Finally I get to judge other people's barbecues in an official capacity

Grace Dent's invitation to the Kansas City Barbecue Society arrived this month

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The Independent Online

'I'm going to take you from being an eater… to being an evaluater!" said an earnest man from Kansas called Wayne, hoping to transform me into an international £50,000-cash-prize barbecue competition judge. We peered, as one, into a Styrofoam carton filled with barbecued brisket. I am not great – under normal circumstances – at eating meat while pondering its origin. Let alone after spending two hours learning how brisket is the scraggiest, most collagen-filled section of the doomed cow it's been pilfered from. But with great power comes great responsibility.

My age – a sort of middle-life rebooting stage – is pushing me to do several things I'd previously railed against. Stuff like carrying an emergency cagoule, personalising my wheelie bin to avoid inter-neighbour skullduggery, owning expensive secateurs and now this: pissing off Morrissey, who I spent the late Eighties hoping to win as a best friend or husband. We'd hang around our garret overlooking Salford Lads club, I dreamed, being pithy and warming up Linda McCartney frozen foods.

But then the Kansas City Barbecue Society invite arrived this month. "Would you like to qualify as an accredited judge?" it said. Well, I thought, I've spent the last 25 summers judging people's barbecues. Why not up the ante? The Homebase decking, the cheap sausages which taste like pigs lips and Polyfilla, the naff koi ponds, the handsy husbands after three bottles of Whispering Angel rosé. I did all this on a completely untrained basis. It's not as if – due to reasons involving me owning a vagina – I'm ever allowed near the grill. At least now I can be officially in charge of "watching".

So, now I have a qualification. Show me your meat and ask me anything about mouthfeel and the bite-ability, sweet, sour and umami aspects of your pork-rib marinade. Don't even think of serving me verboten garnish items like kale, red lettuce or coriander, or I'll be forced to give your shambolic get-together a grade two for "inedible". I now know that the appetising smoky ring around a well-presented brisket can be faked with dye, and I can bore on, for as long as it takes you to call me an Uber, about types of charcoal and hickory wood.

 

But it's not all about power. I mean, yes it mostly it is, but I've also got a side-eye on a suntan. The certificate means I can potentially fly the world officiating in this meaty sport. Don't laugh at these men, they take it very, very seriously. They can win thousands of pounds a year for the perfect pile of pulled pork. The barbecue fraternity is crying out for fresh faces in its judging ranks. The old ones keep dying. Can't say why, I'm no physician, but I wonder if eating up to 4lb of skin-on chicken and baby-back per contest keeps many of them in less than rude health?

One of my fellow officials at the competition I judged last Saturday resembled the planet Jupiter crammed into double denim: veiny, pockmarked and almost two and a half times larger than all of the other planets in his solar system. He's bound to be dead, I thought, by next August's big-money Caribbean cookout. All being well I'll be sitting in his chair.

The trick to staying alive is to learn to judge by only eating small amounts. When eight separate, high-quality, lovingly marinaded, crispy-skinned charcoal-smoked chicken thighs are presented to you, each one sticky with its chef's unique recipe of spices, soy sauce, molasses and so on, well, the trick is to eat almost none of it. Just a tiny sparrow's bite; mark down your score, before allowing another official to sweep it all into the bin.

As messages piled up on my iPhone appealing for funds, food and tents to help refugees in Calais and poor souls clinging to the side of Kos, I discarded hundreds of pounds worth of beef and chicken, in close proximity to a competitive hotdog eating competition which was in full belch. The winner ate six enormous 7-inch sausages slathered with around a litre of vivid yellow French mustard, encased in voluminous, spongy bread. A flurry of excited Brits cheered the hotdog munchers on. Next up was competitive chilli eating. I'm not certain how much chilli the winner transferred into his or her lower duodenum, although a conservative guess would be "a bathful".

It's not a vast mystery why so many who are starving and sick of sadness flock to Britain. Our troubles are relatively minor. "But don't you see?" I'd tell a sad-faced Syrian, "The council wouldn't give those at Number 43 a large recycling bin from Waltham Forest, so they've been taking mine. I had to buy stickers!"

We are a country where some people, as a weekend pastime, enjoy sitting in a field watching other people chuck meat with chilli beans down their necks until someone is sick. I keep hearing refugees will erode our culture. I can't help thinking the guy projectile vomiting chilli while the crowd cheered was helping with the erosion process a bit.

@gracedent

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