Monday, May 30, 2016

Practice Competition Rib Cook

I need practice on my competition ribs because at Sevierville* last weekend I averaged 8's for taste and tenderness which isn't going to cut it for what we want to do.  Just under 2 years ago we did our first contest and were happy just to complete every category without finishing DAL.  Now if we don't get 9-9-9's (KCBS scores 0-9 from each judge for appearance, taste, and tenderness), we're not satisfied.

So this cook was just a baseline to focus on the details of our rib program without being distracted at a contest and then figure out where I need to improve for our next contest in a few weeks.  

Custom kamado grill colors from Grill Dome
My Grill Dome didn't make it back to the deck after last weekend's contest so I just rolled it out front on Saturday.  Never noticed until now that it is almost a perfect match for Trevor's car.  You can get Grill Domes in custom colors but this was just a stock color.

My highest rib score was 6th place at Sevierville last year when I cooked them on an Adjustable Rig but since then I've been using a homemade raised rack.  Typically we run 4 racks of ribs.  Using the raised rack means the bottom 2 ribs are close to the heat deflector so the ends can overcook.   So time to go back to the A/R.

oval heat deflectors and kick ash basket for the BGE Mini-Max
To get back to using the Adjustable Rigs, I bought a set of oval heat deflectors from the Ceramic Grill Store.  (And a Kick Ash Basket for the Mini-Max!)  The longer heat deflectors are what they recommend for rib and brisket set ups anyway and I should have bought one that way to begin with.

Replaced my broken Grill Dome firebox with one from Big Green Egg
This cook was the maiden voyage for a new fire box that I bought from Hearth and Patio this weekend.  So ivory...for now.

Ceramic Grill Store's Adjustable Rig gives you the most flexible set up for kamado grilling.
Here is a side view of the full A/R set up.  The main advantages for this specific set up are 1) the oval heat deflector protects the rib ends and 2) the 4 racks of ribs sit higher up in the dome for more even cooking.

How to smoke ribs like the professionals
One of the biggest issues with our ribs has been consistency of suppliers. I've gone back and forth. These were IBP because I couldn't get my usual ones this weekend.  I'm definitely sticking with Cheshire Heritage Pork ribs, our best ribs this year have been theirs. No more jumping around.

how to make competition quality BBQ ribs
This set up is great for getting the racks away from any hot spots. The downside is that the ribs on the upper rack are very near the thermometer stem, which will throw off temperature readings, making them seem artificially low.  I have a fix for that.

Thermoworks ribs
I took an air temperature probe for my ThermaQ and clipped it just below the upper grate to get a more accurate temperature reading.  Kamado grill tip: Pulling the dome thermometer out a little bit will also help by getting the tip of the thermometer further away from the cold meat.

ThermaQ is my favorite tool for accurate temperature measurments
The temperature difference due to the cold meat only lasted for the first hour or two.  Once the meat was cooking, the dome thermometer came up and matched the ThermaQ.  

We also use big green egg and vision grills in competition BBQ
Getting close to wrapping time.

How to make competition ribs on a primo grill, BGE, or kamado joe.
Another benefit to the A/R set up is that I can just slide the rib racks out and shut the dome, doing a better job of maintaining cooking temps.  I don't do anything much different than the majority of top comp teams for the wrap ingredients.

Competition style ribs at home
This is after coming back out of the foil.  Lighting is harsh but whatevs...

BBQ ribs on a kamado grill, how to make competition style ribs on a BGE
Sauced and back on for a brief kiss of smoke before boxing.

Sliced.  Not much of a smoke ring.  KCBS Certified BBQ Judges (3 of our teammates are CBJ's) are not supposed to judge based on smoke rings but I think it still makes a difference.  I just need to make sure the ribs are nice and cold when they go on and make sure I spritz the ribs when they first go on instead of waiting for the first hour to pass.  Moisture helps the nitrogen compounds in smoke convert and bond more easily to the myoglobin in the meat, keeping it pink. 

Competition style BBQ ribs made at home on a kamado style grill.
Practice box.  Appearance hasn't been an issue, I pretty much get 9's for that.  But this box  still bugs me.  I should be using ribs from the same rack or two so they aren't all herky-jerky at the top like these.  The garnish is lighter at the top of the box versus the bottom.  I'll take the color and the evenly exposed bones but definitely room for improvement.

So these are good but I have some things that I will adjust.  I'm going to reduce or eliminate one of the three rubs.  Once that is set I'll test a few sauce changes (you only ever change 1 thing at a time). Finally for tenderness, I think I've taken too much time to foil the ribs which means less time in the wrap.  I've streamlined that process to minimize time off the grill.

You might think I am nit-picking here.  But any competition team will tell you that less than 1 point can make the difference between Top 10 and everyone else.  

If BBQ competitions intrigue you, check out a local event.  It's a great thing to get involved in as an organizer, volunteer, judge, or competitor.  Here are some lists of events for different organizations.  We like KCBS but there are lots of solid groups.

Kansas City BBQ Society (biggest, most widely recognized IMO)

Standard FTC Disclosure:  I received no compensation for this post.  We have no affiliation with Grill Dome (sponsor last year), Ceramic Grill Store, Hearth and Patio, or Cheshire Pork.  We have good working relationships with Thermaworks and Kick Ash Basket but paid full price for their products shown.

*Full report on the report coming up later


  1. Chris,

    How much time are you leaving it in the foil? The issue I seem to be having on my last few cooks for ribs seem to be after I wrap them up they get overcooked. I typically have them on for 2 hours and I even tried 1:45. I may cut down to 1:30 and see. Before wrapping they are not bending much so I think phase 1 is good......

    1. We only do about 45 minutes for our competition program. With that short of a time period, every few minutes counts. At home I usually run them an hour in the foil.

  2. I have to say I like the "herringbone" look at the top. As a judge, the way I look at appearance is simply: "do those ribs make me want to eat one?" If the answer is yes, and there's no foreign matter or incorrect greenery, the answer is 9.

  3. Great post! Which ribs do you order from Cheshire Heritage?

    1. Chris I don't order them through them, we have a local independent grocer (Butler and Bailey) that carries the Cheshire St Louis trimmed spares and we them there.

  4. I always love your photos from these events. People are just so darn clever.