19. Barbecue contests
[Where can I find out where barbecue contests are scheduled to be held?]
The KCBS Web site
has a listing of sanctioned contests.
Check out the KCBS
Rules & Rule Changes.
Check out the MIM Event
Database Web site.
The MIM home page Web site.
Check out the MIM
barbecue contest rules.
[Can someone tell me about entering barbecue ribs in a KCBS sanctioned
Most ribs that are turned in have a glaze on them. Honey is usually in
the glaze because it gives a shinier look. KCBS, and other KCBS affiliates use an absolute
standard meaning that more than one turn in could have all 9's(highest score). MIM uses a
comparative score meaning that only the best turn-in on your table gets a 10 ( highest
score). I have never judged in any Texas contests, I understand that some TX groups do a
multiple round judging with each judge tasting every sample. A table is usually six judges
that usually judge six boxes from six different cookers. The items are judged for
appearance, taste, and tenderness. Taste counts for 50% and the others for 25% each.
On appearance: a reddish brown color; about 1/4-1/2" pull back on
the bones; pink in the middle and possibly a smoke ring; membrane removed; full meat
coverage of the bones; neat slicing; placement of the ribs in the container; a clean
container; use of green leaf lettuce and parsley only for KCBS, meat only for MIM; you can
use spare ribs, St. Louis ribs or loin back ribs. It is important to make these ribs look
attractive to eat. Ask yourself, "Would I like to have these ribs served to me at a
On tenderness: I do a tug test. Use your teeth to tug on the meat, it
should give a slight resistance and pull cleanly from the bone. The meat should be moist
and tender, never tough, mushy, dry, or falling off of the bone. The majority of the fat
should be rendered off during the cooking.
On taste: the most important part of the judging is the meat, does it
taste good. KCBS allows an item to be sauced/glazed but no puddling or containers of
sauce. MIM allows saucing/glazing and containers of sauce and/or rub to taste with the
meat (taste the meat, then the sauces and then the meat with the sauce that you like the
best, often a mild and a hot sauce is included). My overall impression in taste is the
meat, rub, wood, and glaze/sauce as a combination.
[In a KCBS sanctioned barbecue competition, how do you prepare the entry
for the appearance portion of the judging in any category? What are the judges looking for
in the various meats and is it important how you lay the meat out on the greens?]
The turn-in boxes are provided by the promoter. The cooker is
responsible for what goes in the box. Sometimes the promoter may supply green leaf lettuce
and/or parsley as a favor to the cookers, but 95% of the time the cookers buy the greens.
Most cookers use the greens to frame the outside of the turn-in to get a
contrast in colors. Since there a lot of teams with 175 and above scores(180 is the
highest possible) every point is important.
The garnish is used in KCBS events. MIM and most of the six Texas
sanctioning bodies do not use any garnish in the turn-in boxes. Texas does mostly meat
only without any obvious sauce. KCBS allows some sauce, but no sauce in containers and no
puddling of sauce. MIM allows up to two containers of sauce and/or rub to be turned in
with the meat and the judge tastes the meat as turned in, then with each sauce (if any)
and then judges it with the combination that the judge likes the best.
Dave Westebbe aka EskWIRED--
Presentation is both simple and complex--kinda like playing most board
games--the rules are simple, while the execution is complex. Scoring is on a 1 to 9 point
Aside from the meat, you are allowed to put only green leaf lettuce and
curly parsley in the container as a garnish. No flat (Italian) parsley; no red leaf
lettuce. No toothpicks, no foil, etc.
The meat may be sauced or not--your choice. However, the sauce may not
be "on the side". It must be on the meat. Puddled sauce is considered to be on
Any violation of the above will result in your getting a 1 on
You must include at least six identifiable portions of meat in the
container. If you have less, the judges who get none will be obligated to score you a 1 on
flavor and texture.
That's it for the simple part. Nothing to it. Now for the fun part.
You want your barbecue to look delicious. The judges are not supposed to
judge taste based on appearance, but how could they not? If they get a container with food
that looks delicious, then they will be pre-disposed to judge it higher than if they get a
container which looks mediocre. You want them to be thinking, "Wow--I can't wait to
taste that one!" First impressions are very hard to change.
Its good to bring lots of fresh, crisp, curly-edged lettuce, and to pick
out the best looking leaves for each dish. I like to arrange it so that the curly edges
surround the meat, stem-side towards the center, covered by the meat. There should be no
blemishes on the lettuce, no brown spots, no tears, no light-colored, limp, last-gasp at
the supermarket stuff. I go to a wholesale fruit and vegetable dealer for mine--I make a
special trip. Try to pick leaves which are consistent in color--they get lighter towards
the center of the bunch. I save the small, delicate inner leaves for stuff like chicken,
and use the big, heavy outer leaves for stuff like brisket. I have not yet tried to
alternate light and dark leaves, but am thinking about it.
