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What is a Sanctioned Barbecue Contest
and what to do if you want to cook or judge one.

By Ricky Ginsburg - Head cook of the Boca Boys, FBA Certified Judge, and FBA Contest Representative

Contest Photo Slideshow

A Sanctioned Barbecue Contest is a gathering of cook teams that are preparing specific categories of meat, to be submitted for judging at an assigned time, and to be judged by persons certified by the sanctioning body to use a predetermined set of criteria to rank the product presented to them.

Or in plain English, a bunch of folks who get together, pay some money, cook some food, and hope the judges like it so they can win back the money they've spent to do this in the first place.

Sounds a little weird? Well, it is; but it's weird in a really fun way. A sanctioned barbecue contest has its moments of absolute panic, intensive concentration, and calculated deliberations, but it also has a party atmosphere that will take you back to frat house keggers and weekend family barbecues. Despite the seriousness of the hours between ten in the morning and two o'clock in the afternoon, when the cooks are loading their turn-in boxes and praying to the gods of smoke, rub, and sauce, most sanctioned barbecue contests are more fun than a family reunion.

So how does it work? Well, the cook teams start arriving on Friday, usually after a preset opening time in the morning, but some contests can take you in on Thursday as well. Once the cook site is setup and ready for cooking, a representative - either an FBA Contest Rep or an inspector assigned by the contest organizer - will inspect your meat and, if there's no problem, tell you that you can start preparing your meat for cooking.

Friday night, there's always a cook team meeting around 5pm that you have to go to. After that, you're free to party. Cook dinner, drink adult beverages, play music, whatever you would normally do on a Friday night with a bunch of friends... well, not everything. Sanctioned contests are required to have a quiet time starting at 11pm for those serious cooks, but that just means you have to be quiet. You can sit around and swap recipes until dawn with anyone who'll listen, just as long as the folks nearby can sleep.

Saturday is the contest and rather than recap the rules, you should click here and read them. But suffice it to say, from ten o'clock in the morning when you start looking hard and long at your chicken and two o'clock in the afternoon when you put that brisket box on the turn-in table, all the fun is put on hold.

The winners will be announced late Saturday afternoon or early evening, awards will be presented, checks handed out, and the FBA Contest Reps will give you a score packet so you can tell how you did.

Do you want to cook a sanctioned contest? Great, we'd love to have you! You can go to our Contest Page and e-mail any of the contest organizers listed there for a cook team application. Just don't wait until the last minute. Many of our contests are sold out months in advance. Once you've cooked one FBA contest you will then be in our database and each new contest organizer will receive a mailing label for your cook team to automatically send you an invitation. While it's not a requirement to cook in an FBA contest, in order to be considered for Team of the Year points or to cook in our Triple Crown Contest the head cook of your team MUST be an FBA member. Click here for the membership application.

There are two things you can and should do before setting out on your own, though. The first is to take an FBA Judge's Seminar and judge at least one contest. This will give you an idea of what to cook and how to pack a turn-in box. The other is to ask one of the cook teams who regularly compete if you can cook with them. You'll learn more from an established cook team than you will any other way.

Click here to learn more about cooking in a sanctioned barbecue contest.

What do you need to cook in the contest? Simply put everything you would normally need to cook the barbecue at home along with a place to sleep. The contest site will have electricity and running water (hoses), you need to bring a sink or some large, deep wash pans, a hose, cleaning stuff, tables, chairs, all the utensils - knives, spoons, etc. - and of course, the meat and your secret dry rub and sauces. You'll need coolers to store the meat; ice is usually sold by the contest organizer. And whatever tools and cookers you use for your normal barbecue cooking at home.

Don't worry if you forget something, there's almost always a store nearby to buy whatever you need. Over time, you'll develop a checklist for contest load-up that will have everything you need.

What do you cook and how? The only advice I will offer you here, is that you are cooking for twenty-four different people - six judges times four meat categories and no six judges will eat more than one of your meats - you have to please as many of them as possible. Again, I'll refer you to the cook team rules for the specifics in terms of the meat and how much, but I will caution you here about flavor. Your friends and family might like your chicken blistering hot, with enough cayenne pepper to sweat the entire town of Tijuana, but the chance that a table of six judges are going to like it is slim. You can't cook in a barbecue contest the same way you cook at home, that's the bottom line. If you want cooking secrets, ask the other cooks at your next contest; my lips are sealed.
Do you want to judge a sanctioned contest? Again, great, we'd love to have you. All you need to do is attend an FBA Judge's Seminar and you will be trained and certified to judge our system. While attending the Judges Seminar you will have the opportunity to sample all four meat categories. Upon conclusion of seminar your name will automatically be entered into our database and contest organizers will receive a mailing label for you so that you will be invited to judge their contest.

Judges don't get paid, however they do get to eat some really spectacular barbecue. And with the growing number of FBA Sanctioned contests, there's probably one or two within a short drive from where you live.

How much will you eat? If your table gets the maximum number of entries - six boxes each of chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket - you could eat a couple pounds of meat. Chances are you won't want dinner that night!

Interested in having your own FBA Sanctioned contest? You'll need a big piece of land, several acres at least, water and power for the teams (which can be temporary) and lots of sponsors to foot the bill. The most successful contests are also tied in with events that the public can participate in such as a carnival, craft vendors, concert, or car race. That's not to say you can't just have a barbecue contest, but there's not much for the public to do at one, as most cook teams aren't equipped to compete and sell their product at the same time.

If you're interested in having the FBA sanction your event, click here for our sanctioning agreement; that's the first step. We have plenty of folks who will help you get organized and make your contest a success.

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