Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: So What Goes On at a BBQ Competition?

  • by Omaha Steaks
Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?
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Another one in the books! The 2017 Nebraska BBQ Championship was held in Omaha, Nebraska on August 4th and 5th, and it was a doozy. Back-to-back KCBS barbeque competitions, SCA sanctioned steak cookoffs, kids competitions, live bands, barbeque sampling, and more. Omaha Steaks is proud to be the presenting sponsor of this event, and humbled every year by the incredible teams that come out and make it happen.

But if you’ve never been to one, you’re probably wondering… what is a BBQ competition? What exactly happens at these competitive barbeque events?

Every competition and event is different, but there are many consistent elements. Here’s what happens at ours!


Team Setup

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

The day or night before, the BBQ teams arrive to set up. There is a designated area for teams, separate from the public area of the event. Some teams will come with giant gleaming stainless steel rigs built specifically for barbeque competitions… some teams are made up of locals with a couple of smokers and a can-do attitude. All levels of teams are welcome, and all levels of teams have won competitors. In the day or two before an event, these teams will be checking their equipment, setting up camp, prepping their food, and lying in wait.

This year’s Nebraska BBQ Championship had 54 teams, the biggest it’s ever been. The teams take over the entire back parking lot of event venue Ralston Arena.


The Cook Begins

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

Most contests are judged at noon on the second day… and smoked beef brisket takes 12 or more hours to cook. That means the BBQ teams start cooking in the evening, and know full well that they’ll be up all night. The smell of smoke and barbeque begins to fill the air the night before, and it’s not going away for a looonnggg time. Most of the teams will be spending time with family and friends at their site, too, so they’ll be cooking up other barbeque and grilled favorites alongside their competition entries.

There are strict rules regarding cleanliness and food preparation for competition entries, and they’re well known to every competitor. Even though they’re set up in a parking lot, you won’t find sloppy workspaces here.


Four KCBS Categories

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

Every KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) sanctioned competition event features the same four categories: chicken, pork, pork ribs, and beef brisket. Competitors are generally allowed to prepare each meat to their liking (and to their learned knowledge of what judges like) but there are some general rules that apply.


Chicken can be whole, half, or any combination. It may include the skin (or be served skinless), and can include white or dark meat, bones or no bones.


Smoked pork can be prepared from either portion of the pork shoulder, commonly called the Boston Butt and the Picnic. Whether the final product is pulled, sliced, or chopped is up to the competitor.


Both Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs are admissible, but “country-style” ribs (which are not really ribs) are not. Ribs can be sauced or naked, and must contain a bone when presented for judging.


Competitors almost always start with a whole brisket, but what they serve is up to them. Brisket can be sliced, chunked, and presented with or without the burnt ends. If a competitor turns in more than one example, the judges will taste each to render their score.

Grand Champion

The Grand Champion of the competition is determined by an overall score of all four categories. Teams aren’t required to make all four entries, but only those that do will be considered for the grand prize.


Events Open to the Public

Of course, a barbeque competition should be fun for everyone, not just those in the running. So most KCBS barbeque comps are part of a larger, open-to-the-public party. The Omaha Steaks Nebraska BBQ Championship had more to do than ever, and a bigger turnout to match.

Tasting Tents

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

Omaha Steaks Tasting Tents offered partygoers a chance to try Omaha Steaks products with a charitable donation. Everyone participating enjoyed steaks, burgers, brisket, and ribs from America’s Original Butcher.



Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

Live on-stage cooking and barbeque demonstrations were free and open to the public, offering lessons in smoking for both novice and experienced cooks.


Live Music

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

Local Omaha acts appeared on stage both nights under a big tent complete with a bar and food trucks to keep the party going.


Kids Zone

Nebraska BBQ Championship 2017: What is a BBQ Competition?

The NBBQC had fun for the whole family, with plenty of kid-centric activities (including pony rides!) that ran all day both Saturday and Sunday.


Competition Row

Visitors to some barbeque competitions (Nebraska BBQ Championship included) can wander through the competitor lot and catch a glimpse of the pros. Some friendly teams will talk to you, show what they’re doing, and possibly even invite you to their private party.


Turn-In and Judging

The morning of a KCBS competition is all business. Teams are working full-stop to get all four entries ready exactly when they need to be. They’re selected the best pieces (most teams will cook many of each category and choose only the very bets), plating them very specifically, and rushing to the turn-in table to get them in on time. Judging typically starts at noon and happens in this order:

  • Chicken: 12 pm
  • Ribs: 12:30 pm
  • Pork: 1:00 pm
  • Beef: 1:30 pm

There’s a big digital clock at the turn in table. Any team that misses turn-in by even one second is NOT competing in that category, and won’t be eligible to be Grand Champion.

The world of KCBS judging is secretive: contest entries are given to judges only after going through a double-blind randomization that ensures NO ONE on either side knows who’s entry they’re tasting.

Each entry category is judged for Appearance, Taste, Tenderness on a scale of 2 to 9. 

  • 9 Excellent (Note: Does NOT say PERFECT)
  • 8 Very Good
  • 7 Above Average
  • 6 Average
  • 5 Below Average
  • 4 Poor
  • 3 Bad
  • 2 Inedible

Entries are not compared to each other, only against this scale. A judge cannot mark one higher or lower because of how it compares to another he’s judging that day — he must examine each solely on its own merits. The scores are tabulated through a time-tested formula designed for fairness and accuracy, and to eliminate bias or error. Adherence to KCBS rules (and there are many) is mandatory, and any violation will have an entry immediately disqualified.



The turn-in boxes have been devoured, the scores have been tabulated and triple-checked, and barbeque teams have had a minute to rest… it’s afternoon on the second day of the competition, and it’s time for the awards. Competitions do it differently, but awards will be presented by an event sponsor or head (at NBBQC it was Omaha Steaks owner Todd Simon) and representatives from KCBS. Congratulations to this year’s Nebraska Barbeque Championship Grand Champions!




Check out the rest of our photos from the 2017 Nebraska BBQ Championship on Facebook!