24×685.jpg” alt=”Memphis In May BBQ Judging” width=”645″ height=”431″ /> This photo shows Blake Marcum, contributing writer for “Scoring Q and Drinking Brew”, talking to a judge as part of the “Too Sauced to Pork” Memphis in May BBQ team.

Here’s part 2 of contributing writer Blake Marcum’s Column about BBQ Judging entitled “Scoring Q and Drinking Brew”. (You can read part one: “Ancillary Categories” here) Blake is a certified MBN judge and also competes in KCBS and MBN competitions around the Southeast so he definitely knows his BBQ! Blake has done his share of BBQ judging as well as competing as part of a Competition BBQ team. Blake gives us an inside look at the different judges you’ll run across when judging BBQ- Its a great take on the kinds of characters you can meet.

Judging Lesson 2: Judges come in a variety of flavors

After judging in Dyersburg, TN recently, I was reminded of the variety of people who have gotten into judging competition BBQ. People of all ages and walks of life commit their time to be able to provide fair judging to competitors who are spending hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars to complete. The desire to be involved in these competitions has certainly increased with the help of several television shows that have not only glorified the cook’s position but also the judge’s position and power as well.

The power of a judge is unmistakable. Some competitions have to calculate from hundredths to thousands of a point in order to determine a winner. A judge putting a 9.9 instead of a 10 can mean a team dropping several places in the competition and missing out on placing and possible monetary prizes. When I started cooking competition BBQ 8 years ago, I quickly noticed how different the judges were in their approach and attitudes while judging and I saw even more of that when I became a judge.

Over the years, I realized that most judges fall into certain categories or descriptions (even me) and that these things I observed were also noticed by the other teams as well. I thought it would be fun to take a look at these judging types.


Judge type 1: Rookie Judge – Rookie judges are quickly spotted by their training badge instead of a certification card (and trust me, teams DO notice), but it is in their behavior that the rookie judge makes themselves known the most. Rookie judges are usually impressed by the size of the cooking rig and the flash and show of the presentation. They expect the presentation to be much like an episode of Iron Chef or a magic show. The bigger their eyes get, the higher your scores get.

As a competitor I love getting rookie judges because I know how to read people and play off of their reactions in order to try and get higher scores based on what impresses them. This is the same tactic used by car salespeople. If a car salesperson mentions side airbags and your eyebrows perk up or you start nodding your head, they’re going to keep talking about safety features. We do the same thing with BBQ except instead of side airbags and cruise control, I talk about brown sugar and hickory wood.

The bad side of the rookie judge is that they usually do not have the advanced palate to distinguish a variety of flavors and they can also be overwhelmed by the flash and not pay attention to the substance of the presentation. I was guilty of this at my first competition, even after being a competition cook for so long.


Judge type 2: Cooking Judge – These are judges who have previously competed or currently compete in BBQ competitions. They know all of the tricks, can’t easily be fooled by the sales pitch of the presentation, and try to solely let the product determine the score. When I receive compliments from a cooking judge, it really means a lot to me.

The bad side of the cooking judge is that they can sometimes get caught up into their own experience where their expectations is to their own BBQ and not focusing on what is being presented to them at the time. I had a judge tell me one time, “You don’t put enough garlic salt in your rub. That’s what I use a lot of and it is a lot better.” I wanted to tell him, “If I wanted to cook your recipe, I’d be on your team!”, but he is a friend of mine so I didn’t do it. For the record, that same judge competed against me a few months later at the Smokin’ Aces BBQ Championship in Tunica, MS and my scores blew his out of the water. I didn’t win, but I beat the pants off of him. Sometimes you have to get by on little victories.


Judge type 3: Civilian Judge – Civilian judges make up the majority of all judges. They have not competed in competition before, but they are interested in having great BBQ, and are usually wonderful people to get to know. These are my favorite judges because they know what they like and their opinions are as honest as you would get from family. The majority of my judge friends are civilian judges and I love when I can have them come into my team booth at a competition and share my version of BBQ with them and get some feedback. They want the best product possible and usually give great feedback and tips based on their previous judging experiences.


Judge type 4: Insane Judges – Insane judges look like Civilian judges but when they open their mouths you are immediately aware of their insanity. I judged alongside a guy who gave a rib a 10 that tasted like it had been brined for a month. I asked him why he gave this horrible salt-lick scrap of meat a 10 and he told me it tasted less “barbeque’y” than the others and he liked it more. Unbelievable…

You can’t do anything about it when you get an Insane judge, but try and make it through the best you can and hope you never get them again. When judging alongside an Insane judge, I try to be as understanding as possible and gain more insight into what the judge was thinking. This has NEVER provided me any constructive information. It has though, lessened my hopes for humanity’s survival.


Judge type 5: SUPER JUDGES – Super Judges are the peacocks of the judging world. They know every head cook by name, have

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judged every team a hundred times (or so they say), are always telling the best stories, and are some of the hardest judges to please. The bottom line with Super Judges is, THEY KNOW BBQ. They do. They’ve had the best and yours needs to be better.

When judging, I LOVE talking to Super Judges. When competing, I HATE getting Super Judges. They usually come in with preconceived notions of perfection, they don’t always have a warm personality when you are presenting to them (it’s more like the school teacher listening to a student ready an essay), and their feedback can be less than constructive. BUT, they are fair and that is what counts above all else.

No matter what type of judge they end up being, most judges have the same goal, to provide an accurate score for the teams that are competing. It really is a great thing that people are willing to give of themselves and their time to be a part of a wonderful competition. I appreciate all judges who judge me and I have always been shown appreciation by teams when I judge them. There is an absolute mutual respect between the two sides and it is a great thing to be a part of.

For information on how to become a trained or certified judge, go to the Memphis Barbecue Network’s page at www.mbnbbq.com or the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s page at www.kcbs.us for information about upcoming judging classes.


If you have any questions, ideas you would like me to write about, or comments, feel free to email me at ScoringQ@gmail.com