Your first BBQ competition is upon you, you’ve been practicing and prepping. Your timelines are set, you have your supplies together and it's time to load up and head out. Today we are gonna talk about actually getting there, setting up and competing.
Before you even load the vehicle ask yourself. Where are you going? Sounds like a silly question right? To the BBQ competition you think to yourself. True you are but do you know where the load in is? What time can you arrive?
Hopefully you have already gotten this from the event organizer. Usually in an email or packet. Different events have different little rules or challenges for you to overcome. Also don't be afraid to email or call the organizer with any questions, also tell them this is your first competition they will be more than happy to help.
Questions like, is there electricity or do you need to bring a generator. Or if you are using a water cooker like a Myron Mixon Smokers H20 are water hookups available. My second competition I had to change up cookers and could not use the H20 because the event did not have water connections at the site. I was lucky enough to have multiple cookers to choose from. I called and double checked on water when I got my email with event information. Luckily they had power so I did not need a generator.
Once you have arrived at the event site you will meet either the event organizer or a volunteer to check you in and show you to your site. First thing to do is stop and take a deep breath. It is very exciting to be at your first competition. It's now time to set up your site. Hopefully you have planned your site set up while doing your practice cooks.
One thing I highly recommend is to go introduce yourself to your neighbors. BBQ competitions are great fun and you will make some great friends. When you introduce yourself don't be afraid to let them know you are new to the sport. You will find most teams will be super excited for you, and happy to offer any help they can. At my first KCBS competition when people found out I was new and at my first event many went out of there way to say hello and offer to answer any questions. The other great thing in doing this is you get a peak at how other teams set up there sites. Now this is not to say you should be “shigging” (entering another BBQ teams site with intent to steal team secrets)
But I mean things like hey they hung paper towels from the frame of the tent in order to keep them up and out of the way but accessible. One trick I learned was pvc pipe extensions to raise my main prep table.
Next up will be the cooks meeting. Similar to the drivers meeting in Nascar. At least the head cook from each team will attend. This is when rules will be reviewed and any specific instructions about the event or the site will be explained. Such things as turn in times to electrical hook ups. This is also your opportunity to ask questions. Don't be afraid too. Generally the person running the meeting will also know if there are new teams and be more than happy to explain things. If you haven't already then after the meeting you will have your meat inspected. This is explained in the KCBS rules but basically means your meat must be vacuum packed unseasoned or marinated and kept at proper temperature. Once it has been inspected you may begin prep work and or cooking.
At this point you will usually see the drinks start flowing. A big tip I can give you is it's ok to drink but don't get drunk. Sounds common sense but a lot of people are there to party not compete. If partying is your goal then no problem, but if you want to win then stay sober. Also be considerate of the other teams if you have music playing keep it at a reasonable volume.
Be systematic in your prep work. I usually start with the bigger cuts, brisket and pork butt so if you inject the can have time to rest. By far and away the biggest pain is chicken there is just nothing fun about it. (If you like prepping chicken more power to you but you may wanna check into a psych ward lol) at this point you should have your schedule planned out and everyone on your team should know it.
Your meat is trimmed and prepped your now waiting for when to start your fire. This is the perfect time to feed yourself. This is something easily forgotten in the hustle and excitement of getting your site ready and prepping your meat. I usually bring a couple steaks and cook them up for dinner. I often bring stuff to make as a snack and share with the teams around me.
Before you know it the time will come to light your cooker and get the meat cooking. Usually my teammate and myself take turns checking on the cookers so we can nap longer. We also start prepping our turn in boxes, which you should have been given already. I am not going to go in depth about turn in boxes, they are there whole own post. You can also find many videos online on ways to build them. Just remember the first score you get is appearance. If it looks good it must taste good. Don't skimp on this part.
Your first turn in time is closing in your meat is ready. For me my wife usually comes and is in charge of walking in the boxes. One thing we do is kinda time out how long the walk to the turn in table is. That way we know just how long we have till she has to head over with the turn in box.
Building you box is the most hectic point of the competition. You will be cutting meat doing final prep and placing it in the box, and just when you finish one it will be time to start the next. Try to relax and breath. Haste makes waste as the saying goes. If you try to rush to fast you will miss cut something or forget to add something which will just add to the stress. Personally this is my favorite part of the event. I love the adrenaline rush and excitement of building the box and hoping it looks as good as it tastes. Boxes are all built and turned in, stop and thank your team for all the help and good work because without them you could not have competed. Then crack a cold one and relax a bit. Before you start to clean up and pack up your area.
Time for awards, everyone will gather to hear the names and watch people get there trophies and or checks. Remember even if you don't place the fact that you competed is still a huge accomplishment. Remember whether you get a call or not to look for the score sheets. You definitely want to get your hands on them. These sheets will show who you were head to head with at the judging table and what you individual scores are. Sometimes they will also give feedback like “to salty” or “not tender enough” use these to help work on and improve for the next time.
Well congrats you made it through your first competition. Another tip I have is sit with your team and debrief, what went well what didn't. What can you improve in your process. These meetings will help you improve for next time.
Well that's it from Cowboy Kev this month check back again next month and remember #cowboyup and #keepsmokin