As a Master Judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) I am taking on the task of writing about the several competitions I will be attending this year. But I thought that in the beginning perhaps we should discuss the difference between regular commercial BBQ, cooking on the grill at home, and competition BBQ.
Backyard BBQ: When you are cooking on the grill or smoker at home, there are no rules. You cook it the way you like it for as long or as little as you like. If you schedule dinner for 6 pm and the meat is not done at 6 pm you just tell your guests to have another drink and it’ll be ready in a few minutes. You put the kind of sauce you like on it and if a couple of your guests don’t like it, well that’s just too bad. It’s a have fun and feed the neighbors kind of thing.
Commercial BBQ: When you go out to eat at a commercial BBQ establishment you know there are safety regulations that they have to follow and they will be inspected from time to time by the local health authorities. You also know that they are trying to make a product that satisfies the tastes of the greatest number of people. It’s a money making enterprise. No profits means you don’t continue in business.
Competition BBQ: Competition BBQ has several pages of rules. Let’s start with the kinds of meat. In every KCBS sanctioned BBQ event the competitors must cook 4 different meats. Chicken or Cornish Game Hen is turned in to the judges at Noon. Pork Ribs are turned in at 12:30 pm. Pork (generally a Pork Butt or Shoulder) is turned in at 1 pm. And Brisket is turned in at 1:30 pm. Each piece of meat is judged in Appearance, Taste and Tenderness. When the scores are compiled, they are listed from highest score to lowest score. The high score is the winner of that meat category and receives a cash prize. This is the same for all 4 categories. At the end of the day the scores for each team is totaled in all categories and the winner of the event is determined. The overall winner is the Grand Champion and the runner up is called the Reserve Grand Champion and they each receive a cash prize for their work. Generally, cash prizes are awarded to the top 5 winners overall and in each category.
Just like the commercial establishment there are safety regulations and health inspections that take place. All meat must be cooked on a smoker or grill that produces wood smoke. Electric smokers are allowed, but the electricity can only be used to ignite the wood that produces the smoke. Gas or Propane is not allowed as a cooking medium.
Most competition BBQ events are on Saturday with teams arriving sometime on Friday to set up and get ready for inspections and cooking of the meat for Saturday’s turn-in.
In the Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware area there are more than 50 events from March through November each year. If you include New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and other surrounding states the number is in the 100s. As you can see, there is a lot of weekend travel involved.
It is my plan to write about the events I will be attending and the teams I will be seeing in 2017. I may even include a photo or two of the competition. In March I will be in Brunswick, MD for the Great Brunswick BBQ on the 4th, Flames on the Flint in Bainbridge, GA on the 11th, BBQ Gives Back (a fund raising event) in Urbana, VA on the 25th. And the Iron Man BBQ in Greencastle, PA on April 1.
Maybe I can get you to attend some of the competitions, or at least to fire up the grill and taste some smoke.
Roger N. Fair