Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rocky Top BBQ Cook-Off Results

This past weekend was the first Rocky Top BBQ Cook-Off in Knoxville. Alexis and I spent our time with two teams, Bent Elbow BBQ and Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue.

Chris Lilly with Big Bob Gibson's First Place Ribs.

I have a full post coming up about that experience (sorry, no competitive secrets to be released) but I wanted to get out a quick post out about this upstart BBQ competition.

The Event
Rocky Top BBQ Cook-off is Knoxville's first KCBS certified BBQ competition in a few years. This event was a fund raiser for the Rotary Club of West Knoxville. George Ewart, Oliver Smith, Phillip and Kathy Brazier, the Rotary Club and a host of volunteers pulled off what I think was a wonderful inaugural event. The one word that comes to mind is “organized”. Everything seemed well coordinated which is difficult for any event, let alone a first year event.

One of the organizers, George Ewart, with a junior member of the Bent Elbow Team
The comp was set up in two sections on the beautiful grounds of Episcopal School of Knoxville.

I couldn't get a good raised view of the second site.  Sitting here looking at this picture I see that tower on the building.  DOH! That would have been the perfect shot from there.
Friday night saw decent crowds at the vendor and entertainment areas.

The Teams
The field of 46 teams was loaded with talent and experience. The perennial regional favorites were there. So were some teams you might have seen on television, like Fatback's BBQ, Warren County Pork Choppers, and Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue.
Ash Kickers

Me with Joe Amore of Smoky Mountain Smokers

Many teams had an Egg but Sweet Smoke BBQ was the only to use Eggs exclusively.

Sons of Smoke

Corey from Fatbacks BBQ checking on their ribs which would later take 3rd.

The Cookers
I enjoy walking around competitions and looking at all of the cookers people bring in. From drum smokers and bullet smokers to home made rigs to cookers that cost more than the car I drive.
Bullet style smokers might be cheap but they have won many a contest.

Bent Elbow uses a pair of "ugly drum smokers".

Holy Smokes LLC checking the fire on their pit.

A Smoke Hollow combo unit like mine.  A lot of cooks bring an extra cooker like this to cook their meals for the 2-3 days of the contest.

Dead End BBQ had one of their trailer units onsite to serve up butts and ribs.

Nice Meadow Creek TS120 reverse flow smoker.  I have a thing for Meadow Creek cookers.

Ken Hess shows off the Big Bob Gibson rig's triple threat of Jedmaster smokers.

Queniverous picked up a SWEET Jambo J5 since the last time I saw them.  Base prices start at around $12,000. 
Some units are more self contained.

The Weather
Friday afternoon was blue sky beautiful but the clouds forming up on the Smoky Mountains hinted at the steady rain that was to come. The weather didn't affect cooking too much but the week-long forecasts of persistent rain put a big damper on the crowds.  The weather was the only disappointment about this event.  I think Saturday's crowds would have been much, much, much bigger if the weather had cooperated.

Yeah...that 90% chance of rain seems pretty accurate, it rained on me 90% of the time;)

The Entertainment
Kendra Chantrelle did a good show on Friday night, enjoyed by the crowds. But I felt bad for the bands on Saturday since the rain kept the crowds away. They were troopers though, playing with enthusiasm through the relentless rain and sparse crowds. There was also a Wing Eating competition by Hooters.
Kendra lucked out and had good weather on Friday.

The Competition
Things went very smoothly despite the weather.  I think it is a testament to the organizers that nothing stands out as “an issue”.

Even though we stayed mainly with the two teams, I frequently patrolled the grounds to get pictures and see what cooks were doing. As far as things that struck me as unusual, I saw several teams doing drumsticks instead of the typical thighs for chicken. I was also surprised that several teams were using lettuce for garnish instead of parsley in their boxes.   Of I took note of any special tricks that I saw but "It's only shiggin' if I take your idea and use it."
Cooks try to sneak in some sleep here....

...and there.

Spritzing the ribs.

They have plenty of ribs to choose from for their turn in box!

Approaching turn ins, you will see a LOT of team sidebars and last minute discussions.

It really is a group effort.

Building a turn in box is NOT just throw in your prettiest ribs/chicken/ etc.

You can see intensity on the teams' faces.

You have a 5 minute window before/after turn ins, miss it and you're toast.

This competitor (Monty Pigthon?) had a category specific hat for each turn in.

For the People's Choice competition, the crowd samples and picks their favorite BBQ pork.  We bought tickets for Peoples Choice but gave them away after being stuffed from sampling all of Big Bob Gibson's and Bent Elbow's BBQ.

The Results
Reserve Grand Champion:  Monty Pigthon and the Holy Grill
Grand Champion:  Warren County Pork Choppers

Peoples Choice – Molloy's BBQ
Bush Beans Contest – Smokin' Bettys
Wampler Sausage Contest – Got Smoke! Knoxville

  1. Smoke On This
  2. Holy Smoke
  3. Molloy's BBQ

  1. Big Bob Gibson
  2. Fatback's BBQ
  3. Warren County Pork Choppers

  1. Warren County Pork Choppers
  2. Ash Kickers BBQ
  3. Smoky Mountain Smokers

  1. Adam's Rib
  2. Dirty Ol Butt Slappers
  3. Q-We-Do

Reserve Grand Champion – Monty Pigthon and the Holy Grill  

Grand Champion – Warren County Pork Choppers

Congrats to all who walked and great job to all of the people that made this BBQ contest successful!


  1. Great post about an inaugural event! I've learned that first-year contests either go really well or really terrible, and most of it depends on organization.

  2. What a wonderful event,Chris! Thanks for sharing all those pictures!

  3. How fun that you both attended and participated. Looks like it's a lot of work to be a competitor. I've been in one big live competition in a big convention center - the National Chicken Cooking Contest and the pressure was enormous. Reporters and spectators came around to your both and asked questions and visited. I ended up talking so much I got behind :) but you know me. I think I was more worried about not bring the right clothes to be on Regis & Cathy Lee the next day if I was the winner than actually winning.

    Thanks for taking us along. Happy Mother's Day to Alexis.

  4. This BBQ raised to an art form. No matter what the outcome this is an amazing way to experience your passion.


  5. Wow -- this was great -- wish I coulda been there!!!!

  6. A terrific load of photos, bob Chris's ribs in the first one looks best... I am having Rib envy right now, had three smokes scheduled and all three were rained out. Maybe this weekend.

    Thanks for all the work putting this post together, looks like a lot of fun, work and always a great time at these!


  7. Thanks for all of the great shots Chris - looks like they had a very good inagural event. Some good looking RV's sitting around as well as good looking cookers.

  8. What fun!! Great photos of the big event.

  9. One of the best "event" write-ups I think you've ever done. One of the best I've ever seen on the internet for that matter.
    Great job with the photos and captions too.

  10. Great photos and documenting! I love to see the myriad smokers people use, and the baseball-esc rituals that go into turn-ins.

  11. What a great post, Chris! I love seeing all the different types of smokers... very cool!! Looks like a great time was had by all!

  12. That looks soooo fun! Loved seeing all the different grills/smokers! I haven't heard of like any of them lol. After reading this post I've confirmed that I know NOTHING about true bbqing! This is the real deal right here! I see that Big Bob Gibson won 1st for ribs :) Looks like an amazing time.


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