So, this is it? Competition #25 and the end of the American Freakage Tour 2017? Where did the year go?
It seems like just yesterday I was getting our inventory together for our first cook in April. You know, the cook where we got rightfully spanked on our horrible brisket turn in. Yeah, that one with the 5 in taste and tenderness. Back then we thought brisket needed the most work. Little did we know about the p❤rk journey that was about to unfold!
Have I really seen kale through 3 seasons, learning the hard way that spring and fall kale are WAY better than summer kale?
Did I really trim 625 pieces of chicken over the course of our season?
Did those extreme lows and awesome highs really happen?
Even though we’re at the end of the season, I still feel a ton of energy to get out there and keep dialing in p❤rk. Oh yes, that was quite a journey this season with p❤rk. It was a challenge like no other.
Speaking of p❤rk, today we packed those last three butts into the cooler along with all the other meats for this weekend. And lifted totes, lots of totes. Cooler and totes. I guess that means we just sherpa-ed them out to the garage for the last time this year?
I’ll admit I was just a tiny bit sad when I did the Wednesday Shuffle for the last time. Sad to have mixed the last injection. Realizing I was scraping my last chicken skin. Packing the last rubs.
So, this really is it. We’re headed to Osawatomie, KS, for the Border Wars BBQ competition. It will be the closest we’ve ever been to Mr. Freak’s hometown of KCMO. So one last bash, then it’s Smoke Freaks: Out.
Until then, Freak ON!
Smoke Freaks are excited to welcome Master Certified BBQ Judge candidate Karl to the team for this weekend’s “Best of the Midwest” competition in Union Grove, WI.
A Certified BBQ Judge (CBJ) can apply for Master CBJ status after judging 30 contests, cooking with a team and passing a knowledge test. CBJs are required to cook with a team so they can gain a more intimate view of what it’s like to cook on the pro BBQ circuit. We think it’s also a great way to build relationships between judges and cooks, and hopefully our judge can draw from this experience and become an even better judge.
Smoke Freaks had always planned to host a judge one of these days. It’s the right thing to do as part of the broader KCBS community.
But to be honest, we had some other business we needed to take care of first.
Selfishly, we wanted to preserve as much of our focus for the task at hand -- winning our first Grand Championship.
Plus we wanted to make sure we had something worthwhile to offer our first MCBJ candidate. Our mission is to deliver Freakishly great BBQ experiences, whether we’re cooking, entertaining or coaching and consulting. So if a judge was going to cook with us, “Freakishly great” is the bar we’re aiming for.
We’d been approached a few times before but hadn’t yet welcomed a judge to the team.
Fast forward to the “Harbor Que” competition in Winthrop Harbor, IL. A guy named Karl shows up at our cook site after judging is complete and introduces himself as a MCBJ candidate looking for a team to cook with.
Here we go again.
We explained that we’re not feeling ready to have a judge join us just yet. But the more we got to talking to Karl, the more we thought he was pretty cool. He seemed like he could roll along with our Freak Force, which is really important to us.
Plus, he was wearing a tie-dye, so we got his contact info and promised to let him know one way or the other by Monday.
Well, the awards ceremony ended with a whole lot of howling as we are called up for Grand Champion! We finally did it!
Our thoughts went almost immediately to Karl, and we laughed because even though we’d all but decided to welcome him to the team, we knew there was no way of saying “no” now. Besides, he’s a good luck charm as far as we’re concerned.
But how do we go about making it a Freakishly great experience for him? We got to work on that right away:
And of course, we’re planning to tap into all of his experience when we make decisions on what goes in the turn-in boxes. We can already tell he’ll have some great feedback for us.
I know we’ll learn a lot from the experience, as will Karl. I’m so thankful our paths crossed.
Do you have any thoughts on other ways we can make it Freakishly great for our MCBJ candidate? Drop us a comment and Freak ON!
It's National Pulled P❤rk Day, what else would I blog about?!?
1. The road to victory goes through p❤rk
2. It's all in your head
3. Cook with love, never with rage
4. Attitude is everything
5. Trust your gut
6. Unleash your inner Freak
7. Don't forget to have fun
8. If you want something badly enough, you'll figure it out
9. Some details matter more than others
10. Be a wolf
How crazy is it that 5 or 6 words on a bright yellow card can be so devastating? At least that’s what I used to think, back when I would dread getting one of those bad boys tucked into our scores.
Turns out I had it all wrong. Comment cards are a gift, which I came to understand over the course of this season as we received three of those little presents so far.
Comment Card #1: Brisket, CCS Fest; Indianapolis, IN: Our first brisket turn-in of the year, and we were still experimenting. It came out terrible -- tough as leather and tasting like a salt lick. We salvaged burnt ends, which somehow still tasted kinda like beef, but the box was sub-par and we knew the judges were going to hate it.
