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cgwaite
06-11-2009, 11:00 AM
A fellow Brethren and I have an opportunity to enter our first "real" BBQ competition, which is to occur on July 17, 2009 at the College Football Hall of Fame here in South Bend, IN. The contest is KCBS sanctioned, but the only area is ribs. The Rib cook-off is part of the festivities surrounding the 2009 Enshrinement Event.

I've read thru most of the postings in the competition area and have gotten many good bits of advice. The thread "Your worst box ever" was especially enlightening, although there were quite a few boxes that looked pretty good to me. Guess that just shows what a noob I am at competition level BBQ. I know there will be many curveballs and challenges for us to deal with at this event. What I would really like is any tidbits of advice that you seasoned competitors may wish to share with someone preparing to compete in their first competition.

Since we will also be cooking as part of the Professional Catering group (we have just started working with a local pub), we expect to have two or three UDS cookers going, to supply food for the attendees of the event. We are still in the planning phase, but I think that pulled pork sandwiches would probably work the best. Of course, we may do some MOINK balls, ABTs and a Fattie or two. Depends upon how much cash we have to spend.

I will post the information on the event in a separate thread, in case anyone else is interested.

Thanks, in advance, for all your suggestions and advice.

timzcardz
06-11-2009, 11:07 AM
I would say just go to have fun and expecting to come in last, and it will probably turn out better than anticpated.

Everything else is just details.

Divemaster
06-11-2009, 11:18 AM
I would say just go to have fun and expecting to come in last, and it will probably turn out better than anticpated.

Everything else is just details.
What ^^^^ said... Having fun and not being to 'full of your self' is the big things!

crd26a
06-11-2009, 11:46 AM
How many attendees are you expecting? Are you going to be required to feed anyone that walks up and wants food? Have you worked out the cost / logistics? Also, how many will be assisting you? If you're feeding at turn in times, you need more hands to deal with the crowds while you're prepping your turn in items.

early mornin' smokin'
06-11-2009, 11:49 AM
so its a kcbs sanctioned rib only contest? My advice, cook as many racks as you can, try out a couple different things, and go and have a good time!!

thillin
06-11-2009, 11:51 AM
The less stuff you take, the less to load at the end...

cgwaite
06-11-2009, 12:04 PM
How many attendees are you expecting? Are you going to be required to feed anyone that walks up and wants food? Have you worked out the cost / logistics? Also, how many will be assisting you? If you're feeding at turn in times, you need more hands to deal with the crowds while you're prepping your turn in items.

Since we are entering as a Professional Catering team, we can cook for the crowd and would be allowed to sell items. We don't have to give anything away, but could if we so chose.

Because of this fact, I was thinking that pulled pork sandwiches would be an easy way to handle this. We might do some ribs as well, but that all depends upon how much cash we have left over after the fees are paid. As for extra hands to deal with the crowd, that's a good point. I think I could recruit a couple of friends to help with that area.

Thanks!

crd26a
06-11-2009, 12:31 PM
I'm not trying to be a buzzkill, but think through if you want to enter the catering portion, especially if you don't have any idea on how many people you're expecting and / or not used to doing it.

I'll use Plowboy as an example. I read in his post from last week he took RGC at The World Pork Expo cookoff last weekend, and in one of his posts, they catered / served 2300 over three days, sold rub, plus competed in all four categories. I have no clue how he pulled it off.

Now as the College Football Hall of Fame induction is a big event, let's say you get 500 people across your booth (probably less, but just sayin....) If you serve 4oz's of pulled pork per person, you're talking about 250 lbs of uncooked pork you need to fire, or around 32 butts. 6 oz's and youre at 375 lbs or 48 butts, 8 ozs 500 lbs or 64 butts. Its a lot of work, plus a lot of labor to pull it off.

I'd recommend for your first comp to just go and compete, watch the vendors, then make the call if you want to try and actually do it.

Dr_KY
06-11-2009, 01:01 PM
Make money and have fun doing so.
I don't know of any advice other than the above that will help you enjoy the day...besides vodka.

cgwaite
06-11-2009, 01:17 PM
I'm not trying to be a buzzkill, but think through if you want to enter the catering portion, especially if you don't have any idea on how many people you're expecting and / or not used to doing it.

I'll use Plowboy as an example. I read in his post from last week he took RGC at The World Pork Expo cookoff last weekend, and in one of his posts, they catered / served 2300 over three days, sold rub, plus competed in all four categories. I have no clue how he pulled it off.