I try to be sure that no sauce has splashed onto either the lettuce or
the container, and keep a towel handy to wipe off any sauce or fingerprints. A stray
fingerprint on the outside can result in your disqualification, if the judges think that
you have "marked" your container.
The parsley. Try not to overdo it. Again, use only the best, crispest,
curliest, greenest parsley available. Wash it! You don't want any sand in your container!
My philosophy on parsley is that it can be used to fill voids in the box, and can be used
to draw the judge's eye towards the best looking parts of your presentation. It can also
be overdone, and can distract the eye. We use very little, more as an accent than as an
element unto itself.
The meat. Like I said, you need at least six identifiable portions. Its
sometimes good to include extra if your meat came out particularly good. Its sometimes
good to include more than one type of presentation in the box--for example, some burnt
ends can be included with your slices of brisket. Sometimes its good to include a big hunk
of meat with your small portions, if you have something nice to look at. Did your butt
come out a beautiful reddish-brown? Then don't pull it all. Put some Mr. Brown in there
beside the pulled pork. Did your chicken turn a nice color with nice grill marks? Throw in
a whole breast. You get the idea.
Slice your meat in a nice, even, consistent manner. Don't give one judge
a little piece if everyone else got a big one. How will he feel good about your meat if he
feels cheated? Arrange the meat evenly, with the slices nicely arranged. Push and pull
them into position. Put the best-looking ones on top. Cover up the ragged uneven parts
with parsley. Think about whether you want them at an angle, sideways, straight across, or
what. Maybe a sunflower design? Where will the sauce go? All over? Drizzled like chocolate
sauce? Brushed on thin? Poured on thick?
Its good to be creative. You want to catch the judges eye. Look for
balance and color. Do you have any artist friends? They can help. Try to make your cheesy
little Styrofoam container look suitable for the cover photo on Bon Appetit magazine!
Think about what the plates look like at fancy-shmancy nouvelle cuisine restaurants, and
try to create something spectacular. A good eye is essential.
And stay flexible. Quick thinking is also essential. You must adapt your
final presentation to the lettuce and the meat during your 10 minute window. Its best to
have 10 ideas in mind and to quickly pick one than to be set on one idea which may not
work given your cooking results. For example, if your pork is black instead of dark red,
don't be wed to the idea of including Mr. Brown. Instead, cut off the char, pull it, and
do something nice with the sauce instead. We once cooked boneless rolled chicken breasts
which all came out raw in the middle. Disaster!! We had planned to serve the one best
breast sliced on the diagonal, laid out nicely in the tray. We couldn't do it, because all
of them were raw in the middle. Despair, gloom, resignation. Not even one breast to enter
into the competition! No time to cook them more! With no points for chicken, there was no
hope for any kind of decent overall finish. And then we got an idea. The End Cuts were
cooked. They were browned. We had 4 breasts, each of which had two ends. Eureka! We
presented the end cuts only, won first place in chicken, and first place overall.
Flexibility in presentation made the difference between a first and a last place finish.
Finally, presentation can get you 54 points even if your meat is
inedible. Lost points here can make the difference (easily) between a first and a fourth
place finish. Its hard to cook prize-winning barbecue, and a few 8s and 7s on taste and
texture are nothing to be ashamed of. However, there is no excuse in my mind for anything
other than straight 9's on presentation. Why lose points here?
I'll add two thoughts to what Dave wrote:
Be careful about how "creative" you get. I worked for several
months following the 1994 Massachusetts State Championships in hopes of improving my
presentation scores. I was told by the KCBS representative that that was the area I was
falling down in. Back then, they did not give out detailed scores so I had to convince the
KCBS to allow me to see the details of my entries. I got them.
Well, I took it on in a straight forward way--I got several of the 9 x
9" Styrofoam containers to practice with. I used nothing that was not part of a head
of green leaf lettuce or curly parsley. I worked and worked and worked. I made many trips
to libraries to search out garnishing books. I talked to chefs, caterers, barbecue
competitors. I did database searches in all major bookstores in this area, and on and on.
I was determined to leave no stone unturned. Damn it, presentation was not going to get
the better of me. My father was a successful artist and I feel that I have some of his eye
for things like that.
Well, I finally connected with my 9 x 9 Styrofoam container, meat,
lettuce, and parsley. We began to make music. I was excited! I carefully took closeup
photos of each presentation style and made an album so I could just refer to set of styles
for a particular meat. I went to the 1995 Massachusetts State Championships and man-o-man
was I ready. Then it happened.
The evening before judging day, the Head KCBS Rep. and his wife stopped
by my canopy for a chat. I took the opportunity to talk to them about what I had been
doing to improve in presentation. I could not believe my ears as they told me I'd be
disqualified if I used my styles. According to both of them my creations would be
Marking! As politely as I could, I asked what was the point of scoring
presentation if you could not make 'your' entry 'stand out' from the rest. Wasn't that
what 'presentation' was all about? "Yes, but you can't do it in such a way that can
be considered marking. "Wow, where do you go from here? Make it stand out, but don't
make it stand out!"
