View Full Version : Onsite judging...what to expect?

03-26-2012, 10:20 AM
My team has officially joined our first BBQ comp in a small town here in Arkansas... It's a MBN (Memphis BBQ Network) event and there is blind judging as well as on-site judging. The blind judging is pretty standard and shouldn't be to complicated, but what should I expect from blind judging... what should I be prepared to DO or SAY?

As usual thanks in advance for the advice!

Lake Dogs
03-26-2012, 11:01 AM
Extra categories (scoring) for presentation and for cleanliness. Cleanliness is the team as well as the campsite and the tables, etc. Dont have to be elaborate (some get very fancy); just clean and neat. Teams wearing all the same thing (doesn't have to be a uniform; something like all the same t-shirt works) helps. We usually go for showers around 8am and change into our clean clothes...

When the judge comes in, greet him or her and introduce the team. Take their score card (they have a card for you to judge THEM) and give it to one of the teammates. Then walk them over to the smoker. You'll want a 3 to 4 minute spiel about how you cooked the meat, what you used, the temperature, the wood, blah blah and then open the smoker and show them the meat (displayed in your smoker). Then move the meat from the smoker to the table. Have them sit. You can/should sit as well; across the table from them. Pull the meat apart talking about how wonderfully tender it is and get them to smell the aroma (fresh pulled pork is AWESOME; use it). Put some chunks on their plate. Allow them to pull the meat, squish it between their fingers, sniff it, taste it, check for tenderness, etc. In MBN they'll be taking quite a few bites (its not like KCBS). Some folks he the rub they use displayed on the side; some judges like to sniff or sample it. Some teams have sauce on the side; some have none, and some have 2 sauces. I suggest that if you have sauce, use 2. Give the judge options. 1 sauce gives them no options.

They should be there between 13-14 minutes total. Less the 3 or 4 at your smoker, that gives them right at 10 minutes in front of the meat.

Have a way for them to clean their hands (warm washcloth is nice, but even a few napkins will suffice). On exit thank them for their time and have the team cheer/clap (seriously).

THEN, it's off to the races. Must bus that table and reset it. Must move new/fresh meat onto the smoker. It's a 2 minute fire drill. GO GO GO.

And, be NEAT and CLEAN the whole time. SMILE, and be confident that the pork that you have is the best you could do on that day, an convey it (ala. SELL IT).

By the way, on your spiel, it doesn't have to be the truth. They're not judging you on truth; just a story.... You dont have to divulge your secrets.

Most teams have 1 main person; their sales person. For some that's the main cook, for others it's not. There's no limit here. For our team, I was a good inside sales person,
and my main bbqteammate was in corporate outside sales for a long time. I do the meet-n-greet, go over the smoker (as frankly I know more about it) and how/what we cooked, and I then carry the meat and place it on the table between him and the judge. He finishes out the spiel and sales pitch... So, you can do it with 2 people, or more, but most just have 1 person.

03-26-2012, 01:22 PM
^^^^^What he said!! ^^^^^^I wish someone would have given me such a great explanation last year when I decided to dive into MBN without a clue!

The only thing I want to add is if it is possible, go to a contest to observe an on site judging for yourself (be courteous of course).. You know, see the set up, hear the presentations.. If not, there are many youtube videos with some of the better teams presenting their on site. Here is one from Myron Mixon that I watched, of course everyone's is different... My team likes to keep it a little lighter, friendlier than he seems, but it gives you a feel of one way to go about it.


Like LakeDogs, our team uses 2 - 3 people, depending on who is there. My team considers the presentation broken down into 3 parts:
1) Introduction (at gate) - who are you, how did you form, what do you stand for..etc..
2) Process (at smoker) - What do you cook on, what temp, what fuel, theories, practices.. etc.
3) Tasting (at table) - As LakeDogs described better than I can, flavors, smells, rubs, sauces.. etc.

