When I decided I wanted to start competing in bbq contests, my backyard cooks took on a whole different approach. I became more serious and took a more systematic approach to things. Up until that time my approach to bbq was kind of non-chalant and happy-g0-lucky, but upon making the commitment to work towards the ultimate goal of paying an entry fee to compete in an actual contest I got real serious.
I started down this more systematic road by assembling an arsenal of bbq recipes, bbq web sites, bbq books, magazines, watching Food Network, and talking to other people involved in the hobby.
For the aspiring contest cook I think there are two pretty good websites that are useful in helping wade through all the white-noise out there regarding how to actually do it. Since that day five years ago on my back patio in Casselberry, FL, I've developed my own theories, recipes, and system based on observation of others and just plain old seat-of-the-pants trial and error, but Virtual Weber Bullet and Barbecuen on the Internet definitely helped shorten the learning curve. Both sites have a lot of basic information and pictures of cookers, diagrams, recipes, history and just plain old bbq stuff.
I made a file folder of things that I printed from both sites and kept it for reference later on. The Virtual Weber Bullet site helped me develop an understanding of fire control and the importance of knowing your cooker.
Barbecuen, helped me decide what type of cooker I wanted to use. There must be about 15 or 20 different types of cookers, grills and smokers featured on the web site and Smokey Hale lists many of the pro's and con's of each.
I learned the importance of keeping records of my cooks including recipes used, temperature, time, weather conditions, preparation techniques, spices, sauces, etc. The more detailed these records, the better. The Virtula Weber Bullet site has examples of a cooking log that you can adapt for your own use.
I learned that if a particular cooking session did not meet my expections for results, don't change everything willy-nilly, but rather change one thing at a time to sneak up on the results I was looking for. Just like the scientific-method I learned in high school chemistry, changing too many variables at the same time prevents the serious competitor from understanding and pinpointing exactly which technique, spice, sauce, wood type, charcoal, etc. did not meet expectations.
Hopefully the articles I write for the BBQ Blog are helping others get started. My aim is to help flatten the learning curve for those who want to improve their backyard cooking and start to compete. By all means, learn from my mistakes and benefit from my successes.
Read the previous article in the series