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How To Cook Competition BBQ Pork Butt


Thanks for checking out this post on How to Cook Competition BBQ Pork Butt. If you’re here, it’s likely because you’re either completely new to competition BBQ and are looking for more walks in the pork category. Or, perhaps your first walk! If you’ve been reading up on the subject of cooking competition BBQ pork butt for a while now, you may also be looking to modify your current pork program. In either case, I hope this post serves you well!

I started planning out this post on how to cook competition BBQ pork butt some time ago. As you know, I favor long and informative posts over short shots that don’t really get into the meat of things. As such,  you’ll find a ton of info here on cooking competition pork, and I hope you’ll share this post out with others who are also looking for this info!

How To Cook Competition BBQ Pork – The Sweet Smoke Preparation Method

I learned a long time ago that when you want to know how the pros in any field get something done, there’s only one way to find out… you ask them! Here in Florida, one of the professional BBQ teams that’s been firing on all cylinders now for some time is the Sweet Smoke Q team led by pitmaster Jim Elser.

Sweet Smoke Q Cook School Lead

Jim is an engineer by trade, and his methods for preparing award winning competition BBQ show it. How good is he? Good enough to take the 1st place in the 2014 Florida Bar-B-Que Association Team of the Year contest – which is something akin to the NASCAR Cup Challenge of BBQ. Given that we have a ton of high power teams here  – including Swamp Boys BBQ, Hot Wachula’s, Big Papa’s County Kitchen, Team Unknown, Git-R-Smoked, Whiskey Bent BBQ, Hogs Gone Wild, to name a few – Jim really showed how its done by taking first place honors by 44 points over Matt Barber and Hot Wachula’s. (Matt won it last year just so you know!)

Given all this, pork and pork is a category Jim does particularly well in… actually competition BBQ ribs and pork are among his two best categories. So it made sense to ask him to allow me to video some of his competition pork butt prep process. Being the good guy he is, Jim agreed, and what you see in the video below comes direct from the most recent Sweet Smoke Q Competition BBQ Cooking Class held here in Central Florida. You can learn more about the class here.

Be Sure To Have a Sharp Knife and a Clean Prep Surface!

A few things to note from what Jim shares above. One, he’s using a basic yet very reliable J.A. Henckel knife, which you can find here in a variety of sizes. You’ll also want to be sure your knife stays as sharp as Jim’s. I know he uses a Smith’s Sharpening Steel that he absolutely loves, which you can find  here at a great price.

Lastly, it’s all about keeping the surface area clean, and what’s better than those Smoky Mountain Disposable Cutting Boards from Big Poppa Smokers? You can find the cutting boards Jim uses in the video right here, and there’s a ton of other cool BBQ stuff to check out at the BPS store!

Secret Ingredient ALERT!!!!

And of course, you should get over the the Sweet Smoke Q website store to pick up some of Jim’s GRAND CHAMPION approved Sweet Smoke Q Juice for Pork! This stuff is MONEY in terms of injection, and it comes pre-mixed in liquid form, so you can just grab it and go!

Some Other “Go To” Competition BBQ Pork Resources

I’m sure you agree that what Jim shows in the video above is pretty good stuff for allowing me to bring it to you here for free. Imagine what you’d learn in his class! Again, if you can catch one, it’s worth it. This past weekend, a few of his students scored their first walks and one broke the seal on their very first Grand Championship in the backyard category… in just  a matter of weeks after taking the class. Boom.

All this said, you can never have too many resources on how to cook competition BBQ pork available in one spot. As such, I’ve accumulated a few here that I and my BBQ friends consider among the very best. I hope you agree.

FEC100- Cookshack’s Competition Pork Butt

The folks at Cookshack put this video together. You’ll notice it features Butcher BBQ’s Pork Injection (see below), with a little variation as to how they mix it up. Note the trimming portion and how it’s a little bit like what we see Jim doing in his video above. So, don’t be afraid to carve up the butt some before cooking. You know what you’re looking for, so why cook what’s unwanted?  Oh, and if you’re not familiar with the FEC100 Pellet Smoker, you can check out my review here.

Competition BBQ Pork Butt Injection with the Chops Power Injector

One of our site sponsors here is Dan “Chop” Ulledahl, and his Chop’s Power Injector is something to behold. If you ever find yourself prepping multiple pork butts for catering, a family reunion, a competition, or whatever – this bad boy is for you! Chris Chadwick of Hawg County Cookers and BBQ Pitmasters fame puts this beast to the test in the following video as he pumps up a few 8+ pound pork butts.

Did I tell you? One heck of an injector indeed! Word of advice, you’ll still want to briefly hold a palm over the injection holes just after filling up that portion of the butt so that you keep as much of the liquid inside the pork butt as possible.

