Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style
Photo courtesy of Noah Glanville, Pit Barrel Cooker Company

Last weekend I competed at the Northwest Ribfest across town in Meridian, Idaho. I hadn't competed since 2010 because, quite frankly, it had gotten to the point to where it was more drudgery than fun. Fortunately for me, like riding a bike, you never forget how to compete once you've done it a few times. This time out I had an interesting and very welcome twist.

Back in March I reviewed the Pit Barrel Cooker (here and here). Well, the founder and president of the company, Noah Glanville graciously offered to bring a load of four barrels all the way from the Denver area and hang out for the competition. I typically cook on my homemade Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS's), but I was very eager to cook an entire competition on the Pit Barrels. Noah had competed for the first time using his barrels just the weekend prior. He did very well for a first-timer, including taking eight place in pork among a very solid field of competitors. I was blown away, especially when he told me that he had never cooked a pork butt on a PBC before then.

Noah arrived Friday afternoon (after a 13-hour drive with only a short nap along the way) and we set-up for the traditional cook's potluck. Noah brought tri-tip and chicken and cooked it all in the Pit Barrels. The three barrels cooked enough meat to serve about 80 people. The meat was outstanding as always, so we had some seriously happy eaters.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

I always enjoy changing things up a bit at each competition. I don't think that I've ever cooked the same way twice, and this was certainly no exception. I had cooked three of the four competition meats (chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, and brisket) on my barrel at home, but I had never done a brisket. Brisket is widely considered to be the most difficult of the competition meats to cook, so I was a bit concerned.

In addition to using new competition cookers, I decided that I was going to stay true to the vertical cooking method of the PBC and hang all four meats. As if there weren't enough variables, I also decided to cook Cornish game hens (12 halves) for my chicken turn-in. Although I had cooked a bunch of chicken on the barrel, I'd never cooked hens. All of this variation caused me to pretty much throw my entire known timeline out the window. Noah's experience the week before really helped provide some valuable reference points as we guesstimated the new timeline. We were almost literally making it up as we went along.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style
Photo courtesy of Noah Glanville, Pit Barrel Cooker Company

As for the cook, I was amazed at how smoothly it went given that I was rusty. Things just fell into place and the timing was right on the money, with the exception of starting the chicken a little late, which rushed the first turn-in box prep.

I wish that we had taken a picture of the chicken box. I was able to fit seven whole leg quarters in the box, and it really looked great. The flavor and juiciness were outstanding, as Pit Barrel chicken always is.

The ribs were really good, and it showed in the scoring. I hung three racks of St. Louis spareribs for two hours, wrapped them in foil for a little over an hour, then glazed them on the grate that's included with the Pit Barrel. Like the chicken, I wish that we had taken a picture of the finished box.

As for the pork, my family said it was some of the best that I've ever cooked. That amazed me since it was only the second time that I'd cooked a pork butt in the barrel. It was eight pounds raw and it took five hours to cook, which included wrapping it in foil and finishing it on the grate. The crust (bark) was outstanding and the texture was dead-on.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

We hung the brisket (about 11 pounds trimmed) in the same barrel as the pork and it was done in less than six hours (also wrapped and finished on the grate). I was tending other things and forgot to check the temperature as often as I should, so it overcooked by a few degrees. The color and tenderness were great, the flavor was good, but it was a touch dry.

Competition BBQ, Pit Barrel-style

Noah and I sampled, analyzed and discussed each meat as I was cutting, boxing and turning in. We were very pleased with the results and we thought that we had a good shot at some calls to the stage during the awards ceremony. My family was there sampling and offering moral support. Our girls really dig hanging out at competitions and they are great cheerleaders.

After the cook Noah cleaned and re-boxed the three cookers that we used. He very graciously gave a cooker to each competitor that took first in a category, and one to the overall grand champion. Cooks really love extra spoils like that, and I thank Noah for offering them. He is a serious class act, and I'm blessed to call him a friend.

In the end we took 10th in chicken, 7th in ribs, 10th in pork, and 14th in brisket among a strong field of 25. It was a solid showing and I was very happy with everything that I turned in. The Pit Barrel Cooker is no joke in competition! I had a great time hanging out with Noah and I certainly appreciated all of his help and company.

I still consider myself to be in Brett Favre-style retirement from competition, but I really did enjoy seeing my friends and being in the familiar competition environment. That's the part that I'll always love. There are no people like barbecue people.

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Anonymous Robyn said...
Glad to hear you had a great competition experience John. The Pit-Barrel cooker sounds like the way to go! Your meat looks tasty!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks, Robyn.
Anonymous Dave Schultz said...
Very nice read John! Congrats on a great showing!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks, Diamond Dave! It was great to see you again in familiar surroundings.
Blogger Chris said...
Excellent write up and good showing. LMBO at your "Brett Farve style retirement", great line.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks, Chris. I reserve the right to compete at will, but I'm retired. :-)
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Sounds like it was kind of a crazy day. Everything looks delicious though! What seasonings did you use on the hens?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks, Liz. I used a more savory version of my All-Purpose BBQ Seasoning on all of the meats.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thanks. I also just saw your marinade recipe with the
Canada Dry and Italian dressing. Looks good! We are having a big BBQ next weekend and I want to try out a few marinades!
Blogger panthers76 said...
Great post. We have just entered the world of competition BBQ and will be doing our 3rd comp in August. I can see where it would become tedious. I think that is why we will keep at 2-3 per year tops as long as we still have fun...
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I have a ugly homemade barrel of my own, for the 3 day weekend coming up my Dad want's me to do some cornish hens. I have only done tri-tip with the thing and have it down to a science. I am more then worried about the hens. If you could shoot any knowledge my way it would be greatly appreciated. I had the thought to hang an uncut brick of bacon in the center "my barrel has 3 rods" and the hens around. But temp, and cooking time are escaping me. Thanks ahead of time ""
Blogger JeffH said...
I'm a little late to this Rodeo but, being a first time PBC owner myself, I couldn't resist reading about your PBC competition experience...congratulations. I cooked my first 11# pork butt for Super Bowl 50 and it was by far and away the best pulled pork I have ever cooked or tasted. I injected the meat and added a good rub 24 hiurs in advance and I must was certainly close to competition quality.

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