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How To Become A BBQ Judge

Barbeque competitions are serious business.  While chicken, ribs, pork and brisket may not be Olympic events yet, from the looks of the competitors – they may as well be.  The process of becoming a judge is not quite as hard as competing, which was good news for me.  I have never cooked in a barbeque competition, but the thought of world-class free ‘cue for the rest of my life and the prestige of a Kansas City Barbeque Society Certified Barbeque Judge’s badge were just too hard to resist.  So I signed up for a class and got my certification last night.

What does it take to become a KCBS judge?  First, you have to sign up for a judging class – this is a link to a page with a calendar of classes.  Once you are signed up, the class costs about $80 including instruction, food and a one year membership to the KCBS.  At the class, expect to get two hours of theoretical instruction, followed by two hours of hands-on practice judging a variety of meats.  The theoretical instruction is there to familiarize you with KCBS standards and teach you how to think about the three judging criteria:  appearance, taste and tenderness.  The hands-on portion of the class is a test where meat is brought out with certain flaws and you have to figure out what they might be and what the proper deductions are based on KCBS standards.  The hands-on portion may seem intimidating, but it is where you learn the most and have the most fun.  I had the good fortune of having Ed Roith (award-winning barbeque cook with a Food Network show) leading the program, so his critiques of our judging were hilarious and informative.  Once you have satisfactorily completed the hands-on portion of the program, all you need to do is take an oath of conduct before receiving your certification.  The certification permits you to judge barbeque contests in every state in the Union except Texas and Tennessee.  Good times.

The most interesting points that I learned about barbeque and KCBS judging rules were the following:

1)      Judges must always eat barbeque with their fingers.

2)      Judges may not lick their fingers.

3)      Chicken may turn pink from the smoking process, so pink chicken meat is not necessarily undercooked.  The best way to test to see if chicken meat is properly cooked is to check the juices – if the juices are clear, the chicken is well-cooked.

4)      Ribs should be cooked so that the meat comes off the bone only where the rib has been bitten.  The bone should dry right after the bite.  So a rib where the meat just falls off the bone is overcooked (according to KCBS).

5)      The easiest way to disguise overcooked pork is to chop it up.

6)      Brisket can take 18 hours to cook.  18 hours!  That sounds like a lot of effort for a meat that few people like.

7)      Too much smoke on a meat will give it a bitter taste.

8)      Smoke rings are not a factor in judging meat – they can be artificially created.

9)      Garnish can include lettuce, parsley and cilantro only; including members of the cabbage family or other garnish is cause for an automatic disqualification.

10)  The KCBS oath was something new for me.  It is below.  See for yourself:

I do solemnly swear

To objectively and subjectively evaluate

Each Barbeque meat

That is presented

To my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate

I accept my duty

To be an Official KCBS Certified Judge,

So that truth,


Excellence in Barbeque

And the American Way of Life

May be strengthened and preserved


12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nancy Farmer-Martin #

    howdy partner,

    sounds like a messy business that. must have been a real hoot. i’m eager to submit my entry to you and cathleen for your objective/subjective opinions. how much bbq did you eat? Are you hiding from the vegetarian police?

    big hugs from middle America, when next you visit we’ll have bbq at “Bubba’s”—let me assure you it’ll be a first for me,too.


    August 24, 2008
  2. Richard Price #

    I love the KCBS oath!

    September 9, 2008
  3. My husband and I want to take the BBQ judges class. This sounds right up our alley! My question: is there a way to FAIL this class? If so, how? Is there a written test? Is there an “eating” test? THANK YOU!

    May 12, 2010
    • newtome #

      Given that there are several thousand BBQ judges in the US, I think if you can not get kicked out of the class, you will probably pass:)

      March 27, 2011
  4. Mshope #

    Hi There, Just learned about the possibility of becoming a certified BBQ judge from a nice lady I sat next to on a flight. Here’s my question, how do you get opportunities to judge? Do you put your name on a list and wait for folks to call? Or do you apply to judge events? Curious about how this works!

    December 13, 2011
    • newtome #

      Thanks for the question. You just call up the even organizers in advance and ask them if you can be involved as a judge. They are usually looking for judges, so give them a call as far in advance as you can.

      December 22, 2011
  5. Anonymous #

    Thanks for your post! I’m taking my BBQ Judging course today in Canada and am really glad I found a site that helped de-mystify it for me!

    March 4, 2012
  6. i have a big question. There seems to be several localized bbq societies/associations around the states. And although KCBS is one of many..yet it seems most prestigous. Is it common (or perhaps even necessary) for people to be certified in multiple societies in order to be a general U.S. sanctioned bbq judge?
    Can a certified KCBS judge participate in ANY competition across the country?
    Are there other societies equally prestigous?

    thanks a bunch!

    February 28, 2013

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