It’s 10:30 on a Saturday night and you just finished 7th in an all star BBQ field in the Word Food Championships KCBS portion of the contest, and you’ve been into the bourbon pretty good already…what do you do?
You shut down the party and get to work.
Fresh off a 2nd place brisket call and a 7th overall in the KCBS part of the contest, the OVS crew wondered through the gravel lot at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama, searching for the score sheet and just…kinda walkin’ around with dumb grins on their faces.
We couldn’t believe it. We never dreamed that we were moving on. We’d lived to cook another day.
But this presented some issues.
We sure as schnitzel had zero idea what we were going to cook.
As we continued to walk around, things started to fall into focus, and a plan began to take shape. But it wasn’t from anything that we had to offer at this point. It was coming from our BBQ family.
One of the first people we encountered on this walk were Brian and Shannon Turner of Muttley Crew BBQ. They were quick to offer a congratulations and said, “We have four wagyu tri-tips in the fridge. They are yours if you want them for tomorrow.”
A plan was starting to take shape.
Next, we saw our great friends Suzanne and Jared Huizenga from Insane Swine. They had plates that we could use.
We grabbed the score sheet and headed straight back to the hotel at the beach, and sat down outside by the pool and started kicking around ideas. The tri-tip was the ticket. Luke had cooked it before (never in a smoker, let alone a Deep South), but at least it was something. And it was high quality. Luke messaged Brian and took him up on his offer. The tri-tip would be picked up in the morning.
Luke said, “You guys never lose when you make the lobster bacon mac and cheese. I think we should do it. I can cook the lobster tails in the smoker, and also the bacon. Then we can finish the mac and cheese in the smoker as well.”
The girls agreed. We had a plan. But we were now in WFC territory…with presentation and plating. Time to bring in the experts. More BBQ family.
Calls were placed to the two best cooks we know on the BBQ circuit, Roxanne Manley of Redneck Scientific and Danielle “DIVA Q” Bennett. Kim, Leigh Anne, and Luke spent roughly an hour on the phone, plotting out the strategy and how to best execute our plan.
The next day would start SUPER early. Luke went to the cooksite to figure out more about what time we could start, how the cookers would be set up, and other logistical things. Leigh Anne and Kim set to increasing the bottom line of the Orange Beach economy by doing some shopping for ingredients and plating.
While figuring out all the logistics back at the site, Luke spent some time on the phone with some additional BBQ family, getting encouragement, tips, and operational procedures. A call to the flavor guru Chris Capell with Dizzy Pig confirmed the flavor goal, and a call to Mark Gibbs from Checkered Flag 500 would give a road map on how to effectively use the Deep South.
We also were super excited that our friends Jared and Suzanne had decided to stay an extra day to support Old Virginia Smoke. This was huge for us, as they had offered us encouragement all along. Suzanne said she had a feeling about us the entire time.
The teams were assigned a spot, and we’d be cooking on a big beautiful red Deep South smoker, powered by a bright pink BBQ Guru. We had a spot on the end, and would be right next to one of our BBQ mentors, Donny Bray and Warren County Pork Choppers. Next to Donny was the Grand Champion from the previous day, Adam Gautreu of Cajun Blaze, and then next to him was Heath Riles from Victory Lane, one of the most accomplished pitmasters in all of BBQ. And of course, next to him was the incomparable Matt Barber from Hot Wachulas.
Whew. And another five teams on the other side, just as good.
Luke started moving things from the OVS trailer over to our temporary cook site, including decorating the Deep South with the white and blue OVS logos. She sure did look sharp. The girls showed up with everything they needed, and we got to setting up everything.
Everyone was deep in prep. Wood was being cut for displays. Teams were loaded up for everything. One even brought in the head chef from FloraBama, one of the best restaurants in the area. We had a start time, and everything looked great.
Except the temp on the cookers. The guru’s all read 200 degrees. But the dials were registering just under 400. Turns out the BBQ Guru’s were all still on degrees Celsius for the Euro teams that cooked on them the day prior. So a touch hotter than we expected.
