Over on the Los Angeles Board, the idea of a BBQ blind tasting has taken root. I enthusiastically supported the idea, noting that I was a big fan of blind tastings, and had conducted blind tastings of things as diverse as salt, butter, peanut butter, canned tomatoes, and Mexican beer. I was asked to post any tips I had on conducting blind tastings.
Its very simple. The concept is merely to keep secret, to the extent possible, the specific identify (e.g., brand) of what is being tasted. There are two types of blind tastings: single-blind and double-blind. A single-blind tasting is when the specific identities of the items to be tasted are known, but not the order in which they are tasted. For example, you would provide the participants a list of all the various peanut butters being tasted but, during the tasting itself, not identify which peanut butter is being tasted. A double-blind tasting is when nothing is known about the items being tasted.
The typical way of blind tasting wines is to serve them either from decanters or from bottles in brown paper bags, with the decanters or bags labeled (#1, #2, etc.). At the end of the tasting, the identities of the wines are revealed. This same paper bag technique can be used for anything that comes in a glass or plastic container (e.g., olive oils). The other technique is merely to place in baskets (e.g., potato chips), or in bowls (e.g., salt, canned tomatoes), or on plates (e.g., butter) the items to be tasted.
Obviously, the host or hostess of the tasting will know which is which (because he or she assigns the numbers), and is thus deprived of the fun of the blind tasting. One way to avoid this is for the host to put a number in a place where it wont be seen by others (e.g., on a slip of paper dropped into the bottom of the paper bag, or on a slip of paper taped to the bottom of a bowl or plate), and then have one of the other participants rearrange the items and put the conspicuous number on it. This way everyone can be on equal terms, including the host or hostess of the event.
Theres nothing very difficult or complicated about it. Just use your common sense to keep the specific identities unknown. If, for example, differences in the size and shape of bottles would give away the identity, then transfer the contents to equally sized containers (e.g., glass jars) before the tasting. One time, when I thought Id be able to identify different products from their appearance, I had myself blindfolded for the tasting.
The main objective is just to have fun. In my experience, blind tastings encourage people to concentrate on taste and texture to a much greater extent than when food is eaten in a less structured way, and they lead to lively conversations and differences of opinion.