So if you are anything like me, you probably were sitting in front of the TV the first night BBQ Pitmasters debuted. It was the Mesquite episode, and wow was I intrigued. Truthfully I had no idea about BBQ Pitmasters, I was just flipping through the channels and stumbled upon it. I kid you not, an hour later I was at Lowes buying an El Cheapo Brinkmann smoker! The next day, I fired her up at an elevation of 5600 feet in the middle of a northern Utah Winter, What an absolute blast that was!! I think back to some of the things that I cooked then and wow have things progressed! From that point on I probably cooked 3 times a week, and being that it was so cold and I was cooking on such a cheap smoker, I was probably by far Kingsfords best customer in UT. So after watching the show a few more times, and cooking about 30 different things on the Brinkmann, I decided to follow in the footsteps of Harry Soo of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ and buy a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. I found one at Ace Hardware in Salt Lake City. I have a confession to make. I told my wife that it cost $150 bucks. I just had to have it, the real cost, $399.99! Thats how obsessed I was with BBQ, fibbing like that to my wife is usually a big NO NO in my book. Sorry honey
Firing up the WSM 22.5 for the first time was SO exciting. I laugh now thinking about the fact that I filled the water pan in the middle of winter. I was still using a ton of charcoal, but thanks to the show and the forums, I was improving. One day on the UT forums, a comp cook named Rodney Livingston of R and R BBQ extended an invitation to his home on Saturday to see his competition smoker and try some of his competition ribs. He doesnt know this, but the night before I could hardly sleep, I was THAT excited! It was so cool to see the caliber of food that I could eventually cook. Those ribs were INSANE!!!
I continued cooking a couple times a week, but during the next Winter I slowed down, it was just to big of a pain cooking in the snow in an uninsulated smoker. In February of 2011, I moved to AZ to expand my company. I remember firing up the WSM for the first time and I could not believe how little charcoal I needed to do a cook. I was stoked!!! Needless to say, my BBQ habit came back in a scary way! I was cooking 4 times a week and IMHO was getting pretty good, especially with pork! I found the AZ BBQ forums and immersed myself in BBQ down here. Everyone was so dang nice and helpful! I was HOOKED!!!
This is where things got crazy! One day I was driving around and feeling a little lazy. I decided to look for a BBQ Store and I stumbled on to a shop called BBQ Island in Tempe AZ. I will never forget the first day I came in here. In UT we dont have stores like BBQ Island! I was in heaven, and I became what BBQ Island calls a lingerer! LOL! I was in there twice a week buying something. Up until this point I was making my own rubs and buying rubs at the grocery store. BBQ Island introduced me to the world of competition rubs and my cooking shifted into over drive.
I was on the forum one day, and I had mentioned that I wanted to start thinking about doing a competition soon, and started asking for advice. Everyone was super cool, and they told me about a mini pork competition at Chesters Harley Davidson in Mesa AZ. Now keep in mind, this was June in Arizona! SO HOT!! So I hopped on craigslist and started looking for some things I would need to compete. The first thing being an EZ UP. I found one an hour later for a hundred bucks. I bought two used coolers, a five gallon water jug, and a couple of pop up tables. I then went back to BBQ Island and Mike West the owner spent an hour with me on rubs and sauces. I went home and practiced one more time! I was ready! So I thought.
This mini comp was a cook at home and bring finished product type of comp. I stayed up all night cooking my competition pork butt along with about 8 others for Peoples Choice since about 3000 bikers were supposed to show up. I loaded up that next morning and went over to the comp. I setup my area the best I could. I thought I had really good pork, but I didnt garnish the box or anything because I thought it was not necessary. By the time the turn in came around it was 113 degrees, but 130 on the pavement. It was INSANE!! Needless to say, the bikers never showed, it was just to hot. So long story short, we all packed up and got ready for awards. I really thought I was going to do well. There were only 9 teams, and I felt my pork was super good. Well results came out and I finished DAL!! Dead ass last! LOL!! I was floored!
I went home and cooled off, and much to my neighbors delight, I passed out extra pork butts and caught some Zs. I hopped on the forums later that night and started talking about my results. I figured comp BBQ would have to wait for a bit after my stellar finish LOL! But, an interesting opportunity presented itself in Holbrook AZ. They needed a few more teams, so they cut the entry fee way down and I told myself, why not? So I entered my first four meat KCBS sanctioned event. I was SO nervous. I had no clue what I was doing, but again, thanks to BBQ Pitmasters being on the DVR and watching those basically in slow motion, I felt as prepared as I could be for the comp. I loaded up the wifes Nissan Murano and made the 3 hour drive to Holbrook AZ. When I got there I was SO intimidated. I saw some big rigs and some famous teams, then I was star struck, there was Harry Soo from the show! I was so excited!
