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If you’re like most people, biting into a tender slice of brisket doesn’t give rise to any deep thoughts on how that brisket got to be so delicious. 

You just chow down, right?

pigs and swigs lincoln

Though there are people absolutely wild about the process of cooking brisket and other meats to the point of mouth-watering perfection. Actually, the Kansas City Barbeque Society or KCBS is jam-packed full of men and women dedicated to this aim. 

Proudly, Lincoln’s very own Up in Smoke on the Square competition has teamed with KCBS to become Illinois’ second largest purse in competitive BBQ. 

When you're taking a walk through downtown Lincoln to enjoy a chilled craft beer at the Pigs & Swigs Festival or galavanting the craft fair in Scully Park you may not realize how much work the competitive pitmasters have put in. 

So, just how grueling are BBQ competitions like Up in Smoke on the Square?

It Starts Long Before the Fires are Hot

Let’s just say that you can’t walk into a BBQ competition, throw any ole cut of meat on the grill, and go grab yourself a cold one while you wait for a trophy. 


First of all, you have to register and submit your cuts of meat for approval by certified KCBS meat inspectors. Only after the meat is approved and the okay is given can cooking begin. Early registration for the Up in Smoke on the Square Competition is happening now through May 1, 2019. Click HERE for the details. 

As you may have guessed, all meats have to start out raw. No pre-seasoned meat is allowed but can obviously be seasoned by the pit master during competition. 

Also, you’re not just cooking dinner for two. These pit masters have to submit enough cooked meat for six judges to taste. You even get docked points if one judge misses out. 

Join Ranks and Head to Battle

Once all the official business is in the books, you gather your team so that the real work to begin. 

Each team has a pit master, officially known as a chief cook by KCBS standards. The chief cook isn’t limited to how many assistants they can choose, but floating assistants aren’t permitted. Once you join forces with a chief cook, you’re dedicated to them through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Or at least until the end of the competition. 

You might be surprised to learn that many participants in the Up in Smoke on the Square competition don’t actually have culinary training. For instance, the 2017 Grand Champion winners Bryan and Kari Luke of It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (pictured below) started out cooking in there backyard. Now, they compete weekend after weekend. In fact, two years ago at the World Food Championship in Orange Beach, Alabama, they brought home $100,000 for a single entry.

pigs and swigs lincoln

It’s easy to see that people who participate in BBQ competitions aren’t just hungry for great food. They’re hungry for competition. Plus, the payouts aren’t too shabby either. 

Like mentioned earlier, the Up in Smoke on the Square competition is Illinois’ second-highest purse. There will be a total purse of $15,000 with $3,000 awarded to this year's Grand Champion and $1,500 to the Reserve Grand Champion.

Everyone Must Play by the Rules

KCBS doesn't mess around when it comes to setting and keeping its standards. The rules are hard and fast for its BBQ competitions. 

From the cut of meat to the placement of your assistants, you have to color in the lines if you want to win. 

Even the cooking materials are dictated. In the official KCBS Rules and Regulations, it clearly states that fires shall be of wood, wood pellets or charcoal. No gas or electric heat sources are allowed. And, propane or electric are only permitted as fire starters. 

So, no shortcuts.

With each cut of meat, there are rules to follow. But the category choices are fantastic. Unsurprisingly, most competitors have a specialty. The KCBS categories are chicken, pork ribs, pork (Boston butt, Boston roast, picnic or whole shoulder), and beef brisket. 

They’re each judged according to appearance, taste, and tenderness—all things that matter to us hungry patrons, too. 

The scoring system is 9 excellent, 8 very good, 7 above average, 6 average, 5 below average, 4 poor, 3 bad, and 2 inedible. And the notorious 1 is allotted to disappointed rule-breakers or disqualified entrees. 

The Nitty-Gritty Competition Time

As many pit masters will tell you, there’s a unique ebb and flow to BBQ competitions. Frantic activities like checking the brisket temperature or dashing a shake of cayenne to the underside of a chicken breast can really get your heart pumping. At times, it’s like running a sprint and a marathon all at the same time. 

The marathon-like element being the extreme amounts of waiting, waiting, and still more waiting.

pigs and swigs lincoln

Thankfully, Up in Smoke on the Square, like many BBQ competitions has not only embraced a healthy dose of competition but also a sense of camaraderie between teams. While the meat is cooking, many chief cooks make new friends. Friends they hope to beat in competition, but friends nonetheless. 

On the other hand, there are even chief cooks who camp out with their smokers day and night. Depending on what you’re cooking, a watchful eye is sometimes necessary 24/7. 

So, do you think you have what it takes to compete in a BBQ competition like Up in Smoke on the Square?

Check out the details HERE to see if you’re up for it!

Otherwise, we’ll see you at the 2019 Pigs & Swigs Festival where you can see the Up in Smoke on the Square competition play out. 

Questions about the upcoming 2019 competition? Contact Us