Wanted: More DC-area barbecue judges

There’s a shortage of people who can judge barbecue competitions in the mid-Atlantic region.


The Kansas City Barbecue Society is holding a class for those who want to become a certified BBQ judge. It’s the first time that’s been offered here in the DC region. (Courtesy Kansas City Barbecue Society)

The Kansas City Barbecue Society is holding a class this June, ahead of the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle in downtown D.C. Those who sign up have the opportunity to become a certified judge.

It’s the first time that’s been offered in the D.C. region.

“There are a lot of events in the area that would love to take more teams and expand their contests,” said Andrew Shaffer, who organizes the Giant Barbecue Battle. “Their restriction right now is the number of available judges in the area. The more judges, the more teams we can have.”

The class runs about four hours long, and while that may sound boring, it also sounds delicious.

“Individuals taking the class, they’ll be sampling chicken, ribs, pork and brisket,” Shaffer said. “The KCBS instructors will go through what to look for.”

Judges will rate a barbecue team’s food based on appearance, taste and the tenderness of the meat, with appearance being the least important factor.

“You’re really looking for, how does it taste, how is it cooked, tenderness, is it prepared properly,” Shaffer said. At the same time, “you want that entry to look appealing, because, let’s face it, if something looks good, chances are it’s going to taste better, right?”

But ultimately, you have to trust your gut — literally. That’s why each competition has at least six judges.

“You have a balance of judges … so you get a little variation between the judges and that’s really to balance out all that subjectivity that can come from one individual just tasting an entry,” Shaffer said.

Each region of the country has its own style of barbecue. North Carolina is known for vinegar-based barbecue, while South Carolina uses a lot of mustard. Kansas City and Texas have completely different styles themselves. Becoming a certified judge means you can travel to different competitions and see, or taste, for yourself.

“It’s a lifestyle,” Shaffer said. “Benefits are you have a hobby that you enjoy and you get to taste great barbecue and get to network with other people that like barbecue.”

And that can only help your own weekend cooking, too.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up