Judging Barbeque

In the United States, barbeque means smoking meats using all-wood coals. For most of us, it also means preparing the meat with a rub and finishing it up with a glaze of our own barbeque sauce or our favorite prepared sauce. In England and Australia, barbeque is the result of what we identify here as grilling over an open flame using prepared charcoal or our own wood coals. In other parts of the world, the word barbeque (also barbecue) is usually called barbacoa (or some version of that) and may involve the digging of a pit into which hot coals are buried along with meat that is wrapped, covered with more coals and sealed with some of the earth that was removed in the shaping of the hole.
Look at all that smoke!

The word barbeque is said to have originated south of the U.S., somewhere in the Caribbean. Regardless of its origin and which way you spell it, barbeque continues to be one of the most popular prepared foods anywhere in the United States. We love it in specialty restaurants, when we pick it up from a roadside shack and when we cook it in our own back yards.
My Dewey's beef ribs with slaw on the side.

In February of last year, as we were beginning to come out of our Covid bubbles and cautiously exploring available events and activities, at the urging of my Dewey and our friend John Boyajian, I attended a KCBS judging certification workshop. It was enlightening and delicious--they actually have competition-level barbeque for you to taste! I was sworn in as a certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judge, and I spent much of the remainder of the year continuing to learn as I judged barbeque at various events.

Good friends like John are a treasure! Retired from a career as a successful leader with an international corporation, he has continued to learn, explore new skills and adventures, and help guide others (me) through this BBQ judging journey that I'm on. As a KCBS master judge, he is invaluable not only to me but to the competition event organizers, having the ability to fill various roles during a barbecue competition. AND he's also happy to drive me (and others) to the competitions!
Smile, everyone! L-R: John Boyajian, me and Greg Culbertson at my first KCBS judging event
at Sip & Swine in Lawrenceville, Georgia, last year.

My first competition was a large one in Lawrenceville, Georgia, called Sip & Swine. It's a big event with live music, assorted vendors, BBQ vendors and a very big competition. Most judging events are outside under a big tent. Each judge is assigned a table where he/she will judge with five other judges. All submissions of each category (chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket) are selected randomly and assigned numbers so that teams cannot be identified. The table captain (an experienced and certified judge) collects the random assortment of samples and delivers them to our table where he/she will pass each team sampling for viewing and then for tasting. There is no conversation or discussion allowed among judges until we've completed our work. We do this for each category.

Judging tent at Sip & Swine last year

Everyone is so impressed when I tell them that I'm a KCBS certified barbeque judge, except for the vegetarians and vegans. I believe people are more impressed by this judging certification than by any other of my life's accomplishments. There's just something about the potential of being an insider in this barbeque life that's really seductive to most people. It is fun, yes! You meet great people, but it's not the glamorous life that you might imagine. Even for those of us who are serious BBQ lovers, after tasting, judging and providing feedback for 6 pieces of chicken, 6 samples of pork ribs, 6 samples of pulled pork and 6 slabs of beef brisket, you are not looking for any more barbeque and you are very, very full. As a novice, I asked my friend John how we could possibly sample all of the entries from 100-plus teams. Of course he laughed! Each table will judge SOME of the entries, not all of them!

You can become a KCBS certified judge too! Visit the Kansas City Barbeque Society website and search for available classes near you. If you're a woman reading this and imagining that it's mostly men, or if you are a BPoC thinking that this is a gathering for white men, read on. I was surprised. The KCBS barbeque judging scene is quite diverse. There are women and people of color in leadership positions--even one of the three founders of KCBS is a woman--and I've seen many couples who attend competitions together. Yes, there are a lot of retired people, but there are younger folks as well. Take a look and see if this might be a new community for you to be a part of and enjoy.

This Saturday, March 5th, John Boyajian and I, along with two other master judges, will be traveling to do our tasting and judging at Sip & Swine. I am excited to be judging there again--I have a soft spot for my first judging event, and I'm looking forward to the first barbeque of the year.

My husband, Dewey, is a wonderful pitmaster. His beef ribs and chicken are my favorites....bar none... so far. I mean, I've got a lot of tasting left to do! After all, this is only my second year as a certified judge.
My Dewey tending to his famous beef ribs.


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