My First MBN Contest – What I Learned

As most of you know, I am a KCBS certified judge (and almost 2/3 of the way to my Master CBJ certification).  KCBS events are fairly easy to find here in the Mid-Atlantic region.  However, Memphis Barbecue Network (or MBN) contests are a little bit harder to locate here.  So when I saw that the Q-City Charlotte BBQ Championship (formerly known as the Time Warner Cable BBQ & Blues Festival and as the Blues, Brews, & BBQ Festival) was looking for both KCBS and MBN judges, I decided to apply.  And lo and behold, I got picked!



For those of you not familiar with MBN contests, they are a bit different than KCBS judging.  My intent is to go through and explain some of the major differences between the two sanctioning bodies. 

The Meat

The first big distinguisher is the meat cooked for the contest.  A fully sanctioned KCBS contest has a minimum of four meats cooked: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt (or shoulder), and brisket.  There may be other ancillary categories, but the four proteins previously mentioned are the categories that count towards determining the grand champion. In an MBN contest, there are three categories: pork ribs, pork shoulder, and whole hog.  The shoulder has to be a whole shoulder (as opposed to a KCBS contest where the Boston butt can be cooked alone).  There can also be ancillary categories for an MBN-sanctioned contest, but the ones that determine grand champion are ribs, shoulder, and whole hog.


In KCBS-sanctioned events, all turn-ins are double-blind judged – each team has an assigned team number which is on all of their turn-in boxes, and all of the boxes are re-numbered when entries are judged.  Entries are distributed to tables of judges at turn-in time, with staff and volunteers making every effort to ensure that entries from a team do not land on a single table multiple times.  For MBN-sanctioned events, this distribution is done prior to turn-ins via computer-generated random numbers – entries are pre-sorted to tables prior to turn-in.

There are 3 judging criteria for KCBS events – appearance, taste, and tenderness.  Scoring is from 2 to 9 (whole numbers) for each criteria, with 2 being considered inedible to 9 being excellent.  A score of 1 on an individual criterion for an entry is reserved for disqualified entries.  Each criterion is weighted, with more weight being given to taste, and the weighted scores from all the judges are added together to determine a team’s score for that category. 

MBN blind entries have four criteria that are scored from 6 to 10 – appearance of entry, flavor of entry, tenderness of entry, and overall impression.  I believe these criteria are weighted as well, but I’m not 100% positive.  The 3 “of entry” criteria are scored using whole numbers only, and judges are allowed to give out as many (or as few) 10s as desired in those 3 criteria.  However, for overall impression, a judge can award one and only one 10 – this represents the best BBQ that the judge has had for that category that day.  All scores for overall impression in a category must be unique (no two entries can have the same overall impression score), and decimal points can be used in scoring (9.9, 9.8, etc.). 

In addition to blind judging, MBN contests have on-site judging.  For on-site judging, a judge has up to 15 minutes with a team where the team will talk about all aspects of their entry for that category (the cooker used, where the meat came from, etc.).  MBN on-site judging criteria and scoring are the same as blind judging but with the addition of 2 more: area/personal appearance and presentation.  The 2 new criteria are scored in the same manner as the “of entry” criteria.

Determining the Winner

In KCBS contests, scores from the four categories are added together to determine a winner – this allows the potential for a team who does not win any categories but has solid finishes for all of the categories to win grand champion.  It is a little bit different for MBN.  In each of the categories for MBN, the top 3 finishers in a category go head to head with each other in a final on-site presentation for that category (but this time with 4 judges visiting each of the 3 finalists together.  The top scoring finalist in this final on-site presentation is declared the champion for that category.  The Overall Grand Champion is determined by the highest finals score among the category winners, regardless of category.  So if the champion in pork ribs has a higher finals score than the champions in whole shoulder and whole hog, then that team is the winner. 

For the MBN contest in Charlotte this year, Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ won 2 out of 3 categories (ribs, shoulder) and took Grand Championship.

So What if I’m a Judge?

It’s a little bit different for judges as well.  Judges at KCBS contests judge all four categories.  Judges at MBN categories, however, will generally have one or two assignments (whether it be blind rib judging or on-site whole hog judging).  Generally a blind judge will judge 4-6 entries per category, depending on the number of entries in a category.  And while eating from the grazing table is generally verboten for judges at a KCBS contest, it’s perfectly acceptable for judges at MBN contests (in particular those who are not judging that category).

So Where the Heck are the Pictures?

Oh…  you were expecting pictures, weren’t you?  Well don’t worry…  I uploaded all of my photos from the Charlotte MBN contest to the Facebook page for Big Wayner’s BBQ Blog.  You can go check them out here (and you don’t even have to have a Facebook account to see them)!  Hopefully I was able to shed some light on the differences in MBN and KCBS contests.  If I got anything wrong, please let me know!

Latest posts by Big Wayner (see all)

Author: Big Wayner

Big Wayner is the mad brains behind Big Wayner's BBQ Blog. A full-time RVer, he enjoys sharing his passion for all things BBQ with anyone and everyone he meets.