The 2011 edition of the Bedford Blues & BBQ Cookoff Competition was held this weekend with more than 50 teams competing for more than $11,000 in prizes. This was my second competitive BBQ event; my first was the Inaugural Sam's Club National BBQ Tour regional event in Fort Worth in July. Before that, my competitive BBQ experience was limited to watching a few episodes of BBQ Pitmasters on TLC. Surprisingly, the first season of BBQ Pitmasters pretty much covered what I saw at my first competition, minus the TV drama. There were turn-in times, BBQ and lots of smoke.
I wanted to figure out what the judges were looking for in competitive BBQ, and the Kansas City Barbeque Society was nice enough to let me attend the BBQ judging class at the upcoming Bedford competition to become KCBS certified. Wow, a BBQ judge. I've even got the button to prove it.
When I showed up for the class, I was surprised by how large it was. There were about 60 people, and some of the people were actual BBQ competitors hoping to figure out what the judges are looking for. Class started at 10 a.m., with the promise of BBQ around noon. We studied a workbook that covered the four basic BBQ meats: chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. We learned about appearance, tenderness and taste, the three key judging categories. When scoring each category we learn that there are no 10s given out. Nine is the highest score, 6 is average and 1 is given for a disqualification. We see lots of pictures and diagrams of BBQ, all the while smelling the BBQ being prepared behind us. Last but not least, we are told to try to keep our bites small. If you eat just 1 ounce pieces of the BBQ that you are judging, you will have consumed two pounds of meat!
After two hours, we finally get to test. I've already forgotten the small bites strategy -- if I eat six pounds of meat, so be it. It might be a rookie mistake, but I was hungry!
Test judging goes pretty smoothly. We judge boxes of BBQ on appearance, tenderness and taste. I started out by eating large portions of chicken and ribs, but decide to start taking smaller bites of the pork and brisket. Between each sample of BBQ we eat a saltine cracker and take a sip of water to cleanse our palate. For each meat you judge (or eat), there are six samples. Forget the two plus pounds of meat, thats 24 crackers! Back to small bites.
After we finish eating I mean judging, we all stand up, raise our right hand and take the BBQ judge's oathan oath. It kind of reminded me of my old Boy Scout pledge, but everyone seemed to take it seriously. I had a great time and learned a lot about BBQ that I cant wait to try out next time I barbecue in the backyard.
The BBQ competition itself was great, too. It was a little windy, which caused a few problems with some of the tents. But the temperature was a lot cooler than it has been this summer. I got to meet a lot of the teams and sample a lot of great BBQ (without crackers). I put together a slide show of what goes on behind the scenes at a BBQ competition. Be sure to check it out above.