I did okay. I placed 2nd pork, and I moved up in overall standing.
However I also pulled back on my presentation. I could not risk being disqualified because
I was misunderstood as trying to 'mark' my entry. It is one thing to risk a local cookoff
or two, but not a State Championship.
That damn Presentation category is a real pain in the arse. Other
judging regions in the country do not use it, and I wish that KCBS would follow their
[Can you tell me about barbecue competitions that are sanctioned by
This section written by Rick Day--
The purpose of this section of the BBQ List FAQ is to provide
information on what it takes to compete in a Memphis in May style Contest. The first five
parts cover On-Site Judging. Part six covers Blind Judging.
Part I -- Preparation Of Team Area
[How do I prepare my team area for competition?]
One of the most important things you can do is clean the grill. Before
the contest, clean as well as possible the outside and the most visible parts of the
inside. Use a car wash or steam sprayer to remove as much non-metal as possible. Clean the
cooking surfaces well. The old style of thinking 'Never clean that smoker's insides' won't
fly in competition. If you don't want to clean the inside, consider using a second smoker,
acting as a 'presentation' smoker. Before your judges arrive, it is a good idea to wipe
the exterior of the smoker with a hot wet rag, followed by a vegetable oil coating. This
makes the paint shiny and makes for an impressive presentation. This lets the judge know
you are concerned with health regulations and cleanliness in entry preparation. If you use
utensils or smoker tools, make sure they are clean and well presented; otherwise, hide
them. The grill should speak for the team and the cook, and as the judge approaches your
smoker, these things will have an impact on his or her overall impression, especially if
you neglect these details!
If your smoker is mounted on a trailer, clean everything, even the
tires! Make sure your rig was designed with presentation in mind. Also know before the
judge gets there where are you going to stand relative to the judge, what is to be the
teammate placement, etc. Assure the footing in your area is good, especially on damp days.
The fuel you use should be highlighted. If you use charcoal, logs and
chips, have a bowl of chips handy to use as a prop, and have several clean bags of the
charcoal displayed in a pleasing manner. Have a log handy for inspection. What you use as
fuel is not as important as conveying to the judge why it is used.
[How do I prepare my presenting area?]
You must have a tent, awning, or other weather-proof covering, because
no judge wants to be sampling barbecue in the wind or rain. When deciding on the covering,
take into consideration how much space you will need to cover, and how that size
interrelates to the standard booth sizes available. Most contests are restrictive on
taking up room, so in Memphis in May Contests, a 10 x 10 is the minimum size for covering
the presentation table. Some teams need 20 x 20 or larger. Keep in mind, depending on tent
size, a tent can take from one to six people to erect! There are "easy up" tents
on the market, and depending on your team's needs, and much thought should be given to
this major team asset purchase. Also remember the stakes are sometimes placed outside the
parameter of the actual tent, so this should be taken into consideration when determining
layout in a given booth space. The material should conform to event fire standards. Check
with your organizer or rule book on these specifications. You should also consider
curtains, which is tent fabric that makes temporary walls in different configurations.
You may consider using flooring, made of plywood, pallets and outdoor
carpet, in case the weather turns wet. Make sure you have provided buckets of sand for
smokers to place their butts; its no fun throwing a party Friday night and then have to
pick up hundreds of cigarette butts under your tent the next day!
Erect a temporary fence at your front border. Try finding out if your
neighbor has side fencing. This way you do not have to lug extra fencing on a side that is
fenced off anyway. The fencing adds to the aesthetics, as well as keeps unwanted visitors
from crashing your judges party! It obviously helps with crowd control at all other times.
Hot weather usually brings out small fans for the judges relief.
Conversely, propane heaters and cozy curtains provide relief in cool weather. The rule of
thumb is to make the judge as comfortable as possible during their brief stays at your
Although the judges are instructed to ignore any expense you went
through, they do notice the efforts! Your site should be devoid of any trash on the
ground. If some item is needed for judging, make it as perfect as the situation allows. If
it is not necessary, put it away, out of sight!
The rule of thumb on table setting is to present and treat the judge as
if he were a Sunday Dinner informal guest. The place ware should all match. Use goblets or
matching tumblers for the judge's drink. Flatware is provided as a accouterment to the
table only; judges rarely use it. Plate net covers are a nice touch to the table. Make
sure you have a sample of your sauce and rub for the judges to sample, as well as other
prop's, to utilize during your presentation. Most contests have various regulations
regarding the teams feeding judges, ambassadors or assistants. If you do serve them, make
sure there is a place for the assistant to sit, and a place setting is provided. Just make
sure your focus is on the judge!
