Without history and context, barbecue is nothing but smoked meat
Perhaps the most bittersweet aspect of judging competitive barbecue is that the whole experience is blind. Sinking your teeth into a competition rib is an experience without context. It's celebrating smoked meat on the purest level, which forces the cooks to supercharge each bite to try to please every possible palate, which didn't sit well with my own.
I don't know if I had the day's winning barbecue, which came from Tuffy “The Professor” Stone's Cool Smoke team, which is only the second team in the Jack's 27-year history to win grand champion twice. I'm sure it was a revelatory execution, guided by the type of laser focus that few cooks in the world will ever achieve, but this day I learned that I'd much rather just visit his restaurant.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He'd like to send his utmost respect to all the cooks at the Jack, but also invite them to Austin to learn what brisket is supposed to taste like. Follow him to more regional barbecue smack talk at @Dannosphere.