is supported by our Pitmaster Club. Also, when you buy with links on our site we may earn a finder’s fee. Click to see how we test and review products.

An Introduction To The Art Of Steak Cookoff Competitions

Share on:

Grilling great steaks is a point of pride for most outdoor cooks. In fact, you have likely taken your game up several notches thanks to our “How to Grill a Better Than Steakhouse Steak” article and recipe found here.

But the true test of one’s talent is one of the countless steak cooking contests held each year across the country and around the world. Founded in 2013, the Steak Cookoff Association (“SCA”), is arguably responsible for bringing these contests to the forefront and provides the framework for organizers looking to host their own contests including rules, judging criteria, etc.

Beyond bragging rights, what is the appeal of steak cookoff competitions? Last year I decided to find out what all of the fuss was about by entering my very first SCA sanctioned contest in Memphis. From the jump, I could see why so many current and former BBQ competitors have fallen in love with steak cookoffs.

First, the entry fee for the SCA contest was fairly reasonable at $150 (though entry fees and prize money vary depending on organizer) including the steaks provided by SCA. Compare that to a typical BBQ contest where fees can run you $200-350 for entry alone plus several hundred more for meat. For example, many of the top teams today drop $200+ for a gold grade Wagyu brisket just to get 6-8 slices for the turn-in box.

Second, this was a one-day affair so I wasn’t losing my entire weekend to a contest (not to mention countless hours spent beforehand prepping meats, packing the trailer, etc.).

Lastly, everything I needed to compete fit in the back of my car versus a multi-day BBQ event that usually required a trailer for multiple cookers, canopies, and so much more. For the steak cookoff, my equipment list included:

  • One charcoal grill (I used a Weber kettle but those in-the-know swear by PK Grills, Hasty Bake, or M Grills for steak cookoffs)
  • A couple chunks of smoking wood (I used cherry for EVERYTHING)
  • A single bag of charcoal (after all, I’m only cooking 2 steaks real hot and real fast)
  • A charcoal chimney
  • A 10×10 canopy (optional but it was a really sunny day),
  • GrillGrates (another “must” according to the steak cookoff pros; more on this in a bit)
  • Kitchen tools including scissors, a paring knife, and tongs
  • A Thermapen
  • A 4-foot folding table
  • A small cooler for the steaks
  • A second cooler with some beverages
  • Kitchen twine
  • Seasoning for the steaks
  • And some Irish butter to finish the steaks

Like what you’re reading? Click here to get Smoke Signals, our free monthly email that tells you about new articles, recipes, product reviews, science, myth-busting, and more. Be Amazing!


With the car packed it was off to the contest. Once I arrived, it only took a couple minutes to get set up, giving me plenty of time to say hi to some old friends before it was time to select our steaks during the 10am cooks’ meeting. After the head judge went through the SCA rules, each team drew a number out of a bag to determine the order in which steaks would be selected. In front of us were two tables filled with beautiful boneless ribeyes approximately 1 1/4 inches thick (steaks used in SCA contests are at least 1 1/8 inches thick and are prime or choice grade). Going in order, teams were allowed to select their two favorite steaks based on thickness, overall shape, marbling, and hard fat.

After my steaks were selected (roughly in the middle of the pack), I took them back to my site and began prepping them. This included removing any remaining silver skin; trimming off a little of the hard fat; tying twine around the steak horizontally to create a more uniform shape so the steak cooks evenly (this is a trick I picked up from another competitor while doing some advanced research); and seasoning the steak with a simple rub consisting of kosher salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and a little paprika for color. Normally I would add some porcini mushroom powder as well for a hit of umami, but after many years on the competition BBQ circuit I learned that there is a reason teams tend to paint within the lines and with the same boring colors – because creativity rarely wins! I then placed the steaks in the cooler until ready to cook. Since the turn-in window didn’t open for a few hours (2:00-2:30pm), I had even more time to kick back and enjoy the company of my fellow cooks (a very special shoutout to my friend Seth Agranov for his competition steak photos used in this article).

Steak Contest Preparation

At 1pm I got the charcoal going. Once it was ashed over I set up the grill for 2-zone cooking, placing the pre-heated briquets on one side of the grill’s charcoal grate and leaving the other side empty. I then added 2 chunks of smoking wood on the charcoal, added the main grill grate, then placed my GrillGrates on the hot side. While normally I would use the flat bottom of the GrillGrates for cooking steak as that allows me to get more browning and flavor across the entire surface of the meat, I was informed ahead of time by my unnamed mentor that judges actually prefer to see crosshatch grill marks that GrillGrates do so perfectly when used as originally designed. Click here to read more about browning, flavor and the myth of grill marks.

