Competition Lessons

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Meat Mopper
Original poster
OTBS Member
Jun 20, 2006
Marietta, GA
This could be one of those threads that could be continuously added to, but I did learn a few valuable lessons this weekend. Enjoy:

1. Don't try your first contest by yourself. I really missunderstood the amount of work, especially with the bad weather.

2. Bring it, because you will probably need it. Zip ties, parachute cord, extra injector, strainer, etc...

3. Be very patient with the spectators. It seems that "your space" is actually public space! My one regret is being short with a couple who wanted to samply my pork while I was putting together the turn-in box. If nobody explains it to the public, then how will they know how to act? Don't expect common sense...

4. Be generous with the other competitors, and they will be generous back. I did not understand how helpful my competition really was. There was only one team that had a couple of prima-donnas, but everybody else treated me like I was partner rather than a competitor. I made a lot of new friends!

5. Practice, practice, practice! Even though we had practiced, two of our turn-in boxes were a disaster. Pretty much throw the lettuce and meat in the box, and try to keep as much rain as possible out! We never tried to put one together under stress, and it showed.

6. Write out your schedule. I was amazed at all the PDAs, dry erase boards, Excel spreadsheets, notebooks, etc. It really makes a difference, especially when alcohol is involved.

7. Expect the unexpected. We budgeted our time for brisket on several that we had done at about the same size. For some reason, this one didn't get stuck ! The damn thing was done an hour and a half early. Pretty frustrating...
Thank you, Noah!
I do not intend to find myself in competition in Northern Vermont but at the same time some of your new wisdom also applies to a backyard bash!
Thanks for taking the time to share this with us!
Much wisdom in a single post. :D

Although I haven't competed, I've been to a few, helped in a few, and judged one ... even went to one with several friends entered and the rain poured down so that some of them were standing in ankle deep running water while competing. Everything you said is so true but I especially like #4. 8)
Definately all good info. even though I am not thinking of entering a competition any time soon. I will come back to this post time and time again as a guideline for when I visit a competition and eventually enter one. thanks for sharing your expertice with us Noah.

All good info.

I would add, when going to a comp... I found one of the main things is to have a GREAT TIME.... and with all of that info eveyone should.

We did, and we learned a lot. It was our first for both of us. And yes, we are going to do it again. We have a few things that we need, so we are putting off another until next year. Then, since we did one this year, we are thinking of maybe 3-5 next year. And then go from there.....

Everyone should go to one, help at one, or compete in at least one. It is a ton of fun, you get to meet a lot of great people, and you will learn a LOT....

Fellas, I'm surely not knocking it. I have the utmost admiration and respect for those of you who have chosen to become the smoky warriors of the competition world, but I just gotta ask what's the drive? I mean We've done many a marathon smoke, and it's hard work even when your only competing w/ yourself. From the comps I've been to and heard reported about, it sounds like adding stress to stress.

Bill, I like your post, but couldn't it be an equally enriching experience if you just stayed on the spectator side? We've certainly learned alot that way. I mean, smokin' people usually like to talk smoke.

If I'm missing something, please fill me in. This is a sincere post. Every time we've thought about competing, we end up deciding to just go watch, and eat, and do our cooking on our own time.

Hi DDBBQ, Some compete to go to the Jack Daniels cook off and that prize is 25 thousand dollars and they also get the bragging rights that thier BBQ is the best.. As far as being stressful that would depend on how serious you take it. Some just like to see how thier Q compares to others. So I think there are many reasons why people go to these events. Some go just for the fun of it and to meet other folks who share the same interest. I am sure there are other reasons as well. if they're going just for a good time then I don't think it's that stressful. It is what you make it.

Just my thoughts

Hey guys,
How bout some tips from the pros on how to get started in competing? You know, what kind of meat they expect, is it smart to garnish and serve with a dippin' sauce, are they picky about the type of smoker or the appearence of the smoker the food came from, stuff like that.
I would like to enter one or two next year. I have been smoking for years and I have finally got this homebuilt smoker tuned to perfection. I was pretty proficient at it anyway, but a good smoker with a good ventilation system sure makes a difference. Not so much on flavor, but on baby sitting the temp and wood useage. We smoke probably 2 to 3 times a month, year round. We are trying to come up with our own dippin' sauce, but it's pretty hard to come up with something unique.
I smoke about a thousand pounds a jerky and deer sticks for the local hunters and they keep comin' back, so I must be doing something right.
Yes you can learn a lot as a spectator... but you will only learn so much...

