Jess Pryles
Jess Pryles

Until you’ve taken an interest in American style barbecue competitions, you may well have though that curly leaf parsley was a passé herb- practically extinct outside of the tiny little sprigs you find in your take away sushi packs. But one peek at any entry from most professional American competitions will reveal perfect meats atop a bed of grass green, perfectly manicured, good ol’ fashioned curly parsley.

A majority of barbecue alliances (including KCBS and the St Louis BBQ Society) specifically only allow both types of parsley, any green lettuce and cilantro (which we know as coriander). The Arizona based Barbecue Championship Series allows any form of “leafy edible vegetable” and many of the Texas based alliances such as the CTBA and Lonestar Society do not allow any type of garnish at all, but DO require you to foil the inside of your tray. 


BBQ judges are told to ignore or overlook the garnish – it’s not there to be tasted, only looked at. Its entire raison d’être is merely to enhance the initial appearance of the barbecued meat by creating an eye-pleasing contrast of colour. 

Some BBQ Judge certification courses will even try to trip you up by presenting the parsley chopped and sprinkled over the entry. Technically, not a violation in most cases, but most teams will naturally steer away from putting anything other than sauce on the meat. 


There are general trends that are more popular and accepted when it comes to garnish. Sure, you may be able to use coriander in SLBS comps, but hardly anyone does. It seems that there’s an unspoken rule and general agreement for how things are supposed to be presented, and most of the time, it comes back to the herb “Afro” of curly parsley. 

So, why all the rules? And what’s so wrong with red tipped lettuce anyway? A course instructor once answered this question with a cheeky smile and the words “just because”. The larger reason for specific garnish guidelines is actually due to marking, or the differentiating of one competitors entry box from another. See the theory goes, you use red tipped lettuce then tell you mate Stan (who just so happens to be a judge that day) to keep an eye out for your particular red tipped entry and make sure he scores it high. But, if Stan can’t tell one box from another, then he has no choice but to judge fairly!


Sure, it’s not a perfect plan – there are ways of arranging or cutting allowed garnishes to still make your entry distinct – perhaps that’s why the Texans are so hardcore about foil only? As for the ABA – our approved garnishes are parsley (curly or flat), green lettuce or kale. No red tipped lettuce – because sometimes you just have to salute tradition!

Photos courtesy of Meat Mitch