Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lee County Charcoal Challenge with Paleo Powder

It has been an exciting week for the blog and me that will culminate in a big announcement next Wednesday!  While I don't want to let the cat completely out of the bag yet, the announcement will involve the addition of a third weekly post.  I thought I'd throw in a Wednesday post this week, since my new posting schedule will be new recipe/product reviews on Monday and Friday and something totally different yet very related on Wednesdays.  That's not vague, is it?  

A Saturday morning in May, I was relaxing with a cup of coffee when I saw Lauren and Dustin Gersch of Paleo Powder tweeting about and posting pictures to facebook of beautiful barbecue.  I knew from learning about Paleo Powder that they participated barbecue contests and thought it would be fun to actually taste some of their award winning barbecue.  Before I knew it, I was on my way to Giddings, TX to judge brisket in the Lee County Fair Charcoal Challenge.  

What are my judging credentials?  I'm a native Texan and was raised on barbecue.  My father would barbecue nearly every Saturday at my house growing up.  He had an old barrel pit that he refused to replace until it had pretty much rusted through.  Weddings and family reunions on my mom's side of the family from Brenham, Texas pretty much all included barbecue.  I'm picky about brisket.  Though, really, all you needed to judge was an empty stomach.  

I knew I was in the right place when I saw rows and rows of pick-up trucks to the right and then what looked like a small town of RV's and barbecue pits to the left.  

Yes, this is Texas.

After wandering around a bit, I found the judging tent and confirmed that my name was on the list of judges.  

Once seated, the head judge gave us instructions for conducting the tasting.  She was not a woman to be messed with.  I was kind with my photo editing, but she stood up there, lit up a cigarette shortly before telling us the rules.  She was not shy to call out those who she though were not listening to her.  

Here were the rules: 
  1. Use a fresh fork and knife for each sample. 
  2. Take a small bite of each sample.  She promised that even if we took small bites, we would be full by the end of the session.  
  3. No zero ratings were to be assessed.  She said this multiple times.  
  4. Give an honest opinion using the criteria on the judging sheet.  
In the picture of the judge, you'll see the styrofoam containers behind her that were full of different samples of brisket.  We were told to pass the numbered samples around the table counter clockwise until we had tasted and judged them all.  

The table had buckets of clean forks and knives and pickles and well for me, pickles to cleanse the pallet between brisket samples.  I was offered my choice of beverages, including free beer, but I stuck with water.  

Why sully good brisket with those cardboard looking things?
Here's the judging sheet.  We had 16 samples to taste.  

And what did those samples look like? Well, here we go.  I only took a few pictures while the judging was going as I did not want to upset that head judge and actually the tasting went moved along pretty quickly.  

It was interesting to see the different fat contents, colors, textures, and taste the flavors of all these briskets in one sitting.

There were maybe one or two really good ones.  The majority was just ok to me.  There were a few that just tasted awful and one where I couldn't stomach finishing the 1 inch size piece I had cut to try.  

This is not an eco-friendly activity.  There were five judges at my table and 2 waste bins.  This was one of them before the judging was even over.
As I was leaving the tent, the next group of judges was ready to take on the next round.  

I then went and found Lauren and Dustin's RV/Barbecue site.  They had a nice place under a tree.  I grabbed a chair and we talked paleo food and enjoyed the breeze that made the temperature bearable.  There were barbecue pits everywhere.     

Do you see the white truck in the picture above with the black tarp hanging out of it?  Evidently, the truck bed was full of water and it was used as a hot tub of sorts.  Ok, back to the barbecue.  

The Gersch's had two smokers with them.  Dustin kindly gave me a lesson on how smokers work.  I must get a pink smoker.  

As we sat, we were visited by a man who is probably best described as a Texas character.   Imagine Santa Clause with a Sam Elliott tombstone mustache, in shorts, carrying a  a wholesale size bottle of Dewar's and large travel mug.  He took a seat and offered some real wisdom about women, admiring women, athletic women, nude beaches, how to make a whiskey drink with a splash of water, and the tattoo he has planned for his low waste area before the next Sturgis rally.  I'm not judging -different strokes for different folks.  If everyone was as publicly straight laced as I am, the world would be boring.  It was entertaining to say the least.  I think Dustin and Lauren were a little embarrassed and worried about what I might say.    Little do they know after nearly 12 years of practicing law, it takes quite a bit to offend me.  A cousin of theirs also dropped by and told stories about fighting crime within the RVs the night before.  What's more American than an RV village of barbecuers fighting crime while raising money for scholarships?  

For those not familiar with Giddings, its a small town about 45 minutes outside of Austin on 290 on the way to Houston.  The fair is really all about raising money for scholarships.  I noticed that there were flats of lilies around the main tents.  They announced that they were essentially door prizes so I picked up 2.  I love lilies.  

Before leaving I got a great shot of Dustin and Lauren with the prize plaque they received for their chicken the day before.  What a great fun afternoon full of new experiences and mostly good brisket.  

Thanks Dustin and Lauren!

Has anyone else judged a barbecue contest before?