Some teams will garnish the plate with interesting visual designs of
fruit, lettuce, etc. Think about things such as sun position, windage, the line of sight
to neighboring teams, rain runoff flow, ergonomics of moving and trophy table placement
when deciding where the judge will sit. Set up your site so the judge has almost 100% of
possible distractions eliminated, but has 100% focus on the presentation.
[How do I prepare my team for competition?]
Most of this is obvious advice. The team should look like a team; all
clothing should have some continuity. You do not have to purchase imprinted shirts, caps,
aprons, badges, etc. While they look good, the judge is looking more at conformity. If one
wears black shorts, then all members of the presentation team should wear them.
It is not difficult for a team to wear matching apparel that goes with
their Team Name, sponsorship affiliation, etc. Just make sure there is continuity. Make
sure the team clothing is all clean and spotless for the judging part of the competition.
Indeed, extra caps and shirts should be brought in case the inevitable accident occurs.
Organize and instruct your team members exactly what they are to do.
This further conveys the concept of team continuity, and prevents fumbling during
presentation. Introduce the presentation team to the judge, but do it quickly, because you
only have 15 minutes to do your thing! If a team member has a special responsibility that
impacted the product, it is proper to convey that to the judge. Rehearse with the team,
grabbing a bystander to act as 'judge', so you can work out any potential problems in
moving bodies around. Some teams limit their presentation teams to 2 or 4, even if they
have 10-20 members! Have the extra team members align outside the fence, looking as clean
and professional as the ones inside.
It is imperative you have at least one team member act as 'gate guard'.
Many times a 'civilian' will wander in the booth area during judging, sometimes in a
non-sober state! The last thing you want is a confrontation with a hungry drunk over what
he can and can't have during judging. Give each team member a specific responsibility for
before, during, and after each judge's arrival. The main presenter should stay out of the
way and let everyone do their jobs; taking dirty plates away, bringing a fresh plate,
grill and table garnishment, carving samples. The blind judging preparations are areas
that the Head Cook can delegate to the team. Encourage the team to participate in the
Ancillary events that contests have, such as showmanship, sauce, anything butt, etc. It
makes them feel more of a contributor.
PART II -- Preparation Of Entry
[What do I need to consider when preparing my whole hog entry?]
If you are competing in whole hogs, the minimum entry is 85 lb. dressed
weight. The hog is cooked and presented with all parts intact. Make sure all fresh meat
entries are kept cold, 45F or cooler, for meat inspection. Internal temperatures above
this mark will result in the hog being disqualified. Trim the hog according to personal
taste, but do it carefully. The appearance of the finished product is very dependent on
the trimming of the hog prior to cooking. The more skin that is removed, the more 'bark'
can form, allowing tastier sampling for the judges. Smoke may color the skin, but it
cannot permeate it, so the more skin you can cut away the better.
During preliminary judging, work off the away side of the hog when
getting judging samples. This makes the hog's appearance better for the later judges and
perhaps the finals judges. Give a sample of the following parts of the hog's: shoulder,
loin, rib, ham, bacon, (but don't take too long or you may run out of time). This will
demonstrate your hog is completely cooked, which is one of the criteria judges consider in
this category. Garnish the grate around the hog with various greens and colorful
highlights, such as peppers, pineapples, gourds and other food related garnishes.
Remember the first thing a judge is impressed with is 'Appearance'. Do
not present a black hog and expect good scores in appearance. Spray the hog with vegetable
oil spray, and as you cook, wipe off the skin with a paper towel and apply more spray.
This will give the skin a golden-brown appearance. Present the hog flat on its back, or up
in a running position, as your skill dictates.
The main thing is convincing the judge that you did things for a
particular reason. How you present the hog is up to you. Again, convince the judge your
way is the best way.
[How do I present my Pork Shoulder Entry?]
Pork shoulder is defined as the entire shoulder to be one unit,
containing a portion of the shank, arm, and blade bones. Pork ham is considered a shoulder
entry, but it never does well against shoulders, so the shoulder is definitely
Most teams utilize five shoulders for each competition, each 14 to 15
pounds. Trim the shoulders into an appealing shape for the judges. Try to present a whole
shoulder to each judge, rather than sharing shoulders. If you share a shoulder with two
judges, you better come up with a good explanation as to why that judge didn't get 'their
own shoulder'. Demonstrate tenderness and doneness by pulling the blade out of the
shoulder and allowing the judge to inspect it for dryness or any clinging meat. Make sure
and save a whole shoulder for the Finals!
[How do I present my Rib entry?]
The pork rib entry is defined as that portion containing the ribs and
further classifies the spare and loin portions. Country Style ribs are an invalid entry at
MIM. The judges at MIM prefer a loin back rib, which is a 13 bone slab which weighs 2 lbs.
or less. You should have at least 13 slabs of ribs for MIM competition. Decorate the grill
and place your entry in the center of the decorated area. Some teams use halogen or spot
lights on or near the cooker for this purpose. Demonstrate the tenderness by pulling the
slabs into sections of 3 or 4 bones. While at the table, cut a slab into single bone
'Hollywood' cuts, as well as some two bone sections for the judge to pull apart and
sample. Some teams give samples of the ends to the judges, to help show an overall
doneness to the judge for that sample. Remove the back membranes before cooking
competition ribs. See the section on sauces.
