Being a master barbecue judge means eating 2 pounds of meat in 2 hours; Here’s what else the job entails [Q&A]


Here is an article posted in Lancaster Online, written by Eric Negley on August 9, 2017. The original link is here.

There are drawbacks to becoming a master barbecue judge.

Yes, passing the test that certifies you as a barbecue judge gives you the chance to sample chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket at competitions around the world. But what happens if you’re judging an event and you taste the best barbecue in your life during the double- blind judging? You might never get to taste it again because the identity of the cook remains a mystery.

“Does the guy own a catering service, a restaurant?” barbecue judge Bill Weidner says. “I’d just like to go to the restaurant and get some ribs that were so good. But we have no idea who does it.”

Weidner for years has been a judge at New Holland Summer Fest’s Pennsylvania State Championship Barbecue Cook-Off. He is on the event’s committee for this year’s competition, which will be held Aug. 25-26.

The retired state police helicopter pilot and his wife, Louise, are both master barbecue judges, certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. From April to October, they leave their home near Leesport, Berks County, to spend much of their time in an RV, traveling from competition to competition. They meet judges and cooks from all walks of life and explore areas that are off the beaten path. And they’re always looking for the best barbecue.

Bill Weidner talked about barbecue and judging at Stone Barbecue on Lincoln Highway East.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why barbecue?

My wife and I were watching a big contest called Memphis in May and she said, “That’s what you should do, be a barbecue judge.” A year later, Kansas City Barbecue Society was running a contest in the area. I went to the class and it snowballed from there.

How did you become a barbecue judge?

The society runs classes, usually about five hours long. They teach you their rules, regulations, guidelines and how your personal taste can still enter into it. Once you are certified then you can apply to any KCBS contest.

How does your personal taste fit into judging?

The cooks are not under any guidelines as far as the sauces and the rubs that they use. So let’s say Tom and Michele (Perelka, Stone’s owners) use a spicy sauce. I was raised Pennsylvania Dutch-style. So it’s bland and plenty of it. I am not a lover of spicy foods. If they make it too spicy for me to enjoy, I’m going to mark it down.

Perhaps you might like things a little spicier, so you as a judge would give it an 8.

KCBS gives you the guidelines, tests on how to score things. But it still comes down to your personal taste in the end.

Do you judge anything other than barbecue?

Some events have what is called ancillary contests. New Holland (on) Friday night is the Kids Q. On Saturday, due to the Lancaster County influence, there’s a sausage category and an “anything but” category with anything but these four main categories. You can get seafood in it. Some of the desserts that some of these teams come up with in the smoker will knock your socks off.

The toughest part is when you’re invited to a friend’s backyard barbecue. And they ask you what you think and you have to do some tap dancing. You don’t want to hurt any feelings. You tell them, “You’re grilling. I’m used to barbecue.”

There is a difference. Grilling is hot and fast. Barbecue is low and slow.

Tell me about your training.

Once you judge 30 competitions, then you can go for what’s known as a master judge. You cook with a competition team at a contest, and that’s when the written test comes in. It’s 50 questions and you must get 90 (percent right) or better.

How do you prepare for competition day?

A good judge will eat 2-2.5 pounds of barbecue from noon to 2. You would think eating that, you should not eat a breakfast. The opposite is true. You’re so hungry when the first category shows up, you overeat and then you’re full until brisket gets there. You need to pace yourself.

How do you pace yourself?

I take two bites out of each entry. You can tell somebody has a good piece of chicken because, when the score cards are finished, they’ll go back and finish it off.

Has that changed the way you eat outside of competitions?

No, but what it’s done is made us food snobs. We know what we like, even if it’s not barbecue. Let’s say we go somewhere for breakfast and the pancakes aren’t good. We’re judging just about all of the time.

What’s the best barbecue you’ve ever had?

Sometimes the chicken hits your palette just right. Sometimes it’s the ribs. It’s tough to name one.

I can remember some of the Kids Qs at New Holland. One team turned in beef ribs, which were excellent. The taste matched the aroma and the eye appeal …it was hard to pace yourself. Fortunately, there were only three categories. I wanted to eat the whole box.

And the worst?

The worst that comes to mind is a brisket. It was so tough. Brisket is supposed to have a slight resistance and snap like Silly Putty.

This sample, I could not pull and I could not bite through to taste it. It got a 2 because it was inedible.

What is your recovery?

Usually the recovery period is to walk to an ice cream vendor for a small milkshake or a soft ice cream. It helps to absorb all of the spices.

Usually you don’t eat too much for the rest of the day.

Has the barbecue changed in your 11 years as a judge?

