When we reach these, the bleakest and coldest days of winter, my mind inevitably turns towards the warm days of summer and one of America’s favorite pastimes: Barbeque
Not grilling, mind you, but genuine Southern-style barbeque, smoked low and slow over an offset hickory hardwood fire in a contraption as humble as a repurposed oil barrel
or as elaborate as something that requires a trailer hitch
. It used to be this kind of ‘cue was only available in a few states, each with its own distinct style. In Texas, barbeque means dry rub
on beef ribs
. South Carolinians love their pork with mustard-based sauces
, while their northern brothers just over the state line go for the thin-but-tasty vinegar sauces
. Alabama trends towards the spicy, tomato-based sauces
served on chicken and pork, although in some areas you’ll also find ‘cue served with Alabama White Sauce
, which includes mayo and vinegar. Memphis is famous for its pork ribs, both wet
, and local devotees swear by the pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw
. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kansas City
, which some regard as the World Capital of Barbeque. This list is hardly exhaustive, and there's pretty good reading to be had on regional differences here
Barbeque is seeing something of a renaissance in the last decade; chains like Famous Dave’s
and Smokey Bones (warning: seriously obnoxious flash-infested site)
are bringing this style of cooking to the rest of the nation, while BBQ Pitmasters
on TLC offers the couch-bound a glimpse into the world of competition barbeque.
But if your interest in barbecue cannot be sated by mere TV and glossy corporate menus, you could join The Kansas City Barbeque Society
(KCBS for short). KCBS is the world’s largest organization of barbeque aficionados
, sponsoring hundreds of ‘cue competitions across the country. As the BBQ Pitmasters show demonstrates, being a competition cook is challenging: it takes a significant investment of time, effort, and money, and it’s rare that the prize money (which usually is in the low hundreds, although the higher-profile events offer larger purses) will ever cover expenses.
For those who are obsessed with the blue smoke, but who lack the equipment and money to DIY, an easier access point is judging. KCBS offers certified judging classes
all across the nation, year-round. Over the course of a one-day class, future judges learn what roughly constitutes "good" barbeque versus "bad" barbeque (at least as much as those two can be defined within the highly subjective nature of taste), as well as the myriad rules governing presentation. After passing the class, judges are free to sign up to assist with the many, many events
that are planned throughout the season, which typically runs from April through October.
In a typical KCBS-sanctioned event, judges are seated six to a table, and over the course of several hours will sample a minimum of four rounds of meats: chicken, ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket. Each judges’ table samples six entries for each round. Entries are judged on three categories: appearance, taste, and tenderness. Judging is not on a comparative basis; rather, each entry is judged on its own merit alone. Furthermore, the competition is structured as a double-blind, so judges never know which competitor’s entry they’re sampling.
Judges are not compensated for their time, but the payoff is no less sweet, as you have the privilege of sampling some of the very best ‘cue in the nation prepared by those who are passionate about their food. Y’all hungry yet?