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For the love of barbecue

Couple teaches KCBS certified barbecue judge class at festival this week

July 4, 2019
By ELIZABETH IZZO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - It's all about matching a standard.

Nancy Muller, a representative of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, instructor and a certified barbecue judge, said the key to making the best barbecue lies in meeting the trifecta of pleasant appearance, good taste and tenderness.

"Taste is always the most important," Muller said. "Appearance is the least.

Article Photos

Peter Crowley of Buffalo and Brenda Heller of Massachusetts judge pork ribs for the youth competition during the 2018 I Love BBQ and Music Festival.
(News photo β€” Andy Flynn)

"You want the meat to be moist and have good texture. You don't want something that's dried out. And you want consistency."

Muller and her husband Don will teach a class on Friday, July 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the I Love BBQ and Music Festival on how to become a barbecue judge certified by the KCBS.

The festival returns to the Olympic Speedskating Oval July 5 through July 7. Proceeds from the competition benefit the Shipman Youth Center, a local nonprofit organization that provides programming and recreational opportunity for local kids. Admittance to the class cost $65 for members of the KCBS and registration ended last week on June 26. Classes are typically limited to between 30 and 50 people, Muller said.

Around 35 barbecue teams from around the U.S. and Canada are expected to attend this year's barbecue festival, according to organizer Dmitry Feld.

Judging at a barbecue competition is serious business. Each judge has to take an oath - "I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each barbecue meat ... so that truth, justice, excellence in barbeque and the American way of life may be strengthened and preserved forever." They also have to be certified, keep up their membership with the KCBS and earn at least 30 "credits."

Muller and her husband have been certified judges for the last 11 years.

"We've done probably over 50 competitions," she said.

The I Love BBQ and Music Festival is among their favorites. It's tied with a competition they assisted in Germany at Oktoberfest one year.

"(The I Love BBQ and Music Festival) is one of our favorite contests and one of our first contests, being from New York," Muller said. "I love the Adirondacks. My father went to school at Paul Smith's (College). We've always had this love of the area."

The Mullers became instructors several years ago.

"Now that we're officials, we don't do the judging as much," Muller said.

During the certified barbecue judge class, the couple will go over the history of barbecuing, the difference between barbecuing and grilling, and the standards for judging meat.

"It'll mostly be a lecture for the first two hours," she said.

Then they'll stage a mock contest. There are six judges per table, with one table captain. Naturally, there are a number of rules: Judges have to use their hands - no finger-licking allowed. Judges should eat at least two bites of every entry. Water and crackers are consumed between entries to cleanse the palate.

"Those that are attending will judge chicken, pork, pork ribs and brisket," Muller said. "They'll get two examples and we'll go through a mock scoring."

Entries are given a score between two and nine. Two is inedible; three, bad; four, poor; five, below-average; six, average; seven, above average; eight, very good; and nine, excellent.

"Part of the class will teach people what to look for," she said. "For example, ribs shouldn't fall apart. When you eat a rib, only the meat that you're biting should fall from the bone."

Another class, to learn how to become a table captain, will follow the judging class from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Table captains assist in the judging process by presenting each entry box to the judges for the appearance score, and they ensure that all the judges are following the rules.

People who pass the classes won't be judging any competitions as part of the I Love BBQ and Music Festival. But they'll be certified to participate in others.

"(Judging) is an important part of the competition," Muller said. "We all work together: the organizers, the cooks that come to compete, and the judges."

Some judges get paid, but most work on a volunteer basis.

"The nice thing about (judging) is that, when you go to the events, you're a guest of those events," Muller said. "And most have something similar to what you have here with the music in Lake Placid. Some also have beer."

The Lake Placid event is alcohol free.

Learn more about becoming a certified barbecue judge at More information about the I Love BBQ and Music Festival can be found online at



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