Now as the College Football Hall of Fame induction is a big event, let's say you get 500 people across your booth (probably less, but just sayin....) If you serve 4oz's of pulled pork per person, you're talking about 250 lbs of uncooked pork you need to fire, or around 32 butts. 6 oz's and youre at 375 lbs or 48 butts, 8 ozs 500 lbs or 64 butts. Its a lot of work, plus a lot of labor to pull it off.

I'd recommend for your first comp to just go and compete, watch the vendors, then make the call if you want to try and actually do it.


Thanks for laying things out in easy to understand terms. You are right, that is a whole lot of work and a whole lot of pork butt. I will discuss this at length with my partner to see what his thoughts are on the subject. We want to give a good impression, and the margin for failure here could be greater than we need to risk.

BTW, it's not a buzzkill, it's called recognizing reality! Thanks again.

cgwaite
06-11-2009, 01:21 PM
Make money and have fun doing so.
I don't know of any advice other than the above that will help you enjoy the day...besides vodka.

Thanks Dr K.Y. Vodka => Good! :razz:

Dr_KY
06-11-2009, 01:21 PM
I'll use Plowboy as an example. I read in his post from last week he took RGC at The World Pork Expo cookoff last weekend, and in one of his posts, they catered / served 2300 over three days, sold rub, plus competed in all four categories. I have no clue how he pulled it off.


We don't know what's in his rubs or Big Mistas brisket but they make it look like second nature. I would imagine it was hard work but it's all about what you put in to get out. :icon_cool

KC_Bobby
06-11-2009, 01:23 PM
Is your purpose for participating in this activity to:
1) compete
2) have fun
3) experience and learn
4) make money

cgwaite
06-11-2009, 02:43 PM
Is your purpose for participating in this activity to:
1) compete
2) have fun
3) experience and learn
4) make money


I would say that this list sums up why I want to participate in the event. That is the priority I would put on my expectations.

First and foremost, competing with others to make the best looking and tasting BBQ is what it's really all about. I need to find out if I am as good as I think I am (Actually I am sure that I am not).

Second, if you aren't having fun, you should not be doing it!

Third, without doing it, you can't fully understand the experience and you won't learn the things you need to learn.

Fourth, if you are able to get a little return on your investment, all the better. Getting paid to do something you love is great. However, I view this more as a investment in advertising than a way to make quick money. I have yet to hear of anyone making their fortune on the BBQ Competition circuit.

KC_Bobby
06-11-2009, 02:59 PM
I was thinking, choose one of the four as your primary reason.

If you are going to primarily compete with hopes of getting some calls or seriously learning, you may not want to vend - not your first time.

Divemaster
06-11-2009, 03:22 PM
Sound advice...

smalls65
06-11-2009, 06:45 PM
I'll remember this advice at my 1st comp down in Greenwood SC in a couple of weeks!!!

Chipper
06-11-2009, 06:53 PM
We are seasoned vets of one contest. All the above is great advise and I would only add is to make sure you cut the ribs apart so you have at least 6.
The Brethren are a great bunch of people and all willing to help.It looks like you are set to have a good time, and at the end of the day...
I'd post a pic of our rib box, but we didn't take one.

cgwaite
06-12-2009, 07:17 AM
Just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for their input. It will all be taken to heart.

We have a lot of thinking to do about this event, and a short time to make decisions. But no matter what decisions we make, we will have had plenty of valuable information to work with.

I am proud to be part of a group of people who are so willing to share their knowledge, encourage others and be painfully honest when needed.

Thank you.

Big George's BBQ
06-12-2009, 07:34 AM
Havwe Fun and take the time to walk around and meet the other BBQers. It is always a great group at the contests. That is what makes it so much fun

Big Mike's BBQ
06-12-2009, 08:41 AM
I agree with KC Bobby, you need to decide which one of these is most important. I know some guys that do comps and do not really care how they do because they can vend also and make some killer money, but they work hard to do it and have been doing it a long time. Me on the other hand having fun is the top of my list and the harder that I have to work the less fun I have. A close second is wanting to compete and do well, but I learned the hard way that I will get burned out fast if I am not having fun.

