South Carolina Barbecue
This is an interesting take on the South Carolina Barbecue Association. I find it very interesting how the judges get slammed in this article. It's a common theme in many a bbq forum, but yet the best teams always seem to rise to the top. Enjoy.
Finding the best barbeque in South Carolina
By MAUREEN SIMPSON
Last Saturday, nearly 50 men and women gathered at the Spotted Dog Marketplace in Beaufort to hear the Columbia native talk about the sacred meat at a seminar that would train them to become certified barbecue judges.
While the hog-hungry hopefuls left with a plethora of notes and reading material, one point High made sure to drive home was that the pig belongs to the Palmetto state.
"We have the best barbecue in the nation, but we've had some of the worst judges," said High, who founded the South Carolina Barbeque Association three years ago to create better judging standards and promote South Carolina barbecue. Since then, the nonprofit organization has trained and certified more than 250 barbecue judges and hosted more than 30 barbecue cookoffs across the state.
Whenever High talks about the subject, he speaks authoritatively and his Southern roots saturate every word. He's a natural-born storyteller who needs only utter "Well hell's bells" once to command a room.
"There are a lot of flaws in the systems that people use to judge barbecue, but we're a serious barbecue judging operation," he told the group Saturday. "Our main objective is to give the cookers a fair shake. Without them, there is no contest."
To support his argument for South Carolina's barbecue supremacy, High passed out a variety of scoring sheets from contests in competing states like Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina to explain what was missing from each of them.
The students -- from barbecue cookers seeking inside tips to cooking show fanatics living out fantasies -- learned that one contest gave more points for appearance and presentation than it did for taste, while another competition allowed chicken, beef and lamb categories.
"This is no beauty contest and barbecue chicken or barbecue beef is not barbecue," High said. "A person can barbecue a possum if they want, but only pork is real barbecue."
Though the majority of Southerners in the room nodded in agreement, Janette Whelchel whispered she'd never known the difference. The retiree recently moved from San Diego to Greenville and traveled to the seminar in Beaufort out of curiosity.
"This is the first time I've been to the Lowcountry, so this is completely new to me," she said. "A lot of what I ate was off the grill and not from a slow cooker. There's a lot more to barbecue than what I expected."
Hilton Head Island resident Kevin Lawless said he came to learn more about the science behind barbecue. As a blacksmith, Lawless was hoping to find out how a grill's design might affect its performance.
"I like making grills, and I want to know what people are looking for in them," he said. "But in general, I want to know what makes good barbecue and what doesn't."
By lunchtime, Lawless and company were given an edible example by Tim Handy of JT's BBQ in Summerville.
Last year, the self-taught barbecue cook received the "Master Barbeque Award" from the association for garnering the most points in 14 contests held from November 2005 to November 2006. The lunch he catered was the only taste of barbecue the students had during the day, but not their only fill.
For the rest of the afternoon, the group learned about the South Carolina Barbeque Association's scoring system and how they would be applying it at four barbecue cookoffs over the next year to become certified judges. High, who has judged wine competitions for the past 20 years, said he based the organization's barbecue judging sheet on that experience and his evaluation of other states' competitions.
According to the South Carolina Barbeque Association, barbecue should be judged on appearance, aroma, tenderness/texture, taste and overall impression, with added weight given to tenderness/texture and taste. A single entry can earn up to 17 points, and to prevent ties, the use of decimals is encouraged.
When Sumter resident Al Barrineau asked how cooks should cut the barbecue to get a higher score for presentation, High chided him for missing the point.
"Barbecue is all about keeping it honest," he said. "Do what works for you. Serve it the way you'd serve it to your family, because we're judging it on the merits of the meat, not the package."
To High, the lure of barbecue lies in its ability to eliminate show and status. And his love for the product -- as well as for his state -- has kept him committed to his unique organization, which he hopes will make South Carolina the "recognized barbecue capital of the world."
"The barbecue association has the democracy of a dove hunt," he said. "The bank president can be sitting right there with the car mechanic, but everybody's dressed the same way. ... These new judges have gotten a leg up on something they're going to find in jig time will change their life. I don't know what the hell I did for fun before this."