I don't have a Magic 8 ball, or even a crystal ball, but I think I can safely predict that competition barbecue as we've known it for the past 10-years or so, is in the process of changing significantly. Until barbecue contest organizers and sanctioning bodies find a reliable way to incorporate public participation into the events, I think the sport is on shaky ground. We don't have to agree with it and we don't have to like it, but I think the popularity of the Championship Barbecue Series on Versus has offered a glimpse into the future of cooking barbecue for sport.
I can't imagine that my experiences are different than anyone elses, so I'll discuss my own competition efforts as an example to explain why I feel this way.
In 2003 through mid-2005 combined, Linda and I spent nearly $10,000 of own money on barbecue contests, equipment, and part-time business investments. During that time we earned approximately $3,000 in prize money to offset those expenses.
For a typical FBA or KCBS sanctioned ompetition that we attended during 2003 through 2005 our expenses included the following:
--Entry fees $300
Our "pay back" or "earnings" during that time included several category wins in chicken and brisket, which typically represented $300 -$400. For events where we won a category or placed in the top three in a couple of different categories, we were on a break even basis. At one event we placed top five in all four categories and won Reserve Grand Champion, but our total earnings were only $550.
It's now 2008 and our expenses for gasoline and meats have risen significantly. Gasoline prices have doubled and meat prices have risen by at least 50%. So even with a category win, we're in the hole before we even start.
What choices do contest cooks have to combat rising expenses? For most contest cooks, starting a bbq business aimed at capitalizing on bbq contest participation seems viable. The basic choices are as follows:
--Start selling bbq rub
--Start selling bbq sauce
--Start a bbq vending / concession business
--Start a bbq catering service
--Start a barbecue website
--Pursue corporate sponsorship
On the surface, each of those ideas sounded promising to us. They certainly sound simple enough. How hard could it be?
We found a co-packer and started selling our bbq spice rubs at contests and to family and friends. If you're thinking of taking a similar approach, plan to spend at least $850 in start-up expenses, add another $300 or $400 if you want professionally printed labels for your bottles. To earn back the start-up costs, plan on selling at least 1,000 bottles of rub in 10 oz. bottles (600 if you decide to start with a larger 13 oz. bottle).
It would be much easier to sell bbq sauce in these volumes, but the start-up expenses are about 400% greater, so increase the sales to 4,000 small bottles (or 2,400 big bottles). After a little research with the health department and state regulators, we crossed bbq vending, concessions, and catering off the list quickly. The start-up expenses to comply with the legal requirements are nearly $20,000, plus rent on a commissary facility to store supplies and prepare foods.
I started two barbecue websites that do generate a small amount of revenue, but not nearly enough to support the cost of contests. If you have technical expertise, this might a viable alternative for you, but based on my "seat of the pants" knowledge level, it's not been the answer to our expense issues.
Which leaves one more option -- corporate sponsorship. I haven't put any efforts into obtaining a corporate sponsor for our bbq team and as difficult as it sounds, it is probably the best option on this list. And that brings us back to the lack of spectator involvement in the events. Without large numbers of spectators at bbq contests (I'm talking thousands), the corporate sponsorship is going to be hard to come by.
Versus found a way to package bbq contests into short snippets of time to hold an audience. Holding an audience generates corporate sponsorship, which in turn makes bbq contests more profitable. But, it's not practical for fifty or sixty teams to compete on a television program like the Barbecue Championship Series. That program succeeded more because if focused on a few teams. So where does that leave the other 3,955 + teams that compete in bbq contests?
If barbecue contests are to survive in their present form, it's up to the contest organizers and sanctioning bodies to find new and exciting ways to involve the public more directly into the tradional bbq contests.
Start a Catering Business