I went, saw, asked, and thought I knew it all.... nope... there is the other side of the fence, that you don't really see as a spectator. I went in with the attitude that I was there to learn when I went to my first comp. I was not expecting to win anything.... I went around on Friday night to talk to the others, and introduce myself. Next thing I knew, some were bringing me samples of their Friday night cookings..... We chatted, exchanged ideas, and that is where I learned more than a spectator. I also got the hands on during the "crunch" time of making sure the meats were done in time for turn ins. And since we went not expecting to win, but to learn, we did, and the 4th place trophy was icing on the cake.

Oh yeah... you guys want to know what kinds of meat and tips....

Don't buy the "cheap" box store cuts. Find a good meat shop, and start to buy from them. Then as you get to know the meat cutter more, start asking for the better stuff..... there are several grades of meat. The box store sells the cheaper grades to keep the cost down to sell more. So if you want a better grade of meat... expect to pay a little more. You will have to ask for it, or you will not get it.

If you do a KCBS competition, you will have to turn in chicken, pork, ribs, and brisket to be eligible for grand champion or reserve grand champion. I am not real familiar with other organizations to tell you about their turn in requirments.

If you go to you will see their rules. It isn't really as bad as it sounds.

BTW, I am no pro.. but working on it....

OK... next...

I would be happy to tell you everything but my rub recipes.

First, when you are cooking (practice) put a time limit when the meat needs to be done and learn to work it so when your meat is not going to be ready within your time table you have techniques to get it finished. Foil is a friend when competeing.

Cook choice or better brisket, look for a good fat cap and even thickness across the flat end. Trim the brisket so when it's finished it fits in the 9X9 box without having to cut off an end of the slice. Try to have the brisket wrapped and in a dry cooler 2 to 4 hours before it's time to cut into it for presentation. Look at having a finish sauce that can be applied to the face of the slices that does not dull the finish but understand the brisket can't be gray in color.

Pork butt look at injections and rubs that complament each other. Have a couple butts to chose from for pulled and pull chunks not shreds. Pull the butts off the cooker at 185 to 190 and have it wrapped and in a dry cooler 2 to 4 hours before the turn-in time.

I'm going to stop here and if you have any questions ask away.

I do competition cooking class in the Pacific NW, we go through all four meats and we do teach exactly what we do.

Choose a tecnique and work it till you have down. the difference between a top finish and not, is how you work the meat when things aren't going right.

I was cooking with Chris Lilly and Ray Lampe in Seattle, we had a rain storm that dropped 4" of rain in a couple hours in the middle of the night. The rain took all the heat out of the offset we were cooking on. I watched Chris take a pork shoulder and cook it at 450º in a BGE to get it done. It took a first in that category. Competition is about taking a disaster and making it work.

Thanks for the input. As a "newbie" myself with only one competition under my belt, all that is great info. There is so much to learn....

And yes. Timing is of the essence. That is in my opinion one of the main factors. Getting a quality piece of meat in a timely manner, a deadline. Not like when you are in your backyard, with a little flex time.

And yes, the foil is a great friend.

I have been memtoring cooks that want to get into comepition cooking for a number of years, coming out to the PNW maybe a hardship on you but by going to contest in your area and talking to the teams would be your best bet.

That's exactly what I was thinking. I want to start competing but its a little overwhelming right now. I'm looking to take a judge's class when it is offered in my state. If I know what it takes to win, I figure that's a good start.
Is this a cart before the horse kind of thing where you need to compete to find out how to judge and you need to judge to find out how to compete?

Please let us know how the class goes I may have to take some time off of work and attend one of those myself however our family vacations are pretty well planned out for right now
Oh, you can do it. Tell her about all the great antique and gift shops in old MO. I've been all over the country and have never seen more of these places anywhere. And Branson's just a hop and a skip.
I drove to Traverse City from Omaha on a 50 pan-head. Now that's a rough ride. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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