Wednesday, 5 August 2009

London Ribfest 2009 - WK Rib Judging

Insight Into Being a Rib Judge:
By the Wing King

OK lets be honest; Ribfest is about selling ribs. It is about the masses getting slabs of smoked and BBQ sauced pork in a carnival-like environment. The other side of the event is the competition where the Rib vendors compete for best rib, best sauce. They do that through a judging.

The judging is all in fun. You know this because EVERY booth selling ribs have trophies and banners displaying their wins at other ribfests. The only serious impact the judging has is the line up for people trying to go to last years winners. But it doesn't mean it isn't fun.

I had the honour of being asked to judge this year, and I was pretty excited. I'm still excited days after the event. It was a lot of fun.

Above is a photo of Doug Hillier, organizer of this years Ribfest and head of Family Shows Canada and me. He personally contacted me several months ago to be a judge, and I was flabbergasted. Of course I said yes.

I showed up at 2:30pm for my pre-judging briefing. I took a seat at a table, and I was given a t-shirt to wear (which was cool, but I had a t-shirt made for the event for the blog, so it was covered up), a Ribfest medallion, the choice of beer, wine, cooler or water to drink, a roll of paper towel, and a briefing packet.

A fairly straight forward introduction to my duties.

Ok good, simple direction. This isn't rocket science after all. Emphasis is on fun (see points 1, 9) and not so much professional judging.

The tasting criteria. The MC from A-Channel news made sexual jokes about #2. Texture criteria . . . very classy on his part for the family audience. But he did make a special note about my t-shirt to the crowd and my being the Lord of the Wings.

The scorecard.

Once we had read over the information and met our fellow judges, the staff/volunteers brought around a clean plate and a section of ribs for us to evaluate. A new plate prevented sauces from mixing and affecting our judging, but I was a little sad at the waste.

After tasting the ribs, we wrote down our score based on the outlined criteria. The first one is the hardest to judge I think, because you have nothing to base it on. I like to judge based on ribs relative to each other.

Really, the judging for me came down to was:

  • How tender were the ribs? Soft, or hard?
  • How did the sauce taste? Good or bad?

The judges were quite a mix and an interesting crowd of 'celebrities', officials, politicians and connected people. London's police chief Murry Faulkner was there, the Town Crier Bill Paul, Councillor Cheryl Miller.

There were several members of the London Knights (hockey team). There were members of the business community.

I had a great table. I sat with the Skinners, Sandy and Harold. They had family connections to become judges. Barry Orr, who works for the city and was explaining some green initiatives at Ribfest sat across from them. And across from me sat Brian Vollmer, lead singer of the rock band "Helix", who have toured with Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, KISS, Rush, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, and Mötley Crüe to name a few. He was a blast to sit and eat ribs with.

The key to remember with all these judges is that this event is for fun. Because no one here is a professional. Hell, as far as I could tell, I was the only one with a 'food' background. I had contacted professional Que'er and award winning Danielle Dimovski, The Diva Q, for tips on judging, and she let me in on what to look for in a good rib. But she also informed me about that the competitions were not official/recognized. No one was certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Heck, the judges were in an all-you-can-drink beer environment, there has got to be a dulling of taste buds after 3-4 beers!

That was my only real cynicism about the event. And really, does it matter? The judges represent members of the community that are coming out and celebrating ribs.

There was a large crowd watching our antics and carnal endeavour. Ok, most of those people are eating their own ribs, drinking beer (it is the beer tent section) and listening to a nearby band.

Also waiting were Ricky, Brad, Amanda and LJ. They stuck around for the 1 1/2 hours I was there eating free ribs. Now those are friends. Thanks for putting up with me everyone. Special thanks to LJ for standing behind me the whole time to take photos and hold my stuff - you're the best.

While the rib vendors were all given the same source of pork, what they did with it varied widely. Some ribs were just one bone, while other entries had 2-3 bones. Some vendors didn't send enough ribs for all the judges, some sent way to many (I don't think any of the judges had seconds - too full - but I saw some being smuggled to people outside the judges tent. I think volunteers might have gotten a shot at them too).

Some ribs were tough and over cooked. Some were super tender. There were blah, generic, flavourless sauces, and a few really good ones that had depth, levels, real flavour. Only 2 or 3 I thought were really good. Most were ok. A few, terrible. The sacrifices we judges make.

There was one or two ribs that I could hear a lot of people liked. But for the most part, people's tastes can be very different. One of the organizers was walking around and told me how the scores were all over the board; one guy may give the ribs a very high mark, where his neighbor gave it very low. It goes to show that we all look for something different in our food.

I was stuffed by the end (and we had wings to review afterward too). We all were. In fact, I don't want ribs for a very long time. I loved doing it. I would totally do it again, not just for the free food and drink, but because I met some great people, and I felt pretty darn special with the hospitality and the treatment.

The volunteer/staff were fabulous, friendly and hard working.

It may not be 'professional' but I took it seriously. And I had a heck of a lot of fun.

Please note, some photos were taken by Ricky Patel (and noted on the photo). The rest were taken by LJ or myself (labelled as LOTW). Thanks to both.


Teena in Toronto said...

I'm jealous of this too :) I adore ribs! I wish the Toronto Ribfest was still downtown.

Chris said...

Man, I'm jealous. So what were your favorite ribs, ones with sauce or without?

Lord of the Wings said...

Teena - where was the ribfest downtown held?

Chris - all the ribs were with sauce at the Ontario ribfest circuits. Basically its all about the sauce.

devidmark said...

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