Who Doesn't Love A Little Competition?
As the sun starts peeking through the clouds more each day, the traditional grilling season is coming into focus. That means more play time and BBQ in the backyard for my family. It also means BBQ competition season will be gaining momentum heading into Spring and Summer. Nearly two years ago I had the honor of leading a small BBQ team in a local rib competition. The experience was amazing and showed me that the resulting sense of accomplishment is worth every ounce of energy put into the effort.
We grill-smoked 16 racks of pork spare ribs over apple and cherry wood and had 4 bottles of homemade BBQ sauce. We did not place, but received high marks on the taste and overall quality of our ribs and sauce. It was all gone in a matter of 20 minutes despite the hours of planning, preparation and patience. In fact those three things are what I call Daddy's Three P's. It's what I try to instill in both of my kids as I lead them on a journey of grilling with me. For competitions it means simply:
Planning: Know your equipment, plan for safety/sanitation, understand your schedule and create your to-do list. This is perhaps the most important step for a successful competition. People who know me know that I love lists. This was my list of lists for sure!
Preparation: Prepare your favorite BBQ rub and secret sauce. Once I rub my ribs, I wrap them in plastic wrap and foil then refrigerate overnight. I also make a simple 50/50 solution of apple juice and water plus one tablespoon of rub; heat it up and let it cool; then strain it all into a spray bottle. This helps you keep things moist during grilling or smoking. It goes without saying that you need to allow time in the day to prepare the grill or smoker and maintain the charcoal and wood to ensure you maintain even heat throughout the cook. Also, it's crucial to be ready for presentation ahead of time -- whether it's a turn in box or a plate -- so you can make serving and presentation to judges as pain free as possible. For garnish, I made a batch of pickled onions a week ahead of time and pinched off a bunch of parsley sprigs the night before. We were able to quickly add each component of the dish without skipping a beat.
Patience: Once you've planned and prepared, let the food and heat do their work. There's a saying around Weber: "If you're lookin', you ain't cookin'!" It is so true. In a competition, nerves can easily tempt you to peek and second guess yourself, but don't do it! Be patient. It's also important to take your time and let the ribs rest before cutting. Those juices need to stay in and keep things moist.
My kids love competition cooking shows, but in their eyes nothing compares to being at a live outdoor cooking competition. They were able to watch Daddy, one of his friends and their uncle team up to create great BBQ during a Father's Day weekend outdoor festival. Although the competition was all about ribs, I also grilled up some of my signature salmon for my team and my family, to give us time to relax and eat once the judges had their food. The salmon even got rave reviews from one of the festival VIPs.
After it was over, despite being drained of all energy, we loaded up the van and debriefed on the highs and lows of the day, making mental notes for the next competition.
Have you cooked in a BBQ competition? What is your strategy? Share your experiences!