There are a lot of moving parts to creating a national award winning line of barbecue products, among them is winning those awards that make them national award winners. In an effort to gain national recognition for our barbecue products we formed the Pork Barrel BBQ Competition BBQ Team in 2009.
Having won praise and gained rave reviews from family and friends for our backyard barbecue for years our initial thought was “how hard could this be?” – It didn’t take long for us to realize competition BBQ is quite different from the barbecue being turned out on Weber Kettles in backyards across America. In short we learned very quickly that competing on the professional barbecue circuit is hard work and little rest if you hope to be successful.
We cooked our first professional competition the weekend of June 27-28, 2009, The Safeway national Capital Barbecue Battle in our hometown of Washington, DC. Although it was right in our backyard the line-up of teams included many local and national powerhouse teams including Cool Smoke, Jack’s Old South, Pellet Envy, 3 Eyz BBQ, Yazoo’s Delta Q, Dizzy Pig, and Chix, Swine & Bovine BBQ. One could say we literally threw ourselves head first into the fire! Not fully understanding the rules we opted to only cook two of the four categories (Pork and Brisket), guaranteeing that we’d finish in the bottom of the pack in the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) contest. We did manage to take 4th Place in Pork in the Memphis in May portion of the contest and 2nd Place in the Best Sauce in the Nation contest for our Pork Barrel BBQ Original BBQ Sauce!
We learned a lot during that first contest. We learned that we had a lot to learn if we hoped to be competitive on the professional BBQ circuit and that the techniques we used in our backyards weren’t going to rise to the challenge of cooking against the best pitmasters in the world (we continue to learn from each contest and tweak our methods as we strive for greater success). We learned that you’ve got to cook all four categories and get consistent results if you hoped to hear your named called for an award (consistency remains the most important piece of the formula for success in competition BBQ). We learned that although the competition is fierce, the friendships and willingness to help rival teams is greater, with few exceptions (no one is likely to tell you their secret rub or sauce concoction, but if you need a tip on how to trim a brisket or you forgot an essential piece of equipment that someone has a duplicate of they’re likely to loan it to you.). Most importantly we learned we were hooked on the camaraderie and competitive aspects of competition BBQ (we’ve made lots of friends from all over the world and traveled all across America as a result of competition BBQ).
Over the years we have been fortunate to learn from some of the best pitmasters in the world including Rex Hall (Heath’s Dad), Rod Gray (Pellet Envy), Pat Burke (Apple City BBQ & Tower Rock BBQ) and Dave Raymond (Sweet Baby Ray’s). With their guidance and our competitive spirit we won our first Grand Championship exactly two years into our competition barbecue career – the 2011 Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle, the same contest that was our first professional competition back in 2009.
Since 2009 we have cooked 57 KCBS contests and 4 Memphis in May contests (2 of the flagship contests in Memphis and 2 during the annual Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle in Washington, DC). We’ve cooked in 16 states and The District of Columbia and gone as far West as Las Vegas, NV, as far North as Rochester, NY, as far East as Kingston, RI and as far South as Mobile, AL.
We’ve had the privilege of cooking the most prestigious barbecue contests in the world including Memphis in May 2 times, the American Royal Invitational 2 time, the American Royal Open 4 times, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour Finals 1 time and the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue 1 time.
Over our first 57 KCBS contests we have won 3 Grand Championships, 3 Reserve Grand Championships, 4 First Place Chicken awards, 1 First Place Rib awards, 2 First Place Pork awards, and 3 First Place Brisket awards. In total we’ve received 14 Top 5 Overall finishes and 26 Top 10 Overall finishes. We’ve also received 38 Top 5 Category (Chicken, Ribs, Pork & Brisket) finishes and 76 Top 10 category finishes.
There is a saying that your team is only as good as the pitmaster, but it sure helps to have a great pit to cook on. We’ve always been fortunate to have great pits to cook on, but they have evolved over the years. We cooked on three Weber smoky Mountains (WSMs) over our first few contests. In mid-2010 we started cooking on Lang 60’s and 84’s and cooked on them with much success through the 2012 season. In 2013 we began cooking on our current pit and the pride and joy of the Pork Barrel BBQ Competition Team – Old Glory, our Jambo J3.
Special thank you to our many guest teammates including Mike Anderson, Bill Blackburn, Jennifer Brand, Joe Cameron, Rex Holmes, Tom Mullen, James Plunkett, Sawyer Thompson, Susan Thompson, Bob Weitkamp & Matt Witzig.
We can’t wait to get our smokers fired up for our next contest and hope to see you on the BBQ trail real soon. If you’re ever at a competition we’re at please stop by and say hi!