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View Full Version : The lost and confused BBQ Competitor!


HBMTN
06-16-2009, 09:18 PM
If you are a competitor who is having great success on the BBQ circuit I must start this off by congratulating you on being able to put all of the invisible pieces of the puzzle together. I am writing this from the perspective of a frustrated 2nd year competitor with some things I have come up with since I started the competition circuit.

A little about what got me to here

My name is Ruben and I had been BBQ'n pulled pork & chicken for about six years but had never done ribs or brisket. In 2007 I decided to build a custom BBQ pit and in October of 08 I told some friend we should go compete in a KCSB Competition when I got the pit done. My brother said why to we go check out a few of them and learn and then start competing. Well if you knew me I am the type that jumps in head first to everything I do, so I decided to sign up for my first competition at Pigs in the Park in Danville, VA. So in May of 08 me and a few friends set out for Danville, I was extremely fortunate to be set up beside one of the best teams there is. Chris Cappell and Brian Junkins from Dizzy Pigs helped us a lot that weekend. The first two pieces of advice they gave us was to make sure we made the turn in times and just have fun. We cooked all night and made the turn in times OK, pretty much our food sucked and even my specialty of pulled pork was the worst I have ever cooked. Then come the awards ceremony and they called us up for 10th place in pork. Wow at our first competition we finished 29th out of 54 teams and even got an award! I was hooked, so I came home and practiced up on my four meats and decided to enter a second contest in July at Que and Cruz in Louisa, Va. I cooked some real good pork and great ribs, brisket and chicken were good but did not think they would win awards. Come awards time we did not get any calls but had I think a 13th and 14th in chicken and ribs. We finished middle of the pack again out of 34 teams.

Taking some more advice we went the next week and took a judging class to learn what the judges were looking for when they judge our product. I then spent the rest of the summer, fall and winter thinking, practicing, learning everything I could about BBQ. The results by spring were some really good ribs, pork and brisket. Chicken had improved but still not there if you know what I mean. So I thought I had put together good enough BBQ to put us closer to getting some top 10 finishes. It is my opinion that we as competitors are trying to get in the top 10 and it is a crap shoot from there depending on the judges. Just like in the Daytona 500 if 5 cars are bumper to bumper when they get the white flag there is no idea who will win the race.

April 2009 we started the season at one of the largest competitions in this half of the USA, Pork in the Park Salisbury, MD. We cooked some decent chicken, ribs were great, pork was good, brisket was great. Again I did not think we were going to win a GC but I did feel we had a shot at a top 15 and one or two meats. No calls at awards, we got our score sheets and were very disappointed finishing 58th out of 94 teams. One month later were back where it all started in Danville, Va. Pigs in the Park 09. There I cooked the best pork in my life, some of the best chicken I have cooked, ribs were crap on appearance and overdone but tasted great. the brisket was awesome. I really felt for the first time I had a chance at winning two meats and placing good with a third meat. Again there was a let down with no call at the awards. The score sheet had us at 32 out of 54 teams, and at this point I am very frustrated.

Friends say well don't get down, it depends on who is judging weather they will like it or not. I pointed out while that may be true but there are teams that finish well no matter where they go. So at that point I am wondering the million dollar question. My foods are tasting great, so if I am middle of the pack what does some of the other teams food taste like? It must be orgasmic. Next step was to judge a competition and try every ones food to see what I am missing. So June 09 I head to the Beltway BBQ Showdown Upper Marlboro, Md to judge for the first time. Along with my wife who is also a judge here is how it goes down. Everyone sets down, then they break up husbands and wife's to separate tables, then equal out the men and women at each table, then equal out the rookie judges to each table, all great and I was impressed. Now there were seven tables with six judges at each table and no teams meat goes to the same table twice. This means my wife and I each judged a meat from 29 different team. So between the two of us we judged probably at least one meat from say two thirds of the teams competing. There were 48 teams I think.

