I was asked the other day at lunch what my favorite contest was? Without a doubt it was the 2012 Chick-fil-a Kick Off Classic BBQ Throw Down! Sometime in May of 2012, I received a call from the University of Tennessee Football team asking if we wanted to represent UT in a BBQ Throw Down in Atlanta. It would be before the Kick-Off Classic football game against North Carolina State and we would compete against a barbecue team from NC State. It took about one second for me to say yes; I mean what an honor it was to represent my alma mater, the state of Tennessee and Knoxville in a BBQ Throw Down!
After accepting the invitation, I then started to wonder who our opponent would be. In the back of my mind, I was hoping it would be The Pit, the most famous BBQ restaurant in Raleigh and the state of North Carolina. We found out for sure it was The Pit around the end of July! I knew we had our work cut out because The Pit is one of the premier BBQ restaurant’s in the USA! The game was scheduled for Friday, August 31, 2012 and we would be cooking outside the Georgia Dome in International Plaza.
We left Knoxville Thursday morning. Our team consisted of Duayane Huddleston who has been cooking with me since 2010, Daniel Bryant our then catering manager, Robert Nutt co-owner of Dead End BBQ, Jimmy McElroy a great realtor in Knoxville and Mr. On The Spot during the competition.
The Barbecuties- Leah Harville, Michelle Gentry and Rachel Ryan and I rounded out the team. As I said we left Knoxville in the morning around 9am but after Robert’s forty pit stops and 55mile an hour speed we arrived at the Georgia Dome at 5pm. Just in time for them to lock us in the park for the night because Georgia State was playing their first Football game that night in the Dome.
After we got the smokers, tents and tables set up it was time to eat! Our friend Bob Hendon of the Atlanta Bar-B-Q Club, who was one of the organizers, came by to take us out for some BBQ. He took us to Fox Brothers BBQ and we shared everything on the menu. It was all great! By the time we got back to the hotel, The Pit had pulled in and was setting up! Things were getting ready to heat up; I mean literally heat up because the smokers were started at 2am Friday morning.
Pork Butts and Brisket went on at 3am and the fun began! Turn in times were different than a typical contest because of the scheduled events happening at the plaza, so our cook times were very staggered. This gave me time to talk to my new friends for life Darrell Brown and Sean Barts from The Pit! I cannot say enough good things about those two guys!
When the Fox television station interviewed Darrell and me early Friday morning he summed it up the best “What else could you want in a BBQ throw down but the best from North Carolina and the best from Tennessee. Two great BBQ flavors and two great restaurants.” That got me fired up! It was time to get focused and see what we could do!
The ribs and chicken went on around 9 am and 10am respectfully. The Barbecuties showed up around 10am to start handing out t-shirts, stickers, hats and food (we started serving around 1pm). Then around noon Bob stopped by our tents and said that there was a fifth category, which was Pork Belly. He gave both of us a slab to cook and turn in at 4pm. I hate to admit it but I had not cooked pork belly prior to this contest. So I improvised by realizing the cut was close to the rib area, so I decided to cook them similar to our ribs.
The announcements started about 30 minutes after turn ins. The first turn in was Chicken and we WON! The second turn in was Ribs and we WON! The Pit won both Pork and Brisket! So it came down to the Pork Belly. When it came off the smoker, I started slicing it and it cut perfectly! Everyone started eating it as I was cutting and we almost didn’t have enough to turn in but managed to get enough in our box!
So we went to the stage; I was tired and nervous. The crowd was pretty large, as we were getting very close to kick off time for the football game. The announcer starting talking about both teams and how great the competition was and then two large trophies appeared on stage! The tension was mounting and I really wanted to take a shower after being out in the hot Atlanta sun all day! They announced second place and that went to The Pit, so that meant we won! Rachel was on stage with me and she grabbed the trophy immediately as I went over to congratulate my friends Darrell and Sean.
I was proud to cook with the guys form the Pit and I was relieved that we were able to represent our Great University, Great State and Great City! To top off the night Duayne, Daniel, Leah, Michelle, Rachel and I set together to cheer the Vols to a 35-27 victory over NC State!