Competition 101: Scoring

MBN Judging TableI thought I would go into an expanded discussion about how scoring works in competitions.  I’ve had a lot of questions on this piece, so this will help clarify some of this great unknown.  I asked my cousin, Tim, to help on the MBN side of things, as he is a trained MBN judge.  We’ll tackle KCBS/SLBS in another post.  While there are similarities, there are also significant differences.  I’m starting with MBN because this is what we’re facing very soon at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Competition.


  • Each team has four blind judges and three on site judges (they do not cross over, i.e., every team is judged by seven different judges).
  • All judges grade on the following categories: Appearance of Entry, Tenderness of Entry, Flavor of Entry, Overall Impression.
  • In addition to those four categories, on site judges also judge you on Area & Personal Appearance as well as Presentation.
  • For all categories other than Overall Impression, judges will give you a score between 6 and 10. Scores must be in whole numbers.
  • For the Overall Impression score, the judge still scores between a 6 and 10; however, the judge can score in decimal places (e.g. 9.9).
  • Each on site judge visits three tents.  Each blind judge scores four boxes.
  • A score of 10 is not the best BBQ they’ve ever had, it’s the best BBQ they’ve had that day.
  • Each Judge (blind or on site) MUST GIVE at least one 10 per category before turning in their score sheets (e.g. if you are a blind judge and you are scoring four sets of ribs, at least one of those ribs must receive a 10 in appearance, at least one must receive a 10 in tenderness, at least one must receive a 10 in Flavor, at least one must receive a 10 in Overall Impression).
  • A judge can give as many 10’s as they want.  They DO NOT have to differentiate the meat they are judging in ANY CATEGORY other than Overall Impression.
  • The same score cannot be given by one judge in Overall Impression.  That category is the differentiator in case the meat they are judging happens to all be excellent.  Overall Impression is, therefore, the fairness factor.  If a blind judge happens, by circumstance, to receive the four best ribs in the competition, then the judge can simply give all four teams 10’s across the board, and in overall impression give one 10, a 9.9, a 9.8 and a 9.7.  This will ensure that the best ribs still do well in the competition even though they all happened to be placed in front of the same judge.

Everyone knows that the only way to be truly fair in a competition is for the same person to judge all entries.  Of course, in any competition, that’s not possible, so the MBN adds a finals round to help with fairness.  After your blind scores and on site scores are tallied up, the top three teams go head to head in a final round.  The premise is, because of everyone being judged by different people, can you really differentiate between the top three without one judge seeing all three?  The answer is no, so there is a final round.  In the final round, four new judges (who have not judged anything that day to this point) visit each finals team and judges them again.  All previous scores are wiped clean before finals so that the three finalists can start on an even playing field.

So.  That’s it.  Not bad, eh?  I hope this gives you a little insight into the intricate detail that goes into an MBN competition.  When you place in the top half in one of these competitions it’s a huge accomplishment.

Memphis is May is 4 weeks away.  Much more to come…

Memphis in May Trophy

2 thoughts on “Competition 101: Scoring

  1. Great details. Thanks for taking the time to write up this series. So, do you have to cook all of your entries twice, in case you make finals so that those judges get fresh barbecue? Or do finals happen soon enough to use the same meat?

    1. Hey Darrin – thanks for reaching out!
      Yes, with the MBN, we cook extra of whatever we’re competing in so we have fresh meat for the finals judging. It can be a very delicate balance. One of the reasons you need great team members is keeping track of all the different times for the stages of cooking, blind turn in, 3 on-site judges, and finals turn in’s. It’s super challenging and a lot of fun!

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