Here’s part 4 of contributor Blake Marcum’s column, Scoring Q and Drinking Brew.
Click here to see Blake’s other posts
on the adventures of being a BBQ judge as well as competing on the BBQ circuit in the Southeast.
Lesson 4: Nothing in life fits together as well as BBQ and the fall does.
As the cool grasp of fall surrounds us, I am reminded again and again why this is the best part of the year to be a competition BBQ judge and competitor. The mixture of smells from the smokers and the fire pits create a whirlwind type effect of euphoria in the mind of those who covet the best barbeque on the planet.
Around the south, our competition schedule really heats up when the winds cool down. From September to November, I have competed in three competitions (with quite a bit of success I might add) and visited two others as guests of competing teams. I was unable to get placed as a judge for the competitions, but that did not stop me from sampling some great barbeque.
Competing in the colder weather beats the grueling heat of the May-August competitions in almost every way. I’d much rather have on a jacket than be dripping with sweat. A nice bite of hot whole hog jowl straight off the hog is a much better tool to warm you up, than any cup of hot chocolate ever could.
The biggest concerns you usually face when competing in the colder weather is maintaining the temperature in the smoker. The multiple Backwoods Smokers that my team Sweet Swine O’ Mine use are all fantastic at holding a constant temperature for us during competition and doesn’t burn through an absurd amount of charcoal. Insulated walls go a long way in the cold weather, so if you’re shopping for a smoker you should be sure to keep that in mind.
Judging in colder weather is even better than cooking in it. There’s nothing like that 10AM bite of shoulder bark to make you enjoy the changing of theleaves. I know that last sentence sounded like complete drivel, but I promise you I’m completely serious. Time a shoulder cook where you’re pulling off around 8-10AM. While you’re being chilled by the morning air, take a bite of bark and look around. The flavors of BBQ intermingling with the scenery of a cool fall morning provide an amazing start to the day.
When you are judging in colder weather you can be sure that the teams are in the best spirits possible and that will directly translate to the product they give you. My favorites to judge in colder weather are shoulder and ribs. Shoulder for the previously mentioned bark bite, and ribs for the fact that humans biting meat off of bones in the cold while fires are going on around you is what I consider to be one of the best parts of life.
Whether you are competing or judging this fall, the fall seasonal beers are one of the best aspects to the experience. I’m a huge fan of Oktoberfest beers this time of year and trust me, your local store will have plenty of them to offer up. Sam Adams and Shiner both have a fantastic Oktoberfest that I think goes heavenly with hog.
Christmas brews are another treat this time a year. The past two competitions I have been enjoying the amazement that is Shiner Cheer a wheat beer with a wonderful peach flavor to it. This beer and barbeque were meant to go together, which is surprising since it is brewed in Texas. Be sure to break outside of the regular domestic offerings and go for something you can only enjoy during this small window of time.
No matter what side of the BBQ fence you’re on this time of year, make sure to hold onto the moment with both sauce covered hands. When it’s 97 degrees outside, you’ll be missing these moments.
For information on how to become a trained or certified judge, go to the Memphis Barbecue Network’s page at www.mbnbbq.com or the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s page at www.kcbs.us for information about upcoming judging classes.
If you have any questions, ideas you would like me to write about, or comments, feel free to email me at ScoringQ@gmail.com