Big Mike

Sauced!
06-12-2009, 09:17 AM
I would never even think about vending at my first event. I just had my first comp last week and it was waaaaay more work than I thought it would be and I just competed. There was on way on earth I could have vended too. By the time we had packed up and got back home I had been up for over 36 hrs straight. I was completely exhausted. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I vended too.......Don't get me wrong, I had a blast and will be doing several more comps this year but it really is a lot of work too..

early mornin' smokin'
06-12-2009, 10:07 AM
leftovers are the devil, they usually have sat out too long to be worth a damn. With that being said, cook up a bunch of stuff, sell till your sold out, and than have fun with the comp.

jbrink01
06-12-2009, 10:34 AM
We sold and competed at the Washington Mo contest earlier this year. It was all good. Made a buck vending and won 1st in brisket, top 10 overall. We have been competing for 4 years and vending for 5. We have 2 trailers - 1 is a self contained unit that we sell off of, the other is a BIG Horizon triple. We had 5 workers selling, and I had 2 helpers at the contest. It is a handful, but not insurmounatble if you have the pit space and experience.

First contest? Don't try to sell.....IMHO

cgwaite
07-13-2009, 09:39 AM
Well I am finishing up my practice for the contest this Friday. Thanks once again for everyone's input.

After a couple of practice runs, I am glad that I only signed up for the Amateur portion, as I would have had a difficult time trying to handle the vendor portion. You don't realize how challenging a cook-off really is until you set down, plan it out and try to execute the plan.

Not sure what the normal time (start to finish) for just a Ribs cook is, but I have a total of seven hours for this one (Begin at 9:00 am and Turn in at 4:00pm). I thought that was a long time, but the more I practiced, the more I realized that I was busy for most of that time, preparing one thing or another. I can't imagine doing four different meats at the same time and keeping things straight. Kudos to all who do it! I am not worthy (yet)!

Here are a couple of pics from my last practice session. I didn't box it, as I hadn't gotten any supplies to do that, but will be working on that over the next two days.

http://www.thecompanyplayers.com/bacon/WSM309a.jpg

http://www.thecompanyplayers.com/bacon/WSM310a.jpg

farklf
07-13-2009, 11:45 AM
Ribs look good! Try using every other bone for individual ribs. More meat on the bone. Looks very tasty! I'll be there to help!!!

PatioDaddio
07-13-2009, 03:38 PM
Here are the "Tips for Success" that I posted this spring as part of my "Competition BBQ 101" series on my blog. I hope you find it helpful.

Do your homework
There is so much to learn that your first competition can be overwhelming. Research and "BBQ recon" will dramatically help flatten the learning curve. I highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on.


Know the rules (http://www.kcbs.us/pdf/2008RulesAndRegulations.pdf) backward and forward.
Read a couple good books like Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue (http://www.amazon.com/Paul-Kirks-Championship-Barbecue-Lip-Smackin/dp/1558322426) and Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/Dr-BBQs-Big-Time-Barbecue-Cookbook/dp/0312339798).
Join your local or regional barbecue association and participate in the forum discussions.
Read and participate in the national internet forums such as The BBQ Brethren (http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/), The Smoke Ring (http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/index.php) and BBQ Central (http://www.bbq-4-u.com/forum/).
Use Google and YouTube to find articles, pictures and videos. Here is an example (http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&um=1&sa=1&q=competition+bbq+turn+in&btnG=Search+Images) of what can be found.
Monitor BBQ blogs via RSS (http://www.whatisrss.com/) or through an aggregator like Alltop (http://bbq.alltop.com/).

Of course, you will find that there is a lot of noise mixed in with the good information on the internet. That's why it's important to get your information from a variety of sources. You will quickly notice solid trends and those are the gold nuggets.

Practice!
As I wrote in the previous post (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/02/competition-bbq-101-how-it-goes-down.html) in this series, I cannot overemphasize the importance of practice. Practice cooking one category at a time in mock competition. Do everything exactly like you plan to do it at a contest, including building practice turn-in boxes.

Once you are satisfied with each category, cook all four categories and invite some friends over to act as judges.

Rinse and repeat.

Keep it simple
There are already enough variables in competition cooking. Don't complicate things by trying to do things differently for each category. If you're like I was early on, you'll try to find a different rub, sauce and wood combination for each meat. Don't. Find one good flavor profile that works for all of the meats. There will be plenty of time for experimentation as you gain experience and confidence.

Focus on the basics
This dovetails with keeping things simple. Work on perfecting the basics such as:


Meat selection
Meat preparation
Fire/temperature control
Timing
Repeatable flavor profile
Garnish and presentation

Keep detailed notes
All the practice in the world won't help if you can't remember what you did from one cook to the next. A good set of notes and a cook log will help you find opportunities to improve. It's also important to take pictures. You know how many words a picture is worth.

