I previously wrote an article on competition barbecue with a focus on the competing aspects, i.e the teams that do the competing. I had already decided I was distinctly average chef so make myself more distinct (as I'd never make it as a chef) I'd do barbecue, and since I was never going to be a professional barbecue chef I took the opportunity to help a barbecue competition team (of whom the the lead was an electrician!). Since I couldn't afford the time (and money) away to really 'do it' in the barbecue competition scene I decided the best was to continue the hobby and interest was as a judge. So I registered for the judges course at Smoke on the Waters 2018 to be a Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judge, but unfortunately got stuck on the apron at Dallas airport as a storm raged overhead. The next year I did complete my judging qualification only for that year and the subsequent year's contests to be cancelled due to COVID! I have now judged at two competitions (Smoke on the Waters 2020 and 2021...we need more KCBS comps in the UK people!).
I had done the hard yards in a competition team on several competition weekends (competed more than I have still judged at!) and compared to being a judge the competitors do have the hard yards (can't stay up drinking, up early for getting the meat one or staying up all night monitoring the meat...not drinking...or sleeping), but in theory they have the rewards (if they do well!). Judges definitely have the easier gig, at best it's a couple of hours work strung out over a weekend, but you are the ones responsible for judging the food by its appearance, flavour and texture, and independently not judging each sample against the rest, it's a great privilege but with it comes responsibility and I definitely feel the pressure to be 'bang on' with the scoring.
Before it comes to turn ins, there are the preparatory judging aspects and before that you have to do the course to be a judge. The course teaches you the process, the etiquette, what expected and required of you as a judge and how to score the samples, providing you with some to judge so you know what you're doing when you're all alone doing it. I say all alone, because although you sit on tables of six to judge you aren't allowed to confer with the other judges, even make a noise like "mmmmmm" until all the judges have scored that sample as you might inadvertently (or overtly!) influence the scoring. I explained how strict the rules were in the blog on competing but the rules are as strict if not more so with judges. Part of the preparation is knowing what the judges can and can't do, and indeed what you need to do. You aren't allowed to fraternise with the teams on the day of the event (you can have a casual walk around outside their tents and are encouraged to), despite the fact you've probably been doing shots with various teams all weekend and might have passed out in their tents and kicked out so they can start cooking at 3am! Judge preparation also involves the an oath (yes!) and the requirement not to have any alcohol or 'mind altering substances' prior to or during judging, no scented napkins, no licking of fingers whilst judging, no smoking and no photography of entries. I mean all common sense really as the teams have put their time, money and effort (and reputation!) into producing something as best they can and as close to the standard as possible, and all judges respect that.
So with scoring, in KCBS you are first presented with a visual inspection of the box here you judge out of nine (all scores are out of nine) on appearance, you do eat with your eyes so effectively you're judging how much do I want to eat that barbecue based on what I can see. The box is then passed round and you take a sample out of the entry box and place it n your scoring mat, once you have all samples (this depends on the judges:team ratio) you can start eating, scoring for flavour (taste) and texture (mouthfeel), again out of nine (because ten is perfect and no barbecue is perfect!). You can write constructive feedback as well as providing just the scores but that is down to you as a judge.
I really enjoy judging, I enjoy the social aspects of the events, being around the camaraderie and competitiveness in and between the teams, the 'on the side' cooks that occur and sharing of ideas, recipes, thoughts and general barbecue chat, all being outside.
Team tents as seen outside the judges area.