And then it was go time. 2 hours certainly seemed like a long time. But it wasn’t. We cooked everything as we set out to do so. The lobster tails were cooked in the smoker. The bacon was cooked in the smoker. And tri-tips were smoked until they reached an acceptable temp.
We had a cast iron pan sitting on the heat tube in the bottom of the Deep South Smoker, getting it piping hot. About 15 minutes before turn in, Luke opened the door of the Deep South, leaned inside, and seared off all four pieces of tri-tip in the cast iron pan. They looked and smelled beautiful.
The girls were still working on pulling the mac and cheese together. But Luke was done with the tri-tip. BBQ family member Todd from Uncle Toad’s was there. Luke sliced off a piece and handed it to Todd. (I wish I could remember his exact words, but they were basically, “Turn in 10 just like that.”)
We started to pull the plating together just as we had discussed the night before. The sauce was made. The mac and cheese was done.
As we turned in, we got to see a lot of the other entries. Everyone’s plates looked amazing. The displays were intricate. Oh, to be a judge at that table…
We hit all of our marks and felt great about what we turned in. Our goal was to stay at least at 7th place and not drop after day 2. But there were bigger issues at play.
Leigh Anne and Kim had to leave. Our friend Bill Porterfield, who cooked across from us, had offered to take the girls to the airport. With the help of Jared and Suzanne, we got all of our gear back to the trailer. There were conversations about changing flights. About driving home.
Leigh Anne looked at Luke and said, “Do you want to win?”
Luke said, “Yes.”
Leigh Anne replied, “Then we should leave. Let’s go.”
And just like that the girls were on their way back to Virginia.
(There’s nothing quite like being in a parking lot doing dishes by yourself, with your thoughts. Friends came by and said hello and helped. But I felt kind of alone. It didn’t feel right being there without Kim and Leigh Anne. But sometimes with BBQ, thems the brakes.)
Luke walked to awards with Todd from Uncle Toad’s, Matt Barber, Mark and Niki from Serial Griller, and Mike and Barbara from Chix Swine and Bovine. The plan was to go back to the Villaggio restaurant and sit in the same spot as the night before. Once there, Luke sat with Jared and Suzanne and talked about how the girls weren’t there. And consumed many bourbon and diet coke’s. We’d find out that Chris Lilly, BBQ legend, and Michael McDearman, the face of the Sam’s Club and accomplished pitmaster himself, were two of the judges. We were being graded by the best.
Finally, they got to the BBQ awards and brought up all ten teams to the stage. On the way up, Luke was next to Chad Ward with Whiskey Bent and mentioned how much he wished Kim was there with him. Luke also couldn’t stop saying, “Look, there’s Chris Lilly. This is such a trip.”
(Luke—The next few minutes were a complete blur. They would announce the top three. I made Matt Barber stand in front of me so that he could be closer to the front, and so that he could see. Third place, Cajun Blaze. Huge shock. Had their food and it was wonderful. Second place, Warren County Pork Choppers. Donny Bray. Then first place. “Biggest shock of the night,” said McCloud. Moving up 6 spots. I was trying to figure out the math and who it was. And then McCloud said it, “Luke Darnell, Old Virginia Smoke.”)
Old Virginia Smoke had just been crowned World BBQ Champions. They would be cooking again on Tuesday at the final table for the grand prize of $100,000.
The rest of the night was a whirlwind. There were things to do to get ready. We had to get the Lil’ General and Leigh Anne back down here. Later, the girls would tell Luke something that they had hidden from him all day. Leigh Anne’s grandfather had passed away that morning. They made the decision not to tell him, to keep his mind right. So while Lil’ G was making plans to come back south, Leigh Anne would not be able to join us so that she could be with her family. Which sucked on a variety of levels.
Everyone helped Luke back to the trailer, loaded up all of the booty from the win, and then headed off to Serial Griller’s coach for a pretty robust celebration. A jar of Virginia’s finest was consumed post haste. Many phone calls were made. But plans had to be made too.
More to come…