Scoring Q and Drinking Brew
By Blake Marcum
After cooking at the grand show that is the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, it’s a fun time to go back to smaller competitions. Smaller competitions are where I found my love for BBQ and really got to know some of my fellow competitors. Leaving the bells and whistles at home can make for a very enjoyable time. Or it can be an out-right disaster.
Lesson 5: BBQ ain’t always pretty, but it is BBQ.
Smaller competitions bring about a great level of competition and camaraderie. The “big” teams that are very busy at the larger competitions, have more time to talk with other cooks and enjoy the entertainment that is often provided by the local community. Depending on what competition you are at, they may host special ancillary competitions or “local’s only” categories to entice the local community to also get involved. It’s really great when you find a community that fully embraces what you also love.
Smaller competitions also usually accompany local events like fairs, car shows, seasonal festivals, etc… In Columbus, MS we were treated to the roller derby after the awards. In Covington, TN you can go see the demolition derby after ancillaries are turned in on Friday night. The International Goat Days competition in Millington, TN has goat chariot races, goat judging, a rodeo, and a tractor pull. I can tell you these things are all amazing, but you really need to see it for yourself to believe it.
One drawback from smaller competitions is that it’s harder to get full participation from your team for a smaller competition. Less people means more work to those who go. On my team Sweet Swine O’ Mine, we have what we call the “Guerrilla team”. Much like in guerrilla warfare, we find that the smaller group is able to cover more territory and be just as effective in competition. We simply choose to leave out the frills, only cook one category, and rely on the strength of the product with a very simple presentation setup.
Weather is also a greater factor at smaller competitions. Having fewer hands on deck to setup and reinforce your equipment from the elements means you can forget to do vital things, like stake down your tent legs. I rescued two tents from other teams this year at competition that took flight in the strong wind, both of which occurred DURING judging. A lot of times weather can shift dramatically during a competition so while you were wearing shorts during the calm sunny day, the 44 degree winds with stinging rain are now causing you to rethink your hobbies. I always pack for three different weather possibilities, hot, cold, and wet. While I hope Mother Nature is a fan of BBQ, she sure likes to make me think otherwise as often as possible.
Drinking at smaller competitions can be more fun too. I like to take a variety of good beer to smaller competitions for myself and my teammates to enjoy that I would never bring to a big competition. Simply put, I don’t waste the good stuff on the masses when a Bud Light is really what they are looking for. Teams like to invite a lot of their friends to smaller competitions to hang out and party. This can be good and also very bad. While it is great to have your friends around, if you do not monitor their intake, disaster can be just around the corner and your chances of competing can be shot.
Disaster can also come in the form of the outright unexpected and bizarre at competitions. Depending on what locals from the community decide to come pay a visit or where the event is held, you routinely get to entertain or be entertained by your surroundings. Sometimes these are the only things you remember about a particular competition.
Whether at a large or small competition, the product still has to be great in order to win, but there are usually some great distractions from the normal competition schedule to enjoy for teams and judges alike. Whether it is events like the jalapeño eating competition in Arlington, TN or special trophies designed by the community organizers, smaller competitions boast big competition and big fun.
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