Little bowls of pickles, baby carrots, cheese and grapes marched in an orderly line down the center of each table. Forks and knives were stacked like weapons before a battle. Tiny bottles of water with ice flecks dotting the outside marked each judge’s spot.
The barbecue people were serious.
Outside, under the shade of a barn at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, just beside the balloon festival, some of the competitors were entering their second day of cooking chickens, ribs and briskets, all in the hopes of taking home the International Barbecue Cookers Association-sanctioned state championship of barbecue.
Inside the center’s Big Sky Café, we judges were being prepared for battle. Or so it felt.
IBCA judge Andy Hollerman instructed us on how to properly evaluate barbecue. Does it smell and look like barbecue? Does it taste like barbecue?
Would you spend your hard-earned money on it? There would also be no drinking unapproved beverages and no discussing the food at hand. Or making faces as you taste, which is harder than it sounds.
By far, the hardest part for me, who frequently (and happily) judges many food contests, was not to compare each entry to each other. Instead, each plate was evaluated on its own merits. Furthermore, there was the matter of personal taste.
I, for one, prefer a vinegary barbecue with some smoke taste and smell, but not overpowering.
Ribs, I think, should come easily off the bone. Chicken should be juicy with a crisp skin. Brisket should be succulent and flavorful.
Points are deducted for clumps of charred rub, any meat I have to fight with and, of course, for anything underdone or overdone.
I tried to be as impartial as possible, but dang, I love a good, vinegary sauce.
The saving grace was that I wasn’t the only judge; there was a good-sized crowd of us filling three tables at the cafe. And people rotated in and out, giving new judges a chance to score the food.
In the end, we managed to pick a grand champion and a reserve grand champion, Barry Smith, of Bayou Boogie BBQ, and Melvin Dimm, Shootin’ Smoke.
And I want a good few days of nothing but salad after tasting some 30-odd plates of barbecue. All in a day’s work, right?
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved