Thanks in part to television shows like Destination America’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” the popularity of competition barbecue has never been greater. In fact, it is safe to say that you can most likely find a contest within a few hours of your home regardless of where you live or what time of year it is.
Entering your first contest, however, can be a stressful process as its hard to know exactly what to expect and, as such, how to prepare for it.
To make the process a bit easier (and to ensure that you’re actually able to relax a bit and enjoy the experience), George Hensler, author of Startin’ the Fire and member of Who Are Those Guys BBQ team, is offering up an extensive guide to competing in your first contest!
TIPS FOR STARTING A COMPETITION BBQ TEAM
When deciding to start a competition barbecue team, you could just back your vehicle into the garage, toss in everything you think you will need, stop at the store to buy some meat and beer, then drive down to the contest site.
Oh, and on the way, pick up a couple of day laborers. While this certainly would be the easy way, it would not be my suggestion (although, I am sure it’s been done many times in the past, with varying degrees of success). To enter a contest takes a commitment of time, effort and money. In my humble opinion, unless you have some of each to burn, a little foresight is required.
Below you will find my suggestions for you to consider while planning for your entry into the world of competition BBQ. Please keep in mind that this guide was created based on my experiences when I first entered the competition BBQ scene and that I am by no means a BBQ expert, nor do I profess to be.
I do, however, consider my self a decent organizer and planner. Good preparation and proper planning can go a long way in both your enjoyment and the overall outcome of a competition. While planning and preparation alone won’t help you cook good results, it will make you feel a lot better about your effort when the day is done, no matter where you finish.
Phase #1-Preliminary Planning Stage
I like to think of this stage as hatching an idea. You have a brainstorm about starting a team; perhaps you have talked it over with a few folks. Maybe you know someone else who has done it. Either way, it looks and sounds like a good idea. If you are seriously considering starting a team, I think a little planning is in order, including:
1) Do some background work- Talk to someone that cooks on a team. Go to a contest or two and see what it’s all about. While you are walking around the contest site, talk to the cooks and ask questions. Most are more than willing to discuss BBQ at the drop of a hat. Do not interrupt if they are involved with prep work or contest turn-ins, this is a busy time and folks are not in the mood to talk during busy times. Fridays, any time, and Saturdays before 11:00 AM, after 2:00 PM are usually the best times to visit with the cooks.
2) Investigate/learn- Read any thing you can get your hands on about BBQ. Visit BBQ forums and Facebook pages, read the threads and posts. Most of the better forums have tremendous archives and search capabilities, look around, then read some more. The BBQ Forum, www.rbjb.com/rbjb/rbjbboard, is a great resource for all information about BBQ. Also, be sure to visit The BBQ Brethren Forum, www.bbq-brethren.com. Visit web sites of existing teams, many post pictures of their products and the contests they have cooked. Many good books about competitive BBQ cooking are out there as well. My recommendation here would be DR. BBQ’s Big Time Barbecue Cookbook. This book is very helpful with insight, technique, and recipes from a proven BBQ champion. The good Doctor has several books on the market, all of which are permanent additions to my personal collection.
Start a notebook. A binder, some dividers and a three-hole punch are cheap enough, you might even have them around the house somewhere not in use. When you come across an item that looks to be informative and or helpful, print it out and file it in your book. Share the information with your teammates if they are interested. With today’s technology, most items can be sent via e-mail. That is, providing your teammates know how to use the internet. (hey Mike, get with the times!) Organize your notes anyway you see fit; my only suggestion is have it done in such a way that when you are looking for a paper on a topic, you can find it.
3) Join a BBQ association- Kansas City Barbeque Society is the sanctioning body for the contests that we cook. There are several other organizations around the Country. Use Google to locate the websites for more information. With most memberships, you receive a subscription to a flyer or newspaper, another information source.
There are also many local and regional BBQ associations, search around and become a member. It’s a great way to meet folks with similar interests. Many of these local groups will sponsor BBQ shows from time to time. Attend a show, look at the cookers, visit with supply/equipment vendors, many shows will have actual cooking demonstrations ongoing, again, a good information source. Local BBQ societies are also a great place to find a BBQ mentor and or a team to assist.
