View Full Version : When do you start making adjustments?

07-01-2009, 08:25 AM
Our team has competed 3 times and we are starting to get a system down. However, looking at our scores it seems that we have a long way to go before we start getting into the top 10 with regularity. I wonder when we should start rethinking our system (especially in terms of recipes)? Judging from our placements should we start to tweak things or is it better to be happy with these results and assume they will get better with a bit more experience?

Dubuque 2008

Overall 29th out of 37

Chicken - 24
Ribs - 35
Pork - 20
Brisket - 13

BBQlossal (2009)

Overall 28th out of 59

Ribs - 31
Pork - 38
(Loin - 20)
(whole hog - 10)

Marshalltown (2009)

Overall - 21 out of 65

Chicken - 21
Ribs - 9
Pork - 48
Brisket - 21

07-01-2009, 08:46 AM
I'm sure you are not, but I wouldn't just look at your placement to see how you are doing. I look at my score much more than my placement. Then, I take it further and look at the average judges' scores in each meat for appearance, taste, and tenderness, and then I look at the averages for appearance, taste, and tenderness for all the meats. Finally, I average all those things with all the scores from previous contests to see if there are any trends.

I have made it my goal to not make any changes, or very minor ones, until I see a trend in this analysis over at least three competitions. For instance, I have noticed that my appearance scores for brisket have been consistently lower than other meats. I noticed this in our first comp this year, and then again at the second. It was not until Marshalltown (the third time) that I noticed the same pattern that I have resolved to do something about it.

I would be even more cautious when it comes to tweaking my recipes to extract more taste and tenderness points from the judges. There are a lot more variables to consider in this process than messing with presentation. There is having a recipe or a plan, if you will, and then there is executing that plan. I try to ask myself first if I feel I executed the plan well, before I look to see if I have a good recipe/plan.

From what you explained to me in Marshalltown, I would surmise that you have learned a good plan, so it would be my advice overall to look at making minor adjustments, prior to second-guessing yourself and doing any major overhaul.

I hope this helps/makes sense. Cheers!

07-01-2009, 08:49 AM
Monty, I'm no world grand champion so take my advice for what it is worth.
I wouldn't change much if anything at this point.
Looks like in your most recent contest, you finished in the top 1/3 in three of the four categories, with a call in ribs. I would keep doing what you're doing in those categories. I know you want to see results....so, maybe start making minor adjustments to your pork. But don't change too many variables at the same time.

The trap I fell into when I started competing was "If it didn't work, I must need to change it". Seems like I was always changing....everything, and every contest.
The problem with that is that you are never narrowing your scope, you just keep starting over from scratch.

07-01-2009, 09:19 AM
When you've been in it as long as I have. (7 years) and no comments from you Terry :icon_shy.
You are constantly making adjustments. Very small ones though. You'll find what is hitting and then stay with it.

Like Ryan said, look at your scores and not where you placed to decide on weather you should make an adjustment. I think you need at least one more contest to make a determination. Since the Q'lossal didn't have Chicken or Brisket, it's hard to tell what this year is like.

Every year seams to be a little different. Tastes change, presentations change, and so on. It's up to the cook to figure out what direction tastes are going and if they need to change up presentation a bit.
Just as tastes change from year to year, they also change from regions, I should say,"localized regions". Such as, different parts of Iowa or Minnesota will have different tastes than Kansas. May not be much, but just off enough to bring down or bring up the score.

I'll use Buster Dog as an example. He places 1st in Pork in Minnesota and with the same recipe pulls a DAL in Iowa. Should he change? I don't know but I would sure look at the scores.

Sorry for rambling and I hope you pulled something from this, but all in all, I'd say go one more contest and reevaluate your scores in all 4 catagories. Looking at the where you placed, I would say your not far off.

Good luck and see you in Waterloo. We can discuss more there if you like.

07-01-2009, 09:31 AM
Cook when ever you can! Think about what the judges are wanting! Ryan and I did alot of cooking in the off season, and let the "CRU", tell us what they thought about the product!?! Plan your work, work your plan! YOU're doing fine!! Baby steps when making adjustments! See Ya round the "Q"!!:icon_cool

Buster Dog BBQ
07-01-2009, 01:04 PM
I'll use Buster Dog as an example. He places 1st in Pork in Minnesota and with the same recipe pulls a DAL in Iowa. Should he change? I don't know but I would sure look at the scores.

