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A taste of the South: Farmington couple now certified BBQ judges

Kim and Jeff Walton of Farmington both grew up in the South and share their love for barbecue as certified judges for the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — You can take a family out of the South, but you can't take the South out of a family.

Jeff Walton was raised in Kansas City, Mo., but grew up eating barbecue influenced by his father's home state of North Carolina.

"I would always hang out with my dad at the grill cause that's what little boys did in the '60s," Walton said. "I kind of learned the art of hickory barbecue on a Weber Kettle Grill."

Walton's wife, Kim, is from Arkansas and inherited her love of cooking from her mother, whom she called a "really great cook."

As a couple, they create a dynamic dining duo, serving their family Southern-style meals with barbecue being an all-time favorite.

The couple now live in Farmington and, despite being in the North, have discovered an outlet to share their love and expertise of smoked meat.

"We always went to the Dakota County Fair and we always encouraged the kids to enter something," Jeff said. Kim would often submit something to a judged contest as well, so he'd taken that all in, too.

"While I was watching her being judged on some pies I found that they had a grilling competition."

Jeff has since won two of these competitions and was hungry to find more outlets to compete.

The couple soon found the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the world's largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts.

The society sanctions over 500 barbecue contests worldwide and offers courses to educate meat-lovers and certify them as official KCBS judges.

The Waltons took the course earlier this year and then attended "Spring Training," a class offered by the Minnesota Barbecue Society at the Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science at the University of Minnesota.

This was an all-day event, featuring presentations from national barbecue champions, knife-handling demonstrations and, of course, a delicious lunch of perfectly smoked meat with the appropriate sides.

The Waltons found the day to be incredibly interesting and are excited to use what they learned in future competitions, whether as judges or competitors.

While the competitions themselves are fun, the judges have plenty of rules to follow to keep everything professional. For example, the judges must eat with their hands to preserve the flavor of the meat, but they cannot lick their fingers when they're done.

Each piece of meat is judged on three things: appearance, flavor and tenderness.

Upon tasting each entry, the judges will pencil in the deserving score on a paper ballot and wait for the next category.

Despite the formalities, the Waltons believe that barbecue is a unifying art form that is meant to be shared, and are excited to have found a community that loves it as much as they do.

"We just think it's kind of fun and interesting," said Kim. To which her husband responded, "It's hilarious, it just is."