Real Barbecue Vs Competition Barbecue

Ray Lampe AKA Dr BBQ
Ray Lampe AKA Dr BBQ

Ray Lampe AKA Dr BBQ has been participating in BBQ cookoffs since 1982 and is now one of the most celebrated BBQ cooking experts in the world. He has written seven cookbooks, guest starred in many food based TV shows, is the national American spokeschef for Big Green Egg, spokesman for the National Pork Board and won over 300 barbecue awards.

I went to my first barbecue rib cook-off in 1982 at age 25. A friend knew I liked to cook so he signed us up without any real plan. I didn’t have a grill and I really didn’t know much about barbecue. So I learned what I could on the fly and we did it. We didn’t win anything that day but it was the beginning of my life as a barbecue man. The idea of long times watching the fire cooking large pieces of meat and drinking beer just worked for me. I hear this same story about a passion for barbecue from a lot of people these days and I understand. My story just started 33 years ago. During this 33 year run I have been privileged to see the whole evolution of barbecue as a sport.

In 1982 it was just a bunch of people cooking barbecue the way they did at home and the judging was to figure out whose was the best. We used whatever charcoal and wood we could easily find. We made our smokers out of barrels and cabinets and we rarely used a thermometer. The meat was seasoned with salt, pepper, maybe some garlic and onion and somebody’s homemade barbecue sauce. Nothing was store bought. As the interest grew the judging became a little more formal and the cooks got more in to it. In the early days there was a lot of partying and it was sometimes an endurance test to see who could drink the most and still cook the best barbecue. But as the hobby became more serious and the prize money grew the cooks started to try to manipulate the judges scores. Nothing wrong, just thinking about how a judge might look at your box and how he might pick up and bite the piece you have presented. So chicken thighs became the norm because they look nice and they stay juicy even if the entry has to wait a bit for judging. Burnt ends became the norm because they are really good. Pork slices became common and so did meaty St. Louis cut ribs. At the same time judging was becoming a serious hobby and many of them were traveling and judging every weekend in different parts of the country.

Real Vs Competition Barbecue by Ray Lampe Dr BBQI call this the emulsification of barbecue. As these judges saw thighs in every box and slices of pork and burnt ends, they started to expect these things. When a box showed up with mixed chicken parts or a simple pile of chopped pork these judges didn’t think it was a serious entry and they scored it down. The cooks quickly figured this out and all began turning in similar and expected entries. And the top cooks began teaching classes so anyone could learn the right way to do these perfect entries. Then some of the good cooks began to sell sauce and rub. Others began to build and sell smokers. And the other cooks bought these products. Little by little over my 33 years I have seen competition barbecue evolve from real barbecue to a new fangled version that gets good scores. The problem is this new competition barbecue is a little too tender and too sweet and too perfectly shaped to qualify as every day good eating barbecue. You will not win with mixed chicken parts or a sauce that’s vinegary or a rub with a bunch of coffee in it. But that doesn’t mean your friends and family won’t love them. Real barbecue doesn’t have any rules except that it needs to be cooked with charcoal and or wood. Now this is all my opinion and the way I remember things. I’m sure there are plenty that would disagree. That’s what makes the world go around.

What I hope you will take from this is that just because it doesn’t look like competition barbecue doesn’t mean it’s not real barbecue and that sure doesn’t mean it’s not good. As you learn about the food and the culture of American barbecue I want you to accept different methods and tastes and enjoy them. There is no one right way to do it. There are many. And I hope that you will take our time honored traditions and combine them with the tastes that you have always enjoyed and someday you will be telling me what Australian barbecue is all about.

Slow Fire by Ray Dr BBQ Lampe

Smoked Flat Cut Brisket with Coffee
From “Slow Fire – A beginners guide to Barbecue” By Ray Lampe and published by Chronicle Books.

The flat cut of brisket makes for those long beautiful slices that look so good on the plate. This cut has a lot less fat on it than a whole brisket though so it needs a little added moisture during the cooking process. Coffee adds an interesting flavor whole helping keep things juicy while the brisket cooks itself to tenderness.

• 1 5 to 6 pound USDA choice Graded brisket flat, fat left on
• Barbecue Rub #67 (recipe below) as needed
• ½ cup strong brewed coffee

Prepare your cooker to cook indirect at 235° using medium hickory wood smoke for flavor. Season the brisket liberally with the barbecue rub. Cook the brisket fat side down for 1 hour and then flip it to fat side up. Cook to an internal temperature of 160°, about another three to four hours. Lay out a big double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil and lay the brisket on it fat side up. Pull up the sides of the foil and add the coffee as you close up the package. Be careful not to puncture it or you’ll have to start over. Return to the cooker. After another hour begin checking the internal temperature. When it reaches 200 degrees, remove the brisket and let it rest for a half hour wrapped. Remove the brisket from the foil. If desired skim the fat from the liquid and serve as a sauce. Slice the brisket about a quarter inch thick to serve.

Makes about 8 servings

Barbecue Rub # 67
From “Slow Fire – A beginners guide to Barbecue” By Ray Lampe and published by Chronicle Books.

This is a very traditional barbecue rub that’s good on just about anything. I like the texture of this one to remain a little bit on the coarse side so I use it as is. If you want a finer grind just put it in the food processor with a metal blade and pulse until it reaches the consistency you’d like.

• ½ cup Sugar In The Raw
• ½ cup Kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons chili powder
• 3 tablespoons paprika
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ½ teaspoon lemon pepper
• ½ teaspoon ground coffee
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne

Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. May be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to six months.

Makes about 1 and ½ cups

You can find out more about the Dr at his website,, or hone your techniques with his book, Slow Fire.

New to BBQ? Also check out Dr BBQ’s, a great beginners course!



Current Month


13julAll Day14Beats, Brews and BBQs

27julAll DayABA Invitational Championship

28julAll DayThe Full Throttle World BBQ Championship


17aug(aug 17)12:00 am18(aug 18)12:00 amSunPork Smoke Off at Kingaroy BaconFest

23aug(aug 23)12:45 am24(aug 24)12:45 amLow N Slow Smoke Off (Gerogery)


14sepAll Day15Kangaroo Valley

27sep(sep 27)8:26 am28(sep 28)8:26 amTamworth Barbecue Festival


05octAll Day06One Mile Brewery BBQ Festival (TBC)

12oct(oct 12)6:19 am13(oct 13)6:19 amSmokin the Downs

25octAll Day27BBQ @ The Bend


02novAll Day03Smoke on the Water – Wodonga

09novAll Day10Claystone Cookoff – TBC