Lessons From Competition BBQ: Getting Barbecue Sauce To Stick


A longstanding mouth watering layer of BBQ glazed perfectly across a chunky cut of meat. A scene out of every grilling junkies dream. But things don’t always turn out how we imagine it.

Especially when it comes to BBQ, sometimes that chicken or those baby back ribs don’t turn out like we hoped. Well you can get a much better result when you know a couple tricks of the trade.

Let’s talk about sauces and rubs then cover the techniques used by competition BBQ masters themselves.

If you want to know how to get BBQ sauce to really stick, here is the best answer.

The best method for getting BBQ sauce to stick on meats. Is to apply the sauce after the meat has been mostly cooked. This ensures the surface is going to be done releasing moisture and has enough texture for the sauce to hold onto. Add the BBQ sauce before the last 10 – 20 minutes of cooking.

Now that you understand where to start. Let’s go on and cover what else you can do to achieve the finest coating of BBQ sauce and rub.

How Do You Get BBQ Sauce To Stick To Meat?

So if you’re having trouble with getting your barbecue sauce to stick to your meat. The first thing you should do is diagnose the problem.

Luckily there are only a few reasons for this problem to occur. Usually it’s the preparation stage that needs tweaking. 

But you may find that the sauce you are using doesn’t work that well for grilling or smoking.

The third is that you might want to consider making a barbecue glaze.

Now let’s go into more detail about each potential reason for the barbecue not sticking.

Start With A Dry Meat

This isn’t always the solution but having a dryer piece of meat allows the sauce or rub to stick to the surface better.

BBQ rubs or sauces do not stick as well when they are on a wet surface. Raw meat is naturally wet but it also sweats as it warms up.

One possible problem is that liquid isn’t allowing the sauce to be absorbed enough.

Competition grill Masters often brine meat before smoking. A brine solution is usually just salt and water but you can add sugar as well.

You can brine meat for up to 2 hours. Afterward you don’t need to rinse off the brine, but you should use a paper towel and dry off the meat. 

Cook The Meat Before Applying Sauce

Cooking the meat, especially chicken before applying BBQ sauce can make a big difference. You don’t have to get the meat fully cooked.

Just enough where the outside has some texture. 

Then you can apply the barbecue sauce. Do this in the last 10 to 20 minutes of cooking or less.

Remember that temperature does affect BBQ sauce. Anything above 260° Fahrenheit and you run the risk of burning the sauce.

Check out a Charcoal Grilling Temperature Guide to learn more.

I would recommend dunking the meat in sauce or brushing or basting it on. Either way you Should heat the sauce first. You don’t want to affect the food’s temperature by using a cold sauce.

A really neat tool that competition pit masters use is a sauce mop, also called a basting mop. Basting mobs are extra handy because they hold a lot of sauce, so you can get the job done quickly.

Another reason why you should get the meat mostly cooked. Is that with chicken especially you will be turning it often. When there is a sauce already applied and you’re constantly grabbing it. More and more sauce gets removed each time.

Apply The Sauce In Layers

One of the best tricks I think competition BBQ pitmasters use is forming layers of flavor. This method also happens to work well for keeping sauce sticking to the meat.

So what you want to do is add the BBQ sauce in intervals. Start by applying the first layer of sauce on one side of the meat. 

Then let the sauce cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the meat over and apply the sauce on the other side. Cookie can for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Repeat this process as much as needed until you are happy with the appearance. I think one or two layers is adequate.

Again the key here is to form layers of rendered sauce. Without over handling the meat and removing excess sauce.

Try A Different BBQ Sauce

Sometimes the issue may lie in the barbecue sauce that you were using. There are many different brands and even styles of BBQ sauce. 

Sauces that are very runny might not stick as well depending on the ingredients.

Check the label of your sauce, sugar caramelizes well and becomes very sticky. Look for a sauce with brown sugar, honey or molasses.

Alternatively you can add in additional ingredients turning the sauce into a glaze. Also you can make a separate glaze from scratch. 

Make A BBQ Glaze

A glaze is typically a very thick sauce that doesn’t use a lot of ingredients. It actually doesn’t need to be cooked you can apply right before serving, but if you’re having trouble keeping sauce on the meat. Consider adding a layer of glaze. 

What separates a glaze from a sauce is the use of jams or jellies. Glazes can be added to raw meat as well. There is no exact rule, but in this case just know glazes are thick and sticky. 

So a glaze can be used for flavor or for extra layering. Holding in the BBQ Sauce or making the outside of meat more flavorful.

Use A Combination of Rub and BBQ Sauce

Instead of just saucing your chicken or ribs one time and expecting the sauce to stick. You really want to build layers. 

 Seasoning your meat with a rub first and then adding additional layers of sauce between cooking times. Many competition BBQ recipes follow this method as you will learn.

Not all recipes use BBQ sauce, a lot of times dry rubs are used solely to flavor and season smoked or grilled meats. 

But if you combine the two and apply the sauce near the end. The sauce is much more likely to stick perfectly. 

Here’s How The Competitive Cookers Do BBQ

Competition BBQ pit masters spend a lot of time perfecting what they are grilling. They don’t just season the meat and cook it straight through.

Instead there is a lot of early seasoning, pre cooking, wrapping, cooking more, adding additional rub, glazing and spritzing. 

Usually they will start with the best cut made that they can find. Then they will trim it up, maybe removing extra fat or the membrane and ribs (which you should always do).

Paxed they will liberally apply a seasoning or rub to each side. Then they will throw it on the smoker for up to an hour or more. 

Then they will remove that and place it into a foil wrap or dish. At this point they may add lots of butter. Additional seasoning or even a glaze and cook that for just as long.

During this point they may spritz the meat with a flavored liquid. This provides flavor but also keeps me moist.

During the whole process a layer of seasoning is forming and is what they refer to as a bark. Getting its name from tree bark. A thick outer layer that is coating the meat all around or on each side. 

Testing Your Sauce and Rub Coating

You should be continuously testing the rub or sauce. Well you don’t have to be over obsessive about it, but at some point rub your finger across the meat.

What you are looking for is how easy the rub or sauce comes off. The goal is to not have any sauce rub off easily.

Now you know a few of the techniques used for making competition worthy BBQ, hope you enjoy it!

Eric M Wilkens

Content writer and recreational cook. I also enjoy craft beer, comedy and the outdoors.

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