I’d like to offer a bit of history…what got me to this point. With all credit to my grade and high schools teachers who encouraged me to write, here goes. As previously mentioned I am, apologetically, a Nebraskan. As such there is within most of us Nebraskans an insidious bug in which the infection results in Big Red Fever. One of the many symptoms of Big Red Fever is that its victims/sufferers are driven to blind fanaticism rivaled only by religious zealotry. It was Big Red Fever that drove me to purchase season tickets to University of Colorado football games so every other year I would be assured of have entry to the CU-Nebraska football games. Then I discovered that there were six or seven home games each year…most of which had nothing to do with Nebraska. Finally, at some point it dawned on me that taking clients to these games would be a great Saturday outing and a way to further our business relationship. Then I got started tailgating with my guests. It didn’t take too long to realize that I was enjoying the tailgating as much as the football games…although it’s difficult to match a beautiful fall afternoon in Boulder, CO in the shadows of the Flatirons and watching the Running of Ralphie (a ritual at home games in which Ralphie’s handlers run CU’s mascot…a live buffalo around the perimeter of the stadium…and the crowd goes crazy). As the adage goes, all good things must come to an end. In 2011 CU went joined the Pac 10 and Nebraska went to the Big 10 and I let my season tickets lapse. But the passion for tailgating lived on with no outlet.

Here Come De Judge!

Long before the departure of CU and NU I was talking with a guy about tailgating, barbecuing, grilling and an interest in competitive barbecue. He suggested that I attend a class and become a certified barbecue judge. It took several years to finally get around to taking the class but in August of 2015 I drove to Worland, WY and got certified to judge. Worland had been a part of my sales territory in a former life/career but I was always intent on getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible to make the next sales call and totally overlooked the beauty of the Wind River Canyon northwest of Casper. Life is like that…we get so enrapt in life that the prospect of stopping…or even slowing down…to smell the roses is absurd. This time I slowed and on a couple of occasions stopped and was totally in awe of the whole landscape and the magnificence of it. I made it to Worland late Thursday afternoon and took the class that evening along with several others including Daniel, a guy from Laramie. Out of our class they selected three of us to judge the Pepsi Wyoming State BBQ Contest and Bluegrass Festival that Saturday. One of the comments made at the outset of the class was that going forward, after partaking of all this incredible barbecue, we would only patronize the big barbecue chains out of desperation. One of the questions I posed was “Does this turn you into a barbecue snob?” The response was a unanimous “Absolutely!” H-m-m, maybe I should re-think this.

Friday was pretty inconsequential…the competitive cooking teams rolled in and got set up, the vendors set up their various venues and the bluegrass bands arrived and did some warming up along with some of the local musicians. That evening I went to the local movie house where I was literally the only person in the place with the exception of staff. Additionally, it was a movie I’d already seen but, considering the staff had stuck around for the showing, I didn’t have the heart to get up and walk out. Additionally, it beat watching TV in my motel room and the popcorn wasn’t too stale. When the movie was over I went back to the motel and there was a grassy area in front of the motel where several members of the various bluegrass bands were holding a jam session! What an awesome conclusion to the day. Saturday morning. Not mentioned in the title of the contest is that there is a car show in conjunction with the rest of it. Unless you’re a PETA person if you’ve never attended a BBQ contest you really should…even if you’re a vegetarian. The aromas coming out of the BBQ pits are at least intoxicating and at best borderline euphoric. So I wandered around looking at the cars in the car show until 10:00
AM…judge’s sign-in time…and inhaled the aroma of the cooking meats. I say “meats” because in the typical competition the pit masters prepare and are judged on chicken, (pork) ribs, pork and beef brisket. Should you think this is just a friendly competition the payouts can be huge. Some of the bigger contests have prize money in excess of $100,000.00…not to mention the bragging rights and promotional value if the competitor has a line of bbq products or a restaurant or something. Lest you should think the life of a barbecue judge is all fun and games in a typical competition each judge has six portions of each of the four meats to judge…all of which amounts, cumulatively, to roughly two pounds of meat in a single sitting. The sacrifices we judges make all in the name of competition! When it was over I climbed in my pickup and made the trek over the mountains to Sheridan by way of Burgess Junction…a pass that had successfully scared the beejeebers out me during a blizzard and before the improvements to the road and in a former life. It’s amazing the things one sees when one has the time and doesn’t have a death grip on the steering wheel. And that pretty well wraps up my first experience as a barbecue judge.

See you next time!

Uncle Tom