I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of late about BBQ Judging as it relates to the task of leaving actionable feedback for teams to use as they seek to improve their scores at future walks. The conventional wisdom when leaving comments as a judge is that you should leave a comment if the score is a 7 or below. As a standard practice, I’m all for it. If you mark a score that low as a BBQ Judge, you absolutely need to explain specifically why you did so.
BBQ Judge Score Cards And The Importance of Leaving Feedback On Them
But what about positive scores? In my discussions with pitmasters down here in Florida, up in North Carolina, and other places I’ve judged, it’s been something of a commonality for cook teams to ask that a top score of a 9 (KCBS) or a 10 (FBA) also receive feedback in terms of what the judge liked. These teams are busting their butts (PUN … sorry) to dial in what they think is a perfect recipe for flavor profile, taste, and tenderness. I can surely see why they’d want to know why their meats are hitting the mark.
To that end, the Kansas City Barbeque Society introduced an updated their score cards with check boxes in the areas of appearance, taste, and tenderness that allow for quick marking for specifics on why certain scores are given. Though some continue to argue that these cards require further improvement, I see nothing but positives in terms of their giving more of a nudge to judges regarding the need to offer “constructive” criticism.
Is it Time For the Florida Bar-B-Que Association to Issue Comment Friendly Score Cards?
Down here in Florida, we only get a few KCBS events per year: The Lakeland Pigfest, When Pigs Fly South, Plant City Pig Jam, the Sam’s Club BBQ Tour, Smokin in the Square, and the Great Southern Tailgate Cook-off.
By far, the greater number of competition BBQ events take place here under the sanctioning of the Florida Bar-B-Que Association. On average, there are one and sometimes two FBA BBQ contests each week of the year – a blessed thing and something our wonderful weather down here allows us to enjoy!
Competition down here in the FBA is fast and fierce, and I’m of the mind that teams should benefit from as much feedback from judges as possible. I know many FBA judges do a great job of leaving comments that provide constructive advice. Some are less inclined to do so. In some cases, it’s the “Time Factor” that’s attributed to making leaving comments a difficult task. I’m not sure I buy into this, as the time it takes to make a few notations is hardly longer than a minute or two. These teams work very hard, so I think taking the extra two minutes is warranted.
As I stated above, good comments are as beneficial as bad ones, as teams really seem to enjoy affirmations in writing that they are on point with what they’re turning in. Come on, don’t you enjoy specific feedback on things you do well? Sure! We all do.
There has to be a way to get commenting on FBA judges score cards to happen with more frequency and reliability. To this end, my good friend and fellow BBQ Judge Neil Buchwalter offers up what I think is a very good modification to the FBA judges score card. Take a look and read his comments below… and as always – please leave your comments below as well – either with Google+, Facebook, or WordPress.
What A New Florida Bar-B-Que Association Score Card Might Look Like
Thoughts On A New FBA Score Card – By Neil Buchwalter, Master Judge – FBA / CBJ KCBS
Barbecue has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I cook it, I eat it and I have even considered competing in a contest or two or three. Heck, like most amateur pit masters I have been told by friends and neighbors that I cook the BEST barbecue they have ever tasted. What better way to find out if that’s true than by testing my skills against others. So, to prepare myself for battle, I decided to enroll in an FBA judges training seminar.
My goal for doing so was to understand what judges are looking in the turn-in box entries so that I could tailor my competitive offerings to their palate. After judging my first competition back in 2012 I was hooked! I have been judging barbecue contests for about two years now (FBA and KCBS) and appreciate the opportunity to judge a professional level food competition, the camaraderie shared by all involved (judges, cook teams, reps, fans and organizers) and the fantastic competition-level barbecue it is my pleasure to consume. I still may compete one day, but for now I enjoy being the best darn barbecue judge I can be.
Judging barbecue is supposed to be objective. That is, judges shouldn’t consider personal likes and dislikes (sauced vs. dry rubbed, sweet vs. spicy, etc.) when tasting an entry nor should one entry be compared to another – from this or any past event or from a backyard cook. Judges are asked to rate the entries presented to using a numeric scale based on Appearance, Taste and Tenderness.
Cook teams often will look at the judges scores (reported anonymously) and wonder why, for example, their turn-in box received a 10 out of 10 score (FBA) in Appearance, only an 8.5 out of 10 score (FBA) in Taste and a resentful 7.5 out of 10 score (FBA) in Tenderness. Comments from the judges to the cook teams are encouraged but are optional, and therefore, mostly absent. Closing the feedback “loop” has been a long-standing objective for many cook teams wishing to improve their level of competition. In fact, presented with only a numeric rating and no other information, cook teams find it takes lots of trial and much effort over a long period of time to improve their product. However, all too often, stumbling upon the correct combination of “wow” factors and flavor profiles just never seems happen.
About a year ago, I was judging at a table with another judge who also was a member of a cook team and we got into a discussion of how judges should be required to provide cook teams with feedback in order to improve the overall level of competition. My reaction was a typical judges reaction, “I’m not here to tell you guys how to cook your food. I’m only here to let you know how good it is or isn’t.”
We continued the discussion throughout the day and I left with a sample of a “new” judges scorecard that would allow judges to provide cook teams with greater feedback. Unfortunately, I thought the scorecard was a bit complex, would result in judges having to complete one scorecard per entry (today we can put 6 entries on one scorecard) and would lengthen the time required to score each entry. In my opinion, if adopted, this “new” scorecard would only receive a numeric rating from a majority of judges. All other information would remain blank and the cook teams would be no better off than where we started.
Over the next few days, I revisited my conversation about how judges could help improve the level of competition by providing some feedback to the cook teams. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself this “new” scorecard could actually work!
So, I set out to redesign this “new” scorecard with a few goals in mind:
1) Make it work within the boundaries of how we judge today (in the FBA) … once card per meat category per judge. If desired, a judge could identify an item as being really good by placing a “+” next to it or he/she could identify an item as really bad by using a “-“. If left blank the judge is indicating that everything was OK (e.g., average or as expected).
2) Minimize the number of feedback items and remove the redundancies.
3) Reorganize feedback item placement in order to simplify the scorecard.
4) Move additional judges’ comments to the back of the scorecard, similar to what is done today.
Over the course of several subsequent events I shared a “mock-up” of this redesigned “new” scorecard with other judges and incorporated their feedback into the design. I was surprised that most judges reacted in a positive manner to this “new” scorecard, although many expressed a healthy dose of skepticism. Here’s what I have so far regarding the new proposed FBA Judges Scorecard:
Now.. The Question is Whether This Proposed FBA Scorecard Will Be Approved
This is only a proposed update to the design, and I’m open to new iterations of it. I know there are some clear questions at this point.
Would long-time judges be willing to provide the extra feedback the cook teams are seeking? How long would it take before most judges became lazy, stopped providing feedback and just gave entries a numeric rating? Would the diversity of the additional feedback actually help or hinder the cook teams? Would embracing a new scorecard having subjective feedback items on it put an end to objectivity in judging barbecue competitions?
Honestly, I don’t have all the answers and in fact, I’m not sure I know all the questions. However, I recently judged a non-sanctioned barbecue contest that used the original “new” scorecard and found that I personally thought more than usual about the scores I awarded each entry. I also tried very hard to make sure that my feedback would be useful to the cook teams by not only making notations on feedback items (as appropriate) but by also including comments on several of the entries.
The “new” process wasn’t as bad as I might have thought it would be having never tried it before. Now, I firmly believe that it’s once again time to revisit this topic and to push for change.
FBA Master Judge