Sunday, February 26, 2012

Insider's View of a Certified BBQ Judging Class

By Dru Chai

I'm not gonna lie. As I mentioned before on this blog, a big reason of why I wanted to become a BBQ certified judge was for the free food. I mean, who wouldn't be excited for that? If you eat, breathe and sleep BBQ, free food has to be on the top of the list. Heck, BBQ is expensive!

But as I sat through 10 hours of BBQ judging class at the NBBQA Conference & Trade Show in San Diego, I realized something. I realized that the world of BBQ competition is serious business. When I mean serious, I'm referring to everyone's passion, love, and dedication for BBQ.

The NBBQA Conference rarely happens in SoCal

As a certified BBQ judge, I want to make sure that I'm judging each piece of BBQ meat with fairness and equality. There is no such thing as a BBQ expert. Everyone has different taste buds, and their own idea of what constitutes good BBQ. BBQ judges take their "job" seriously and look that way on the outside, but make no mistake -- I'm doing a happy little dance inside each time I taste a tender, flavorful, and mouth-watering piece of BBQ.

So how was the BBQ conference and the judging classes? Well, I consider myself lucky. Both judging classes and the conference rarely make an appearance in Southern California. So I had to take advantage. Since both classes took up the entire day, I didn't get a chance to check out some of the other how-to presentations, guest speaker seminars, or the trade show. I barely had a chance to taste some BBQ, but this one was clearly my favorite.

Neil "Bigmista" Strawder serving up some pulled pork
Flavorful and tender pulled pork from Bigmista BBQ
That BBQ sauce was da bomb

MBN Judging Class Overview

Memphis Barbecue Network competitions is all about the swine -- judges blind taste test pork shoulder, ribs, and whole hog. What sets them apart from others is that there is on-site judging as well. This means they get to visit and talk with the cooks and pit masters in person, who have the opportunity to explain their cooking methods and present their food personally to the judge. We went through two demonstrations to get a feel of what it would be like.

Showing what pork shoulder is all about to a "test judge"
Pork shoulder goodness, the money muscle
Some teams will show their sauce and rub, but it's all about the meat
The class was small in size at around 20 people, and understandably so. After taking the class, we were only MBN "trained." We only become officially certified once we judge 3 competitions. MBN sanctioned competitions rarely occur on the West coast, so finding one in Southern California will be tough. Chances are, I'll probably be just an MBN trainee for a while.

KCBS Judging Class Overview
Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions occur all over the country, and quite a few of them take place up and down California. So I knew this was going to be a popular class -- there was about 60 people in attendance, jam-packed in rather small conference room. Many in attendance were BBQ teams, wanting to know more about the judging process, so they know what to look for when putting out their BBQ during competitions.

Getting ready to do some practice judging
Pulled pork category, not so good... but it's practice

This class was definitely a lot louder than the smaller MBN class. After going through a presentation, we were presented with BBQ samples from each category (pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket) for our own judging session. Unlike MBN, there is only blind judging for KCBS competitions. There are a few things to look for that could disqualify an entree, so they purposely threw in some screwballs to test us. I'll definitely be looking to judge as many KCBS events as possible!

Lining up for some BBQ samples
Now that's old school
Just don't BBQ his pet