Best BBQ Practices - The life of a pro BBQ cook
Published on Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:36am
By Jason Williams
My name is Jason Williams, and I am from the small town of Cleveland, Ga. located about 60 miles north of Atlanta. As a small child, I stayed with my grandparents during the summer while school was out. I remember being in the kitchen with my grandmother as she prepared all kind of home-cooked meals. Once I got old enough to cook myself, I was constantly cooking all kinds of different meals. The meal I liked to cook best was cubed steak with gravy and biscuits.
Fast-forward ahead to the year 2011: I was asked by Herb Brackin and Weymon Forrester to help their team, Butts and Brews, at a BBQ cook-off in Gainesville, Ga. on Memorial Day weekend. We used a extra large Big Green Egg at the first BBQ cook off and a vertical charcoal smoker. All the other teams around us had fancy offset stick-burner smokers and gravity-feed smokers. I can’t remember the results from that weekend, but I do remember having a great time with my friends. I told the team that by next year we would have a new offset reverse-flow smoker because I was going to build one. On Memorial Day weekend the following year, the BBQ contest came around and we had the new smoker that I built for the contest. We used it to cook baby back ribs for the contest, and when the awards were announced Saturday evening, we had won first place in the ribs category—and I was hooked.
I started doing some research on competition BBQ contests with the Kansas City Barbecue Society, or KCBS. They have a pro division and a backyard division at most of their contests. The pro division has four categories of meat to cook: chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. The backyard division usually has only two meat categories: chicken and ribs. I thought that it would be fun to find a contest close to home and enter in the backyard division. I went on the KCBS website and found the Cornelia Apple Blossom BBQ Festival just 20 minutes away from my house. After I downloaded the contest application, I needed a team name. I came up with JAYJAYZ-QUE-4U, then I took a picture of the application that I had filled out and posted it on Facebook as a joke, asking if anyone was interested in donating any money for my entry fee. I had an old high school classmate, Shane Biddy, comment on my post saying that his company, Climate Solutions in Gainesville, Ga., would love to be a sponsor for me and pay my entry fee. Next, I needed a team banner, so I contacted Jason Hogan, a designer in Cleveland, Ga. to ask if he would be interested in making a team banner as a partial sponsorship for my team. He said, "Yes!"
Next I signed up for an online BBQ cooking school so I could take classes in my spare time. I learned a lot of important tips from the school, such as what to look for when buying meat, how to do a competition trim on different meats, and how to build a competition turn-in box. The competition boxes you turn in are the familiar 9˝×9˝ Styrofoam box with a lid. In KCBS competitions, you are allowed to place a garnish in the bottom of the box for presentation. Most teams use curly leaf parsley, green leaf lettuce, or—as of 2016—you are allowed to use kale. I started out using curly leaf parsley which took around 45 minutes to build one box, but now I have switched to using green leaf lettuce for garnish because I can build one box in about 15 minutes. Each team has to build one box per meat category that is turned in to be decided by certified- and master-judges.
Now, there was nothing left to do but practice, practice, practice. I started cooking all the different meats that were required for competition: pork, chicken, ribs, and brisket, which normally is not a category in the backyard division. I would cook on the weekends and invite my neighbors over for tasting to get their feedback. I tried all kinds of rubs and sauces while doing practice cooks, trying to find that perfect flavor-profile. After a lot of practice, I decided on Juniors Rub for Grub by Junior Urias out of Texas for my go to rub and two sauces from the Daigle Family Co. BBQ sauces out of Louisiana. The two sauces I decided on were their Cajun Sweet Pecan Garlic sauce for my pork and their Cajun Sweet Applewood Jalapeño for my chicken.
Finally, on April 18 and 19, 2014, the time had come for my first BBQ competition. I arrived at the contest site in Cornelia, Ga. on Friday morning, where the contest organizer showed me to my location for the weekend. It was a 10´×20´ foot spot with water- and electric-hookups, and it was the first spot next to the main road. I unpacked my supplies and began to setup my cook site: my offset reverse-flow smoker mounted on a pull-behind trailer, and a 10´×10´ easy-up tent.
After the okay from the KCBS meat inspector, it was time to prep my chicken and ribs. I used thighs for the chicken category and St. Louis-style ribs for the rib category. Both of the meats had to be trimmed to what is called a "competition" cut. When prepping the chicken thighs, I first removed the skin and then trimmed each thigh down to a specific size so all were uniform. Next, I took the skin from the chicken thighs and squared-up the edges, then I used a sharp knife to scrape the backside of the skin to remove any extra fat. When done, I ended up with a nice, rectangular-shaped chicken thigh and a piece of skin that was transparent enough to see the meat underneath when laid over the thigh. The rib prep was a little easier: All that was needed was to square-up the ends and remove the membrane from the back.
Saturday morning, I lit the smoker at around 4:00 a.m. to give it enough time to reach 250°F before the meat went on. At 6:00 a.m., I applied the rub and placed the ribs on the smoker to cook for the next six hours so they would be ready to be turned in for judging at 12:30 p.m. Next, I applied a light coat of rub to the chicken thighs before they went on the smoker at 9:30 a.m. for the next two and a-half hours so they would be ready to be judged by noon. After turning-in the chicken, I rushed back to the cook site to start cutting the ribs and place them in the next turn-in box to be judged at 12:30 p.m. Finally, I had some time to sit down and reflect on how the cook had gone before the awards ceremony later that afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
At the awards ceremony Saturday evening, the backyard division is announced first. Awards started with the backyard chicken category, where I was shocked to hear my name called for first place. Next were the awards for backyard ribs, when I heard my name called for third place. I was thinking, "Wow! I just got first place for my chicken and third place for ribs in my first ever contest." When they got around to overall standings, I again heard my name called, this time for Grand Champion of the backyard division.
By the end of the 2014 season, I had entered a total of three contests and was Grand Champion in the backyard division for all three. Now, in 2016, I am cooking in the Pro division with the Porkaholics BBQ team and traveling all over the Southeast to different contest. You can follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/jayjayzque4u and if you have any question on BBQ email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Williams' Competition Chicken Recipe
I'd like to share my competition chicken recipe with anyone who would like to try it at home.
Total cook time: 2½ hours
- 12 Chicken thighs (You can use legs or boneless chicken breast also)
- 2 Sticks of butter
- Rub of choice
- Sauce of choice
Apply your rub of choice to both sides of the chicken thighs and place 12 chicken thighs per pan with three rows of four chicken thighs skin side up. Melt the butter in a microwave and pour around chicken in pan until the level is halfway up on the chicken. Place chicken in a smoker or oven at 250°F for 1 hour. After 1 hour, flip the chicken upside down in place. Place back in the smoker or oven for another hour. After the second hour, remove the chicken from the pan and place on a Bradley rack skin side up. Now is when you add your favorite sauce to the chicken and place back in the smoker or oven for an additional 30 minutes to let the sauce sit up. When cooking any poultry, always check internal temperature, making sure it’s at least 165°F degrees. When the desired temp is reached, remove from smoker or oven and enjoy.