Hey Everyone, welcome to The BBQ Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Kevin Sandridge, and in this episode, I’m going to do a little bit of a wrap up of my recent trip up to Lynchburg, TN to judge the 2019 Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition.
It was an amazing trip, filled with a ton of great experiences. I have a lot of shout outs to give out to some of the competitors, my fellow judges, and most importantly, the good folks from Jack Daniel’s who’ve been hosting this world-famous competition now for 31 years.
As you have probably heard is sometimes the case, the weather at this year’s event was a bit on the wet side…
But it seems that the need to bring some rain gear and a pair of good old muck boots has sort of become part of the charm of attending the Jack!
OK. I have a lot to share, but before we get to it… I need to take a quick break for a word from the folks who help keep the lights on here at The BBQ Beat.
If you’ll permit me, I’d like to start off by talking about how my experience at the Jack came about this year.
Anyone even remotely connected with the competition BBQ world – anywhere in the world – knows about this historic event … held for the past 31 years in Lynchburg, TN. Judging the Jack has been on my personal bucket list since I first started blogging about BBQ nearly 10 years ago.
Throughout a given competition BBQ season, you hear that one event or another is a Jack Daniel’s qualifier. I still remember being at the Bartow, FL Bluegrass and BBQ Competition back in 2009 when Chad Ward invited me as a newbie BBQ blogger to see what the competition BBQ world was all about.
Whiskey Bent BBQ was entered into that KCBS event as a backyard team. They’d won a backyard Grand Championship in Dade City prior and were ready to get down as they were known to do back then.
Well… turns out the event was one Pro Team shy of the required number, I believe it was 25, to count as a Jack Daniel’s qualifier. Chad, Jared Hatcher, and the Whiskey Bent team stepped right up and jumped to the pro level to help out, and though they didn’t win the event that weekend, they hit the stage a few times – which as you know, is an accomplishment at any event here in Imperial Polk County…
Anyway, the words Jack Daniel’s Qualifier stuck with me that weekend and have played a prominent role in my talks and discussions with competition BBQ teams in the years since.
When I got the email from the folks who deal with the media for Jack Daniel’s to see if I’d be interested in Judging this year’s event, I almost fell right over. For me, that was like winning the lottery.
So… fast forward to Judging the Jack on October 26th…
I met my friends Chris Grove, Craig Tabor, Chef Michael Ollier and Clint Cantwell for the ride up to the competition grounds from satellite parking set up for judges. When we arrived on site and walked into the judges’ tent, I was instantly blown away by the number of BBQ legends and extremely well accomplished live fire cooking and BBQ related professionals in attendance.
We were each handed a black cloth Jack Daniel’s Apron and a silver sharpie, and man, let me tell you I went to town on getting autographs like the biggest fan-boy you’ve ever seen. Absolutely ZERO hesitation for this guy whatsoever!
To be clear, I’m talking people like Mr. Pat Burke, Mr. Mike Mills and his daughter Amy Mills of 17th Street BBQ, Chef Paul Kirk – whose book on BBQ Rub and Sauce development is a must-buy for anyone looking to craft them according to Heath Riles, Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ, Ray Lampe – Dr. BBQ, Ardie Davis AKA Remus Powers, Lee Ann Whippen, Craig Verhage – The BBQ Ninja – and Christie Vanover of Girls Can Grill.
We got started with judging with rounds of Sauces and Chef’s Choice selections. The creations that hit our table and those making their way to the other tables of judges were mind-blowing in variation and complexity.
Some tables for this round got to judge Homeland entries from the international teams. I talked to some of these judges after the fact and they were all very impressed by the entries that came their way.
The standard KCBS rounds of Chicken, Ribs, Pork and Brisket all went as usual, with the food all ranging from very good to excellent in each category.
Then came the dessert entries…
By this point, I was near bursting but as any man of the south worth his salt… I was going to get through dessert with high marks…and I am proud to say that I did just that!
As with the Chef’s Choice round, the desserts were off the charts awesome. Delicious creations made their way across the judge’s tent and I’ll tell you it put any stream of images you’ve seen on Instagram or Pinterest to shame!
As awesome as this all was, I have to say that the conversations with my fellow judges are what made the experience truly special.
Of special note … I was fortunate enough to have both Mr. Pat Burke and Ardie Davis at my table. Not a bad “draw” for my first time out at the Jack, right?
OK… So once judging wrapped up, I deposited my Judges Swag Bag Back down the hill in my truck.
By the way, I’ve not seen a Swag Bag like the one given to me at this event… in like….. ever.
It contained a couple of nice bottles of Jack Daniel’s No. 7 and Tennessee Apple along with a lot of other cool stuff, and it must have weighed in at 10 lbs or more!
So yeah, once I made my way back up the hill, Craig, Chris and I started to make the rounds to some of the competition teams in order to get the audio interviews I’m about to play for you.
Special thanks to Craig and Chris for hanging with me as I went from team to team, microphone in hand, nerding out the whole time.
The interviews you’re about to hear go in the following order….
- Rub Bagby of Swamp Boys BBQ out of my home town of Winter Haven, Florida
- Stan & Tonia Dobosenski of Rub My Rack BBQ out of Ft. Ripley, Minnesota
- Chris Grove, Craig Tabor and Joey Machado in a sort of Jack Daniel’s Roundtable
- Bobby Stanfiel of B-S BBQ Outlaws out of Hill City, South Dakota
- BBQ Hall of Fame BBQ and all-around BBQ legend Mr. Pat Burke
- Tuffy Stone of Cool Smoke Barbeque out of Richmond, Virginia
- David Bouska of Butcher BBQ – winner of the 2018 Jack Daniel’s competition and best-selling producer of competition and grilling rubs, sauces and injections out of Chandler, Oklahoma
- Darren Warth of Iowa Smokey D’s BBQ out of Des Moines, Iowa
- Chester Lewis of The Specialists BBQ Team out of Mountain Brook, Alabama
- Jordan Kirkpatrick of Janky Leg BBQ out of Benton, Illinois.
A special note, the interview with Jordan Kirkpatrick was totally unplanned and came about right after a rainy night of awards being handed out Saturday. I’d met Jordan at Tuffy Stone’s cook site earlier in the day, as he was hanging out there with Mr. Pat Burke.
That evening, Jordan shared a story about how he came to be friends with Mr. Burke that I think you’re going to love. Quite frankly, it’s awesome…. So I know you’re going to love it.
I hope you enjoyed listening to each of these interview segments. I surely enjoyed making the rounds, and frankly, did not get to the number of teams I’d hoped to prior to awards.
If I’m lucky enough to be asked back to judge the 2020 Jack Daniel’s Invitational, I’ll be sure to work in a few more. I want to get over to more of the International teams to get their perspective on what it’s like to cook the event.
I want to give a special shout out to the media contact folks for Jack Daniel’s as well as to Jack Daniel’s proper. The event, the event staff, and all of the logistical support they provided were all of the best possible quality and caliber. It was indeed a great pleasure to be part of this event!
Finally, as always guys, I can’t thank you enough for being BBQ Beat Podcast listeners.
Your comments, messages and reviews really keep me going.
If you haven’t subscribed or left a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast feeds, please consider doing so. It would really mean the world to me.
If there are folks you would like me to reach out to for interviews, please message me directly via Instagram or Facebook and I’ll try and work those into the mix for you.
Until next time, keep the coals ashy and the thin blue smoke rolling….
Talk to you later.