4) Plan- Grab a note pad and make a plan. Commit your thoughts and ideas for your team to paper. Establish a time line of how you want to proceed. Where will the funding come from? What equipment is needed? Who will participate? In short, create a sort of a BBQ business plan to assist with the organization, just be sure to use a pencil with a big eraser, as there will be plenty of changes.
5) Recruit- To help defray some of the costs and to assist with the labor involved, try and find a few suckers….I mean friends to come along for the ride. You could try to use family members. There are many very successful husband and wife teams around. For Jo and me, that arrangement would never work, we would be in divorce court for sure, or, one of us would be in jail. The best bet is to find a friend or two or three that likes to work their butts off and get very little sleep for little or no reward. Oh yeah, if they have deep pockets, long arms, and don’t mind reaching, that helps too.
Once you have talked a few folks into following this pipe dream of yours about starting a BBQ team, visited a few contests, scratched a few ideas down on paper and taken a second mortgage on the family house, you are ready to move on to phase 2.
Phase #2- Making the Commitment
You have been to a few contests and done some reading on the subject. You have spoken to a few friends and it looks like there is some interest. Are you ready to commit? So far, other than the cost of a few things that you have purchased, you have no real money invested. Is it time to begin the spend-athon? Not just yet, you still have a little more groundwork to do.
1) Name yourself the Chief - You can call it the boss of the sauce, head chef, dictator, pit master, chief cook, postmaster general, grand poobah, president, CEO, HMFIC, or just plain King. Someone has to be in charge, call the shots, and make the decisions. Since it was your idea, and you have all of the time invested so far, it looks like you are the one. You could as one of your first official duties name someone else to the position, I would advise against that one. You had better declare yourself in charge and get it out in the open right now, to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding down the road. Every team needs someone to be the boss. To take credit when things go right, and to assign blame when they go wrong, just like at work. The only exception to this declaration is when the wife is on site, we all know who’s the boss then, don’t we?
2) Enter a backyard competition- Look around, many contests will have a backyard or tailgate contest in conjunction with the regular KCBS event. These contests typically cook only one meat, usually chicken or ribs. They don’t take a huge investment to participate in. The plus side is you can get a feeling for the contest experience. This can be very helpful to see for sure if you and your prospective team members really want to get involved in this madness called competitive cooking. They are also a lot of fun. The downside is you expose yourself to becoming addicted to this crazy “sport”. Remember, you have been warned.
Are you noticing the operative word here…fun? Have you noticed how many times I have used the word? I don’t like to repeat myself, but I can’t stress this enough. It is a competition, but for most of us, it’s also a diversion, a source of relaxation, quality time spent with family and friends. I equate the experience to a regular card game, it’s a good excuse to get together with some friends and have a few laughs. That being said, above all else, be sure to enjoy yourself.
3) Get involved- Ask around at the contests that you have attended, check with a local BBQ society or make a post on a BBQ forum, look for a team with the “help wanted” sign out. Volunteer to help. Wash dishes, scrub grill gates, clean the cooker, run boxes, bag trash, anything that needs doing to get to a contest or two. It’s the only way to get the real flavor of what goes on. Many folks on the BBQ circuit need help from time to time and most are willing to help someone get their feet wet, show you the ropes so to speak.
If you are lucky enough to get on with a team in a contest, don’t show up empty-handed. You are going to be spending many hours there, bring along some drinks and something for everyone to nibble on. You wouldn’t show up to your friends house empty-handed would you? Well, let’s just say that these guys are offering to let you hang around in hopes of learning something, so it would be a good idea to bring some refreshments for both you and them. Let’s leave the discussion about showing up at your friend’s house sans food and beverage for another day.
While on site, volunteer to do anything. Naturally, grate cleaning and trash removal are some of the less popular jobs, nobody likes to do them, jump in and get them done. Anticipate, if the trash bag is full, tie it off, haul it to the dumpster and install another bag. The grates need scrubbing, get out a brush. Show some initiative, some hustle, some interest. Don’t just sit around, drinking their beer, eating their food and asking stupid questions (like I did).
Don’t be nosey. The team will be involved in steps and processes that they are using in a competition so use discretion, watch and help when it appears you are welcome. Don’t be afraid to ask if you should step away and let them alone for certain steps. They will let you know what to do and what they don’t mind you observing. Don’t be too pushy and ask too may questions. The jest of what I am saying here is, be discrete. You do not want to wear out your welcome.