So here is the down and dirty, I had been dying to taste meats from the other teams to see what we were missing and I also got to try a sample after judging of the meats my wife judged from her take home box. The results were for the most part none of it was any better than what I cook. I did taste about three chicken entries that were better than mine, no pork or ribs as good as mine, and about four real good brisket entries not much or any better than mine. So after a year and a half of pouring my heart into Competition BBQ I am more confused than ever. I am frustrated, confused, don't know what to do or what to change. If you made it this far thank you for reading my exhausted BBQ efforts

watertowerbbq
06-16-2009, 09:35 PM
Ruben,

I hear you, but you've got to keep trying and talk to the other teams. Be willing to share your experiences and others will likely follow suit. The best critic might be in the space next to yours. You may like your cooking, your wife might like your cooking, but maybe you like it too sweet or too spicy or too bland for others. Share your Q with your neighbors at a competition and ask them what they think.....and tell them to be honest, brutally honest. It's the best way to try and measure yourself against your competition and learn new techniques / ideas.

Captain Caveman
06-16-2009, 09:45 PM
What is hurting your score? (Appearence, taste, or tenderness?)

U2CANQUE
06-16-2009, 10:03 PM
Ruben,

I think that where you are now is a place where pretty much all of us have been....and it can be frustrating to say the least. I know that some of the ways that I have been able alter my cooking is reading, reading, and reading....talking to other teams...not so much for recipes, but, to run ideas that you have about your cooking style. I usually talk to about 4 or 5 friends after a contest...to kinda debrief what I did, what I felt went right, wrong...etc...etc...I even trust a few teams enough that I send them pictures of what I turned in...and believe me, without the feedback that I get....good, bad, and indifferent is very valuable....even when I get a WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!!!

I also took a class...which was beneficial to see the little things that I was not taking the time to think about at a contest. I also cooked with another team for almost a full year, just to get the feel of a contest....

Keep the faith, things will change, I know a lot of teams who have had the good exposure, almost all their first time out....and then cannot figure out why it is not being repeated. The one thing that I can gurantee is that if you give up you will never get the thrill of hearing your team name for Grand Champion....and, based off of the other thread, there are a lot of first time GC's this year.....it is getting a lot tougher year to year.....you guys were great to meet at Danville this year, and I expect to see you again next year....

Let me know if there is anything that I can do to help ya along....

Alexa RnQ
06-16-2009, 10:19 PM
Ruben, look at you! Clearly from this post you've got passion for what you're doing -- and that passion is the most important thing! That competitive fire is what will shape you into a winning cook.

From what I read above, you've competed in four contests, and judged once. Is this correct? That's just not a lot of data to draw conclusions from.

Any road-weary cook will tell you that they've all had entries they thought were great that never got a call -- and entries that they thought sucked that placed. It's the nature of the beast. The devil in this is consistency -- are you turning out the exact same product each time? If not, the variance isn't all in the judging, and until you control that aspect of your cook the data you get back won't make sense.

The tipping point for us was to take a competition cooking class. We applied what we learned, practiced like crazy, went to contests, practiced more and ended up taking the class a second time. We made it a point to meet cooks from outside our area, and asked their opinions on our product. There wasn't a single outing where we didn't learn something important, and to this day we still learn at every contest.

This site is an invaluable resource. The box-critique threads are a gold mine. People here will give you specific information that you might never have thought of. Put up your food, put up information, ask questions -- you'll get a flood of information back. Go through the Roadmap threads, there is so much there.

This hobby/sport is fascinating, intriguing, challenging and all-consuming because it's not easy. There are so many variables and nuances, so many different ways of doing things -- and every little detail has to all mesh at the same time to hit big. It's a discipline, it's something you can totally do.

musicmanryann
06-16-2009, 10:36 PM
Ruben, look at you! Clearly from this post you've got passion for what you're doing -- and that passion is the most important thing! That competitive fire is what will shape you into a winning cook.

From what I read above, you've competed in four contests, and judged once. Is this correct? That's just not a lot of data to draw conclusions from.

Any road-weary cook will tell you that they've all had entries they thought were great that never got a call -- and entries that they thought sucked that placed. It's the nature of the beast. The devil in this is consistency -- are you turning out the exact same product each time? If not, the variance isn't all in the judging, and until you control that aspect of your cook the data you get back won't make sense.

The tipping point for us was to take a competition cooking class. We applied what we learned, practiced like crazy, went to contests, practiced more and ended up taking the class a second time. We made it a point to meet cooks from outside our area, and asked their opinions on our product. There wasn't a single outing where we didn't learn something important, and to this day we still learn at every contest.

This site is an invaluable resource. The box-critique threads are a gold mine. People here will give you specific information that you might never have thought of. Put up your food, put up information, ask questions -- you'll get a flood of information back. Go through the Roadmap threads, there is so much there.