And they did, to the tune of 139 points (which might actually have been generous). When I saw a little yellow slip sticking out in the score sheets, I knew it was about to get real.
It wasn’t easy seeing the words “almost impossible to chew.” If I’m being honest, we needed a few minutes to get past our initial reaction and shake off the sting.
But this was one of the best comment cards we’d ever seen because it was descriptive, clear and didn’t leave much to the imagination.
Our scores alone were perfectly clear on the fact that our brisket sucked, but what if we were new or just struggling to figure out what the judges were looking for? Was the texture weird? Was there an unfortunate glob of fat? Was it rubbery, chewy, tough or maybe dry?
This judge’s comments shed light on the situation. “Chewy,” “rubbery” and “fatty” gave us immediate hints on what went wrong. Sure sounds pretty gross.
I guarantee, we haven’t messed up a brisket like that again.
Comment Card #2: Ribs, Mankato Cookout; Mankato, MN: This one really ticked off Mr. Freak at first: “Remove the back membrane.” He’s thinking, “I bet you didn’t eat a rib all day without the membrane peeled, and you sure as heck didn’t get one from us!”
Comments that try to solve problems are especially loathsome to cooks. There was no membrane on those ribs, and none of the other judges beat us up. But instead of throwing our scores into the fire, we decided to diagnose what the judge was actually telling us: something was clearly unpleasant about our tenderness.
(Since then, we’ve figured out what it probably was and came up with a way to mitigate it.)
Comment Card #3: Chicken, Sam’s Club Pro BBQ Tour; Madison, WI: We needed to be in the top 10 to advance to finals. It was a great cook, but we only managed 19th out of 30.
My mind was drifting from, “What are we even doing here?” to “This is just too expensive, too time consuming, too physically taxing and too hard,” to “Is it even worth it?”
Deep, introspective, thought provoking questions that had been brewing for awhile. It was going to be a pretty miserable drive home.
That’s when I saw the comment card. Great, more insult to injury.
“Excellent smoke flavor. Thank you.”
And at that moment, it all changed. The struggle that felt futile just moments before was replaced with a reignited fire in my belly.
On an emotional level, Judge #1 helped me get my fighting spirit back.
On a rational level, Judge #1 had given me perspective to see that it was a stacked field of 29 other teams who had earned their way into the Regionals. 29 great teams. My chicken was on point and the field was tough. It happens. Maybe I’d forgotten that?
Judge #1 gave me something else. I’d had some great calls throughout the season, including 1st place at Green Bay against another stacked field of 58 teams. Getting 1st was great and all, but I didn’t really know why. What was working with my 1st place chicken and how so? What aspects contributed to our top score?
These comments gave me some insight to something I’d already been wondering, what were the components of our flavor profile beyond the obvious seasonings and sauces?
This is super helpful feedback.
Sure, the scores in and of themselves are incredibly helpful data points. But scores alone don’t answer the “why” or “how so” that’s needed to understand the judges’ reaction to your cook.
At The Neale Group, our consulting business, we would never let our clients make important decisions without taking the time to understand both the “quantitative” and “qualitative” side of the story.
Quantitative data is easy to come by for BBQ cooks. That’s our scores, and we get tons of this data every weekend. It’s incredible to be able to see how your individual score compares to a given judge’s average.
But how often do we get the qualitative kind … some indication from a judge to help us understand what they did or didn’t like? It doesn’t matter what I think about our food, or what our friends or even fellow competitors think about it. All that matters is what the 6 judges who evaluated it think about it.
Comment cards don’t need to be lengthy or complex. Just a few checked boxes and a couple of words can add immense context to the story compared to just scores alone.
Every weekend, virtually every cook gives their all to present judges with the very best and most impressive experience we can pull off under the rules.
Every weekend, each judge is on the receiving end of something to the tune of 12-18 full days worth of human effort, delivered to them via 9x9 boxes.
For all the judges who do take the time to write a card or two most of the time, thank you!
For all you judges who never or rarely write comment cards, please consider spending 30 seconds to check a few boxes and write just one or two cards every comp. Make it constructive or make it a compliment. Make it brutal for all we care, just tell us why you scored what scored.
And for all you cooks, keep an open mind when you get one of those "dreaded" yellow cards.
Feedback is a gift, and the right card at the right time might just make all the difference in the world to someone who is struggling or thinking about throwing in the towel out of frustration.
Ann is Co-Founder and Pitmaster for Smoke Freaks. She loves being the Chicken cook and has fallen head over heels in love with P❤️rk.