Staff writer Alyssa LaRenzie served as a judge during the opening night of the recent National BBQ Cup: Que’n in Cumming. She shares her experience below.
I never would have guessed the intricacies of barbecue until I learned what it takes to judge it.
I got an invitation to be a celebrity judge for the Friday night side contests at the National BBQ Cup: Que’n in Cumming.
While unaware that “news reporter” qualified me as a “celebrity” (wonder what else I’ve been missing out on), I jumped at the opportunity to sample sauces, wings and desserts, as well as discover the intricacies of Brunswick stew.
Figuring I’d be sitting with a table of fellow Forsyth County residents enjoying some delicious dinner, it didn’t bother me that I’d never tasted one of the categories.
Then I took my spot at Table 4 and found out I was the only one of the five judges who wasn’t certified in the art of tasting barbecue.
The judges and my table captain wore their badges from the Kansas City Barbeque Society, a worldwide organization that teaches classes on the evaluation standards for the meats and sanctions competitions such as the one at the Cumming Fairgrounds.
The certified folks — who had come from Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia and North Carolina — quickly started swapping stories about other competitions they had judged.
One of the five at the table even had his PhB, which is the equivalent of a doctorate for barbecue judges.
I felt way out of my league.
But as I took my seat, I got a hearty welcome and learned the first rule from the experts — just have fun.
Simple enough. Like barbecue, right?
A society contest representative, Phillip Brazier, then explained the process of judging the cooks’ creations.
Each category got a score for taste, appearance and texture or tenderness on a scale of 2 (inedible) to 9 (excellent).
He shared some more rules: The entries aren’t comparative, don’t base your scores on what you like, consider the quality of the dish.
OK, I can do this. I’ve got some well-versed folks sitting all around me.
Then he told us: “No talking while tasting” and “limit your facial expressions.”
OK, well, my mother did tell me not to talk with my mouth full. (Maybe she hoped I would grow up to be a barbecue judge.)
As my table members offered some reassuring advice, out came the first course: Sauce.
The room, which was just loud with the joking and laughter of the judges, quickly grew quiet as the food was presented.
I gathered that it was time for the serious business.
To judge the appearance, the table captain holds each entry in front of each judge until you nod that you’ve seen enough and write down a score.
Then, each entry is set on a place mat with its corresponding number and the tasting begins.
When I got to sauce number four of six on my plate, I tasted a lot of pepper.
I hate pepper.
Then I realized I had no idea what I was doing, and it made me want to laugh.
Finally, the first rule came to light.
I want to laugh because I’m having fun. This is fun!
As the remaining categories came out, I ate when there was food in front of me, and talked about food when there wasn’t any to eat.
The company was great, and the food was delicious.
I have no idea if anything I ate ended up winning the competition, since the food comes to the judges’ tables with just a number and not a name.
By the end of the nearly three-hour judging Friday night, I think I had a full meal and plenty of great stories to share.
I still don’t feel qualified to judge the culinary creations, but I’d definitely welcome the opportunity to eat some top-of-the-line cooking for free again.
I also still don’t really know what Brunswick stew is. I think it’s got tomato soup and meat.
But it’s delicious, and that’s what matters.