Hageman said he and the team learned about what judges and hungry barbecue fans wanted by watching TV shows, such as "BBQ Pitmasters" and taking classes on how food is judged. Even with help and years of experience under the team's belt, he said sometimes the result of hours of work on the grill can come down to the luck of the draw.
"It's a little bit of luck," Hageman said with a laugh. "You've got to stick with the plan for the day. Have a plan of what you want to do and don't let what's happening or what other people are doing take you from it."
Even for those who've taken home awards, continual practice makes for a superior product. Doc Richardson of Edwardsville and the Q's Your Daddy BBQ team said even in the offseason, he's getting as many opinions on his award-winning pork and brisket as he can.
"Make your neighbors taste what you're making," he said. "Send a plate of ribs next door."
Even at its most competitive, Hageman said one of the most important ways to improve, whether working the competitive circuit or firing up the grill for a family get-together is to talk and exchange recipes.
"People are always willing to help," he said. "That's one of the nice things. They may not want to give you their secrets, but we all know that everyone wants to help everybody be better."