Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 4, 2012

BBQ: Judging barbecue isn't kids play


- — By Dave Lobeck

CNHI News Service

With spring now in full swing, many barbecue enthusiasts begin planning their warm-weather schedules around barbecue festivals and competitions.

If you have never attended a barbecue festival, make an

effort to check that off your “bucket list.” In my neck

of the woods we have the fourth annual “Smokin on the River BBQ, Blues and Brew Festival” June 15-16 in Jeffersonville, Ind, which is located across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky.

Now let me ask you a question. Doesn't the title of this festival alone make you want to go? What is there not to like? Great barbecue, a beer competition, great music and for the first time, an opportunity for kids to enter their own grilling competition.

Sounds like a perfect way to spend a summer weekend to me, so you can certainly count on me being there.

And believe me, this is serious business. You will have more than 35 professional barbecue teams from all over the country setting up shop to compete for bragging rights and a piece of the $8,500 purse.

There is also a category for amateur teams, allowing any barbecue enthusiast the opportunity to compete.

Since this is a sanctioned Kansas City Barbecue Society event, the judging is very precise and exact.

The four categories are pork, chicken, brisket and ribs. The judges go through a training course on how to properly judge barbecue, right down to how the meat should come off the bone of a rib.

You know the saying “fall off the bone tender?” That's actually not good. That's a sign of an overcooked rib. The meat should be firmly attached, but pull from the bone easily when bitten into.

Oh, and judges take an oath. Yep, this is serious business.

When meats are delivered to the judging table they arrive in a white Styrofoam container. When the lid

is opened, many teams construct their meat entries so as to provide maximum “ta-da” impact.

How so? The lettuce that is used as the bedding is positioned so that when the lid is opened, it falls into a preplanned arrangement making the entry look like a mini float that you might see in a parade. It's pretty


Use the wrong type of lettuce and you are an automatically disqualified.

The entries are numbered so the judges do not know the identity of the entry. The entry is passed around by the judging foreman, and each judge takes a serving. Entries have an exact number

of servings, matching the number of judges at the table.

Ribs are to be cleanly separated. If you as the

judge pick up a rib and another rib is attached, you cannot pull it apart. Why is that a serious blunder

for the team? Well, that means one of the judges will not get a rib, so they cannot judge the entry, meaning the team has lost points and the chance at winning.

Yep, this is serious business, especially after you have been up all night tending to your barbecue.

Personally, I can't wait. Make plans now to compete, or at the very least add this event to your schedule now. Here are a couple of websites you may want to peruse. For the Jeffersonville festival,

go to

To see the full KCBS barbecue competition schedule, go to to find a festival near you.


Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes a column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at