Be appreciative that someone is willing to share the experience with you. This may sound like a simple concept, however, it is often overlooked. Above all, don’t blab about what you have seen. You would be surprised how many times I was approached at contests were I was a dish washer and asked specific questions about what was going on at the site where I was helping. My advice, dummy up, like Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes…I know nothing!
4) Attend a BBQ class - There are many classes offered around the Country for competitive BBQ cooking. Many of the top and most successful teams offer classes on cooking a full load of competition meat. Some offer the class as a two day event, just like a contest and will walk you through everything from meat prep to box building. Encourage others that are interested in the team to attend as well. The price tag for some of these classes may seem a bit steep, but the benefits far outweigh the cost if you are serious about starting a team. Pay attention and take good notes and you will move months ahead on the BBQ learning curve.
5) Cooker selection- Decide on a main cooker. As I touched on previously in my blog, there are many different types of cookers, fuels and combinations on the market. You will need a cooker large enough to accommodate a full load of contest meats. If you don’t already have a cooker you are using, you may have to purchase one. Initially, I would suggest trying to buy one on the secondary market, as in used, strictly to help lower the startup costs. Many BBQ forums have sections to buy and sell used equipment.
Some cooks would be more satisfied with buying a new unit. If you are thinking of a new unit, do not wait to the last minute to place your order. As the BBQ season approaches, many of the cooker builders develop long wait times, some have a wait year round. The best advice here is to communicate with the maker of the cooker you are interested in and inquire how long the wait is. The bottom line is that you should order early if possible.
6) Become a CBJ- Classes sponsored by KCBS to become a certified BBQ judge are held all around the Country throughout the year. The KCBS web site is a great place to check for classes and their availability. Sign up for the class and become a certified judge. Two reasons here. One is to get more experience around the contest venue by volunteering to judge a contest or two and see what kind of product others are turning in. The second is to familiarize yourself with the rules and requirements for the competitors at a KCBS contest and to see what exactly the judges are looking for.
7) Practice, practice, practice - Cook BBQ whenever you can. You will be having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Early on, the fam will think they are in heaven, “Mmmmmm BBQ, bring it on”. If possible, prepare the meat as you might in a contest. Keep good notes on your cooks. Record what seasonings you used, the sauces, cook times, internal temps, outside temps, weather conditions, any shred of information that may effect the final outcome of the product.
After, you sample your food, have others taste it, get their opinion, make notes, review the notes, then review them again, decide on changes to make, then cook again. When you think you are finished, start all over again. You will know you are getting close to being finished when the kids come to the dinner table and say, “yuck, brisket AGAIN”.
8) Develop sources - While you are involved in your test cooking operation, be sure to note the results of the sauces and rubs that you want to use. Some teams use over the counter products, others make their own, still others use a combination, whichever way you go, make sure you have a reliable source for obtaining the materials you need. Be sure you always have enough on hand to accommodate any test cooks or contests that are scheduled.
While you are at it, pay attention to the source of the meats you are cooking. Again, make notes and look at the meat you are buying. Are you satisfied with the outcome, your final result? In my opinion, an inferior piece of meat going into the cooker is not going to improve when it comes out, no matter how slow it cooks. Develop a relationship with your butcher, whether it’s at the local discount box store, or around the corner at the neighborhood meat market. Explain to them what you are after, what you are looking for in a certain cut of meat. Don’t just take what they hand you, look it over and make sure it looks like a cut that you want to cook. Try to get the best product you can to start with. Even if this means going to several suppliers to gather all of the meat needed for a contest. You will not regret any time spent securing a better product to begin with, then it’s only up to you to screw it up after that.
9) Select a team name - This is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the entire process in my opinion. There are many ways to cover this topic. The best advice I can offer is take your time and have some fun. Begin by looking around at various contests and searching the various web sites / forums to get a feel for the names that are out there, and I mean some are really out there. Next, make a list with all of the possibilities. Try to keep in mind something that could personalize your name and or team. Anything to add a little interest to the name will be good. Check the existing team lists from time to time and scratch off names already in use.
While you are thinking things over, get the opinions from others, even if you don’t pay them any attention, like I do. It makes them feel like they were involved. Once you have driven yourself half crazy with team names, look them over and develop a short list. Also, think about the possibilities of a logo to go with your new name, if you can. If not, no big deal, the logo designers out there are very creative and will help you design your own.
