By Christie Vanover | Published February 26, 2020 | Last Updated February 22, 2023
Here are a few power options for your next barbecue competition, so you can have dependable electricity for pellet grills, chargers and coffee pots.
There is a great debate about whether true barbecue requires electricity. Die hards will tell you that real pitmasters don’t need power.
But in today’s digital age, we all depend on power, even at a barbecue competition. Some need electricity to run their pellet grills or pit temperature control fans, while others may want power just so they can charge their phones or turn on some lights when they fire up their pits in the middle of the night.
Before your roll out to a barbecue competition, it’s important to plan ahead when it comes to electricity.
Will power be provided at a comp?
At most sanctioned-contests, power is now pretty standard. Sometimes it’s included in the registration fee, and sometimes it costs extra.
But just because power is provided, doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan.
Some competitions are so squared away that they have permanent power boxes on location that you can plug right into. But for the most part, event coordinators are bringing in large generators with spider boxes spread out throughout the comp area.
You never know how far away the spider box will be, so you should always bring a 100-foot-long extension cord. Once it’s plugged in, add on a surge protector, as well. There are a lot of people plugging a lot of random things into these generators. I’ve seen an electric surge wipe out the motherboard of a pellet grill at a comp, leaving a team unable to compete.
Even when power has been provided, I’ve been at a comp where it was completely useless. The coordinator brought in two generators for 15 teams and each generator had 2-3 available outlets. You can do the math to see that didn’t work.
So even when power is provided, it’s best to bring a backup.
Should I buy a generator?
If you plan to do a lot of competitions and you need a lot of power, a generator is a great option.
But please don’t be that guy (or gal) who brings along a construction-grade generator from Harbor Freight that is noisy AF. Teams barely get any sleep on competition nights. We don’t need your generator making the night even longer.
There are some great reduced-noise generators out there.
Before choosing one, you’ll need to figure out how much power you’ll need. If you’re cooking on a pellet grill, you’ll need a few hundred watts of power per grill. Something small like a 2,000-watt generator will work. They cost around $800.
With this size generator, you’ll also be able to charge your phone, run a pit temperature control fan, and add LED lights under your tent.
If you plan to be bring a coffee maker or you have a trailer with an air-conditioning unit, you’re going to want to upgrade to a larger generator. Personally, I use the Generac iQ3500. It can power my AC, refrigerator, coffee pot, lights and chargers all at once. And it’s super quiet. It’ll run you around $1,500.
Generators can be quite heavy, so I mounted mine to a furniture dolly, so I can roll it in and out of the trailer. Don’t forget to pack fuel for the generator, as well.
Is there a cheaper power option?
If $800 is a little too pricey for you or you really don’t need that much extra power, you should consider setting up a battery with an inverter. I learned this trick from Chef Phillip Dell from the BBQ Asylum.
While you could probably go with a cheap car battery, I found that the Optima blue-top Marina Battery was the most dependable at holding steady during a long cook.
You simply take the battery and connect it to an inverter to convert the 12-volt DC power to 120-volt AC power. However, not all inverters are created equal. Just as you needed to figure out wattage needs for the generator, you’ll need to do the same for your inverter.
If you’re just powering a couple pellet grills, I recommend going with a 750-1,000-watt inverter.
Connect the black cable ring terminal on the inverter to the black converter post on the battery. Then connect the red terminal to the red post. Flip the switch to on, and now you have your own power outlets.
Some inverters even come with DC plugs, so you can use your car battery instead of hauling along a separate marine battery. But I wouldn’t recommend that route, because you could drain your battery.
The last thing you’ll need with this setup is a battery charger. After each comp, you’ll want to charge your battery to make sure it’s ready for your next cook.
All in all, this setup will run you about $400, if you buy a quality battery and inverter. You can jerry rig a similar, cheaper battery setup, but I don’t recommend cutting corners when it comes to electricity.
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