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Kansas State University

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Qualified for barbecue

Human Ecology team applies sensory lessons to annual contest


Kevin Roberts learned one of the most basic rules of barbecue judging the hard way.

"My first year, I was judging with Kevin Sauer, but before the competition we were really hungry," said Roberts, an assistant professor of hotel, restaurant, institutional management and dietetics. "We figured that we would only be getting a few sample bites from a little bit of meat, so we decided to grab Whoppers.

"This was a bad idea. When you're judging, each portion and bite adds up by the end of the day."

In 2006, faculty members in K-State's hotel, restaurant, institutional management and dietetics program got the chance to judge a contest held in conjunction with the K-State spring football game. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the contest required about 10 faculty members to learn the group's rules and regulations for judging.

"Since we teach food quality standards to students, the additional training was deemed beneficial," said Mary Molt, an assistant professor of hotel, restaurant, institutional management and dietetics.

Since that training, judging the barbecue contest at the spring game has become an annual tradition for those faculty members.

For Kansas City Barbeque Society contests, contestants enter chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. Each contestant submits at least six separate portions of meat in a container. About 75 teams participated at the most recent spring game challenge, which was judged by 13 tables of six judges.

Though sweet-spicy flavors come to mind when barbecue is the subject, the experience engages many of the senses.

"Judges get pretty messy with the food, because you are also judging with your fingers," said Camille Korenek, unit director for housing and dining services. "You want to feel the texture of the meat with your hands."

Entries are judges on presentation, texture and taste, Korenek said, with taste being the greatest factor.

"In the certification class, you learn about the different quality characteristics of the different meats," she said. "In terms of taste, it's somewhat subjective, but it's also objective."

For instance, there are limits on tenderness. At the certification class, judges are taught that if rib meat is truly falling off the bone, it's a sign of overcooking.

Presentation also is strictly governed. The meat cannot be sculpted or branded and garnishes are limited to chopped, sliced, shredded or whole leaves of green (not red) lettuce, parsley (curly or flat-leafed) or cilantro.

Other procedures ensure anonymity and fairness.

"If my table judges one entrant's chicken, we wouldn't get any of the other meat they'd entered," said Michelle Netson, administrative dietitian with housing and dining services. "I understand why they do this. If I'd put that much time and money into a product, I would want to know that this was how my product was being treated and evaluated."

All the judges said they loved the experience.

"Judging really inspires you to go home and cook," Korenek said. "Recently I judged some ribs that had mango added to the barbecue sauce. That was really nice and unexpected."

"The people you meet are wonderful and it's a great learning experience," Netson said. "Even though I work with food daily in my job, this is another realm of experience."