From sea to shining sea, if you're cooking pork ribs, brisket, chicken or sausages on the grill, folks will come. If you're involved in a grilling competition, they won't just be queuing up with plate in hand, either. They'll be happy to watch, comment and critique the proceedings. In 2002, more than 40,000 people vied for the title of America's grilling champ in a contest held jointly by Kraft Foods and Weber Grills. And since that amateur promotion, the popularity of grilling has morphed into a year-round pastime and national passion [source: PR NewsWire].
What's It All About?
Competitive grilling is about food and timing, and passions often run high. St. Louis, Texas, Carolina and Memphis barbecue styles are all well represented, and the competitions themselves can vary from informal community fundraisers to high stakes, expert-only meat making marathons. Winners of major events can pocket big money, and the free publicity for the winning team can be a career maker [source: Competition Barbecue].
The premise looks deceptively simple: fire up the barbecue pit and start cooking. But with multiple categories running concurrently, one competitor may have to grill three or four different meats on the same grill at the same time. If you have trouble getting all your burgers cooked through in one go, you can begin to appreciate the challenges involved.
There are four general types of competitive grilling:
- Group Events -- These competitions usually have a community slant and are often presented as part of a fair or fundraiser. Although sometimes longer, these types of competitions are usually one day, casual events. The number of grilling categories will be limited, and local talent is often showcased at these gatherings. If you're lucky, you can watch a rising star refine his or her grilling technique.
- Promotional Events -- These are generally part of a marketing program for grilling equipment or products and will feature celebrity cooks and pit masters. These are usually slick, well orchestrated events that have flair but not the authority of the major grilling competitions.
- Commercial Events -- Less a competition than an exposition, the food created at these shows is available for sale to the public. These gatherings are part promotion and part open-air buffet.
- Major Competitions -- These are regional events for serious grilling enthusiasts who are willing to work hard at their craft. They often last over a weekend, offer multiple categories for entrants and many are affiliated with the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the largest organization devoted to competitive grilling on Earth.
Can Anyone Compete?
Although the competition can get fierce, if your secret recipe or technique has the right taste, texture and appearance, you, too, can be a winner. Armed with the entry fee, a pit, the right cut of meat, a strategy for cooking your meat to perfection (within the deadline), and a team to help with the prep work, you're on your way.
Of course, it would probably be prudent to start small, say in the amateur or backyard division, and work your way up. It would also be a good idea to set some long-term goals, like buying a motor home and custom barbecue pit to take on the road, because once you win a competition, even a small one, you'll be hooked for life.