If there’s one thing to love about summer, it’s barbecue. No other time of year can you walk around your neighborhood and catch the smell of glorious grilled meat drifting by. Then you walk another block, and there it is again. If you want to bring the barbecue to your house, there’s no better way to do it than a good old-fashioned summer barbecue cook-off. And we have five tips for how you can make your cook-off the one everyone comes back to next year.
1. What type of barbecuing will the competitors be doing
Charcoal or gas? Smoked or open flame? Kansas City-style or Texas? When you think of barbecuing, you might get a specific image in your head, but not everyone is coming to your party with the same notion. For some people, that could be exciting. You’d get to see a diverse approach to whatever recipe everyone is cooking, but it would also be hard to judge. There’s a vast difference between smoked and grilled meat. You can encourage people to bring their own region-specific style of barbecue, or you can standardize it.
Whichever direction you go, you should decide early. The competition is fun, but the most important part of a cook-off is that the results are tasty. You want to give your competitors plenty of time to prepare, so let them know early if they’re allowed to bring a Memphis dry rub or if they need to make a Carolina mop sauce.
2. Choose the recipe
Now this doesn’t mean you’re telling everyone exactly what to cook, but you should at least pick out the cut of meat and a potential spending limit. Both of these are practical decisions that you have to consider long before the day to make sure everyone has an equal shot. Picking the meat is one of those fun decisions you can make on your own or with input from others. Make sure to pick a cut that’s relatively common but also delicious — shoulder, ribs, or rump are good starting points.
For the price limit, keep it within reason, but remember that the cheaper you go, the more creative your cooks can get. If your competitors only have $50 to spend, they either have to decide between a quality cut of meat or higher-quality ingredients. The ingredient price limit also keeps anyone from buying their way to victory. You might have some incredible cooks, but it’s not really fair if someone drops some wagyu beef on a grill when everyone else’s just came from Sam’s Club.
3. Decide who’s on the list and what they’re bringing
The guestlist is important for any party, but for a barbecue cook-off, it’s essential. There are two types of people who will be coming, other than your cooks: guests and judges. Guests can be anyone: friends, family, lucky co-workers. The important thing is that your guests know they’re going to be put to work. Barbecued meat is great, but it’s not a full meal. If you want sides, the best place to get them is from a guest potluck. Get everyone contributing as part of the fun.
Even if you’re just hosting a casual cook-off, judging is a big job. They have to be confident in their opinion because food is contentious. Look out for someone who has some experience with BBQ. You want an opinion a little more informed than “I liked it,” and a little more articulate than “It was bad.” If your cook-off becomes an annual event, you could even have last year’s competitors be next year’s judges.
While you likely want the judges who make the final decision, that doesn’t mean the rest of your guests are barred from having an opinion. For some extra fun, you can have a formal winner and a Meat of the People decided by a vote from the rest of your guests.
4. Provide the best BBQ equipment you have
Your competitors may bring their own tools, but they can’t have everything with them all the time. You don’t have to supply every cook with a separate grill, but you can definitely let them use the best of your equipment.
This Ultimate 30-Piece BBQ Tool Kit is the catch-all for barbecue readiness. Someone needs a spatula? You’ve got one with three edges in stunning stainless steel. Is someone struggling to flip their meat? The long handles on these stainless steel tongs can keep their hands safe and their meat mobile. It even comes with stainless steel salt and pepper shakers!
All tools are made of high-quality stainless steel and fit in a canvas carrying bag for rapid readiness. If you really wanted to go all out, you could standardize the equipment all your cooks have at their disposal. Get one of these for each of them so everyone has an incentive to compete, tools to use, and a reason to feed you something truly delicious.
5. Have something else to do
Nobody likes to sit around and be hungry. Before and after the cook-off, have some fun games or party events planned. You want to keep your guests occupied so your cooks don’t get distracted, and you also want to keep the energy going. Plan some lawn games like horseshoes or football. Keep everyone occupied before the meal so they’re good and hungry when the time comes.
Then, after the dust has settled and the winner has been chosen, have gentler activities planned. You can set up a cocktail hour, pull out some board games, or even roll out a big screen for an impromptu backyard movie night. Give people the chance to settle, munch on leftovers, and celebrate the winners who may not have done much other than cooking for the last few hours.
Prices subject to change.