How to Cook Competition BBQ Pork Butts – Malcom Reed of HowToBBQRight.com

I’ve said it many times here on the BBQBeat.com that Malcom Reed is hands down one of the most valuable sources of how to BBQ like a true pro information out there. If you’ve seen his videos, you’re in for a real treat. He puts it all out there in terms of what you need to know in order to up your game. This pork video is no exception, as anyone looking for info regarding cooking competition BBQ pork butt will learn a HOG TON.

In this video, Malcom uses some pork steaks cut from a Boston Butt to really show some of the muscle anatomy you must understand when working with competition BBQ pork.


How To Cook Competition BBQ Pork Tips from the Pros

Matt Barber
Hot Wachula’s – Lakeland, FL

Hot Wachulas BBQ

Hot Wachulas BBQ

As the 2013 Florida Bar-B-Que Association Team of the Year and runner up in 2014, Matt Barber of Hot Wachula’s knows a thing or two about producing winning competition BBQ pork entries. His take on getting your competition pork scores to where you want them is “Don’t just put the meat in the turn in box. Inspect it, feel it, taste it. If it’s not perfect, don’t use it. Pork is more about cooking it to perfection. You have to feel like you really nailed it. Rubs and sauces are secondary.”

Whiskey Bent BBQ

Whiskey Bent BBQ

Chad Ward
Whiskey Bent BBQ – Lakeland, FL 

You’ve likely seen Chad Ward of Whiskey Bent BBQ on TV over the past few years, either on shows like Chopped or hanging with Danielle Dimovski on her  ever popular BBQ Crawl show. I asked him what he felt is most important for cooking competition BBQ pork to award winning standards. Here’s his reply: “Monitoring the temperature down to the degree. We have a probe in every money muscle at ever contest, so there is no chance of our pork overcooking by even a single degree. We cook two pork butts for chunks and two for money muscle in FBA cooks. For KCBS, we use one for each.”

Cooking Competition BBQ Pork Butt – Injections

Purists among BBQ Pork lovers will tell you that the perfect BBQ pork butt consists of a hunk of good quality swine, some salt and pepper, wood, smoke, and time. This may be true for down home backyard eating, but when judges are concerned – you want to be sure you get some extra flavor involved. What this means more often than not is that aside from applying a nice flavored rub on the outside of your competition BBQ pork butt, you want to be sure and inject a flavorful liquid blend into the pork butt itself.

There are a million different competition BBQ pork injection recipes out there – some more bold than others, some lighter in color than others. In any case, injection is a fine art – as you want to walk the line between imparting good flavor and overdoing it or even staining your product.

Check out this short video from Destination America’s BBQ Pit Wars:

So, which competition BBQ pork butt injections are best and which injections score best with judges? I’m surely not going to profess that my take on this subject is the end all be all. I can only share here what I’ve experienced as a KCBS and FBA judge and have heard from my good friends who are among some of the most well known and well respected competition BBQ pitmasters around. The following is a list of what I know they’re using, along with resources that might help you get a better feel for how to use some of these products:

Winning Competition BBQ Pork Injections

Malcom Reed’s Competition BBQ Pork Butt Injection

Malcom Reed Competition BBQ Pork Butt Injection

At the risk of going back to the well once too often, I have to point you to Malcom Reed and his How To BBQ Right site. This one single post on cooking competition BBQ pork butts is perhaps one of the best out there in terms of getting a newbie or even a seasoned pro on track (or back on track). Here’s what Malcom shares on his site:

I always inject pork butts. This helps get moisture and flavor on the inside of the meat that Dry Rub alone cannot accomplish. You can get a cheap injector at the grocery store and it will get the job done.

Malcom uses a mixture of:

  • 1 cup Apple Juice
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Salt
  • 1 TBS Soy Sauce
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire Sauce

This injection is enough to use for two 8-10lb Boston butts.  Please visit the How to BBQ Right site for further instructions on how to use this injection.

You’ll notice that apple juice or sometimes other clear and lightly flavored juices are part of these injections. Note here that Malcom cuts his with water and then bumps up the flavor profile with Brown Sugar. I know other pitmasters who prefer granulated cane sugar to brown sugar, as it imparts a lighter sweetness profile than the molasses edge you get sometimes with brown sugar. I like the addition of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce here as it emboldens the finished product a bit. I know the pure taste of traditionally smoked pork with simple salt and pepper is a blessed thing…. but I just enjoy a little punch of flavor! Can’t help it… and I think you’ll find other judges feel the same way.