This hobby/sport is fascinating, intriguing, challenging and all-consuming because it's not easy. There are so many variables and nuances, so many different ways of doing things -- and every little detail has to all mesh at the same time to hit big. It's a discipline, it's something you can totally do.

Ruben I totally feel your pain, but if you are not comforted and affirmed by these comments, I don't know what else will help you. I am printing this off and putting it right above my turn-in clock.:wink:

Sledneck
06-16-2009, 10:38 PM
Find out what winning cooks will be at the next contest you enter. Then find out what their beverage of choice is and give them plenty of it, just keep it flowing and you find many of those pieces to the puzzle.:biggrin:

HoDeDo
06-16-2009, 11:30 PM
Find out what winning cooks will be at the next contest you enter. Then find out what their beverage of choice is and give them plenty of it, just keep it flowing and you find many of those pieces to the puzzle.:biggrin:
Or invite them into your camp to cook on your gear, and secretly learn the method behind 13th place chicken!!! :twisted:

For what it is worth, I have been doing competitions for the better part of 15 years in one form or another. We have always had some hit/some miss. The one thing that changed the tides for me... was cooking. Practice at home, practice camping.... and cook contests. Lots of them. Doing 2 or 3 a year, didnt help build the consistency I needed to score well consistently. When I started cooking all the time - my scores got better, I learned how to manage many more weather scenarios, briskets that wouldnt break, you name it... then eventually the calls come... then they come more frequently....and once you start getting them, COOK! because they wont be there forever. But the Dizzy Pig crew did hit the nail on the head.... always have fun.

I consider myself a fierce competitor... but never at the expense of enjoying my friends and family. Best friends of my life are folks I have met through our BBQ experience. It enriches my family, and my life. And I will do it win or lose, until it isnt fun anymore. And the best part is -- the friends I have made will be friends for life.

bbq ron
06-17-2009, 06:26 AM
i can tell you one thing, if this thread is not inspiring then i don't know what is. i will be going into competion next year after 1 year of smoking just to practice and hope it helps me when i do enter. thanks to all who have posted in this thread.:-P:-P:-P:-P

Ford
06-17-2009, 06:49 AM
The tipping point for us was to take a competition cooking class. We applied what we learned, practiced like crazy, went to contests, practiced more and ended up taking the class a second time. We made it a point to meet cooks from outside our area, and asked their opinions on our product. There wasn't a single outing where we didn't learn something important, and to this day we still learn at every contest.
Classes by the top teams really help. I'm sure you're heard this before but you are cooking for one or two bites max. All your flavor profile has to be in that bite. I you can take your chicken and ribs home and make a meal it's not intense enough. That's the biggest thing I took home from the classes.

BBQ_Mayor
06-17-2009, 07:00 AM
I consider myself a fierce competitor... but never at the expense of enjoying my friends and family. Best friends of my life are folks I have met through our BBQ experience. It enriches my family, and my life. And I will do it win or lose, until it isnt fun anymore. And the best part is -- the friends I have made will be friends for life.

Well said Andy. :eusa_clap. I think I'll print this off and put above my turn in clock.

Ruben I totally feel your pain :-? What? .. you ain't been in it long enough to feel pain. :mrgreen:


Ruben, you're getting some really good information here. You've only been in it for 2 years and 4 comps?. It takes time to hit your stride and the ability to put out consistent Q on a regular basis. It'll click for you some day. A good first step for you is to ask questions on this forum.
I've been in it for 7 years and am still waiting for my first GC or RGC for that matter. It'll come, I hope it's soon, but I'm sure it'll be there some day.

You said you judged a contest. You mentioned that the meat you judged were on pare or not as good as yours. Sounds to me like you went to compare your BBQ with the others, of coarse the others wouldn't be as good, you like your BBQ.
If you have taken a class you know that we don't compare bbq from one to the other. Everybody has different tastes. You need to judge a contests with an open mind and a clean slate. Judge each entry on it's own merit.
See if you can pin point what the cooks are doing and what judges are looking for in taste and tenderness.

You've laid the ground work; have fun building it to a championship.

