A KCBS Judging Experience

BY: Richard Wachtel
Published: June 11, 2013


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a judge at a KCBS barbecue competition? Well, I met a great family two weekends ago at the Battle of the Beltway BBQ Competition who was judging. Lucas was more than happy to share his experience with Grilling with Rich readers. 

A KCBS Judging Experience

by: Lucas Darnell

Two weekends ago, the wife and I had the opportunity to judge our first KCBS competition at the Beltway BBQ Battle in Oxen Hill, Maryland.  As a new cook team, we decided that we should put ourselves in the positions of the judges, to gain insight into how they think and to see what other teams were turning in. It was like going behind the curtain in Oz.

We make the drive out to MD from Virginia and arrive at the Fairgrounds at around 10 a.m.  The judges have their own parking lot on the backside of the area, where we are picked up by a golf cart and driven to the judges tent.  There were 25 teams and around 30 judges.  We would be judging in this four walled tent that was dark and hot.
KCBS_Logo_LowRes
Needless to say, this wasnt going to work.  Several of us more industrious folk got some sides pulled up on the tent and got a nice breeze rolling through.  Had that none been done, everyone’s scores would have suffered.
I guess I was expecting more organization, although it by far wasnt disorganized.  We all took a seat at tables around the tent.  The reps then asked who the first timers were, who the master judges were, and made sure both groups were divided equally around the room.  Table captains were assigned/drafted and then we waited.
The biggest thing that I can take away from this experience is the diversity of the people in the room.  Some people were cooks as well. Some people had never cooked with a team.  When you talk about cooking to a variety of palates, that sincerely is the truth.  More on this later…
As we wait, we’re sitting there chatting.  Some people have judged close to 100 contests.  Some only a few. Some none.  Everyone is excited.  I decide to spring my plan into action.
Me:  “I don’t know about you guys, but if I have to score something with a 6 or a lower, I’m leaving a comment card.”
Other Judge:  “Why would you do that?”
(The trap is sprung)
Me:  “As a cook, getting a 6 is a death sentence.  You arent going to do well in that category, and are probably screwed in th GC.  If I give a 6, there better damn well be a good reason, and the cook is owed  to know why.”
(Nods of agreement.)
Side note:  It is worth telling you that throughout all of the judging and rep procedures, everyone really stresses how much we cooks put into the process in work, time and money.  This was reiterated constantly, so that all judges would take the event very seriously.  I hope all contests are like this.
Its getting close to chicken turn in time, and I have a monster grin on my face.  My wife keeps looking at me and shaking her head, as she thinks Im ridiculous.  Im excited.  Then table captains are called to come and get the boxes.
Then, its a whirlwind.  Boxes are shown. Looked at, sampled from.  Some people hide their scores from others. Some dont care.  Some people save what they dont eat. Some people chuck the rest.  The best, and most informative part of the entire process, is the discussion that ensues between each turn in.  You really get to see how your tastes lineup with the others around the table.  You get into arguments.  You defend entries from people you dont know, and most likely never will.

The best thing about judging was seeing the diversity of the entries.  I was under the assumption that everyone would be turning in something similar.  That was totally incorrect.  For chicken, we saw legs and wings.  You saw baby back ribs.  Every pork box was dramatically different.  Some sweet. Some very porky.  Some brisket had burnt ends.  Some shouldn’t have.  Even the slice width on brisket varied on all sides of the spectrum.

As a cook, you come to find out very quickly that turning in that box is like throwing dice on a roullette table.  You just have to hope the table that gets your stuff likes it.  Which brings me back to palate diversity.
Its often explained when talking about teaching or speaking about a subject.  You have to keep your information at the lowest level of who’s in the room. That way, everyone is involved.  You have to cook the same way.  What I might think is completely awesome might not even register with half the people in the room.  So you have to cook to the broadest taste.
All in all, we had a fantastic time.  We finished up judging and headed out to the competitors area where we met up with some friends of ours.  We spent the afternoon with them, had some drinks, met some new people, and even stuck around for awards.  You just always wonder who’s stuff you have.  And you will never know.
As a cook, the judging experience is invaluable.  I wish we would have done it prior to our first competition.  But I am glad we did it before our second.  It will be extremely helpful in helping us get our scores up to where we are competing.  I highly recommend judging an event.
If I had to give a recommendation on judging and such…there really should be a requirement that judges spend at least one morning with a team during a turn in day.  KCBS should have a mentoring program or something where judges can come for the morning and get the experience of all that goes in to making that little 9 X 9 styrofoam box.  Teams would love it because the judge would have a better idea of what they go through.  Judges would love it and be a lot more educated on the process.  I know its a requirement for becoming a Master Judge.  I would like to see it broadly done, so that teams and judges are on the same page.
Would I encourage anyone to be a judge?  Only if you take it seriously.  The cooks certainly do, and they deserve that from the judge.  Its challenging, but also a lot of fun and a huge delight.  I mean… you get to eat some of the best barbecue in the WORLD.
I personally cant wait to do it again.
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Born and raised in Long Island New York Richard Wachtel has developed a passion for all things about barbecue and grilling, social media and also just having fun. Now living right outside the Nations Capital: Washington D.C., Richard Wachtel loves to read, write and learn about all things barbecue and grilling and digital marketing.

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