We like to have an intro guy who meets the judge at the gate says hi, introduces the team and tells a little back story on all of us, then hands off to myself for explanation on the cooking process (wood, about cooker, temp, meat source, etc) , then I hand off like Lake Dogs does to my flavor guy who can really sell the complex profiles better than I. This allows a nice transition to the table without the judge waiting on anything or having downtime (silence is a no-no, always have something to say) in conversation with our set up.

Last thing, be prepared for not just 1 judge, but 3 for preliminaries, rolling into your site one by one in usually 20-30 min intervals i think.. LOTS OF MEAT!! You have to present them with their own fresh piece of meat on the smoker each time. Meaning you will have to cook at LEAST 5 shoulders if you make finals. Lets say you're only doing shoulders, your schedule will go something like this...

10:00am, turn in blind box = 1 shoulder
10:30am, on site for judge #1 = 2nd shoulder
11:00am, on site for judge #2 = 3rd shoulder
11:30am, on site for judge #3 = 4th shoulder

If you are doing ribs, that whole cycle restarts at noon with ribs blind turn in. Then, if you are called for finals in anything you enter, you have to have another new piece of meat ready for 3 more on site judges to come at once and do your whole presentation over again for all 3 simultaneously so make sure you have seating for 4.. This usually happens about 2:00pm (i'm guessing, as i've never made finals, hahaha)..

And that would be your 5th shoulder... Lots of teams cook more so they can have the pick of their best products... If you do ribs, definitely get a case, as you often have less than ideal cuts that will be delicious, but not the perfect visually appealing things you want to show to judges.

03-26-2012, 01:34 PM
this is all great info! I do have a few questions though...

1. If I need to have fresh ribs for the on site judges should I start a few racks 30 min. after I put my initial rack on the smoker? That way I will have a fresh juicy rack for the onsite judges and not just racks that have been sitting in the smoker drying out?

2. How do you present a pork shoulder in a box for 5-6 blind judges? Do you just make it all pulled pork? Do you sauce it in the box?

the common sense thing for me would be to put a bunch of pulled pork in the box and apply some sauce... But pork shoulder is going to be our weakness this time...

again, great advice! really helps!

03-26-2012, 02:45 PM
MBN blind-box shoulder is usually not sauced, but you can include a small container of sauce or two or three, for the judges to try with the meat. Instruction for the judges is to try the meat with the sauce of their choice (from that presented) and judge that (i.e., the cook can provide 2-3 different types of sauce and the judge is to give a score on how the meat goes with the sauce that he likes best). Definitely different from KCBS, but it works pretty good.


Lake Dogs
03-26-2012, 03:03 PM
this is all great info! I do have a few questions though...

1. If I need to have fresh ribs for the on site judges should I start a few racks 30 min. after I put my initial rack on the smoker? That way I will have a fresh juicy rack for the onsite judges and not just racks that have been sitting in the smoker drying out?

2. How do you present a pork shoulder in a box for 5-6 blind judges? Do you just make it all pulled pork? Do you sauce it in the box?

the common sense thing for me would be to put a bunch of pulled pork in the box and apply some sauce... But pork shoulder is going to be our weakness this time...

again, great advice! really helps!

Sauce, in blind box; traditional has been unsauced, but we see it from time to time. Also traditional is just pulled (chunks roughly the size of your thumb do best because they'll squeeze them for tenderness and they hold moisture well), but we've seen sliced Money Muscle as a trend; usually presented down the center. It (the MM) is often lightly sauced. Then the best entries (smartest IMHO) present the sauce in the cups on the side. FILL THE BOX. Mix in barky pieces and un-barky pieces.

I wont tell you exactly what I do when competing, but the sauces that we present are fairly radically different from one another; we're trying to appeal to that center/average judge on one sauce, and a different judge on the other sauces... Still dont offend, just use different appeal factors.