It has to be more generic because you don’t know where your judges are from. It’s rare that you will have a cooking team that tries a different sauce. If they do, it’s going to be ancillary.

As a judge I look forward to a team trying something different once in a while. It breaks it up. I try to keep an open mind.

We know one team that made a blueberry barbecue sauce. He gives out samples and I put it on french fries and it was great. But he won’t put it on meat in his competition because too many judges are fixed on sweet tomato-based sauces.

What is the best barbecue city?

We have a few favorite barbecue restaurants. Memphis is good. Memphis is known for dry rubs.

There are places in South Carolina where in five miles you can find a ketchup-based barbecue sauce, you can enter into a mustard-based area (and a) vinegar-based (area).

My wife and I have open minds — as long as it’s not heavily sauced, because barbecue is meat. The sauce is supposed to complement. The meat is complemented by whatever rubs you put on it, whatever wood smoke and then the sauce is added at the end.

What are some tips for someone making barbecue?

First off, you want to please yourself and your family. You want to taste the meat. You don’t want too much sauce or too much rub. You can always, each time you cook, add more. You can’t take it away.

Local couple heads to Arkansas for BBQ championship


Here is an article posted in Lancaster Online, written by Lynn Schmidt on October 9, 2012. The link to the original article is here.

Tom and Michele Perelka, a husband-and-wife team from New Providence, will compete this weekend for the title of national champion in the second annual Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour in Bentonville, Ark. The prize: $50,000.

“It’s a hobby that’s gone wild,” says Tom, a full-time manager of an automotive center. Michele is a personal trainer. They are the two-member team, Lo-N-Slo’ BBQ, which will compete against 49 other several-member teams. But to these barbecuing winners, more members on the team isn’t always better.

“Sometimes, there can be too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” Tom points out. “We’ve been organized; we both have things to focus on.” Tom is in charge of the actual grilling and Michele takes care of prepping, sauces and boxes.

“She’s in charge of all that, besides being in charge of me,” he quips.

“There is never any confusion to what needs to be done and who will be doing it,” Michele adds.

There is one other member of Lo-N-Slo’ BBQ who needs to be mentioned, even though she doesn’t actually compete – Sky, the German shepherd.

“She’s our p.r. rep,” Tom says. She’s also listed on their website,, as taste-tester and greeter. Sky and a few lucky neighbors are the only ones who get to taste the Perelka’s winning barbecue most of the year because they don’t sell it.

“We’re just a competition team. My neighbors, they see my trailer come back from a competition and I’ll hear knocking,” Tom says, joking, adding that he’ll hear them panting outside the door.

Lo-N-Slo’ BBQ was one of 677 teams that competed and won at both the local and regional level to become one of the top 50 finalists to compete on the national level at The Sam’s Club and Kansas City Barbeque Society National BBQ Tour finals on Saturday.

“It will be well worth the 20-plus-hour drive,” Michele says.

All dishes in the competition will use meats from Sam’s Club. Each team will submit chicken, ribs, pork and brisket to be judged by a panel of 48 KCBS-certified barbecue judges, on taste, tenderness and appearance.

The overall winning team is awarded $50,000. However, with more than $500,000 in prize money, there are many winners in various categories. If the Perelkas win big, “Aruba is in the forecast,” Tom says. Prize money also would be saved for future competition expenses and Michele says they’d like to build “our dream outdoor kitchen.”

TV’s ‘Diva Q’ bringing barbecue savvy to Lancaster


Here is an article posted in Lancaster Online, written by Mary Ellen Wright on May 4, 2016. The link to the original article is here.

Danielle Bennett says she was a “really intense home cook” 10 years ago when she agreed to judge a barbecue competition. It transformed her life. “I just fell in love with barbecue, and I just knew it was something I had to pursue and do.” Bennett, a native of Ontario, Canada, who grew up eating southern barbecue on family trips to Florida, set about learning all she could about barbecuing. She took classes at culinary institutes, and “apprenticed with some amazing pit masters throughout the U.S. and Canada.” Her bubbly personality led her to appearances on morning television and cooking shows. She eventually became the TV personality known as Diva Q, hosting her own show, “BBQ Crawl,” on the Travel channel.

On her program, this diva of the grill visits far-flung barbecue joints and participates in barbecue competitions around North America. Bennett is bringing those years of competitive experience to Lancaster Saturday, May 14, to offer an all-day barbecue competition class at Stone BBQ Supply on Lincoln Highway East. The class, Bennett says, is tailored to those interested in competing in the burgeoning world of barbecue competitions. “Basically, we go through a simulated competition timeline,” Bennett says by phone from her home outside Orlando, Florida. “We go through all four categories: chicken, ribs, pork, brisket. “I talk about all the preparation that goes into making these meats — trimming them and presenting them for the judges, and, of course, how to cook them and barbecue them. … It’s everything you need to know to get ready for a competition.