Jim Elser’s Sweet Smoke Q Juice Pork Injection

Click for Larger Image

Making your own injection is a great idea, and it’s nice if you find a mix that “hits” with judges. However, for those just starting out, going with a commercially available injection is a great idea. They’re typically proven winners, and you can count on them being consistent each time you use them.

For commercially available competition BBQ pork injections, it’s tough to beat Sweet Smoke Q’s “Q Juice” Pork Injection, made by Jim Elser. The man knows how to win with competition BBQ pork.

Last year, Jim won the Florida Bar-B-Que Association team of the year competition, with ribs and pork as his top two categories. Of these two, pork is where Sweet Smoke Q really stood out – winning that category by 32 points. Hands down, Jim is one of the best BBQ pitmasters I know. The bulk of his cooking process is done using a couple of the custom Juice Can Drum Smokers Jim builds and sells to others. These smokers are amazing pieces of BBQ technology. That said, Sweet Smoke Q Juice for pork has and continues to play a key role in the success Jim’s had over the years cooking competition BBQ pork.  Be sure to click the image above to get a feel for what’s in it and how you should mix it. Since it comes as a liquid, it’s very easy to work with. No powdery residue or clumps to contend with. I’m not sponsored by Jim, nor do I receive anything for asking you to head over to the Sweet Smoke Q site to grab some of this injection.

Other Notable Competition BBQ Pork Injections

Butcher BBQ and Kosmo's Q Pork Injections

Two of the more commonly used and widely successful injections to help you cook competition BBQ pork are ones used by a ton of Pro teams out there – they are:

Both of these injections come in powdered form, with a very fine grain powder composition. Instructions for mixing them up come written on the packages, but the key with both of these injections is to be absolutely sure that they’ve dissolved fully before using them. Some people go as far as to mix them up and let them sit 24 hours in the fridge – giving them a final mix/shake up before use. In any case – the list of people who are winning out there currently with these two injections is too long to include here – so you really can’t go wrong with either.

How To Cook Competition BBQ Pork – The Turn In

Getting your competition BBQ pork entry cooked to perfection is of course your biggest task, as you’ve spent a great deal of money, time, and effort to perfect your culinary BBQ skills. This said, you need to get your pork box configured in such a way that it will wow the judges visually and set the impression that they want to devour what you’ve put in front of them.

Understand that the turn in box (whether we’re talking KCBS, FBA, or any other competition sanctioning body) is both about appearance and morsel selection. A few things to note, some of which you’ve already read from the pros above.  One, don’t put it in the box if it isn’t perfect. Some things you might have to just go with. I mean, I’ve seen chicken entries with no skin, because they just got a bit hot and the skin fouled up a bit.(excuse the pun). Saving this type of major malfunction, and even when those happen – you need to be extremely picky and selective about what goes in your competition BBQ pork turn in box.

Some Competition BBQ Pork Turn In Box Examples

Pictures really help tell the story of what a good vs. not so good competition BBQ pork turn in box looks like. Herb over at BBQCRITIC.COM has kindly allowed me to use a few of the photo submissions turned in there for the purposes of illustrating good, better best where pork boxes are concerned. If you’ve not visited Herb’s BBQCRITIC.COM site, please do check it out. He does amazing work there! A newbie BBQ Pitmaster’s dream for seeing who’s turning in what! OK. Now for the pork boxes…  Note, boxes are labeled A-F. Let’s take a look:

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Box A – UM…. No. 

Box A above simply does not look appetizing in any way. Lack of garnish isn’t the problem. I’ve seen amazing FBA competition BBQ pork turn in boxes and we don’t allow garnish of any kind. This submission is just grey, pallid, flat, and dull looking. By selecting to submit this one central lump of pulled pork, the pitmaster is demonstrating little to no understanding of the different parts of the pork butt and how they can and should be handled. I’m not saying that each muscle portion should be submitted, but I do feel that a target number of three (3) provides a nice even balance: Money Muscle, Horn Chunks, and Pulled to be specific. Yes, those are my preferences. Others may disagree. I generally think that you need to be a real wizard to successfully pull off tubes, as they tend to dry out on you much like chicken breast pieces in a chicken turn in box might.

Box B – Sliced Version of Box A? 

I’m not opposed to slices in a turn in box. In fact, I’ve scored some quite high in the past due to amazing taste and texture. The ones in Box B however are not visually appealing, and they scream “oh man, I’m gonna need lots of water to get these down.” By this I mean that there is a grainy and very dry appearance to the meat. It looks like there’s some bark on top of the slices, but the way they are positioned in the box pretty much negates any visual appeal this might offer. The pitmaster could have made these slices a bit more appealing by not only placing them differently, but also brushing on some sauce. Note that I did not say “pouring on” some sauce. There’s nothing worse than getting a pork box like this where the pitmaster has decided to ‘moisten up’ the deal by glopping on something akin to bad store bought sauce from the bottle. In the best of all possible “Dear Lord save these slices” moves, one might rest them in a sauce pan of medium to thin BBQ sauce  – maybe a blend of original Blues Hog and Blues Hog Tennessee Red  – prior to boxing.

