From the department of "Things That Sound Glamorous But Aren't" comes this story of my experience as a judge in the Backyard BBQ division of the Music City BBQ Festival. At first it sounds like a dream assignment, eating bbq for hours and getting to be all judgmental and stuff.
But as that immortal cinematic character Bob McKenzie described his predicament while standing waist-deep in a vat of pilsner in his magnum opus, Strange Brew, "My brother always said that drowning in beer would be like heaven. Well my brother isn't here and I've got two soakers. This isn't heaven. This sucks."
Don't get me wrong. I know lots of people who would give their eye teeth and Lipitor prescription to be a bbq judge. As a matter of fact, many of them give hundreds of dollars and a weekend to go through the official training to become a Kansas City BBQ Society and/or Memphis BBQ Network judge.
Certified judges take their bbq seriously, which is great for the professional contestants. The competitive teams know the same standards as the judges and strive to prepare their meaty offerings accordingly. However, I and the other two amateur judges were not necessarily as well trained or motivated for the amateur backyard bbq category.
It was understood that the rules were to be interpreted fairly loosely in the non-sanctioned categories. When our table captains scratched their heads wondering whether a particular entry should be disqualified because it was beef tenderloin instead of brisket, we non-sanctioned judges suggested, "Why don't you bring that big-ass expensive chunk of smoked beef over here and we'll let you know what we think of it?!"
When the official MBN judges criticized a particular poultry entry as having "a slightly less than optimal carbonization to the outer crust" and gave it a score of 6 out of 10, my fellow judge and I sampled the same dish and gave it a "freakin' AWESOME!"
It wasn't that we were trying to belittle the efforts of the cooks. On the contrary, we were probably just more appreciative while still maintaining a perspective on the relative merits of each entry. We may not necessarily have that much book learnin' about bbq, but we know what we liked. The first category we judged was chicken:
I tried to pace myself, knowing that there were to be almost 30 total food items to be judged. But damned, they were so good I hated to leave too much behind. It was then that I utterly revealed my newbie judge status. I noticed that all the experienced, officially sanctioned judges had small soft cooler bags tucked between their feet under the table. The event officials handed us all gallon freezer bags for stashing our leftovers. Oops, guess I gotta just eat it all.
Next up was the rib category. Under official competition rules there are very strict specifications as to the size and type of ribs to use. In the wild card division, we were treated to both spare ribs and baby backs as well as the great debate between dry rub vs. wet ribs. It was a delight to contribute to the discourse.
We also judged the aforementioned beef category and some perfectly fried catfish and whiting fillets in the seafood division. By the time dessert rolled around, we were utterly defeated.
Not that we didn't eat it or anything...
Thanks again to the 1st annual Music City BBQ Festival for the opportunity to participate in their more casual competition. Here's hoping they come back next year and maybe even more of us will continue our barbecueducation in time to contribute with the big boys next year.