Thoughts From a BBQ Judge

Thoughts From a BBQ Judge

This is a short post that serves as a means for me to put into writing some of my thoughts about being a certified BBQ Judge. I’m always interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this topic, and i welcome yours in the comments area below.

My Reasons For Becoming A BBQ Judge 

I got certified as a BBQ judge first within the KCBS system and about a year after joined the Florida Bar-B-Que Association judging ranks. The reason behind my becoming a BBQ judge in both of these organizations are pretty simple.

I love BBQ.

But I don’t just love BBQ as a food.

See, to me BBQ is a culture, specifically at the professional level.  I’ve long been a fan of southern culture, as both of my parents hail from the state of Virginia (Mom from the Tobacco farms outside of Danville and Dad from the Shenandoah Valley area).  Summer trips were spent traveling up from Central Florida to each of the family hubs, and it was during these trips that I gained an appreciation for what it takes to raise home grown crops as well as chickens, pigs, and cattle.

Food was then and remains today a strong part of who I am as an individual.  Not just the food itself, but the work and pride that goes into preparing quality food.  There has to be some Love in it … you know?

And yes… when prepared properly… you can in fact taste Love in food.

The folks who prepare competitive BBQ entries are some of the most honorable and hard working people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. They are also with few exceptions some of the friendliest.

It’s an honor to meet and connect with them and to do my best to keep the spirit of competitive BBQ alive and well.

The Work Ethic and Spirit of Professional BBQ Teams Drew Me In 

My first BBQ competition was one viewed on the Food Network.  Actually, I believe it was the Texas Steak Cookoff.  Teams from all over traveled in with their smokers, grills, and rigs… and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d seen since going to the Tractor Pulls with my Grandfather as a kid up in Bridgewater, Virginia!

The fast paced, hectic nature of some of the cook teams and calm, cool, and calculated vibe other teams gave off during the competition intrigued me as well.  Grills didn’t heat right, some had temps that would ramp up too high, the weather was blisteringly hot, and each team dealt with their individual situations (from meat selection on site to prep and cooking) in interesting ways.

I was captivated.  Seriously.  Glued to the TV.

The turn in portion was also awesome.  Boxes were turned in double blind style, per the narrator, and the judges began running through their analysis.  It was different from competition BBQ judging in that the judges were talking to each other and commenting verbally on entries as they tried them.  Hardly objective in that light, but it sure did provide some awesome insight into what they were thinking.

Anyway, it’s during the judging portion that I became hooked.  I knew that if I ever had the chance I’d want to be a judge like those guys.  Amazing food served hot … and Free!… and you get to give it a score?

Sign me up!

So sometime later I took the KCBS judging class  and the judging of Professional BBQ was on.

I later got my Florida Bar-B-Que certification as well.

My Approach To Judging Professional BBQ 

First and foremost, I want to say here that I take my responsibility and duty as a professional BBQ judge very seriously.  As judges, we are being asked to evaluate the hard work of professional BBQ cook teams who have in nearly all cases put a ton of time, resources, and money into preparing the chicken, ribs, pork, and beef brisket we judge.

Thoughts From a BBQ Judge2

The time, effort and sacrifice put in by these teams is never lost on me and is always top of mind as I evaluate the entries that come my way.  This is I believe an important concept for judges new and old to bear in mind.  I start with the mindset that every entry has a chance to gain from me the top score possible for each of the 3 categories for scoring:

  • Appearance
  • Taste
  • Tenderness

They all start at the top, and I then score them down from there as necessitated.  All entries are judged based on their own merit and are not scored comparatively.  For me at least, keeping my personal preferences out of the scoring mix is something I have to do consciously.  Too many teams get scored down for not producing what a given judge “Likes.”  This wrong, but it happens.  And the teams know this.  Try and find a Carolina Style Vinegar Based Sauce entry in the pork category at any competitive BBQ event.

Won’t happen… nor would you find a mustard sauced entry.


KCBS events and FBA events differ as most of you know in terms of how judges are presented with each category.  For KCBS events, we get all of the selections on a mat at once and judge them on the 3 categories in a sitting.  These entries may contain parsley or green lettuce as a bed on which the protein is presented, but this isn’t a requirement.  That said, I’ve seen few entries in KCBS competitions that come without a “putting green.”

KCBS Chicken Turn In Box


KCBS Style Chicken Turn In Box

FBA Chicken Turn In Box

FBA Style Chicken Turn In Box (BBQ Brethren)

FBA events are all about the meat, baby!  No greens allowed.  Entries are judged across the board one at a time.  So for instance, each chicken entry gets judges 0n appearance, taste, and tenderness before the next entry is brought out.  This process extends the judging time but a good bit.  However, I believe that it’s a bit more fair to each entry as the process tends to lessen the “subjective”  or comparison judging factor.

Again, I try and keep at the forefront of my judging mindset the understanding that the teams cooking at a given comp have worked their tails off.  I can’t say as much for a few of the “Super Judges” I’ve run across… whose scores routinely run on the middle to low side across the board.

Seeing Familiar Faces Among the Judges

Before judging commences and between categories I really enjoy seeing old friends again among the judging crew.  It’s also very nice to meet new people who are either new to judging or who I’ve just not had the chance to connect with.

FBA events are cool in that Birthdays for the given month are routinely recognized.  There’s always a birthday cake on hand, and we all share in a little celebration.  Having some cake to snack on between entries is a nice perk!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people in BBQ – both on the judging side and among competitors.  If this post provided any insight or value to you, please comment below.  🙂