One-bite BBQ or a meal? photo

Competition barbecue and “regular” barbecue. Although some folks cook at competitions the same way they cook in their backyards and/or restaurants, the competitors at the highest levels certainly do things differently.

Competition barbecue is often referred to as “one bite barbecue” because the judges typically take one bite and competitors are challenged to insert the most flavor and dynamic taste in that one portion. Judges typically taste dozens of samples during a competition, and the winner must stand out in a very crowded field.

In contrast, barbecue that has so much spice and smoke in just one bite can be overwhelming, especially if you were to eat an entire plate. Most often with BBQ that you get from a restaurant or that you cook yourself, you are going to eat a large serving. You want something that is easier on the palate and that does not assault your taste buds.

Trust me: Competition barbecue can be amazing, but there can be too much of a good thing.

The differences in the techniques are not as drastic as you might think. Competitors on the circuit often brine and/or inject their large meats before cooking. They typically use multiple rubs, spritzes and put a glaze on their entries. In competition, you cannot provide sauce for dipping in your turn-in box and have to have it directly on the meat. Barbecue pros must also strike a balance when using glaze as to avoid outshining the underlying meat. It is certainly a nice blend of both art and science.

Most home cooks and restaurateurs do some of these steps, but usually not all of them. Personally when I cook, I am a fan of the dry rub. I rarely utilize sauces, injections and/or brines in my cooking. My taste buds prefer a more traditional style. I like it simple. However, when I put my judging hat on, I am well versed in what competition barbecue is all about.

One other major difference between the two styles is the amount of doneness in the meats. Many cooks and enthusiasts believe “fall off the bone” ribs are what you are looking for when in fact, ribs that are cooked until they fall off the bone are overcooked. The ideal outcome is a rib where the meat comes off the bone with very little effort, but the only area the meat should be removed is where you took the bite.

Brisket that is overcooked becomes more like pot roast; if undercooked, it is rubbery. The brisket “standard” is that the slice stays intact and can fold over your outstretched finger but can easily be pulled apart.

Pork shoulder should not be mushy and should not dissolve easily when you are chewing it. It should have a similar texture to a properly cooked brisket and be very moist due to the high fat content.

The last major difference between competition and regular barbecue is that competition barbecue is also judged on appearance. There is a popular saying that you eat with your eyes first. You typically want to see uniform entries in competition, yet when you are cooking at home or get a plate of barbecue at your favorite joint, it is a bonus if it looks good, but it is really all about the taste. You don’t need to “Hollywood” cut your ribs at home (this is where you cut a rib to where you leave as much meat as possible on both sides of the bone thus leaving the judge with the biggest bite).

Basically, these are the major differences between the competition and meal barbecue. Both can be amazing, but both have different standards. The good news is that as a judge, you get your fill of delicious smoked meats in exchange for only your time. When you cook at home or eat at a restaurant dedicated to smoky goodness, there are often leftovers. Either way, it’s a win for you and anyone you happen to share your bounty.