Competition bbq professionals spend years perfecting every aspect of their barbecue. Yes, they develop their own sauces, marinades and rubs, but they also study every other detail that can affect the outcome of their food – including the size of the smoker, the perfect temperature, the perfect wood or charcoal and exactly how to place the meat in the smoker. Breaking into this highly competitive environment can be intimidating.
However, before you enter your first competition, you need to commit to a few months of preparation. Find a competition date about six months to a year ahead of time. This will give you plenty of time to get the entry fee together, build your team and get in lots of practice. You will want to attend this competition at least once before you compete in it. The best way to do this is to be a judge.
Most reputable competitions will require a one day judges’ class. You will then be certified, and you will have a much better understanding of what the judges are looking for in terms of taste and appearance. The best way to begin competing is to enter the “patio” division or “backyard” division of the competition. This gives you a chance to get a feel for competitive cooking, it is far less expensive to compete, and you will have the opportunity to see how the professionals handle presentation, judging and other aspects of the competition.
Hang out with the pros as much as you can. Ask them questions about their techniques and see if you can learn how to perfect your own technique. As the competition approaches, practice, practice, practice. Judging the competition and entering the amateur division first will help prepare you for your first experience with the pros.
Choosing the meat you use for competition is most important. Look for meat that does not have solution added. Most barbecue professionals trim their own meat instead of depending on a butcher, because they have complete control over the quality and fat content. It is also important to select the right wood chips for your barbecue smoker. Mesquite and oak can easily overpower delicate pork, so most professionals choose a milder fruit tree wood such as cherry, apple or peach.
There is a lot of debate over using lighter fluid, but if you want to completely avoid the problem, use a chimney starter to light your charcoal or wood barbecue smoker. You will also need to determine whether or not you will brine the meat before cooking and what rub, marinade or sauce you want to use. Aside from testing the flavor of rubs and sauces, professionals experiment with how soon to put them on.
Competition barbecue not only tastes far better than restaurant quality barbecue, it looks amazing. You will need to learn how to make your barbecue look as good as it tastes. You will also need to find a unique, attractive way to garnish your competition box, and if the judging is done on site you will need decorations for that, too. Planning meets preparation in pro barbecue competitions.