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BBQchef33 11-09-2005 10:18 AM

Judging: Among The Brethren.
Did my first KCBS judging event this weekend at Key largo.

2 things happened.....

I got to see first hand what goes on under the tent. As a competitor/cook I have a slightly better understanding of what to do and not to do. I think anyone who competes NEEDS to judge at least 5-6 times. It’s very enlightening to be on the other side of the spectrum. Our table only got a couple of entries worth writing home about. Allot of mediocre stuff and one of the absolute worse briskets I have ever seen or tasted. But the other stuff... top of the line, a couple ribs that got 99 (taste/texture)at our table from several judges. It seems that a majority can produce good BBQ, but few produce outstanding BBQ.

The second thing, and more important.. I was "A brethren" judging an event where 2 teams were flying our colors. This was an enlightening perspective.

When I left, I flew 1500 miles to hang out with Southern Brethren, to meet Jimmy for Smoking Cracker, and say Hi to DrBBQ and to give the old rah-rah for our teams. I wear the brethren hat.. Bring tee shirts to give to everyone, and of course, the signature prime rib to feed the guys.. Then Saturday, from 10-2, I put on my judges pin and go sit under the double blind judging guidelines. There is no way possible that I would know what turnins belongs to who, I have my integrity, and I will judge everyone on a level playing field and on their individual merit. Cool, I can do that.

When judging is over, I'll have a beer with the guys, and sit with them during the awards.. Take pictures when they walk, or offer shoulder if they don’t. Cool, I can do that too.

And I KNOW how pooped they will be when they day is done.. I will help knock down and put away there stuff and get them out of there right? Cool.. I will definitely do that. All of us would..

Guess what .

WRONG! Bad MOVE.. Bad assumptions. From the second I stepped on the airplane.


v. judged, judg·ing, judg·es
v. tr.

To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration, To act as one appointed to decide the winners of: , To determine or declare after consideration or deliberation. Informal. To have as an opinion or assumption; suppose: v. intr. To form an opinion or evaluation. To act or decide as a judge.
  • One who judges, especially: One who makes estimates as to worth, quality, or fitness: One appointed to decide the winners of a contest or competition.
Before I went down there, I bounced off of Dave the thought of me hanging out Friday night with them. Is it ok for a judge to do that? The word was, before the event, we can do what we want on our own time. So, I went down a couple days earlier to visit mom in Boca Raton who of course insisted I bring her back some BBQ. Before leaving for Key Largo, I confirmed with Dave that Friday night, the pit would be available for some recreational cooking. Of course!! .. So I got us the 18lb Prime rib, fatties, peppers, biscuits, fresh bread, cheese and produce to make bruscietta(the cheese bread version). and some chicken and ribs to make for mom to bring home… even a funky pork roast to experiment on along with all necessary supplies to make everything. Sounds good. Grabbed a bottle of watermelon vodka for the “non cooks” to enjoy. I figured I’m gonna get these guys fed in brethren style before they hit the sack for the next day. As long as they are not cooking, prepping and they say the pit is free, no problem. My biggest concern was getting in their way, which was not happening. We are The Brethren, all friends, we hang together, eat, cook, and drink together. Early on, we made the fatties, cheese bread, prime rib, fed us and several other teams when we were all fed we made some ribs and thighs. All was good, except when I drove over the water pipes that fed our entire side of the road(another story).

This all sounds good right??

But: We are competitors, AND judges.

Ray(DrBBQ) comes over and enlightens us to what can be perceived by others. He was not challenging us himself.. He was warning us…. He knew the entire story, he ate with us, saw the food I brought, knew I was going to make some stuff for mom, blah blah blah…. He knows us.. BUT… he pointed out what others who don’t know us sees… it was a perspective that was not even considered.

Not to go into long winded gory details.. here is what was visible.

Me hangin with Smokin Cracker and Southern Brethren. 2 Teams that fly The Pig. I’m drinking, cooking laughing.. all around hanging with the brothers. Walking around meeting other teams…The same stuff I do at all the competitions I attend..but as a competitor.. not a Judge..

