Tip From the Pros – Garnishing Your Competition Box
by Brian Walrath, MABA Board Member and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ
The old saying goes, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. The same holds true for garnishing your KCBS competition box. Now before I even get started, I want to remind all of our readers what the current KCBS rules state regarding garnish…ahh, ‘ole rule #12:
12) Garnish is optional. If used it is limited to chopped, sliced, shredded or whole leaves of fresh green lettuce, curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, curly green kale and/or cilantro. PROHIBITED GARNISHES ARE lettuce cores and other vegetation, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TOendive, red tipped lettuce. “PROHIBITED” garnish shall receive a penalty score of one (1) on Appearance.
Now, when our team first started doing competition barbecue, we did the standard curly parsley boxes you’ve probably seen many times. The drawback to these types of boxes are that they are a bit time consuming and finding consistent parsley can be a challenge at different times of the year. Also, we’ve heard feedback from the judge’s tent that sometimes the individual pieces of parsley stick to your barbecue and some will ding the taste if they get it in their bite. However, even with that said, a well done parsley box makes a nice presentation if you have the patience and like that overall look. Here’s a link to a great resource on making that pretty parsley box.
Another way to garnish your box became popular last year with the use of cutting discs of tightly rolled curly leaf lettuce. Pitmaster Jerry Stephenson of Redneck Scientific even created an awesome video on exactly how this technique is done. We started doing our boxes this way last year and found that it cut our time making boxes drastically and we could do all four in about 20 minutes or so. We liked that nice even, flat surface this method provides. We also liked that we could cut our discs to different heights to boost up the garnish so the meat would sit up on it and be the star of the show or cut them a bit narrower so we had more depth for chicken or stacking ribs. One word of caution if using this technique…make sure you remove all the Saran Wrap from the box or you could get disqualified for having a foreign object in your box. One tip is to use colored wrap which can be readily found in green or red during the holidays or can also be found on Amazon.
In 2016 kale became an approved garnish for KCBS boxes. Building a kale box is a bit similar to the curly parsley, but it’s much more dense and easier to work with. The bunches don’t seem to stick to meat entries, and building kale boxes is just as quick, if not quicker than building the lettuce disc boxes mentioned above. Here’s a great new video produced by BBQ Guru featuring BBQ Bob Trudnak, pitmaster of the competition team by the same name!
At the end of the day, there are dozens of ways and a handful of different greens you may use to garnish your competition boxes. This article highlights just a few that we’ve used and have had some success with. You’ve got to find what works for you and what you can do consistently to keep your appearance scores in that 8 to 9 range all the time. Garnishing your boxes is probably the easiest element of competition barbecue that you can control week in and week out. But, remember, it’s also the lowest weighted component of scoring, so don’t get too bogged down in turning in the perfect pretty box for the judges…first and foremost, cook the meat right!