How to start competing depends of what which sort of contest you are interested in. Many cooks and teams will mix it up and enter different sorts of contest and some will focus on one particular sort. If you are unfamiliar with the types of contest around, you can find a brief rundown here.
There is no right way to start competing, you will find teams that have come on different paths to this point, but one of the key things to know what you are getting in to. Ultimately the process to compete can be as simple as registering with a contest, paying any entrance fee and turning up. It will be knowing what to turn up with and what will happen once you turn up that eases you in to competing.
Go to a contest
If you haven’t before, go to a contest. With few exceptions, most contests happen as part of public events. You can see what events are taking place on our page here. This will give you chance to see the teams in action, you can see what they are doing, how they are doing it and what they are using. Most teams will also be happy to talk to you and answer any questions you have but a word of warning, pick you timings. If a team is in the final throws of preparing their entries, they won’t have the time to chat. Watch them do it if you can, then wait for them to have a beer in their hand when the dust settles after. Competitive barbecue is very social, so once the contest is done you will find people gathered in each other’s areas, don’t be afraid to let them know you are interested in getting started and asking a few questions.
Start or join a gang. Or are you a one-man band?
Some forms of contest are easier to achieve solo than others and teams come in all shapes and sizes. If you have a friend or two that’s interested, why not share the fun and workload. It can also help when pulling together the kit you need. Equally if you work best on your own, there are plenty of teams that are permanently or occasionally a lone ranger. Contests with one or two rounds, or single product contests like a chilli cook-off can be suited to a single person team. Longer form contests like KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) sanctioned contests can benefit from a couple of pairs of hands when things get frantic, but it's not essential.
Pack up your barbecue’s in your old kit bag
If you go to a contest don’t be put off by some of the team’s vast array of expensive looking barbecues, smokers and set ups. You are going to need your own kit, but many teams started small and have built up over time. Some teams also have various types of sponsorship to use certain equipment. Don’t get us wrong, there is no Middle East consortium pumping millions in to a barbecue contest team, but a lot of the teams have been doing this for some time, some are very successful and compete all over the world, some have won more barbecues as prizes and sold them than they can remember. You can find various kit lists from teams all over the world online, but the one piece of advice the author was given (even though he never acted on it) about competing is make sure you have enough barbecue capacity, somewhere if it rains and a table. Most teams have a gazeebo for sitting, preparing and general storage.
Do a course
There are competition cooking courses around, they are sparse in the UK so keep your eyes open. They generally cater for KCBS style contests but there are more general barbecue cooking courses around.
Hey good looking! What ya’ got cooking?
Remember, broadly speaking you will need to supply all your own food to cook your entries. Often organisers will have arrangements with suppliers for pre ordering meat etc. that you can collect at the event, but not always. In some contests a specific ingredient will be supplied that has to be used in a certain entry, we’ve seen rabbit rounds, fish rounds and Spam rounds… The one exception to this is steak cook off contests. These are most often run as part of a broader contest, but normally the contest organiser will supply the steaks. Now obviously you’re paying for it in the entry fee, but part of the contest is the choosing the steak process. One word of warning is to know where you can get your ingredients. For meat especially, some of the cuts required for contests may not be available from your local butchers, so do a bit of research of what you need and find your suppliers. There are several online butchers that supply specific barbecue cuts.
If you want to know what the end product should look, feel and taste like, go and learn to be a judge. You can find info on that here, but this is a great way to experience the end product and what makes a great entry before you do it.
Don’t lose sight of what is important
It is a contest, but remember it should be fun. The competitive barbecue community in the UK is close knit and social. So make sure your new hobby remains enjoyable to you. Use your first few contests to learn, you’re probably not going to be collecting certificates or trophies for a while, so make the most of the learning experience..
But dream of what’s possible!
Lots of contests offer as part of their prizes, qualification in to other contests, and results at contests can count to qualifications for much bigger events. In some circumstances this can be some of the biggest events in the world. In recent years UK teams have competed including some high finishes and victories at the World Food Championships in Texas, The American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City and the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Tennessee. Thinking a little smaller, many teams compete in Europe and some events are amazing social gatherings of teams, judges and barbecue enthusiasts in beautiful European destinations.