Chow Town

How do you judge barbecue sauces?

Updated: 2013-09-30T17:34:49Z

By ARDIE A. DAVIS Special to The Star

A distinguished panel of judges will gather Saturday at the American Royal Complex to choose this year’s “Best Barbecue Sauce on the Planet.”

They will judge more than 200 sauce entries as part of the American Royal World Series of Barbecue contest.

Sauces are organized in categories based on their composition: hot, mild, tomato, mustard, vinegar, etc. Each sauce is put in a plastic squeeze bottle and assigned a number to assure blind judging.

Judges sample a specified number of sauces, giving scores ranging from 1 to 10 for appearance, texture and taste.

Appearance

Since we eat with our eyes, the way a sauce looks sets us up to think we’ll like it or not. Our personal experiences and background influence our perceptions.

South Carolinans are accustomed to yellow-mustard-base sauces. North Carolinans expect a cider-vinegar-base sauce. Northern Alabamans expect white mayo/vinegar-base sauce, especially with barbecue chicken.

Chow-Towners and most Americans are accustomed to tomato-base sauces.

When judging sauce, it is important to set aside your biases as much as possible. Give sauces that don’t look like what you’re accustomed to a chance to change your mind.

Texture

Thick sauces cling to meat. Thin sauces penetrate meat. It is a subjective call as to whether you like thick, thin, smooth, grainy or chunky sauce.

Taste

This is the most important score you can give a sauce. Taste scores are doubled.

By itself

Some sauces taste great alone but not so great on meat. Or they can taste not so great alone but fantastic on meat.

On barbecue meat

If the meat tastes better with the sauce than without, give it a high score.

At many sauce contests, judges taste with their fingers or a plastic spoon or on crackers or bread, but not on meat. To me, that is not acceptable. We call it barbecue sauce. Its role in life is to complement the flavor of barbecued meat.

If barbecue sauces have not been judged on real barbecue meat, the contest is not a true barbecue sauce contest. Call it a finger sauce contest or a plastic spoon sauce contest or a saltine cracker sauce contest or a bread sauce contest, but don’t call it a barbecue sauce contest.

Try a variety

Chow-Towners are fortunate to have an abundance of great barbecue sauces at hand. Our supermarkets carry a variety of mostly tomato-based sauces. For greater variety, check out the selection at the Kansas City Barbecue Store in Olathe, Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kan., or Smoke ’n’ Fire in Overland Park.

When you’re at the American Royal contest, look for the Diddy-Wa-Diddy Barbecue Sauce Store. It’s a great place to sample a variety of sauces from all over the country and take some home for gifts or your next backyard or tailgating barbecue. Plus you can cast a vote in the People’s Choice Sauce Contest.

Use sauce in moderation and get sauced responsibly.

Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. His most recent book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”

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