In KCBS contests you know what categories you’ll be judging at each event; all the four meat categories - Chicken, Ribs, Pork and Brisket. Everyone judges the same four categories, six entries in each category. Additionally, the contest only uses the Blind judging method, where all the entry boxes are renumbered when they arrive at the turn-in table. So, the judges never know which cooking team’s sample they are judging.
In MBN you don’t know what category you’ll judge until you arrive at the event. You may judge one or two of the three categories, or even the Finals. The three categories are Whole Hog, Shoulder and Ribs. Also, in MBN there are two judging methods employed, blind judging and on-site judging. On-site judging entails the judges going out to the cooking team sites and evaluating their barbecue, as well as their presentation and the site itself.
Now in MBN if you are selected to judge the Finals, you’ll judge all three categories and a total of 9 entries. You’ll judge the Top Three cooking teams in each of the three categories from the blind and on-site judging. The Finals is only on-site judging. Also, a team may “final” in each category, so you’d be going to their site 3 times. In judging a Finals it’s hard to pace yourself in how much you eat from the 1stto the 9th team, and you’ll be very full afterwards.
Ironically, there are some people that don’t like to judge on-site or don’t want the pressure of judging a Finals round. So, they only judge one or two categories in the blind judging.
The Judges Meeting are different too. KCBS meetings are more formal and highly organized, while an MBN meeting is more informal and laid back. KCBS has the judge’s meeting with the “famous” instructional CD that gets played before every contest, before the judge’s oath. The MBN judge’s meeting briefing is less formal and shorter.
I’ve outlined the Scoring differences between the two organizations in detail in a previous column - A Tale of Two Methods. However, simply stated, KCBS scoring involves blind judging only and no comparison of entries, while MBN scoring involves blind judging and on-site judging, and comparing and ranking the entries.
The Cooking is slightly different in the two contests too. In KCBS contests teams cook all of the four categories because it’s fruitless to do otherwise. The Grand and Reserve Champion is determined by calculating the four scores from each of the categories. Teams can win a trophy for best in chicken, ribs, pork and brisket, but can win outright without barbecuing all the meats.
In MBN most teams cook all the categories too, all pork, but some teams only cook whole hog, shoulder or ribs. The reason is that the Grand Champion is selected as the best from the nine entries in the Finals. So, focusing on one category and making it to the Finals with a chance to win it all may be worth it.
To me, cooking a Whole Hog is the biggest difference between the two contests. While it takes a great deal of skill to cook any meat in a professional barbecue contest, it’s a bigger, more time consuming endeavor to properly prepare a whole hog for competition. Especially since all the major parts of the hog are judged – the loin, ham and ribs – and the bacon is very often presented to the delight of the judges. Therefore, the whole whole hog has to be cooked perfectly.
KCBS is currently a larger, national and international organization, while MBN is smaller and more localized in the South.
At a KCBS contest there is a proud, institutional atmosphere of being the world largest barbecue organization that set the standard for professional barbecue judging. It’s also a challenge to cook three very different types of meat well at a competition level.
At an MBN contest there is an elite, showmanship atmosphere with the theatrical on-site presentations and judging. Whole hog is also what I consider the old school traditional way to barbecue. Throughout American history when barbecues were held and pork cooked, it was almost always a whole hog.
While there are a number of differences between the two contests, there are also a number of similarities. Each organization is very professionally run by experienced Contest Representatives and enthusiastic Local Coordinators, from the judge and cooking team registrations to the actual contest itself. A majority to 100% of the barbecue judges at contests are certified by their organization through a sanctioned training course. Each organization maintains strict control over the scoring of the contest, to ensure the integrity of the competition. Contests are often associated with an event or festival. At each contest you meet great people who are as obsessed and knowledgeable about barbecue as you are, and that you enjoy seeing again and again throughout the barbecue season. But most importantly, both organizations are promoting and preserving the high standards of the American barbecue tradition.
If you are truly a barbecue fanatic, I high recommend that you be a member of both KCBS and MBN. Neither organization is “better” than the other, and I thoroughly enjoy judging both. It helps me stay in touch with the
current cooking trends and flavor profiles of each type of barbecue, gives me the opportunity to judge more, allows me to make more new barbecue friends, and widens my overall barbecue knowledge and experience; which I’m a big proponent of. And most of all, Variety is the spice of life in barbecue too!
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!