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Pitmaker BBQ at World Food Championships

My favorite place to tailgate is at a barbecue competition. I know that sounds a little odd. You’re probably asking yourself, “Where’s the game? What’s the sport?”

If you’ve ever been to a barbecue competition, you know, but if you haven’t, let me break it down for you.

I first got an inside peek at the BBQ competition scene when the World Food Championships was held in Las Vegas. I was competing in the burger battle. Before my turn at the grill, I strolled to the BBQ boys’ and divas’ area, and I was in love.

Not only were the aroma of the pits intoxicating; everyone was relaxed and having a friendly time with their fellow competitors. Our area was definitely more intense.

Grilling at World Food Championships

How is BBQ a sport?

Barbecue competitions are kind of like golf, in that it takes hours to play and there is tons of strategy involved. Smoked briskets usually get put on the pits in the wee hours of the night, and everyone has their secret methods – whether it’s the wood, the rub, the temp or how they wrap their meat – pitmasters all have a technique.

But barbecue is also kind of like basketball, because in the final minutes, everyone’s adrenaline is pumping. After hours and hours of waiting, teams are given a short period of time to prep their meat for turn in. If they miss the turn-in window, they miss “the shot” and can kiss their chances at a win goodbye.

Lastly, barbecue is also like gymnastics. Say what? I know. You don’t see a lot of barbecuers sashaying around in leotards. But the judges are there behind the scenes, and they are looking for style, finesse and overall performance.

So what does tailgating have to do with any of this?

Well, when you’re working with a team for 24-48 hours, everyone’s gotta eat. So you tailgate the same way you would at a football game.

The main difference is that you’ve gotta know which grills you can use and which ones are off limits for the competition cook.

There are 3 rules to tailgating

  1. Feed ‘em fast
  2. Keep the food coming
  3. Think outside of the box
Tailgate Cheese Dip

Feed ‘em fast does not mean put out the celery and carrots. Come on. The folks want to chow down. Instead, pull out a cast iron pan and whip up a queso dip. You can have it ready in about 15 minutes.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Wings from Girls Can Grill

To keep the food coming, keep your coals hot. Set up one grill with direct heat, so you can grill up hot dogs and hamburgers to order. Setup another grill with indirect heat, so you can surprise the crowd with meatballs and bacon-wrapped chicken wings.

Grilled Bloomin' Onion

Whether you’re at a football game or a BBQ competition, you want your tailgate to be memorable. So surprise your guests with a few out-of-the-box ideas like grilled lamb chops, grilled wild rice kale salad or grilled bloomin’ onion.

We’ve posted even more recipes at the bottom of the page.

Join the tailgate game

If you want to tailgate with some talented barbecuers, start by contacting or even joining your local BBQ Association. I’m a member of the Nevada BBQ Association. There are plenty of teams in our group who can use a helping hand at competitions. All you have to do is offer to volunteer.

And for you ladies out there who think BBQ competitions are just for the guys, you’ll be surprised to see how many women are kicking butt at these competitions – even taking home grand champion trophies.

Tailgate Recipes

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christie vanover standing against wood wall.

Hey BBQ Family

Hi. I’m Christie, the head cook and award-winning competitive pitmaster for Team Girls Can Grill. I have won multiple grand championships and have dozens of top ten category finishes. People know me as the girl who is forever hovering over a grill, smoker or campfire with tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

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