What is MBN?
The Memphis Barbeque Network is one of the leading sanctioning bodies of
BBQ contests in the world. It is dedicated to promoting and preserving the unique Memphis
style of BBQ though education, support, and management. MBN officials assist event
organizers in promoting, organizing, and conducting the sanctioned events in accordance with
Who are the teams?
MBN competition teams are made up of some of the best BBQ cooks
in the world. You may even recognize some of them from television appearances over the
years. They travel locally, regionally, and even nationally to compete in sanctioned contests.
A few make their living from the competitions and related activities, others are perfecting their
skills and techniques for their restaurant or catering business, but for the vast majority of teams,
competition BBQ is simply a great hobby.
What are they cooking?
In a word: Pork! Every MBN professional competition consists of
three official categories: whole hog, shoulder, and ribs. Each team is free to compete in as many
or as few of these categories as they wish. Some contests also have additional, non-sanctioned
categories on Friday evening, like sauce, chicken, desert, Bloody Mary, or the popular "Anything
But", which is open to anything other than pork.
This is an entire hog, whose dressed weight is 85 pounds or more prior to the
optional removal of the head, feet, and skin. It must be cooked, sometimes for as long as 24
hours, as one complete unit on one grill surface. The trick to a good whole hog is ensuring that
all the various cuts of meat found in a whole hog reach perfection at the same time. As a result,
judges are required to sample portions of the ham, shoulder, and loin in making their decision.
This is the portion of the hog containing the arm bone, shank bone, and a
portion of the blade bone. Mere Boston butts
are not considered valid
entries. This large piece
of meat has to be properly cooked and seasoned so that it is consistent throughout.
This is classified as a spare rib, loin rib, or babyback rib. Country style ribs are not
a valid entry. Ribs have the smallest margin for error because they are the most vulnerable to
changes in weather, time, and temperature.
How are the entries judged?
Seven different judges initially evaluate every pro entry: 4 blind
and 3 on-site. No entry has the exact same combination of judges. Each judge assigns a score in
each of the applicable criteria for each entry, with the best score for each criterion being a 10.
What is the difference between blind and on-site judging?
In blind judging, each table of
four judges evaluate up to six entries. As the name suggests, all blind entries are presented to the
judges in identical containers with no identifying information. In on-site, each team is visited by
three different judges, one at a time. During each visit, the team has 10 to 15 minutes to provide
the judge with a sample of their entry and make a presentation explaining how it was prepared.
In rare cases, teams have even been known to tell the truth during their presentation.
What are they judged on?
In on-site judging, the teams are evaluated on their personal and
site appearance, their presentation to the judges, the appearance of the entry, the tenderness and
texture of their entry, and finally, the flavor of their entry. In blind judging, only the appearance,
tenderness, and flavor of each entry are evaluated. Each judge also assigns a score for "Overall
Impression" to each entry, which takes into account the judge's entire experience with that entry.
How are the winners decided?
The scores from each judge are entered into a computer that
uses a proprietary formula to weight the scores in the various criteria and produce a total score
for each entry. The top three scores in each of the three meat categories then advance to the
How are the Finals conducted?
The preliminary scores are thrown out and four new judges
travel as a group to each of the nine finalists, evaluating them on the same criteria as on-
site. The single highest score among the finalist, regardless of the category, is declared the
Grand Champion and qualifies for entry in the next MBN Invitational Championship held
annually in Memphis. Teams also receive points based on their overall contest participation and
performance, which are used to determine Team of the Year standings.
What is the Challenger Division?
The Challenger division allows more teams to compete
in MBN by reducing some of the expenses, but the competition is just as fierce. Challenger
teams compete in pulled pork (butts or shoulders) and ribs, and the preliminary judging is blind
only. The Challenger finals are judged on-site, just like the pro division, but teams are limited
to making their presentations on disposable products. Challenger teams compete for their own
Team of the Year points while working to gain a little more experience and confidence.
How much meat is being cooked?
A pro team typically cooks only one whole hog, but it can
sometimes weigh over 200 pounds. On the other hand, pro teams will usually cook at least
5 shoulders, typically weighing about 16 pounds each. This is so they can use at least one to
prepare their blind box, one for each of the 3 on-site judges, and then have at least one in reserve
in the event they make finals. It is not unusual for pro teams to cook a dozen or more racks of
ribs so they can pick only the best for their blind box, on-site presentations, and possible finals.
Can we talk to the teams?
Most teams are more than happy to talk to anyone interested in
BBQ, but please keep in mind that the teams are involved in a very serious and expensive
competition on Saturday morning, and well into the afternoon if they advance to the finals.
The teams are most likely to be available to talk on Friday evenings and on Saturday afternoon
AFTER the judging, but even then, please use good judgment and simply come back later if you
see a team is busy. Another good rule of thumb is to stay outside a team's roped off area unless
Can we sample the food?
Health rules and regulations forbid teams from selling their cooked
products at contests. Depending on the local regulations, however, they may be able to give
away some small samples if they have any available, but the leftovers are often already spoken
for. Some contests have a "People's Choice", where visitors can purchase small samples and
vote for their favorites. If the aroma gets to be just too much, many contests also have BBQ and
other food available from local vendors.
How can I learn more?
Judging classes are scheduled at various locations throughout the year
to begin the process of becoming a certified BBQ judge. For a schedule of sanctioned contests
and more info about other MBN topics, please visit mbnbbq.com