American Royal World Series of Barbecue
400 Speedway Boulevard
Kansas City, Kansas 66111
(866) 460-7223

August 31 - September 3, 2017

American Royal BBQ Map
Judging the American Royal BBQ Contest

Kansas City BBQ Home Page

Whole  pig being barbecued at the American Royal

Friday night at the World Series of BBQ in 2016 - the biggest party in Kansas

The American Royal World Series of Barbecue will be Thursday through Sunday of Labor Day Weekend in 2017 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas.

2016 was the first year the American Royal World Series of Barbecue was held at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas and 2017 is the first time it is being held on Labor Day Weekend. It will be the 38th year of the world's largest barbecue competition, where competitors from around the world join in a weekend of food, music and fun. For the first 35 years, the American Royal BBQ Contest was held in the Bottoms in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2015, the event was moved to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, before moving to this location the following year. 

Historically, the American Royal World Series of Barbecue was held the first weekend of October, but it had recently moved to late October so it is the final contest of the elite competitive barbecue season. 2017 is the first time it has been at the end of August and it is hoped that it will not hurt attendance.

568 BBQ teams from 11 countries competed in 2016. 

The event kicks off on Thursday with a Kansas City Barbecue Society Certified Judge Class, a celebrity cook off and a Texas Hold Em' Tournament. The gates opened to the public at noon on Friday and the party gets going about 7PM. Each team has its own area and many have huge tents. Each of these areas is a private party with many having live music and all of them having great food. If you are outgoing and talk to people as you pass, many of them will invite you to join their party.

For those who don't know people in the teams competing or aren't as outgoing, for $75 you can go to "The Pit," which has all you can eat BBQ & other treats, drinks, VIP viewing of live entertainment on the Budweiser Stage, private rest rooms and access to the grounds for the day (Friday or Saturday) for which it is purchased.

The American Royal Association will also move to new facilities in a nearby $160 million complex in the next few years, bringing all of the events to Kansas. The combination livestock show, horse show and rodeo is held in October and November.

cAmerican Royal BBQ Contest part tent
Just one of the many parties being thrown by BBQ Teams at the World Series of Barbecue

Smithfield Hog Wild Throwdown at the American Royal
Finalists of the Smithfield Hog Wild Throwdown and their qualifying fresh pork recipes -
Smithfield was also providing free samples and beverages.

Pulled pork at the American Royal BBQ
One of the food stations in the VIP Pit

Whole pig barbecued at the American Royal BBQ Competition
This whole pig was barbecued at the American Royal BBQ Competition by the team, Steel City and the Home Place Smokers.

2007 American Royal BBQ Contest in Kansas City, Missouri
This is just a portion of just one of the lots of 514 contestants in the 2007 American Royal BBQ Contest.

Judging the American Royal BBQ Contest

Our webmaster judged at the American Royal BBQ Contest in 2007, not the invitational main championship, but the Open Barbecue Contest that extends the American Royal weekend activities to Sunday. There were about 500 barbecue judges grouped in tables of 6.

About half of the judges were Kansas City Barbecue Society certified, and there were equal numbers of certified and novice judges at each table. There was supposed to also be a non judging Captain for each table, but they were short of Captains and one of our judges doubled as the Table Captain.

Being a non judging Captain would be much less appealing. They go and get the food, present it to the judges, collect the voting slips and turn the excess food over to stations where it is salvaged for the volunteers. The Captains don't normally eat until the event is over.

Before the BBQ judging began, we were given some coaching by the experienced judges at our table. We were a little surprised that except for ones which violate the rules about presentation, almost all barbecue entries will receive a grade of 7 or higher.

We also listened to a taped message which talked about the judging criteria and what we should be looking for. Then we all had to stand, raise our right hands and swear an oath about the judging. 

BBQ Judges do not communicate while judging a given entry. Each round was one type of meat. The first round was chicken. We were given the random number assigned to each barbecue entry (so judges have no clue who the entries are from), then each box of food was presented for judging their appearance, 1-9 on a secret ballot. When each presentation had been viewed, the boxes were passed along and we placed a serving of each entry in a separate marked area of our place mats. Usually there are 6 entries of a given item judged by one table.

Each smoked meat was now judged for taste and texture. They were not compared to each other and you could not change a number for an entry after you started tasting another. The one time that I accidentally wrote the wrong number, a supervisor had to come over before I could correct the score.

American Royal Barbecue Judges in Kansas City, Missouri
American Royal Barbecue Judges in 2007

Before we discarded the place mats at the end of a round, we put uneaten portions that we still wanted into zip lock bags. The experience judges brought along extra plastic bags to let us newcomers use.

The next item was pork ribs and we lucked out and had 7 entries this time. We ate most of the ribs and I saw very little going into the plastic bags after this round.

The next items were pork butt, followed by brisket. Even with eating very little of each one, we were all getting stuffed and I think everyone was pleased that there were only 3 entries for our table in the final category (sausage).

Overall, I was impressed by how much thought and effort has been put into finding a way to fairly judge so many items at one time. No one judge could ever taste all of the over 500 different entries in any one category. But it was also discouraging realizing how unfair it must still be. We were doing a much better job of judging (despite our full tummies) at the end of the 2 hour session, but it is still so subjective. 

Kansas City BBQ Society Judging Plate at the American Royall
Kansas City BBQ Society Judging Plate (photographing the boxes of meat is prohibited)

You can become an American Royal Judge

Although judges for the invitational main championship at the American Royal must be certified, you can be a judge for the Open Class for $15. Side dishes are judged on Saturday and meats are judged on Sunday. You sign up for each event on its own.

The judges are selected on first come - first serve basis. Applications for this year's event go live in April.

Take along a small cooler and bags to take uneaten portions of the meats you judge home from the event. I came home with two quart bags full of BBQ when I judged.

American Royal World Series of Barbecue Map - Kansas City, Kansas
American Royal World Series of Barbecue Map

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