Like my Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) judges training, the MBN training was very thorough and we sampled some outstanding professional barbecue.
While both trainings were very professional, the judging and scoring methods in each organization is radically different. A lot of very experienced barbecue people who don’t know the differences between the two organizations and how they run their contests, or at least don’t fully understand. I just learned myself. So, that’s why I’ve decided to make this the subject of my column this time around.
The First difference is in the Categories judged:
KCBS judges a total of 4 categories with 3 different meats: Chicken, Pork ribs, Pork (sliced, pulled, or diced), and Beef (brisket). Cooking teams in KCBS contests cook all 4 categories.
MBN is solely a Pork contest. MBN judges 3 categories of the hog: Whole Hog (the ball of pork), Shoulder and Ribs. Teams often chose to compete in all 3 categories, or just 1 or 2.
Similarly though, to be a contest Grand Champion in both KCBS and MBN formats a team has to cook in all the categories at the contest.
The next difference is in the Judging Format:
KCBS does only one type of judging, Blind Judging, and all the judges at the event participate in it. Blind judging involves each judge individually judging meat entries without input from fellow judges or knowing which cooking team has submitted which entries. Judges provide scores for Appearance, Taste & Tenderness. The “blind” part of the contest is ensured by the contest representatives and staff re-numbering the boxes in a three-digit random sequence when they are turned in by the cooking teams.
This same overall re-numbering process is done by MBN for their blind judging.
While MBN does blind judging too, they also do On-Site Judging. The on-site judging process involves judges going out to the team cooking sites and evaluating them by what the see and are presented. This includes the overall appearance of the cook site, the quality of the barbecued meat, and the quality of the oral/demonstrative presentation they receive from the head cook. The presentation includes information such as the wood and/or charcoal they use, the equipment they use, the meat/spices/sauce they use, their cooking process, a description of the final product, and any other unique cooking technique or philosophy they’d like to share. The cooking portion of the presentation is usually done at the grill, while the meat discretion & tasting portion at a table set-up for the judges. The presentation can be a very fun and informative event that reflects the cooking team’s skills and passion.
MBN judges are assigned cooking teams to visit and at specific times. In the Preliminary round, 3 judges go to each of the cooking teams individually to judge. In the Finals round, 4 judges go as a group, but individually judge, the 3 teams with the highest scores from the Preliminary round. These 3 teams will vie to become the Grand Champion of the contest.
While both organizations conduct blind judging, their two scoring system and judging procedures are different. KCBS judges evaluate each entry individually and move on to the next entry, with regard to the previous one. MBN judges evaluate each entry by comparing them against all the other entry presented.
Similarly though, both organizations use a total of 6 judges per table for blind judging.
The next, next difference is in the Scoring System:
In the KCBS system judges evaluate the meat on three criteria: Appearance, Taste & Tenderness.
The judges rate entries on a scale of 2 to 9; with a 2 being “Bad” and 9 being “Excellent”.
Each individual score record stands alone for the entry in the three judging criteria Appearance, Taste & Tenderness. For example: scores of 9, 8, 9 for an entry would rate a total score of 26 from that one judge.
MBN judges provide scores for Appearance, Taste & Tenderness too, but also have a fourth criteria score of “Overall Impression” which consolidates the other three scores for a final score for the entry.
In the MBN system judges rate entries on a scale of 6 to 10 in Appearance, Taste & Tenderness
criteria. Then, must rank order the entries in the fourth criteria of Overall Impression with a decimal number. For example: scores of 10, 9, 10 for an entry in the first three criteria would be a 9.7 in Overall Impression; vs. possible scores 9.1 for other entries.
MBN Judges consider their scores as “high” or “low” numbers in the first three criteria (Appearance, Tasted & Tenderness) to differentiate if two or more entries received exact scores, in determining the final Overall Impression scores (rank order) for all the entries judged.
The next, next, next difference is in the Certification Process:
When a KCBS judge completes their training class, they are a “certified” judge. When an MBN judge is trained, they are a “trained” judge and must judge in each of the 3 categories (Whole Hog, Shoulder & Ribs) to become a “certified” judge. They must judge one of the categories in blind judging, another in on-site judging, and the third in either bind or on-site judging. So, it can taking anywhere from 1 to 3 contests for a new MBN judge to get “certified”.
A final difference is Memphis in May:
Certified MBN judges are eligible to judge the annual Memphis in May (MIM) barbecue contest in Memphis, TN. The MBN training and judging process is the same as that of MIM judges.
I would love to judge Memphis in May someday, as I’ve lived in the Memphis area and Memphis in May was the very first barbecue event that I ever attended.
I know a comparison of the two organizations can be a little bit confusing because of the detail involved. But hopefully I was able to explain it in a fairly concise and organized manner. Even if you have to re-read sections; which I had to do while writing this column.
For barbecue enthusiast and cooks who belong to one of these barbecue judging organizations, you should seriously consider joining the other organization as well. It will give you a new perspective on the diverse world of quality barbecue and how to evaluate it. Additionally, there are other regional barbecue organizations that you can join to judge great barbecue too.
I respect both organization’s approach to barbecue judging, and honestly don’t favor one over the other. It will be very exciting to judge both style contests in the future, as I continue my personal barbecue experience!
"Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!"