Into The Deep – Your First Comp
I keep trying to think but nothing’s happening.
Ready to enter your first backyarder or possibly even your first full comp? Good for you. I am sure you have been practicing your cooks, dialed in your rubs and sauces and now it’s time to see how you stack up against others. I have been there, walked a mile in your shoes and hopefully with this blog I can keep you from getting any blisters.
If you are anything like me you have scoured the entire internet trying to glean any nuggets that you can to help you prepare. The problem with that is that there is so much information and a whole bunch of it seems to be conflicting. I think about the only thing everyone can agree on is that you need to cook your meats properly (tender), make them look appealing, and season them in such a way that they do not offend the judges. If you can pull those 3 things off you will likely not end up DAL at your first competition.
There are a few other things you may not find on the internet that are equally important. Once you have decided on the comp you plan to enter you should take a moment and look at your budget. The average 4 meat comp can run you anywhere from $600-1,000 or even more. A backyarder is a lot less and if you are on a budget then I would recommend that you start there. So you have the funds and you are motivated now what do you do.
Step 1. Enter the contest. Simple. Once they have your money you really have no option unless you want to walk away from the entry fee. You have to get serious at this point.
Step 2. Develop a plan. Walk through everything you can think of from start to finish. How are you getting to the comp? Will all your stuff fit? Who is helping you? When will you pack? What are you eating and drinking at the comp? Who is doing set up? The list goes on and on. What meats, which smokers, etc… Take your time and think it through. Share it with the team for feedback. Remember that even a shitty plan is better than nothing.
Step 3. Make a checklist. Take your time with this one. I found it easiest to just brainstorm a long list of items. Then I organized them into groups (cooking, cleaning, eating, etc..). I would look at it daily trying to think of what else needed to be on there.
Step 4. Build a timeline. Ours runs from 1:00pm on Friday until 1:31pm on Saturday (the last turn in). We tape it to one of our tables and follow it religiously. It will help you stay focused and on track. We also use it for notes on improvements for the next comp.
Step 5. This one is going to really help you the most. After you finish steps 1-4 schedule a weekend practice cook. You can go in to use the bathroom but everything else gets done outside. This way you can find the flaws in your plan.
The last tip I will leave you with is that there is no substitute for practice. If you do not put in the time you will get shelled. That’s a fact. If your comp is 10 weeks out you have a minimum of 10 days to practice. If you can double up and cook both days. Trust me. It will help. Don’t believe me? Ask Scott about how many times he has heard the word practice from my mouth or seen it in an email.