Here is an article posted in Lancaster Online, written by Eric Negley on August 9, 2017. The original link is here.
There are drawbacks to becoming a master barbecue judge.
Yes, passing the test that certifies you as a barbecue judge gives you the chance to sample chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket at competitions around the world. But what happens if you’re judging an event and you taste the best barbecue in your life during the double- blind judging? You might never get to taste it again because the identity of the cook remains a mystery.
“Does the guy own a catering service, a restaurant?” barbecue judge Bill Weidner says. “I’d just like to go to the restaurant and get some ribs that were so good. But we have no idea who does it.”
Weidner for years has been a judge at New Holland Summer Fest’s Pennsylvania State Championship Barbecue Cook-Off. He is on the event’s committee for this year’s competition, which will be held Aug. 25-26.
The retired state police helicopter pilot and his wife, Louise, are both master barbecue judges, certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. From April to October, they leave their home near Leesport, Berks County, to spend much of their time in an RV, traveling from competition to competition. They meet judges and cooks from all walks of life and explore areas that are off the beaten path. And they’re always looking for the best barbecue.
Bill Weidner talked about barbecue and judging at Stone Barbecue on Lincoln Highway East.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
My wife and I were watching a big contest called Memphis in May and she said, “That’s what you should do, be a barbecue judge.” A year later, Kansas City Barbecue Society was running a contest in the area. I went to the class and it snowballed from there.
How did you become a barbecue judge?
The society runs classes, usually about five hours long. They teach you their rules, regulations, guidelines and how your personal taste can still enter into it. Once you are certified then you can apply to any KCBS contest.
How does your personal taste fit into judging?
The cooks are not under any guidelines as far as the sauces and the rubs that they use. So let’s say Tom and Michele (Perelka, Stone’s owners) use a spicy sauce. I was raised Pennsylvania Dutch-style. So it’s bland and plenty of it. I am not a lover of spicy foods. If they make it too spicy for me to enjoy, I’m going to mark it down.
Perhaps you might like things a little spicier, so you as a judge would give it an 8.
KCBS gives you the guidelines, tests on how to score things. But it still comes down to your personal taste in the end.
Do you judge anything other than barbecue?
Some events have what is called ancillary contests. New Holland (on) Friday night is the Kids Q. On Saturday, due to the Lancaster County influence, there’s a sausage category and an “anything but” category with anything but these four main categories. You can get seafood in it. Some of the desserts that some of these teams come up with in the smoker will knock your socks off.
The toughest part is when you’re invited to a friend’s backyard barbecue. And they ask you what you think and you have to do some tap dancing. You don’t want to hurt any feelings. You tell them, “You’re grilling. I’m used to barbecue.”
There is a difference. Grilling is hot and fast. Barbecue is low and slow.
Tell me about your training.
Once you judge 30 competitions, then you can go for what’s known as a master judge. You cook with a competition team at a contest, and that’s when the written test comes in. It’s 50 questions and you must get 90 (percent right) or better.
How do you prepare for competition day?
A good judge will eat 2-2.5 pounds of barbecue from noon to 2. You would think eating that, you should not eat a breakfast. The opposite is true. You’re so hungry when the first category shows up, you overeat and then you’re full until brisket gets there. You need to pace yourself.
How do you pace yourself?
I take two bites out of each entry. You can tell somebody has a good piece of chicken because, when the score cards are finished, they’ll go back and finish it off.
Has that changed the way you eat outside of competitions?
No, but what it’s done is made us food snobs. We know what we like, even if it’s not barbecue. Let’s say we go somewhere for breakfast and the pancakes aren’t good. We’re judging just about all of the time.
What’s the best barbecue you’ve ever had?
Sometimes the chicken hits your palette just right. Sometimes it’s the ribs. It’s tough to name one.
I can remember some of the Kids Qs at New Holland. One team turned in beef ribs, which were excellent. The taste matched the aroma and the eye appeal …it was hard to pace yourself. Fortunately, there were only three categories. I wanted to eat the whole box.
And the worst?
The worst that comes to mind is a brisket. It was so tough. Brisket is supposed to have a slight resistance and snap like Silly Putty.
This sample, I could not pull and I could not bite through to taste it. It got a 2 because it was inedible.
What is your recovery?
Usually the recovery period is to walk to an ice cream vendor for a small milkshake or a soft ice cream. It helps to absorb all of the spices.
Usually you don’t eat too much for the rest of the day.
Has the barbecue changed in your 11 years as a judge?
It has to be more generic because you don’t know where your judges are from. It’s rare that you will have a cooking team that tries a different sauce. If they do, it’s going to be ancillary.
As a judge I look forward to a team trying something different once in a while. It breaks it up. I try to keep an open mind.
We know one team that made a blueberry barbecue sauce. He gives out samples and I put it on french fries and it was great. But he won’t put it on meat in his competition because too many judges are fixed on sweet tomato-based sauces.
What is the best barbecue city?
We have a few favorite barbecue restaurants. Memphis is good. Memphis is known for dry rubs.
There are places in South Carolina where in five miles you can find a ketchup-based barbecue sauce, you can enter into a mustard-based area (and a) vinegar-based (area).
My wife and I have open minds — as long as it’s not heavily sauced, because barbecue is meat. The sauce is supposed to complement. The meat is complemented by whatever rubs you put on it, whatever wood smoke and then the sauce is added at the end.
What are some tips for someone making barbecue?
First off, you want to please yourself and your family. You want to taste the meat. You don’t want too much sauce or too much rub. You can always, each time you cook, add more. You can’t take it away.