Sept. 23, 2010
“No fraternizing with the contestants.” That was rule No. 1 in a long list of instructions given to me as a “celebrity judge” at the “Ribstock Peace, Love and BBQ” in Cameron Park Saturday, Sept. 18.
Village Life reporter Mike Roberts was the only “celebrity judge” to come in a tie-dyed T-shirt. As we were walking by the barbecuers, he jokingly announced he was taking bribes and had a credit card machine for those lacking cash. I tried to pretend I had never met this guy in my life.
My favorite barbecue team was the one with the banner that read, “Pleased to meat you, Hope you guessed my name, Rolling Bones BBQ Team.”
You’ve got to have a catchy name. Rolling Bones was at the top of my list of catchy names. The professionals all had catchy names. Bowling Over Pigs had a great cartoon. Hog Me Tender could have teamed up with Hound Dog Barbeque (Nobody making the barbecue circuit can spell it properly). Other cute or semi-cute names include Ash Kickin’ Smokers, All Sauced Up or Plastered Pig. The last name probably resulted from the friendly atmosphere. Many of the barbecue teams were drinking beer at 10 in the morning.
Being a celebrity judge is a fancy name for a volunteer amateur judge. There were 18 of us “celebrities” and almost twice as many professional judges — those who have gone through a five-hour training course by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Some of them had KCBS name tags or KCBS golf shirts. One of the “celebrities” was a guy who was just wandering around and got pulled in to volunteer.
We received an hour of careful and detailed instruction about how to judge a barbecue in accordance with KCBS rules. Then we all stood up, held up our right hands and took the oath as judges, swearing allegiance to “truth, justice, barbecue and the American way of life.”
Then we listened to more instruction from table captains before we were released for a potty break.
Whew, I felt like I got the whole KCBS training and ought have my KCBS badge now. But I don’t know about the guy I was sitting next to with the tie-died shirt and the Japanese bandana tied around his forehead. Mike Roberts looked like a Samurai hippy celebrity judge. All he needed was a Ginzu knife to separate stuck-together ribs — an action that is actually illegal under KCBS rules.
Once the judging began we all had to lay our water bottles on their sides to avoid the disaster of dropping the barbecue samples onto the table or the grass below. We were also not supposed to talk during the judging. First, the table captain brought the box of six samples, presented on a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce to hold them in place. She would hold them out for our visual inspection and we were supposed to judge their appearance. It felt like jurors were being presented evidence by an attorney or monks being shown holy relics.
After we made our marks on the judging sheet, then the box was passed along for us each to take a sample and place it on the placemat next to the number we had written down for that box.
As amateurs we were only judging amateurs — the “Backyard Barbecue” division. That meant we only judged chicken and ribs, which fortunately made for a shorter day.
Once we had all the samples to be judged placed on our specially designed placemats we could begin judging for taste and tenderness. As everyone quietly looking down at their collection of chicken thighs arrayed in their numbered spots on the place mats we all looked like we were praying to our barbecue samples.
KCBS rules require that you judge each piece one at a time. You can’t do comparison judging. I took one bite of each. I didn’t want to get overstuffed. Mike’s wife is a vegetarian, so he ate the whole chicken, all four samples.
When the five rib samples came along Mike didn’t have as much appetite.
I took the chicken home and had it for lunch. Didn’t need dinner until about 7:30 p.m. Then I took the ribs to work for lunch Sunday. With the box of ribs sitting on my desk, they kept bringing the photo editor’s dog over with plaintive looks. No way, I’m not sharing these delicious ribs. The Queensland heeler mix knew that and would bite my foot whenever I came by the photo desk.
Reportedly chicken is harder to get right, but from the samples I judged I thought getting ribs right was harder, because I found most of them overcooked, not tender. Tasty, yes, but getting them cooked just right is not easy.
The KCBS people who supervise the judging were very efficient about e-mailing me results. In the category Mike Roberts and I judged Stoves ‘n Stuff BBQ Team took first place in both chicken and overall. Those folks from Missouri Flat Road really know what they’re doing. Starvin Marvin’s BBQ came in second in chicken and Johnnie Mae’s BBQ took first in pork ribs. Second place in ribs was Half Fast Smokin.
The professional categories, which we celebrities did not judge, left me disappointed because the Rolling Bones came in seventh in ribs, 13th in chicken and ninth in brisket. They had a devil of a time with chicken. The Brisket winners were Bowling Pigs, followed by All Sauced Up. Chicken winner was Ash Kickin’ Smokers followed by Crazy Q. Pork rib winner was BLQUE Cutting Edge, followed by Smokey J’s Bar-B–Que.
The professionals travel around to different KCBS contests. Kansas City Barbecue Society is major league. Winning helps elevate their status as caterers back home, but mostly it’s a fun endeavor for them.
Some quotes from the “Bull Sheet” emphasize that: “Play with fire, Burn meat. Drink beer, What else is there to do?”
“I love the smell of meat in the morning.”
“I like sleeping in a lawn chair.”
“Money and trophies. Yes, I’m that shallow.”
“I compete because I have never been involved in any other event where you can become friends with the people you are competing against.”