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Basic BBQ Judging Questions

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    Basic BBQ Judging Questions

    I know nothing about BBQ or steak contest judging. After watching some Memphis in May videos and seeing what is on the line for the competitors who are giving it their all, I have some basic questions....

    First, how on earth do you combat flavor fatigue; that is, tasting so much of the same meat in a relatively short period of time?

    Also, how do you combat the primacy and recency effect, that tendency of people to remember more the first and last encounters with something and not so much the ones between the two?

    For starters, (and this is why we don't encourage the average Joe to cook "competition BBQ" at home) competition BBQ is a wam-bam of intense flavor, since the judges eat only 1 bite of each submission. This helps set theirs apart from the others, in theory, and makes each bite noteworthy. But this also makes it NOT the same stuff you should make at home when eating an entire plate full.

    Also, to combat the tasting fatigue, judges are vehemently taught not to *compare* samples (in KCBS anyway), but to judge each bite as if it's the first one you've tasted, irrespective of the others, and mark it according to its own merits. This makes sense on one level but opens up trouble on other levels. For instance, the Super Bowl finds a champion by comparing each team to the other, not judging how good each team plays irrespective of the others, but w/ BBQ competitions it is what it is. Whaddyado?

    This certainly doesn't cover all of it, and make it all make sense, but maybe this helps add some perspective.


      Maybe Mark V can chime in if he's able.


        Huskee is correct in all he says. Sometimes you do eat more than one bite, though, if you think you need to.
        No one will do that often, though, considering that you have 6 samples each of 4 meats to judge. That comes out to 24
        bites minimum. That gets to be a lot to eat!

        The flavors are more intense than you would make at home, mostly sweet. Cooks have found that sweetness is something
        most like. I have made all the meats competition style at home, and after a couple ribs the sweetness gets sickening. Nobody is going to take the time to trim and cook chicken the way the cooks do. I bet a third of the meat gets trimmed off a brisket for competition, no one would do that at home. The pork shoulders are not as out there as the others.

        Judges always have crackers at the table, and most nibble on those and drink some water between samples to cleanse
        the palate. That is all the judges are allowed, btw, no flavored water or gum or anything to interfere with taste.

        Judges score each sample before going on to the next one. You can't try them all and then score them afterwards.
        Each sample is considered individually, as Huskee said.

        Competitions are scored more like diving or ice skating. Judges do not score more or less according to what else they have just


          Interesting. Thanks for asking and the answers.


            At first, I thought learning to be a judge would help in my BBQ at home. Not! Glad I did the research.
            For home bbq, or backyard BBQ--the best BBQ is the BBQ you like.

            Happy Grilling to you and PBR too.


            • Mark V
              Mark V commented
              Editing a comment
              I do think being a judge has helped at home. The comp cooks do a lot of things just for appearance and mostly cook to the same flavor profile, but many other things you can use at home. You have a lot of time to talk at a competition while waiting. Judges talk about what they know the cooks are doing, what they do at home, where to buy meat, what cookers they use, all the types of things we talk about on this forum. Some of the cooks also judge, and you can talk to the cooks after judging.

            • bbqLuv
              bbqLuv commented
              Editing a comment
              Well said, I was listening to "Don't do this at home".
              I will have to reconsider. TX

            I'm a KCBS master judge and Mark V is spot on. One to two bites max. cleanse your palette, drink a bit of water and go on to the next sample. Try to adhere to the KCBS rules and not bring in your own feelings on what you think BBQ should taste like (very hard for Texans).

            Unfortunately sweet is the way BBQ comps are going. Pit bosses cook what wins and what they think judges want (unfortunately). In the chicken category, judges always get excited when something other than thighs are presented.

            However, I do disagree a bit with Huskee . Competition is not a wham-bam of intense flavor. If there is too much flavor (sauce, heat, spice, etc.) and it masks the meat, an entry will (should) get marked down. The best BBQ I have ever had is at a competition. Now there is a lot of good BBQ, but when you get that rib, thigh, brisket that is heaven, you wish you could just take a few more pieces, find yourself a cool spot in the shade and enjoy.

            For me it's more about technique. After a comp, I will walk around and find a competitor that uses my smoker and then sit down with them and ask questions on how they manage their fire, wood they use, etc.

            If you ever have a chance to become a judge you should. Bottom line, free BBQ


            • Huskee
              Huskee commented
              Editing a comment
              Bad choice of words. My point was that submissions intend to stand out from the others.

            Fascinating stuff!

            One bite to get it right, as it were.

            So many of the competition stuff, as already mentioned, really ls like BBQ Candy.


            • TripleB
              TripleB commented
              Editing a comment
              First there is presentation and you're really looking for disqualifiers (foreign objects, pooling of sauce, etc.). Then it comes down to taste and tenderness. You can have a great tasting rib, but a bit tough - or vice versa and you get marked down. Believe me a Candy rib does not generally win. Got to taste the meat. Same goes with pulled pork and chicken. Brisket is not turned in sweet - generally salt & pepper. Best place to go to learn how to BBQ is at competitions.


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