First of all... why would you want to start a BBQ team? It’s more work than you can imagine and there’s very little money to be made. Maybe you’re just crazy or just crazy about BBQ. The truth about BBQ competitions is they are a lot of fun with a lot of good friends. And that’s why most BBQ competitors do it - for the comradery and the friendly competition. Sure... there are some of us that have a product to promote like a book, sauce, rub, catering company, or restaurant. We want the bragging rights like everybody else does. But if the comradery were not there, I think most teams would retire early if they were smart.
Second... you’ll need some equipment. Of course, you’ll need a smoker. Smokers range in price from $300 on up to $50,000 and sometimes much more. One of the best teams in 2009 used several cheap Weber Smokey Mountain smokers. Another guy I know uses one small Backwoods smoker that looks like you would have a hard time fitting two butts on it much less some chicken, ribs, and a brisket. Don’t know how he does it, but he does pretty darn good as a BBQ competitor. And then you have to decide amongst the different types of smokers... bullet smokers, ceramic smokers, traditional offset smokers, reverse flow offset smokers, vertical insulated smokers, rotisserie smokers, and pellet smokers. Just don’t buy an electric or gas model as they are illegal in most contests. Also make sure you have enough space for all your meat. And don’t forget about all the tools and gadgets you’ll need... thermometers, gloves, tongs, charcoal chimneys, trailers, canopies, chairs, ice chests, and a place to sleep just to name a few.
Third... you’ll need a good heap of knowledge. The BBQ teams on the circuit today are professionals. You’ll need to know what you are doing to even have a chance. I recommend getting my book Competition BBQ Secrets at www.bbq-book.com - it will teach you how to smoke professional quality chicken, ribs, butts, and brisket. Your other option is to spend about $750 and go to a BBQ cooking class. I highly recommend Myron Mixon’s class (of Jack’s Old South) - after all, what’s more expensive, losing contest after contest, or spending $750 and winning some contests?
Fourth... where do you go to find contests? You can start with the various BBQ contest sanctioning bodies. There are many of them but the three most popular are Kansas City Barbecue Society, Florida BBQ Association, and the Memphis Barbecue Network. Here’s a list of them all...
The National Barbecue News - www.barbecuenews.com (good source for BBQ news)
Florida Barbecue Association - www.flbbq.org
California Barbecue Association - www.cbbqa.com
Kansas City Barbecue Society - www.kcbs.us
Memphis Barbecue Network - www.mbnbbq.com
New England Barbecue Society - www.nebs.org
Lone Star Barbecue Society - www.lonestarbarbecue.com
Central Texas barbecue Association - www.ctbahome.com
Texas Gulf Coast Barbecue Cookers Association - www.tgcbca.org
South Carolina Barbecue Association - www.scbarbeque.com
North Carolina Barbecue Society - www.ncbbqsociety.com
Greater Omaha barbecue Society - www.gobs.org
Iowa Barbecue Society - www.iabbq.org
Mid Atlantic Barbecue Association - www.mabbqa.com
Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association - www.pnwba.com
Utah Barbecue Association - www.utahbbq.org
Canadian Barbecue Association - www.canadianbarbecueassociation.com
International Barbecue Cookers Association - www.ibcabbq.org
Rocky Mountain BBQ Association - www.rmbbqa.com
National Barbecue Association - www.nbbqa.org
Atlanta Barbecue Club - www.atlbbqclub.com
Georgia Barbecue Association - www.bbqga.com
Note: If you can't find a contest near you in the list above, just type one of the following terms into www.google.com ...
yourstate barbecue contest
yourstate barbecue association
yourstate barbecue society
yourstate barbecue competition
Fifth... After you find a contest you’d like to enter, just go to their web site and download the entry forms and mail in your check. Do it at least 1-2 months before the contest date as most contests fill up early. Be sure to read the contest rules before you leave so there are no surprises at the contest. Some of the rules are strict and could result in a disqualification. Most of the sanctioning bodies have their own rules, but some contests have their own rules in addition to the sanctioning body’s rules.
Sixth... there are two other ways to get into the wild world of BBQ competitions. One is to enter a “backyard” division contest first. Most contests have a pro division and a backyard division. Some even have a Kid’s Q division. There’s less competition in the backyard division so you stand a better chance of winning. Don’t be afraid of entering the pro division though as there is more prize money and you never know what those judges are going to like on any given day so your chances are better than you might think. The second thing I recommend you do before you jump into competing is to become a certified BBQ judge first and judge a few contests. Believe it or not, most people, even competitors, do not even know what competition quality BBQ is all about. How would you know if you have never tasted it? Judging allows you to taste competition quality BBQ - it’s one of the few ways to learn what to strive for.
So... if you are crazy enough about BBQ, pick a name and go out and start your own BBQ Team!
Chatham Artillery BBQ Team
2009 State Champions of NC, SC, and GA
author Competition BBQ Secrets