A judge, hanging out with the brethren Teams, all day(and also cooking) the day before turn-in…. may not look good… I am not wearing a tee shirt that says I am a judge, but I am wearing our colors. This may seem like a long shot, but keep reading.

This is something we need to look at… we need to think about it and implement a protocol that will not breed the perception of impropriety. More and more of us are becoming judges. In this little world we have here, its part of the vision I have for the entity known as “The BBQ Brethren”. We will range from new capable teams, to seasoned veterans, to Grand Champions, and mixed in there, judges, table captains, and master judges This says that we will be judging our brothers. Blindly, fairly and professionally. But we must be cognizant of what other competitors see. It’s early, there are only a dozen or 2 active judges among us. Most of which may just stop by and say hello, have a beer or 2, this is not an issue.. It is for those of us who are flying the colors and deeply entrenched in “The Brethren”, we must become aware.

I am not trying to set a protocol at this stage of the game, but open up the dialogue. How do we do this? How do we attend competitions as judges and maintain the “spirit of the brethren”…. camaraderie, friendships, etc. We WANT to visit with our brothers, and I mean beyond hello and a handshake. It would suck not to. When I am competing, and a stranger comes to me and says he is “A Brethren”, he is no longer a stranger, and he is welcome into my tent. Open the cooler and pull up a chair… It’s who we are…

But as a judge arriving under a tent, we must be aware that we cannot risk or influence the teams chances one bit, and stuff that we would do without that blue shirt or judges pin may have to be held off. Not because of them, but because of those around them. This is not a question of what is allowed, it is a question of what is perceived.. I have seen judges sitting under tents for hours on end, and have never given it a second thought, we are protected by the double blind judging. WELL.. IMO, that don't matter. My experience dealing with this forum tells me that someone will always find something to complain about. :mrgreen: We need input from the pros, hopefully, Ray, Rod, Jim, help us out here. For Ray to point this out, he knows better than most of us.. there is something to it. Granted I was cooking... That may be the tiebreaker and may be the answer to this specific instance.. what about the image overall.

Let the debate begin.

Arlin_MacRae 11-09-2005 10:53 AM

No debate from this non-competitor, non-judge, but let me say this about that:
"Perception is TRUTH". In other words, what people see, and the conclusions they correctly or incorrectly draw - are THE WAY IT IS.

Seeing you at a judge's table and thinking, "Haven't I seen that guy before...?" and then remembering just exactly where they saw you? Bad ju-ju.

People will bitch and complain and scream and throw tantrums - especially if they even get a whiff of something that seems unfair to them. It's just human nature.

Defuse the situation before it starts: either meet with buds in private or, the more preferred method - don't hang with them till after the walkers have walked.

My two pennies.


Smoker 11-09-2005 11:12 AM


I can understand what you said and what other people may have "percieved" but it is a blind judging contest. When you sit down at the judges table you can't know whose food you are tasting.

If i just want to cook or taste BBQ I can do that at home. I think most of us go to the competitions to either cook or judge for one reason...... to have a great time and meet like minded people. Whether I am cooking or judging I want to ba able walk around and say hello to old frinds and make new friends. I would think that 99.99% of people will put their judges cap on when they walk into the judges tent and leave their families and friends behind. If a very small percentage of people think that someone who is judging should park their car and sit in the judges tent then I think they should reevaluate why they compete. It can't be for the money. If I am judging an event and you tell me I can't interact then I really don't want to drive somewhere to eat BBQ that I could have had at home.

You will never be able to please 100% of the people. When we competed this year I never even looked in the judges tent to see who was judging.

I can understand the perception of impropriety but if people start complaining about it, I would rather stay at home.


chad 11-09-2005 11:40 AM

I agree and I was a player in this whole scenerio.