[How do I prepare and cook these entries?]
You entry must remain as received from the packing house or meat market
until it is officially inspected at the contest by the designated official. Once this is
accomplished, you may prepare your entry for cooking as you see fit. Before this
inspection, any marinating, injecting, curing or otherwise pre-treating the meat in any
way can result in disqualification of that meat.
Trim your entry liberally; get all the exterior fat off. Again,
appearance is a top area of judging. Use your favorite hardwood, charcoal or combination.
It really does not matter what fuel you use; what is important is the ability to convince
the judge why you made that choice.
[When should I start cooking?]
The rules allow you to start immediately after meat inspection, but the
rule of thumb is to count back from the time your entry must be ready (15 minutes before
the hour for the blind testing and the top of hours and every 20 minutes for on-site). If
your shoulder takes 24 hours, put them on at 11 a.m., if judging is noon the next day.
Make sure and compensate for the whether and how it impacts your cooking process.
Generally, whole hogs take 16-24 hours to cook, shoulders 14-20 hours
and ribs 3-6 hours. Don't forget to make sure you have an entry ready for Finals Judging!
This timing is why it is so important to monitor your grill temperature.
Plan on serving your first judge right at the top of the hour, the
second approximately 20 minutes later and the last, 20 minutes after that. Judging takes
time. Preliminary judging takes about one hour for each category. Hog is usually first,
followed by shoulder and then ribs. Check with your organizer for entry times. You should
also take into consideration if you are entering one, two, or all three events. This takes
quite a bit of coordination, so be prepared for this part!
Ribs are almost always judged last. That way when the Finals judges go
around, they have tinier portions to sample on the backside of their trek. One rib tells
the story, as opposed to the 3-4 parts that must be sampled on hog.
[When should I plan on Finals happening?]
Finals Judging usually begins about 3 to 3 1/2 hours after the
Preliminaries. The first category judged will be the first Preliminary category of the day
judged. Rib cooks should prepare 4-5 slabs independent of the Preliminary Samples, since
hogs and shoulder hold better than ribs.
[What is the deal on using foil?]
While there is nothing wrong or illegal in utilizing aluminum foil for
your cooking, judges frown on seeing it on your smoker, unless it is part of the garnish.
The appearance of foil on or around an entry is a turn-off, therefore foil should be
PART IV- Dealing With Judges
[When is MIM judging?]
Check with your organizer. Usually the first category starts on Saturday
at 11 a.m., the next category starting at 12:00 or 12:10 and the last category starting at
1:00 or 1:20. The conventional way used to be at the top of each hour, but this does not
give multiple entry teams much time to prepare and turn in their blind samples while the
last judge is still in the booth.
[How do I treat the judge?]
A representative of your team should greet your judge at the gate. Make
sure they give you, or your gate keeper, a critique stub, that has your team name and the
order of judging. Both you and the judge share responsibility for making sure that judge
is at the right place at the right time. Do not have a beer in your hand for the judge!
Offer your judge bottled water, and have some cold ice in a glass standing by. It is not
necessary to prepare for any other drink the judge may want. Think about it; you want that
judge to have a clean and unaffected pallet when sampling your product.
Make the judge feel welcome and comfortable. Do not act nervous; this
shows as amateurish and may affect the overall score. Do relax, smile and laugh; infecting
the judge with your attitude makes your job a lot easier! Make sure you make eye contact
when explaining your method of contest preparation. Try to keep yourself at mutual eye
level with the judge at all times.
[How do I present to the judge?]
The first thing a judge usually makes a mark on is, 'Area and personal
appearance', scored from 1-10. As to what to say to the judge, think about what you are
going to tell them in advance. Practice your timing, so many minutes at the smoker, so
many at the table, etc. The last thing you want to do is run out of time before the judge
even gets to sample the product! Keep a timer handy, or a clock nearby, so you, or a
designated team member can keep track of the judge's progress.
What you tell the judge is simple. Tell him or her how you did
something. Then tell them 'why' you did it. Judges like rational explanations as to why
did you choose this wood, or that rub, or this charcoal. There are no 'right' answers,
just answers. If you try BS'sing the judge with stories of moon rocks and ancient recipes,
it may have a negative impact on the more serious judges, who don't take kindly to people
yanking their strings during what is considered a serious time. If you thoroughly cover
the aspects of your process, tell about your team, and just have some fun with the judge,
you will get great marks on presentation every time. Try to cover any and all questions in
your presentation. Ask the judge toward the end of the presentation if they have any
questions--the fewer they have, the better job you did! This section of judging is called
'Presentation', with scores being from 1-10. Try to remember what the first judges asked
you and include that information in your next presentation. Do not bitch about your entry,
no matter how bad it is! Convince the judge that your entry is black on purpose, and come
up with a logical reason why it is that way. Remember in Preliminary judging you are
competing against two other teams for that judge's decision as to who of the three has the
best of the day. What is mediocre to you may just get you to the big dance!
