In the summer 2011 issue of the Augsburg Now magazine, we’ll introduce a new feature to the alumni section: Ask an Auggie Expert! Here we ask alumni about their area of expertise and share their knowledge with our readers.
This issue features Greg Fitzloff, a certified barbecue cook-off judge. He offers some insight into this interesting field and advice about how to make the perfect barbecue—just in time for your summer cookouts!
Q&A with Greg Fitzloff, certified barbecue cook-off judge
After retiring five years ago from a career in teaching and economic development, Greg started checking items off of his bucket list. Now he travels around the country tasting chicken, ribs, beef brisket, and pulled pork as a certified barbecue cook-off judge. We caught up with him at his cabin “up North” to find out more about this delicious-sounding job!
How did you become certified as a barbecue judge?
Since I retired five years ago, I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work. I met a gentleman who was a caterer but also cooked for a living. He would call me and I would go over when he was testing recipes, and he said I should become a judge.
There are a couple of professional societies for barbecue cooks, and they have a certification class and process for judges. I found out more about it and said, “Why not?” If you will, it kind of ended up on my own personal bucket list.
Why is a judge so important?
As the contests become more popular, the key is to draw in top teams and they want to be sure the judging is done correctly. In the last several years there have been more people involved, and the prize money has grown significantly in the professional circuit. A winner in a recent contest won $10,000. That’s why the judging is so important.
What criteria do you use in judging barbecue?
It is fairly structured, but you are looking for three things. First is appearance—how the meat actually looks. Does it look like something you want to eat right away? Presentation is so important. The second is tenderness—is it cooked correctly? Each category has a slightly different process, but the question is: Is it done? Is it cooked all the way through? Does the meat pull off the bone? And the final thing is the taste. Can you taste the meat? Does it taste good? We’re trying to judge to a certain standard, not based on what we like personally.
Have you had any judging mishaps? Tasted an especially bad barbecue?
Even though these are supposed to be really good cooks, they make mistakes. The most difficult category is beef brisket, and they usually make one of two mistakes. They overcook it to the point where it’s absolutely overdone, and once that happens, there’s nothing you can do about it. Of if they cut it with the grain, that meat is literally the consistency of shoe leather. We are supposed to taste it, but if you can’t get a bite out of it you can’t taste it. That’s always somewhat comical.
What’s the key to a perfect barbecue?
Two key words: low and slow. Cook it on low heat, 200 to 225 degrees, and slow. It takes time—anywhere from a couple of hours to 12-16 hours depending on the size and cut of meat.
What are your favorite summer barbecue side dishes?
I think the classics tend to go best. In the South and Southeast you see barbecue beans with a great variety of tastes. Further north and in the Midwest you see potato salad and cole slaw, of course. The other thing we’ve discovered over the years is that after you’ve been tasting barbecue all day, the thing that goes extraordinarily well is ice cream. I don’t know why. That nearest Dairy Queen generally gets a big hit after a contest.
Would you like us to feature you in the next Augsburg Now? If you’re an alum with expertise to share, email Wendi Wheeler to find out more about this opportunity.