I am a certified judge and have judged in many contests as well as competed in many contests over 35 years.  I was recently asked to participate in a survey about judging barbeque; the survey was interesting but all it did was give me choices – how can a man pick just one?! … just like saying anyone rib is the best rib. I love all barbeque! Barbeque is like sex… it’s all good!!!  The questions were about as meaningful as asking if you love blonds or brunettes. Do you love tall pretty girls or short pretty girls? I had to really laugh at one of your categories about whether “Whole thighs minimally trimmed but still looked good” OR… “Smaller, trimmed, better looking thighs!”

Barbeque is tough to judge… as I think all garnishes are appreciated if the contestant is talented in the use of garnishes. I have seen what appeared to be whole gardens in a contestants box and had to go digging through the bushes to find the meat! Personally I would prefer not to see garnishes at all as a really great ribber can do amazing things just with the meat and it is the meat that we are judging after all. I do think that if garnishes are going to be part of the presentation then there should actually be a garnishing award. This then separates out the task of judging garnishing versus judging the real skills of smoking and the quality of barbequed meats. Barbeque Contests are not florist conventions! As someone who has spent his whole life in the food business… I follow a very well accepted culinary discipline regarding garnishes… “if you can’t eat it or if it is not used in the recipe… don’t even think of putting it on the plate!”

Regarding sauce… again this is a tough question and it all depends on the quality of the smoked meat, a ribber’s expertise in applying rubs, and the quality of a sauce. For me there isn’t anything better than a rib right out of the smoker. However in the same breath I love a great rib with a great sauce that is running down to my elbows. There are times with the right smoked rib and the right great tasting sauce that I can’t get enough of the stuff all over my face!

And to ask which sauce you prefer is almost insane. I have tasted very tasty sweet tomato based sauces that I would kill for. I have been in southern states where I have tasted really great spicy sauces that have no tomato or sweetness to them… much like a great southern texas style chili that is not sweet and tomato is forbidden…and I absolutely loved these sauces as well especially if the meat was smoked over mesquite or in certain parts of New Mexico where I have tasted some really great barbeque smoked with the fragrance of pinon. Then when I am in the Georgia… how can you say you don’t absolutely love the smoky pulled pork slathered with a great mustard based sauce? or if you’re in the Carolinas and you have a great vinegar basted smoky pork… ITS ALL GOOD… how can you in your right mind decide which one is better over the other?

Regarding brisket… I don’t think it is fair to ask judges whether they prefer brisket or burnt ends. Two different categories. I think burnt ends should be a category
all by itself. And asking if there should be a ”smoke ring” is tantamount to asking if the Pope is Catholic. To me there is no barbeque if there no smoke ring.
Wood is good. The ring is the thing!

When it comes to pulled or chopped pork, sauced or not sauced… again this is all personal taste depending on what part of the country you grew up in.
I love a really great slow smoked no sauced pulled pork with some bark… just as much as enjoy chopped pork with no sauce with some bark. Then if the sauce is
really tasty, spicy, and flavorful… I am just a apt to drown my pulled or chopped pork with the bark with this tasty nectar from the barbeque gods!

I think if you had a panel of judges you could not get a consensus with everyone in agreement and it all comes down to one thing and one thing only… whether it is the ribs, loin backs, chicken, or pork… Does it taste good? If it tastes good. If is authentically smoked slow until tender. If the sauce is tasty whether it is mustardy, spiked with molasses, tomato or no tomato, spicy or sweet, tangy or zippy…  the only thing that
matters is whether you feel like you have just tasted the best barbeque in the whole world and you will know that the moment these succulent
morsels of barbeque heaven touch your lips!

I love’em all!!! (I suck at being a judge)

Snout-standingly Yours

“Famous Dave”

P.S. This evening I was out in my backyard playing around with a new sauce made with some fresh cranberries that are grown up near the original Famous Dave’s in Hayward, Wisconsin and the natural tartness made a really great zippy sauce that made you think that Elvis was dancing on your tongue!

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The barbeque season is starting to fire up and that means lots of rib fests and competitions! Box prep, for the novices, is the look and placement of the ribs, barbeque sauce, and garnishes in the box you present to the judges. In some barbeque contests box presentation can be very important…it is the FIRST IMPRESSION on the judges. My advice for improving your box prep skills is…look up KCBS and find out when they are having judge certification classes. Take the judging class and then offer up your services at any BBQ contest you can get into as a judge. I have been a celebrity BBQ judge at many of these rib fests and barbeque contests and have picked up great ideas on how people box up their handiwork. I have seen some interesting artistic creations with the use of curly leaf lettuce, kale or parsley…remember to check the contest rules first some require that your barbeque speak for itself!

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