Pro, amateur barbecuers move in different worlds

This past weekend, I breached the inner circle of the professional barbecue judges at the Colorado Pork and Hops Challenge.

I was called on to be a judge for the amateur backyard entrants, nothing as serious and lucrative as the professional category.

The professional-side was conducted under Kansas City rules by trained judges. K.C. rules are pages long and include such entries as “chunky sauce should be no larger than a fine dice (approximately 1/8-inch cubed); fire shall be of wood, wood pellets or charcoal; parboiling and/or deep-frying is not allowed.”

And my favorite: “Theft, dishonesty, use of prohibited meats or any act involving moral turpitude” will result in immediate disqualification.

I mistakenly wandered into the area for the professional judges and was instantly nailed as an imposter. These were dead serious, secretive and rather hefty fellows. They take their judging craft seriously, and I respect that.

So, after my initial misstep, I made my way over to amateur territory. People there were friendlier. Like stepping into a dozen backyard barbecues.

I am not from Texas or Kansas City or any other bastions of barbecue elitism, so I didn’t arrive with any biases. Heck, the place where we got rib sandwiches on white bread in my hometown was eventually closed down by the health department. I won’t mention why. But I think my tastes have evolved since then.

The five other amateur judges and I were served 15 portions of St. Louis-style ribs at five-minute intervals in a blind tasting. No country-style ribs were allowed, which, technically, aren’t even ribs.

Contestants obtained their meat from a range of places, from Quality Meats to Sam’s Club. Sam’s seemed to be a favorite of many.

We rated the ribs on a scale of 1 to 10 and the flavors were all over the board, from a dry cardamon-heavy rub to dripping in sweet sauce. Most of them were very good. If I were at a backyard barbecue, I would scarf up almost all of them, but at this eat fest we had to pace ourselves.

With only one entry did we all take a bite, grimace and put it down immediately. That one earned a 2 from some judges: inedible.

Several barbecue plates had the faint taste of over-processed meat, a flavor that Jay Warkentin of Cumulus Media immediately nailed. “It tastes like hot dog,” he said. Another entry was tasty but heavy on the salt.

The crowd favorite seemed to be the one with a perfect appearance, tender substance and a brown sugar-tasting sauce that perfectly blended sweet, sour, tangy and hot.

I should have been smart like one of the other judges and brought a huge Ziploc bag to take leftovers home.

The winner of the amateur category was Dwade Jones of Grand Junction, for the second year running. He won a flat-screen TV for his prowess behind the grill.

In the professional category, the overall winner was 4 Legs Up BBQ out of Great Bend, Kan.

After two hours of solid eating, I dragged myself out of the Pork and Hops like a bag of wet cement, thinking “that was some good que,” or, as a young relative used to call it “sauce on bones.”

For a recipe from one of the pros, see:

UPDATE: Top Chef finalist Kelly Liken, who will be at this weekend’s Colorado Mountain Winefest, has been knocked out of the competition on season seven of “Top Chef.”

The owner of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail traveled to Singapore for the challenge, one of four remaining from an original field of 17.

Liken prepared cucumber yogurt soup and red coconut curry prawns — slicing her finger rather badly in the process — but didn’t wow the judges.

Her choice for Top Chef: Kevin Gillespie. “My favorite to win is Kevin,” she told The Washington Post.

GOOD STUFF: I love the peach chutney made by Westwood Farms in Paonia.

The sweet of the peaches and onions, matched with ginger root and chili powder is a unique bite. They sell an array of salsas, mustards, vinegars and jams.

To order online:

QUOTE: “I mean, seriously, we are a culture that can stand in front of a microwave with a burrito in it and scream ‘FASTER!’ ” — Ross Brown

Send tips and ideas to tess.furey@


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