Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ramblings: Stuck in a Rut

Are we stuck in a rut?

Is competitive BBQ as a whole resistant to change and innovation? Are we as a group overly reluctant to step away from patterns and forms that we are comfortable with? The majority of events that are within a given geographic area will be for the most part indistinguishable from each other. Differences are mostly cosmetic and most often affect form instead of function.

Why is this?

Sticking with the status quo is beneficial for three separate groups. Those that are new to BBQ find the entire venture daunting. Excitement meets trepidation as they plan for the event. Everything is a challenge as they have no personal history to refer to. To add something else to the mix, especially something that can’t be as easily researched and planned for adds to the anxiety.

Regular competitors, especially those that have a solid track record don’t want to be forced by the organizers to change what they have been doing year in and year out. Any changes that they make they would like to be the result of their own personal evaluation and research and be within narrow parameters. If they are disappointed by their brisket scores, they may want to experiment with using Fab or a new dry rub. They don’t want to be told that their brisket turn-ins must be in the form of a sandwich. Control is a key word for serious competitors. Forcing change upon them meets with strong and quick resistance.

Organizing and running a BBQ competition is a tremendous amount of work. The best way to cut back on your workload is to repeat processes. Having the same categories, run in the same way allows for you to learn from your mistakes and to have set procedures in place. You can duplicate efforts and increase your chances of success.

What is the upside of this?

Competitors continually improve their game. I feel comfortable saying that pitmasters who excelled in 1998 would be hard put to do as well if they stepped through a portal in time and arrived at a competition in 2008.

New teams have an incredible array of resources available to them as they gear up for competition. BBQ forums, websites and tutorials have become ubiquitous. Means of finding other teams that can act as mentors has made the learning curve a lot less steep. All of those resources go out the window when something new is brought to the table.

Events are run smoothly and well. Organizers, like new teams, are able to find guides and mentors that are able to walk them through the process of running a cook-off.

What is the downside of this?

Boredom and a lack of innovation that fosters a stilted, repetitive mindset. Repetitive cookie-cutter events that lack individual branding and identification.

What can be done?

Maintain the integrity of the main event for your cook-off by keeping within strict parameters while introducing innovation to side categories, such as grilling. Introduce new styles of presentation and judging for side events.

Look outside of your area and see what other organizers are doing. For example, if you are in Maine look to Texas events for inspiration. If you are in Seattle, look to Memphis competitions.

Be willing to listen to constructive criticism and suggestions. Expect resistance and lassitude followed by enthusiasm and congratulations after the fact if your innovations go off without a hitch.



Lakeside Smoker said...

We were in Westport last weekend and they had an Iron Chef category. We thought that was awesome! It gives cooks a chance to step outside the box a little. I'm hoping to see more of those in the future.