Let’s debunk the Clichès
Though Barbecue is becoming more and more a habit, we can safely say that it is still a niche, one of the many semi-unknown aspects in the world of cooking that is so trendy at this time on social and TV. Regularly readers of these pages know that we have an active role in a niche in the niche of the compartment: the competitive BBQ.
To be clear, I LOVE competitive BBQ. In all its robe, in every expression. In some previous posts I tried to describe its most exquisite romantic soul, the ethics pervading the relationship between the teams, the succession of emotions at the award ceremony and the smooth overnight atmosphere. This is, however, only a face of the medal. No less important and significant is its sporty profile. I said “sporty”. Yes, because I regard it as a sport, a skill and strategy-based competition, measured according to the performance of the individuals and the teams they belong to.
Unfortunately, I realize how difficult it is to understand the hints, how far it can be distant to anyone who has never participated in a competition, even as a spectator. If we add to this communication to the public, I don’t mean instrumental but at least misleading by the main players, here I perceive the risk of a distorted perception, of what I think to be a reality to be valued and told.
I therefore humbly helped to break some commonplace or at least to clarify some of the doubts that I too often feel around the competitive barbecue. I hope my many friends who compete in WBQA forgive me if I make more explicit reference to KCBS rules, as I know them better. In any case, they are technical nuances, the one behind us does not change.
I would like to point out to those who did not even know what we are talking about. The classic barbecue competition is based on 4 categories, each representing the four pillars of the American barbecue kitchen: Chicken, Ribs, Pork (Pork shoulder) and Brisket (beef breast tip). Each team has to start day A from raw meat to deliver the B day the 4 preparations, short of each other, with the best cooking and presentation possible. Preparations are closed in numbered boxes and are brought to anonymous judges for evaluation. Further nuances are explained in ours prizes page.
The one who cook the best barbecue wins
And so far, it’s unobtrusive. But what does “better” mean exactly? It certainly does not mean anything particularly creative. We are not in Masterchef. A winning preparation is a preparation perfectly consistent with the canons. Let’s take a Brisket. It must be as soft and mild as possible but must have its texture, you should not crumble in your hand. He must ingest as much as possible, but he must do it as naturally as possible. Its beef flavor should be exalted in the most intense way possible without ever being artificial. The competition is to find the balance between these factors, not to invent a recipe. How many teams do they succeed? It is clear that you have to find the right balance between the factors and your way to get there but above a certain level, many teams know how to do it. So where is the difference? We said that competitive BBQ is a sport. Let’s make parallelism with more known sports. A professional golf player would be able in aseptic conditions to make the ball go exactly where he wants it? Probably yes, but he does not play in aseptic conditions. There is wind, humidity, the sloth of the grass on which the ball bounces, and a thousand other factors. The skill is to evaluate them and correct the shooting accordingly. In golf, whoever fails less wins.
In the competitive barbecue is the same thing. The conditions affect, not least the flesh, which, being not produced in series, never behave exactly the same way. In the competition of last year in France, a steady and dry wind swelled and all the teams had some problems in handling the dehydration of the preparations. The skill lies in knowing how to correct the smoker setting and / or the meat seasoning to mitigate the problem, knowing how to bring the preparation to the canons by putting it on the right track when it differs. The same thing we could say for the -22°C of WEST or fir the extreme humidity of the lake in Hoofddorp, at Barbecue Society in Holland.On up to ten competitions is very difficult for you to have EXACTLY the same results. They will have to get as close as possible to each other, always in balance
The barbecue of the winner is good, the one of the last is a gross
That is not so. With unplanned eyes and palate, the two preparations as well as all those in the midst of these extremes would look very similar. We are talking about shades, details, a judgmental system where even just a judge on even just one parameter, gives a vote of 8 (good) instead of 9 (perfect) decree a remarkable score slippery. Always taking the parallel with other sports: in a 100 mt running race at the Olympics, who comes last can not be called “slow” and the difference with the first will be in the order of the hundredths of a second. The picture here is of a Brisket arrived in the last positions of the recent Brew’n’Q Open. How much would you pay for a brisket like this? Yet it is 30 positions from the first. The reality is that as one of my friends says, in a competition all the teams are strong, only someone has to finish as last …
It is not credible, there is too much subtlety of results
Actually it is not so strange. We always come from other sports: Federica Pellegrini is one of the best athletes in Italian and world history and she’s is making history on swimming. But she does not always win. The first two Olympics in Athens and Beijing were those of revelation and consecration. Then a deafening thud to those of London and finally an anonymous performance in Rio. In Brazil, Pellegrini came from a good semifinal and before that from good performance in Europe, yet nothing. Michael Phelps instead, considered the best swimmer of all time, every time he competed was first or among the first, even after retiring for two years from competitive swimming and being fattened by 15 kg. The good ones do well most of the time, while the champions are the ones that create the conditions to win constantly and the real champions in swimming, in the barbecue as in any other sport by force of things are few.
