What’s in the Box

Image of Brad Pitt from the movie Se7en with the caption, "What's in the Box."By Bill Jones, MABA Board Member and KCBS Master Judge, Table Captain, & Life Member

As a Master Judge, I am often looked to for advice by newbies. I define newbies as new judges with less than 10 contests judged.

Some of their questions are related to how to apply to judge contests, why I apply for the ones I do, and help with discussing their entrée they just judged and scored.  But the one that gets asked more times than not – How do you meet a team to work on getting your Masters cook completed?

With the divide in KCBS with judges and cooks, versus that of MBN — judges, especially new ones, have wonderment about talking with teams.  How to approach? Who to approach? When to approach?

For both newbies and cook teams, it’s an easy process. You just have to ask. It helps though to know the person or persons to ask.

Many teams are also judges or have members of their team that judge to keep up with the new trends of other teams entries or what’s the hot new trend in box building.  Many teams also like to have judges cook with them as part of the team to get an insight into their cooks. They may or may not get comment cards to help them fix issues, but a judge in the trailer with them can maybe point out that issue. So sometimes you can find cook team members in the judges tent. You can ask them.

For teams, you can come to a contest and ask the reps to announce during a judges meeting you wish to have a judge cook with you for their Masters. Have them share where your site is and that judges are invited to come meet and talk about upcoming dates after the judging has taken place. You can exchange contact info then. But please do not use this as a time for asking questions of that days turn-ins. A newbie is going to be a bit out of their element in coming to ask a favor of you.

For judges, ask a master judge who they would recommend.  I have three I can name off top of my head whenever I am asked. I am sure other master judges also have teams they can recommend. Sometime you will also find in the BullSheet a team advertising for a judge to come cook with them.  Also check Facebook and BBQ Brethren website. But the key here is quite simple – all ya gotta do is ask.

For teams wondering if they would ever consider adding a judge for a contest, here’s a story that I can share that occurred some time ago – I have changed, or maybe not changed, some of the details to protect the innocent. Maybe this might help make up your mind if considering it.

They were taking left over pork, chopping and placing in bottom of their box to lift up the pork they were presenting. They’d been doing so for many contests. They were shocked to hear from the guest judge that if it’s in the box a judge might try some not realizing it was not to be considered part of the entry. They were only using it as a platform and it was bland tasting.Once this was brought to their attention they quickly placed sauced and good meat in bottom of box…and walked that day in pork. Was it because of what the judge told them? I do not know. But they sure like to have judges come and cook with them to point out possible concerns that might cost a point here or there.

As a team, please let them help. Maybe not unleash them with knives and say trim my brisket. Some teams let judges trim, season, inject, stoke fire, build boxes, the whole job of cooking competition BBQ. Others take a we will do the work, you just watch attitude which teaches a judge not a lot and is quite frankly boring. I myself learned so much more participating in all aspects of the cook. I highly recommend allowing a judge to be part of everything you do.

I will end with a comment being made often these days. A judge does not have to judge 30 before cooking with a team. Some will say a judge should cook before they judge. I do not recommend this idea. I believe a judge who has never judged yet cannot offer any insight to a team they are helping to cook with. I do certainly think a judge should cook within their first 15 contests.  And again all ya gotta do is ask!

‘Til next time,
Bill Jones