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Your First Cookoff

How to Make the Jump From Backyard to Competition

You’re a good barbeque cook. You care about your craft. You’ve studied and practiced and learned. Your family and friends all love your barbeque. It’s time to take the next step and enter your first competition! But you don’t know how to go about it, and you don’t want to do it the wrong way and end up wishing you’d gone golfing or fishing that weekend instead. You wonder what to expect, and you’re unsure of the costs and process.

How It Works

Most cookoffs begin Friday afternoon, as teams begin arriving to set up their camp and get their meat checked in. There will be an official Cook’s meeting Friday evening; at many cookoffs there is music entertainment and other socializing opportunities. This is often the best part of the cookoff event!
Most teams will light their smokers Friday evening and put their brisket and pork butt on to smoke overnight. Some teams will have team members sleep in shifts so the smoker can be tended as needed throughout the night. Saturday morning, most teams will put their chicken and ribs in the smoker to cook. Preparing the entry boxes with lettuce and parsley can take place anytime Friday or Saturday prior to turning in your entries. It’s helpful to get your boxes ready with lettuce and parsley in advance so you aren’t time pressured at 11:30 when everything gets into high gear. At 11:30 Saturday morning, it’s crunch time as you begin to prepare your first entry, chicken to be at the judging tent at noon. Ribs will follow with turn in at 12:30. pork butt is next with a 1:00 turnin, finishing up with brisket which is turned in last at 1:30. Some cookoffs will have additional categories such as sauce, sausage, miscellaneous, etc. You can turn in your entry five minutes before or up to five minutes after the official turnin time, any later will result in disqualification.
The judging is normally completed by 2:00, then the judging cards are entered into the computer by the KCBS representative. While teams are waiting for judging results, they will be packing up their gear and getting ready to leave. Generally, the awards ceremony takes place one to two hours after judging has been completed. When attending the awards ceremony, you will have the opportunity to cheer on your fellow contestants. One of the hallmarks of competition barbeque is the way that all contestants genuinely wish success for the other teams. The air is thick with anticipation, along with a tremendous amount of suspense as teams wait with bated breath to hear the results of their efforts. Still, you will hear many heartfelt “congratulations” and “good Job” from other teams as contestants go up to accept their awards. This is a sport of good sports, and, win or lose, you will always have the wellwishes of the other teams and will be able to extend your good wishes to them in return.
After the awards ceremony Saturday afternoon, most teams head home to get a welldeserved hot shower, a pint of ice cream, and a chance to hash over the results of the cookoff with their teammates. Then it’s out to the garage to start cleaning your equipment and begin planning the next cookoff. Sunday, you’ll sleep better than you have since you were three. Monday, it’s back to the real world where you earn your living and dream your competition dreams when you’re sure no one is looking. After all, you’re no longer a serious hobbyist: you’ve become a real competition cook.

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