At about 1:40pm, I added the steaks to the cool side of the grill to begin the reverse sear cooking process. Once the steaks reached an internal temperature of 115°F, I removed them and got the grill as hot as possible before searing the steak on the GrillGrates, rotating 1/4 turn halfway through on each side for the perfect diamond pattern. On the advice of my mentor, I did something I would NEVER do at home…I cooked the steak to 135°F for a perfect medium which like the crosshatching is what the judges are looking for. (Click here to read more about steak doneness temperatures.) Once the two steaks were done, I gently removed the twine then brushed them with softened unsalted Irish butter. About 5 minutes from the close of the turn-in window (I am notorious for turning food in during the very last seconds of the window), I selected the best of the two steaks and placed it on a round silver disk in a Styrofoam clamshell. Note that competitors are not allowed to do any trimming or slicing once the steak is cooked — it must be turned in whole (you can see the entire set of SCA rules here). Steaks are then judged blindly (i.e. there are only randomized numbers on the Styrofoam box so judges cannot tell which team turned in which steak) based on Appearance, Doneness (Medium), Taste, Texture and Overall Impression. Steaks can be disqualified if there are any foreign objects like a piece of twine in the box, if it is turned in after the turn-in window has closed, or if the steak turned in isn’t one of the ones distributed by the organizers.

steak competition judges

Once my steak was dropped off at the judges table, all that was left to do was to repack the car and wait for awards.

At roughly 5pm everyone gathered for the awards ceremony and after trophies and checks were distributed for 2 ancillary categories that I did not enter (wings and dessert), the organizer called out steak winners from 10th place down to 1st. Suffice to say, I did not hear my team’s name called but I did learn that not only did the first place winner get a nice check and trophy, they received a “golden ticket” that allows them to compete at the SCA World Championship, the largest steak cookoff in the world held each year in Fort Worth, TX (you can learn more about it here).

A few minutes later we each received a score sheet revealing all the team scores and everyone set off to unwind at home and start strategizing for their next SCA contest. It turns out I actually placed a very respectable 12th out of 34 teams.

steak cookoff audience

While I have yet to do another SCA contest, I definitely understand why so many folks can’t get enough of them. Steak cookoffs are relatively inexpensive, fun, and done in a single day. If you have always been intrigued by the world of competition cooking but are apprehensive to put the time and money into a multi-day BBQ contest, I would whole heartedly suggest giving one of these steak cookoffs a shot. You can find all upcoming contests here or SCA provides the tools necessary to actually organize your own!


Up your game: Join our Pitmaster Club. Try it out for free for 30 days. No credit card is needed. No spam. Join now and Be Amazing!

Finally, if you have done a steak cookoff and have your own tips on how to turn in a winning entry, definitely feel free to post them below for future first timers to consider.

Related articles

Related reviews

Published On: 11/3/2020 Last Modified: 5/13/2022

Share on:
  • Clint Cantwell - Clint Cantwell is's Senior Vice President of Whatever, charged with creating recipes, writing articles, shooting photos, and a little bit of everything else. He was named one of the "10 Faces of Memphis Barbecue" by Memphis Magazine and was the winner of Travel Channel's "American Grilled: Memphis".


High quality websites are expensive to run. If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and a lot of freebies!

Millions come to every month for high quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 2,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club. But please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get MANY great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial, and help keep this site alive.

Post comments and questions below


1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.



Click for comments...


These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys:

Surely you know somebody who loves outdoor cooking who deserves a gift for the holidays, birthday, anniversary, or just for being wonderful. There he is, right in the mirror! Here are our selections of best ideas, all Platinum or Gold Medalists, listed by price.

Click here to see our list of Gold Medal Gifts

The Efficiency Of A Kamado Plus The Flexibility Of The Slow ‘N Sear Insert

kamado grill
Built around SnS Grill’s patented Slow ‘N Sear charcoal kettle accessory, this 22-inch kamado is a premium ceramic grill that brings true 2-zone cooking to a kamado.

Click here for our article on this exciting cooker

Finally, A Great Portable Pellet Smoker

Green Mountain Grills Trek smoker

Green Mountain Grills Trek smoker

Green Mountain’s portable Trek Smoker is one mean tailgating and picnic machine. But it’s also gaining popularity with people who want to add a small, set it and forget it pellet smoker to their backyard arsenal. And with their WiFi capabilities you can control and monitor Trek from your smart phone or laptop.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

Groundbreaking Hybrid Thermometer!

Thermapen One Instant Read Thermometer

The FireBoard Spark is a hybrid combining instant-read capability, a cabled temperature probe, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. We gave Spark a Platinum Medal for pushing the envelope of product capability while maintaining high standards of design and workmanship.

Click here to read our comprehensive Platinum Medal review


Comprehensive Temperature Magnet With 80+ Important Temps temperature magnet
Winner of the National BBQ Association’s product of the year award. This 8.5″ x 11″ magnet contains more that 80 benchmark temperatures for meats (both USDA recommended temps as well as the temps chefs recommend), fats and oils, sugars, sous vide, eggs, collagens, wood combustion, breads, and more. Although it is not certified as all-weather, we have tested it outdoors in Chicago weather and it has not delaminated in three years, but there is minor fading.

Click here to order.

The Cool Kettle With The Hinged Hood We Always Wanted

Napoleon’s 22″ Pro Cart Charcoal Kettle Grill puts a few spins on the familiar kettle design. In fact, the hinged lid with a handle on the front, spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. It’s hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds some unique features to make the 22″ Pro Cart a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special

Our Favorite Backyard Smoker

The amazing Karubecue is the most innovative smoker in the world. The quality of meat from this machine is astonishing. At its crux is a patented firebox that burns logs above the cooking chamber and sucks heat and extremely clean blue smoke into the thermostat controlled oven. It is our favorite smoker, period.
Click here for our review of this superb smoker