True to the title of this post, I’ll share my thoughts on judging today’s Kissimmee, FL Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour event. But first, a heartfelt congratulations to Matt Barber of Hot Wachula’s and the guys at Smokin Mo’s for winning Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion honors respectively. This was Matt’s third Grand Champion win in a row, so we’re all betting that he’s going to be downright intolerable now. I’m losing of course, as anyone who knows Matt will tell you he’s a fan favorite among teams and BBQ judges alike.
Top Six Finishers List:
You can find a complete breakdown of the scores from this event here: Sam’s Club Tour Kissimmee 2015
Views From The 2015 Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour – Kissimmee, FL
Here are a few shots I took from this year’s event. Scroll through them and feel free to copy and share any of them you see. Also, I posted some of these on the BBQ Beat Instagram feed, so hook up with me there, too!
A Special Thank You To The Organizers
I also want to thank the organizers of the 2015 Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour – specifically Director Michael McDearman – for the attention they gave to making the judging experience run efficiently and smooth. One really nice surprise was the $25 Sam’s Club Gift Card all of the judges received as a thank you gift. Word has it that Michael pushed very hard for this, and it was very well received by the judges as a whole.
Likewise, the KCBS reps for this contest – Theresa and Mike Lake – were super. Everything ran like clockwork, from the judges seating process to their tabulation of scores. Awards kicked off at around 3:30 and the whole deal was concluded shortly thereafter.
Notes on Today’s BBQ Flavor Profiles
Realizing that the entries that hit my table today might not be representative of the whole field, the cook teams I know always ask me about the food I got. As such, I am posting the notes I took down just after our table turned in our judging cards for each category.
Before we get down to it, I’m only one man. My views on the meats provided to our judges table for this contest are just that, my views. Please feel free to comment on, agree with, disagree with, etc my observations in the comments section below. In fact, I encourage and welcome your thoughts or questions in the comments area!
That said, let’s get to it, shall we?
KCBS Category One: Chicken
Chicken entries were amazing today. We received four entries total, and all of the judges marked down high scores. One entry was the lone outlier, it presented very tough skin and was a little dry, so took a hit on tenderness.
One entry of legs was exceptional. I find that legs provide a considerable challenge for cook teams if they want to get them right. You really need to get in there and remove any of the extra bone or ligament material in order to make sure that judges get a nice clean bite. The skin on the leg I received was perfectly trimmed of fat so that it was paper thin and completely bite through. The meat had perfect texture, by which I mean it gave just s little when my teeth sank in. Each bite was very juicy and enjoyable.
The flavor was a nice balance of smoke with a little back and heat. Sauce was applied lightly, but there was enough to coat the outer skin of the chicken leg. The sauce flavor was mildly sweet a little bit of black pepper.
I should note that this entry, like it many of the others from today, was very light on smoke… almost as if it had been cooked on a pellet smoker or in a vertical smoker or gravity fed smoker using just lump charcoal. This is a trend I am seeing more and more.
Flavor Trend: Light to nominal smoke, mildly sweet sauce with some warmth but no biting heat… Thinking Chipotle or black pepper.
KCBS Category Two: Ribs
Ribs were very good overall. We received five entries, all spare ribs. Bones were all exposed evenly for the most part on one end, and thickness was mostly uniform except for a couple of the entries where a few of the ribs were more blocked triangles than rectangles. I realize this is a little nitpicky, but this is a reason cooks prepare more than just a couple of racks of ribs. It is very challenging to get uniformity across all of the ribs that go into the box. Especially if you’re pulling them from just one or two slabs.
Two of the entries were a little overdone. In both cases bark was excellent but dragged meat off the bone during the bite. The other entries had near perfect bite mark tenderness, which I have to applaud. Anyone who says ribs are an easy category needs to understand that it’s all about consistency. Guess you can say that about all categories, but those ribs will straight up take a bullet train to overdone town in a hurry.
Flavor Trend: Flavors leaned toward savory to mildly sweet with moderate to light smoke. Have not seen the candy bar with cinnamon rib profile for a while, and as I said things are moving towards a more savory taste overall. The words tang and zip come to mind. Maybe some finishing dust at work here to get that effect.
KCBS Category Three: Pork
Our table got five pork entries, and the boxes were all packed heavily. In fact, the boxes reminded me a lot of what we see with the FBA competition. Each box had garnish, but it was clear that the cooks wanted to show of their meat. (Yes, I realize how that sounds.)
Three of the boxes had tubes, money muscle, and pulled. One box consisted only of what seemed to be larger sized money muscle slices . One other box had just money muscle and horn chunks … all well barked. I’d like to say here that the multiple sections or muscle groupings of pork meat are always nice for a variation. That said, I do believe that cooks should only present what is best. Therefore, showing only one type of pork preparation is completely fine. Just make sure that what you put in the box is exceptional.
Flavor Trend: Mild smoke on all of the entries, but in general it was a bit more pronounced than with the chicken or the ribs. I believe all of the entry is used root words as there were no strong oak, hickory, or pecan flavors present. to sweet profile edged towards salt/savory with back end sweet finish. Bark, bark, and more bark. Each entry maximized the use of bark, and none of it was tough or chewy kind. All very flavorful.
KCBS Category Four: Brisket
We received four brisket entries, all using slices and burnt ends. One entry was noticeably thin sliced, which as predicted meant that the flat was a little tough… or tight as they say. As a rule, red flags creep up when the following are seen with brisket slices:
- Thin = tough
- Thick = overdone
- Short = something went wonky, maybe a hot and fast whoops, so center of the flat was the only salvageable part.
The short slices thing isn’t always a nail in the coffin. Sometimes they present with good pull and texture with great flavor.
OK. Back to our entries… all of the remaining slices were of an acceptable to great quality of tenderness and weren’t dry.
One of the entries kept a thin line of fat on the bottom of each slice. This comes in handy if you think your slices will pull apart or fall apart a little bit. I think it also adds a little bit of extra flavor and a break up in mouth feel when dealing with the beef grain texture.
Flavor Trend: Two of the entries went real heavy on the added umami type flavoring with something of a soy or bullion nature. The others were more beef flavored with simple additions of au jus or something to that effect.
My take here is that you may want to edge away from what has been in the past a fairly heavy handed amped up flavor profile and instead consider letting a great quality cut of beef brisket shine with a little bit of an added flavor spotlight placed on it. Yup, the meat matters. If you’re looking for a great BBQ Competition Meats provider in Central Florida – give Shawn at Master Purveyors of Tampa a call.