“While it is competition oriented,” Bennett adds, “I’ve had a lot of non-competition people take the class. Because at the end of the day, they want knowledge on how to make really amazing brisket or awesome pulled pork, or they want to do ribs really well for a family. … They just want to learn how to be a backyard superstar.” The class costs $300 per person or $400 per couple, and runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — “good barbecue takes time,” Bennett notes. The class includes breakfast, lunch and samples of all the meats that are barbecued during the day.

Michele Perelka, who runs Stone BBQ Supply with her husband, Tom, says Bennett also will be at the store from 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 13, to meet her fans and sign her new cookbook, “Diva Q’s Barbecue: 195 Recipes for Cooking with Family, Friends & Fire.” “It’s a compilation of 195 recipes, barbecue tips, the basics for the beginner,” Bennett says of her cookbook. “I have recipes for rubs and sauces, I cover vegetables, pork, beef, chicken, a lot of seafood as well. “I cover libations — what are you going to drink with your meal? What are you going to have for dessert? These are real recipes for real people who want to spend some time on their grill,” Bennett says.

While she’s not filming any new “BQ Crawl” shows right now, some of the three years of episodes are still airing on Travel.Bennett, 42, is also a guest judge on the new Food Network show, “Kids BBQ Championship,” which premieres May 23. “These kids were amazing,” Bennett says. “I’m still in shock at how awesome they were. They have such a great skill set, and they have such a passion for barbecuing and grilling.”

In class

This is the second straight year Bennett has held a class at Stone BBQ Supply. “We got to know her on the barbecue circuit,” Perelka says. The Perelkas have been competing since 2006 under the team name Lo’-N-Slo’ BBQ. “We’ve just become really good friends,” Perelka adds. “We compete with each other, but we also share secrets.”

 In the class, Bennett says, she’ll teach her barbecue students how to pair various meats with the proper cooking wood.

“I prefer cooking on hickory more than anything,” Bennett notes. “It’s the number one most recognizable wood flavor in the world for restaurants to use. My next favorites would be the sweet fruit woods, like the apple and the cherry, and pecan is another favorite of mine.”

One tip she’ll share at the class, she says, is how to learn where the hot spots are on your new grill.

“The first thing you should do with a new grill — whether it’s gas, pellet, charcoal, whatever — is start up your grill, and make sure you have a can of the cheapest biscuit dough,” she says. “Crack it open, and once your grill is hot, spread that biscuit dough all over the grill, and into the corners. Within seconds, you’ll learn the hot spots of your grill, just by watching the color of the biscuit dough change.

“It’s better to learn with a can of 89-cent biscuit dough than on a $30 steak,” Bennett says. “It’s biscuits over brisket, because brisket is so expensive.” Bennett says she knows why barbecue is so popular around the world. “Barbecue really crosses over every socioeconomic base,” Bennett says. “One of the great things I love about barbecue is that it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, middle class, poor — you can always barbecue something. “It can be a simple brick pit with cinder blocks and an oven grate or an $8,000 state-of-the-art, technologically advanced pit in your backyard,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter what culture you go to — Asia, Europe, North America, South America, everybody barbecues, everybody grills. “I love the fact that barbecue just makes everybody feel great. Anytime you think of when you were growing up and having a barbecue — it was always a fun time. It always harkens back to that pleasantness, that great memory, that terrific taste on the grill, and it gives you this overall warm, fuzzy feeling. “It doesn’t just feed your body,” Bennett adds. “It feeds your soul.”

New owners for Stone BBQ Supply in Lancaster

The following article appeared on on Dec. 4, 2014 and was written by Chad Umble.

Stone BBQ Supply has new owners who are adding more grills and smokers as well as spices and rubs to the Lancaster barbecue supply shop along Lincoln Highway East.

Tom and Michele Perelka, a New Providence couple who have long entered barbecue contests as Lo’ -N- Slo’ BBQ, bought the business for an undisclosed price recently from Michael Stone who first opened the shop in May 2013.

The roughly 1,100-square-foot shop  at 1920-A Lincoln Highway East carries a variety of grills and smokers as well as accessories and rubs.

The Perelkas, who own and operate the shop, have added new products, including pellet grills and box smokers in addition to giving the store a larger selection of spices, rubs and utensils. They also plan to get some spice wine smokers.

The shop will also host workshops as well as dispense advice on a variety of topics, including suggestions on different rubs, sauces, injections and cooking times.


