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Behind the scenes of judging at the World Series of Barbecue

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Posted at 12:21 PM, Sep 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 13:21:01-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With 475 teams at this year’s American Royal World Series of Barbecue, it takes hundreds of certified judges to judge all the entries.

The Kansas City Barbecue Society has certified 13,000 judges.

CEO Emily Detwiler walked KSHB 41 News anchor Lindsay Shively through a bit of what those judges learn in class to judge some of the hundreds of sanctioned events, including the World Series of Barbecue.

Detwiler said KCBS sanctions about 500 barbecue contests globally each year.

While Lindsay still isn’t a certified judge, Detwiner said anyone can become one by signing up and paying for a class and becoming a member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society. You also must be 16 years old or older.

While there are no more classes this weekend for the World Series of Barbecue, Detwiler said you could sign up for a class and be certified before next year. She also said they will be adding more classes soon in either the fall or spring, so keep checking the KCBS website or contact them if someone wanted to host a class.

Detwiler said they have made changes to how judging works at the 2021 World Series of Barbecue because of the pandemic.

"We have had to implement all kinds of safety protocols for COVID, like using gloves. The judges will wear their masks inside the garage until it is literally time to put the food in their mouth. Working with the American Royal, they've actually tripled the amount of space for the judges from about 11,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet. So, we can really make sure everyone is properly spaced out for safety," she said.

Certified judges evaluate entries based on appearance, taste, and tenderness on a scale of one to nine, nine being excellent. Judges should ask themselves questions like, "Was it too bland or too spicy?" or "Did it have good texture, was it moist but not mushy?"

They also have to watch to make sure rules aren’t being broken. For example, the garnish is optional and not part of the score with only certain types of garnish like curly green kale allowed. Nothing in the cabbage family is allowed.

No meat sculpting is allowed, and sauce is optional too.

Also, judges should not be able to identify who or which team created the entry, only approved and numbered containers are allowed. They also can’t be marked in any way that could make them unique or identifiable.

Detweiler said their blind judging system is designed to eliminate any bias.

Each entry has to come with at least six portions and there are four basic meat categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and brisket.

There are specific guidelines within each category, too. Brisket, for example, is not required to be sliced to a certain thickness and can even come in the form of burnt ends.

The event is taking place at the Kansas Speedway through Sunday.