The point is, as was said above, the distances between the teams are millimeters. Last year in a category we finished seventh at 0.4 points out of 180 from the first. Seven teams enclosed in 0.4 points! It is clear that the slightest mistake is paid to you and who is behind you does not expect anything else. As in all sports it is also about good luck but in the end the teams in the first places are always the same.
Who has more money wins
False. The principle is that those who have more money would have more to invest in higher-level meat and instruments while ensuring better performance. It’s a very naive approach. I know teams who usually use expensive meat getting performance in line with teams using more common meat, others even making the investment to buy a Wagyu, having those worst performances. To give another example, Harry Soo, one of the most famous and winning American pitmasters, uses as a cooking tool for his Brisket only an amatorial WSM because he claims to be the one that gives him the best results. Generally at this point I am told that certainly, if one is not good at it he can even take the best meat in the world but he will never get anything while the skilled ones win whatever is given to him. As we have seen above, however, it is not so and the point is not this. Each one achieves its result by cooking through its own system. Cook at higher or lower temperatures, use a more or less greasy injection, use a rub more or less sugary, and other thousand factors will make the meat you are using, more or less fit your system. This is a system that is out of the economic matter.
The same thing can be said for smokers. The Miss Piggy’s UK we had interviewed some weeks ago, have been for two years in a row European champions using two Pro Q Exel, good bullet smoker but certainly with an amateur nature. In that interview, Scott said, “The bad worker always blames his tools.”
Judges in Italy are not top to teams
It’s not true, or rather it’s not that anymore. Italy has, from this point of view, paid a duty to start late in comparison to other countries. The teams started from a base, however low. Judges not. To this we add that the work of the judge is really, really very difficult. To get judging by taking so subtle differences is not enough learning the basics, it is a workout and unfortunately the best workout is the competitions themselves. It has to be said that those who want to go through the court career have all the tools to do, checking their scores online, comparing their own media with those of other judges, understanding where it is wrong and where to improve. Many judges I know have gone this way and today I can say that the hard court of the Italian judges at the competitions includes motivated people with good personal training and a great experience. Always as a participant I can confirm the level of errors is increasingly tapering and to date there is no significant gap with the outside.
Another matter could be about the availability of judges. It is a fact that this question arises from the experience of the early years, when objectively a mass certification was carried out to meet the urgent demand for judges and a consequent low initial average quality level. Of that generation some have chosen to start a qualified judge’s path, many others as it is physiological, instead quit. After that period in our country there was no objectively a generational change. We Italians are different from Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, who have the culture of “traveling backpacker” in their DNA and it is a fact that in our country has not triggered a virtuous circuit of development of the judges sector as has happened in other countries. Basically we have today excellent judges, able to give a very high quality of judgment to a competition but we have too few. In these terms, then, the real thing is that certainly under the internal promotional profile we could do something more
It’s too easy to be certificated as a judge
In part this is true. The system is born for the United States, where future judges have a background, being born and raised eating barbecue. This is scarcely applicable in Europe where, prior to understanding how to make a judge, the objective cooking standards should be defined. Becoming a good judge in Europe involves a slightly longer path, but as I said above, nowadays the most has been done. If we want to mention it, even in Europe we should make distinctions: when we were to compete in Sweden at the Smoke in the North, we told you about supermarkets where it was commonly found in the refrigerator and rotisserie ribs, pulled pork, brisket and fresh made barbecue sauce. It is clear that starting from a cultural substratum of that kind is easier and the problem at the limit is present only in our country or at most in southern Europe. Of course, an ad hoc expanded certification formula, which involves more the sensorial aspect would help but all the game can easily work even playing on the only experience factor.
The point is that the main criticism that is moved through this statement is that teams made up of very experienced pitmasters who often represent the excellence of the country they represent, are judged by people who instead most likely in their home would not be able to reproduce dishes the even remotely resemble those offered them in competition. The more or less latent suggestion is that a longer and more structured formation is needed. Even in this case, however, we are faced with a fairly naive statement, for many reasons.
