Smokin' Conversations: The Evolution of Barbecue Competitions

We chat with seasoned pit master Brad Leighninger and delve into the transformative journey of barbecue competitions. We explore the challenges and triumphs of the barbecue scene, discussing the impact of COVID-19, the rising costs of participation, and the global expansion of American-style barbecue. Brad, with his wealth of experience and passion for the craft, shares invaluable insights, tips, and a dash of humor, offering a flavorful conversation that is as rich and layered as a perfectly smoked brisket.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
BBQ 321: What are the changes you've seen in the barbecue competition scene over the years?
BRAD: The numbers are down due to COVID, and it's prohibitively expensive to participate in a barbecue contest. We need to find a way to get people interested without breaking the bank.

BBQ 321: What are you seeing internationally with KCBS? Is that picking up?
BRAD: Yes, American-style barbecue is gaining popularity in Australia, South America, Central America, and Europe. Australia has its own associations and contests, and I plan on going to Brazil next year.

BBQ 321: Top tip ribs.
BRAD: Ribs are tough to cook; it's not about temperature but feel. We do the bend test, and a little bit of char on ribs seems to increase scores.

BBQ 321: What's your top tip for brisket?
BRAD: Brisket is hard to overcook; most people undercook it. If you think it's done, let it go for another 15 to 30 minutes. Overcooking a brisket by a few minutes is better than serving it undercooked.

BBQ 321: If you could go back before you got started in BBQ competition, what advice would you give yourself?
BRAD: Oh man, competition barbecue is just intimidating and it really doesn't need to be. It's not magic, man. Is it difficult? Yeah. But I mean, just get into it. Don't be intimidated by it.

For more stories, insights, and competition barbecue tips from Brad at GETTIN' BASTED BBQ, check out the BBQ 321 Pit Master Interviews Episode 10 podcast.