are a few poor judges who may be doing so. I cannot say as I, myself, have never done so. Nor have I ever heard a judge at a table I was judging or table captaining say so. I myself want your best. Unfortunately this is the one category I seem to fill out more comments about one of the two included entrees the team hurt themselves by including. KCBS does not tell us how to score when the slice is a 9 – 9 for taste and tenderness and the burnt end is a 3 – 3. So we are left with averaging or choosing to weigh a bit higher that the excellent outweighed the poor, or visa versa.
Know that sometimes your cook just did not go as planned and sometimes you have to turn in what you have and hope for the best. Just don’t over think it. KISS comes to mind.
Good luck to each of you and I hope this will be of some help.