Consider picking up a different set of tools. BBQ competitions will be welcoming teams almost every weekend through September. If you enjoy friendly competition and can recruit a few friends to help, then it’s easy to try out.
Not sure what you would be getting into? Here are a few things to expect:
Most competitions are a two day commitment, not including the time it takes to prepare. Teams roll in Friday morning and leave late Saturday afternoon. If you’re new to competitions, I’d recommend having at least three people committed for the full two days. Registering is easy. Just browse www.kcbs.us for something that aligns with your schedule and location. Plan on spending at least $500 for the weekend to cover registration fees, competition meat, plus food and drink for the team. When you roll in Friday morning you’ll go through a checkin process. The competition, along with Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) will check to make sure your meat is still in the original packaging and has not been prepared ahead of time. Once you’re set up at your spot then Friday is like a long tailgate. Enjoy yourself! The first BBQ competition should be about having fun and learning. Plenty of teams are happy to lend a hand and give advice. Invite some friends and family out to enjoy it with you, but keep it manageable. Tip: Cook the Friday night meat for friends and family before the competition. It’s easy to reheat on the grill still tastes great. Expectations for getting a ribbon should be low. BBQ competition is a little like poker. Even the very best don’t win every week, but the teams with more experience who have learned a few tricks here and there over the years will score the highest more often than most.
There are four main meats, which teams are judged on: Chicken, Ribs, Pork, and Brisket. Each meat is given a score of 1 – 9 based on 1. Presentation, 2. Taste, and 3. Tenderness. Appearance gets the least weight, and taste gets the most. KCBS limits what can be used for presentation so be sure to read their rules. Teams are required to turn in at least 6 pieces of each meat. A judge then samples each piece. This is where the competitions gets very subjective. Every judge can not sample every entry, so entries are grouped together. Judges sit six to a table and sample and score six meats. There is no clear-cut rule on how spicy, sweet, or saucy an entry should be. So judges with different taste may score the same meat differently. This is where the poker analogy comes in. You might get a bad judge or tough table here and there, but teams who consistently turn in great bbq will have more success over time.
Once all the bbq is scored, the teams gather for an awards ceremony where typically the top 10 – 20 teams are announced for each category and the top 5 – 10 get ribbons. The majority of competitions pay out $5,000 – $10,000 in total prizes. For most of us, it’s not about the prize money. The most important ingredient is fun. It’s a long weekend and big commitment. If you can walk away w/ a good time and good memories, then I recommend it.