Barbecue teams got the chance to be creative Friday night at the 13th annual South Carolina Festival of Discovery
At the blues and barbecue festival, the competition is serious. The Kansas City Barbecue Society
-sanctioned event has strict rules for the teams to follow. Today, more than 100 certified judges will be sampling the best in pulled pork, ribs, chicken and brisket.
But the judges at the “Anything Goes” competition Friday were more like me – untrained people who just like food. About 40 of us were seated at tables of six, each with a certified table captain to guide us.
The competing teams were free to prepare anything except the four categories they’ll be judged on today, and they had to use at least one of three products furnished by Carolina Pride
, the presenting sponsor of the festival. Bacon, kielbasa sausage and ham were the choices.
Stephen Smith, a KCBS certified master judge, gave us a training session before we began. Rule No. 1, he said, was to have fun. No problem there if you’re going to place great food in front of me.
He explained how we would first judge each dish on appearance. Don’t be swayed by creative uses of garnishes like tomatoes and parsley, he said, which he called the “artsy-fartsy.” Pay attention to the appearance of the main dish, he said.
Then we would sample each dish and judge on tenderness and taste. Tenderness isn’t how soft something is, he said. Rather, we were to score on how perfectly the dish was cooked to doneness, whether it was undercooked, overcooked or just right.
He also explained a little of the science of taste and that the five tastes are sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. (That last one is a bit more mysterious than the others, but it has to do with the savory quality of food or basically whether it’s yummy.)
Juanita Williams was the certified table captain from my group. After she gave each of us a special placemat on which we would place our foods to sample and passed out bottles of water, (we were asked to drink only water so we didn’t contaminate our palates) she brought in a tray of six Styrofoam containers.
We were given a number for each dish to write on our official scorecards. Then Williams opened each container and held it in front of us for several seconds for us to rate it on appearance.
Next, we each put a portion of each dish on our special placemat. Then, the fun part, we got to taste each to judge on taste and tenderness.
The judges at my table started by sampling an amazingly good bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with pork. As one of the other judges said, it would be the perfect summer supper.
We also sampled two versions of shrimp and grits, a type of sausage mixture rolled in bacon, and a mixture of ham and sausage cooked along with fruits and veggies served on pita. Probably the most surprising of the dishes at our table (each group of judges sampled different foods) was a fried mac ‘n cheese with ham cooked in it, and cheese and bacon sprinkled on top. One fellow judge said it would be the perfect food for his grandchildren.
I don’t know the results of all of our hard work yet because winners will be announced at 5 p.m. today.
The festival started Thursday and ends tonight. A record number of barbecue teams – 93, up from 82 last year – are participating, and 19 blues acts appearing at nine downtown venues. Main Street, which is U.S. 25, has been shut down to traffic, and pitmasters are cooking along the street’s oak canopy. Downtown Greenwood
smells so delicious.