Prepare your grill for the judge's critical eye. Clean cooking surfaces
and grill exteriors get you further than heads of lettuce or cabbage! But a little
dressing won't hurt either, so garnish the cooking surface as you see fit. The judge
should immediately focus on your entry once you open the door. This is the point when most
judges will make their 'Appearance Of Entry' judging scored from 1-10, so this is an
important part of the judge's presentation.
[How do I tell the on-site judge about my barbecue?]
Again, make them immediately feel comfortable and welcome. Convey a
sense of excitement and organization. Offer the judge some water to drink as you take him
to the grill, and let that judge know that something to drink will also be at the table.
Lead the judge to the cooker, after introducing yourself and the team. This is your home
ground and judges are very curious as to how you approach your craft. Point out with great
pride your smoker and how it looks. Allow the judge to sample at the grill, if he desires,
and point out aspects of the smoker that make it unusual or unique in its way of cooking.
Give the judge just enough information at this point on your basic style, but save the
details of the process for the table.
If you use food handling gloves, shake the judges hand upon greeting
with an non-gloved hand; then place the gloves on before handling meat. Any utensil
touching the meat must be spotless. Take them back to the table and let them sample the
product. This is the time when you want to go through the cooking process from start to
finish. This allows the judge to eat and listen as you go through the process. It also
gives you the flexibility of controlling the balance of timing left to you for this judge.
Serve the absolute best portion of your entry. This is the part where the judge makes
their decisions on 'Flavor Of Entry' and 'Tenderness Of Entry', scored on a scale of 1-10.
Never have any fat hanging off any samples brought to the judge for consumption. Get the
judge involved as much as they are comfortable with. Allow them to pick their rib entry,
or pick some bacon off the hog, etc. Never make the judge feel uncomfortable, but also
keep in mind its more fun to participate than just be talked to.
[How is the sauce judged?]
Offer at least two sauces for the judges to sample. This is more
critical in hog judging than ribs, as most whole hog will not have a lot of barbecue
flavor; the balance of that flavor comes from the sauce. Important--do not kill the
judge's taste buds with hot sauces. Judges frown on their pallet's being devastated before
they can sample your barbecue. It is an obvious dirty trick and most judges will bounce
you out of the Finals with low scores for this tactic. You may choose to serve a sauce or
not. Just be prepared to explain 'why' you chose this sauce, or didn't, if that be the
Have samples of the sauce at the presentation table, if necessary. The
judge has the option of judging the meat with or without the sauce, whichever he feels
will be to the betterment of the team.
[What condition should the meat be for judging.]
With the pork shoulder, present the whole shoulder, pristine and not
broken up. If the shoulder is falling apart tender on the smoker, your 'Appearance' scores
will be marked down. Pull chunks of meat for the judge to sample. Make sure the meat is
not in too big of a chunk, making that judge's job awkward. With the whole hog, present
the different pieces and portions for the judge, identifying each area of the hog on the
judges plate. It is recommended you get samples from the various parts of the hog and then
place them on the plate. Your ribs and shoulder can be actually brought to the table, but
indeed it is an impressive but folly presentation to bring the hog to the table! Ribs can
be presented as the team and quality sample availability dictate, but if you only give the
judge two bones of ribs to sample, this tells the judge you had some kind of problem. He
may mark your score down for this, or any of up to 20 different reasons. It is the judge's
challenge to choose which team of the three he judged, had the 'best of the day' in the
'Overall Impression', which is scored from .01 to 10.0. This decimal scoring in 'Overall
Impression' allows the judge some flexibility in differentiating one high-quality entry
[What do we do when the first judge leaves?]
If you have at least four people on the team, give the judge a 'big
hand' as he leaves, this being the last impression you can give a judge. If necessary, the
presenter should quickly go over any presentation snafus with a team member in a
diplomatic way, as this is a high-tension time for all. A team member should have been
given the responsibility of clearing the dirty plates, replacing them with fresh ones, and
generally get the table ready for the next judge. You get five minutes between judges
number one and two, as well as two and three to prepare. Sometimes the judge can be early
by 2-5 minutes, so if possible, have the greeter approach the judge. If the greeter has no
other responsibility, have them entertain the next judge, perhaps offering refuge under a
huge golf umbrella, as weather dictates. This also gives the extra benefit of distracting
that judge from observing your cleanup and setup, until it's 'officially' time to start
judging. This free time for the judge in front of your booth can not help but start him or
her subconsciously forming opinions as to what to expect. This detail is similar to dozens
of situations the championship teams sweat over.
