After a fun day on Saturday, I headed back out to Trader's Village for the final day of the big IBCA Invitational with hopes of judging more final tables. I got there 15 minutes earlier than Saturday, but the brisket final table had already been filled. No matter. I signed up for the intermediate table as well as chicken finals, then wandered around the swap meet til the time for judging the final table on chicken. The chicken contest on Saturday was actually "Back Yard" Chicken and did not require the IBCA invitation. Anyone could participate. Therefore I was hoping for much improved entries this day, knowing these cooks had qualified due to their previous efforts. Unfortunately, that just wasn't the case. We had 20 boxes to judge at the final table after prelims and intermediate judging was complete. I found exactly one box that garnered a perfect 10 points out of those 20. Exactly the same as the previous day when anyone could enter. It was the only entry with good smoke flavor but it also happened to have perfect moisture, texture, and tasted delicious. It was the next to last entry that I judged, too. It is sort of amazing to me that over an hour after turn in, the good stuff still rises to the top. One of the volunteers told me later he sampled some of the "rejects" from first and second round judges and found better bird than we got at the final table. I think that gets back to the point I was on yesterday. I actually watched as they went out in the crowd to round up additional judges at the last moment when several who had signed up did not show up.
As I left to make room for the incoming brisket entries, I was asked if I was judging finals on brisket. I told the authorities I was on intermediate table. They said I was such a trooper judging all weekend that they would get me on brisket finals and not to worry about the intermediate table. Well alright!
After more wandering around, the time for final judging on brisket approached. They added several additional judges and we ended up with, I think, 11 judges on the final table to judge 21 boxes of brisket. Some had signed up, as I had tried to earlier. Some were added by the venue. Some were added by IBCA. There was even a guy dressed like the Maytag repairman who was there to promote the auction of one of their appliances for charity. Unlike KCBS, you can't pick up the brisket slices, you have to cut them with knife and fork to sample. I found that to be a bit troubling in determining tenderness, but once you start chewing, all becomes clear. Again, I had very high hopes, based on the fact that these were all cooks who had qualified through previous cook-off participation, and based on the high quality ribs I had had from the same folks on Saturday. Again, I was disappointed. Not one single entry had deep smoke flavor. There were plenty of smoke rings, some of the brisket LOOKED beautiful, a lot did not. Of the 21 boxes, I think I scored 2 as a 9, most were 7's or 8's. Much of the brisket was overcooked and turned to mush with only slight chewing. It was sticking in my molars on the first chew. One entry had sauce slathered all over each piece. I sort of wished I had gone to North Main for lunch instead of judging. If this was the BEST, then it really makes me quiver in my boots to think of what was on the preliminary table.
Overall I had a very nice time trying the IBCA judging experience. The people were wonderful and I met some very nice folks. It is a great organization and I plan to support them by becoming a member. They sanction far more contests here in Texas than KCBS, or anyone else, and they are definitely personable and well organized. Even for the judges they rounded up at the last minute, their instructions were clear, concise, and repeated frequently, making for an easy judging experience. I think there are pluses and minuses to both judging systems and I think I will also try to get into a Memphis in May judged contest at some point to learn their procedures as well.
I guess my only complaint is that I really didn't think the food was up to snuff. As with any cook-off, my main complaint is that as a blind judged competition, you don't have a chance to go back and have more at a later date - since you have no idea whose food you are eating! I think that's the biggest advantage to hitting restaurants versus judging cook-offs. Maybe I should start the IBEA (International Barbecue EATING Association).