Updated February 21, 2020 – Like most other refined crafts, there is a market for competitive barbecuing of various meats.
Brisket, chicken, and ribs all have a lengthy history of stylistic variations in their barbecue.
It makes sense that those who are particularly invested in barbecue would seek recognition for their innovation and craftsmanship.
The regional differences in barbecue style in the Southern and Midwestern United States are as varied as the linguistic dialects—perhaps more so.
As much as any barbecue competition is about discovering the best of the best, it’s also about the celebration and friendly rivalry between different styles from the barbecue heartlands of America.
History of the Pit
Barbecuing in the United States takes its name from the Spanish barbacoa.
Early settlers to the United States allegedly ate four pounds of pork to every pound of beef.
This was because the surplus of wild boar was, at that time, staggering. Even today, pork is the predominant meat in most southern barbecue joints.
The global history of barbecuing (separated from grilling by its use of lower heat and more smoke) dates back to the time of the Paleolithic man.
Israeli scientists have discovered remains in the form of bone and tool evidence indicating the use of open-pit flame cooking (the basics of barbecue) as much as 200,000 years ago.
Flash forward to Houston, Texas, circa 1974. Though it is unsure who and where began the first official barbecue competition, it is widely accepted that the Houston Livestock & Rodeo festival of that year hosted the nation’s first barbecue competition.
Additionally, Texas claims the first sanctioning body on ‘official’ barbecue rating—the North Texas BBQ Association.
Which later led to the formation of the International BBQ Cookers Association, the world’s largest sanctioning body on the barbecue.
Gearing Up to Get Down
From the tomato-to-vinegar ratios of secret sauces to the peppers and salts used in the brining of meats, each family and partnership has something to contribute to the overall tapestry of barbecue meats.
For this reason, barbecue festivals and competitions have sprung up all over the world—from Texas and Carolina to Australia and Japan.
Each entering party has something to offer the collective consciousness of barbecue—be it a new sauce, a different seasoning, or a new smoking method.
However, for many aficionados of tradition, it’s all about the perfect barbecue—nothing gimmicky, just fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth meats.
For the endeavoring barbecue competitors, it’s all about the gear. The right smokers, the right cuts, and of course—the right knives.
Tradition and recipe are paramount to success, but that success is impossible without the right gear.
The Right Knife for the Job
For any cook—be it a backyard barbecuing weekend warrior or seasoned French chef, knives are on the—ahem—cutting edge of your field’s technology.
Without a good set of knives suited to any task, you risk all-around dullness, of knife, taste, and spirit.
Competitive barbecue cooks need dependable knives. However, the difference between the chef in his own kitchen and the traveling barbecue cook is location.
While the chef, at home in his own business, may reasonably invest hundreds of dollars in the most elegant of kitchen knives, the traveling barbecue competitor must consider the traveling life awaiting.
Chances are slim that anyone will break into a professional kitchen and steal knives. However, when your kitchen is the red-bracelet exclusive tent at the back of the Kentucky state fair, your vigilance needs to be on high alert.
Sure, a lot of your prep work was done at home. You will still be slicing, dicing, carving and cutting up a storm on the go—meaning that you’ll want quality, just not second mortgage level quality.
I Love the Knife Life
Barbecue is all about finesse. Though large meat cleavers have their place, you may find yourself spending more time trimming meats and making your racks look more presentable.
For this purpose, a paring knife such as the Wusthof 3 ½-inch Paring Knife is an important addition to the competitive barbecue cooker.
Its compact size lets it cut into the hard-to-reach corners of a chicken that larger knives can’t get to. The triple-riveted composite handle and high-carbon stainless steel guarantee a lasting knife.
The boning knife is another must-have addition to your on-the-go collection of knives. These knives, such as the Wusthof Classic 6-inch Flexible Boning Knife, let you easily trim the fat off brisket and ribs.
Which is an important aesthetic element to repeated victories on the competitive barbecue circuit.
Its strong-yet-flexible design guarantees repeated accurate trimming of otherwise challenging spots to reach.
A slicing knife is also an essential addition to your collection of competitive knives. These knives will be used to quickly portion of your brisket and ribs, two stalwarts of the competitive BBQ scene.
For accepted entry into many judges’ boxes, brisket needs to be pencil-thin. A thin, sharp knife is necessary for this task.
Additionally, properly cooked ribs will be very fragile, and cutting them with anything less than the sharpest slicing knife will result in an unsightly mess of meat and bone.
For this purpose, the Victorinox 12 Inch Fibrox Pro Slicing Knife with Granton Blade has deemed the industry standard for workhorse slicers.
The Granton blade creates pockets of air, which prevents food from sticking to the blade, and creates less friction, facilitating easier motion. This knife is designed for long days of slicing, seven days a week.
Cutting Out the Competition
With equal parts tradition and gear, you can begin to share in the excitement of smoky flavors of yesterday and tomorrow by entering your local barbecue competition. Come prepared to win with the right knives for the job!