First Time Competition - Any Advice?


Mike N

TVWBB Member
Hi All - A friend of mine and I decided to join the amateur competition at the Westmont BBQ Comp in May ( The professional competition looks more serious, where the amatuer looks much looser. That said, it will be the first time we have ever done this. We will be making ribs (option of spares or babies) on my WSM. I make my own rubs and sauces, but only for home q.

If anyone out there wants to share a tip or piece of advice (especially those little tidbits), I'll take it. If anyone will be at the Red, White, and BBQ Competition, come on out and wish Smokin' and Grinnin' luck at their first competition!


Mike Taylor

TVWBB Member
My son and I do a couple of comps each year and I can tell you from some not so good experiences that it is absolutely neccessary to start now making a list of everything you will need. If you start your list now I can almost gaurantee that you will think of something almost every day up until the competition. It is so easy to forget that you're not at home and can't run into the house to get what you need. Next I would say you should figure out how you're going to haul all of the stuff. Another thing that has been important for us is to create a timeline. We start with the turn in time and back up through the various steps until we reach the "fire up the charcoal chimneys" stage. Sounds pretty simplistic but it takes a lot of guess work out of the whole process and gets our entries done on time. Unlike smoking at home and giving your guests a couple more beers when the ribs are going to take a little longer, contest judges aren't so understanding.

Good'll have a blast!

Dwain Pannell

TVWBB Hall of Fame
I agree with Mike. Plan your work then work your plan. I recommend googling "competition bbq checklist" and looking at what others say in all the different checklists out there. You could use one you like or make your own when you look and see what others think. I also recommend determining what recipes you'll use -- recipes you've used before -- for the catagories you're entering and lay out the timeline on an excell spreadsheet. Good luck and I look forward to your post about your success!
Practice, practice, practice. Write down exactly what you do during your practice, including times/durations. Then when you go compete, follow it! Don't let anyone talk you into trying something outside of what you've practiced. Don't let the excitement/pressure of the competition get to you. Follow your gameplan. If your gameplan doesn't work the way you want, then update it for next time, but follow it.

During your practices, ask your family, neighbors, co-workers to become your 'judges'. Tell them that you want to know what they DON'T like about your ribs (too sweet, too salty, too spicy, etc.). That way you can adjust. They won't want to hurt your feelings at first, but tell them that hearing what they don't like is the only way to get better. Hearing every time that your Q is "the best they've ever had" won't help you at all.

Most of all, be sure to have fun at the competition. If it isn't fun then it's work and that's not the idea.


Mike N

TVWBB Member
Thanks for the great responses. I will definitely heed the advice and go in with a solid plan and tested recipes (the taste tests will be half the fun). In terms of hauling my wsm, I'm more concerned with the ride home as the smoker may still be hot. Do competitions traditionally have a coal dumping area?

J Hoke

Yes, they generally all have gray water barrels and ash barrels. Also water to douse coals.

Actually may be doing that contest.

Have fun.

J Hoke

One other suggestion, prepare a timeline ahead of time, as to when to do certain things and keep it handy. If you have an phone with alarms, set the alarm for each of the timelines as you will be busy and it is easy to forget to do something at a specified time. Our schedule starts with lighting the coals in the chimney at 2 am and doesn't end until brisket turn in at 1:30 pm. and beginning at 7 am there is something to do every half hour.

Obviously, we are doing 4 meats and therefore more to do, but you will benefit by having one. Trust me, done it both ways and will never do another contest without one.
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Greg Powers

TVWBB Super Fan
To make your list as suggested, do your practice cooks out in the driveway or yard just like you will at the competition. Make a list of everything you use. There are good packing lists available, but this way it will be specific to you.

Garland Hudgins

TVWBB Member
A checklist and a timeline is essential. Focus is also a key aspect. There will be a lot of opportunities for distractions. It will be a long weekend. Saturday turn ins times will go quickly. Be rested and organized. A clear mind can make a big difference when it comes down to crunch time and making decisions. Have a plan and do your best to execute that plan. Good Luck!

Thom Emery

TVWBB Super Fan
WOW Tom, you are everywhere! From the "Brethren" to the CBBQA and now here :D Good to see you! Mike, just like everyone else said make a time line and list of supplies that you will need. Have fun and you'll be hooked!
Used to hit about 10 forums
Was a moderator in 6 at one time
I have cut way back
But gotta check in on the WSM boys now and then
Back to topic

Dann B

TVWBB Super Fan
Something to be aware of. The Amatuer division conest is held on the soccer field at the park where the event is. Because there is an underground sprinkler system, vehicles are not allowed on the field, so you'l likely have to park o th periphery and carry gear to your spot. This is the biggest crowd as Westmont ever, with 71 pro teams and 19 amatuer so far. Also, the show BBQ Pitmasters will be filming there that weekend as well.

MikeN, if you find you forgot something when you get there, see if you can find our trailer (2 Skinny Cooks) and we'll help if we can. I'm told the layout will be different this year thn years past so can't say exactly where we'll be

Mike N

TVWBB Member
Hi All -- I was away on spring break and I come back to such great responses from everyone. Thank you all. This is the greatest site on the web! I have made a supply list and am practicing at home, which everyone appreciates.

Dann B - I will try to find you at the 2 Skinny Cooks trailer.

Mike W

New member
Good luck out there. I think I'm going to check it out myself and would like to do the competition next year.

Steve Whiting

TVWBB All-Star
With regards to the Great advice about having fun I totally agree. I like to take that time before everyone gets serious and walk around and talk with the other cooks and shoot the bull. Share ideas, learn about the different types of cookers they are using and their different cooking methods. These guys are usually some of the nicest people you will ever meet and love to share their thoughts. This is also a great way to see first hand some of the different cookers available should you every want to buy one someday. Its hard to know how a Lang or a Patmaker or a Klose cooker work wiithout seeing it first hand. Here is your chance.


What Steve said is great advice. Above all don't stress yourself into not having fun.