I did the judging thing at Barnesville, Ga this weekend. 40 teams or so.
Learned so much (I think anyway) that I wanted to share it. Or maybe get a written record before I forget (Old-Zhimer's MOD)
This will probably put most of you to sleep--but there may be a nugget in here for someone
First off, a couple of disclaimers are in order.
1. I only sampled 1/7th of the entries--not all of them.
2. This was FBA-not KCBS, but the rules are very similar except:
a. No garnish allowed.
b. 8 serving minimum rather than 6.
c. Scoring range is 5 to 10 with 1/2 point increments (same basic number of scores available-just shifted). 7.5 is defined as average.
3. This is the SouthEast-regional preferences may come into play.
4. And finally--I am not defending the judging process (or judges) here--just reflecting my observations and opinions.
My table had 1 "Master Judge", 1 very experienced Judge, little ole' me, and 2 new "Crash Course" judges who were "trained" that morning. The Table Captain was outstanding. She even briefly reviewed the scores and said we were all in "basic agreement" on our scoring. Not perfect matches (that will never happen), but in the same area of the scoring scale. Good deal in my opinion. After each meat group was scored, we actually got to sit around and discuss the entries while it was fresh on our minds. Great info from the 2 senior judges and some real lessons learned. This was much different than my previous experience. I sense a change of current about Judging in the FBA. Hard to explain, just a good feeling that they are trying hard to improve the system and I certainly appreciate that. Very Positive experience.
Also, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the teams I know while we were awaiting the awards ceremony. Picked up a lot of good info there and shared what I thought with them.
--totally oversauced (all 6 entries-table opinion). While discussing this later with the teams, a real communication problem was high-lighted. At the table, we had the benefit of actually seeing the entries. So, "too much sauce" had a definate, identifiable meaning. Later with the teams, it meant nothing. It was an abstract and relative term. I had to quantify it with something like "So much sauce it formed a layer in the bottom of the tray that was as much as 1/8 thick as it flowed off the chickie." And, "... it totally hid or overwhelmed the taste of the meat". Then, "too much sauce" started to take on meaning.
One of the teams enlightened me here. Seems that one of the Super-star teams was known for "lots of sauce". So, folks take that to heart and do "lots of sauce" to emulate them. As with anything else, take it all with a grain of salt.
Chickie sauces tended to be sweet. One (or maybe two) were spicey--in fact way too hot. Sent Judges diving for the cracker pile. Did not score well at all on taste. Low scores were due to "too much", not the fact that it was spicey vs. sweet!
Chad and I tend to stay with sweet flavor and moderation and I think that is where we will stay. Our chikie seems to score well and I am happy with that.
--Mixed bag. Moderate sauce on most of them. None of them resembled the "sauce contest at the "Reno Rib Cookoff" on Food TV last night.
2 teams ventured into "the Twilight Zone". They submitted servings of 2 (and sometimes 3) ribs stlll connected. Master Judge commented later (with a smile) that they were trying to bribe the Judges
Did not work. Farking boxes weighed a couple of pounds each--"petite" Table Captain had to use both hands to lift them
Messy, disorganized, and scored really low. Nothing outstanding (on either extreme) for taste or texture. Kinda "Average" to "Good" across the board.
--Some very interesting presentations, and that is hard to do with pulled/shreded pork. One entry was oversauced dramatically. One had sliced, pulled, and chopped in the box and put together a good display. Their taste and tenderness was only OK, but scored real high on Presentation. One team submitted only sliced. Unfortunally, only 7 slices--sorry--DQ. One sent the Judges to the cracker pile in-mass with the heat. And finally--Judges like Bark! No secret there
Chad and I do a "heavy on the Bark" presentation and I see no need to change- for sure
--First 2 entries--"Championship Que". I gave 10-10-10 and 10-9.5-10. Entire table was 9 to 10 on these two. Presentation was "picture perfect". Knife-work was clean, consistant, and professional. Tenderness was "pulls apart easily" and "melt in your mouth" done. Flavor was "full beef"--rich, robust, and not overpowered with injection or sauce. One entry was so overcooked that when you tried to pick up a slice, all you got was what you gripped. The rest stayed in the box
One entry was sliced point. Cook was apparently trying to salvage an underdone packer. Did not succeed. Interesting discussion afterwards--subject was "slices only" or "mixed sliced and chopped" in the box. Experienced judges said that either works fine with them. They did offer that a creative mixed box that contained "less than perfect knife-work" on the slices was sometimes helped by an attractive and creative addition of the chopped. Interesting to me. Chad and I have done both methods and will just see where we go in the future.
--I had a chance to spend some time with the scoring sheets after awards. There was a definate "low ball" table that bit Kevin and maybe some others. I have no idea how to cure that
Otherwise- much better "agreement" among the judges at the tables in terms of "scoring range" on each entry. No where near perfect, but better that I have seen.
As I get deeper involved in the judging, I am starting to see that the "Championship Que" and the "DAL (Dead Ass Last) Que" is pretty easy to identify. Also, I find myself pondering the exact score on these two extremes carefully. All the Que in the middle is running together for me. Good stuff, but hard for me to quantify with a score. Sadly, I don't think I am spending enough time trying to pin down a proper score for the "Good" Que. I think this may be common place. As I look at more and more scoring sheets, I see that the very top scores are grouped and closer together. Then, there is a mass of "Average" to "Above" average scores that contain the bulk of the entries. Finally, there is a group bringing up the rear- once again recieving scores in a fairly close range.
When Chad and I look at our "Middle of the Pack" scores, we can do a little side math and see that just a point or two swing in raw scores would have moved us many
places closer to the top or the bottom of the "Average pack". So, I do not get excited any more when we are in the middle because the exact placement will be so sensitive to just a small swing in numbers. Same thing is true among the top and bottom tier of scores. The Judging will never be that precise.
Also, as imperfect as the system is, the same teams float to the top week after week after week. They are talented and consistant. And, somehow, the Judges keep scoring their stuff at the top of the heap. So, something must be working
Great experience for me and all the new competetors (like the Southern Brethren) need to actually get out, get certified, and get some sauce on your hands at the tables if we really want to get a grip on competetive Que. Listening to the stories and rumors about "what is hot" with the Judges will get you no-where, IMHO.
Also saw a comment somewhere here on the Forum advising teams to attend the Judges meeting. Not a bad idea at all. But, at least in the FBA, there is no talk of "what we are looking for today" or "preferences" in any way, shape or form. There is a head count, discussion of work flow, assignment of tables, and review of any changes in the written rules. Can't speak for KCBS.
When Chad and I get back into the ring, I think we will be much better prepared than before--just gotta put it to use
If anyone is still awake and has questions or comments--fire away.
Also "Table Captained" the Ancillaries on Friday night. "New-Found" appreciation for "Table Captains". Interesting and I will post later about that little adventure