As to ribs, when competing I've always used just one smoker. Those that have multiples have options; we didn't. The ribs came off the smoker around 8:30am+- (we needed time for the smoker to cool a bit before cleaning it (yes, clean smokers too) and setting in the display. I'll give a few pics of the display below. Anway, ribs and shoulders get packed away very warmly (cambros, cooler used as warmers, etc.). While I'm giving my 4 minute spiel at the smoker a 3rd team member is getting the next rib set up and looking all perfect for display (note: that's already 3 people; you'll want 3 MINIMUM, probably 4, I prefer 5).

Keeping the meat moist, tender, and as hot as possible is definitely a trick.

Lake Dogs
03-26-2012, 03:11 PM
Also, regarding what imperfectutopia said about silence is not golden, that is correct. However, try not to ask questions that require them to talk. People are people, and many of us like to talk. If you get a judging talking; they're not EATING. Do anything and everything to keep them on the meat; YOUR MEAT; Your fan-dang-tastic mouth-watering eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your head meat! :-)

On shoulder, I do suggest when presenting a whole shoulder to a judge, find a way to glaze it in such a way to get a little shine on that presentation without messing with the taste much. I use a thinned sauce that's been heated and happens to shine, but that's what I use... Pull the bone at the table; that usually a great time to talk about how tender it is. With any luck it'll still be very hot and when you do (pull the bone) that aroma will be everywhere. Capitalize on that moment!

I forgot, for the first-time-MBN-folks; MBN defines the perfectly tender rib slightly different than KCBS, where MBN says it should pull cleanly from the bone with only a little resistance. With this difference you'll rarely find too many winning entries be single-bone entries. Give the judge a 2 bone slice so that he/she can pull it apart. You dont have to serve an entire rib to each judge on-site. Some trim the ends off; some dont. Some only provide about 1/2 a slab; others it's a full slab. There's no right nor wrong way, just allow them to pull them from the bones. Hopefully it wont be falling apart, but falling apart in MBN is better than where you have to gnaw it off the bone...

Lake Dogs
03-26-2012, 03:27 PM
From Bubba Grills actually at Memphis In May (I believe):

Fellow brethren and a wonderful source for assistance, Pete of Yazoo's Delta Q with
an amazing hog presentation:
http://i570.photobucket.com/albums/ss141/hance_patrick/231105_2085778111033_1442561841_32468099_6591757_n .jpg

Not in the league of theirs, but frankly scored just as well on this day (perfect 10's):

03-26-2012, 03:29 PM

Check out this thread...should explain alot


03-26-2012, 04:52 PM
Those displays are sweet! How do u keep the lettuce & pineapples from drying up & looking nasty? N

Also, if I add sauce on the side to the blind box will I get a DQ?

03-26-2012, 06:28 PM
Those displays are sweet! How do u keep the lettuce & pineapples from drying up & looking nasty? N

Also, if I add sauce on the side to the blind box will I get a DQ?

MBN will provide 2 cups for sauces that you can turn in to complement the turn-in. The judge will be instructed to judge the pork with the sauce they like best. If you turn in a sauce, it will be judged...so make it a great sauce that truly complements your meat.

Turn heat off, put ribs on 2nd grill or in cambro, ventilate grill, decorate grill...win contest :becky:

03-27-2012, 09:51 AM
As far as the decoration goes, Lake and sauced... I have but one smoker that barely fits all the shoulders and ribs I need, any recommendations on garnishing with that kind of constraint? We just haven't done so in the past and while I know its not required, i'm certain it helps...

03-27-2012, 10:08 AM
imperfecutopia I was going to ask the same question... I am wondering if I should bring a whole extra grill just to decorate and use as a warmer to keep 1 rack of ribs/shoulder in for each individual onsite judging... If I use the grill as a warmer I would think the lettuce and green stuff would just turn nasty and be more of a negative than a positive... maybe I'm over thinking it...