Finally, make that big decision, then tell the others the name, remember, you’re the boss, and a BBQ team is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship, at least until there’s a coup or a mutiny. The best part is, other than the expense of your banner, if you don’t like the name down the road, you can always change, it’s not written in stone.
Phase #3 Implementation
The time has come to commit to your dream with cold cash, in my opinion, the biggest commitment of all. Hopefully, the others on your team are willing to contribute to the effort in an attempt to offset the overall cost. Either way, when you start shelling out the hard-earned greckles, it gets a little more serious.
1) Decide on a contest or two to begin with - Try and find events that are close to your home base and spread out throughout the season. Don’t overdo it and sign up for too many out of the gate. Pick a couple, fill out the entry forms and send them in. That is the easy part, oh yea, here’s where you have to start writing checks.
2) Transportation is a Key Issue - Sounds like a political statement doesn’t it? In this case, it’s not political, but very important, contrary to most political statements. How will you get all of the necessary gear to and from the contest venue? Will the cooker you have selected be able to be moved without using a crane or developing a hernia? Where will the gear be stowed between contests? Will the supplies stay dry during transport? If you are considering a trailer, is it big enough? Do you have a beefy enough tow vehicle? What about fuel costs? All very valid questions that need to be addressed, in other words, transportation is a key issue.
3) Make your lists and check them twice - Go over your lists and begin to gather the needed supplies and equipment (see item list). Try to gather gradually, to lessen the financial impact on your wallet. There are numerous BBQ supply stores on the internet. Charcoal, wood chunks, rubs and sauces can all be ordered online if you do not have a source near by. You could do a Google search or my suggestion would be Hawgeyes BBQ, www.hawgeyesbbq.com, they have a great selection and offer fast service.
Some of the equipment you may already have. Some can serve double duty between the home kitchen and the contest box. I would suggest keeping this arrangement to a minimum, it never fails, when you get to the contest, the needed item is back home in the kitchen. Keep items devoted to BBQ in the contest box whenever possible.
4) Plan to do a practice run - Pick a date that is convenient to all your team members and do a complete contest set up. Pick your turn-in times and have them scheduled as you would in a contest with ½ hour in between. Plan backwards to determine when you will begin cooking your meats. At a contest, the average site size is around 20 x 20, but sizes do vary. Use this as a guideline when planning your space. Erect your canopies, tables, cookers and grills. Set up your lights so you can see at night. Do you have enough cords and lights packed?
If possible, cooler your meats and do the prep work in the site you have set up. This will give you a good idea if you have gathered everything you will need at your first contest. It will also give a good trial run for cooking all four categories’ at once. Go through the entire process including preparing the boxes. After you have written a check for an entry fee is not the time to try and construct your first box. Keep good notes and record any problems encountered. Invite some friends over to act as judges and taste the food you have prepared. Make a party out of it. Post pictures of your boxes and ask the other cooks for their opinions. Again, most are willing to help a new guy get started and will offer very helpful insight.
5) Spread the wealth - Divide the responsibilities. If you are lucky enough to have a few team members, ask each to be responsible for a task. Assign a member to plan and shop for the team food and drink, another can get the contest meats and the ice, and so on. This helps reduce the work and stress before a contest. I think it’s also a good idea to assign duties while at the contest to each member so they can jump in and help. Ask someone to prep the garnish boxes, another to prepare the sauces, etc. Everyone likes to get in on the action and wants to be involved. It is also a good idea to cross train on various assignments in the event that your garnish man can’t make it to a contest, someone else can jump in and get it done.
6) Communication - Take a couple of minutes on Friday evening to go over the plans and procedures as best that you can. Make sure each person knows what is expected and how things will be done. Be sure everyone knows the turn-in times and you have a reliable timepiece that has been synchronized with the official contest clock. Have the person that is running the boxes time their walk to the judges table. First, so they know for sure where it is located, second, you can calculate the time needed in the walk into your turn-in schedule. If large crowds are expected, is there an alternate route or will you need a blocker? Someone to walk ahead of the runner to make sure he is not plowed into by some out of control drunk (aka another BBQ cook), or a mother pushing a stroller, or a mother pushing a drunk in a stroller, or a drunk pushing his mother, well, you get the picture. If so, be sure the task is discussed and assigned, hoping to prevent all of your hard work from ending up on the dirt path in the contest grounds, not good.
