Saturday, April 11, 2015

Judging in My Hometown

After I was certified as a barbecue judge, I knew that I had to participate in an event in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. When I learned about Bib’s Camel City Cookoff, I hoped that I would be accepted as a judge. Fortunately, the grand prize of $10,000 attracted many cooking teams and required more judges than anticipated.

Teams were set up early for the competition.

The number of cooking teams had “exploded,” said Doug Reid, one of the Kansas City Barbeque Society reps at the event, as he commented on the jump from 40 teams last year to 51 this year. More cooking teams require more judges – this year judges filled 11 tables, and I felt lucky to be one.

Cookoff was held at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.

The competition built on the success of its first year when its inaugural name was Jammin’ Pig Music Festival. Even with the name change, music was still a major part of cookoff. Blues music was on schedule the night before, and the day of the cookoff featured four local groups in a battle of the bands. Held at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds, the event had plenty of space for the cooking teams and other activities. Parking and admission were free, which helped to attract several thousand visitors to the cookoff.

Yesterday Village at the fairgrounds was a brief walk from the cookoff location.

The contest organizer was Mark Little, who goes by the nickname “Bib” and is the pitmaster and co-owner of Bib’s Downtown, a barbecue and catering establishment. When I asked him how he got the nickname, he said, “That’s all I wear.” Little wanted an opportunity to expand BBQ culture in Winston-Salem and bring more BBQ exposure to the city. Little is a third-generation resident of Winston-Salem, and I learned that I had attended the high school that his aunt Ruth had attended.

Mark Little (right), pitmaster at Bib's Downtown, was the contest organizer.

One of the special experiences I had was judging at a table with Jerry Gardner, a long-term judge. The number of 461 on his member tag indicates that he’s one of the early members of the Kansas City Barbeque Society. He said that he attended the first judging class east of the Mississippi River.

Checkered Pig, which placed second in the pork category, finished in fifth place overall.

When the final scores were in, the judges at the table where I was sitting were relieved. “My next meal will be salad,” one said. Another added, “The only thing I want now is ice cream.” However, we were all satisfied that we had judged some of the best barbecue ever.