Learning about meats

Adam Larck
Morton Times-News Editor Adam Larck samples a piece of chicken at the judging class Feb. 8.

A few weeks ago, if you had asked me to detail what makes a good piece of barbecued meat, I would have just said whatever tastes good.

For me, I wouldn't have thought about look or texture or any other factors.

I would have just thought about what had a nice, sweet/smoky flavor and, if that didn't work, what sauce could help make it good.

I was asked to take the Kansas City Barbecue Society judging course on Feb. 8 to help judge the BBQ Throwdown in July.

During the class, I saw just how much really goes into judging and how much passion these grillers put into their work.

And, after all was said and done, I have to say I have a pretty good eye at catching good and bad barbecue now, too.

The judging class lasted for about four hours, with only about an hour-and-a-half of actual class time. During that time, we ran through the four types of meat being judged (chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket), what to judge them on and what to watch out for.

Personally, I was surprised at how many things weren't allowed and what to watch for. For instance, cooks can't "pool" sauce in the bottom of a tray, or their meat is automatically disqualified.

They also can't use certain types of greens in the tray, or they will be disqualified in the appearance category.

In fact, the greens can't even be considered in judging. They're just supposed to help keep the meat in place.

It's a lot to take in and remember, especially when the Morton BBQ Throwdown is months away. However, the packed room crammed it all in to get ready for the fun part of the class: the tasting.

Tasting the meats, made by a pair of KCBS cooks, was great. However, we couldn't focus on the taste alone.

We had to watch out for illegal materials in the box, how tough the meat was and more as we tried two samples of each meat.

At the start, people missed many things and scores were everywhere. By the end, though, the scores were pretty uniform, with everyone picking up on what made a good and bad barbecue.

The harshest judges, though, easily had to be the other chefs there. Multiple chefs from various teams across the Midwest came out to the class, to hear the new changes in judging and to see what judges are being told to watch for. It's a great idea to let the chefs see what judges have to do and to see what to avoid in their boxes to give them an advantage.

Overall, I came away with a new perspective on the judging process of barbeque and how many small details are taken into account.

While tasting the meats was great, I really enjoyed learning what to watch for when eating barbecue to see why a meat is good or bad compared to others.