7) Stay organized - Try and keep your site as neat and organized as possible. It is much easier to work in a neat kitchen. It is also much safer. Plastic tubs with lids make great storage containers and can be stacked on top of each other. They also provide a dry area when the lids are used. Organize your supplies into their own storage container, labeling the boxes helps with locating an item and is also convenient for retuning them to their proper place when you are finished.
8) Food handling - Disposable rubber gloves are very handy and you should have plenty on hand. Change them often. Do not cross contaminate. Keep a bottle of anti bacterial disinfectant with bleach on hand to wipe off work surfaces. Buy paper towels by the gross, you are going to need them.
Be sure to keep meats cold before they are cooked. It is also a good idea to keep poultry separate from other meats. Please, don’t keep the chicken with the beer either. Most organizers will provide in the contest packets what is expected of each team with respect to cleanliness and food safety. Be sure to follow these procedures to prevent food contamination. Remember, the food you are preparing will be eaten and we don’t want any sick judges. When you arrive at the contest site, an official will inspect your meat before you can begin any rubbing or marinating.
Also, remember to care for your meats AFTER turn in time. If you have leftovers that are going home after the contest, be sure to cooler your meats as soon as possible after building your boxes. It does not take long for food to enter the “danger zone” after being cooked. Care must be taken here to prevent spoilage and ensure no one becomes ill from eating your food. Make sure to monitor and replenish the ice in your coolers as the addition of hot food items tends to melt the ice very quickly.
9) Site safety - Use common sense when setting up your cooking site. Watch overhead for power lines if erecting high banners or flagpoles. If you are driving stakes to anchor canopies, be sure it is permissible by the contest organizers and also check for any underground cables or pipes.
Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher in your site and everyone knows where it is. When positioning your smokers and grills, make sure the area is level and out of the way of anticipated foot traffic. Look around for other vehicles parked in the area and be sure to keep a safe distance when locating your cookers.
Some teams will use a large turkey fryer burner to heat water for clean up. If you are using a set up like this, make sure the connections are tight and the LP tank is located away from any direct heat source.
Portable lanterns, stoves, space heaters, and hot water heaters use the small propane bottles. Care must be used here as well, remember, you are in a small area with a large concentration of combustible and flammable materials. Also present are a large number of people in varying degrees of sobriety, and then there are the folks attending the contest. Use caution when lighting, using and storing this equipment. Again, there is a fair amount of activity in the site while it is dark and visibility is limited, so keep this in mind when positioning equipment. Flashlights and or the newer strap-on headlamps are good tools to have on hand.
When stringing lights for effect or so you can see at night, pay attention to the cords. Remember folks will be walking all around during the night, do not lay cords across areas they might be tripped over. Also, be sure electrical connections and cords are not in an area that will get wet either by rain or by runoff.
Most of the contest venues are very tight for space and there is a lot of equipment and vehicles crammed into a very small area, be safe and use your head. It is also a good idea to include a first aid kit into your contest equipment box. You never know when someone will gash his or her finger open while trimming the brisket. Yep, that is experience talking there, duct tape and a paper towel works wonders here.
10) Keep good records - While at a contest keep a journal. Assign a team member to make journal entries. Have them note the steps taken to each piece of meat. Record what rubs and seasonings are used, cooker temps, the times when meats are inserted into the cooker. Note the temperatures during the cook along with what time they were taken. If foiling, what time and temp. Pay attention, you’d be surprised, when you try and remember things during your Sunday afternoon debriefing, how quickly you can forget.
After you are scored, go back and review, do you need to change or did you like the result. Refer to the notes during practice and at the next cook. Compare them with the notes from your test cooks. Most experienced competition BBQ cooks do not record their every action, they know what they are doing, you are new. I recommend this step until you are completely comfortable with your competition Queing skills.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of the money that you are spending to fuel this habit called BBQ. Nothing elaborate is needed, just a simple accounting book or computer program is sufficient. Try and record everything you purchase for the team and keep a running total. If you are fortunate to have teammates that want to contribute, as I am, it’s good to show exactly where the money is going. Entrance fees, contest meats, supplies and equipment, it all adds up in a hurry. It might even be an idea to appoint a team treasurer, look for a volunteer if possible. You can also use this system to account for any winnings, if your team would be so fortunate.
