Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grillin’ on the Bay 2010 - Recap

The NEBS-sanctioned Grillin’ on the Bay barbecue contest was not at all what I was expecting. It was completely wonderful, and a real learning experience. I had pictured an event similar to the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (only 75 days away as of March 28!), but with a secluded judging area off to the side somewhere. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a community entirely new to me – the world of competitive barbecue.

One of the first things I learned was that at these barbecue competitions, food is not available for purchase from the competing teams, although the competition’s sponsors – RUB BBQ and Chelsea Brewing Company, in this case – will sell food and beer on site.

Also, the Grillin’ on the Bay competition was less of a true barbecue competition and more of a grilling competition. Many teams were using smokers, but set up only started at 6 am the day of the competition – instead of two days prior.

Beer Belly Porkers, getting ready to compete

And finally, the judging itself was more serious than I was expecting. NEBS has over 6 pages of rules, outlining everything from what is an appropriate garnish for each category, the calculations involved in weighing the judges’ scores from each category, and acceptable definitions of “stuffing” and “bacon” – which vary from one category to another!

Judges sit six to a table and, using a double-blind judging system, score 5-6 entries per category based on appearance, taste, and texture – in that order. The rules for judging the four categories (fish, chicken, pork ribs, and “chef’s choice”) are strict, even a seemingly mild violation can be grounds for disqualification. Did you present your fish entry with a lemon wedge, or perhaps finish it with a chunky sauce? Disqualified. Did your chicken entry have a garnish of anything other than green leaf lettuce, Italian parsley, or curly parsley? Disqualified. And what if your entry missed the turn-in time by only one second? You guessed it – disqualified!

I had no idea barbecue judging rules were this specific, although the seasoned judges at my table told me that KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) rules were much more strict. Assuming all goes well, I will be a KCBS certified barbecue judge on May 2, so I’ll be able to comment more on that in about five weeks!

After judging, the scores are weighed by the Contest Representative and the top ten winners in each category (fish, chicken, pork ribs, chef’s choice, and “best overall”) are announced, with the top five winners from each category receiving trophies and prizes.

Blazin’ Buttz BBQ took “Best Overall” this year - additional winners are listed at the bottom of this post

Being a judge was a terrific amount of fun, and the food was so good! It’s important to remember to pace yourself and only have a few small bites from each entry, or else you’ll never make it through the day. The only thing I wish had been different was it would have been nice to know if you had tried an entry from any of the winning teams – but the double-blind judging system eliminates that possibility, adding a playful dash of intrigue to the event.

If you’re not a judge, though, the best way to enjoy an event like Grillin’ on the Bay is to slip in as a Table Captain. Table Captains bring the food from the Contest Representatives to the judges, present each entry, and then get to eat any leftover food! Since many entries contain more than six samples, being a Table Captain is a great way to get to see all 27 entries for each category and taste almost all of them (judges can only see and taste the six entries at their table).

My first time as a NEBS judge was kind of like joining an exclusive club for the day. Almost all of my fellow judges had been around the block a time or two, and many were Master KCBS judges (something that requires judging 30 different qualifying events, cooking with a barbecue team, and passing a written test!). It was great to see them have a sort of reunion here in New York, some traveling from as far away as Massachusetts and Maryland.

My clothes still smell like smoke from standing outside before and after the judging, but it’s a price I’ll happily pay. I can’t wait for the next one!

Winners from Grillin’ on the Bay 2010

1. Blazin’ Buttz BBQ
2. Better BBQ Bureau
3. 2 Fat Pollocks
4. XX Factor
5. Pearl Lee Q’s
6. Rib’s Within
7. I Smell Smoke!!!
8. Uncle Jed’s
9. Purple Turtle Catering
10. Beer Belly Porkers

1. Wildwood Bbq
2. Purple Turtle Catering
3. Smokehouse Rules
4. Heavy Metal Beach Thunder BBQ
5. Beer Belly Porkers
6. XX Factor
7. Rib’s Within
8. Blazin’ Buttz BBQ
9. Burnt Side Down
10. A Grill Smokes in Brooklyn

Pork Ribs
1. iQue
2. Better BBQ Bureau
3. Smoke in da Eye
4. Smokehouse Rules
5. Blazin’ Buttz BBQ
6. 2 Fat Pollocks
7. Jacked Up BBQ
8. Uncle Jed’s
9. I Smell Smoke!!!

Chef’s Choice
1. Purple Turtle Catering
2. Ed-’Que–Cators
3. Beer Belly Porkers
4. XX Factor
5. Smokeopolis BBQ
6. Blazin’ Buttz BBQ
7. Smokehouse Rules
8. Rib’s Within
9. Ma’s Que Crew
10. Smoke in Da Eye

Best Overall
1. Blazin’ Buttz BBQ
2. Purple Turtle Catering
3. Smokehouse Rules
4. Better BBQ Bureau
5. Rib’s Within
6. Smoke in da Eye
7. Wildwood BBQ
8. Beer Belly Porkers
9. Smokeopolis BBQ
10. 2 Fat Pollocks

Brooklyn Chili Smack Down
1. Wildwood BBQ
2. The Moose is Loose BBQ
3. Virgil’s BBQ


  1. You didn’t tell us your favorite(s) and what made it(them) so special?

  2. Hi Lil Scarlet -- where can i eat/buy Blazin' Buttz BBQ?

  3. @Anonymous: thanks for reading! i wish i could tell you where to get some Blazin' Buttz BBQ - but they don't seem to have a website or catering business, so i think they just run the competitive barbecue circuit. please let me know if you find out any info, i'd love to eat some of their barbecue - and actually know it was theirs!

  4. Pitmaster for Blazin Buttz BBQ
    Thank you for inquiring about where to eat our BBQ. As Portia stated and she is correct we compete on the KCBS/NEBS BBQ circuit. You're more than welcome to join us at a competion we're competiting at and sit back and enjoy yourself. We'll feed ya!!