I kept the same recipe and finished 6th in Marshalltown the following week just for the fact I know that the score I got was not reflective of the product. Sometimes you know. For example at the Pork Expo my butts were still a little too frozen when I prepped them and I knew it. Couldnt get flavor in all the way so I figured my score would suffer a little.

What I found to be help was to first off gain consistency. When you get a type of consistency it is easier to benchmark. That consitency includes what you cook with, times, injections, meat source and brand, sauces, temps, etc. Do everything the exact same.

Then I looked at what I could improve. Presentation for one. We went from lettuce to all parsley in the box and now score 8's and 9's in appearance. I also take photos of everything and compare it to other contest.

Then sometimes things just dont work no matter what. I for the life of me can't get in the top 10 in brisket no matter what.

07-01-2009, 01:56 PM
OK, here's my take Nate...

My guess is at this point in your comp cooking career, you should not be worrying about changing flavor profiles as much as concentrating on cooking your meats properly. Don't feel pressured because of others hitting home runs in their first few contests. Trust me when I say that winning also contains a huge amount of luck. Granted you have to get your meat there, but you also have to get lucky to have 6 judges all agreeing that you have the best product for the day.

so concentrate on cooking the meat to the proper doneness. Worry about your flavor profiles after you get consistent in turning in the same product contest after contest.

I play around with mine, but they are 'tweaks' to my recipe. I have been cooking ribs, butts, and briskets the same way for the last 4 years... Chicken, I should write a book on what not to turn in...

Jacked UP BBQ
07-01-2009, 02:17 PM
I make little changes every comp. I use to in the beginning make huge changes every comp adn it never paid off. The best change I ever made was this year and I have stuck with it.

07-01-2009, 02:22 PM
Good advice from Scottie. Work on the time and temps and once you get that, move on to the flavor.

Jacked UP BBQ
07-01-2009, 02:33 PM
I never understood the theory of working on time and temps? You have that down before you get into this crazy circle of life!! I believe if you are entering comp you should go for it all. There is a learning process but there is no ladder that you need to start at the bottom of. Make changes and try to win at every comp imo. If the stuff didn't work and you believe it was cooked correctly there is no reason to not try a different flavor. It would be silly in my opinion to forget the flavor and just try to cook perfect temps again. Do what you feel is right but I say change the flavor if you think that is the problem no matter how early in your career.

07-01-2009, 03:05 PM
Solid advice from Scottie. He's won a few contests over a few years.

If the meat is good, and the flavor is lacking, you can start playing with it and tweaking it a little. Find out who the seasoned/successful teams are and ask them if they would mind sampling your product. With few exceptions I can promise you that they'll give you some feedback that you can use. Once you become a threat....you are on your own:mrgreen:

If you do something drastic, you can end up chasing your tail trying to figure out the results. Take what you learn and make changes in increments and you'll figure it out faster than you expect you will.

07-01-2009, 03:17 PM
I was thinking the same thing as Scottie. Get the execution of every category down down before going nuts to change ingredients.

I say that because multiple competitors out there are teaching others what and how they do BBQ, but even the competitors that are copying the recipes they get out of these classes are generally not beating their instructors - why? Execution. Emeril can tell me how to cook it, but it gonna taste as good as his - at least not the first few dozen times I cook it.

07-01-2009, 03:56 PM
Not that my track record is all that great, I remember a conversation with a very successful cook who said that he doesn't make any changes until he sees the same result for 7 competitions. Of course, for a lot of us 7 competitions is a whole season!

07-01-2009, 04:29 PM
have you taken any cooking classes from folks like Lotta Bull, Old School - High Tech,, etc? If not then next cntest talk to people and find out who did take a class. Very nicely ask if you could sample a rib or chicken after they turn in their box. Ask all your neighbors as well. I will gladly share one with a fellow competitor. Learn from them.

Now on flavor - are you cooking what you like to eat or are you cooking for the judge that takes one bite? Next time you cook take one bite and give it a score.

I cooked for 4 years before I started using a commercial rub and a couple more before I found out how much I needed to season. Unless your wife says it's way to salty it's probably under spiced.

07-01-2009, 05:10 PM
All your answers have been really helpful. Thanks a lot for your time. I'll be spending the weekend practicing pork and brisket. At least the neighbors will be happy (I hope!) :)