The annual BBQ cook off came to town this past weekend and I decided to take a new angle at it. Each year I had been scraping together a team and spending upwards of four hundred bucks to compete for bragging rights and the hope to make a bit of the cash back (some guys do… I haven’t yet). There is definately some to that “thrill of the grill” but I wanted to try something different.
This year I signed up as a judge for the self sanctioned competition. First off… some of the big BBQ sanctioning groups (KCBS and Memphis In May) have training classes you need to take so you may not be able to jump directly in but it’s not difficult. My event was self sanctioned (they made up their own rules) and the group enlisted judges from other organizations. This is not uncommon and, in general, the attitudes around the judging tents seems to be fairly loose, laid back and ready to teach newbies. Don’t be surprised if it seems a bit chaotic.
I learned that being a judge was, for me, better than competing.
Judging bbq competitions may be right for you too if you are:
- Non competitive – I’m not selling a sauce a trophy isn’t that big of deal to me
- Hungry and love to eat – (yes despite taking only a bite of each item you will leave FULL)
- A foodie
- On a budget. I didn’t want to spend the $$ on meat, charcoal, extras and an entry fee. It adds up.
- Lacking free time – It takes two days to prep, cook , and compete. Judging just takes a leisurely Saturday.
- Wanting to feel important. Teams lacking sleep will act silly when they see you marked “judge.”
- Fond of sleeping in a real bed with air conditioning.
- Wanting to compete in the future
The last point is a good one. You get a whole new perspective on how serious (yes one cooker missed his turn in time and his chicken was eliminated) and sometime subjective judging can be.
BBQ Tricks and Tips I took away:
- Read the rules – you’re only judged on what’s listed.
- Appearance matters – it’s usually an individual point in the judging. I saw a few boxes smudged with fingerprints (yuck) and sloppy with sauce. Layout the food in the box in a clean, orderly and attractive manner. In my case they opened the box and we all looked at it and simply judged “appearance” from 1 to 9. That was almost a third of the total potential score.
- Keep it hot. The pieces that were warmer seemed to taste better.
- Stay away from lighter fluid.
- Judges expect some sauce, in general like sweet, NOT heat.
- Perfect ribs won’t fall off the bone (that’s overdone) but they should come off easy.
Overall I was surprised how similar all the ribs were and how everything was still warm. Judging was an econmical way to experience the thrill of the grill without touching any charcoal and still getting a good night’s sleep.