10 Vital Grill Tips from the World’s Biggest Barbecue Competition

By Katie Chang |

© Chris Mullins

Last weekend, 618 teams—both professional and amateur—and over 50,000 fans descended upon Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for the American Royal, the world’s biggest barbecue competition. While few can argue with the irresistible nature of barbecue, with its intensely flavored bark, pink smoke ring and tender, smoky meat, making it at home might seem a little intimidating. But we’re here to tell you it shouldn’t be. And with these ten easy-to-use tips from some of American Royal’s top teams, you’ll be well on your way to smoking competition-worthy barbecue at home.

Brad Mitchell from Team Slow and Easy  
“You can get a cheap smoker at most mass stores, but they’re flimsy, not well-made, and will only last a couple years. So invest in a quality one. American Barbecue Systems makes a small one called the All-Star. It fits in a 30-inch-by-30-inch space, and you’ll be able to pass this on from generation to generation. We joke that you’ll need to include it in your estate plan.”

Ruben Renteria from Team Gettin' Sauced  
“The best thing you can ever get is a meat thermometer. This is all you need to make great food. If you cook by temperature, everything will be perfect. For chicken, you want 173 degrees. Pork, 201. Ribs, 195. Brisket, 203.”

Tim Grant from Team Truebud BBQ  
“The key to smoking is not over-smoking. Stay away from wet or green woods, and use a really dry wood. We smoke with pecan, because it’s mild and not going to just pour smoke out of the smoker. It’s going to be a clean burn, put a great smoke ring on the meat and taste great. A lot of people think smoking means smoke billowing out of your smoker, but that’s all going into your meat and giving it a bad, bitter taste.”

Ed Gash from Team Bunch of Swines 
“We wrap all of our competition meats halfway through the cooking process with foil. It helps to tenderize and break down the meat. Just be sure to use a thick foil. For example: If I’m cooking ribs, which take five hours, I’ll smoke them for two and a half hours, then wrap them in foil for the last two and a half.”

Jason Eis from Team Slow and Easy  
“Fill a spray bottle with apple juice and evenly spray your ribs before you put them in the smoker, an hour after, and again an hour after that. Apple juice is sweet, slightly acidic, and offsets the spicy nature of most rubs. And if you’re smoking with applewood, which a lot of professionals use, it’ll naturally complement those flavors.”

Ron Clevenger from KC-Q-Master  
“Everyone says chicken is toughest to get right, but it’s easy. First, pull the skin off the meat and set aside, then marinate the chicken a couple hours. Scrape the excess fat off the reserved skin, and use toothpicks to pin the skin back onto the meat. This way the skin adheres to the chicken better, renders the fat out better and will still be really juicy.”

Bill Gillespie from Team Smokin' Hoggz BBQ 
“If you don’t have a good smoker at home, use a charcoal grill. Just build a fire to the side of the grill, which we call an offset. Then fill an aluminum cooking pan with water and put it right above the fire. Then indirectly cook your meats on the other side, the cool side.”

Scottie Johnson from Team CancerSucksChicago.com 
“I used to make my own sauces, but now there’s so many good sauces out there, especially competition sauces. In the competition circuit, a top one is Blues Hogg. It’s really thick, sticky and sweet, with a little bit of spice from black pepper. Head Country from Oklahoma is also good. It’s a little thinner sauce and has a little more twang to it than Kansas City–style sauces.”

Jarrod Young from Team Brothers Chillin' and Grillin' 
“Don’t ever put cold meat in a smoker. Make sure your meat rests and is at room temperature. When you cook meat from a cold temperature, it seizes up and shocks. With room temperature meat, the pores are open and can absorb all the smoke. You want to smoke all the way through the meat, not just the outside.”

Nathan Grodeon from Team Brewmasters Bar-B-Que 
“I prefer to cook hot and fast at 300 degrees, as opposed to the traditional low and slow. I also cook directly over coals, so the fat that drips into the coals atomizes and creates a lot more moisture and flavor in the cooking chamber. It also gives the meat a nice grilled taste.”

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