How to get started in competition BBQ
Getting started in competitive bbq contests is easier than you think. It can cost as little or as much as you want it to. You can spend $500.00 or you can spend $100,000. It's up to you.
A Weber Smokey Mountain (WMS) and a kettle grill will get you started. A low budget set-up would be to purchase 1 or 2 WSM's and use your kettle grill for chicken,. I've used a WSM with good results.
I got started with a total cash outlay of about $1,000 and then budgeted about $400 per contest for entry fees, gas, meals, and contest meat. In the beginning, the odds of winning big are not very good. But you should have some fun and learn a lot. Best of all, you'll meet a lot of really nice people.
With the price of gasoline, my current budget is closer to $550.00 per contest depending on how far we're driving to the event, which explains why we've had to cut back in 2008. There's a bbq contest almost every weekend in the summer months. During one particular stretch in 2007 I cooked five contests in six weeks and loved it. In the beginning I'd recommend choosing three or four events in a six or eight week period and dive right in. The more you cook, the better the better you do.
Prior to you’re first cook-off practices cooking the four categories (at the same time) so that you can get your timings down. Cook a practice contest in your back yard. Start your meats like you would in a contest. Put the briskets and pork butts on at 11 p.m. and follow the process right up to simulated turn-ins times, the next morning. Do this a couple times before your first cook-off it will definitely help you stay on your game at a competition.
I keep a journal for each meat and document the start times for each meat, the cooker temperature, the time we sauce the ribs prior to turn-in, the time we started cooking the chicken, etc. After a few cooking sessions, you'll be able to improve your results dramatically by tweaking your start times, temps, and methods based on your historic results. That's the advantage of keeping a cooking journal.
Practices setting everything up in your back yard or driveway just like the real deal. I could have saved a lot of headaches by learning how to set up ahead of time. You will get better with each event.
Before spending a lot of money on buying supplies, tools, and cookers, perhaps it's best to volunteer to assist another team at an events or two so that you can learn the ropes. Volunteer to wash dishes, run turn-in boxes, and whatever they need help with. I promise it will be worth it. It'll probably save you money too. Let a team that is kind to you and lets you help them that you want none of their secrets you just would like to help and start learning the art of competition BBQ.