Competition 101: MBN vs. KCBS

Competition 101: KCBS vs MBNIt’s the National League vs. the American League.  Great debate.  Big differences.  Everyone has a side.  Everyone has reasons they will give why one is better than the other.

But just as all true baseball fans know the National League is the best, all BBQ Competitors know deep down that MBN takes the crown.  I’ll give the high points to both, however, and maybe you will disagree with me.  That’s why it’s such a fun debate!

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There are over 400 KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) a competitions in the course of a year.  They’re everywhere, from coast to coast, every weekend.  And make no mistake, they are awesome.  It’s the world’s largest barbeque organization.

In a KCBS competition, there are 4 main categories every time:  Beef Brisket, Pork Shoulder, Chicken, and Pork Ribs.  There are ancillary categories at particular competitions, but they usually don’t count towards your overall score.  They are more for fun and to get people involved, or perhaps a people’s choice.

With each of these four, you are required to turn them in at specific times in a styrofoam container with beautiful garnish – this is called a blind box.  It has to be PERFECT.  Any sauce on your garnish or container gets your points docked.  If your sauce is smeared at all – docked.  Anything at all other than perfect appearance gets you docked.  Talk about stress!

KCBS Blind Box Presentation
KCBS and SLBS Blind Box

The SLBS (St. Louis BBQ Society) is very similar to KCBS.  It’s small and growing, but similar rules.  The big difference with SLBS is there are additional categories allowed to be thrown into the competition and they DO count towards overall points.  The most popular is of course, the famous St. Louis Pork Steaks.  But there could also be chili, dessert, chef’s choice, amongst others.

Both SLBS and KCBS rely solely on the blind box.  That’s it.  You cook all night, prepare the perfectly garnished box with your delicious smoked meat and hand it over to a table of judges to taste and score your entree.  Good luck!


The MBN (Memphis Barbeque Network) is a different beast all together.  The MBN focuses entirely on pork.  Nothing but pork.  Sure, they have ancillary categories as well, but they never count towards your overall.  Pork shoulder, ribs, and whole hog.

There are only about 20 MBN sanctioned events per year.  As you can imagine, with so few events, they are all extremely intense, sought after championships.  Nearly every event brings out the best of the best.

Here’s the biggest difference:  Not only do you have to prepare a blind box, but you also have to present, at your site, to professional certified judges.  How intense and awesome is that!?  So, after you get done preparing your blind box – which by the way does NOT contain any garnish – you have 3 separate judges come to your site, one at a time, for 15 minutes, to hear every detail about how you prepare your meat.  And then they eat it. Right. In. Front. Of. You.

MBN Blind Box Presentation
MBN Competition Blind Box

And therin lies the reason I believe MBN is superior.  It’s not about the lettuce and parsley in your blind box – it’s about the meat.  And then, even if you NAIL the blind box and get perfect scores, you still have to knock it out of the park with 3 judges, face to face.  It’s a more thorough contest that shows any weaknesses or strengths your team has.

MBN Judges Presentation
Judging Presentation at MBN Competition

I will say, I do prefer having several meats to cook over just pork.  Our team, SLABS a’ Smokin, focuses primarily on ribs but have also ventured into shoulder recently at the MBN Invitational Contest.  But in St. Louis, we’ve been on stage for Beef Tenderloin, Grilled Dessert, and Chicken.  I do so love cooking different foods.  It’s a significant challenge that my team loves to attack head on.

So it’s close, but I personally give the edge to MBN over KCBS and SLBS.  What do you think?  If you’re a competitor, give me your vote and why.  If you’re not a competitor, I’d like to hear your take.

4 thoughts on “Competition 101: MBN vs. KCBS

  1. i can agree with the wow factor the contest that i judged (mbn) one of the competitors space was set in a tent and the table was high with linen table cloth, china plate and linen naptkin and u r right abt the wow factor and u r right i gave him a good score based on the wow factor, presentation and the best part he had promised that the ribs would be the best there he was so right and he did win the best ribs that day i feel that he would have won without all the setup

  2. i have judged within both groups and i can see the benefits of of both views the fault that i see i judging at the sight if a judge knows the team a chance of a good score when it is not deserved

    1. I definitely agree Bill. There’s a “wow” factor when the judges walk into some team areas with MBN. And then another wow when they see a ton of trophies. No matter how unbiased they say they are, I think it has to effect your scores. As they always say, you judge with your eyes before your tongue.

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