I know a few things about myself. I love BBQ and I am very very competitive. This past weekend, I learned how I can be competitive at BBQ. Before I go any further, let me dispel the idea that I cam going to join a competitive eating circuit. I am talking about competition BBQ cooking.
Last Saturday, my Mom and I spent the afternoon in McConnells, SC, learning about the world of competition BBQ. We spent the day with Pit Masters Garland Hudgins and Brian Teigue learning their secrets to spare ribs, chicken, pork shoulder, and brisket. I was there to learn, so the only camera that I brought was my iphone. Here are a few images from throughout the day.
This wasn’t your typical backyard BBQ class. This class was focused on competition BBQ. Maybe you have seen it on the Food Network of Travel Channel, or you could be familiar with Memphis in May or the KCBS? For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, let me explain. Throughout the United States, there is a large group of BBQ enthusiasts who compete in cooking BBQ. Yes, it is as amazing as it sounds. Teams from around the country will compete in weekend long events where they will be judged on their ability to cook ribs, chicken, brisket, pork shoulder, and sometimes a whole hog. Let me warn you though, it isn’t all fun and games. These are serious competitions with thousands of dollars in prize money and bragging rights on the line.
I had heard of these competitions before, seen them on TV, and my friend Jimmy competes in them pretty regularly. What I learned in class was more about the competition and scoring side of it. Every competition will have slightly different rules depending on what BBQ society governs it, but the general concept is the same. At the competition, you cook your proteins and then over an hour period, you have 10 minute windows to turn in what you have cooked to be judged. Your entry is plated inside of a Styrofoam box and must be brought to the judges during that time in period. If you are even a second late, you are disqualified.
On the left you have a rack of ribs. On the right you will see what ribs look like in a box for the judges. In competitions, Garland and Brian will usually cook 6 full racks and only the prettiest, most uniform, and perfect ribs will make it into the box. Being a food photographer, this concept of “styling” food and choosing only the best to present is something that I could totally relate to. There are many times where I will make 2 dozen cookies and only 6 will be in the shot.
To make things more complicated, different competitions will have different presentation rules. In a KCBS competition ( on the left) the shoulder and thighs are allowed to have greenery with their presentation. This green parsley helps cover the white areas of the box and can hold in heat. On the right, is a South Carolina Barbecue Association (SCBA) presentation. In these competitions, only the meat is allowed to be in the box. While seeing one box at a time may not seem too difficult, imagine having to have four of these done in a one hour period, and each dropped off exactly on time. You may think you can work ahead, but you can only do so much work in advance. As soon as the meat is cut, it begins drying out, cooling off, and “dying” as it is referred to. Preparing these boxes is a fine line to walk between having enough time to create you box and giving the judges the best meat possible.
After spending a day learning more about this world of competitive BBQ, I must say that I am hooked. No, I will not be starting my own team tomorrow. I have a lot to learn before I could do that. Instead, I am definitely going to travel to a competition this spring and see what it is like. If my schedule works out, I am also going to take the class and become an official SCBA judge.Those are all adventures for another day.
If you are interested in learning more about competitive BBQ, then here is information on the class I took.