It can be a bit daunting… These BBQ competitions look kind of intense even with all the beer and funny t-shirts there is an underlying seriousness to it all.
After getting though our “first time” this past weekend at a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event we have a few tricks to get you through the first big cook off.
First, know all the rules. Head strait to the website of the organization putting on the event. In my case it was http://www.kcbs.us/. Read all the fine print. The K.C.B.S. site also has a great “Your First Cook-Off” article here.
Ask questions… start at your nearest BBQ joint. I was lucky enough to be warned about having a sanitation station. In our case a clean cooler filled with beach-water and clean rags for surface cleaning; plus a fresh water cooler with push-button spigot (upright Gatorade type worked nicely) over a bus-tray as a hand washing station. Don’t forget the hand sanitizer, paper towels and soap.
You’ll need to have a fire extinguisher. No one checked ours; but we were in an amateur division and it was on the KCBS check -off judges sheet.
You’ll need gear. Don’t be intimidated by the huge rigs of the regulars on the bar-be-que circuit. No doubt those guys have it down, but I’ve heard big contests have been won on a couple of small Webber bullet grills. Our team used a single Brinkmann “Gourmet” Charcoal Smoker and it worked great. We only had two divisions (chicken and ribs) so one smoker was easy. For next time (with additional categories of brisket and pork-butt) we’ll add a second “bullet” smoker.
Research presentation and “turn in.” Timing matters. Can you keep the meat hot up until turn-in? You’ll be given official numbered turn in boxes for your team’s entries. I’ve seen some teams use insulated pizza delivery delivery bags to help retain heat.
I had a tough time finding clear tips online. Here area few starting points:
Don’t get too drunk. Not a problem for us… but seeing that we were warned by more than one cooker… and looking at a few of the teams… It must be a common hazard.
Do a test run at home. Use exactly what you’ll be using at the competition. We didn’t used colored cocktail tooth picks (to pin down the skin on our chicken) at our home test. To our horror the green and red toothpicks we used on-site added big green and red spots in the flesh of the chicken. Green spots have got to cost some “appearance” points! We got creative with a knife and sauce.
Don’t forget the little things. There’s potentially a lot. Again KCBS has a great list to get you covered HERE under “First Cook off.” It’s a good idea to start with a hometown (but sanctioned) contest. Out of town travel creates another level of planning. You’ll be amazed how many competitions are in the state of South Carolina alone!
Be prepared. Anything can happen. It will probably rain. They won’t let your car back on the grounds. Through all of it take a few notes for next time. Plus get the judges score sheets to track your future adjustments.