Competitive BBq – A Great American Tradition

Barbecue competitions are not for the faint of heart. Picture giant parking lots, multiple city blocks, or even a couple acres of open fields—all packed with grills, pits, and smoke rising into the sky like a slow-burning wild fire.

2 racks on grill

Cook-offs all across the country feature their own regional rules, specialities, and focus. Competitions take days, and some even months. The stakes are high, the heat is hot, and the competition is both fierce and friendly. The pit masters have two goals in mind: make the best barbecue out there and have the best time doing it. 

The Competition

Contestants take every barbecued bite seriously. The prize is usually cash (it can be over $100,000 in multi-month competitions), and some festivals even run as charity events. Judges taste each morsel blindly to ensure fair competition, and every piece of meat is judged on its appearance, taste, and texture.

sliced juicy brisket
Award winning brisket!

Each region has it’s own rules and style, and they follow their styles with religious fervor. Contestants spend months, or even years, perfecting their recipes and timing. There’s anything from whole roasted hog to baked bean competitions.

But the most common involve some mix of brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and chicken, all showcasing the region or cook’s particular style. 

The BBQ States

While barbecue culture has spread across practically every corner of the United States, there are a few tried and true regions where barbecue culture is strongest. Here are some of the more widely known states and their biggest competitions

New Jersey – NJ State Barbecue Championship

Missouri: American Royal World Series & The International Barbecue Festival 

Texas: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Tennessee: Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue & Memphis in May’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest 

New York: Beer, Bourbon, & BBQ Festival

Kentucky: The International Bar-B-Q-Festival 

North Carolina: The Lexington Barbecue Festival 

A Team and a Community 

Smoking and barbecuing require a team—a group of committed cooks who are willing to spend some time perfecting their recipes and lose a little sleep. Kindling flames overnight requires some long-standing attention and so it’s often a family affair.

Neighboring pit masters and families often get to know each other during the BBQ competitions. A strong community forms after many years of sharing tools, tips, and the occasional glass of whiskey.

Barbecue competitions are growing in popularity and contestants now have to work harder and more creatively to stand out in the crowds. But amongst the intense competition, they’re sure to hold onto the simple joys of making good barbecue.

Piggy Smallz BBQ team