Monday, October 9, 2017

Event: 2017 Lamar Johnson Classic - A BBQ Event Ooltewah, TN

Alexis and I judged the 2017 Lamar Johnson Classic Saturday in scenic Ooltewah, Tennessee.

The Lamar Johnson Classic is a regional BBQ competition held in the foothills town just a few miles North of Chattanooga. The contest is organized by our friend, Steve Ray.  Lamar Johnson was a legendary pitmaster in the area.  I'll let Steve's own words tell you more about the contest's namesake.

Around 1905 to 1910, when Ooltewah was the county seat of James County, a legendary man named Lamar Johnson smoked whole hog BBQ near Mineral Park just off the old hwy that connected Ooltewah to Cleveland. Travelers by train going and coming from Atlanta to Ooltewah to Chattanooga would stop over at the busy Ooltewah Train Depot and make the short trip east on what was then known as Fitzgerald Pass. It was there at Mineral Park where they stopped and sampled the whole hog BBQ of Lamar Johnson.
The Lamar Johnson Classic is a "non-sanctioned" contest meaning they have not gone through a sanctioning body like the Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS), Memphis BBQ Network (MBN), World Food Championships (WFC) or other agency.  Sanctioning bodies provide a framework of rules, judging, and processes for consistency.  Here's how a non-sanctioned event like this one differs from the typical KCBS contests in which we normally compete.
  • Meat Categories - KCBS events typically require the 4 main meats - chicken, pork ribs, pork, and brisket.  The Lamar Johnson Classic categories are burger, pork tenderloin, and pork ribs.
  • Timing - Since the meats are all short cooks (no brisket or butts), these are usually single day contests rather than overnight.  Additionally, the turn in times in KCBS are pretty consistently (but not always) the tight time windows of 12, 12:30, 1, and 1:30.  The Lamar Johnson Classic had turn in times an hour apart.
  • Judging - Sanctioning events prescribe specific judging procedures and often require certification for judges.  The Lamar Johnson Classic used a judging style similar to the E.A.T. Methodology used by the World Food Championships because about half of the judges were either E.A.T. certified, KCBS certified, or both.  

Neither style is better, they are just different.  Non-sanctioned events tend to allow for more creativity from the cook teams.  Non-sanctioned events are often more fan friendly since you can see more of the action with cook teams under tents instead of inside trailers.  Sanctioned events usually have more prize money and have consistency so you know what to expect from contest to contest.

Eppy's BBQ used a small black steel off-set pit.  Off-set steel pits are what most people envision when you mention a BBQ pit. They require constant attention but in the hands of a capable pitmaster, it's hard to beat the BBQ off of a wood fired pit.

You'll see a LOT more backyard style cookers at non-sanctioned BBQ contests and I love that.  Here is a Outdoor Gourmet vertical offset smoker and your standard Weber kettle grill.  Notice how the cooking chamber goes up instead of sideways on the one in the previous picture.

The Fully Loaded team uses a kettle grill and an Old Country BBQ Pit in the background. Seeing all of these small, offset pits is making me want to get another one.  That was the first type of smoker that I ever had.  I have the Warthog but that stays in storage mostly because it's too big to keep at home.

Another offset pit at the contest, I think this group was cooking for someone vending but I remember this cooker from the WFC contest in Ooltewah earlier this year. I think it might be a Lang 48 but can't tell.

Chef Dao Le, a formidable competitor in the World Food Championships, relied on a gas grill.

By the way, don't you love his shirt?  I'm glad Alexis pointed it out, I didn't even notice it.

Shawn Causby of Choo-Choo BBQ got himself a sweet looking Deep South GC36 like ours, except his is the trailer version.  The main difference is the front loading access door for the fire box and it isn't on wheels.  

This was The Wurst Band.  I'm not being rude, that's their name.  They also had Courtney Daly and The Daily Grind and a third band. 

We used a system similar to KCBS and WFC but it only judges 2 categories of taste and tenderness. 

I actually didn't judge, because I volunteered to be one of the Table Captains with Josh. Alexis judged all three categories with 8 other judges. 

Josh bringing out the first round of burger entries to judges Roger (left) and Hal (right).
 So what does a Table Captain do?  They run a table of judges for the event. I'm not a KCBS certified judge, but I have served as Table Captain at the WFC contest here this Spring.  Here's an unofficial break down:

  • Provide plates and score sheets to the judges for each round.
  • Receive sample and check to make sure the number is present
  • Serve samples to judges
    • Announce the sample # and have the judges record it on their plate and cards
    • Read the description of the dish (if included)
    • Present the sample for appearance judging
    • Distribute the samples for tasting
  • Receive score cards, count them and review for completion. Announce that the table is clear so they can talk about the samples.
  • Submit cards to organizer

WFC entries have one presentation sample that the judges use for the appearance score (none in this contest).  Here are some of the leftover presentation samples.  

Judges evaluating the pork tenderloin entries.

Roger, Hal, and Alexis starting to judge the pork rib round.

Some teams entered loin back ribs (baby backs) like these.  Others submitted spare ribs.

Josh passing out rib samples to Robin.

We were a chatty bunch until food was on judging plates.  It got quiet as a library then. 
The crowds came out to Cambridge Square to enjoy the vendors, entertainment, and food.

The the warm Fall breezes were filled with laughter, music, conversations, and of course, the wafting aroma of delicious BBQ.

Steve Ray takes this all very seriously and brought in an accountant to tabulate and validate the scoring.

When the coals fizzled and the smoke cleared, the overall winner was Shawn Causby of Choo Choo BBQ!  Congratulations, Shawn!

Great job on the event, Steve!

There is another food festival event in Ooltewah coming up at the end of this month - Scenic City Eggfest at Elder's Ace Hardware.