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We Learned How To Be An Official Barbeque Judge


Move aside Cowell, Ora, Grimshaw and Fernandez-Versini: there's a new judge in town. And we're probably more qualified than the lot of you.

For many people, whipping out the barbecue is for that one weekend a year when it's not raining. Casually chucking on a few sausages and then making a futile attempt to cook an entire chicken before burning the outside and leaving the inside blissfully unaware that it's been in the vicinity of any heat whatsoever.

But, increasingly, people around the world are taking this sort of thing very seriously indeed. So much so that competitive barbecueing is now very much a thing, with events springing up all around the world - including several organised by Bristol-born enthusiasts Grillstock, who now boast restaurants across the UK and three festivals a year, the next being their London event taking place on Chestnuts Field in Walthamstow on 5 and 6 September.

For their latest meaty extravaganza, Grillstock are taking things to the major league by being officially accredited by the big dogs of the barbecue world: The Kansas City Barbeque Society. Their mission for nearly 30 years and counting: promoting and enjoying barbeque, as the world's largest organisation of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts, with over 19,000 members worldwide.

We were invited to join their training to become an officially accredited judge - and who would turn down such an offer? We could criticise all of our friends' efforts for the rest of time and just point to the badge for proof of our status. What's not to like about that?

First up: they go with barbeque, but barbecue is fine, they're cool with it. That's a relief.

Second up: barbecuing is not the same as grilling: in fact it's the opposite. Grilling is cooking by direct, quick and high heat, barbecuing is indirect, slow and low. No gas or electricity is allowed - it's smouldering wood all the way baby. This technique allows the simultaneous smoking and cooking of glorious meaty products.

Which are: the 'big four' of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket. These are the 'competition cuts' on which the judging takes place with the beef brisket generally regarded as the hardest one to nail.

Barbecue Ribs

The remnants of some tasty ribs

Scoring takes place on a 2 to 9 scale (2 is inedible, 9 is excellent) across three criteria: appearance, taste and tenderness. A '1' is reserved for anything that breaks the rules: and there are a lot of rules. Why so many? Well, clearly people are serious about this stuff, and serious about winning - and the tales of trying anything to 'get that edge' and charm the judges (including bribery) were frankly hilarious, including the artistic use of meats to spell out high numbers (about as blatantly 'subliminal' as you can get) and some extravagant garnish - which is not illegal, but should be irrelevant to the main business of meat-judging.

The judges are then set free to award their points as they see fit, with water and crackers cleansing the palate in between dishes; things to look out for include moistness, level of burn, neatness, achieving a balance of sourness, bitterness, sweetness, spice, pepper and salt and level of toughness, mushiness, rubber and tenderness. But - at the end of the day - beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and individual preferences are welcome. Too right, barbecue is too important a business to be constrained - set it free.

The fantastically scientific scoring system (presumably calculated by an actual, certified, meat-loving genius) then weights these three criteria - appearance 0.5600, taste 2.2972 and tenderness 1.1428 - and a winner is declared from the highest points totals.

The fantastically friendly guys from Kansas (and Tennessee) had the perfect balance of seriousness about their art and the awareness that it was all just a bit of fun, although an oath was sworn before being officially welcomed as an expert, promising "truth, justice, excellence in American Style Barbeque and the International Kansas City Barbeque Society family be strengthened and preserved forever."

Next time we get the barbie out, we'll be cooking that thing with the care, attention and love it deserves. Amen brother.

Grillstock London takes place 5-6 September, for more information head to grillstock.co.uk. For more information on the Kansas City Barbeque Society, head to kcbs.us

(Image: Shutterstock)


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