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Professional BBQ Judges?


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About seven years ago while talking to an official of the Kansas City Barbeque Society I said that someday KCBS would need professional judges for their contests.  After hearing me say this he said "it will never happen."  The growth of prize money at contests had prompted my comment.  As the prize money has continued to grow, it’s just a matter time before the judging comes under more and more scrutiny.  I think the sponsors of these contests will require that the judging be beyond reproach.  Also contestants will want and demand the best judging possible because of the large cash payouts for the winners of the contests. 

Now don't get me wrong, I think KCBS is doing a good job training judges, but from the input I am hearing it could be better.  The certified judging program that KCBS has put together seems to be very good, but there are occasional problems.  One of the main comments I am hearing is judges need to be held more accountable for their scoring. In addition I think were already at the point where things like celebrity judges, and pulling people off the street to judge is not going to be good enough.  I don't pretend to know all the answers and have all the answers.  I wrote this because I thought it was the proper time to start thinking about actions to prevent trouble in the future.  A recent poll that was run on The BBQ Forum indicated that a lot of people felt some of the judging certainly could be better.

Judging barbecue contest can never be perfect because it is being done by people and people are imperfect.  Anyone who has ever watched a pro football game knows that their judges make mistakes and they are the "best of the best."  However, the competency level of the professional football judges is good enough, coupled with instant replay to allow them to get by.  It seems to me that barbecue judging problems could possibly be mitigated with a very high number of well trained judges at the contests.   The "targeted percentage" of certified judges at each contest could be set with the aim of increasing this percentage each year. 

If judges were compensated then there would be more control on them.  If there was an organization that was set up just to provide professional judges at contests, I think it would be a good thing.  I would consider a professional judge to be someone that was highly skilled and is being compensated for their efforts.  If judges are compensated for their efforts then there would be certain standards that they could be held to, but that's difficult to do if they're not getting paid.  For example someone should tracking the performance of all the judging results and compare them to the results of their peers in past contests.  If this review process revealed that a judge was grading far differently than everybody else you could set that person down and have a conversation with them.  There needs to be some control over the judge that consistency scores lower or higher than other judges. These are just examples of controls that probably should be looked at and I am sure there are others.

Just the increased presence of highly qualified professional judges would be a good influence on the judges that are not as qualified.  An example of this, while different, was apparent at the last PitMasters cable television series.  This series featured three judges; one highly trained knowable person, a football player and a chef that knew a lot about cooking but apparently not that much about barbecue.  The knowable one, Myron Mixon had a noticeable effect on the comments of the other two.  This effect would also be seen in situations where there were a large number of professionals on a smaller group of lesser qualified judges.  Contest promoters could lend credibility to their events by making know the percentage of professional judges that will be at their contests.

I understand that there probably are not sufficient funds to support something like professional judges at the present time.  I have been told that sanctioning contests and judging is not a big profit center, but it could be.   What if sanctioning contests and providing judges was spun off from KCBS as a for profit corporation?  Properly managed by the right people I bet this could be turned into a profitable venture that would be good for all concerned.   Over the years there have been proponents of making KCBS a for profit organization.  I understand the reluctance of some to this "for profit" idea.  But even the "neigh-sawyers" would have to admit that the organization could be run more efficiently as a corporation.  I believe it is possible for a non-profit organization to spin off for profit ventures.

Anyway these ramblings of mine have probably placed me "in way over my head."  I probably don't know what I am taking about but this has been rattling around in my head for years and I just wanted to throw it out there for discussion.  I originally posted this on Ray's Comments April 2, 2011.  If nothing else I hope this serves as a start for discussion and eventual improvements in the judging system.  It's time for reformation in a system where sometimes people feel that it is a "crap shoot" as to who wins a contest.

Ray Basso



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