Feel free to pm me and we can chat one on one.

watg?
06-17-2009, 08:01 AM
Ruben, A very well written, inspiring and thoughtful post. Some great points have been made already. Fords suggestion to take a class, is in my opinion, is right on point. Remember, you have got to get the judges attention in a bite or two, then they move on. What they think about it once it hits the grazing table doesn't much matter. Two other great points that have been made, have fun and keep on cookin. The off season 2007-2008 I cooked around 250 chicken thighs in small batches every weekend I had a chance. The end result, other than my family no longer can get next to a chicken thigh, was zero chicken calls for the 2008 season. That just goes to show you, well, I haven't a clue, but the bottom line is, I had fun doing it and will keep on tryin. Attention to detail, no matter how small, I think is a big help. Good luck and have fun!

Dan - 3eyzbbq
06-17-2009, 08:11 AM
When is your next comp? Stop over to chat and we can try and help you out. You have to cook great food, but you also need a good bit of luck in my opinion.

Big Ugly's BBQ
06-17-2009, 08:33 AM
Ruben, our site is always open for ya, I am willing to learn as well as, give what limited advice I might have. We'll be down in Louisa, for Que and Cruz, stop on by, sit a spell and lets compare notes!

BTW, don't worry about Salisbury, you didn't finish DAL in ribs, I hold that distinction!:biggrin:

juicybuttsbbq
06-17-2009, 08:47 AM
I consider myself a fierce competitor... but never at the expense of enjoying my friends and family. Best friends of my life are folks I have met through our BBQ experience. It enriches my family, and my life. And I will do it win or lose, until it isnt fun anymore. And the best part is -- the friends I have made will be friends for life. WOW Well Said ANDY!!!! Bravo

YankeeBBQ
06-17-2009, 08:49 AM
I learned long ago it's not about what I like it's about what the judges like. It takes trial and error to figure out exactly what that is but the learning curve can be cut in half by reading advice on forums like this or taking a class. Look for posts by successful teams and take the tidbits of advice and incorporate it into what you do.

Skip
06-17-2009, 09:41 AM
Well after seeing the people who have already commented I really have no right to add.....but I have no shame so here it goes. :lol:

As was said we've all been in your place at some point in our competition run. I remember it well and really considered just hanging it up because "We just don't get it". Then I remembered what Grandma always said to me. "Skip always remember your way isn't the only way". We had to remove ourselves from what WE liked and understand what the MASSES liked. Yeah we made killer Q every single time.....not. We found out our taste wasn't always the judges taste and what we considered Q wasn't always what KCBS judges considered Q.

I think we all cringed when you said YOU thought you made killer Q at the comp. I have to tell you everytime I think its good we usually end up in the opposite direction and when we think its terrible we usually get a call. We've also cooked back to back weekends and done nothing different yet had one of our best the first week and our worst the next week. 2 place ribs and 5th overall to 67th of 72. Sometimes you just can't explain it. Ultimately it should be about the fun and friends you make. We had a much better time coming in 67th then 5th. We fought all weekend and complained about each other the weekend of the 5th place win. In fact my wife vowed never to drive back from a comp again with me after that weekend lol. The next we had a lot of fun and met some great people including Big Ugly BBQ.

Of course I too would recommend taking a class with someone. It helped my wife greatly and no matter how many you take you will always come away with something. I will say that being someones pit biotch is also a great way to learn. Many teams will let you cook with them as long as you are willing. If you roll up your sleeves and really help out they will reward you with invaluable information. We've helped Poobah out on a lot of occassions, not at comps, and learn each time. Our best learning experiences so far was when we cooked with Jimmy Brod of Smokin' Cracker BBQ. We came away with a lot of information to work with but best of all was a new friend and a lot of mutual respect.

So don't give up and don't get fustrated. There are a lot of teams out there and only 1 GC and RGC at each comp. We all keep telling ourselves that our time will come so please do the same....misery loves company and we're your no. 1 fan. lol :icon_devil

Balls Casten
06-17-2009, 09:47 AM
Don’t listen to these people Ruben. They’re just trying to set you up for failure!
After 10 years of exactly what you described ... we changed our team name to "Smokers Purgatory". And unlike the others here, our team has concluded that we are not going to improve, we are stuck in the middle of the pack. I’m currently reading a book by Patricia Madson. It’s call "Improv wisdom, “don't prepare, just show up”. In the book she talks about the times when you try your hardest, give it your all so to speak. Those are the times when you are the most disappointed. So I say dare to be average Ruben! Don’t waist time putting together parsley boxes. Don’t prep your meat ahead of time. Don’t worry about even temps on your smoker. Get it on, get it off and get it turned in.
This whole idea of excellence and perfection can’t be healthy. I lost my first three wives because I was all consumed with great BBQ. Or was I barbequing because I didn’t like my wives? Anyway Dare to be average, it’s a lot easier! And if you ever find yourself in the average town of Des Moines Iowa, stop by my average house and try some of my average BBQ. I think you will like it.

crd26a
06-17-2009, 01:03 PM
I think all great points have been made, with one side one I want to make.

