UK BBQ Mag Summer 2016 - Page 76


The conversation normally starts like this.

“You are a BBQ Judge? What, like judging sausages? How did you get to do that?”

“I did a KCBS Judges Course in the US in 2010 while I was on a Stormchasing Trip” – yes, that normally adds to the incredulity! I had seen Jamie Oliver judge a BBQ competition on TV years ago so it was on my bucket list. I went tornado chasing in the mid-West in 2010 out of Denver and was looking to add some things to my itinerary. I discovered a KCBS event in Frisco in the Rockies’. They told me I needed to be a qualified judge and were running a course. I took the course, took the oath and have been involved in the evolving European and UK BBQ scene since.

On my return I tried to find some competitions in England I could judge at. I heard about a new festival in Bristol that was being planned – Grillstock. It sounded amazing. So I set about hounding some bloke called Jon Finch, the organiser. I must have emailed him every week for a month or two telling him I was a newly qualified BBQ judge and I would love to judge at this newly fangled Grillstock thing he was putting together. I think he agreed to just shut me up in the end.

So in June 2010 I presented myself at the Bristol Amphitheatre for the first Grillstock Competition. Feeling a bit of a fraud, I munched my way through some amazing BBQ under the guidance of Chief Judge Dr BBQ – Ray Lampe. Trust me though, it wasn’t all amazing. A team had flown out from the US to compete and there were some BBQ legends cooking – Byron Chism, Suzanne Jones Burton, Dr Sweetsmoke, Enn Tobreluts from Estonia and others. There were new teams too. And even in those early days I quickly learned to tell the difference between great brisket and bad brisket. It is still the great divider – the round that separates the teams with the good, the bad and the ugly.

I had persuaded half of the village I lived in to come too. They partied hard. And in the midst of massive, 3 tiered pork pies cooked on a BBQ and Grilled Chicken on a motorbike we decided we would set up a BBQ Team – The Dean Order of Grillers and Smokers!

In 2011 we flew to Estonia to compete in Enn Tobreluts’ Grillfest. 80 teams in a waterside park! The first International team to take part, we attracted a lot of media attention and had a blast, helped no doubt by the travelling musicians we had with us. We were gobsmacked to come 3rd and partied hard for days after. Our team struggled to find the time to practice and compete though and it was our only competition. We still cook socially. And dabble in catering.

It was Europe for me next. The first KCBS event in Europe – the Tony Stone Slow and Low event in Amsterdam. I travelled out to help The Butt Rub USA Team. And became a part of the emerging European BBQ scene. I have been fortunate to judge at KCBS events in Belgium, Holland and Italy plus have helped team Butt Rub cooking at a few competitions in Belgium and Germany. KCBS in Europe has exploded since then – there are currently 23 KCBS sanctioned events in Europe planned this year!

In 2014 I was invited to Judge at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee. What a party. Teams from all over the World and the USA plus 25,000 visitors. Epic stuff. Plus an opportunity to try some legendary BBQ joints whilst on the roads.

Although I haven’t judged as many competitions as some of the other judges in the UK and Europe – with some are getting close to qualifying as Master Judges in the KCBS world – having judged at most of the Grillstocks over the last 5 years means I have had the chance to try a lot of BBQ. Ray Lampe’s judging formula is that the judging panel must judge all entries for the 4 main categories for the Grand Champion. Even over 2 days, 25 lots of chicken, ribs, pork butt and brisket can be a challenge. Especially when an ugly one appears!

So how does British BBQ compare to the rest? And how has it evolved over the last 5 years? I remember at one of the early Grillstock’s a team from the Guardian newspaper decided to compete so they could write the inside story. I am not saying it was theirs – it’s all tasted blind and in a box remember – but in every round a box of burnt BBQ, sadly just chucked in a box and tasting of lighter fluid appeared. It was awful. Luckily the quality of BBQ has improved dramatically. Most teams are now well established and many of the older UK Teams will share their secrets with the new teams and they spend a lot of time practicing and perfecting their cooks. Many teams start out using commercial rubs and sauces, often from the US. One of the most famous, Blues Hog BBQ Sauce, has become the darling of the competition circuit. With a distinctive look and flavour, it tastes great on a piece of chicken. But when half of the entries have the same sauce its gets difficult to tell them apart and pick a winner. Thankfully the more experienced teams have developed their own.

British teams compete in Europe and are normally at the top of the board, often winning Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion. Our own British Bulldog BBQ, Bunch of Swines and Miss Piggy’s often compete and do well at prestigious events in the USA and lets not forget my fellow Grillstock Judge’s Jackie Weight’s remarkable win at the Jack Daniels World Invitational. UK BBQ has clearly come of age!

So if you want to try some of the best BBQ available in the UK at the moment get yourselves to the next Grillstock BBQ Festival Bristol in July. The teams usually give meat to the public just after their turn their entries in.

I would encourage anyone keen to get more involved and some of the teams to go to Europe, take a KCBS class and judge some competitions. Its great fun. This is a great resource for more information on courses and competitions.

I look forward to meeting you at a competition soon!

Competition BBQ – A Judge’s Perspective