So you’ve mastered your Green Mountain Grill or your weapon of choice, executed the perfect brisket and your ribs are the best on the block. Some of you have now sparked that competitive fire inside, knowing you can out-cook all your friends and family. What’t the next step? Perhaps a local backyard bbq competition? Maybe a step into the Pro BBQ Circuit? Every BBQ competitor started out just like you in the backyard, and then decided to throw their hat in the ring. Are you ready?
We wanted to give you a glimpse into in the life of a competitive BBQ Pitmaster.
There’s a reason Barbecuers are so passionate and why competitors will spend 1000s of dollars and travel 100s of miles just to sleep outside in a parking lot.
BBQ is engrained into every human. Fire, meat and smoke are the things dreams are made of, and many who have these dreams, follow them for the rest of their lives. For every Pitmaster, the road to perfect BBQ is a never ending journey, which is why at BBQ competitions, the highest score given is a “9” because of the fact that perfect BBQ is unattainable.
BBQ is more then cooking. It is an art—or more specifically a “craft” which requires artistic ability with scientific knowledge. Using the smoke as an ingredient, just as you would salt and pepper. Competitive cooks build a flavor profile, layering flavor upon flavor, to create a unique tasting experience, second to none. Judges will notice a sweet flavor up front as they bite down, giving way to a savory note, and finishing with a slow heat to finish. Adding the right amount of smoke to this flavor is key. Each wood has its own flavor to round out the whole taste experience.
Another reason competitive BBQ has grown exponentially is the BBQ community itself. It is a strange dynamic of fierce competition, with a camaraderie that makes it feel like a family reunion. When you make the jump and enter your first competition, you will experience a group of people that will give you the shirt off their back and let you borrow anything you may have forgotten to bring. Don’t be scared to ask for help, they may not tell you every trick but they will get you started on the right path.
What exactly goes into preparing for a competition?
Saturday and Sunday: Most pitmasters’ competitions start the weekend before. The search for the perfect piece of meat is key and is the first step toward winning. You will see them scouring the supermarkets and club stores searching for a well marbled brisket or the perfect size pork butt. Some may even order their meat online to get the competitive edge. By Sunday most will have their meats in their home refrigerator.
Monday and Tuesday: This begins the next step as teams will typically mix their secret sauces and injections. These will also be the days to double check to make sure they have everything accounted for and make any last minute trips to the store.
Wednesday: It’s now getting into crunch time. Most teams trim their meats Wednesday night, vacuum sealing and storing them for the long drive to the competition venue. (This is a very important step for any rookie team. Make sure to trim meats at home and take your time. You don’t want to be rushing this step while at the competition)
Thursday: The nerves are starting to kick in, while the trailer or car is getting loaded, trying not to forget anything. This is also the day for the famous parsley run for the turn-in boxes. If you have never seen someone spending 30 minutes going through every bunch of parsley at the store, it’s a sight to behold.
Friday (the first day of the competition): More seasoned teams will try and get in as soon as possible to avoid trying to load in with everyone at the same time, this also allows them to get the meat inspection done and get the brisket and pork injected and rubbed early (no meats may be preseasoned prior to inspection). Once the camp is set up, meats are prepped and the chance to meet your fellow competitors begins. This is where the spirit of BBQ really shines as teams sit down to talk BBQ and life in general, sharing stories and having a good laugh.
Friday night: As teams continue to gather together, fires are starting to be lit for the guys who are cooking low and slow. Those cooking hot and fast may be getting ready for bed as they will be getting up in the wee hours of the morning. The night at a BBQ competition is magical, with the smell of 50+ smokers filling the air. Some may sleep, others stay up, but everyone is focused on the meat and what the next day has in store.
Saturday morning (the second day of the competition): The early morning brings the sounds of smoker doors closing and people rushing around, as most will be attending to the meats that cooked overnight. Teams at this time will keep to themselves a lot more than the night before as they focus on the upcoming crunch time.
Saturday, crunch time: This starts around 10am just about the time most teams put chicken on and lasts until 1:30 pm when the final turn in is done. There’s a lot of hustle during these hours as pitmsters finalize their turn in boxes and try to make the 10 minute window for turning in each category.
Saturday, after turn ins: The pressure is off but the work isn’t over just yet… clean up starts and camps start to be torn down, as everyone is second guessing what they turned in and anxiously awaiting the awards.
Saturday, awards: This is what it comes down to and what makes all the work worthwhile. There will be tears of joy and sorrow. This is another time when the BBQ community shines. Teams will cheer for their fellow competitors’ wins as if they had won them themselves. A winner is crowned and goodbyes are said. With teams already talking about the next competition they will be at.
Sunday: The day of rest, sleeping in is key as the work week is just about to start or maybe prep for the next competition.
The life of a competitive BBQ pitmaster is a busy one, especially when you add all the prep for a competition to a full time job. But ask any one of them if they would give it up, and they would tell you they are just getting started.
If you are looking to compete: practice your chicken, ribs, pork and brisket on your Smoker. Research as much information as you can and visit KCBS.us to find a competition near you.