You deserve the cold truth: judging barbecue at the American Royal is a series of molasses-coated haymakers that leaves no stomach unturned. The story of my experience as a certified judge at the 33rd annual barbecue contest is in this week's paper (and online here). What follows are a few tidbits and observations that didn't make the piece.
Cooks and Competition Teams:
Teams typically walk the distance between their smoker and the turn-in table the day before a competition. Even with a time estimate, some pitmasters are still running come Sunday to make sure their food is on the table before the clock expires.
The finest team tagline of the weekend may have belonged to the Smokehouse Mafia, who encouraged people to "say hello to my little pig."
If you're cooking, you hope a corporation has the lot next to yours. They'll stock up on port-a-potties and might stick around only for the Friday-night party, leaving you with the equivalent of a corner barbecue lot.
Cooks can live with hard judging, even if they don't agree with a judge's decision. It's the human element in competitions. What drives them nuts is when a table is inconsistent, and one judge loves their barbecue across the board and the other pans it.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society oath for judges, administered by Ardie Davis on the morning of the competition:
I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each Barbeque meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be an Official KCBS Certified Judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbeque and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever.
Master judges have judged at least 30 competitions. That's a lot of Saturdays and Sundays spent eating barbecue.
If you want to know if your own chicken is undercooked, pat it with a paper towel. If the paper towel turns red or pink, the chicken needs more time in the smoker.
Ribs must be submitted on the bone because as KCBS instructor Mike Lake noted in the barbecue class I took, "There is no McRib in the KCBS."
The judges don't judge the smoke ring — a rule modification that came into place in 1996, after the KCBS determined that it was easy to artificially enhance the smoke ring.
Entries (ribs, chicken, pork or brisket) that are swimming in sauce are called "dripping wet."