Lake Dogs
03-27-2012, 12:33 PM
imperfect, I'm like you. In the pic (mine) is a first generation Lang, an 1160 which is somewhere between the current model 60 and 84. I did fit the shoulders and ribs on it, but BARELY. I took all the meat off at 8:30+- and killed the fire. The unit needs to cool a bit, and then we clean it with brushes, etc. During the cool down I make sure it's open all they way so it airs out. Then we build the presentation area. For us, the smoker is at or very close to the same temperature it is outside when we put in the "garnish".

Some use an extra "presentation" smoker. I've seen it done, and I've though about it myself, as I have a smaller offset smoker that I could use. It just wouldn't be the same though... You wont get judged down. It's your choice really.

For the hogs, they turn them off a few hours early also and then put the garnish on/around it about the time they're building their blind box. This way the garnish doesnt stay in there long.

Notice I built mine as a "bay". I put the meats on a cutting board (I have multiples of the same one) and just slide that board in there... Works for both shoulders as well as ribs. It's not nearly as snazzy as what some do, but it's about cleanliness of appearance mostly, not $$$$$$.

Lake Dogs
03-27-2012, 12:47 PM
Some fairly random pics of us and on-site in our first MBN comp (as competitors) a few years ago. Other than the ribs sucked (long story on that), we only did one thing really wrong on the on-site, but luckily our scores didnt reflect it. The presenter, when at the table, should be sitting (not standing).


03-27-2012, 01:29 PM
I took all the meat off at 8:30+- and killed the fire. .

So you're able to hold your ribs that long? When rib turn ins begin at 11:45am, thats an area we worry about!..

Lake Dogs
03-27-2012, 01:42 PM
Yeah. I possibly could push it to 9, but we had to cool the smoker, prep it, other stuff, plus then there's (for us) shoulders. One thing I did on ribs is that I put 3 shoulders in the bottom of a huge cooler and stacked the ribs on top (heat rises).

Also, I put our sauce on the ribs in the last few minutes, and the sauce is HOT HOT HOT (to the touch).

Lake Dogs
03-27-2012, 01:46 PM
Some teams build their presentation on boards, etc. and just slide them in at the last minute. That gives them probably another 30 minutes to perhaps an hour, give or take, and depends on team members (numbers). We kept 4 of us pretty busy from 8:30 until 10 with only a few minutes to do our traditional tequila shots. :-)

Lake Dogs
03-27-2012, 02:07 PM
Sorry for the URL link below. You'll see that Killer Hogs puts on a fairly ornate spread. Many others do this too.
It's nice, but the main thing is cleanliness and neatness. The main reason I'm showing this is because they obviously
use a smaller display smoker (look inside their tent). No way you'd smoke 12+ racks of ribs or 6-9 whole shoulders in that.


03-27-2012, 11:10 PM
That is a nice set up they have... its like a mobile restaurant...lol I have decided to use a seperate smoker as a presentation smoker and warmer... what kind of temps do I try to hold in that warmer smoker just to keep the meat warm? or do I even need to put charcoal in the smoker thats for presentation?

thanks again so much guys for helping us newbs out! lol

Lake Dogs
03-28-2012, 07:45 AM
I dont use a presentation smoker as both a presentation smoker and a warmer... I suggest keeping them separate, if you have more than one smoker. Use one for the warmer / holding meat, the other for presentation. In your presentation you'll want to talk about the types of wood that you use, and charcoal, etc., but you dont have to have it in your smoker/cooker at that time.

Otherwise, I dont know how to answer the question of what temps... For us, the shoulders when pulled apart are still steaming hot and will burn fingers, even after being held in a cooler/cambro for 3 or more hours. Shoot, in these pics I made a huge mistake and they were done shortly after 2am; they were still hot after being stored for 8 hours... Ribs; well, they'll cool fairly quickly. For this reason I try to stack them on top of a few shoulders (allowing the shoulder heat to keep them warm).

03-28-2012, 08:32 AM
oh ok i see now... so the presentation grill doesn't need to actually have heat to keep the meat up to temp.... got ya. that makes sense.