The Great Wienie Tasting
© by John Juergens and William Justice
The evening air was as crisp as the snap of a freshly picked pole bean as five highly seasoned judges gathered around the tasting table: the hood of a permanently non-functioning, sort of white 1975 Volvo 244DL, covered with an old shower curtain. (It was not entirely clear whether the "table cloth" was intended to protect the judges from a decade of tree sap, pollen, and squirrel and bird droppings encrusted on the once noble bonnet, or to protect it from the ravages of the potentially corrosive effects of what was to come.)
Such was the setting for the First Ever – at least in these parts, as far as we know – "Wienie Off" Vienna Sausage taste competition. No less than 23 varieties – that's 402.5 inches or 33.5 feet – of these diminutive tube steaks were arrayed across the tasting hood awaiting their evaluation and oral demise. But why?
There have been years of bickering balderdash in the nearly weekly meetings of Oxford's most obscure (for good reason) association concerning just who produces the best Vienna Sausage. Yes, yes, we know that's an oxymoron only befitting the above mentioned group of Oxford-morons. But that's another matter. Anyway, it was decided to settle once and for all what is the best source of the beloved and endearing treat considered by many to be one of the highpoints in modern food, and we use that term very loosely, processing and production. Thus began The Wienie Quest prior to The Wienie Off.
Stores throughout our fair state were scoured for every brand and brand variation that might exist. Twenty-three varieties eventually were recovered and presented for judging. The judging was conducted blinded in the manner of wine competitions and experimental drug trials, that is, with the identities of the wienies unknown to the judges. The cans had been stripped of their labels and replaced by numerical identifiers. A designated wienie wrangler, affectionately referred to as "Vienna White," coordinated the flow of wienies to the judges and maintained the identity code in mayonnaise jar hermetically sealed by an out-of-work auditor from the Arthur Anderson company.
In the interest of anonymity, the judges were also assigned coded identities C1 through C5, as in Chucklehead 1, Chucklehead 2, etc. Judge C4 was a particularly volatile individual and occasionally was explosive in his reaction to several wienie entries. However, despite the modicum of humor surrounding this event, be assured that the judges took their responsibilities with all due disrespect and seriousness warranted for such a noble event in such an ignoble venue.
The wienies were evaluated un-decanted, i.e. they were presented to the judges au jus and au can. Judges selected samples randomly from each can for evaluation; however, a question of procedure was raised by Chucklehead Four, the previously mentioned explosive judge. C4 noticed that C1 consistently selected the center wienie of the seven stuffed in each container, thus inducing potential bias into the judging process. Unbeknownst to Chucklehead One, the removal of the center wienie first and repeatedly was not a statistically correct thing to do. C1 adjusted his extraction method immediately and from then on pulled only side stuffed wienies.
For judges who were not inclined to consume the entire wienie of each sample, which would have been even more foolish than volunteering for this event in the first place, a "Lorena-Class" butcher knife was available to "Bobbittize" each wienie into smaller portions if a judge so desired.
The centerpiece on the tasting hood was a stainless steel dump bucket for the disposal of uneaten portions of judged wienies. However, on more than one occasion a competing wienie was so vile that it prompted involuntary explosive expulsion from the violated orifices of Chuckleheads One, Two, and Four. C3 and C5 ate anything that passed in front of them. This violent expelling of presumably inedible matter resulted in the socially unacceptable spritzing of the unsavory and partially chewed morsels into the next door neighbor's yard. It is with great regret that we announce the death of four azalea bushes as a result of that spritzing. The owner and nurturer of the ill fated perennials is not amused.
Judges rated each wienie entrant on five criteria, some of which defied operationalization, as we say in the biz. In other words, the five judges could not come to a uniform definition for several of the terms, and didn't really care. The judging criteria were Al Dente Factor (firmness), Flavor (flavor), Swallowability (indefinable, for most), Hang Time (duration of flavor), and Pleasure Rating (overall effect of the wienie experience). It should be noted that Hang Time could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the quality of a wienie.
The rating scale was 1 to 10, where 10 represented a truly Platonic degree of a characteristic and 1 described a characteristic as just plain nasty. Zero (0) was reserved for those characteristics that bore no resemblance to anything edible; thereby, making that wienie a candidate for the Dishonorable Mention category, that is, something you wouldn't give to your neighbor's obnoxious p.o.s. dog. In the interest of safety for the judges, a critical care nurse was on-site to perform any necessary emergency procedures such as the Heimlick Maneuver or gastric lavage.
In order to maintain the integrity of the data, independent, non-tasting Chucklehead personnel were employed: a data maven who assisted a data geek in entering and verifying the accuracy of the scores into an Excel database.
And now what you have been waiting for, the results.
