Best Day Ever* Recap

Category: By Christian
It came, I met it head on, and it was everything I had imagined it to be and more. Yesterday, I was a judge at the American Royal Barbecue Contest. 500 competitors. 500 judges. Pounds and pounds of finely smoked meats, with $12000 and a competition smoker on the line. The following is an account of my day. Non-meat related details have been edited out, since this post will be long enough as is.

7am - Wake up. Usually my alarm clock is a screeching, horrendous sound that I dread. Today, it sounded as though angels were singing softly in my bedroom.

7:15am - Opening snack while reading the paper. I went with coffee and half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Just enough to get the metabolism going, but not enough to stick around for the rest of the day.

9:00am - Trek to the lavatory with a news magazine. Gotta maximize available intestinal space for maximum digestion.

9:30am - Wardrobe selection. I go with green nylon pants from Old Navy and a grey Mecca t-shirt. Casual and comfortable.

9:45am - Hang out with Elli while she eats her second breakfast of the day. I sneak a couple of grapes. Hey, a little fiber can't hurt anything.

10:30am - Grab "BBQ JUDGE" parking pass. Slip a pen in my pocket. Kiss wife. Kiss child. Embark on my adventure.

10:40am - Begin walk from parking lot to the designated judging area. The competitors are all pretty quiet. Smokers are smoking and puffing rich, meaty smoke into the air. My stomach grumbles. My mouth waters. My pace quickens as I attempt to still my madly beating heart.

11:00am - Check in at the non-certified judges table. I get my official lapel pin. I am directed to my seat between a couple of very nice gentlemen. I find out that they are from Chi town and make this trek every year to judge at the Royal. They also compete in the prestigious Memphis in May competition each year. I start picking their brains about the competitive barbecue circuit. I'm soaking it all in, loving the fact that I have been gifted such a fortuitous seat.

11:05am - A friend from church comes over to my table to greet me. He asks if I brought a bag. Uh, no. Rookie mistake. Judges are allowed to take leftover portions home. He gives me a bag, which is a huge relief. Now I won't be tempted to eat every scrap of meat put in front of me. I now notice that some judges have brought small bag coolers into the building. Smart.

11:10am - My bubble is burst as I'm moved to table 51. There goes my own personal informational session. Suck. I now have a three certified judges on my left, and two non-certified on my right. Nobody smokes competitively. The two non-certified women have traveled from Florida to judge in the competition. Small talk ensues.

11:30am - We are informed that they have run out of aprons, so our table will not be getting any.

11:34am - I'm starving. I eat one of the saltines in front of me, and take a swig from one of the many bottles of water at our table.

11:35am - Judges meeting begins. It consists of a man greeting us, and then playing a CD of the official rules. We're near the speakers, and it's so loud I consider covering my ears.

11:43am - We take our official oath as judges. "I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each Barbecue meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be a judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbecue and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever." That's what I call patriotism.

12:03pm - The chicken is brought to our table by our Table Captain. He has a huge tray with six Styrofoam boxes on it. Each box has a contestant number taped on it, and includes at least 6 portions of meat. All of the meat must rest on green lettuce and/or parsley. Our table is silent as we evaluate the relative beauty of each entry. We grade each box from 1-9 on presentation. The Table Captain then passes each box around and we each take a portion. Now, we begin tasting each piece, and grading it from 1-9 on both taste and tenderness. Between each contestant's entry, I take a swig of water and bit off of a saltine to clean my palate. Overall, it's very good. Except for my last piece. For some reason, the chief picked a recipe that included encrusting the chicken thigh in rock salt. Blech.

12:15pm - Our table turns in our scoring cards. We clean the table and chat about our impressions. I pick the brain of the certified judge sitting next to me, and vow to take the certification class this year.

12:27 pm - Our table captain brings the ribs out. Note to self: don't submit spare ribs to competition. They aren't as pretty and are way tougher than baby backs. Both of the spare rib entries get lower scores at our table. One is so bad that I don't even put the leftovers in my bag to take home.

12:44pm - Ribs judging concludes. I get a good tip on giving the ribs a honey glaze when you pull them off of the smoker.

12:15pm - Pulled pork enters the arena. I'm pumped. It's my favorite. One contestant take a risk and submits a terryiaki sauce on the pork. It's good. Not the greatest, but the risk was probably worth it.

12:45pm - Pork exits the arena. The lady next to me remarks that she's stuffed. Uhhh. You better suck it up. We still have brisket, lady. I will admit, I'm getting the meat sweats at this point. I regret not wearing shorts. I try to walk it off, but it doesn't help. I also regret not bringing some unscented wipes to de-sauce my hands that are getting progressively grubbier.

1:20pm - One of the organizers takes the mike and informs us to stick around following brisket, because we will all be judging sausage. Sausage doesn't count toward the composite Grand Champion score, so not everyone does it. The crowd goes wild.

1:27pm - Finally. The brisket is out. 4 of the entries are very good, and make me realize how much I need to work on my brisket skills. The other two? Bad, bad bad. Like chewing on leather.

1:42pm - Brisket is gone.

1:56pm - Sausage enters the arena. We only get three entries. None of them are great. The problem is the contestants used salty and flavorful rubs, which isn't necessary since sausage is already spiced. Too bad. I don't pack any of it up to take home.

2:05pm - I'm outta here. I lug my 4lb bag of meat leftovers out to the car with a huge sense of accomplishment. I'm soooooooo full. Certainly going to have to sleep this off sometime this afternoon. And take a shower. All of that meat sweating has made me a little ripe, if you know what I mean.

2:20pm - I enter my home the victorious bearer of meat. I kiss the baby. I kiss my wife. Stacy remarks, "Either you or that meat smells very fragrant."

Fair Dinkum

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