Archived Story

This barbecue judge prepared to adjudicate

Published 10:03pm Tuesday, October 16, 2012

All rise!
No need for that to be said when I serve as one of the judges who will be blindly judging barbecue at Smoke on the Water on Oct. 27.
Blind judging means that I and the other judges won’t know whose barbecue we are judging. While other judges will visit the cook sites and interact with the cookers, my colleagues and I will be sitting at a table and be served barbecue. I’ve served as an on-site judge many times, but I’ve never served as a “blind” judge.
Now what makes me qualified to serve as a barbecue judge, on-site or blind? Well, I’ve been eating barbecue — all kinds — since before I attended kindergarten. The way my older family members talked about Chick’s BBQ in Pensacola, Fla., while I was growing up there, I am guessing my first barbecue came from Chick’s. To this day, I can take you to where one of the Chick’s restaurants used to stand.
I went to high school in South Carolina, so I was exposed to South Carolina-style barbecue in my middle to late teens. I liked it well enough. In those days, the only food I did not like was liver and asparagus. These days, I like them.
The first time I came across eastern North Carolina-style barbecue was in the fall of 1980 at Ralph’s in Weldon, just east of Roanoke Rapids. When my server placed it in front of me, I wanted to ask, “Where’s the sauce?”
Something told me to eat, not ask questions. Once I had consumed about three mouthfuls, I realized this barbecue needed no tomato-based sauce. It was just right. From that moment on, the simple barbecue from eastern North Carolina became my favorite.
So, for the past 32 years, I’ve eaten my share of barbecue. At least half the banquets and fundraisers I’ve covered over the years served barbecue. In the press box at East Carolina University during football games, barbecue was served.
In 2005, Brownie Futrell and I decided to take the barbecue-judging course offered by the N.C. Pork Council. We took the course at the N.C. State Fair. We passed the course and became certified barbecue judges through the N.C. Pork Council.
The N.C. Pork Council has a list of certified barbecue judges, which it shares with anyone looking for people to judge barbecue contests. I’ve judged barbecue contests in Rocky Mount, Wilson and other areas in eastern North Carolina. I’ve judged many Smoke on the Water barbecue contests. Some contests provide the judges with gift bags. Other contests pay their judges. For me, the payoff is being able to sample some of the best barbecue in the state and socialize with barbecue experts and champions such as Charlie Meeks from Newport, Fred Woodard of Smithfield and Joe Peterson of Roanoke Rapids.
After more than 15 years of eating barbecue prepared by my brother-in-law, Joey Arthur of Shine (that’s over in Greene County between Snow Hill and Goldsboro), I know what barbecue is supposed to be — pork skin that shatters like glass, the loin is full of smoky flavor and the ribs are succulent to their marrow.
I’ll be a “blind” judge on Oct. 27, but you can bet your bottom dollar my taste buds will be working overtime.
Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. He’s hoping the folks who bring him the barbecue to judge remember to bring some of that pork skin, too.

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