Tuesday, 1 October 2013


K and I are both certified KCBS BBQ judges. In order to compete KCBS style, you need to provide four entries for judging: pork shoulder (pork butt), beef brisket, pork ribs, and chicken. If you’ve ever watched one of the BBQ reality shows and wondered what it’s like to compete without a few hundred thousand dollars to drop on a rig, here you go:

We headed down south for some fun with the in-laws and a combination MBN and KCBS BBQ competition. I realize that every part of a BBQ competition can be met with a 12-year-old’s sense of humor, so when you’re laughing at “meat inspection” and “smoking meat,” know that I did too.

We competed on my brother-in-law’s team last year, so we had a decent idea of what was going on, but this was our first solo competition. We started the trip out with two goals. One, do better than last year. Two, place in the top half. Half of achieving your dreams is having low expectations, so I tailored my own goal: Don’t come in last.

Two people makes for a pretty small team, so we kidnapped our closest friend and put him to work. He proved to be smarter than both of us, as he had a cot/tent overnighted to my in-laws’ house. While I slept at a 90-degree angle on wet, hard plastic in the back of my car, he was happily sprawled out in his seven-foot bed for the weekend.

We packed up the car, drove the nine hours down after work on Wednesday, and arrived shortly after midnight. My mother-in-law greeted us with boxed wine and a smile, so we were off to a good start. I set her up with an e-cig, and she was happily vaping with one hand and smoking with the other when I went to bed.

We got up early on Thursday to set up our competition space. We invested in a port-a-potty for the weekend, borrowed two tables from the VFW, and set-up our smoker. We brought one pop-up tent with us, but had to purchase a second one when the hurricane-style rain hit. One of my friends from Texas posted a nice picture of the storm, which stretched from Mexico to Canada. Our ambassador was kind enough to acquire/steal some cardboard so we could craft a “floor” in the muddy parking lot.

The first night featured a fish fry and chicken wing competition. We didn’t place in the top five in either category, but that’s not the point of entering. For auxiliary events, the contest provides the meat. So, we got 10 pounds of free chicken and fish to “compete with” and then eat/share with everyone around us. Delicious and economical.

We hit up the local liquor store for some discount rum and presented HB with a gift for joining us. K and I opted to sleep on a real mattress for the first night and left HB in his rum-scented tent to guard the port-a-potty.

K and HB attended the 0800 meat inspection on Friday, which I felt entitled to skip out on. I showed up at noon and pretended to be interested in prepping the pork shoulder and brisket. Meanwhile, the next-door RV battery shorted out in the rain and partially electrocuted one of the competitors. Luckily, K used to work for a battery supply company in town, so he took the man of the RV over to the warehouse to pick out a new battery.

K and I went to the head cooks’ meeting at 1600, where we heard some inspiring quotes such as, “You can’t have a BBQ competition without teams.” Then we picked up our gift baskets, which consisted of 70-ish pounds of free charcoal, moonshine, soda, beer, sauces, T-shirts, apples, aprons, rubs, key-chain razor blades (yes, you’re reading that correctly), and notepads. We already felt like winners.

We finished prepping the chicken thighs and ribs (gross) and setting up for a long night of smoking meat (hehe). After a rousing game of meat tetris, we accepted that it wasn’t all going to fit on the smoker and decided to add my father-in-law’s Weber grill. He also brought us the industrial-style florescent light from his shed to help with the nighttime cooking. It worked. You can see that thing from space.

Once everything was prepped and we had a timeline set up, we took the opportunity to check out our competition. Some of their rigs cost more than my house, but I have to admit they do look really cool! After confirming that the VFW team was already shithouse drunk, we returned to our homemade setup, ready to win.

My brother-in-law stopped by to inform us that the VFW team had called in back-up cooks, but even they were starting to slur unintelligibly. My father-in-law used to be a competitor, and has many great stories of teams that were unable to get a single category turned in on time due to alcoholic difficulties. This competition was starting to look up for us.
We feasted on chili dogs as we prepared hundreds of dollars worth of meat for our anonymous judges. The waste is always concerning to me, as each judge will take a tiny bite of the meat and the rest is thrown away. It not as though we enjoy wasting good BBQ. I was told in judging class that if you only take a small bite of each competition piece, you can expect to eat two pounds of meat in one afternoon.

After ensuring all of our gauges were reading correctly, we retired to our respective sleeping arrangements. Around 0500, I gave up on “sleeping” and began to clean the prep space and set up for the day’s events.

Everything made it to the grill/smoker at the appropriate times. HB began designing the turn-in boxes with the tenacity of an Adderall-fueled housewife. Every piece of parsley was specially chosen and carefully laid to enhance the appearance of the meat. Box design is an art, with only certain types of greenery allowed in competition. Then again, you have to trust that your judges can distinguish curly leaf parsley from arugula.

HB’s dedication to vegetable arrangement scored well in all categories. After everything was turned in, we did shots of tasty, tasty whiskey with the neighbors in exchange for local wine.

HB and I headed back to the house to shower and change before the awards ceremony. While he was in the shower, I sat down to rest. I woke up late that night, confused and still reeking of BBQ. We’d missed the awards ceremony, but I’d successfully caught up on 3 days of sleep.

We headed home the next day, with our gift basket in hand. K’s already preparing for the next competition, and I’ve been buying more salads.

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