Perception is important, absolutely, but common sense must come into play, too. Acussing a team or judge of impropriety MUST be backed up with fact, in my opinion. There's too much $$ and prestige riding on these contests to have sour-grapes and inuendo/rumors get the upper hand.

I fully understand what Ray pointed out and fully understand that "we" need to be very circumspect and professional as cook teams and as judges. I didn't handle the initial discussion very well - but Ray and I discussed it Saturday morning and I ensured him that I understand, fully, his point. I'd have to be an absolute moron to not realize that he did us a great favor in making us take a hard look at what could have been a contentious situation.

I don't agree that "Perception is TRUTH" though I fully appreciate that truism from an ethics standpoint. TRUTH is TRUTH and PERCEPTION colors that's been a long time since my college ethics class! As most of you can imagine I don't have a PC bone in my body and if anyone wants to play head games with ethics - well, just say I don't play well with others when accussed falsely of unfair or unethical actions.

I don't believe that Brethren judges should avoid the teams - but do agree that we/they should NOT hang out all evening and prep any food...even if it is personal. That was a mis-fire on my part but I really thought we'd have been finished with everything a long time before hand. My bad!

Stop by, have a brew, eat some food, and then roll on down the midway. Perhaps that's the answer. Definately avoid hanging out Saturday (or Sunday at some events) morning - I usually do a stroll through and say good morning to everyone and maybe snag a cup of coffee. But then, I don't arrive on Friday night either.

It is a conundrum and one we should address - and I'm thinking we're seeing that the consensus is/will be that Brethren judges do not hang with the Brethren teams for any length of time prior to the event and it would probably behoove us to not wear our hats and tee's in a judging environment. I've always worn my hat at FBA events I've judged and it's never been an issue - I will be rethinking that due to the potential problems discussed here.

This is new ground for us and reflects the growth of this group and the potential impact it can have since we have logos and a lot of friendships involved. This particular issue at Key Largo was a fluke but in the midwest or now the northeast with a concentrated season and multiple Brethren teams and a pool of Brethren judges it could become an issue - and all it takes is one formal complaint or several rumors for it to get completely out of hand. Thankfully Ray brought it to our attention in a very professional way and as a "friend". Thanks Ray.

As we hash out protocol I think we'll see that common sense will prevail.

BBQchef33 11-09-2005 11:44 AM

i tend to agree with steve... (great minds think a like.). If i go to MOFO land, i would be the first one at the margarita machine and pinchin spicewines butt.... i WANT to hang out with the brothers.. and i think most would expect that.. i sure do. Personally, I'd be ticked/offended at any of us who come to judge an event I am competing in and did NOT pull up a chair.

other side of the coin...

The danger is in what the OTHER guy sees. Is it worth the risk of DQ'ing someone if he takes a GC and someone complains. ???

In the case of Key largo, I told everyone I will forgo judging if they thought this would become an issue. I would prefer to sit under the tent or be pitbitch to my Brethren than to judge and effect their chances.

This could be a simple answer.... "its up to the team." If they feel there is an issue, it can be their call. My tent.. its open..until Saturday morning. then chances are you dont want to me around me anyway. GRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....

Kevin 11-09-2005 12:13 PM

The fact that this is even being discussed shows a great deal of integrity.

The_Kapn 11-09-2005 12:55 PM

Fantastic post Phil--Thanks.

My nickle on this.

This has come up before on a smaller scale with me while Judging. Largo just drove the dangers home for me.

I just need to use my head and keep the whole competetive environment in mind, better than I have in the past.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with visiting with friends at an event--that is one of the big draws to competeting.
When you think about the "old timers" on the circuit, the teams all know each other, the judges, and the Reps and they do visit--- each and every weekend. Have a cold one, share a snack, etc. No big deal. Very natural.
But, it is a half hour "here", an hour and a half "there" and they do not wear unique attire or participate directly in chores around the cook site. Nothing wrong with that, part of the culture.

