Is the difference between competition barbecue compared to backyard barbecue? Absolutely. Despite the impression that certified BBQ judges eat multiple pounds of BBQ and drinking lots of beer between each entry, the reality is very different.
In backyard barbecue, you can relax and smoke meats using any heat source and consume lots of the cooked meat, chasing it down with your favorite beverage. Each as much as you want and make a judgement on how good the food was.
With competition barbecue, there are several elements at play.
- Cooks generally must use a heat source that involves indirect heat source that must use fire. So gas or electric grills can not be used.
- Meats can not be seasoned or marinated prior to the event until meat has been inspected by head judges. This helps level the playing field.
- Judges only take one or two bites of an entry to determine scores for taste and texture.
- Because judges only take a bite or two of an entry, teams will use a heavier hand with seasoning. Because of this, you may find you can only eat a smaller amount and that the food might be overly salty.
- Judges cleanse their palate between entries using only water or unsalted crackers from the start of the first turn-in until the last turn-in of the last meat category. Drinking beer or other liquids affect the taste buds which could affect the scores.
- At home, when the meat is ready, it is ready. In competition, there are set times that the entries must be turned in for judging, so if the meat isn't ready, the team would not get points for the entry.
- Many teams will spend a lot of money on very high quality meats. A large brisket at your local grocer may be $50-70 for choice grade. Many teams have been known to purchase Waygu brisket, spending upwards of $200 for the same size brisket.
- Teams will go to many extremes in steps used to prepare, cook and sauce their proteins. While the backyard cook may slap some rub on a pork shoulder, smoke it and slap some sauce at the end, the competition teams will spend countless time trimming, injecting, layering rubs and then smoking, then applying different sauces or blends for the finished product.