KCBS or the Kansas City Barbecue Society is an organisation based not surprisingly in Kansas, Missouri. It sanctions barbecue contests across the USA, Europe and the world. By sanctioning, what we mean is that it gives contests a standard structure and scoring system which meet standards of anonymous judging and scoring and ensures fairness. It also means that the hundreds of KCBS contest that happen across the world each year are all run and judged to the same standard. KCBS contests are traditional American barbecue contests and are built around low and slow barbecue.
KCBS contests run to the same format all over the world and the requirements for what you need to produce as your entry are standardised so every team must turn in the same. There are four rounds, the first is chicken, the second pork ribs, third is pork shoulder and the final round is beef brisket.
Entries are not judged against each other, they are judged by trained judges as to how close the team has got to the "KCBS Standard", this means that teams are looking to produce entries as close to that standard as possible rather than their own personal tastes, equally judges are scoring not based on their personal preferences, but how close the entry is to the standard.
Each team will be given a standardised "turn-in" box for each of the four rounds, they may or may not choose to create a bed of "garnish" for their meat to sit on, but be warned the types or garnish allowed are restricted to a small number of options. In their turn in-box the team must include a minimum of six portions of the meat they are turning in.
Chicken - Usually thighs, but wings and legs are also common, breast is rare due to how lean it is. Can be skin on or off, bone in or out, with or without sauce.
Pork - Spare, loin or baby back ribs, bigger ribs are seen more generally as they are more impressive in the box, have more meat and are easier to cook well. Can be standard cut or "double wide" (single bone with all the meat from either side attached. Ribs must be cut in to individual portions
Pork Shoulder - Generally the "money muscle" is removed from the shoulder and cooked separately to be sliced. Pulled and chunked pork shoulder is also common. Team can include a single type of pork or multiple types, but there must be a minimum of six pieces or portions of each type in the box.
Beef Brisket - The hardest of the rounds, most established teams will look to turn in slices, but burnt ends and pulled is also allowed. As with pork, teams can turn in one type or multiple types in the box, but there must be a minimum of six of each.
Team turn-ins will be assessed by the judges against three criteria.
Appearance - The overall appearance of the whole box, what the meat looks like in the box. Judges will look at the colour, the appearance of moistness, the finish of any sauce etc. Generally judges are looking to see visually how appealing the meat in the box is.
Taste - Based on a single bite, judges are looking for a good balance of flavour from any injections, rubs or sauces that have been used, there is no overpowering or unpleasant flavours, that the flavours used complement the type of meat and that the taste of the actual meat is complimented and not concealed.
Texture - Again based on that single bite, what was the mouth feel of the meat, is it tough (under cooked) or mushy (over cooked), is it dry etc. For chicken the judges are looking for skin that can be bitten through without coming away, meat coming away cleanly from the bone. For ribs, the bitten portion should come away from the bone leaving it clean, but leaving the rest of the meat still attached . For all the meats the judges are looking for moistness, tenderness and a nice mouth feel.
The day before the contest, the Reps for KCBS will do a cooks meeting and a meat inspection. They will be looking to make sure all meat has not yet been trimmed in anyway, has not yet been seasoned etc. and is being kept at the right temperature. Teams will then be free to start preparing if they wish.
Teams will have their own plans for cooking depending on the cooking technique they are using, and the meat they have. But teams are likely going to be up early in the mornings to get smokers lit and meat on to start cooking.
Turn in windows are 10 minutes, all teams must turn in their entry in the same 10 minute window at a turn in table. No leeway is given, and one second late is a disqualification from the round. The turn in window is 5 minutes before and five minutes after the turn-in time. Chicken turn-in time is 12:00, pork ribs 12:30, pork shoulder 13:00 and beef brisket 13:30.
Most KCBS contest you will be required to supply or source your own equipment and contests meats. As a minimum you will need your smokers and barbecues with enough capacity to cook all four of the meats for the rounds. You will need a work space especially if it rains, most teams will have a gazebo, you will need work surfaces in the form of tables etc. and you will need a means to keep your meat cold with most teams having ice chests / coolers.
A fantastic website to see what turn-in boxes look like. Teams post pictures of their boxes and ask for judges opinions.
Information of KCBS and contests, some information is behind a membership wall.
YouTube is a fantastic resource for instructional videos, tips and tricks for competition barbecue cooking. There are literally hundreds of videos on the topic from teams. Remember most are American and their meat may be different to what you are cooking with, also, their competition set up are huge, trailers, massive offsets etc. Where as mostly in the UK teams are cooking in commercial back garden smokers and drum smokers as well as working in 3m x 3m gazebos.
Here are a few good videos to get you started.
Montana Outlaw showing how they do their chicken thighs.
The Professor of competition barbecue shows you his competition ribs.
KosmosQ showing how to trip pork shoulder for competition cooking
Montana Outlaw giving the run down on their competition pork shoulder
Montana Outlaw and their competition brisket