Barbecue Tips From a Pro – Article from the Lancaster Newspaper

The following article appeared in the Lancaster Newspaper and was posted on Lancaster On-Line on Wed Oct 29, 2014.  Written by MICHAEL LONG.

For several years, Lo’-N-Slo’ BBQ has been a big fish in Pennsylvania’s barbecue pond. The New Providence barbecue outfit — husband-and-wife duo Tom and Michele Perelka — has won the state barbecue title four years running, and is well on its way to a fifth crown.

On Saturday, Lo’-N-Slo’ distinguished itself on a much grander stage, winning the chicken barbecue portion of the 26th annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennesssee.

The Perelkas beat out 70 teams from across America and an additional 22 international teams from as far away as South Africa to claim the chicken title. Overall, Lo’-N-Slo’ finished 10th in the field.

There may be no one in Lancaster County as well-versed in barbecue as the Perelkas. We asked Tom, the grill master, to give our readers a few pointers. Here’s what he had to say.

Do specific meats lend themselves to specific ingredients?

Salts and peppers always go good with beef, maybe with a little garlic. Chicken depends on your neighborhood: We like to have a sweet type of heat. Maybe a little bit of honey mixed in to give it a different flavor. For ribs, a lot of people like a bold spicy rib with a sweet barbecue sauce. With pork, it’s a tomatoey type of sauce. In our area, people like it sweet.

What do you use for your sweet and your heat?

The sweet is sugars: granulated sugars, raw sugars. We use raw sugar because it doesn’t burn. A lot of people wrap ribs (in foil) with brown sugar. Honey and apple juice, too.

In the heat department, I use ancho chili powder. It’s not offensive. It has a nice smoky flavor. You could put that in any barbecue sauce and mix things in. You can take an everyday barbecue sauce, something as simple as Sweet Baby Ray’s, and you could doctor that up and make one heck of a barbecue sauce.

What advice do you give a novice barbecuer?

Practice: If you’re lookin’, you’re not cookin’. And patience: It’s different than grilling a hamburger or hot dog. It’s all about sitting back and relaxing and letting the cooker do its work.

In the beverage department, what goes well with barbecue?

Beer and barbecue always go together. Nothing beats chicken wings on the grill and some beer. That’s always a fan favorite. A nice red wine goes well with some brisket. Between wine and beer, you’ll never go wrong.

When it’s just you and some close friends or family, what do you cook?

We make a Grilled Stuffed Meat Loaf. The recipe is included in the cookbook “America’s Best BBQ —Homestyle: What the Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”

Stone BBQ Supply owner Michael Stone, left, stands with Lancaster Homebrew owner Mark Garber

Lancaster Homebrew expands, moves next to Stone BBQ Supply

Lancaster Homebrew will open Friday at 1920 Lincoln Highway East, taking roughly 2,200 square feet of space in the former home of Glick Audio and Video.

The move doubles the size of the homebrewing equipment and supply shop, which had been at 1944 Lincoln Highway East. It also creates closer ties with its new neighbor, Stone BBQ Supply, which is expanding into another part of the former Glick Audio and Video space.

Glick Audio and Video has moved its showroom to 254 Esbenshade Road, Manheim, with its parent company TCW Computers.

For Lancaster Homebrew, there will be more room for some new equipment and products, including more winemaking supplies, owner Mark Garber said.

The store also carries equipment for home kegerator and tap systems.

In the new location, it also will have more space for winemaking workshops, Garber said. The shop, which opened in August. 2009, has one full-time employee.

Lancaster Homebrew hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. 517-8785,

For Stone BBQ Supply, the extra 500 square feet of retail space will give owner and sole employee Michael Stone more room to arrange large grills and smokers and add more accessories and rubs. The shop opened in May.

The two businesses will be connected by a sliding glass door and the owners plan to partner on a variety of special events that combine beer and barbecue.

Stone BBQ Supply hours: noon-6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. 390-9098,

Michael Stone, owner of Stone BBQ Supply

Stone BBQ Supply opens in Lancaster

Stone BBQ Supply opens in Lancaster

Stone BBQ Supply, a store that carries grills, smokers and accessories is slated to open Friday at 1920-A Lincoln Highway East.

The store, which is in the same building as Glick Audio, spans roughly 1,000 square feet, with about 600 square feet of retail space devoted to a variety of grills, grill equipment and accessories as well as rubs and sauces. It specializes in tools and accessories from Man Law, Mr. Bar-B-Q and Steven Raichlen.

Michael Stone, who has a background in sales and marketing, is the owner and sole employee of Stone BBQ Supply. He says he plans to host a variety of cooking and equipment demonstrations in the shop.