Your list may change a little from competition to competition, especially if you’re doing people’s choice or ancillary contests, but these are the key essentials that I bring every time. The list is long, but worth it.
I like to break my list into six components: grill area, prep area, ingredients, health & fire, comfort zone and personal items.
Get yourself some tubs and load everything into the tubs, so they’re ready to go for every comp.
Grill Area Checklist
Obviously, none of this would be possible without grills, so let’s just start there.
I’ve tried quite a few different cookers at competitions. In the beginning, I was using the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) and the Barrel House Cooker (BHC). These were less than $500 and turned out great boxes.
My buddy Michael Radosevich over at Code 3 Spices gave me an awesome tip when I was first starting out. He said, “If you can afford it, get a cooker for each meat.”
While I started with two cookers, I now use three, and I’ve upgraded to Hunsaker drums.
I thought about getting four, but I found if I start with brisket, pork and ribs, when the pork comes off, I can add the chicken.
Other items needed at the grill area include your charcoal or pellets, along with wood chunks, a charcoal chimney, lighter and lighter cubes.
If you’re using pellet grills or heat controllers to maintain temp, consider how you’re going to get power. If the site provides it, bring a really long extension cord, just in case the generator box isn’t close (this has happened to me).
Also consider a backup power source. Those communal generators have been known to trip in the middle of the night. I have another whole post discussing power options.
This is going to be your longest list. You can maybe work with less, but as my Pops always says, “Better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.”
You’ll obviously need a table. I recommend two. The six-foot plastic folding table works great. Most pitmasters like to raise them to save their backs.
To do this, just buy some PVC pipe that is wider than the legs. Slide the pipe over the legs. Figure out how high you want the table, and saw the pipe at that point. Cut 3 more pipes the same size.
You’ll definitely need your knives, cutting boards (go disposable), foil, aluminum pans and all the other odds and ends that help you create your winning recipes.
If you see something on my list and you wonder what it’s for, just comment below, and I’ll explain what it’s used for.
This list may seem obvious, but write your ingredients down anyway. I’ve seen lots of teams forget ingredients.
Think about what you need for each meat. This will usually include the meat, brines, injections, rubs, mops, sugar, honey, butter, finishing dust, sauce and garnish.
And don’t forget your recipes and timelines.
Health + Fire Checklist
Health and fire codes are different across the country. Some states are really strict, while others are more lax. Some only care about health standards if you’re serving People’s Choice – sorry judges.
I just go ahead and practice proper health and safety codes no matter how lax the standards.
This includes having a 3-bin sink. One bin will need bleach water, one will need soapy water and the last will need clean, fresh water. I talk more about this in my Health and Fire Requirements post.
If you don’t have an actual sink, you can just use plastic tubs.
You also need a way to wash your hands with soap and warm water. I used to use a cheap 5-gallon container I picked up on Amazon. Eventually, I upgraded to a Cambro and then a trailer with a sink.
With the first two types of containers, the water drips onto the ground, so grab one of those plastic Home Depot buckets to catch the water.
And always have lots of towels and paper towels on hand, along with some anti-bacterial wipes.
For fire code, get a 5-pound ABC fire extinguisher, and make sure to have it inspected annually.
Lastly, you’ll need to keep that meat at the appropriate temp. Get a good cooler and place a thermometer inside to make sure it stays below 40F degrees.
Once your meat is cooked, you’ll need to keep it above 140F degrees. You can use an empty cooler or Cambro for this. Place another thermometer inside.
Comfort Zone Checklist
Hopefully, you’re going through all of this because it’s fun. It’ll be even more fun, if you’re comfortable.
Unless you’re staying in a nearby hotel or you have a trailer, plan to spend the night outside by your pits. The most comfortable way to do this is in a gravity chair.
If it’s cold, don’t forget a space heater and blanket. If it’s hot and humid, consider getting a fan.
A tent will help keep you shaded, and if you get a tent with walls, you can also give yourself a little privacy.
Don’t forget that extra cooler for some beer, wine or whisky.
A cheap TV tray works well for holding that drink and your Bluetooth speaker for some high-energy tunes.
Personal Items Checklist
If you’re still with me, you’ve got what it takes to compete.
The last stuff you’ll want to think about are just your clothes and toiletries. A few wet naps will be good enough for a pit-side bath. Don’t forget that toothbrush and phone chargers