This is my list of criteria. Most importantly, if a contest is one that you have fun attending and want to judge again year after year, for whatever reason, it should be a great contest to you.
My “Big 7” criteria are as follows:
1. The first thing a great barbecue contest needs to have is Good Cooking Teams. Barbecue contests are open to all cooking teams, and there is no requirement to attend a barbecue cooking class, nor is there a process in place to become “certified” as a professional cooking team. Additionally, brand new teams are competing for the first time at every event. I’m not saying new cooking teams produce “not good” barbecue. However, but it usually takes a few contests to become a proficient barbecue cook; no matter someone’s background. Cooking in backyard competitions first speeds up the learning curve. So, it’s a necessity for contest organizers to attract a number of the best
competition teams on the circuit; and there are a number of them throughout the nation. And of course, all judges
want to sample good to great barbecue.
2. Without being considered a barbecue snob, which I am anyway, I feel great contests need to have 100% Certified Judges. If you need good cooking teams, you need properly trained judges to properly judge the high quality barbecue. As we know, cooking teams spend a great deal of time, travel and money to compete at contests.
Therefore, we owe it to them to have their labored entries judged by the best available barbecue people. Since professional barbecue competition has become so popular and has evolved so much over recent years, consistent
judging is essential to maintaining the integrity and credibility of the sport.
3. An Organized and Friendly Contest Coordinator is imperative to a great contest. The coordinator sets tone of event, both at the event and prior to it. The coordinator is usually responsible for communicating with the cooking
teams and judges, and determining the number of judges the contest will required based on the number of cooking teams entered. Responding promptly and friendlily to everyone initially and leading up to the event is a key. Cooking
teams and judges can rescind their request to attend the contest if they believe they aren’t being taken seriously or it doesn’t appear the contest is organized well. There are many other barbecue contests to attend in lieu of a particular one. During the contest the organizer is the main local individual working with the contest representatives, cooking teams, and judges performing a number of functions. As minimum coordinators usually welcome everyone to the event during registration, speak briefly at the meetings, and resolve issues.
4. A fourth criteria is an Open, Comfortable Judging Area. No one wants to judge in a cramped, small room. It’s hard for table captains to maneuver trays with entries and judges are figuratively sitting on top of each other as the tables are so close. Sometimes a small room becomes hot as well. To me conference rooms are the best venues to judge in, due to the large space and air conditioning. Judging a Memphis Barbecue Network contest, or similar contest like Memphis in May, where on-site judging is conducted is my favorite method of judging. Not only is it fun to visit a cooking team’s site, receive a presentation on how they prepare their barbecue, and is outdoors, it’s
also not cramped!
5. While judges don’t get paid for judging barbecue contests and don’t have an opportunity to win cash prizes, receiving a Goodie Bag is a very cool thing. I’m always grateful to receive one because contests obviously aren’t required to provide one. It is going above and beyond and shows they really care about the participants, as judges don't get paid for their services or receive per diem. Goodie bags can have a variety of items and can be quite creative. They can contain anything from foam beverage koosies, to pens & note pads, to local products. To me, a truly great goodie bag contains a free contest t-shirt. I love barbecue contest t-shirts and have an ever growing collection of them. Most of them I’ve purchased though.
6. Another aspect of a great barbecue contest is a Good Ancillary Event in conjunction with the contest. Most frequently Fairs are the event with live bands, food, various vendor booths. I’ve encountered fairs in many of the regions I’ve judged in, so it not limited to one part of the country. They are fun and give you something to do in addition to just judging or cooking at the contest. They are also good places to buy fun things like apple cider, fresh preserves, crafts, art, and services like free blood pressure checks. And, they usually have a booth selling event
7. A final thing I believe makes a great barbecue contest is Good Weather. I know this is an uncontrollable and only applies to an outdoor contest. Therefore, it is not a hard criterion for me, but more of a “nice to have”. It does make attending the contest more pleasurable. Everyone, especially cooking teams, love warm, sunny days with no rain.
All barbecue contests are good. However, some can be considered great for a variety of reasons. You need to determine your own criteria for“contest greatness” and apply those standards to the contests you attend. As I said, if a contest is one that you have fun attending and want to judge again year after year, it should be a great contest to you!
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!