Judging BBQ is fun, serious fun. As a KCBS BBQ judge, I’ve met tons of amazing people. Fellow judges and BBQ cookers alike have and continue to number among my closest friends. But if you’re here, you likely have one question on your mind: How To Become A KCBS BBQ Judge.
The Official Oath of a KCBS Judge
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.
This oath is how every KCBS Judges meeting gets rolling. I love it, and first said these words back about four years ago just prior to a Plant City Pig Jam BBQ competition. If you truly love BBQ and value the culture behind what the KCBS stands for — I strongly urge you to consider joining the ranks as a Certified BBQ Judge.
In this post, I provide the basics on becoming a certified KCBS judge. There are already some great posts out there on the subject, so I’ll share a few of them with you and give you some of my own insights as well.
Becoming a Certified Barbecue Judge at the Kansas City Barbecue Society
One of the best posts out there on how to become a KCBS BBQ judge is by James Boo, contributor for Serious Eats. Actually, it’s probably the best I’ve seen. In his post, James explains in great detail his experience taking the KCBS CBJ (certified BBQ judging) class on site at the world famous Jack Daniel’s Invitational BBQ Competition.I really love how this post gives you both a photographic and “BBQ Spiritual” sense of what it means to go through the KCBS Judges school process. We know judges should always strive to be objective, but James gets at the heart of what it means to judge BBQ here:
The class we had just completed in order to receive our certification was just as rich an experience as The Jack itself. Ron Harwell, certified Master Judge and KCBS Competition Rep, led us through four hours of lecture, anecdotes, hands-on instruction and Southern charm to demystify the art of ranking ribs and penalizing pork.
Far from doctrinaire, Harwell’s instruction demonstrated that subjectivity is inevitably a part of scoring. Knowing that marks for taste would be weighted twice as heavily as marks for texture and four times as heavily as marks for appearance, we were tasked with tempering our subjective understanding with an agreed set of technical standards and a good dose of faith—not only in the teams’ ambitions and our own judgment but also in the rules of the game.
So you see, personal preference will always factor in when scoring BBQ as a KCBS judge. You simply must try to temper it by applying the standards set forth for each of the meat categories in the KCBS CBJ manual. Read the rest of James’ post here.
What I Think Being a KCBS BBQ Judge Really Means
Judging BBQ at a KCBS event means being honorable in your endeavor to remain objective where each entry is concerned. Competitors spend as much as $1,000 to compete at a KCBS BBQ competition by the time you factor in entry fees, food costs, transportation expenses, fuel, etc. What’s more, these folks work extremely hard to hone their craft as professional BBQ pitmasters, sometimes paying as much as $700 what I like to call “continuing education” at various Pro BBQ Cooking Classes.
You also have to understand that organizing a KCBS BBQ competition and having it sanctioned means a ton of hard work on the part of event coordinators. These wonderful folks work on a volunteer basis in most cases, and they spend countless hours arranging for judges, ensuring team cook sites have proper water, electricity, access to ice, etc, and so much more.
An Overview of the KCBS Judging Process
There are four categories in a KCBS BBQ competition:
- Beef Brisket
For each category of meat, there are specific standards to which judges are obligated to adhere. This ain’t your average backyard BBQ fare. The standards of which I speak are quite rigorous. Click the following link to view the KCBS BBQ Standards for 2013.
Steve Coomes over at Insider Louisville really nails it in his description of what KCBS judging is all about:
Such harsh scrutiny is good, however, for competitions such as last weekend’s Smokin’ On the River BBQ, Blues and Brews Festival. Several barbecuers I talked to spent close to 20 hours, from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning, slow cooking beef brisket and pulled butts, shoulders and chicken for the contest. They want the know-it-alls to weigh in on their creations because it makes them better.
At the festival, the savory work of about 60 professional teams and nearly 10 amateur teams came before 64 KCBS-certified judges. Such people have endured a 4-hour course in barbecue rules and attributes, plus judged at least 30 different competitions.
According to KCBS official Peg Rogers, “This isn’t about eating barbecue at home, this is about coming to competitions and learning how professionals do this. Judges need to understand the rules to know what rules the cooks are cooking according to.”
You can read more of Steve’s great post and see some of the awesome photos he provides here.
Useful Links For How To Become A KCBS BBQ Judge
KCBS Judging Classes
The first think you need to do in order to become a KCBS BBQ judge is to take a CBJ class. These classes are offered at different times throughout the year across the entirety of the United States. Follow this link to see what KCBS Judging Classes are offered in your area or areas you plan on visiting.
I hope this post gives you a taste of what it means to judge BBQ events for the KCBS organization. Should you have any other questions about how to become a KCBS BBQ judge, please leave your comment below.
- James Boo
- Steve Coomes