How a Competition Judge Evaluates Barbecue

Look for the smoke ring...

Bark-covered brisket and pork butt.

To read more of our Ultimate Guide to Washington BBQ, click here.

Doug Halo has been involved in competitive barbecue since 1984, first as a contestant and then as a judge. Now he and his wife, Kathy, oversee the contests at the National Capital Barbecue Battle, happening in DC June 23 and 24. Here’s what he looks for when evaluating all that meat.

The Smoke Ring

That red ring along the surface of the meat is where the smoke has permeated the flesh. No ring? The meat hasn’t been smoked properly, or at all.

The Smoke

The meat’s the star, and smoke plays best supporting actor. It should enhance, not cover up.

The Crust

It might look burnt, but a crusty dark bark is exactly what you want.

The Taste

The flavor should develop and linger. “It doesn’t fade right away,” Halo says.

The Texture

The meat should be moist and pull apart easily without being mushy. For ribs, you should be able to pull the bone clean out, but there needs to be just enough resistance.

The X Factor

Judges’ tastes can vary from region to region. In Georgia, they tend to like their sauces sweet. Not so much in Texas. “The winners don’t cook for themselves,” Halo says. “The winners cook for the judges.”

This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.