38th American Royal World Series of Barbecue - 9/2/2017 to 9/3/2017
To begin, I have to start by saying it was an honor to be invited to judge this event. I've heard about this competition for years but never thought I'd be able to attend, let alone be invited as a judge. On Wednesday, three days before the event an email came in stating that I was invited as a judge for events on both Saturday and Sunday. I immediately booked my flight from California to Kansas City, and then booked my hotel and rental car. I flew out Friday morning, traveled all day, and then finally arrived in Kansas City. The first thing I did when I arrived was visit Joe's Kansas City. After eating I drove to my hotel which was a few minutes away from the Kansas Speedway and checked in. I literally sat down for five minutes, jumped in my Dodge Charger and raced over to the Speedway. At this point it was already about 6:30 PM so I was pretty tired, but was too excited for the weekend's events to sit in my hotel room while I knew there was a ton of fun going on just across the street.
As I entered the Speedway there were hundreds if not thousands of people pouring in with me, and rushing to the center of the racetrack. The most incredible smell of BBQ was in the air, it was literally coming from all the hundreds of competitors who were all grilling and smoking food for dinner. As I walked through the masses of people, delicious smelling smoke filled the air. I've never been in place that smelled so amazing! The weather was perfect and it was a beautiful night out. The sound of various concerts going on was in the background and BBQ-lovers walked all around me. On my way through the various booths, Tuffy Stone walked by and greeted me with a smile and a friendly "hello". What an exciting start to my weekend! I couldn't wait to come back the next two days to actually get to eat this amazing smelling food and to judge it.
Invitational Competition - 9/2/2017
The Invitational started early on Saturday morning. As I arrived to the Speedway there were literally no cars around, a massive difference than the night before. I parked towards the front of the speedway as directed in the VIP lot and jumped on a tram with a few other judges that took us to the center of the track. This was a nice way to start the morning off because it's actually a really long walk from the parking lot to the garage where we were judging in the center of the track. We had a window of about an hour for judges to check in so that was nice and it felt pretty relaxed, however I was extremely excited for what was to come.
After all the judges had checked in, there were well over 100 of us, we sat down at our preassigned seats inside the garage. As is standard for KCBS sanctioned competitions, we had six judges per table and one table captain. As well, this competition was specifically for the normal four categories of meat: chicken, ribs, pork, and beef brisket (and judged in that order as usual). After our judges meeting was wrapped up, I had the honor of meeting such an influential BBQ legend, Ardie Davis! After our short break was completed, all the judges filed back into our same seats and prepared for the judging to begin.
As mentioned previously, we started with chicken, then ribs, then pork, and then wrapped up with beef brisket. Since we do double blind judging, we never know who's food we are judging. At the same time, teams never know who judged their food. It's extremely fair and one of the main reasons I am a KCBS member. It's impossible for us to know on either end who cooked or who judged. It makes for the best competitive setting, which is extremely important as this specific competition weekend is the largest BBQ competition in the entire world! As we wrapped up judging we were told that a 2nd competition was going to begin shortly called "Open Sides". I decided that since I was already here to judge, I mind as well volunteer to see if any other judges were needed. To my surprise we actually needed a few more judges and I was selected to participate as a judge for this next event. Keep in mind I had just judged 6 pieces of chicken, 6 ribs, 6 pork turn ins, and 6 beef briskets. That's A LOT of food to eat in 1.5 hours. I'm sure you think I'm totally crazy for volunteering to eat more food right after all that. If so, just wait until you hear what we ate!
OPEN SIDES Competition - 9/2/2017
If you've read the section above, you'll note that I just finished judging a full competition just one hour before the "Open Sides" competition began. This is not something I'd volunteer to do everyday, but since I had traveled all the way to Kansas City for this amazing event, I couldn't resist stepping up to judge this next event. The competition was another four categories and was structured as follows: veggies, beans, potatoes and then the "judges' favorite" dessert! Yes, dessert is intentionally placed at the end because let's be honest, no judge is going to eat dainty bites of dessert to save room for veggies and beans. This was another wonderful opportunity and my table of judges really enjoyed some of the products we judged.
Okay, I'll be honest, I'm not much a dessert person. However, after having eaten seven categories of food now, I was ready for a change and dessert was the perfect way to end the day of judging. I won't spill details on exactly what my table judged, but we had a variety of cakes, pies and so forth. Because there were a lot more than 130 judges for this specific competition, not all tables got 6 boxes, we ended up having four at my table. Also, it's important to mention that for this competition it was not actually run by KCBS standard ruling. Meaning, that we didn't judge for garnish and things like that. Think about having to turn in beans in a standard KCBS box....that would be a complete disaster times 200 teams turning in boxes like that. Thank God we made the exceptions here!
OPEN MEATS Competition - 9/3/2017
"Open Meats" is the third and final competition of The American Royal. It was definitely a great way to end the fun filled weekend. I'm not 100% sure how correct this information is, so don't quote me on this, but I heard that there were about 150 less teams than last year competing in "Open Meats". That left us with (this is an exact number from the American Royal CEO and President Lynn) 430 teams, including 10 international teams. Yikes! That's a lot of teams! But also keep in mind, that KCBS ruling states that there must be 1 judge for every team. So yes, we had an entire room filled with over 430 people because there were also table captains at each table, in addition to KCBS reps and other various volunteers in the room helping out. So we definitely had way over 500 people all in the same room.
For this competition I was assigned to be a table captain, which is actually a role of a certified BBQ judge. This person is the head of the table and basically runs that specific table's part of the competition. In this competition too many tables had been setup and people had been assigned to some of the ones at the end. It was clear they wouldn't get filled and reps started moving judges around to fill in the tables at the beginning of the list. I won't state which table I was at, I do remember, but there's no benefit for you knowing exactly where I sat. My table was missing a judge still and someone at my table, a judge who was already certified as a table captain volunteered to be our table captain. A rep came over and also stated that whoever was going to be our table captain was going to do double duty. Meaning, they would judge and table captain all at the same time. I appreciated that this person volunteered because I've never been a table captain. I know exactly what to do as a table captain, so that's not an issue for me at all. However, I helped with many of the table captain's duties because otherwise it would have nearly been impossible for our table to be stay on time with the rest of the tables around us.
Keep in mind, that open meats actually had six categories rather than the normal four. That's a ton of food! One of the reps actually made a point to tell judges to pace themselves because it was about 40 ounces of meat we would be served, PER person! We started with turkey, then the usual four, then ended with sausage. Due to the fact that not all teams turned in turkey, my team only judged two boxes. I'm honestly not sure if other tables had the same amount of boxes, but either way, we had some really good products at our table. The quality of the next four categories was phenomenal! It really truly was some of the best BBQ I've tasted, ever! As we finished up judging the sausage turn ins, judges cleaned up the tables and we said our goodbyes until next year. I left the judging building and headed over to see a friend, now that the competition was all over. My friend Bill is a member of "Jack's Old South" competition team run by Myron Mixon. I spent the afternoon chatting with Bill, Myron, and their team. It was a blast! That was truly one of the highlights of being at this entire event. During judging we don't interact with teams, so it's very nice and refreshing to actually hang out with them after it's all done and over with.
I'll end with this. During this weekend while judging all three competitions, I ate some of the best BBQ that I've ever eaten in my entire life. It was amazing meeting new people, making new friends, and meeting up with people like Bill. It was a wonderful experience and I can't wait for next year!
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