Saturday, July 19, 2008

RAMBLINGS: Biggest BBQ Competitions

Here in the United States it’s pretty much agreed on that there are four premier BBQ contests. Where each stands in the hierarchy depends on where you’re from, what your outlook is and who you are talking to. What makes an event stand out from the rest of pack? Size, prestige, prizes and tradition make these more than competitions; they are seminal events that are as memorable for the visitor as they are for the competitor.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is held annually in (believe it or not) Houston Texas. To beat the famed Texas heat, the competition is held in late winter (next year it will be February 26 – 29). How many people will be showing up? Just a bit shy of a quarter of a million. Yup, over 200,000 people will be strolling through the aisles, smelling the amazing aromas of true BBQ.

The categories are standard for the Houston event. Judges can look forward to the best pork, brisket, spare ribs and chicken that Texas has to offer.

The American Royal Barbecue competition has been an annual event since 1980. Termed the ‘World Series of BBQ’, the American Royal will have over 500 competition teams (yes, you read that right) fighting it out for bragging rights and prizes. There are two categories, the ‘invitational’ and the ‘open’. Wining anything at the American Royal is an accomplishment you can brag on for years, but the winner of the invitational becomes an object of fear and envy on the circuit.

The event is held in Kansas City, Missouri in October. Aside from the straight up BBQ, there are also some serious bragging rights for the teams that host the best party. More than almost any other event, the American Royal is a celebration of BBQ and competition. The party atmosphere is intense and is spread over the majority of the area. You can easily wander from party to party and wind up at back at your space having traversed the entirety of the lot.

The Memphis in May contest is as much about showmanship as it is about BBQ. Like many other large BBQ contests, Memphis in May offers things aside from low and slow meat. The entire city of Memphis is rocking during the event and the lineup of bands is amazing.

The contest offers over $90,000.00 in prizes and offers a unique ‘on-site’ judging program. They have a number of ancillary contests that emphasize the fun and less serious aspects of BBQ, such as best site, a tee shirt contest and more. The Memphis in May offers a people’s choice award where attendees can vote on their favorite ‘Q. The park holding the contest is over a mile long and they still have difficulties fitting in all the teams that would like to participate.

‘The Jack’ is the Jack Daniel’s Invitational World Championship BBQ contest. This is where the elite of the elite come and compete (that sounds like a bad rhyming scheme). Less than 70 teams will be competing and they only get in the door with an invitation.

If you are lucky and good enough to win certain events throughout the year you are put into a lottery system. The winners of the lottery system join past winners of The Jack and the winners of other major competitions (such as the ones listed here) who are given automatic entry.

With the competition being so fierce to get into the event and the number of competitors being so small, this may be the most prestigious event in the BBQ world.

If you’re lucky enough to attend one of these events, take the time to pick up as many tips as possible. You are amongst masters. Just don’t bother the teams near turn in times.


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