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Feats of Smoke (7)

David delicately slices off the choicest pieces, wiping his razor-sharp knife between cuts. He gently arranges the slices on a fluffy bed of parsley.

He knows that the pork will be judged on appearance, among other qualities, so he is looking for those pieces with a pronounced smoke ring, a tell-tale sign of good barbeque.

Taste and tenderness are the two additional judging criteria, each weighted more heavily in scoring. So as David cut his slices, he’s also looking for the section of the meat that is most tender and more flavorful.

Many competitive cooks refer to this to as the “money muscle.”

According to Scott Nelson of Swine Assassins from Mason City, cooks must quickly decide which parts of the pork will yield the highest marks from judges.

“My money muscle is on the back, on the other side of the bone,” he explains. “It’s medallion size, about two inches in diameter, sometimes smaller.”

“1:03,” warns Melissa. David does not seem rushed. He continues at the same careful pace, arranging the contents of the box, making it look perfect.

Just before the clock turns to 1:04, the box is sealed shut and wrapped in an ordinary white kitchen towel to keep it warm.

It takes Melissa less than one minute to walk from the Pork County BBQ trailer to the turn-in table at the Judges Tent. (She did a timed practice run the night before.)

Melissa is steady and calm but wastes no time as she walks up the street holding a box of meat cooked with smoke. She delivers the pork to the judging area with plenty of time to spare — at least 30 seconds under the wire.

With his “runner” safely off, David turns his attention to the final meat, brisket, just off the smoker. He only has 20 minutes to decide which portion of this cut to put in front of the judges. The clock is ticking.

(Read more Feats of Smoke)

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