Searching for Something
From the executive editor
AFTER THE MARSHAL told the judges they should not, under any circumstance, base their scores on the taste of the barbecue sauce, a bearded man in an apron raised his hand to ask why.
The marshal, an older fella with a Marines-style buzz cut and permanently pressed lips, who’d introduced himself as a board member and representative of the North Carolina BBQ Association, stuffed his hands in his khaki shorts and answered:
“Because the meat and the smoke are the most important thing.”
Overlooking the fact that the most important thing was actually two things, the bearded man in the apron circled back to the least important thing.
“So we’re just supposed to score it without the sauce?”
“Yes. Well …”
The marshal was softening.
“… that would fall under your ‘Overall Impression’ score.”
And the room breathed.
I’ve had the privilege of experiencing many interesting scenes as a writer and editor, but sitting in the judges meeting before the Q City Barbecue Championship in October was among the most memorable, ranking somewhere alongside the time I sank my teeth into a piece of fried turkey only to bite down on a shot pellet.
I had no idea what went into this. People get hot over judging cooked hog.
The NCBBQA is a new organization that formed because North Carolina “is the backbone of barbecue in the United States.” But it came with its own rules—“say it again, you’re judging for taste, texture, and overall impression”—and people who judge barbecue competitions are particular about their rules. They’re used to those set by associations from Kansas City and Memphis, our flashier barbecue cousins.
Trying to establish objective standards on something that’s inherently subjective isn’t easy. For the past few months, people have asked me what we were looking for as we were trying to select our inaugural Charlottean of the Year. I never could come up with a simple answer.
Throughout the month of August, we posted a form on our website asking for public nominations. The only criteria: Nominees had to have made Charlotte a better place. Then, in September, we asked a few of the city’s leaders from a range of fields to submit a nomination. Then we took the names, about 50 legitimate candidates, and put them in categories—things like arts, education, public service, volunteers, and business—and started to make cuts. We held three two-hour meetings to get it down to the people you see in this issue.
Then we took that list and set out to pick one as the overall winner, the one who goes from being a Charlottean of the Year to being the Charlottean of the Year. I’ll never forget going around the table and listening as one person after another made the case for Garinger High School history teacher James Ford. “In this year, especially,” everybody said, referring to the endless debates about education locally and statewide, “look at what he’s doing.”
By the time the conversation got back to me, Ford was clearly the only choice. I don’t think I had to add anything else except, “OK.” And that’s when I knew what we were looking for.