The first is that no matter how long this training can be, it will never be enough. How many years of cooking and tasting training would it be necessary for a judge to be able to consider himself at the level of the pitmasters we mentioned? And who would have the patience to support all of it with even no one judging? The misunderstanding stems from the fact that the purpose of certification is to give you the criteria of judgment, not build your palate, because it is assumed that it is only a beginning point to start an apprenticeship on the field alongside more expert judges, along a path which then leads to acquiring degrees of Masterjudge. The mistake is to assume that a judge can be masterjudge from his first competition otherwise he does not deserve to judge. The third is that perhaps not everyone is aware of the fact that there are commonly adopted criteria for the formulation of judging tables, designed to help the new judges in gaining experience by actively being part of the jury but being distributed among the tables so there is always a right mix with the most experienced judges. The KCBS rules also provide that the lowest rating of the six drops in court will be rendered, making any crazed splinters irrelevant and canceling the impact of outliers on the overall judgment
Barbecue competitions do not attract public because the formula does not promote the movement properly
This is another very debated topic. It is a double affirmation of cause and effect, each based on an assumption which is once again clearly illogical.
Let’s start by saying that a barbecue competition does not want and can not be anything more than a barbecue competition, in which enthusiasts confront each other within the rules of an officially certified judging system. This is the tip of an iceberg, extreme performance designed to create dishes taken to the limit, tastes destined to hit but impossible to sustain for a whole meal, preparing which takes a thousand steps and a lot of hours. So let’s say that if you really want to spread, the competitive circuit is perhaps the least suitable tool in absolute. It ‘a bit like if to promote the automobile market and how nice and pleasant to drive is, you try to bring people to the stunt cars races…. The task for that purpose should be to make people taste as many as possible simple and tasty dishes that they could eat in quintals without getting tired and easy enough to be replicated at home, enhancing the taste contribution that this cook is able to give and that all of us know. Paradoxically, even a very normal show cooking at the shopping center with well cooked sausages would be more effective than a competition. The tools designed for the purpose can only be the media channels, which are entertainment behind the barbecue, so recipes in blogs and television broadcasts, dedicated facebook pages where to talk about it, tutorial on you tube, free tastings, streetfood, things like that. The problem is that clearly it is not like saying it and it takes time to make mass popular grip on large numbers. Taking up the previous example, trying to argue that this purpose has not yet been achieved because the promoting tasks are not adequately absolved by the competitive circuit is a bit like saying that too few cars are sold because the stunt cars races do not attract enough people.
Secondly, the claim that barbecue competitions do not attract public is false in absolute. Just visit any competition abroad where the concept of event is a little more structured and mature than ours, to realize that it is not true. As an example, just review our report of the BBQ Bulls or Meat, Smoke and Beer last season or to stay within the national borders, WEST or the recent War of Barbecue in Noventa di Piave. National circuits like NBC then made of front desk a real mission, involving a notable public at every event. The real point is that there are many sports involving and more attractive for the show, such as football, basketball, volleyball. Unfortunately, the Barbecue is not among these: there are no stands, there is not a camera pointed over our boxes that show in mega screen what we are doing to a wide audience, there is no direct comparison between the participants in a immediate and real-time display of the score. In fact, let’s assume for the absurd that during the turn in (which is probably the most adrenaline and exciting moment of the competition) each team takes off the gazebo and every other barrier to be surrounded by the watching public. How many people will they be able to see in a decent way? Say 10 for each station? 15? Let’s make 20. How many teams are present at an average competition? 20? 25? Let’s do 30. The audience is a total of 600 people. Anyone who has attended any public event knows that if you do not talk about an audience in the order of several thousand, you are talking about a flop. The barbecue competition does not have the characteristics to fulfill this task. What is instead intelligently done abroad is building an event with as many points of attraction as possible, of which competition is the flagship. If we continue the example, it’s like saying that I organize the weekend of the car with free test drives, all the models of this or that brand exposed and tangible, demonstrations of safe driving made by professional drivers, occasions for the purchase of a new car, streetfood area with only foodtruck present and last but not least the main event: the stunt cars race. Then the awards ceremony, a final dinner and everybody at home. The point is simply that there are better organized events and worse organized ones, well promoted or badly promoted, that work and that do not work and the reasons behind may be different but the fact that they involve a barbecue competition or not is only accidental.
The competitive barbecue is a wonderful world. Do you want to get to know you a little better?