Box C – Pulled, Horn Chunks, and a Row of Money Muscle… Nice

OK. Now we’re getting somewhere. Box C presents nicely with a copious amount of pork served up in three different muscle groupings. Yes, I know pulled can come from various muscle groups, but you get what I mean. Think “Pork 3 Ways,” and that’s what I mean. Yes, that’s it… it’s the treatment I’m focusing on here. You want to make the judge feel like she or he is about to be treated to three deliciously different portions of lovely tasty pork goodness, and I think this pitmaster achieves this aim nicely. My only concern – and I realize I may be nitpicking here – is that the pulled pork appears as if it might be prone to drying out a little. This is a danger when teams use tubes (see Malcom Reed’s video above) …. or worse, when they pull tubes apart into shoestrings. Oh man, in nearly every case, this is like eating pork jerky.

The Money Muscle portion on the right promises some juicy pork meat, with absolutely zero fat, amazingly tasty bark, and an all around well seasoned and tender treat. I’d liken good money muscle slices to perfect brisket burnt ends. At least I look forward to them in the same manner. This said, if your money muscle goes mushy on you even a little… or is even a touch chewy…. leave it out and opt for other treatments.  Many pitmasters cook 4 butts, just to have a go at 2 money muscles that will hopefully render one good one. Get two good ones and… well…. that’s just a bonus!

The horn chunks, at least these look like horn chunks, come from the part of the butt you saw Jim Elser trimming up nicely in his video above. Watch it again if you missed that part. These offer up a more moist and bark-laden version of the tubes you might be tempted to turn in. Again, tubes ain’t bad – but they better be damn moist and tasty. I have seen thicker tasty tubes cut into one inch logs and stood up on end and sauced lightly – guess you could go that way.

Box D – Nice 3 Way You Got There…

Like Box C, Box D’s pitmaster shows an understanding of the different ways you can treat and present the intramuscular attributes of a competition BBQ pork butt. (Sorry, putting down the thesaurus now.) The pulled pieces look nice with a light sauce treatment, as do the money muscle slices. Notice that the pulled pieces aren’t shredded to hell. You don’t need to serve up tuna-fish shredded pork, folks. Lastly, it appears they’ve opted to use tubes in front, cut into inch long pieces. I imagine these pieces sat in a little sauce bath before being put into the box, but could be wrong. If they’re tender and tasty – this bold move most likely paid off in a great score!

Box E – Oh Yes… I Did Order the Moist Mahogany Awesomeness Platter

Man, hard to know where to start on this entry. It’s a feast for the eyes! I love the mahogany to cherry color tones you see in the bark and also in the meat. No gray slabs of mystery meat here, folks. No sir! I like that the money muscle is presented at that diagonal across the center of the box. Diagonals are very strong visually, so it says focus on these bad boys, judges! It seems that there’s really only one other treatment of the pork here, though – as the pulled in the front looks a lot like the pulled in the back. Also, if I had one thing to maybe ding this entry on it would be that the sauce appears to be put on a little to heavily. Maybe thin it up a bit so that the fibers of meat really shine through and don’t have any globs on them. (Not referring to the background, as this was clearly taken in the prep tent/trailer – so no foul there!)

Box F – Money Muscle Flanked By Tubes and Horn Chunks, HUAH! 

This box means business, and looks nice and full. Tons of meat means it’s all good up in here bruh…. or at least it better be. A bit heavy handed on the sauce boss…. but these pieces look like they’re all ready to offer up some goodness. I might not have left as much green on each side of the box, just makes the framing look weird. A 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch of green all around would make for a stronger more unified presentation. Man, but I bet this box gave it’s table captain some back pain! Don’t worry… just the brisket entry left! All in all, with three clear treatments of the meat, I think this box stands a chance of doing well.

Enjoy This Post on How To Cook Competition BBQ Pork Butt?

I hope you’ve found this post useful as a resource for improving or modifying the way you cook competition BBQ pork butt. Remember that judges’ preferences for what you’re turning in are always going to have some level of subjectivity involved. However, I guarantee you that if you follow some of the tips you see here, you’ll be in the ball park of improving your pork scores. If you’re in need of a good BBQ class, please visit my BBQ Classes Page to see if there’s something there that might help you out!

Oh, if you have found this post useful, please share it with a friend using the social media sharing buttons here, and feel free to comment as well! :)