Thanks for coming back to the Corner.

Becoming certified as a barbecue judge is sorta like getting your real estate license in that they teach you enough to pass the test. Then the real education begins.

As it turns out there are graduated levels of judges…in this case based solely on experience…the number of competitions one has judged. And it isn’t all judging…there are other duties which must be fulfilled prior to attaining the status of Master Judge. One of those is working with a competition team.

Being brand new to the world of competition that posed a bit of a challenge in that I didn’t know anyone and the competition in Worland, WY kinda signaled the end of the competition season…or the rest of the competitions were already filled. Then, as I discovered and as luck would have it, the BNI group I belonged to included the pit master of a competition team. Yay!

With minimal sucking up he graciously agreed to let me join his team, Clarence (that’s the name of their team) for their next competition…National Western Stock Show. As previously mentioned “as luck would have it” because it wasn’t all good luck. I went out to the Coliseum around 3:00 that Friday afternoon to help set up for the evening/morning of cooking. The temperature at that point was hovering around 0⁰ F and dropping.

The team consisted of Scott, the guy from BNI and several of his college friends who had stayed in touch with each other. Each one was successively funnier than the last…this was destined to be an hilarious experience and hopefully an educational one. One of the guys was either a heart or brain surgeon at one of our local hospitals and one of the criteria the entries are judged on is the appearance of the turn-in box. Guess who was responsible for cutting the ribs and the brisket.

They had already set up a “shelter” consisting of a small trailer house (think really small) and a tent shelter enclosed on three sides. They had a small heating stove that would’ve been inadequate if it had stayed lit…which it wouldn’t. The snow-covered asphalt had a large throw rug on it and the smoker formed the fourth side. Cozy…like a dug-out in a snowbank…just not as warm.

You’ve likely heard the stories of rednecks pit-roasting whole hogs and consuming adult beverages during the entire duration of the cook? It was kinda like that. The organizers of the competition had graciously left the door to the arena ajar so the teams could have access to the indoor rest rooms and to gain a bit of respite from the elements. One of our team members had a guitar in his car so we collectively serenaded the rodeo hopefuls who were practicing in the arena below. All-in-all I suspect it might have been excellent fodder for America’s Funniest Videos.

As mentioned before the temperature at the outset was around 0⁰ and headed south. At its lowest point it was either 14⁰or 24⁰below 0. But it’s a dry cold. There are a number of non-politically-correct analogies one could use and every one of ‘em would be applicable. Witches. Brass monkeys. All of ‘em. But the testosterone kicked in and we, bolstered with adult beverages, soldiered on.

The extent of my duties…my contribution…to the team was to provide comedic relief, procure breakfast burritos and carry the entries from the pit to the judging table. The latter may not sound like much but considering the distance from the pit to the turn-in table while negotiating the various obstacles and covering the snow/ice covered asphalt without tripping/slipping and getting them turned in on time (if the entries are turned in even one second late they’re disqualified) all by one not normally known for one’s grace and agility was a bit of a challenge but it was successfully met.

The first turn-in is the chicken at 12:00 noon, followed by ribs at 12:30, pork at 1:00 and brisket at 1:30. Prize announcements come around 3:30 to 4:00 when the contest reps have tabulated all the scores turned in by the judges. I didn’t stick around to find out who won but Clarence did better than OK taking second and third in two of the categories. What I gained from the experience was a hoarse throat from serenading the horsemen and women practicing for their respective competitions (drive-by shooting on horseback), near-frostbite and a profound respect and empathy for the competitors…sorta like when I took the real estate class from Tom Fuhr and Merrie Medina. And that concluded my second foray into the world of competitive barbecue.

See you soon at Uncle Tom’s Corner.