As many of you know, we competed for the first time at Meatstock in Sydney early last month. Our goal was simple – have fun and learn. Cooking at home can only prepare you for so much, and while your smoker still does most of the heavy lifting, the preparation and planning that goes into competition barbecue is next level. Here are 4 things that we learned during our first competition.
Cooking to time
Cooking in the backyard is very different to competition in more ways than one. When you cook at home for lunch or dinner, often times it’s ready “when it’s ready”, and you can placate hungry guests with some starters or more drinks.
Competition barbecue however is a completely different beast because you have set hand in times with a grace period either side – so ready or not it goes in a box at a certain time.
What this means is that you need to work backwards from hand-in, using your practice runs as a test for how long something should take, along with rest times, and time to box it – and then walk to the judging area to hand it in.
Practice can’t prepare your for everything
In spite of all your practice, sometimes things won’t go to your plan. What worked in practice one week may take longer, or even shorter, the next week.
We saw that with our beef cut where we did beef cheeks. We cooked them for plenty of time, but they still weren’t as perfect as we had them in practice. And our pork ribs didn’t even make it to a box, being overcooked (but delicious) and not holding a bone as we cut them – despite cooking them the same as we always do.
Presentation takes work
How hard could it be to arrange parsley in a box, you ask? “Very” is the answer. Despite it looking like a simple bed of greenery, putting together a great looking presentation box takes work. Too much stalk doesn’t work, and it needs to be even and just the right amount in the box. We were happy with most of our boxes as far as greenery goes, but still plenty of work to do.
When it comes to the meat in box too, sometimes you have to play the hand you’re dealt as far as the finished product. Our pork shoulder was amazing, but we took the money muscle too far, so instead of beautiful slices, we had to do chopped. This is where the planning comes in – know how you want to present it and work towards that. And always have a plan B. And possibly C.
Pack more than you need
Deciding what to take with you to the competition is hard the first time around. Each competition has a list of mandatory items your team needs to carry, then you have the smokers, fuel & wood, chimney starters, meat, marquees – but what else?
The answer is more than you think you will need, but you shouldn’t be without it – from cleaning stuff, utensils and condiments through to something for the team to eat – because it can’t be the competition food! Fortunately, great BBQ community members like Ben from Smoking Hot Confessions published a packing list (just search the page) which served as a great guide.
We couldn’t have done it without our fabulous sponsors Heat Beads, and the team from Metro Masters Meats who supplied us with top shelf product to cook with.
All things considered, while we didn’t finish anywhere significant, our results were encouraging and we learned a lot and had fun – so mission accomplished, and we can’t wait to do it again!