To avoid painting with too broad of a stroke, I won't say that Kansas City Barbeque Society judging is a sham. What I will say is that, based solely on my experience with it this past weekend (and, actually, based on what others present had to say about it, too), it's a sham. It's an old-school club that circles the wagons when it feels threatened. It's overly protective. It's instructive & defensive to the point of fascist suppression of individual thought. In short, it's a fleecing of BBQ reviewing.
In the words of Adrian Monk, here's what happened: KCBS was having trouble filling judges' seats for a cookoff in Austin last Saturday (They're not really present in Texas. Only 3 events in TX all year.). After Brad & I agreed to judge the cookoff (and attend the mandatory honorary KCBS certification class), they still needed 10 more judges. So, I made an announcement on this blog that the seats would be given away FCFS. All 10 seats were filled before close of business. We all showed up at the honorary KCBS certification class, where they explained their judging system and talked about each of the meats. We were told that the food that we would eat 2 days later would be "better than" anything we'd eat a restaurant in Austin. We then swore an oath.
When we showed up this past Saturday to judge, they talked us through the judging process, the scoring system, the rules, etc. We listened to a recording about KCBS judging and then, again, swore an oath. Judging began. Chicken was up first. I scored my six samples. Then pork ribs. I judged my six samples. As we were asked to do if we ever gave a low score, I filled out a comment card explaining why I scored a particular rib so low. As I prepared for the pork round, an official came to our table and asked in front of everyone, "Who's Drew?" I am. He asked why I scored a rib so low. After I explained to him why I scored as I did (Wasn't that what the comment cards are for?), he asked, "You know your scores won't count, right?" (Lowest score from each table always gets dropped.) Umm, so? As if I should care at all that my honest score, if the lowest, won't count. When we score, I guess we should be thinking, "Well, I better make this high enough that they don't toss it."
The official left. I thought that was the end of it, but no, no. One of the folks at my table told me the officials (at the other end of the tent) were huddled up and were pointing at me, clearly talking about my score. I looked and confirmed. What was at first odd was now weird. A few moments later, I get a tap on the shoulder from the event's organizer, who asks me to step away from the table so we can chat. Are you kidding me? He says, "Okay, I gotta ask. Why did you score so low?" Well, let's see. Read the comment card. Or go chat with the official who called me out at the table. No, let me defend myself you to now: I scored what I scored b/c I did exactly what we twice swore an oath to do: judge honestly. As with every other sample, I followed the 1-9 scoring system - each # has a word that describes the food, and you pick the # that corresponds to the word that sums up your view of the food. He said that that's exactly what I should do (Ummm, then why are you folks so defensive?) but that "we" (meaning KCBS) just have a certain way of doing things. Uh, yeah, I can see that. I guess they weren't listening to themselves when they told us before the judging started, "BBQ judging is subjective."
He then said that maybe they should have done a better job teaching us how to score. Ha! Are you kidding me? Yes, if only you would have taught me better what I like and don't like. Even if I didn't eat truckloads of BBQ throughout the year for this blog, I would still be supremely qualified to score meat. You know why? B/c my taste buds work. I was told to consider how much time the cookers put in and how much money they spend. What? Are you serious? This has nothing to do with the cookers, so I am not being disparaging about them, but you are loco if you think that I will score something artificially high just b/c the cooker tried hard. We are supposed to score the meat in front of us honestly. Right, KCBS?
Odd turned weird was now full-on creepy. Contrary to the rumors that have made their way back to me, I was not dismissed. Instead, I removed myself from the judging, as I didn't want to be party to the farce that was taking place. Is this the way you operate, KCBS? Are you that afraid of someone not toeing your party line and rubber stamping, well, rubber meat? No wonder you require people to complete your training and get certified and swear oaths. Combine these with intimidation and public reprimand, and you've got yourselves the making of a nice little paranoid dictatorship.
Sadly, I wasn't the only judge who was mistreated. One judge told me he intentionally scored samples higher so that he would not get treated like I did. Another told me she entered a low score and "they made me feel like a criminal." I am appalled. Put aside their tactics (which I think are detestable) and look at their scoring system. Don't give us choices, and then attack us when we freely, honestly exercise them? Why give us instructions that have choices from 1 to 9 if scoring below a, say, 6 will raise the KCBS threat level to red? In that case, tell us to score from 6-9.
I got a big kick via Twitter last night, when a KCBS apologist who was at the event wrote (in response to this question about scoring choices of 1-9) "because lower than a 6 you should not be at a contest...are you even a cbj?" Classic! Did you catch that, folks? If you score something below a 6 (which, by the way, is "average" on the KCBS scoring sheet), you don't deserve to be at one of their contests. Again, if you score something below average, you clearly are not qualified to be judging a KCBS event. Puuuuuuuurfect example of the KCBS elitism that was pervasive at the event. And I love it that she ended by asking if I am a Certified Barbeque Judge. Ummm, again, I can taste and know what I like and don't like, but, no, I am PROUDLY not one of your CBJs. I'll save the $100 and the freedom to think for myself.