As you can see from the data list posted below, Armour’s Hot and Spicy and Barbecue versions were the clear winners. Runners up included Sam's (Wal-Mart) Great Value and Kroger's Barbecue Vienna Sausage, which tied for third place. Armour also placed in the top-ten with other varieties, including its Lite version. It is interesting to note that all of the Lite versions entered in the contest made it into the top eleven positions, probably good news for all of you who are taking "Statin" medications for your cholesterol.
The other end of the scoring scale, however, might provide the most useful information from this entire bizarre exercise. It is our "Dishonorable Mention" category. (There is no "Honorable Mention" category because this was, after all, a Vienna Sausage tasting.) Three entries had the distinction of falling or oozing into this category because, as mentioned above, they were so vile that three of the five judges had to actually spit out the nasty goop before completely masticating the presumed meat product. These were products made by Prairie Belt, the regular and the hot varieties, and the hot variety of Bryan, all of which were almost indescribably awful. Not only did they taste bad, the hot varieties were so painfully hot that the entire experience had no redeeming value whatsoever. The Prairie Belt sausages took the prize for being the most nasty looking and having the most disgusting mealy texture, which probably was caused by the high bone meal and oleoresin of paprika content.
The range of color and appearance of the entries is worth noting. As far as the judges were concerned, the acceptable color range of a Vienna Sausage is in the neighborhood of light Caucasian flesh or pig pink. However, the colors spanned the spectrum from rust red to cadaver gray. No attempt was made to discern the extant color of those varieties slathered in barbecue sauce.
We realize this is supposed to be a wine column, but the judges used a variety of liquids, most commonly beer, to flush the samples down their gullets, and regular saltine crackers to assist in purging the personalities of previously judged wienie samples. However, at least one judge tried several different types of wines with the Vienna Sausage. Red wine generally had a negative relationship with the wienies in that it tended to enhance the oily animal fat flavors inherent in most samples. However, a chilled white wine, in this case a French Chardonnay with the apt name of "Fat Bastard," did a much better job, not necessarily in pairing with the meat, but at least not fighting with it. The consensus was that it just wasn't worth the effort and expense to try to find a wine ying to the wienie's yang. (Actually, upon further consideration I would think something like a Riesling or Gewurtz would do well with this. A good amount of acidity is needed to cut through the fats.)
Another aspect of this event worth discussing is what was done with the leftover wienies and those partially eaten by the judges, not including, of course, those portions that were spritzed lethally into the neighbor's azalea bushes. There are seven wienies to a normal Vienna Sausage can, but we had only five judges, and only a handful of sausages were consumed entirely by any of the judges. Consequently, the dump bucket was nearly full of whole wienies. Although the nutrition value of Vienna Sausage is suspect, it seemed a terrible waste to just discard the little fellows who did not get a chance to give their lives for our most noble cause. Fortunately, a neighbor and VS groupie came up with a splendid idea.
The left over wienies were riced into a pate and molded into the shape of a football. A variety of condiments were applied to the pate to simulate the stitching and laces. A garnish of parsley was added to give the entire assemblage a pastoral feel of Astroturf. The resulting masterpiece was covered and refrigerated overnight. The following day, which was a home football game day pitting the Ole Miss Rebels against the Auburn Tigers, the creation was taken to the Grove, the site of the most famous tailgating in the world, and surreptitiously placed on an elegantly appointed table of a randomly selected tailgating contingent from Auburn. It was deemed by all who participated in and observed The Wienie Off as a fitting disposition and resting place for those little fellows who served us so well.
In the end, there were no real winners, only lessons learned. For example, as a rule of thumb, if a wienie had red goo, it probably tasted better than one without. In reality, the most tasty items of the evening were a wonderful asparagus dip and old fashioned chicken salad intended for the non-wienie eating support staff and voyeurs. As they say back in the sausage packing plant, "Sic transit gloria mundi," that is, Better luck next time, or something to that effect.The winners
1 (41) Armour Hot and Spicy
2 (38) Armour BBQ
3 (34.8) Sam's Great Value
4 (34.8) Kroger in BBQ Sauce
5 (31) Armour Lite
6 (30.8) Armour Chicken
7 (30.4) Armour Chicken, Beef, Pork
8 (29.8) Brookdale
9 (29.4) Bryan Chicken
10 (28.8) Kroger Original
11 (28.6) Kroger Lite
12 (27.8) Armour Jalapeno
13 (27.6) Libby's
14 (26) Bryan Chicken Pork
15 (23.8) Hormel
16 (19.4) Red Bird
17 (17.6) Kelly's
18 (17.4) Armour Smoked
19 (14.4) Bryan Jalepeno
20 (12.2) Libby's Chicken
21 (10.2) Prairie Belt
22 (10.2) Prairie Belt Hot
23 (10) Bryan Hot
Nov. 5, 2002
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