4 Great American Barbecue Competitions

By: Joshua Rooks

As I sat at my desk writing, I began to think about competition barbecue and its effect on barbecue overall. Competition does a great service to the barbecue community. It serves as a proving ground for greatness. One can’t simply walk up to the judges and hand them a dish that wasn’t carefully planned, crafted, and meticulously prepared. This is serious business.  


Competition barbecue also promotes the best of the best. These flavors will rise to the top, the winners gain heavy notoriety and these great flavors are sampled and replicated throughout the US and greater barbecue community in the world. In other words, great flavor is forged by the winners who share their victorious delicacies with the taste buds of the planet.  


It is for this reason that I have compiled a short list of arguably the greatest American barbecue competitions you can find. For one reason or another, these competitions have made this list and they each bring a special quality to the table. Check it out and if you’re ever in their vicinity, you will not regret stopping by for either a view, or a taste.  


Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Competition 


Amateurs need not apply. This competition is invitation only. You must place well in state, national, and international contests before you can prove you’re the best at The Jack. Every year, the Jack Daniel’s company hosts a barbecue competition at their home base in Lynchburg, VA. The cream of the barbecue crop gathers to prepare their signature dishes. This year (2017), Rocky Top Barbecue from Jonesborough, TN took the grand prize of $10,000. Next year, it could be another crew.  


Did I mention that The Jack is an international competition? Regardless of who wins, Jack Daniel’s provides a platform for the greatest pitmasters to compete against their peers and finally settle who reigns supreme in what some consider the most prestigious barbecue competition on planet earth.  


American Royal World Series of Barbecue 


Located in Kansas City, MO, the American Royal competition is billed as the largest barbecue competition in the world. 500 teams compete every year for a grand prize of $300,000. That’s one heck of an award! There’s an open competition and an invitation only competition, so even if you’re a competitive greenhorn, you can wet your feet here.  


The American Royal World Series is also a barbecue festival which means it’s open to the public. Make sure to check the schedules though, as there may be certain events that are for competitors only. However, this is a great destination for tourists and competitors alike and ensures that no matter who you are, there will always be fun and exciting things to do at this mecca for pitmasters.  


Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 


Logically located in Houston, TX, this livestock show and rodeo has more than just spurs and hooves. The weekend before the riders roll, there’s a world-class barbecue competition taking place. This competition is generally invitation-only and those that run it take their business very seriously. You’ve got to qualify before you can get yourself a bona fide competition tent. You’ll be facing some of the toughest competitors this side of the Mississippi, so bring your “A” game.  


If you’re not in the competition, things are bit more limited, but there’s still plenty to do. The competitor’s tents are private and access to them is only allowed via private tent passes that the competitors hand out personally. These tickets are different than the general admission “grounds” tickets that allow you access to the carnival, the Rockin’ Bar-B-Que Saloon, Chuck Wagon (with complimentary beef brisket sandwich), and Garden live entertainment stage.  


Memphis In May 


Every May, intense Barbecue action can be found in Memphis, TN in the form of the Memphis in May Barbecue Competition. This is not strictly a competition as there is a festival involved, but you will not be able to walk up to competitors and ask for a sample. In order to get a taste for what they’re serving to the judges, you must buy a “Tour of Champions” ticket from the festival.  


However, there are always independent barbecue vendors both local and from abroad who are selling their own Que. There’s also music, vendors, and other events happening throughout the competition that the general public can enjoy. You have to buy a ticket to enter the park, but once inside, you’ll find no shortage of things to do, including a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Mississippi river, where this festival is located.  


If you’re a competitor with a family, this is a great place to both compete and have a good time.  


And there you have it! Trust me, there are many more competitions out there, but these are some of the largest and most heralded barbecue competitions in the world. Whether you’re a tourist, or an aspiring trophy-holder, this list will start you down the road to barbecue bliss. 

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