Rookie Year - Lessons Learned
2011 was my Rookie year competing and I have to admit it was more fun than I ever could have thought. Very seldom do you get a chance to be around so many folks at once who are both as passionate about the sport as you and so willing to aid in your success.
I only competed in 2 events this first year. The first had 32 teams. I came in 4th in brisket and 10th in chicken with 15 overall. The second had 64 teams. I took 4th in pork and 25th overall. I was VERY happy with my first year and everything I learned.
I see a lot of posts from new Q'rs or wanna be teams asking the very same questions I did last year. I was hoping to add maybe a few things I learned that I never knew to ask. These are in no particular order.
1. Competing is VERY expensive. I'm a one man team so I take on all the expense (why I only did two comps). Plan the financial part out and save up for the contests. During your practice keep tabs on the financial aspects as well as the cooking. Get sponsors if you can, I haven't learned how to do that yet.
2. Plan for bad weather. Wind, rain, and cold. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
3. At the cooks meeting, let everyone know it's your first comp. I don't like to bother people especially with my stupid questions. I found out really fast it's no bother. Folks are more than willing to answer questions and help you get your feet planted.
4. Get your timing down. While I never missed a turn in, I found more often than not I was too early. I'd have my box ready 5 minutes before the turn ins started. 10 minutes is really A LOT of time if you've planned
5. If you're a one man show, either recruit help to deliver your turn in box or take the time to find the shortest route to the judges. It gets pretty hectic and saving a few steps will help a lot.
6. Remember to eat. I was so wrapped up in getting stuff packed, loaded, set up, etc on my first comp it never occured to me to plan on bringing some food. Beer yes, food no.
7. Don't read too much into your scores. I obsessed over them. How can you get 8's and 9's from 4 judges and 6's and 7's from the other two? Were the low scores from a CBJ? Were the high ones? I got a great piece of advice. "don't change a thing until the results are consistant over 3 competitions."
8. Practice, Practice, Practice. Set up your gear in the back yard and do a full comp. I do a practice in the spring and fall. Set your practice dates at least a month in advance. Mother nature is always a factor and I have a tendancy to practice under blue sky and shining stars. Play "what if." What if the power goes out? What if the water is 600 yards away? What if I get a torrental downpour and my site floods?
9. Take detailed notes during the comp. Rubs, sauces, charcoal, temps, weather, wind, times, method, etc will give you clues to what you did right and what you did wrong when the scores come in.
10. Buy a good BIG clock. My first comp I used my cell phone clock which was a bad idea when my hands became greasy.
11. While I haven't done this yet, take a judges course and judge a couple of events. This is my plan for next season before I compete again. I need to walk a mile in their shoes and I need to know what I'm trying to achieve as a cook.
12. For many teams the competition is secondary. Getting together with friends and family to party and socialize is the goal for the weekend. For many teams the competition is business. Winning is the goal, everything else is secondary. Most fall in between. You'll quickly figure out where people are coming from. Have fun and be respectful, they'll do the same for you.
13. You can never have enough coolers.
14. Don't wait til the morning of the comp to buy parsley. Two days before my first comp I went to my local grocer to get parsley. There was a ton of beautiful bunches so I decided to wait until the night before to come back and purchase. Who knew parsley was so popular? The morning of, I had to go to 4 different stores to get what I needed.
Anyway, these are some of the things I learned this last year. I hope someone will find them helpful if they decide to jump in and compete. Feel free to add any more "lesson's learned."
SAUCED HOG BBQ / KCBS CBJ #60733