But, we are growing in numbers weekly and we have our wonderful Flaming Pig. A very unique and identifiable logo. We have hats, aprons, banners, T-Shirts and all the "trappings". We are proud of who we are, rightfully so! We encourage our members, competetors and non-competetors alike, to get certified and then actually judge.

It is easy to see why a "non-brethren team" would wonder about the status of the players--"Are they part of the team, or Judges".
Now, if the Brethren team is in the middle of the pack at awards--"who cares?" But, it the Brethren team wins big.......??????? Valid questions and concerns can be raised.
That perception is what I intend to avoid.
I do not intent to "taint" the performance of any team or the event.

Here are my personal guidlines (just for me) in the future.

If I judge an event with no "Brethren" banners flying, I will wear my hat with pride all weekend.
If I judge an event with teams flying the colors, my hat will stay in the van. I am still a Brother without my hat and want to protect the integrity of the teams competing. Small price to pay for the overall good of the sport.
At all events, I will "share the joy" of my companionship with all the teams I know and keep it to a reasonable level. I will share a libation, sample the wonderful creations they cook on Friday night, and have a great time.
I will avoid any actions (helping out) that could be perceived as blending me with the team.

Basically, I will support the teams the best I can while I also support the entire concept of competetive BBQ.
And, I will have fun doing it

Just my thoughts--not trying to tell anyone else what to do,
Just me.


Ron_L 11-09-2005 01:02 PM

Good point, Kevin...

Great post, Phil, and a great topic. Here's my spin as a novice competitor and non-judge... If I attended a competition as a judge, and spent time with a friend's team, and someone called me out about it, I would be ticked, but its something that I would have to deal with. If I did the same thing, and someone called out my friend, I would feel terrible since I had caused trouble for my friend.

Now here's where it gets fuzzy... What is considered to be excessive. If I come by and have a couple of beers and hang out for a while, even though it is with a friend, is that really any different that any judge who walks the competition on a Friday night, talking to the competitors and grabbing some free beer? Probably not. But, if someone notices that I am spending all of my time with one or two teams, that could be contrued as favoritism. However, if I hang out with my friends, and then "spread the love" and hang out with other teams, even if its for a few minutes, it less likely that someone will object.

I think...

Smoker 11-09-2005 01:37 PM

"If I come by and have a couple of beers ".... "and hang out with other teams, even if its for a few minutes, it less likely that someone will object.


What you are saying is it is better to get beer from all the competitors. Simply brilliant.

Jeff_in_KC 11-09-2005 01:40 PM

Great topic, Phil. And one that's crossed MY mind before when reading posts here. Hermann, MO and now Key Largo both stand out as examples. I plan to get certified in the off season and I've wondered recently if being a CBJ at an event would exclude me from visiting with Brethren friends. It's funny that it's officially come up now.

My take on it is very similar to Tim's. Being in the marketing field, I am well aware of and agree with the fact that perception is truth. It is truth in the minds of the perceivers. That's really all that matters. It doesn't matter if we're totally on the up and up and fair about our judging... if someone complains or makes accusatory remarks, the damage is done. Therefore, perception does become truth.

After getting everyone's input, I think that we need to put forth some official statement or Brethren policy that we can all agree upon to keep such issues from ever arising (hopefully). I like Tim's personal stance and how he plans to operate. It makes a lot of sense to me and once I'm certified, I plan to implement a similar approach. In our marketing at work, we strive to under promise and over deliver... basically to go beyond what we even claim we will. It's all about holding ourselves to a higher standard and I think the same thing could and should apply in this situation.

Looking forward to hearing more comments on this subect! As Kevin says, the fact that we're even discussing it shows integrity! Lots of it.

wsm 11-09-2005 01:54 PM

Seems like a lot of cooks are also CBJs, but if they are not judging at the competition then their being a judge is irrelvant.

If they ARE judging, staying too long at one site is not a good idea (as most others have said). As has also been said, wearing something (a hat) that links you to a single team can cause misconceptions that we don't need.

scottyd 11-09-2005 02:02 PM

the double blind covers your tail on this. We are all friends at these contests. If we do not have our friends and new friends, What do we have then. I might be way off base here but I do the competitions to make new friends and have fun and yes I do take my BBQing serious. But I like to hang with my friends also.

