First Rib Competition

After many rib cooks, and lots of trial and error, we decided that we wanted to see what these BBQ competitions are all about. No matter how you look at it, its a pretty great excuse to hang out in a tent all day and drink beer. And if you do things right, you’ll have some great bbq to munch on.

For our vessel, we decided to use the UDS. We felt that the GMG may not totally go with the spirit of a competition due to its “set it and forget it” way of doing things. However, we still brought it along to smoke up a great lunch!

We arrived at the fairgrounds at about 9:30am to set up. Meat inspection was shortly after 11am, and our meat turn-in was 4:12pm.

We are believers in unsauced ribs. Even though it seems like the vast majority of competitions look for a specific ketchup-based sauced rib, we wanted to stick with what we believe in and turn in a product that we both were very happy with. We also believe that sauce can hide imperfection in your bark and smoke, and that an unsauced rib is more technically difficult.

For meat, we wanted to make sure that we went with great local quality, but also wanted to save ourselves time by already having the membranes removed. So we went with Ream’s Meat Market baby backs.

For our rub, we enriched our smokey rub-inson with cinnamon, granulated honey, and a couple other things that I cant remember at the moment. This was such a killer combo, that I think this will be our go-to for all comps going forward. The flavor profile was layered and complex, and kept coming at you with more as you chewed and swallowed. Sweet and heat perfection. We also formulated a mop using a tangy NC Vinegar Sauce + local honey mixture.

We didnt wrap the ribs at all, and at about 245°F cook temp we pulled them after 4 hours and 15 minutes.

At hour 3, we mopped, flipped, and mopped. Facing them meat-side down for about an hour. Then at just under 4 hours we mopped again and turned them meat-side up.

We chose the best cooked, meatiest examples to turn in to the judges. The slabs on the bottom smoker rack cooked a little faster and were falling off the bone more. But the ones we turned in had a perfect tug and great bite test.

When it came time to turn in, we were extremely proud of the ribs that we produced. But not to our surprise, 2 of the 4 judges scored us low saying that we “needed more sauce” (no shit sherlock, they dont have any sauce, thats the point). We scored very well with the other 2 judges, one of which owns a bbq joint in the NW suburbs of Chicago.

We wound up placing 7th out of 18. Which, given that it was our first competition, we were pretty proud of. Although it would’ve been nice to win, we knew that it could come down to sauce.  One does have to wondering though, how we would have done in a competition in the southeastern United States where no sauce is commonplace.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure that we would change much for the next go round. Maybe a little less salt in the rub. Maybe we’ll experiment with a yellow Carolina mustard sauce. Not totally sure yet. But I do know that we produced some killer ribs at the comp and had a blast while doing it!

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