Tuesday, March 03, 2009

BBQ Contest Strategies

We've been competing in bbq contests for almost 5 years now and have had some small successes here and there. When I decided to start competing in Florida Barbecue Association events, I started out cooking with another team. I mainly did the dishes and served as a "go fer", but I learned about the equipment I would need and I also learned just how hard it is to win a bbq contest.

I learned that organization and planning ahead are key to turning in good bbq samples. Any time that I cook bbq I try to do it the same way I would if I was at a contest. It's kind of become second nature now, but I try to use the same sauce, spices and meats. If I do decide to change something with the hopes of improving the product, I try to only change one thing at a time, so I can better track the effects.

I make a schedule for everything that we do when we compete. I try to arrive at the contest sight at the same time, prep the meat at the same times. Get some sleep at the same times, start my fires, begin cooking, etc. at the same basic times. That way it becomes systematic and I can track the results accurately.

I started cooking on a Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker because it was very affordable and since it was an upright style, when I decided to look at bigger models for competing, I naturally gravitated toward the upright-style smokers such as the Backwoods Smoker.

I use a Party model to cook my chicken and I cook the briskets in the WSM. I cook ribs and butts in my other upright--the 2 x 2 McCullough smoker made for me by James McCullough of New Smyrna, FL. James is a great guy and has been cooking bbq and making smokers for more than 20 years. He also makes large trailer mounted rotisseries that are used by competitors and caters around central Florida.

I think the upright smokers allow me to concentrate on the bbq product more and less on maintaining heat and adding wood. My uprights are basically trouble free. They are very efficient and require only about 25-30 lbs of charcoal to cook a contest.

I purchased a very good bbq video set last winter: Inside The World of Championship Barbecue, and BBQ Secrets: The Master Guide To Extraordinary Barbecue Cookin’.

I watched the videos and took notes and tried to relate what I was doing to the video advice and made a couple of adjustments that have really helped our results.

Inside The World of Championship Barbecue takes you inside a major championship competition. Filmed at the American Royal Barbecue in Kansas City, you will gain solid tips from among the top barbecue cooks in this sport. Loaded with valuable information covering the entire (KCBS style) competition process, this movie is intended to help new competitors chart a winning course to victory.

In BBQ Secrets: The Master Guide To Extraordinary Barbecue Cookin’, 3 world champion barbecue competition cooks, and restaurateur’s, share their unique approaches to barbecue cooking. Learn how to apply the authentic “low and slow” methods to making pork ribs, shoulder, chicken, whole hog, beef brisket, and more. Master the art of making spice rubs and marinades, and how to use different woods for proper flavoring. This award-winning DVD offers a wealth of expert knowledge not readily available from other sources, and includes the champion’s own private recipes.

The video set comes with a recipe booklet that has a lot of the recipes featured in the video. I got some good ideas from the recipe book. One in particular has more than paid for the cost of the videos.


Chris said...

Interesting post, Brian. One day, I hope I'll get the moxy up to enter a contest, even in backyard or shadetree division.

Do you feel that the added pressure of competition make ENJOY bbq more or detract from it? I'm already pretty hard on myself with my Q, I can't imagine what I'd feel like if I knew it was judged.

The BBQ Guy said...

I am a competitive person, so the competition just adds to the enjoyment for me. It's something my wife and I can do together, and we've met a lot of nice people at various events.

With that said, I do not enter a contest if I am not prepared to give it 100% of my effort. When work is heavier than normal, like it has been for the 6 or 8 months, I scale back on the contests. Hopefully we'll back on the trail again soon.

John said...

Ditto on the two DVD's. I've purchased them both as well and it has helped me while practicing at home. I haven't cooked in a competition yet, but my wife and I are taking a judging class this weekend. Thought I'd pursue that route to get my feet wet first before I dive in. Plus, it'll help know what I'm up against when I practice at home.

I've never used a WSM, but another guy I've met highly recommend's them as well. Currently I just have a cheap smoker with a lousy firebox. I live in Minnesota and it is practically useless in the fall and especially winter. You get what you pay for!

Jim said...


Anonymous said...

To the guys from Minnesota who have said that their smokers are useless during Winter - I feel for you. I too live in Minnesota, and was just BBQin' this past weekend out in White Bear Lake with a temp of 20degrees and less. Never had a problem, but we do a fast and hot BBQ method instead of low and slow during the winter (still works just not as much smoke in your meat).

Go with a Big Green Egg. They are more expensive than Brinkmanns and Webers, but they maintain heat so well that they are worth it. You'll never have a problem with fire management.

Marty said...

Back Woods Smokers are the best. Check them out on