BBQ&A: Master Judge Andy Sawran

We’ve had barbecue on the brain all month. We can smell the smoker in our dreams. It’s just something about the way the barbecue sauce sizzles on the grill, wafting charred meat goodness into the air… If you share the same affinity for pork, brisket and ribs, make sure you check out Smoking the Competition: In the BBQ Pit with Central PA’s Grillmasters for a look at the region’s upcoming barbecue events. Now, on the heels of our pork-side chat with BBQPitmasters star “The Professor” Tuffy Stone, we bring you another quick BBQ&A, this time with Mid Atlantic Barbecue Association’s vice president and master judge, Andy Sawran. Bibs up, folks


Andy Sawran was having a midlife crisis in the summer of 2007, so he decided to buy a Harley Davidson. On a whim, a friend convinced him to ride 134 miles from his home in Hershey to Dover, DE, for the Diamond State BBQ Championship.

Sawran says it “smelled like heaven” as he walked around Dover International Speedway with 92 teams competing for the title of Grand Champion. He happened to bump into a man with a shirt that said “Certified Judge,” and Sawran asked how he could get that job.

Within a week, Sawran had signed up for the Kansas City Barbeque Society, drove to Salisbury, MD, to take a four-hour judging class and became a certified competition judge. Since then, Sawran has moved on to become a “Master Judge,” based on his record of judging 30 competitions, taking a written test and cooking with a competition team.

“It just means I’ve eaten more pork than the guy sitting next to me,” Sawran laughs.

Sawran also serves as vice president of the Mid Atlantic Barbecue Association – a 300-member organization representing New York to North Carolina with the goal of promoting barbecue. We spoke with Sawran last month as he was preparing to leave to judge a competition in Wildwood, NJ.


Fly Magazine: As a judge, what are the differences in meats you look for to have a team stand out with their creations?

Andy Sawran: Whether it’s ribs, chicken or pulled pork, the first thing I like to find is a smoky flavor – that’s the whole purpose of doing stuff in the smoker. It’s not a sauce contest – that’s one of the things I was taught. It’s not about slathering so much sauce on that it tastes like chipotle or something else. With the general public, people talk about “fall off the bone” ribs. But with judging, that would be considered overdone in a competition. And if pork gets mushy, it’s probably overcooked.

FM: Do you have a favorite meat to judge in competition?

AS: There’s nothing better than a pork butt that’s been well seasoned and might have some sort of injection that will keep it moist and has some sort of a dry rub on the outside. When it cooks, the sugar content forms what we call “bark,” and it’s that chunky, crusty stuff on the outside that really has some great flavor while the meat remains juicy.

FM: Do you have a favorite style of barbecue?

AS: Quite frankly, when I was growing up and mom said, “We’re having barbecue,” I thought it was that stuff made out of hamburger and ketchup that now I call a Sloppy Joe. Today, I like a vinegar-based sauce to complement the meat – not to overpower the flavor of the meat, but to augment it and maybe add a little bit more moisture and flavor to the smokiness.

FM: What’s the most important tip you could give to backyard barbecuers?

AS: Pull a piece of off the grill and let it rest. Wrap it in something – a lot of the teams will use foil or a shipping blanket. Let it rest for two or three hours, and it does so much to keep the moisture and juices in there, along with the flavors. Also, it won’t be overdone. A lot of the professional barbecuers say, “If you’re looking, you’re not cooking.” Put the meat in the cooker, get your temp up to 225 or 250 degrees and let it go for eight to 10 hours.


Are you a barbecue aficionado? Tell us your tips below!


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Posted in Kitchen Talk, PROfiles

Michael Yoder has been writing stories at numerous publications for more than a decade. His interests include impersonating Santa Claus, performing stand-up comedy and drawing circular objects. His dream is to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Michael is a former features editor for Fly; he left in 2015.

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