I thought I had gone to great lengths to be at the Saturday morning judge-training class for the Memphis Barbecue Network.
I cut my vacation short and drove more than 10 hours back home so I could be at the All-American Pub at 8 a.m., ready to be trained in the fine points of judging slow-cooked pork.
But Susan Gahrns bested me: She flew from Ottawa, Canada, to take the course. She already judges for the Canadian Southern Barbecue Association Southern as in barbecue, not southern Canada.
Gahrns got hooked on the idea of barbecue when she read Gone With the Wind as a young girl. She had grown up on barbecue as something you did when you cooked burgers. So when Scarlett declared that barbecue was something she was going to eat at Twelve Oaks, Gahrns was mystified.
What the heck? It didnt make sense. It intrigued me the idea that Scarlett wanted to pig out on something.
Ah, so many mysteries to figure out Saturday. The difference between bark and burned, the correct way to taste sauce (dabbed on your tongue, not sucked from your finger), the way to tell if meat is overcooked. (Roll some up in a ball and press it against the roof of your mouth. If it sticks like peanut butter, its mush.)
Ive done plenty of barbecue judging myself. But I usually judge contests like the Blue Ridge Barbecue Championship, which is part of the Kansas City Barbecue Society. The Memphis Barbecue Network judges in a different style.
The test included questions like The reddish coloration below the surface of the meat is caused by: A. Using direct vs. indirect heat; B. The red tomato base of some basting sauces; C. The smoke from hardwoods or hardwood charcoal; D. Undercooking the entry.
(Correct: C. A smoke ring is found on the outside of whole hog or shoulder and sometimes throughout ribs.)
A couple of local barbecuers, including Zach Goodyear, formerly of Saucemans, presented shoulders and showed us how to judge them.
Goodyear also warned us to watch for tricks, like a cook reaching into the cavity of a whole hog and pulling out better-cooked meat hes hidden.
The last I saw Susan Gahrns, she was headed toward a church barbecue I had told her about. At least, I hope she did. Shed have to take Queens Road and thats another mystery altogether.
Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis blog Ill Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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