How To Cook Competition BBQ Ribs

How To Cook Competition BBQ Ribs

How to cook Competition BBQ ribs is a skill, and as such it is something that can be learned.  As a certified KCBS and FBA BBQ Judge, I’m delighted when top quality competition ribs hit my table, and feel my heart (and stomach) sink when I see grey, charred, and greasy ribs make the scene.

Competition BBQ Ribs Demystified

I want to clear up a few things where competition the art of how to cook BBQ ribs is concerned.  Number one, ‘falling off the bone’ means that the ribs are overcooked.  A properly cooked BBQ Rib should be moist and tender yet yield just enough so that when you bite into it you see a rounded bite mark with the bone turning white almost immediately.  There should be no sooty, charred, or creosote flavor.

how to cook bbq ribs

Good BBQ Rib Turn In Box Example

bbq rib turn in box with burnt glaze or creosote

Less Than Good BBQ Rib Turn In Box Example

The ribs you grew up on are likely quite different from what you need to be competing with. When considering a judge mindset – the question of how to cook BBQ ribs comes down to the following.

The appearance of the ribs in the turn in box should be uniform – meaning the ribs should appear as though they came off the same rack – even though they very likely did not.  Straight line cuts, even bone appearance at the ends (if any) are a must, and the color should be uniform as well.  See the top example above from a photo submitted to  The rib box titled the “Less Than Good” one shows a lack of uniformity, limited to no purposeful alignment in the box, and appears to be coated in a bit of creosote or burnt (over-sugared) rub or sauce.  If presented with this 2nd example, I’d score it at about a 8 maximum on appearance, and that’s being generous. I might go to a 7 with a comment on what the cook might do to improve upon things.

How To Cook BBQ Ribs: A Note About Your Flavor Profile

Taste wise, the profile for your ribs can of course vary.  I’d say you don’t want to be too salty or too sweet, but honestly judges are going to score your taste based on their preferences.  Both KCBS and FBA judges seem to prefer ribs that aren’t too spicy or salty, and they like sweet.  Though, I’m seeing more and more judges score “over candied” or “candy bar” ribs lower these days.

I’d recommend using fruit jams or jellies and spices like clove or cinnamon sparingly. Oh, and turning in a “sauceless” or “dry” rib isn’t advised, as “naked” ribs don’t tend to fare very well.

In any case, please clean  your smoker before cooking.  I know time gets away from you if you cook competitions weeks in a row. But the cleaner your smoker is, the better your food is going to taste.  Power wash it, empty out the ash bin, etc. This helps keep any acrid or bitter taste out of your final product.

The Cut of Your Ribs

How to cut BBQ Ribs - Cadillac Cut BBQ Rib

Cadillac Cut Rib Example. Note there is a good amount of meat on both sides of the bone.

Baby back ribs are fine, as are St. Louis style (Spare Ribs).  If you do St. Louis style ribs, consider the Cadillac cut – which is when you leave a good amount of rib meat on each side of the bone.  You’ll sacrifice some ribs by going with this cut, but it gives the judges more to bite into.  The example photo above shows what this cut looks like.  Though, there’s a bit too much sauce on that rib if you ask me.

Preparing and Cooking Competition Quality BBQ Ribs

There are a few decent “How Tos” out there on prepping and cooking competition quality Ribs.  Those I’ve linked to here are ones that seem to touch on most of what I’ve seen the Pros who win do with their rib preps.  If you try any of these preparations, please leave comments on the blogs or websites to let those who have shared recipes know you appreciate them! One thing is certain, using these recipes for how to cook BBQ ribs will make you, your guests, and yes… even BBQ Judges very happy.

EAT Barbecue: Championship BBQ Rib Recipe

How to cook BBQ Ribs - BBQAddicts EAT Barbecue Championship Rib RecipeJason Day of uses the famous EAT Barbecue products on some ribs with photos and step by step action that should have you well on your way to producing competition BBQ Ribs that no judge would turn their nose up at. It’s spare ribs here, so if you’ve never cooked this cut before – you’ll love the way Jason lays it out for you.  Click here to read the post.

Baby Back Ribs – Competition-Style Recipe

The next recipe for how to cook BBQ ribs comes from the How to BBQ Right site maintained by Malcom Reed of Killer Hogs BBQ.  Malcom puts together an awesome step by step BBQ rib How To for you here, and he has a nice selection of step by step photos and extra tips (like his Secret to BBQ Ribs) that will for sure put you on the right track.

As you can see, Malcom holds very little back when he talks about how to prepare competition ribs. I really like what he says here about prepping the ribs initially and then applying smoke to the ribs…

No matter what someone tells you… always remove the membrane. It will affect your tenderness if you don’t and if you are competing, it is what the judges expect.

When you are ready to smoke the ribs, you want to get your smoker up to 225 degrees and add a few chunks of cherry wood. I normally use 4 to 5 chunks to start. You should have a light blue smoke coming from the smoker. Any more will be too harsh for the meat and produce a bitter end product. When the smoker is up to temperature, place the ribs on the racks.

He also gives some great advice about how to keep the sugar content from your sauce from getting bitter on you from too much heat application. Click here to read his full rib prep post.

Competition Ribs and 3-2-1 Method

Back in 2012, BBQ enthusiast and pitmaster Arthur Aguirre posted what consistently ranks among the tops for posts on how to cook BBQ ribs. As you will see when you visit his post, he lays out the process for cooking BBQ ribs in true step-by-step fashion. Truth be told folks, if you’re just starting out on the competition BBQ circuit and have not tried this method of BBQ rib preparation, I’d highly recommend you give it a go.

How to cook BBQ ribs
Arthur isn’t sharing his exact competition BBQ ribs process here, but he does give you the 3-2-1 method basics that comprises a large part of what he does with his comp ribs. Here’s how he explains it:

To be honest, my ribs are not easy to make. At competitions, the ribs I smoke are made to be very rich, extremely sweet and tender…but not falling off the bone. Competition ribs are not what I grill for my family and friends in my backyard. Heck, I don’t make them this way for myself. My backyard ribs are slightly easier, but constant observation of the meat and the cooker is required because my cookers are not expensive insulated grills.

However, there is one thing that my backyard ribs and competition ribs have in common…the 3-2-1 method. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the 3-2-1 method because it works for me and I’ve been consistent with this technique.

Pay special attention to what he says about the “competition wrap.” It’s something you’ll want to be sure and incorporate into your own rib process. You can read Arthur’s full post here.

I hope you find value in what you see in this post on how to cook competition style BBQ ribs. If so, please leave a comment or share this post on whatever social networks you frequent!


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