Saturday, November 20, 2010

How To Organize A BBQ Competition- Part 1

Dear Prospective BBQ Festival Director,
         This document will provide you with a lot of the information that you will find necessary in order for you to plan and organize a successful event. This information was compiled from a variety of sources and from “lessons learned” from event organizers and from the competition teams themselves. While this list is not all inclusive, it will provide information that you may find helpful. Please bear in mind that this list is not inclusive to one sanctioning body. You may need to refer specific questions to the particular sanctioning body for clarification.
         When people inquire about hosting a barbeque contest, the first question is always "Why do you want to have a contest?" If it is to make buckets of money the first year, you may be doomed to failure. Chances are much better for a successful contest, if it is to promote community awareness, or for a charity. This is not a one-shot or a one-person deal. Start slowly, keep it simple, and give yourself plenty of lead time. Think of it as a growing process, and you'll be on the right track. Surround yourself with capable and dedicated volunteers that share your passion for the event, delegate, and let them do their job. Is the contest in conjunction with an existing event? It is an attractive addition to a community/charitable festival with other activities. It is also a great main attraction with supporting activities (such as music, arts/crafts, car shows, and/or children's activities). Food, family, friends, and fun make a great combination. Giving the public a chance to sample world-class barbeque via competitor/vendors or tasting kits can be a great draw. (Be sure to co-ordinate with your local health department.)
        A Sanctioned Barbecue Contest is a gathering of cook teams that are preparing specific categories of meat, to be submitted for judging at an assigned time, and to be judged by persons certified by the sanctioning body to use a predetermined set of criteria to rank the product presented to them. Or in plain English, a bunch of folks who get together, pay some money, cook some food, and hope the judges like it so they can win back the money they've spent to do this in the first place. Sounds a little weird? Well, it is; but it's weird in a really fun way. A sanctioned barbecue contest has its moments of absolute panic, intensive concentration, and calculated deliberations, but it also has a party atmosphere that will take you back to frat house keg parties and weekend family barbecues. Despite the seriousness of the hours between ten in the morning and two o'clock in the afternoon, when the cooks are loading their turn-in boxes and praying to the gods of smoke, rub, and sauce, most sanctioned barbecue contests are more fun than a family reunion.
        To sanction or not to sanction? The benefits of having a sanctioned BBQ contest are numerous. A sanctioned contest offers the organizer:
  • (1) Integrity,
  • (2) Experience,
  • (3) A built in base of cookers and judges, and
  • (4) A support system of other organizers and members.
For the teams, it offers the assurance that a contest will be conducted in a professional manner, the prize monies will be awarded as advertised, and that the rules will be followed. Some events start off non-sanctioned and work toward sanction. Generally, if you start off as a sanctioned event, your contest will run smoother, have more trust from the teams, and have a higher success rate. A non-sanctioned event is not highly regarded, nor supported by teams if they are not aligned with a proven entity. However sanctioning alone cannot guarantee the number of teams competing or the success of your event.
      So, what do I need to do?
·         Choosing a Contest Site
A sanctioned contest requires an adequate site (park, fairgrounds, private property, RV park, etc.) to house 25‐30 (or more) competition cook teams on 20ʹ x 30ʹ sites each (minimum, some teams will require 20’ x 40’ (or more) for their cook rigs and cook site set‐ups). Each site must have power and water (which is why RV parks work well). There also needs to be a central building or space for at least a 30ʹ x 40ʹ tent, or larger, to seat judges and judge the contest. The best scenario for judging is a building with air conditioning, especially in the warmer months of the year.
·         Power
Power and water must be available at each site. The teams need lighting during night hours, and some will have refrigeration or boom boxes, so amperage is a minimum of 20 amps per team. If more amperage is available to teams, that’s great. Some teams also have portable water heaters they use for dishes. These heaters draw 12-15 amps, so knowing your power availability is important. If you have 20 amps only, please advise the teams well in advance and ask that they power up water heaters in the wee hours of the morning during the time of minimum draw so your circuits do not blow.
If the power source (plug-in) for each team is more than 25’ from sites, teams need to be notified in advance, so that they may bring additional extension cords. The teams will provide these cords, but should be instructed to provide a minimum of a 12-gauge extension cord for such purposes.
·         Water
Water does not need to have any major pressure. Teams will bring their own garden hoses to attach. Again, if water connections require additional hose footage, please be certain to advise the teams in advance. The easy way to set up water for a BBQ contest:
1. Using ½" thick-wall PVC, run water lines down the backside of team sites.
2. Stem out every 20-30 feet.
3. Use a "Y" on the stem to accommodate two (2) teams. If you have teams back to back, use 2 stems and 2 "Y’s" at each junction. You may tap into any water source, i.e. fire hydrants; just make certain all water is potable.
·         Vehicles
It is your choice as an organizer whether or not to permit teams to keep their vehicles at team sites during the contest. If your event insurance regulations prohibit doing so, or you chose not to permit such, please designate access times (i.e., times when the event is closed to the public) for the teams to bring vehicles to their site. Many teams sleep in their vehicles or may need to run for additional supplies. Some teams use RV’s as part of their cooksite set up. Again, it is your choice as to whether they are permitted this option. Many cases may need to be reviewed on an individual basis.
Team parking must be close to the event area for the reasons noted above. You may limit the number of vehicles per team to 3-5 for close parking areas. Some teams have additional members, but teams will make arrangements for transportation if given advance notice of conditions. Again, good communication is the key here.
Teams must be moved-in to assigned sites prior to the cooks meeting, usually conducted by the Contest Reps at 5 p.m. on Friday evening. Also, your event insurance may dictate that all vehicles be secured prior to the event opening.


  1. Thank you! I am doing a Creole Food Competiton for the 1st time and this has helped me greatly.


  2. Thanks so much for the info! I am organizing my 1st annual Battle of the BBQ cook off, raising awareness for the restoration of Historical buildings. I would like to hear anyone's input on the fees to charge for competitors in each category. Thanks so much.