The new barbecue season “unofficially” begins in earnest in March with a large number of KCBS sanctioned and regional barbecue society sanctioned contests scheduled throughout the country. However, there are a few great contests in January and February as well, such as the Lakeland Pigfest in Lakeland, FL at the end of January. So my passion for barbecue has again been shifted into overdrive; prior to judging my first contest of the year last weekend.
The‘off season’ is usually the last week of October following the Jack Daniels World Championship barbecue contest, through the end of February. In the off season barbecue judges and cooks usually eat a little less barbecue, look at new equipment, explore new cooking techniques, look for additional sources of quality meat, and dream up new sauces and dry rubs. The off season brings out the mad scientist in us all.
I will judge three KCBS contests this month to begin my barbecue season. All are within two and a half hours of home which is nice for a change. I call these contests “home games”. I'm so used to traveling a number of hours to and from contests, or staying overnight. In addition, I get to see and visit with many of my barbecue friends on a regular basis.
The first weekend in March I had the pleasure of judging the BBQ Championship & Hog Wild Festival in Mobile, AL. This is a very well-run contest and festival that I really enjoy attending each year. An additional advantage is
that the festival benefits the United Cerebral Palsy Association, which the local contest coordinator does an outstanding job of representing. So not only do you enjoy judging great barbecue, but you can also feel
good about supporting to a great cause. And on a fashion note, the contest has one of the best designed contest t-shirts very year as well.
The third weekend in March I judged the Smokin’ Blues & BBQ contest. This is another well-run contest that I also enjoy attending each year. It is set in the very quaint, little town of Hammond, LA. The event benefits the Special Olympics and the Children’s Museum. Following the contest I usually walk around looking in the stores and have a beer (or more) at one of the local establishments.
The last weekend of this month I'll be judging in the Slidell BBQ Challenge in Slidell, LA. Slidell is a little town too that hosts a very quaint barbecue contest in the older section of town. This contest will be more special than usual for me this year, as for the first time ever I’ll have one of my children attend a barbecue contest with me. I’ve talk about barbecue with them over the years and they've eaten plenty of decent barbecue with me before, but they've never been exposed to a professional competition. So, they’ve heard stories of how great barbecue can be at a contest, as opposed to many restaurants, and that it could be the best barbecue they’ll ever taste. Also, they've never had the opportunity to take a class to become certified barbecue judge either. Becoming a certified KCBS barbecue judge may be the next step for my oldest if she gets addicted to the great people and contest atmosphere the way I did after attending Memphis in May in 2004.
My one regret about judging these three contests is that I’ve never able to attend the outstanding dinners hosted by the contests organizers the Friday night before the competition; due to work constraints or family obligations. I’ve been told by my barbecue friends that each contest puts on a very thoughtful and delicious spread, The organizers spend a
great deal of time and effort, and take pride in ensuring that the judges and cooks are well feed and have a good time.
And it is very much appreciated. Next year I plan on taking a vacation day or arranging to leave work early so I can enjoy the full experience of these excellent contests.
Currently I don’t have any definite plans to cook at any contests, but that will probably change as the barbecue season progresses. My urge to cook in competition has been burning inside me for the last 4 months, as well as with my barbecue teammate. However, it’s been very difficult for both of us to find the time to properly prepare and cook
successfully right now.
I do plan on judging a contest in at least one new state this year though, as I’ve done each year before. It will probably later in the season. Arkansas and Washington State are the prime candidates. I usually begin contacting contest organizers at the end of the previous year and beginning of the new year, and have most of my KCBS and MBN schedules completed by March. And then apply for contests held later in the barbecue season when applications become available. I know this is pretty much what all judges and cooks do, but somehow I’ve been told I’m more
“retentive” about it. I just call it being “business organized”! After all, barbecue is an obsession and we are professionals. Right?
Some of my other favorite barbecue contest to judge, in addition to the three mentioned above, that you might want to check out for great hospitality and a fun event are as follows:
The Murphysboro Cook-off (Murphysboro, IL) - a dual KCBS and MBN contest in a small quaint town, top cooking
teams, Mike Mills hosts, and great 17th Street Grill & Bar barbecue for dinner the night before.
The Mainely Grillin’ & Chillin’ BBQ Championship (Eliot, ME) - a small contest in a small, quaint New England town
held at Raitt Homestead Farm benefiting the farm, with good outlet shopping in nearby York, ME.
The Variety Children’s Charity BBQ Bash (Memphis, TN) - a well-run contest in “a capital of barbecue”, top cooking
teams, judging additional categories like sauces with the MBN scoring systems, kids cooking contest, and benefits
the Children’s Charity that is dedicated to promoting and protecting the health and well-being of children around the
The Lakeland Pigfest (Lakeland, FL) - a big, fun festival at the Detroit Tigers training facility with a big backyard
contest, top barbecue teams, many of the top Pit Masters like Ray Lampe and Myron Mixon man booths.
The American Royal (Kansas City, MO) –the largest barbecue contest in the U.S. in “a capital of barbecue” with
hundreds of cooking teams and certified judges in the professional and backyard divisions, all the top cooking
teams in attendance, a big barbecue festival, and very prestigious.
However, I’ve never attended a KCBS or MBN barbecue contest that everyone hasn’t been genuine and down to earth, from my fellow judges, to the cooks, to the contest reps, to the contest organizers. So, I guess you could say “I’ve never meet a barbecue contest that I haven’t liked”!
Thank goodness it’s open season on hogs and other tasty competition animals again. Sorry PETA. Not!
Have a great 2012 barbecue season everyone!!
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!