My best friend from UT met me there to help. I knew how to cook but had no idea how to build a turn in box or anything like that! Luckily I was setup next to Tommy Duncan and Jeff Riggs of Whiskey Ranch BBQ team. It was intimidating because his rig is basically a semi truck trailer with a massive pellet smoker on it! Something very lucky happened to me that night though. Whiskey Ranch BBQ had a broken down smoker!!! Normally that isnt good news for anyone but for me it was! These guys were so dang nice to us and since Jeff came all the way from Vegas to cook, he was stuck there. That next morning Jeff came over and taught us how to build a box, and how to place meat in the box, along with another million little tricks! To this day I am SO grateful for all him and Tommy taught me! My cook was going great, I was super happy with my pork and brisket, but still had no idea what to expect as far as judging was concerned.
Let me backup for a second. After I was all setup I went to my first Cooks meeting, I was like an excited little kid. They asked if there were any first time cooks, one other cook and I raised our hands and introduced ourselves. They offered to let us listen to the new cook CD that the KCBS provides and it was super helpful. The reps who to this day are my FAVORITES were Kelly and Kathleen McIntosh. They really take their job seriously and what immediately stood out to me was that I felt like I could hand these two my life savings and trust them 100% with it. LOL! They are great people! I went back to my EZ UP and tied her all down because of a nasty storm coming in, luckily I had two trailers on either side of me to tie down to. The other trailer belongs to Tracy of Pinup Pastries. She remains a very good friend as well. Here pastries are SO amazing and she had a nice little air conditioned trailer that saved this Utahn from the AZ heat!
I really wanted to go meet Harry Soo, but I didnt want to look like some BBQ stalker so I left him alone, and I just started prepping meat. I put on my pork and brisket at about 10:30 pm. I tried to sleep a little but yeah right!! The cook was going great and at about 5:30 am I noticed Harry Soo walking around taking pictures of some of the historical buildings around us. He actually came by and introduced himself, he doesnt know this but I was FREAKING out. I must have watched every episode of BBQ Pitmasters 30 times and he was by far my favorite! Here he was in my spot introducing himself and giving me little bits of advice about BBQ. I didnt understand much of it because Harry speaks in Science book terminology! LOL!! Something about the Maillard reaction or something. He is a super intelligent dude. After Harry walked away it was time to get serious about the cook again.
Ribs went on at 8 am and ended up turning out pretty good. I spaced chicken but put it on at 10:30 am which was cutting it close since the turn in time was at noon. This part of the day is where we learned SO MUCH from the Whiskey Ranch boys. I had no clue whatsoever on how to build a turn in box. I had no clue that the parsley and lettuce had to be so perfect and that after you place the meat in the box, that you cannot have a speck of sauce or water anywhere inside or outside of the box. We learned about how crucial having baby wipes, paper towels, and q tips around for turn ins is. That next two hours was mayhem, what a rush!! We got all of our turn ins in on time and were just so excited to be there! I have to give props to my best friend Andrew Grose for doing the parsley in the boxes. It must have taken him 3 hours to do. LOL! I could not have done it without him.
Hopefully for those of you reading this that are maybe thinking of tossing your hat into the competition ring, you are learning that people on the BBQ circuit are the salt of the earth! I like to think that I have payed it forward at every comp since then with new teams. Now that I am an experienced comp cook, I get so excited about new teams jumping into the mix! The more the merrier! My advice to any of you that are thinking about it is just be friendly, humble, and observant. Let the reps at your first competition know that you are new. Do not be scared about asking for some advice from other teams. The only thing I will steer you away from is asking teams for flavor profiles or recipes. If they offer it up themselves than great, otherwise, keep your questions focused on processes and turn ins. 99% of cooks out there will be more than happy to help in anyway that they can! Here it is 8 months later and I remain very good friends with the folks I met at my first comp. The Duncan clan and Jeff Riggs of Whiskey River, Little Miss BBQ, Rythym n Que, Pinup Pastries, Slap Yo Daddy BBQ, Ranch 13 BBQ, Tom and Paul of IAB 30 BBQ and of course my favorite reps the McIntoshs! They all have helped me in many other ways since then as well. I have also made so many more BBQ buddies since.
Back to the comp in Holbrook. We had packed most of our stuff up and it was now time for awards. We had our fingers crossed, we just wanted to hear Bam Bams BBQ called once! For those of you that dont know, most comps call out the top ten in each of the four meat categories, then they call the top five to ten teams overall. It was cool walking up to the ceremony and seeing all of the big gold trophies. It felt like T ball on steroids, and I learned that day that no matter how old I get, I still like big plastic trophies. They started with the chicken category, and after ten calls, No Bam Bams. That was ok, our chicken wasnt that tasty. Now onto ribs. I was really confident in the ribs, they were super good. Another ten teams called, and again no Bam Bams. Now onto the pork category. Now dont forget that just a week earlier I was dead last in a mini pork comp. Needless to say my confidence was not sky high. After they called out tenth through fifth place I pretty much knew that I was not getting called in pork. They then called out fourth through second and still nothing. I was just smiling and clapping for the teams that were getting calls. I did not really care that we were not getting called, I was just stoked to be there. I will never ever ever forget when Kelly McIntosh raised the mic back up and said First place in pork goes to a first time competitor, now since there were only two new teams there, I had a fifty fifty shot of it being me, and wow was my heart beating! He proceeded to call out Bam Bams BBQ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will never forget the smile I had on my face! I was so happy that I seriously almost lost it! I looked around and every single cook there was on their feet clapping with HUGE genuine smiles on their faces. It was one of the happiest moments of my life! I got a check for $500 and a big ol trophy!! When I returned to my seat, Scott and Bekke of Little Miss BBQ, Harry Soo, Tracy of Pinuop Pastries, Tom and Paul of IAB 30 and Vince and Alexa of Rhythm n Que all greeted me with hugs. I remember Vince telling me that my trophy would be the most expensive trophy I would ever own! He was right! I was officially addicted!!
