My First BBQ Contest: Battle of the BBQ Brethren

September 20, 2013

Yesterday, I shared 10 tips for cooking competition ribs and today, I turn to my good friend and protégé Josh Bousel of for an an account of his first contest.

competition ribs ready for the turn in box

Ever since my first visit to a barbecue competition I’ve been thinking about jumping into the game. Joining into a strong community of people who share a similar passion seems like a logical step to take my cooking from the backyard to the next level. Although the basics of cooking in a competition are the same as I’m already doing—rubbed, cooked low-and-slow, then sauced—there are techniques and flavor profiles that set apart award-winning ‘cue from what you find in a backyard or at a restaurant. I admittedly know little about this side of barbecue, so I was grateful and excited when Clint Cantwell, the pitmaster behind Smoke in Da Eye, let me join him for a day of cooking at the Battle of the BBQ Brethren, a sanctioned event out on the Island in Manorville, New York.

customized grill grate for team Smoke in Da Eye

I first met Clint back at Grillin’ on the Bay in March and quickly found him to be one of the most welcoming and easiest pitmasters to talk to—it helped that we have common interest in blogging and he’s also the editor at Kingsford’s I was already familiar with Smoke in Da Eye due to this winning team’s heavy media coverage everywhere from CNN, to Fox 5, to Serious Eats, but I was happy to finally meet the man in person. As I got out of house more and to barbecue events around New York, I’ve been seeing the same faces again and again, with Clint being one of them, so I felt no hesitation in answering a call he made for a little help at Battle of the BBQ Brethren.

smoker decoration at Battle of the BBQ Brethren

This particular competition is two days, with a New England Barbecue Society sanctioned grilling component on Saturday and the KCBS barbecue competition on Sunday, for which I volunteered to help out Clint.

On the train that Sunday I was lamenting my choice of day a bit as I sped through southern Long Island towns, not seeing much out of the window due to the heavy rains limiting visibility. Arriving in Speonk right in the middle of a downpour, I caught a cab to Manor, arriving at the muddy, tent filled site around 10am.

how to prep a turn in box

With Saturday night at his disposal, Clint already had most of the meat prepped and smoking by the time I showed up, including all boxes filled with lettuce and holding beers (some that I later drank) to imprint the space that the meat would later fill.

crisping chicken thighs on the grill before turn in

The first turn in was chicken at 12pm. This was the calm before the storm as the first hour and half was spent lazily checking brisket temps, watching ribs, and waiting for the chicken to slowly cook. It wasn’t until the last 15 minutes prior to turn in that things started to amp up with a sudden turn to the hectic as the chicken needed to be quickly grilled to give the skin a slight crisp and color.

turn in box of chicken thighs at Battle of the BBQ Brethren

In the 5 minutes before noon, Clint picked the most consistent pieces of chicken, dapped them with a little sauce, and artfully arranged them in the box. While he wasn’t happy with the state of the chicken skin, the thighs I ate while he was out on box delivery were filled with a sweet and tangy flavor, and me and my fellow teammates nearly finished them all off.

Clint Cantwell saucing ribs at Battle of the BBQ Brethren

Eating had to be done fast as the next turn-in, ribs, came only 30 minutes later. When we first pulled the ribs from the smoker, we all knew these were going to be killer—they had just the right bend and picture-perfect bark. With a little finishing sauce done on grill, they were ready to be boxed.

turn in box of ribs at Battle of the BBQ Brethren

Like the chicken, Clint picked the best looking of the bunch—12 ribs out of 48—boxed them and gave them a final touch-up. Judging by looks, we all felt that we had a true winner on our hands, a sentiment that was only further solidified once we dug into the remaining racks. The ribs were cooked perfectly and had sweet finish with just a little spice that gave a balance to the sugars in the rub.

Want to read the rest of the story? Click here to find out how the team did that day!


Related Topics: Barbecue Competition | Battle Of The Bbq Brethren | Brisket | Chicken | Clint Cantwell | Competing | Competition Barbecue | Editor's Picks | Josh Bousel | Long Island | | Pulled Pork | Ribs | Turn In Box

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