Things I learned by Judging
I was fortunate enough to have several members suggest that I judge an event before competing. This is probably the best advice I've received on my path to competition cooking and really suggest that others do the same. There were about 120 teams cooking and I was able to judge beans (a Texas thing), chicken, ribs and brisket. I suspect I won't have to eat for several days.
I also had time to wander and check out the teams setups and found everything from a simple pit to monster rigs set up with lights, sounds and 4-5 pits. That alone was worth the trip. I kept hearing the same mantra - it is cook and not the toys.
1) The flavorings were all over the place. While I would not personally mix chocolate, coffee and paprika on my ribs, others did. Over-seasoning was very common so that gave me something to remember and watch. Chili powder may make you stand out but other judges remember that as it was hard to taste other submissions even after pickles, crackers and water!
2) The degree of doneness was all over the place as well. In each session of 20-25 boxes there were always 4-5 that were really good and others that shouldn't have been served. The classic bell curve.
3) The people were great. Everyone was very friendly. I gathered more information about rigs and cooking in 4 hours than I have in weeks on-line. I met master cooks and others who were locals just hanging out and having fun with the family. Everyone was happy to share and chat.
4) This was not a sanctioned event so there were a few rules that were not followed but in general, it was a very well run event (Hill Country Championship BBQ) with clear directions to the judges and volunteers.
5) There were was one late entry who was turned away (20 minutes late on Brisket) and I was able to watch a very professional staff deal with an unhappy competitor who simply didn't understand why they couldn't just slip their box into the pile.
6) Watching the set up and tear down was important as well as it could have been a logistical nightmare. There were preferred spots and you could tell that getting to the site early was a good idea.
7) The differences in presentation were amazing as well. They didn't allow garnish and no sauce could be in the bottom of the tray. A few people had slices too thick and were rejected but overall it was the size of the ribs and chicken that varied.
It was a wonderful experience and thank you again to those who pushed me in this direction. I hope others do the same.