After it settled down they moved on to Brisket. Believe it or not, we got a third place call in brisket!!!! I was freaking out! So was everybody else! I was so excited! Got another big trophy and another few hundred bucks. We ended up finishing 6th overall out of 20 teams in our very first contest. Reserve Grand Champion that day went to Rhythm n Que and the Grand Champion went to who else?? Harry Soo of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ!! I have competed against Harry 7 more times since that comp 8 months ago. Of the 8 comps he has taken Grand Champion 5 times!!!!! He now calls me his lucky charm. 2 of those GCs were in massive comps, Lake Havasu (77 teams), and The ACM BBQ Showdown 2 weeks ago in Las Vegas (112 teams). Yesterday I received a t shirt in the mail that said in large white letters, Harrys Lucky Charm!! LOL!! Pretty funny how fast things have progressed.
Since that first competition I have competed a total of 11 times, my second contest, I walked away with another 1st in pork and a 3rd in Chicken, 6th overall again! I have been fortunate enough to walk in every comp I have cooked in since. As of my 4th comp I teamed up with a great friend of mine from UT Trever Johnson. We were named the Rookie Team of the Year in AZ for 2011 and we are currently ranked 24th overall in the US, with a 5th place national ranking in ribs.
I ended up selling my half of the business and was hired by BBQ Island full time! Now I get paid to linger! Its funny how things work out! Now I cook out of a 25 foot air conditioned trailer and I cook on a massive offset Yoder Smoker named The Bamzoni! All furnished by BBQ Island! I love those guys! Im spoiled, I know. I can honestly say though, that if I didnt have any of the fancy stuff, I would still be competing out of the Murano. Still though, Im floored when I think about how much my life has changed since June 2011! I wouldnt change a thing either!
Hopefully after reading this you have a better idea of what to expect if you are jumping into comp BBQ. Like I said before, be friendly, humble, and observant. Never be scared to ask another competitor for help or your comp reps. TAKE A CLASS!! Here at the store we teach classes, and we are lucky enough to have legends like Chris Marks and Harry Soo regularly teaching here. I was also fortunate enough to take a class from the winningest man in BBQ Mike Davis of Lotta Bull BBQ in Thackerville ,OK! Him and his wife Deb are not only AMAZING cooks, but I consider them very dear friends now. They are great people and if you met them you would never know that they have LEGEND status! they are as humble and sweet as can be. Same goes for Harry Soo. Harry is currently ranked #1 in the country, and he is as nice as they come! Plus he makes me T shirts I have to give a shout out to Loot n Booty BBQ as well, I met them my second comp and they have helped me a TON!! I know that was a random shout out but I had to do it.
Another fantastic resource for learning how to cook BBQ is Cook books, and BBQ forums. Some books that I love that helped me a ton are: Chris Lillys Big Bob Gibson BBQ Book, Serious BBQ by Adam Perry Lang, Peace Love and BBQ by Mike Mills and my newest addition is Wicked Good BBQ by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart of IQUE BBQ. Forums wise, I am a regular on Grandcanyonstatebbq.com, azbarbecue.com, imbbqa.com and BBQbrethren.com. If you get on any of those, my screen name is Bambam! Now the number one thing you can do to prepare for a comp is very complex, you ready? COOK COOK COOK!! Practice makes perfect. If its raining, practice! If its Windy, practice! You get the point! Learn to cook in all types of weather. That will be a huge advantage for you at comps with inclement weather. Most importantly, have fun!!! Dont stress about winning it all. Come out and meet some new people and share in the passion of cooking amazing BBQ. I really hope to see you out on the comp trail and if you see me out there, come say hi and never hesitate to ask me a question if you need any help.
I love feedback, so if you have any, or if you want to ask a question, scroll down a bit and ask right here inside the blog.
R&R BBQ’s East Texas Smoker
R&R BBQ’s ribs
Holbrook Ace in The Hole Comp. First comp setup
First night prep
First night prep
Holbrook AZ, Andrew building turn in boxes
Pork turn in 1st place!!!
Brisket turn in 3rd place!
Harry Soo and Peter Graves of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ. His trophies are always bigger than mine
Jeff Riggs taught me a TON!!