Have you tasted your que cold? And I mean, sat out and not been touched for an hour? Remember, the chances of your judge getting anything hot, let alone warm, is slim. Cook it, let it set, then figure out what you dont like. Those "tender" ribs will firm up and become chewy, the brisket that tastes great hot will become too peppery and a little rubbery. This is a key element, and one we've worked hard on, making sure its great hot AND cold.

butts
06-17-2009, 04:04 PM
Well said Andy. I know that it can be very frustrating but I have to agree with the fact that 4 contests is certainly not enough time to "hone" the skills so to speak. If you ask around I think that you'll find that it takes a lot teams several years before they get to a GC or a RGC. Many teams cook with other teams before they break off on there own and many take numerous classes. Stick with it and it will come.

I think that the best piece of advise I've ever gotten is this:
"It doesn't matter if you like it...you're cooking for the judges". That was really hard for me to learn...usually if I really like it, it doesn't score well. Good luck and I hate that I didn't get to meet you in Danville, we are usually right across from Dizzy Pig.

U2CANQUE
06-17-2009, 05:15 PM
we are usually right across from Dizzy Pig.
shame shame shame Shawn...he was right up on the hill with you guys.....man, and I thought that you darn Butts and Breastts folks were so friendly...:-P:tongue:

HBMTN
06-17-2009, 09:11 PM
Thanks for all the support and a refreshment of new idea's, I was about out. I will be at Que and Cruz next month and I will look you guys up. At previous comps I have not gotten around much because I have been so busy trimming and prepping meats and anything butt stuff. So in the future I plan to ditch the anything butt stuff and I am going to prep all meats at home so all I have to do is rub them down at the comps. Maybe that will give me time to get around and talk with everyone. Butts I did talk with one of your team member in Danville in 08 but I did not get out much further than that.

I am going to try to hit a cooking class sometime before the end of the year. I will stick to one method through 3 comps before I change as well. I am however still confused about the taste of meats. The advice from here is don't cook to what I like but what the judges will like, and in the judges tent they say don't judge on what you like but to judge on what the product is. Very confusing I must say, but hopefully I will figure it out sometime. I have done plain meats with not so good rubs you really could not taste in the bark at all, I have tried injections like Chris Lilly's, I have tried Texas BBQ Rub, vinegar sauces and sweet sauces. No single profile has gotten better results than another for me.

I will say that the cold meat thing might be a big problem because the brisket and ribs that I brought home from judging this weekend were 10 times better heated up in the microwave than they were almost cold in the judges tent. I am thankful for all of the support as you have put new life back into my efforts and I plan to hit 2 maybe three more comps this year. See you on the BBQ trail!

bigdogphin
06-18-2009, 06:48 PM
I consider myself a fierce competitor... but never at the expense of enjoying my friends and family. Best friends of my life are folks I have met through our BBQ experience. It enriches my family, and my life. And I will do it win or lose, until it isnt fun anymore. And the best part is -- the friends I have made will be friends for life.

This is exactly why I wanted to get into competition BBQ and so far I have not been disappointed.

Butt-A-Bing!
06-18-2009, 07:55 PM
"Very confusing I must say, but hopefully I will figure it out sometime. I have done plain meats with not so good rubs you really could not taste in the bark at all, I have tried injections like Chris Lilly's, I have tried Texas BBQ Rub, vinegar sauces and sweet sauces. No single profile has gotten better results than another for me."

I will ad my 2 cents on this matter. And thats what it's worth.:-D If I were you, for the time being, I would pick a commercial rub. One that is well respected, pair it with a good commercial sauce and stick with it for a season. Work on your cooking skills. Be consistant. If you are swithching back and forth, this rub with that sauce, changing injections, theres no way you will be consistant. Once your scores start leeling out you can tweak from there. Good luck!