PART V- Finals Presentation
[What is the Final Round in MIM competitions?]
The preliminary judging is broken down into two parts. Fifty percent of
your score is from your blind entry, and the remainder is from your on-site judging. Once
the scores are tabulated (blind judging has the same categories as above, but not judging
your area and presentation). The lowest score in each category is dropped and 'Flavor of
Entry' is weighted an additional 50%. There is a potential preliminary perfect score of
1020. The top three highest-scoring teams in each category (nine teams or less, if some
teams make finals in more than one entry) go into 'Final Round'.
[How will we know if we make Finals?]
You will be notified, usually within one hour after entry judging if you
made the finals or not. Protocol is to notify the teams that they made finals, then notify
all other teams that they didn't. If Hog judging was at 11 a.m., sometime during shoulder
judging at the noon hour is when you should expect to find out whether you made hog finals
[What happens during Finals Judging?]
Every team that had an entry that made the finals will be visited one
time for that entry, by four on-site judges. There is no blind judging, as of 1998, in
Finals Judging. The judges stay for 10-15 minutes, just like preliminary on-site judging.
[What if we do not make finals?]
Be thoughtful of neighbors that are in Finals competition. Avoid turning
on your music if a team is within 4 booths of you and are competing in the Finals. Do not
tear down your site until your next door neighbor has finished with Finals presentation.
To not attempt to leave the site with all your items until trophies are awarded, as a
courtesy to everyone. Generally, the Golden Rule applies to the situation.
[When can we plan on the finals judges arriving?]
A rough rule of thumb is three to three and a half hours after
preliminary judging, is when you can plan on finals occurring in that category.
[What if we didn't bring enough items for Finals?]
This area is exactly why you should make friends with your booth
neighbors! Send you teammates around to other teams that did not make the finals and ask
to borrow items needed. You will be surprised the number of lifetime friendships on the
circuit have been started by helping a stranger and neighbor in this situation. Seek out
old pros for advice, that is what they are there for!
[How do you present to the Finals judge?]
The most important thing is to be prepared to make the finals. Make sure
you have plenty of garnish for a freshening of the smoker decorations, enough place
settings for four, and your table and site can accommodate the logistics of moving four
bodies around your presentation. The most basic way to approach Finals is take your
preliminary judging routine and multiply it by four. If you have enough team members for
presentation during preliminary rounds, have three team members 'trail' the preliminary
judge, in effect taking up the same area as four judges. This can really be a great help
in finding snafus in your layout and presentation. Make sure your uniforms, utensils and
everything is absolutely perfect. Finals judging allows decimal scoring in all categories,
and their job is to be ultra picky on the details.
[If we make finals in more than one category, should we change our
Besides the obvious changes in dialog shifting to talking about the
specific entry, never ever deviate from your presentation. Do not skip talking about your
smoker, or the cute story you already told, even if you make finals in all three. Do not
say, "Let's skip the introductions" and statements like that. It will cost you
in presentation scoring! The more exact your presentation is, the better the judges like
it, especially when trying to decide a Grand Champion.
[How is the Grand Champion determined in a MIM event?]
Once the last team (almost always ribs) is sampled, the Finals Judges
mark their scorecard, and turn them into the MIM Judges Official, for entry into the
computer. The Top Scores in each category are awarded First place in their category. The
descending scores are awarded Second and Third place, respectively. The overall entry with
the top score is declared the Grand Champion.
[What do we expect to win if we are awarded the Grand Championship?]
Each contest usually posts the prize money on their mail outs or entry
blanks for the contest. The grand Champion always receives an additional trophy or plaque,
more cash over the first place money they have obviously won, and a Paid Entry into the
following year's Memphis In May International Barbecue Cooking Contest, MIM's equivalent
of a World Championship. It actually pays for a 20' x 20' space, and the team has the
option of upgrading to a lager size, by paying extra.
[What is a Pass Down?]
During the last few years there have been teams that have dominated the
circuit, winning Grand Championships early in the year, and securing their 'Paid Entry',
per above. If a team is declared the Grand Champion, and already have been awarded a paid
entry from a previous win, the 'Paid Entry' is 'passed down' to the next team that does
not have a 'Paid Entry'. In November and December, when teams are going head to head for
team of the year, it is not unusual for the fifth place shoulder team to get the pass
PART VI- Blind Judging
[What is Blind Judging?]
Blind judging is the preliminary category whereby teams turn in samples
of their entries for judging at a table of four judges. Usually there are between four or
five entries judged at each blind table.
[When is the entry due?]
The organizer will inform teams at Fridays Cook's meeting what time your
blind entries are due. At almost all MIM contests the entries are allowed to be tuned in
from fifteen minutes until one minute before the on-site judging is to begin in that
category. If you are not in line at the 'official' top of the hour, your blind entry will
not be judged.
[Why is it called 'Blind'?]
