Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

[Event] Judging the Pitmaster Competition at the Big Grill

Remember when you were a child and you wished so hard to become a sweet taster in a sweet factory, or else perhaps to be one of the toy testers on the annual Late Late Christmas Toy Show. The chances of these childhood dreams becoming reality were pretty slim, but that didn't stop you from dreaming. Fast forward thirty years and I bet you that we all still have some childlike dreams. Our wishes might have matured somewhat, like becoming the chief shoe buyer for Brown Thomas or working in quality control for a grand Champagne house, but I bet you those dreams still exist.

When I recently saw that the Big Grill Festival was looking for BBQ judges, I knew with every bone and tremor of destiny in my body that my time had come. This was going to be MY moment. I submitted the application form and waited. And waited some more. And then the magnificent moment arrived when I was confirmed as a judge for the inaugural Pitmaster competition with US-style low and slow BBQ.

And so it was that I found myself in a tent at the Big Grill Festival, along with a group of fellow judges who all had similarly manically delighted grins on their face. I don't think I have ever met a group of judges so keen to get to grips with their task. But first, we had to be trained on how to judge competition BBQ. Under the guidance of Toby Shea from the British BBQ Society, we learned the mysteries of parsley and the role it plays in presentation, how to complete our judging slips for the different categories and finally we got to put it all into practice with some mouth-watering BBQ samples.
Competition BBQ judging slips
Parsley - a vital ingredient in competition BBQ
Finally, Saturday arrived and so did our judging duties. 11 teams were expected to take part in this official BBQ competition, which would give the winning team a chance to compete at the Jack Daniels International in Tennessee. So it's fair to say that the stakes were high for the teams, who were going to have to produce food across 6 categories over the 2 days. On Saturday we would judge the side rounds of burgers and "Anything But", to be followed on Sunday by the classic chicken, pork, ribs and finally brisket.

Several experienced teams had travelled to Dublin to take part in the competition, along with teams who were new to competition BBQ. So in addition to training the judges, Toby was also training and coaching the BBQ crews on the detailed rules and techniques of competition BBQ. It was all done in the spirit of raising the standard of competition BBQ and giving teams the tools to improve at future competitions.

All judging was performed double blind and at no stage did we know whose BBQ we were sampling. The samples had to be handed in within a precise 10 minute window, meaning that the crews had to perfectly judge the cooking and standing times. Imagine taking 8+ hours to cook a piece of brisket, with a laser like focus on a 10 minute serving window. From there, the samples were randomly assigned to one of the two judging tables, which were chaired by experienced judges from the UK. Following our training, we assessed the samples on three criteria; appearance, flavour and texture.
My judging plate in the ribs category 
The burger category
Glorious brisket 
The chicken category
I learned lots over the course of judging 6 categories. I learned how some things never really should be BBQ'd. I learned that creme caramel and bread & butter pudding turn out quite well and I drooled over the most incredible rib roast of beef. I learned that some incredible looking pieces of meat failed to deliver on flavour and or texture. I learned that some meats could be wonderfully tender, but lacking in flavour.

And finally, I learned that some samples combined all three criteria into wonderful choirs of heavenly, BBQ grilling angels. I also learned that bringing my own little packet of tooth picks is a good idea and that you can never really have too much kitchen roll. Wet wipes are also useful. 

I want to thank The Big Grill festival for selecting me to participate on the judging panel, plus the British BBQ Society for taking the time to ensure that we judged fairly and accurately. But most of all, I want to thank those magnificent pit crews who spent so much time tending their BBQs to produce all those wonderful meats. 

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