Charley West BBQ Fest 2024

By Candace Nelson - 9:56 PM

Charley West BBQ Fest is an annual event benefitting the Bob Burdette Center afterschool program. I was lucky enough to be able to serve as a judge - my first time ever for BBQ! Attendees were able to purchase meals from commercial BBQ vendors and tasting tickets to sample BBQ from competition and backyard BBQ cooks. Live entertainment featured local musicians performing throughout the day on the main stage. $10 would be good for 10 tasting tickets and gave the chance to vote for one’s favorite commercial, competition and backyard BBQ with winners being named “People’s Choice – Best BBQ.” In addition, the panel of judges did a blind taste testing - for me, it was the competition division. Competition BBQ entrants competed in 4 categories: best pulled pork BBQ, best ribs, best sauce, and wild card. Competition Division is voted on by thr following: People’s Choice Best BBQ – voting by public; Blind judging - Best ribs, best pulled pork, best sauce, wild card. Here was our schedule for the day:

12:00 PM: Ribs (6 bones of ribs in any 1 sauce or glaze)
12:30 PM: Pulled Pork (8 oz. in any 1 sauce)
1:00 PM: Sauce (4 oz. of any 1 sauce)
1:30 PM: Wildcard – any item you wish to BBQ (6 portions)
We were tasked with judging based on appearance, taste, and tenderness. So, I looked up what I should be looking for when it comes to ribs. Here is what one website suggested:

Competition BBQ judges look for a deep mahogany finish on ribs - a thin dark gloss of caramelized BBQ sauce and smoke that coats ribs. This is often achieved by regular mopping, spritzing, or saucing the ribs throughout the smoke session. Another factor in the presentation is that the ribs are evenly cut with no jagged edges on any singular rib, every rib needs to look consistent and uniformity is key. Clean-cut ribs come from sharpening your knives before the event and using the proper type of knife.

Smoky sweet BBQ ribs with just a touch of heat or bite in the aftertaste seems to be the flavor profile that has been producing BBQ rib champions.

Myth: If rib meat falls off the bone it is tender meat. This is incorrect! The perfect tenderness for competition BBQ ribs is determined in just one bite. Judges hold each end of the bone and bite in the center of the rib if the rib meat freely releases from the bone only in the area where the bite is taken then they’re perfect. Judges should never have to pull or tug at the meat with their teeth. Tender ribs often come from hours of low and slow smoking in conjunction with a flavorful rib foil bath. Here are some more from Weber:

Some competitors will display their meat on leafy greens. While this is not mandatory, the contrast of the green leaves against the often-amber BBQ makes the meat pop. It also helps the meat stay steady in the box, so it’s not all jumbled around when the table captain first opens the lid. Requirements: Make sure you turn in the right meat, only use leafy greens. Red-leaf lettuce, lettuce cores, kale stems and other objects are a no-no, don’t sculpt your meat, ensure there are six equal portions – one for every judge, only sauce the meat. A pool of sauce is a penalty.

This is all about flavor. From seasoning and rubs and sauce and a nice bark. It just needs to be tasty. Big time barbecuers include three versions of pork in their boxes: money muscle, pulled and chopped.

Tenderness really equals texture and making sure the meat is not overcooked. If you’re smoking chicken thighs, it’s best not to serve the judges a slimy, fatty piece of skin. Some competitors go to great lengths to avoid this. They remove the skin, scrape off the excess inner fat and then replace the skin over the meat. Their goal is to create a nice snap of texture when judges take their first bite. Ribs – believe it or not – should not fall off the bone. If all of the meat slides off with the first bite, they’re too tender. Judges are looking for a bit of bite to the meat. Watch out for fat. While fat is flavor, you don’t want to give judges a big bite of chewy pork fat with their chopped or pulled pork. Remove the silver skin from your ribs before smoking. It will help them pull from the bone more gently. My favorite categories were actually the sauce and the wild card. You kind of know what you're in for when you're judging ribs or pulled pork. But the latter two categories can be a free-for-all. My personal favorite sauces are thick, sweet with a nice bit of peppery heat. The wild cards included an apple tart with ice cream, a meat lollipop with vanilla icing and BBQ chicken.

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