11) Keep a wish list - Keep a book or a pad handy in your site to note things that you have used up and need to replace, or things that may be useful to get that you do not have. Also, make a note of items that you are hauling around and not using. If the item is unused in a couple of contests, leave it home, unless of course, it’s a rain coat or umbrella and you have had all good weather at the contests which you have entered, in which case you are very lucky, leave it on board, eventually, you will need it.
12) Make provisions for comfort - Most contests involve an overnight stay. Unless you are very skilled, lucky, or carefree, someone from the team will be staying near the cooker during the overnight hours. Make sure you have a cot, sleeping bag and pillow to facilitate at least a modicum of rest. Be sure that if any team member needs any personal medications to have them on hand or at the very least, are aware of the situation. Emergency contact info for each team member is good to keep in the back of the journal, you never know.
13) Be a good neighbor/competitor - Remember, we are all guests of the contest organizers, treat the grounds as if was your own. Put trash in the proper receptacle both in your site and after it’s removed from your site. Keep your area neat.
Introduce yourself and your teammates to the folks around you. Strike up a conversation and get to know them. This is the easiest part of the whole contest, making new friends. If it looks like they need a hand with something, ask if you can help. They may return the favor before the weekend is over.
Also, be sure to stay in your assigned space. Most venues are fairly tight when it comes to site assignment. Use the space that is assigned to you and make sure that your team and guests do not encroach on your neighbor’s site.
Nothing goes better with blue BBQ smoke than some Blues playing on the tune box. I don’t go to a contest without a complete selection of some mighty fine Blues tunes. That doesn’t mean my neighbors feel the same way. If they have some tunes going, don’t try and drown them out. Maybe they prefer the silence, not that it’s very quiet at a BBQ contest but, you get my drift. Don’t overwhelm them. If it’s getting late at night, and folks nearby are beginning to nest up, lower the noise, try and be considerate.
Do not become a part time arborist. In other words, don’t do any on- site pruning of the contest grounds trees and shrubs; leave that work to the professions that have permission.
Use alcohol in moderation. We make many jokes about drinking and drunken BBQ cooks here, but it is all done in fun. The truth of the matter is most contest organizers ask that you be very discrete with your drinking, especially during the hours that the public is walking around. My thoughts on this matter are to be extra discrete and not let it out of hand. We are guests in these venues and should not abuse the privilege, lest we are barred as a team or future contests are canceled completely, and nobody wants that. Use cups and or can covers and make sure your teammates and guests don’t get out of line, its just good common sense. If someone in your crowd becomes a problem, deal with the matter before it becomes an issue and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Be responsible.
Police your area before you leave, be sure you have properly disposed of all gray water, trash, hot ash and coals. If a hot coal bin is not nearby, a disposable aluminum pan works great. It is much safer then moving through a crowded fair ground, dodging pedestrians, while holding a hot drawer filled with glowing red coals on the way to the barrel on the other side of the park. Put your coals into the pan then fill with water. Make sure all coals and fires are out before leaving your site.
Be sure to acknowledge the organizers and volunteers, especially if it has been a good experience. A simple thank you, or the offer of a cold drink or a bite to eat goes a long way. You may even consider dropping the Chairperson a note the following week. If there were issues or problems that you feel need addressing, make them aware of the situation, along with the offer of a possible solution. Just be sure to thank them for their efforts. Remember, without the organizers and volunteers, we would not have a contest. Those two words, thank you, carry a lot of weight; don’t be afraid to use them.
14) Protect yourselves - While you are at a contest, be sure to use common sense when setting up your site. Do not leave valuable items around and out in the open, especially when you are walking around the grounds or are bedding down for the night. Items like expensive knives, wallets, pocketbooks, I Pods, and stereos can be lifted very quickly and easily. Use a locking vehicle to store valuable items, just be sure to use the LOCKS. Most competitors watch out for each other but, many venues are open to the public all night long and you never know who or what will come wandering through. I have even heard of competitors having their meats stolen from their cookers. Be diligent and use your head. Better safe than sorry.
15) Have fun - The most important bit of information I can offer. While the main objective is to do well in a contest, to me, if you are not enjoying the experience, you’d might as well just stay home. Take along some good food to prepare for your team and guests. Make time to relax a bit. Get out and visit, meet your neighbors, make new friends, try to get some mojo workin… To me, this is the best part.