Early on, we’re taught that “fall-off-the-bone” ribs are the most delicious and excellent kind of BBQ ribs. If your baby back ribs come off the BBQ, slip right off the bone, and melt in your mouth, you must be a Pit Boss. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case on the competition BBQ circuit.
First and foremost, competition BBQ judges select who has the best BBQ ribs by appearance, taste, and tenderness. These three factors are the Holy Grail to the best competition BBQ. We picked our Traeger Pro, Chad Ward’s brain on how to create BBQ ribs that will finish at the top of the pack; here are his recommendations for winning BBQ competitions.
Competition BBQ judges look for a deep mahogany finish on ribs. This thin dark gloss of caramelized BBQ sauce and smoke that coats ribs is what makes the judges want to devour them. This is often achieved by regular mopping, spritzing, or saucing the ribs throughout the smoke session. Another factor in the presentation is that the ribs are evenly cut with no jagged edges on any singular rib, every rib needs to look consistent and uniformity is key. Clean-cut ribs come from sharpening your knives before the event and using the proper type of knife.
Competition barbecue judges may vary in age from 18 to 80 years old and each judge has a very different palate. Create a flavor profile for your ribs that provide the best overall BBQ flavor. Many first time competitors want to blow the judging taste buds away with their custom apple, chipotle, or Kimchi BBQ sauce, but smoky sweet BBQ ribs with just a touch of heat or bite in the aftertaste seems to be the flavor profile that has been producing BBQ rib champions on the circuit these days. So, beginners beware--Proceed with caution on your rub and sauce and know your audience.
Myth: If rib meat falls off the bone it is tender meat. This is incorrect!
The perfect tenderness for competition BBQ ribs is determined in just one bite. Judges hold each end of the bone and bite in the center of the rib if the rib meat freely releases from the bone only in the area where the bite is taken then they’re perfect. Judges should never have to pull or tug at the meat with their teeth. Tender ribs often come from hours of low and slow smoking in conjunction with a flavorful rib foil bath.
To learn how long to smoke ribs, check out our guide to trimming and grilling BBQ ribs.