I often have people email me and ask for advice about getting started cooking in BBQ contests, and this is what I always tell them…
The first thing I would recommend you doing is going through judging school… it will give you that edge over everyone else who is just starting out because you will know exactly what the judges expect (and you will see exactly what your future competition is doing). You can find out the detials about judging school by visiting the KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) or the MBN (Memphis Barbecue Network) websites.
I have competed in both the MBN and the KCBS circuits for over 10 years now, and I still like to judge at least 2 contests each year.
I personally recommend KCBS for guys who are starting out – simply because the cost to get started in KCBS is a lot less than MBN. Once you get the ball rolling, you can always pick-up some MBN contests in the future.
Then I would find a local BBQ team and offer to help them out for a weekend – it will give you the feel of what it takes to to compete… and believe me, a lot more goes into it than what you would expect. You will see what supplies you are going to need, what it takes to build a blind-box and just get a feel for it.
Then I would start practicing at home. When I practice, I run through my cooking times and my turn-in times just like I am at a contest. Your cooking times are very important and you need to have it all down before you put down several thousand dollars on your first contest. To get your turn-in times and other information you can visit the KCBS website.
Next I would get a good smoker (you can just stick to a few Weber Smokey Mountain smokers if you are only going to do KCBS) and enter a few small contests.
Then once you are at these contests, go around, introduce yourself and start making friends. Each region is different in how they judge. These are the guys who can give you tips and pointers that you need to start winning.
If you still want to compete after doing all that, then I would start investing in the big smokers, get a trailer and start searching for a sponsor. BBQ Contests are not cheap. Entry fees range from $300 – $1200, then you have meat cost, supplies and most times travel. Just at Memphis In May alone we spent over $4000. But you can do a small contest -without travel – for around $400-$700 (if you already have all your equipment).
Let me know if you have any other questions,