Sunday, 11 August 2013

London RIbfest 2013 ~ Rib & Sauce Judging

Since 2009 I've had the honour of being a Celebrity Judge at the London Ribfest, and 2013 was no different. So for the August long weekend I have been putting wings on hold and should be addressed as the Lord of the Ribs.

Travel the park and you can find posters for our judging performance.

We were back at the Band Shell where the trophies were on display for the winners.

While I started wearing my Lord of the Wings shirt, I did don the 'Official Rib Judge' t-shirt. Also waiting for me on the table was my name tag (they even crossed out wings and put ribs just like my banner!) some cutlery (I don't know who is using these on their ribs . . .) plate, some water and wet wipes. Later paper towel arrived. As always, the judges have their choice of beer, wine, coolers etc but I was lucky to get a 710 ml of Coke, and it was all I can drink, so that was awesome.

In the binder were the rules for judging, with a great outline of what the scores should mean, as well as focusing on not punishing the ribbers and being polite.  The actual score sheet changed this year with just having a score, and a section for tasting notes. This is something I normally did with a note pad, but now they have incorporated it right into the evals. Very cool.

Judged are supposed to arrive about 30 mins before actual judging, which gives those of us who have been doing this a chance to catch up, and to meet and greet the new judges.

MCing again this year was Nick Papparella from CTV News. As always, the judging event was open with the grandiosity of Town Crier Bill Paul.

A large crowd was in the tent watching the event. As the judging went on, spectators came to the fence behind us to watch.

There were 12 Judges this year, and as always, these Celebrities ran the gamut of London and area society. From left to right was Bill Paul, Dr Jeff Cao & blogger (, Lisa Poulin from Via Rail, beside me on my left is Mike Laskey of Laskey Properties, on my right is London Free Press reporter Joe Belanger, Mayor Heather Jackson of St Thomas Ontario, London City Councillor Harold Usher, Captain TJ Nunnenmacher of the Air Canada Pilots Assoc., Toni Ross of Fresh FM (and last year's MC), Lawyer Murray Neilson and finally Metro London editor Angela Mullins. What a crowd!

We were all introduced my Nick, who throughout the judging would ask us about how we did our jobs, the challenges we faced, and how the ribs and sauces were comparing to one another.

One of my favourite parts of the day beside actually eating all of the ribs is talking to everyone and getting their perspectives, because we all look for different things in ribs. I was really flattered by Mike Laskey beside me who had never judged before, and had looked up my blog to get some tips. We chatted a lot about the process and how to approach judging. On my right, Joe Belanger and I talked about cooking our own ribs and what we wanted to see in the ribs we were eating.

There were 10 Rib Vendors this year in competition for the Best BBQ sauce and Best Ribs. Competing teams were:
  • Silver Bullet
  • Railroad Ribs
  • Route 55
  • Ribs Royale
  • Fire Island
  • Jack the Ribber
  • Texas Rangers BBQ
  • Boss Hog`s
  • Kentucky Smokehouse
  • Louisiana BBQ

The first competition is the sauces. They come in small cups and we are given a small breadstick to taste. I take a stick, sample the sauce as much as I want until I get an idea of the flavours I was dealing with. Then I cleanse my palate with water so that I am fresh to try the next sauce.

Here is my rough notes on each sauce:

  1. "sweet, black peppery - light with a slight tang, but slight bitter after taste" (7)
  2. "almost no flavour" (2)
  3. "Dark, more smokey but smooth"(8)
  4. "Smokey but sour, dark but very sour, After taste that's sour/bitter" (4)
  5. "Tomato flavour, slight bite, smooth, like a BBQ/Hot sauce" (9)

The number in the brackets are my scores - the sauces ranged from low to high. #5 is my favourite with it's heat. #2 was basically devoid of any taste and shocked several of us.

6.   "Dark, Christmas flavour (nutmeg?) - very rich" (8)
7.   "Watery, very fruity, maybe plum or marmalade?" (6)
8.   "Dark but a bit of spice and heat" (7)
9.   "Watery, bit of spice, but a little off" (7)
10. "Thick and chunky, a little smokey, chunks of BACON! (7)

I couldn't believe #10 actually had pieces of bacon . . . that was awesome.

After the sauces came the main event, the Ribs. Each round we were given a new plate, which I used to write the number of the rib to keep track later. After each rib I made sure my hands were clean and I also took a drink to prepare for the next offering. Some ribs came hot, others cold. Some were huge pieces, others small. All presented something different.

What I was looking for in a rib was tender meat with a little tug (no fall off the bones meat), a nice crispy bark that has been flame kissed, a smokey flavour to both meat and sauce, and a BBQ sauce that says something.

  1. "Smoke flavour, little tug to the meat, sauce is BBQ-y & sweet. Chewy (good way), and really nice bark"  (10)
  2. "Tender meat. No bark. Pork flavour really coming through, very wet and wattery sauce, weak flavour. Reminds me of boiled spare rib from home" (3)
  3. "More chewy, little tough, no bark, dark sauce (BBQ) but slightly mild sauce, smoke taster from sauce, not rib" (6)
  4. "Smokey - but almost a propane taste. Nice smoke ring, slight tug, tender, strong meat flavour, Dark sauce." (7)
  5. "Very little smoke - BLAH - no flavour! Ribs are tender - no bark - just nothing" (2)

Everyone found that #1 was amazing from the start and was going to be the one to beat. It started off as an 8 to me, but as the contest went on, it was clear it was a 10 and everything I was looking for in a rib. #2 and #5 were really dissapointing as they did not seem like BBQ at all. They didn't taste bad, but I'm here for Que.

 Shout out to all the great staff and volunteers at the event. They were friendly and there for whenever any of us needed something. Thanks!

6.   "Smoke - tough meat - complimentary sauce, sweet but not over powering" (6)
7.   "Very tender - sweet/sour sauce -no pull or tug, no bark- very wet sauce, no noticable smoke or ring"(5)
8.   "Good pork flavour - cooked well, slight sweet sauce, slight smoke. Balance." (8)
9.   "Well cooked but almost a little too tough, pork flavour - can't identify the sauce" (6)
10. "Saucy - well cooked, very meaty - mild sauce." (6)

In the end, my favourite and I think all the judges was #1. It just had so much going for it. There was a lot of score variances from judge to judge, but I think we all knew greatness when we tasted it.

A big shout out to Cecil Hillier and all the Hillier's at Family Shows Canada, who keep having me back as a judge and giving me some amazing hospitality. I look forward to the event every year, and when it comes to BBQ, even the 'bottom' of the competition is still good.

Also thanks to LJ for waiting, supporting and taking a ton of photos for me at the event.

And congrats to the winners ~ your efforts were shown and you deserve the trophies!

And the Winners Were:

Judge’s Choice First Place

Best Sauce: Boss Hog’s
Best Ribs: Silver Bullet

Judge’s Choice Second Place

Best Sauce: Silver Bullet
Best Ribs: Kentucky Smokehouse

People’s Choice

Best Ribs: Jack the Ribber
People’s Choice Second Place Best Ribs: Texas Rangers


Chris said...

Sounds like another great year. People think judging is all fun and games but it is pretty stressful because of the responsibility of deciding who wins/loses. Good job LOTW!

Lord of the Wings said...

@Chris - Thank you for understanding!