Travel light
I touched on this in the post about the gear (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/01/competition-bbq-101-gear.html). Develop an equipment checklist (here's mine (http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=pt_uavAC5mGFvCj1eSkhPCA)) and take only what you need. Of course, weather plays a huge role in that, so also plan for what you might need in a worst case scenario. Bottom line: don't take everything but the kitchen sink.

Have a plan
In the last post I also mentioned the importance of developing your own cooking timeline for each category. Start at the turn-in time and work backward in 15-30 minute intervals. This will really help minimize the "What should I be doing now?" chaos. The plan will boost your confidence because you'll know what to do when. If you've kept things simple and have practiced, you will be well on your way to a repeatable process. I wish I had done this early on.

Ask questions
The old "The only dumb question is the one that you don't ask" adage is infinitely applicable here. Find credible and experienced sources of information and ask a lot of questions. I think you will find that most cooks are more than willing to help, but they can't help if they don't know what help you need.

When you get to your first competition introduce yourself to other nearby competitors and flat out ask if they are willing to help with questions. Just be honest and I think you'll be surprised at the openness of many cooks.

Check your ego
You may be an outstanding backyard barbeque cook and your friends, family and neighbors may rave about your food, but that is a far cry from competition cooking. Keep in mind that those close to you are not usually brutally honest about your food. They will usually be nice because they have good social graces.

Judges, however, don't know which turn-in belongs to whom because the system is designed that way. Judges are also very clinical in their evaluation, which is as it should be. You will find very quickly that judges are indeed brutally honest.

Given all this, check your ego in the parking lot and do your best. I think you'll find that the system works fairly well, but it is also very efficient at dispensing humility.

About partying
Competitions are fun. That's a large part of the allure of competition cooking. I encourage you to invite your family and a few friends and have a good time. At the same time, I also discourage you from partaking of too many adult beverages and taking your eye off the ball.

It's not a family reunion, it's a competition with money on the line. You've (hopefully) worked too hard and invested too much time and money to let this turn into a bad episode of MTV's spring break marathon.

Buck trends at your peril
This goes hand-in-hand with doing your homework and checking your ego. If you do diligent research you will quickly note some distinctive trends in flavors and processes. Don't try to swim upstream. Keep in mind that much of what you will read are lessons learned as the result of the trial and error of others. You will also notice that the cream of the competitor crop are very consistent. They find something that works and they continually polish it.

I am not at all discouraging experimentation and creativity. I'm simply saying that bucking major trends is not generally advisable.

Have fun!
Much like any other avocation, if you stop having fun, it's time to look for another way to spend your time. Competition barbecue is hard work, but it's also a lot of fun (or should be).

Other installments:
The Gear (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/01/competition-bbq-101-gear.html)
How It Goes Down (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/02/competition-bbq-101-how-it-goes-down.html)
Q & A With a First-Time Competitor (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/04/q-with-first-time-competitor.html)

Meat Burner
07-13-2009, 07:52 PM
cg, go have fun brother. OBTW, we are all interested in the outcome, no matter what, as we all compete and enjoy all the stories...good or bad. Enjoy!

Podge
07-13-2009, 09:07 PM
Here are the "Tips for Success" that I posted this spring as part of my "Competition BBQ 101" series on my blog. I hope you find it helpful.

Do your homework
There is so much to learn that your first competition can be overwhelming. Research and "BBQ recon" will dramatically help flatten the learning curve. I highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on.


Know the rules (http://www.kcbs.us/pdf/2008RulesAndRegulations.pdf) backward and forward.
Read a couple good books like Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue (http://www.amazon.com/Paul-Kirks-Championship-Barbecue-Lip-Smackin/dp/1558322426) and Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/Dr-BBQs-Big-Time-Barbecue-Cookbook/dp/0312339798).
Join your local or regional barbecue association and participate in the forum discussions.
Read and participate in the national internet forums such as The BBQ Brethren (http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/), The Smoke Ring (http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/index.php) and BBQ Central (http://www.bbq-4-u.com/forum/).
Use Google and YouTube to find articles, pictures and videos. Here is an example (http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&um=1&sa=1&q=competition+bbq+turn+in&btnG=Search+Images) of what can be found.
Monitor BBQ blogs via RSS (http://www.whatisrss.com/) or through an aggregator like Alltop (http://bbq.alltop.com/).
Of course, you will find that there is a lot of noise mixed in with the good information on the internet. That's why it's important to get your information from a variety of sources. You will quickly notice solid trends and those are the gold nuggets.

