On Saturday, I will be embarking on a road trip to the magical land of Woodstock, Virginia and I will be taking part is another maniacal hobby of mine: Bad Shakespeare, BBQ Judge! Keep in mind that when I say I will be “embarking” that I live in Northern Virginia. Most people probably wouldn’t consider it “real” Virginia.
That’s right, I am a certified BBQ Judge. I took the class, paid them my money, and then someone bestowed upon me the ancient knowledge of BBQ passed down through the ages, first through Jesus and then landing upon me. The only caveat was that I would have to guard that knowledge with my life, and roam the countryside offering advice on cooking to anyone I see in trouble. It really wasn’t exciting as that, we sat in a room watched a video, ate some food and then had to sign a pledge that we would do our best. I think there was an oath in there…
A buddy of mine and I took a judging class because we compete in BBQ Competitions and, after falling into the bottom five for way to many times in a row, and we really did want to unlock the secrets of BBQing, handed down from the BBQ gods of old, yadda yadda yadda. We figured a good way to do this would be by taking a class, learning what these people learn, and figuring out what made “good” BBQ well… good. Here’s what I learned.
Put people into power, and they’ll find a way to be a jerk.
The class mostly consisted of us watching videos and learning the official rules as we got hungrier and hungrier as the food cooked outside. It smelled wonderful, as slow smoked BBQ often does. But as we were going through the official rules, my friend and I discovered one thing: Everyone was an “expert” and I use that term in so incredibly the loosest sense that the English language will allow me to use that word. That word right now is straining under the use of those quotation marks.
One gentleman in particular (my favorite) constantly referred us back to his “research” on the paper he was writing on early BBQ, even if it had nothing to do with what we were talking about. One example of an exchange:
Teacher: “Make sure that you note your score in the box provided, keeping in mind what we just discussed.”
Research Guy: “I found that BBQ was brought to America by the slaves.”
This conversation started killing my soul. I place most of the blame on this guy for why we had to wait so long to get our food. (Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a break for lunch.) Then there were the people that were cooks. My friend and I were cooks but the difference is that we are fully willing to admit when something tastes better. These… not so much. If the sauce wasn’t exactly to their liking, they gave it a poor score. Unless it was a store-bought brand, then oddly it was the best tasting substance, like, ever. Then there were the questioners, who had to question everything, including the information and instructions we received five seconds ago. They knew best how the food was supposed to look, they knew best what was supposed to happen, and they knew best how to cook.
I want to stress again that my friend and I were at this location because we were cooks, and we were attempting to learn. We wanted to know why we’d get high marks from one judge and low marks from another. We wanted to know why we could make something that was so tasty it would be gobbled up in five seconds, but another group could have leftovers and no one would touch it. I guess we kind of had our answer.
Essentially, anyone can learn to be a BBQ judge. The only real qualification is that you not be a vegetarian. And this had nothing to do with vegetarian, if that’s your jam you should enjoy it, but you have to eat the food in order to judge it. (And spitting it out is a definite no-no.) But that of course means ANYONE can be a BBQ judge. I don’t pride myself with having the most refined palate on Earth… I have consumed more Doritos Locos Tacos than I care to count… but I like to think I know BBQ. Not to the extent that some people do. But I know it, and I enjoy it. I think I’m qualified enough to say, “I like it” and be part of that anybody.
Of course, I’ll try to keep the power granted to checked.