The meat is turned in utilizing clamshell Styrofoam containers, with no
visible markings on the outside allowed. The entry contains only meat that is to be
judged. No garnishment or pooling of sauce is allowed. Separate cups are provided for the
sauces. Saturday morning the cups and clamshells are given out, each has attached a label
that with the following information: Team Name, entry category, turn-in times, and booth
or team number. Do not remove or alter these labels.
[What happens during 'Blind' Judging?]
The labels are removed by the officials, once they view the entry, also
making sure there is no garnish in the box. The box is assigned a table number and entry
number, which is noted on the removed label, and placed on an official form. An example
for sample 3 on table A would be marked A-3. The official in charge of blind judging has
the list that matches team number with box code. About 10 minutes after the hour, the
judges are allowed to open the boxes. They usually make their 'Appearance' judgments at
this time. The judges then sample each box and mark scores for 'Tenderness and Flavor of
Entry'. As in on-site judges, they have the decimal 'Overall Impression', to help break
down differences in excellent offerings. The scores are turned in to the official and then
the judges usually discuss their thoughts on the table. Remember this is 'Comparative'
judging, just like on-site. The judges are looking for the best entry on the table, not
the best ever. Most times the best entry gets straight 10's, which is a perfect score from
the judge. Straight 10's are the goal of every competition team.
[How should I prepare the box?]
The most basic answer is to fill the box with as much product as you can
put in the box and still keep the lit shut. Select your best samples for judging and make
sure no fat or grease is present. No garnish of any kind is allowed. Be prepared to feed
four hungry judges. Hog entries should have samples of various parts of the hog, conveying
the team's ability to evenly produce this entry. Do not attempt to mark your container in
any way, or it will be disqualified from the blind judging.
[Will I know my scores?]
Most contests will give you your scores printed out from the computer
program before you leave the contest. If not, ask that your scores be mailed to you. Study
your scores, they are the way the judge 'communicates' to you ways to improve your
product. If 'Tenderness' is scored consistently low, try making your entry a bit more
Patty Burke-Shelby--Tower Rock BBQ Team--
Rick did a great job on his detailed report above on MIM competition.
Here are a few details I would add about competing on the MIM circuit.
Always remember there is no letters "I" or "U" in
the word team. Even when you are presenting to the judge. This is a 'we' effort. If you
have team members working behind the scene, let the judge know that. Each team member
should have specific jobs to do and should be allowed to do them without someone
questioning them. They want to win as much as you do. One thing I believe in is that every
team member should be able to perform all jobs at a contest. Each member on our team can
cover for the other in case of unexpected problems (right down to the preparation and
cooking of the meat). We do not interfere with each other's jobs unless needed. Each
member down to children on the team should have a duty and know when to perform this. You
are putting on a skit when the judge enters and it should be practiced. Don't try to
change things right before the judge enters unless it is absolutely necessary. This keeps
your team well tuned. Anyone in the presentation area should have a job. If not, they need
to stand as still as possible and not talk to spectators (except when you have a
disruptive one) then that should be handled discretely. You are a team--from the time you
arrive to the time you leave. Help each other complete all the tasks so you can all enjoy
We do not put flatware on the table (we keep it close by) but a good
judge will not use it. And not having it out forces a judge that would use it to avoid it.
Explain to the judge that your product is so great that it doesn't require it.
Never use a knife on your product at the table without an explanation as
to why. Example: You want to get a good cut to show your smoke ring. It would be bad if
the knife made it look like your meat is not pullable.
Always greet a judge as if you have you have never met him even if you
have known him forever. It is important to keep focused on your presentation--whether they
have heard it before or not.
Love your sport--if you do, it will show in your presentation from the
time you arrive at the site to the time you leave. Win or lose you are participating in
something you like to do. It is a sport just like golf, boating, or any other hobby. Be
prepared to invest in your sport all the time assuming you'll get no return. Sometimes you
come out ahead and sometimes you break even. But most of the time you come back a little
short of money, but richer for the fun and the new friends.
Patty reports that the Tower Rock BBQ Team lost the 1998 MIM Grand
Championship by only 1/10th of one point! So obviously, every fraction of a point is
[I've noticed that many of the winners at barbecue cook-offs use the
Weber water bullet smokers, the one with the adjustable vents on the top and bottom.
What's all this talk of the best barbecue coming out of top-of-the-line smokers when these
guys are winning prizes with $175 bullets?]
Summary of several posts--
As the List members have said before, it's the pitmaster not the pit
that makes good barbecue. The reason that many contestants use the Weber bullet smoker is
it's difficult to get a half-ton Klose pit in the overhead compartment or under your seat
on a airplane.
PITMASTER UPDATE TO FAQ: There has been some
changes to the KCBS rules this year. The biggest being that any green leaf lettuce
is allowed, and parsley can be curly, flat leaf, or cilantro. They still don't allow
things such as endive and kale, but you can now use those types of parsley listed. Be sure
to check the rules pages above!