You are ready to strike out and get competitive by joining the BBQ competition circuit; your friends and family have raved all the time about how good your barbecue tastes. Kudos! By all means give it a try, we love seeing folks push the envelope of their barbecue journey. This article is dedicated to equipping you with all the tools, bbq accessories, and gadgets you’ll need to stake your claim in the world of competitive barbecue and cookoffs. You never know, perhaps you’ll find yourself atop the leaderboard of the best pitmasters in the country.
We are going to cover two different aspects of your preparation process. The first is more academic, but extremely important. Required – as in by public health officials and competition organizers, not our opinion – health and safety equipment. The second is or list of recommendations for the top ten must have items to make your experience fun and successful.
This is not simply don’t burn yourself. Remember, you are preparing food that will be eaten by strangers, the judges, and perhaps more folks depending on the format. You now have most of the same requirements on your shoulders as a restaurant operator. From food safety to hygiene, there are rules, and to meet them you need certain items. Here you go in smaller categories.
- Paper Towels / Clean rags
- Warm water spigot
- Hand soap
- Gray water drain bucket
- Disposable paper towels
- Lined garbage can
Surfaces need to be kept clean. A ratio of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water gives you the disinfecting solution approved by most health departments. This is used after actual cleaning as a sanitizing wipe that does not leave any residual chlorine after evaporation.
The next items are your homemade handwash station. Use a large thermal type water dispenser as your water source, positioned over an empty bucket for the waste water. Disposable paper towels for drying off and a place to throw them away complete this important aspect of cleanliness.
Dish washing; you can set up a health approved washing station, although this can be a lot more problematic. Some competitions will have a communal location for washing dishes. Many competitors will also line all pans and such with foil or parchment for easier clean up.
Piercing digital thermometer
One word: temperature. Food safety dictates no more than 4 hours in the danger zone of 40 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The only way to know this is with a thermometer. The sensors are in the typically narrow portion of the barrel of the thermometer. You need one long enough to reach the center of the food item in question. Quick read digital thermometers are the preferred device based on accuracy and speed of information.
Don’t misunderstand, there is definitely more to food safety than temperature. Cross contamination is a huge issue. If a surface has had raw chicken on it, you must clean and sanitize before you place any other food on the surface. Remember the bleach bucket and towels? Here you go. If you handled raw meats, that’s right, time to wash them mitts in your handy dandy wash station.
Beyond that, be smart and aware of where your food products are and what they touch.
10 Best BBQ Tools, Accessories, Utensils & Gadgets
These are our favorites for the basic essential items that you will want to travel with for competition. Yes, you will need a lot more gear to be fully outfitted. What we will not be covering in this section is your smoker. If you are ready to get competitive, you already should know what use to make great barbecue. We do have an opinion on this of course, feel free to take a look at our ratings here; https://squirrelcookoff.com/review/best-smokers-competition/. Also, be sure to check out our favorite BBQ cookbooks and pitmaster BBQ sauces.
1. Fireboard Spark Instant Read Thermometer
You know why you need to have a digital thermometer; this unit will give you a long-life span in many conditions. The battery is rechargeable delivering months on a charge and eliminating the need to open the unit, which helps keep the water-resistant protection that it comes with. Magnets help keep it where you put it. This unit can actually use an external probe for longer cook times, although we will address that issue down the list.
Time to armor up. Your hand protection needs to be heat resistant, waterproof and oil resistant, because you will encounter all three of these things. Good to well over 900 degrees, you can actually still use your fingers with minimal resistance wearing these gloves. They grip well even when wet, meeting all the specs for a must have bbq accessory item.
The reality is that you will want to (and you may already) have a number of sets of tongs as a pair or two will often hit the dirt and be out of commission for a while. These guys will easily become your go to tongs of choice though. They are truly heavy duty, able to lift a packer cut brisket or a split pork shoulder. The tooth design is great at giving you a good grip on the bigger chunks, but they are still sized well for handling chicken pieces and such.
There are two ways to go when buying knives; buy a set or build a set. Normally we prefer build it, however Victorinox is a very high-quality line of knives. Since this is geared for taking on the road, the set includes a carry case. Regardless of what knives you get, the synthetic handles are a must for this kind of work. Not quite as pretty, they sanitize easily and wear very well over the years. Folks on our crew have experience with this brand, owning knives that have lasted 30 years or more…so far.
For the DYI knife set approach, Mercer is an exceptional choice. Their knives are very well priced and deliver high quality. If you have been around the food industry, you have certainly encountered them in darn near every kitchen. They are known for durable handles that easily sanitize, grip well when damp or oily, and blades that hold an edge extremely well.
5. Cutting boards
Similar to tongs you will want to have a few boards to choose from, and to have on hand while working. For sturdiness and sanitation, these professional grade poly boards fill the bill. The plastics used are also very easy on the knives so your edges will hold longer for you. This offers a large working space, and it has a juice groove around the outside. Not all your boards need that, but when you are slicing a brisket or such, you will want something to keep all that juiciness form running all over. This isn’t just bbq competition accessory but a great addition to your home grilling accessories collection.
6. Grill Cleaning Brush
While not technically grilling at the competition, you still need to clean the racks and grates that hold your food in the smoker. None of us like finding an occasional wire bristle in our barbecue so this woven metal protects everyone from that risk. It has the usual metal plate style scraper that is very effective for the first pass getting the chunks off. For a deep post-cook cleaning, get the surfaces hot, dip this scrubber in water and steam/scrub the grime away.
7. Basting Brush
If you are doing a wet style barbecuing process you need to get that flavorful fluid out to the meat. Boar bristle brushes are fine, but the new silicon materials offer higher heat resistance along with much easier clean up and sanitation. The handle is long enough to reach your food without easily and safely. This is the cheapest bbq tool on the list that will be the key to yielding a great tasting bark.
8. Torch Lighter
Odds are your smoker of choice is not electric ignition. There are some choices out there, though they are not especially common at competitions. So, smoke requires flame to get going. With all the gear you will be carrying, the small profile and big capabilities of this torch are worth looking into. Wind resistant and capable of a serious dual torch flame, the feature you will appreciate the most is the lock switch. Use the trigger to get the flame going, lock it on and you can easily reach spots needed to get the fire going. Yes, safety first, be very aware of the open flame. Performance next, because this little unit brings the heat.
You probably already know that when you spend a good deal of time cooking you will wear some food, often liquid or oil that soaks in quick. The problem is a fully waterproof apron is like a rubber sweatbox. Old technology is here to help, in this case with waxed canvas. This is the original breathable waterproof material. It wears really well, breathes enough to be comfortable, and looks pretty good. These guys are serious about heavy duty production, riveting stress points and making real pockets you can use. They use across the back straps, that have a small learning curve, but are really comfortable for hours of wear.
10. Fireboard 2
This is an amazing piece of technology that incorporates a whole lot more than simple Bluetooth temperature monitoring, but let’s start with that piece of it. You can use multiple probes simultaneously monitoring different areas of an item, or even different items. These results are sent directly to your phone so you know exactly what is happening with your cook. Fireboard 2 Drive takes it another step further, allowing you to monitor the ambient temperature of your cooking chamber and do something about it with controlling a drive fan to give your smoke fuel a boost to bring up the temp. An all-in-one device, this will really help you elevate your barbecuing competitive skills. A must have bbq gadget that you’ll find will save your butt whether in the competitive circuit or smoking meat sitting home on the couch.
Hopefully this article proves helpful in winning your first BBQ competition and next stop, the World Series of BBQ!