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Barbecue Contests

Barbecues might seem like simply an interesting way of eating outdoors but they are far, far more than that. Just ask any of the contestants who enter the barbecue contests around the world.

And once you’ve read how the serious barbecuers do it, maybe you’ll want to enter one of the competitions yourself? Or at least hold a contest with your pals in your back garden.


The World Championship, Memphis

The city associated with Elvis, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the blues, also lays claim to being the barbecue capital of the world.  It is in this Tennessee city that The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest takes place each year in May.

Only wood and charcoal barbecues are allowed at the event, gas is strictly off-limits. Darn, that’d be cheatin’.

The competition is divided into categories, and more than 250 teams from the USA and around the world compete for the titles. Categories include ‘Hot Wings’, which are judged on their flavour and heat; ‘Anything But Pork’ which is the freeform event with contestants cooking anything they like; ‘Sauce’ which is hugely popular and includes sub-categories such as mustard and tomato; ‘Coleslaw’ which was only added in 2010 but is bound to be a hit.

With around 90,000 people attending the event and prizes up to $10,000, it’s quite some barbie.


The American Royal Barbecue

Despite Memphis’ huge importance in the world of barbecues, it is the American Royal Barbecue that boasts to be the largest barbecue contest in the world. It spreads across 20 acres of Kansas City and is a two-day event.

In the meat contest, the Grand Champion can scoop a tasty $12,500. Contestants cook from four categories: brisket, pork ribs, pork, chicken or all four. The person crowned Grand Champion has to excel at cooking all four of the meats.

Next up the Sausage Contest has the contestants turning at least six sausages before having to fit them into a Styrofoam container and close the lid.

And after the meats have sizzled, the Side Dish Contest gets under way. Side dish categories are baked beans, potatoes and vegetables – all of which have to be prepared on site. The combined score awarded for each category decides the overall champion. Garnish is optional!

As well as these two barbecue contest whoppers in Kansas and Memphis, there are numerous more across the US.


Home Grown Contests

But it’s not only the American’s who love a barbecue contest. In Australia, Germany, Canada and around the world contestants stoke up the coals in the hope of being crowned the king or queen of the barbecue.

Here in Britain, Laverstoke Park Farm has hosted the Field to Fork barbecue competition and the British Barbecue Society hosts a number of events that are increasing in popularity.

In 2009 the British Barbecue Society set up a competition circuit where teams cook American barbecue classics such as ribs, chicken, pork shoulder and brisket. The food has to be slow cooked in the traditional American style. In 2010 they added a grilling element and named the contest Ready Steady Q. They also hold a Mystery Box competition in which teams have two hours to complete a dish from a set of mystery ingredients. Though the stakes (and steaks!) are often smaller than their US counterparts, there are still some enticing cash prizes.


Hold Your Own Contest

So you’ve read how the big players do it and how the smaller players do it, but what about holding your very own barbecue contest? It’s a sure fire way to have a lot of fun, and you’ll get a table full of delicious food out of it too.


Contest Preparation:

  • Make up a name for your contest
  • Choose the venue
  • Choose a day or evening to hold your contest
  • Decide on individual contestants, teams and judges from your friends, neighbours and family. The teams could also be the judges if there are just a few of you, or with more people you could have three or four nominated judges
  • Think up your team names
  • Work out the categories to be judged on. How about one meat or fish category, one grilled vegetable category and a side order category - say potatoes?
  • You’ll need a barbecue each, but these could be very simple charcoal ones for around £13- £20 each, depending on the number of people you’re having at the contest
  • Send the teams off to plan their menus. Don’t forget marinades
  • Work out the drinks you’ll have on the day
  • Make signs, menus and banners. Children love to do this so if you have kids, it can be their project
  • Decorate the garden, put out picnic blankets or cushions, find tables to put the food on, sort cutlery and crockery. You’ll need separate work areas for the raw meat as it must be kept separately from the cooked food
  • Stoke up the barbecues, allowing 40 minutes for charcoal barbecues to heat up sufficiently
  • Ready, steady, cook… the best tasting fare wins the day. Votes can be cast by secret ballot, by score sheets, by shouting out, or by taste tests - judging the tastiest before finding out which team cooked it


Use a gas barbecue for quick heat any time of the day! And remember have fun!