Practice!
As I wrote in the previous post (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/02/competition-bbq-101-how-it-goes-down.html) in this series, I cannot overemphasize the importance of practice. Practice cooking one category at a time in mock competition. Do everything exactly like you plan to do it at a contest, including building practice turn-in boxes.

Once you are satisfied with each category, cook all four categories and invite some friends over to act as judges.

Rinse and repeat.

Keep it simple
There are already enough variables in competition cooking. Don't complicate things by trying to do things differently for each category. If you're like I was early on, you'll try to find a different rub, sauce and wood combination for each meat. Don't. Find one good flavor profile that works for all of the meats. There will be plenty of time for experimentation as you gain experience and confidence.

Focus on the basics
This dovetails with keeping things simple. Work on perfecting the basics such as:


Meat selection
Meat preparation
Fire/temperature control
Timing
Repeatable flavor profile
Garnish and presentation
Keep detailed notes
All the practice in the world won't help if you can't remember what you did from one cook to the next. A good set of notes and a cook log will help you find opportunities to improve. It's also important to take pictures. You know how many words a picture is worth.

Travel light
I touched on this in the post about the gear (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/01/competition-bbq-101-gear.html). Develop an equipment checklist (here's mine (http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=pt_uavAC5mGFvCj1eSkhPCA)) and take only what you need. Of course, weather plays a huge role in that, so also plan for what you might need in a worst case scenario. Bottom line: don't take everything but the kitchen sink.

Have a plan
In the last post I also mentioned the importance of developing your own cooking timeline for each category. Start at the turn-in time and work backward in 15-30 minute intervals. This will really help minimize the "What should I be doing now?" chaos. The plan will boost your confidence because you'll know what to do when. If you've kept things simple and have practiced, you will be well on your way to a repeatable process. I wish I had done this early on.

Ask questions
The old "The only dumb question is the one that you don't ask" adage is infinitely applicable here. Find credible and experienced sources of information and ask a lot of questions. I think you will find that most cooks are more than willing to help, but they can't help if they don't know what help you need.

When you get to your first competition introduce yourself to other nearby competitors and flat out ask if they are willing to help with questions. Just be honest and I think you'll be surprised at the openness of many cooks.

Check your ego
You may be an outstanding backyard barbeque cook and your friends, family and neighbors may rave about your food, but that is a far cry from competition cooking. Keep in mind that those close to you are not usually brutally honest about your food. They will usually be nice because they have good social graces.

Judges, however, don't know which turn-in belongs to whom because the system is designed that way. Judges are also very clinical in their evaluation, which is as it should be. You will find very quickly that judges are indeed brutally honest.

Given all this, check your ego in the parking lot and do your best. I think you'll find that the system works fairly well, but it is also very efficient at dispensing humility.

About partying
Competitions are fun. That's a large part of the allure of competition cooking. I encourage you to invite your family and a few friends and have a good time. At the same time, I also discourage you from partaking of too many adult beverages and taking your eye off the ball.

It's not a family reunion, it's a competition with money on the line. You've (hopefully) worked too hard and invested too much time and money to let this turn into a bad episode of MTV's spring break marathon.

Buck trends at your peril
This goes hand-in-hand with doing your homework and checking your ego. If you do diligent research you will quickly note some distinctive trends in flavors and processes. Don't try to swim upstream. Keep in mind that much of what you will read are lessons learned as the result of the trial and error of others. You will also notice that the cream of the competitor crop are very consistent. They find something that works and they continually polish it.

I am not at all discouraging experimentation and creativity. I'm simply saying that bucking major trends is not generally advisable.

Have fun!
Much like any other avocation, if you stop having fun, it's time to look for another way to spend your time. Competition barbecue is hard work, but it's also a lot of fun (or should be).

Other installments:
The Gear (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/01/competition-bbq-101-gear.html)
How It Goes Down (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/02/competition-bbq-101-how-it-goes-down.html)
Q & A With a First-Time Competitor (http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/04/q-with-first-time-competitor.html)

Now THIS should be what all new team reads !!.. I would add too, to abide by the rules too, don't just know them.

Very well written !

PatioDaddio
07-14-2009, 12:14 AM
Thanks for your very kinds words, Podge. Given the success you've had, your comments mean one heckuva lot.

The goal with my blog, and the "Competition 101" series specifically, is an effort to give back some of what I've learned and to spread the love of live fire cooking.

Thanks again,
John

P.S. I've added "and religiously abide by them" to my "Know the rules (http://www.kcbs.us/pdf/2008RulesAndRegulations.pdf) backward and forward" line. Thanks for pointing that out.