It’s been just over 12 months since we started out in competition BBQ and certainly a lot has changed for us during this time. We started out with half an idea about what we wanted to achieve (a guys weekend away with a little bit of cooking) and whilst we still have the same intent, we’ve certainly learnt a lot in terms of dos and don’ts in that time.
So for those of you looking at getting into comp BBQ for 2018, here’s a few of our learnings in no particular order……
You CAN pack too much
The old saying of less is more certainly applies to comp BBQ and it is probably the thing I struggle with the most. Due to sheer laziness (I couldn’t be bothered repacking), I ended up taking almost three crates of ingredients and spices to BBQ Wars at Port this year. I spent the entire weekend cursing because I couldn’t locate stuff when I needed it and our results reflected the lack of organisation. Whilst it’s great to take a lot of gadgets and you might think you need 5 different sized mixing bowls, chances are, you can probably do without a lot of it. Taking too much equipment leads to an inability to find stuff when you really need it. Instead, plan out exactly what you’ll need and pack that.
Locate your services
It might sound silly given the previous paragraph, but chances are you will forget something at some stage and Murphy’s Law dictates this will be at the most inopportune moment. Having done this once or twice, prior to arriving at comps, I’ve learnt to scope out where I can access supplies if I need to. Knowing where the local Coles, Woolworths or Bunnings is means not having to drive in circles when you really should be back at your site cooking.
Always help others out
For everyone, things can and do go wrong at each and every comp. Very often you will be able to solve it yourself, but sometimes the situation becomes dire and you need the help of others. Over the last 12 months I’ve had tents leak catastrophically at Crafted Orange, had temp probes read 50 degrees too high on a pit controller resulting in underdone ribs and lost a full market bunch of parsley to an overly enthusiastic camp fridge that froze. Whilst the leaking tent couldn’t be easily solved, I was saved by people from other teams who generously helped out when disaster struck, offering extra parsley and generously offering to finish our ribs in their smoker, which was at perfect temp. In turn we too have given away parsley, donated meat where required and offered all manner of spices when others have run out. So my advice here is to be good to others because at some stage you’ll need their help and they’ll need yours.
Enjoy a drink, but don’t be an arse
Everyone enjoys a drink at a BBQ comp; it’s a required part of the scene. However as always it can bring out the best and worst in people. As a group, we rely on promoters to put on these events so that we can indulge our BBQ craziness, so in my view it is beholden on us as competitors to support promoters where we can and help make their event run smoothly. Openly drinking your own booze at a licensed event only leads to trouble and risks promoters’ liquor licences. Also, BBQing in a carpark on a hot day is hard work at the best of times. Add a cracking hangover and…….. you get the picture.
Also, remembering that everyone is running short on sleep and tempers can fray more easily than usual, so pumping out your best drunken rendition of Khe Sahn or Billy Joel at 4am may not win you many friends.
You will be even more tired than you anticipate
A typical comp weekend will see you engage in a bunch of physical activity, stay on your feet all day and enjoy a fair few drinks. Top this off with minimal, broken sleep after your neighbours chop wood at 2am, drop the lid to their Weber kettle a few times and you will find you start to suffer. Don’t forget you’ll have to get up five times a night to check your pits as well. Consider this before planning a massive drive home.
After competing at Brisbane BBQ Festival this year, we started driving home to Sydney the next day and I found by the time we hit Armidale, I was just too tired to go any further. We overnighted instead and I was asleep before 7pm. Much better to get home late than not at all
Watch your timing
I am the master of starting my turn in boxes late. Its deliberate as I like to make sure what I turn in is hot. That said, at the recent Dam Hotel comp, our lamb box, very nearly wasn’t, as we made turn in with 15 seconds to spare. It was my fault entirely, but I sure learnt from it! I’ll be watching the clock closely and making sure there’s plenty of time to get things just right.
BBQ and kids mix really well……No, seriously!
As I previously said, BBQ comps started out as a boys weekend away. However, running short on team mates early in the year, I allowed my 11yo daughter to join us and we haven’t looked back. She is in charge of parsley boxes and gear preparation and she has turned into a pretty good little cook, competing in the first kids comp, held at Smoking the Valley at Wingham this year. She loves going away camping for a weekend and really has cemented her place as an important member of the team.
Just because you like it doesn’t mean it’s good
When we started out in comp BBQ we went in turning out food that we like to eat. Sometimes this approach worked, but more often we were rewarded with fairly mediocre scores. For instance, all judges do strangely not share my love of chilli! Somewhere in our blog, you’ll find an article written by JD about our favourite pulled pork. It’s super tasty, but looks pretty dreadful due to its mustard base and just doesn’t score well. If you’re going to succeed in comp BBQ it’s pretty important to shelve your ego and try and take on board any feedback received.
The flavours we use now are completely different to what we started out using and for nearly every cut, they are made from our own rubs and sauces, meaning we can tweak things when required, but also that the flavours we turn in are unique to our team only. This only happened because we all talk on a regular basis, trialling adjustments to our recipes and sharing notes several times a week.
Just do it
Above all, just get in there and give it a shot. Chances are your first few comps will be challenging, but you’ll meet some great people and learn an awful lot. Everyone in the BBQ scene wants it to flourish, so we’re all there to help out where we can.
See you there!
Complete BBQ tragic and committed collector of BBQs, particularly Webers. Even known to talk BBQ recipes in his sleep, AJ’s years of cooking triumphs and failures have left him completely convinced that BBQ is overthought.