Thursday, July 5, 2012
BBQ Pitmasters Season 3 - The Judging Process
BBQ Pitmasters season 3 ended with a finale where the contestants had to cook whole pork shoulder and pork cheeks. Congratulations to the 2012 BBQ Pitmaster Champion Johnny Trigg! The season was way too short! They need to make more episodes with, perhaps, several shows that are cook offs for elimination rounds.
With this season over, I thought that I would write my thoughts on the judging process used in the show. This isn't a criticism. It's just a comparison of how the judges on this season's BBQ Pitmasters judged BBQ and how KCBS judges do it.
The rules the judges used for the show were loosely based on KCBS judging rules. Like the judges on the show, KCBS judges rate entries based on appearance, taste, and texture. And all entries are judged blind meaning that the judges have no idea whose barbecue they are judging. While the BBQ Pitmasters judges were apparently looking for the standards of appearance, taste, and tenderness that KCBS requires, that's about where the similarity ended.
For example, the BBQ Pitmasters judges had a preconceived idea of what each of the cooks should have in the box. When they were judging brisket, they wanted to see a smoke ring, slices of flat, and burnt ends. If any of those things didn't exist, they took points away from the entry's score.
It doesn't work that way in a KCBS competition. A KCBS BBQ judge judges the meat in the box as it is presented. There is no requirement for burnt ends, slices of flat, or even a smoke ring. The entry just has to be enough beef brisket meat separated or sliced for six judges. The KCBS judge scores what's in the box. It is against the judging rules to take away points if there are no burnt ends or no smoke ring.
One big difference between how a KCBS judge judges entries and how the BBQ Pitmasters judges judged was illustrated in the episode where one competitor turned in a whole chicken in one piece and left it to the judges to separate into three pieces. If a KCBS competitor turns in entries that have not been pre-cut for six judges, it is against the rules for the judges to separate the entry into more pieces so that every judge receives an entry to score. For example, if a competitor turns in six ribs but two of the ribs have not been completely cut apart resulting in a judge picking up a rib with another one still attached because they weren't properly cut through, the judge cannot shake or pull the other rib off. They have to take both of ribs if they come out of the box as one piece. This results on one or more judges not getting an entry to judge and that will be negatively reflected in the scoring of the entry.
Also, the judges on BBQ Pitmasters at times seemed to be engaged in comparative judging. In other words, they were judging each entry compared to the others. Again, KCBS judges do not engage in comparative judging. KCBS judges compare each entry to the KCBS standard for tenderness, flavor, and appearance. Some of those are more subjective than others, but there is still a standard. Each entry is judged and the scores are recorded before the judge moves on to judge the next competitor's entry.
In the finale, Tuffy mentioned that when he judges pork he is looking for several cuts in the box such as pulled, chopped, and the money muscle. He explained that a box filled with different cuts shows that when the pitmaster puts in three or four different cuts off the shoulder they show their expertise. While that is true, it isn't a factor in a KCBS competition. KCBS judges are taught to judge what's in the box and not to take away points just because any particular part of the pork shoulder isn't in the box.
Another difference is that KCBS judges are taught not to discuss the entries while they are judging. In fact, KCBS judges are taught to keep a "poker face" when judging. It's all part of the effort to eliminate the chance of influencing other judges. There are several times when the BBQ Pitmasters judges were making faces and looking at each during the judging. That is against the rules when judging a KCBS competition.
Another thing that the BBQ Pitmasters judges were taking into account was how precisely the meat was placed in the box and the arrangement of the pieces. Again, KCBS judges should judge the meat not the box. KCBS judges should not be judging the box of meat like it's a picture window. The KCBS judge should focus on the meat regardless of how it's arranged or even whether or not there is garnish in the box. All of that should have no bearing on judging how appetizing the meat itself looks.
So, in summary, unlike the BBQ Pitmasters judges, KCBS judges do not engage in comparative judging. They judge the meat as it is presented without any preconceived ideas of what should be in the box as long as it is within KCBS rules. They don't discuss the entries with each other while they are judging, and, as long as the cook entered cuts of meat according to the rules (meaning chicken, ribs, pork butt, and brisket), the KCBS judge does not take away points if all possible cuts of the particular entry (burnt ends, money muscle, dark and white meat, etc.) are not in the box.