Judging BBQ at Troy Pig Out

Barbecue Judging

Tucking into ribs after Appearance judging at Troy Pig Out. Can you spot the no-no* in this picture?

Last Saturday I judged the team barbecue competition at Troy Pig Out in upstate New York, for the second year in a row. One of the seasoned judges shared some tips he learned from his KCBS mentor, and they’re good enough to pass along. Keep in mind the KC stands for Kansas City, so these are not necessarily the same rules that would apply for Texas barbecue even though I was sworn to follow them for this event.

  • The judging scale goes from 1 to 9 with 1 being a disqualification (we had one, for meat presented in the wrong category). Barbecue good enough to share with co-workers gets a 6; good enough to share with your boss is a 7; good enough to share with loved ones is 8; good enough you don’t want to share with anyone is a 9.
  • If there’s a red center in chicken it may be from the smoke; wipe it on a napkin and see if the juices run clean. If it’s still red that’s blood, an automatic 1.
  • KCBS judges apply the pull test to brisket: it initially holds together but quickly separates when you tug on it. That’s the ideal tenderness. This is different than in Texas where we want our brisket pudding-soft.
  • Ribs shouldn’t be falling off the bone, but the meat should separate quickly and cleanly when you bite into it.
  • Judge the meat, not the sauce. Preps where the sauce gets in the way of tasting the meat get marked down.
  • If parsley is used as a garnish, get rid of it before you taste because it will affect the flavor experience. (This tip is mine, actually; even though parsley is allowed it shouldn’t be.)
  • Be fair, focused and kind in your judging. Keep in mind teams have made a considerable investment in time and expense to compete.
  • And of course, follow the rules not your own preferences.

The categories as last year were chicken, ribs, brisket and pulled pork in that order. Each entry in each category is judged for appearance, taste and tenderness. There were six teams competing, a manageable number in terms of how much you can taste and keep track of. (You are not supposed to directly compare one prep against another, but it’s good to have a reference range.)

Two of the teams were obviously more experienced and were probably neck and neck on most scorecards. One team was aggressive with heat and smoke and broke a few KCBS rules but also scored points for taste and tenderness. The others were newer to the game but I hope they’ll be back because this was an enjoyable and educational experience for us all.

*Scented hand wipes should never be used because they’ll influence your taste of the food. Use plain water and napkins instead to clean your hands between tastes.

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