Unlike some other competitive pastimes, any enthusiast can become a competitive barbecue judge. There is a community of judges that meet up in various combinations at different events through the year to cast their critical eye and taste buds over competition entries. It’s worth noting at this point that not all contests are equal in this regard. At one end of the spectrum you have contests where as long as you have done the relevant judging course and you are a paid up member of the contest sanctioning body, you can register to judge. At the other end there are contests that will select their judges to their own criteria and are not open to public participation.
Most if not all barbecue judges are enthusiasts first and foremost. To a greater or lesser degree, both barbecuing and attending barbecue events is part of their lives. Many plan their years around when different events are and lots travel all over Europe and further afield to judge at events.
A course, a course. My kingdom for a course
So you have an interest in judging competitive barbecue, how do you start. Well for the majority of contests you will need to have done a course provided by the body that is sanctioning the contests. You can find more info here on the types of contests and bodies.These course are usually ran at events where there is a contest taking place, but in the UK are relatively infrequent. You will normally need to pay a fee for the course which may or may not include a membership of the sanctioning body. You will need to maintain that membership to judge at contests where they are the sanctioning body. The main body where a course will enable you to judge are KCBS and SCA.
We’ll do our best to detail any course happening in our event section here.
What will I be judging?
It depends on the contest. The most common the UK, KCBS, you’ll be judging four rounds over an hour and a half. You’ll be judging a standard format contest that is the same at every evet. These rounds will start from midday every half an hour on the Sunday of the contest. Obviously the teams will have been prepping and cooking for the previous 24 hours possibly. The event may also have additional rounds known as “ancillary rounds”. The four rounds are known as the main four and are proscribed by the sanctioning body (KCBS), whereas the ancillaries can be at the discretion of the event including the rules of the rounds. Common ancillaries include vegetarian, deserts, bread and pizza. These rounds are often run and judged on the Saturday of the contest, but can happen after the main four on the Sunday.
If you become an SCA (Steak Cook-off Association) judge, you will be judging a single steak. As this is a relatively small and short process, SCA contests are often ran at events where another contest such as a KCBS contest is taking place. Some judges judge both, some only one. Less common in the UK but more prevalent in Europe is the whole hog contest. Again often run alongside another contest, this is a very visual contest where judges visit the teams and mark them on their presentation of the whole hog.
Other events have various live fire cooking rounds, or run similar contests that they manage internally without a sanctioning body. Judging for these may be closed completely without invitation, may be available to buy a judging place or maybe open to applicants but subject to experience.
Leaving, on a jet plane
The bigger sanctioning bodies, sanction contests all over the world. Both KCBS and SCA are American organisations and sanction contests all over Europe and hundreds across the USA and the rest of the world. If you have done the course and are a paid up member, you have the opportunity to judge at any of these. As mentioned, many judges make weekend trips to Europe to judge at contests, some go further afield and many UK contests will have judges that have come from Europe and America to judge. It’s a great way to meet new people and friends who all share a passion.
Let’s focus on KCBS, as that’s the easiest to access, the most common and the one with the greatest opportunities. As a rule of thumb, the minimum amount of judges you need for a contest is one for each team, but the number of judges must be devisable by six. This is because KCBS is judged in teams of six on a table. Each table of six will judge a maximum of six teams in each round. So a contest with eighteen teams needs a minimum of eighteen judges to sit on three tables of six, but a contest of twenty teams will need twenty four judges sitting on four tables. Tables can judge four or five teams in each round rather than six depending on the teams to judges ratio.
Judging normally takes place in a marquee or sometimes a room and is strictly controlled in terms of blind judging, access, scoring and even talking. It’s a great social even and lots of fun is had, but in that moment where you are judging the entry from a team who has committed a whole weekend, many practice sessions and probably a significant expense to complete. They deserve every consideration to be judges fairly and thoroughly.