Although I am very judgmental about barbecue, I had never officially judged a barbecue event until last Saturday, when I got to give my opinion on chicken, ribs, brisket and pulled pork at the Troy Pig Out thanks to an invitation from my friends at Albany Yelp.
Most of the judges other than me were KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) certified. This means they’ve taken a 5 hour class in what to look for in barbecue and how to apply those standards consistently. My friend Melanie is a KCBS judge and was kind enough to prep me with some links, such as this blog that describes the barbecue judging process in some detail.
I found the group to be earnest and diligent at their work and I have no doubt the contestants got a fair shake. The three criteria are appearance, taste and tenderness, each given a separate score. I learned that smoke ring does not figure in the judging process and that you can be disqualified for using red leaf lettuce as a garnish. (Green lettuce and parsley are fine.) Also, because this was not itself a KCBS sanctioned event, we were able to exchange comments on the tastes though we were all careful to wait until after we’d voted to do this.
How was the barbecue? I feel a little reticent due to my novice status, but will say that chicken had the greatest range of preparations (you should know that judges like thigh meat because it’s easy to make it tender, and that the portions should be uniform in size). It’s hard to mess up ribs, and most people didn’t. I was most disappointed in the brisket, which tended to be lean grey strips, but that’s where professional standards come in because others didn’t seem to feel as I did.
Pulled pork was where things got interesting, and I gave the highest score of the day to a dish I generally avoid. Look at the variety in my photo. It ranges from what most people settle for as pulled pork—well sauced strands that could have been cooked in a crockpot—to discrete chunks to pork shoulder which had been smoked into submission and then pulled apart with fingers or forks, which I think is what pulled pork was like before the chain restaurants redefined the genre.
By the end of the event my table mates were asking if I was ready to get myself certified and the answer is, quite possibly. The class costs $100 and that includes lots of barbecue. However, there’s nothing scheduled in the Northeast for the remainder of 2015 so this will have to go on the bucket list.