By Christie Vanover | Published October 10, 2016 | Last Updated February 6, 2023
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.
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. 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
- Feed ‘em fast
- Keep the food coming
- Think outside of the box
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 cheese dip. You can have it ready in about 15 minutes.
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.
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.
Smoked Bratwursts with Beer-Braised Cabbage and OnionsEvery tailgate party needs a cooker full of smoked bratwursts. These are made even better with smoked beer-braised cabbage and onions.
Perfectly Smoked Chicken WingsThis smoked chicken wing recipe makes wings that are juicy and smoky inside with wonderful crispy skin that we call crave.
Smoked Mac and Cheese on a Ninja GrillThis is the easiest way ever to make smoked mac and cheese on a Ninja Grill, because you don’t have to make the cheese sauce in advanced.
Crispy Chicken Wings in a Ninja GrillThe perfect temperature and time settings to create crispy chicken wings in a Ninja Grill. The recipe only needs 3 ingredients.
Grilled Street Corn Dip (Elote Dip)If you’re looking for a hot, creamy dip, this Mexican street corn dip is the perfect appetizer for your next party or potluck.
Loaded Baked Potato on a GrillNext time you smoke brisket or pulled pork or make a side of mac and cheese, save some in the freezer, so you can make loaded baked potatoes.
Inside out jalapeno poppers are like traditional jalapeno poppers but the bacon is on the inside surrounded by a crispy cheese shell.
Groark Boys BBQ Smoked Mac and CheeseGroark Boys BBQ makes a smoked mac and cheese that’s so good, it went viral. It’s so creamy and cheesy and impossible to mess up.
Chorizo Hot Maple Grilled Sweet PotatoesMake grilled sweet potatoes straight on the coals and finish them with caramelized chorizo and a drizzle of hot maple syrup.
Grilled Walking Taco Foil PacketsMake your backyard cookouts more experiential by offering a walking taco bar, using a variety of lean proteins, chips and foil packets.
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