Smoker 11-09-2005 02:10 PM

Perhaps we should get an OFFICIAL ruling from KCBS on...not what is politically correct( I do the opposite) but what the KCBS says are the official can and cannot do at a comp. If they don't have an official "can and cannot do at a comp" then they now need one.

If I'm judging and I buy a teeshirt from a team can I wear it in the judges tent?

Can I wear any teams logo in the judges tent?

Can a team be disqualified if they win GC and I drank with them before I judged?

Can I cook with a team before meat inspection?

Otherwise, I'm sorry if someone perceives something that isn't true. They are actually saying that I have no integrity, when they don't even know me. I will give other competitors the benefit of the doubt, I expect the same from them.

Just my opinion

The_Kapn 11-09-2005 02:31 PM


Originally Posted by jeff_in_kc
After getting everyone's input, I think that we need to put forth some official statement or Brethren policy that we can all agree upon to keep such issues from ever arising (hopefully).

Not disagreeing with your fine post at all, but that concept makes me uncomfortable.

I really do not support any sort of policy statement in this matter.
Each event is different, each team is different, and each judge is different.
Even the "stakes" might come into play. A local rib-fest that is mostly for fun may (just may) tolerate much more interaction than a hotly contested "State Championship". Don't know for sure, but a lot of variables out there.

My hope is only that we, as a group, stay aware of the situation and the possible perils and act accordingly. And "accordingly" is up to the individuals involved.
Exactly like trying to define "excessive". You just have to be there to "feel" what "excessive" is, IMHO.

And I surely do not want to tell someone else exactly what to do, nor do I want someone else micromaging my actions.
This simply does not rise to that level

Great discussion guys.


BrooklynQ 11-09-2005 02:32 PM

Tim's got the right approach, IMNTBHO.

If you read that other BBQ forum, you'll see a lot of posts where cooks are pissed because they didn't like the scores. To them the judges are suspect already.

This will only be an issue with the loosing teams, but imagine what would happen if a case could be made that BrooklynQ was hanging with, tasting the food, directing and coaching the Big Creek BBQ team (picked only because it's the post above) and Big Creek took GC when BQ was judging!!! They would scream that BQ should be banned as a judge and the team disqualified! And rightly so.

What's the rules on family members as judges? I've been trying to convince my wife to judge, only to give her something to do at the contests while I'm playing with my meat. But I've met wives, girlfriends and in-laws of the cooks in the judge's tents.

In my limited judging experience there were three types of judges...

1. The judges. That's all they do. They don't cook. They don't compete. They're only there for the food. They come in for the judges meeting and leave as soon as the judging is over. These guys don't have any real ties to the cooks and don't want them.

2. The cooks. These guys are judges because they want to get a handle on the competetion. They're there to help hone their craft and improve their performance at the pit. Their team isn't in the contest that day, but they're still competiting by judging and comparing.

3. The pit crews or retirees. These are the guys who are the soliders in the pits who are taking that day off and judging instead of pit bitching or washing dishes that weekend. The retirees - they're done the circuit for years and just don't want to cook any more but still enjoy the contests. The pit crews and retirees will be back amongst the cooks as soon as the judging is over.

Now, I've heard from a lot of long time judges, that after awhile, you know whoose food you are judging. One judge in NJ told me that he could pick out Jack McDavid's ribs at every event. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent) Even I could pick out one team's ribs because I ate as a spectator at a previous event. (I wasn't sure when I was judging, but it was confirmed when he gave me some ribs after the event.)

In the vast majority of cases, I think that the vast majority of judges take the responisibily seriously and do their very best to be fair and honest. This really is a system that could be very easily exploited.

It seems to me that most of the judges have some sort of connection to the teams. Just don't flaunt it before hand.

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