The following are tips to help you prepare for your first BBQ Competition. While nothing anyone tells you can guarantee a victory, these tips will help you focus on being your very best. (In no particular order.)
Cook for the judges
Competition BBQ is different than what you would cook in your back yard. At home you only need to please yourself and your guests. You may like hot, spicey, fall off the bone ribs - that's not going to go over well at most competitions.
Learn all you can
Ask questions, read all you can on the internet and talk to people.
Write out a time line detailing what needs to be done and by who. With everything going on it can be hard to keep track of things. Writing it all out and posting it where you can see it will keep you on track.
Things will go wrong. Be flexible. If your butt is taking to long, adjust and go with it.
Try not to get to worked up. Set down when you can. Relax, do your best and have fun.
Make sure you work some sleep time into your schedule. Either sleep in shifts so someone is always watching your smoker, have a temperature alarm that will wake you or really, really trust your smoker.
Don't Drink (To much)
BBQ Competitions have been described as "tailgating without the game". Friday night is for socializing. Have fun, meet the other teams, (pick up some tips) and have a few adult beverages. But remember there is a lot to be done in the morning and at BBQ competitions morning comes early.
It sounds like a no brainer but if it's a hot day be sure to drink plenty of water. A lot is going on and it is easy to forget to stay hydrated. So drink up.
Contrary to what you may have heard Competition BBQ is not a sure path to wealth, fame or BBQ groupies. You are there to have fun - don't ever loose sight of that.
Use a BBQ Checklist
There is a lot to pack for a BBQ Competition and it's easy to forget something. Make a list or get one off the internet. Check it, adjust it, use it. If you are entering an extra category make sure you add all the ingredients, tools and utensils to the list.
When getting started there are some things you will need and some things you might want. A nice banner isn't a necessity and you don't "need" an $85 meat thermometer.
Get to the site early
It's a good idea to get to your site early, get set-up and get your bearings. Find out where the water, electric, ice etc. is located. Set up can be stressful for new BBQ teams when you don't really know what to expect. This will also allow you time to go pick up anything you may have forgotten.
Post a clock
Everything at a BBQ Competition runs on a schedule. Even if you wear a watch it helps to have a clock set to the "official" time in plain sight.
Raise your tables
Your work tables should be at counter height - unless you crave back pain. Most teams use sections of PVC pipe cut to extend the table legs so the top of the table is about 36".
These little stretchy cords are good for everything from securing your smokers during travel to holding paper towels. Pack a few.
Five Gallon Buckets
Big buckets come in handy at a BBQ competition. We use them to haul water, for extra storage and we fill them with water and use them to hold down the canopies in the wind where we can't use stakes.
Trim your meat at home
KCBS rules allow you to trim your meat at home (But do not season or marinate!). Trimming before you arrive will save you a lot of time.
For hot water fill a water cooler like you see at construction site with hot water and it will stay hot for hours.
Keep your area organized
There is nothing worse than trying to put your boxes together and not having the space to do it. Do yourself a favor and keep your work area organized and clean.
Blue Painters Tape / Duct Tape
Blue painters tape is good for holding things together when traveling. Use duct tape for emergency repairs.
Practice your turn in boxes
While appearance is the lowest factor in scoring, it is the most under your control. Anything less than an 8 is just money left on the table.
Read the rules and understand them.
The KCBS rules are on their web site and you will receive a set either before the Competition or at the cook's meeting. Read them and ask questions if you need clarification on anything.
Don't be shy. If you have a question just ask it. The Organizer, Contest Reps and other BBQ teams will be happy to answer any questions you may have.