How I won the American Royal.
Our latest article comes from Bill Gillespie, who is the reigning champion of the American Royal World Series of Barbecue Invitational, with his team, Smokin’ Hoggz. He is also the author of a fantastic book on barbecue, Secrets To Smoking. You can buy his sauce by visiting his website. We asked him to share his story of winning a one of the most prestigious BBQ titles in the world…
My name is Bill Gillespie, I am the head cook/pit boss for the Smokin’ Hoggz competition BBQ team located in Abington, MA, about 20 min south of Boston. I started competing in BBQ cometitions in 2005 and decided it was time to start my own team in 2008. We did one contest as Smokin’ Hoggz BBQ in 2008 and walked away with a 5th place in brisket, and we were pretty excited with that call as we headed into the off season.
2009 and 2010 were up and down years for us, as we experienced some growing pains, we were very inconsistent from contest to contest and needed that to change. So at the end of the 2010 season we decided to look for a competition BBQ class. We found one and took it, the IQue competition BBQ class taught by the 2009 World Champion Chris Hart. Man, was there a lot of information in that class! After the class, my teammates and I practiced every weekend the whole off season, we even bought a new-to-us Smoker, applying our new found knowledge into producing consistent competition BBQ.
2011 was our breakout year, all of our hard work practicing and practicing started paying off. We would win our very first Grand Champion (GC) and would eventually go on to win the 2011 Jack Daniels World Championships!!!
Over the next few seasons we continued to cook and have a good amount of success. Last year was a very, very successful year for us, we had 5 GC’s and 4 RGC’s [reserve grand champion] and would finish 15th overall in the KCBS Team Of The Year race. One of the GC’s we won was at the 2014 American Royal Invitational.
At the beginning of the 2014 season we were talking about which contests we wanted to do and one of the ones we really to participate in was the American Royal. We had competed there before in 2011 and had a fantastic time, and couldn’t wait for the chance to go back. This year was a little different as far as traveling- we would need to fly out because it takes about two days of travel on either end to get out there and back if you drive, so we had to fly to save a couple of vacation days!!! [Sound familiar to many Aussies?!]
The big challenge was how do we get our stuff out there?? Luckily for us there was team in our area that was heading out to the Royal and they were willing to take a couple of bins of stuff for us. One of our sponsors (Humphrey’s Smokers) was also coming out, so they were able to ship out a couple of cookers, they planned to sell them as demo units after the contest, so they didn’t have to ship them home!!! Everything was really coming together logistically, we rented tents, tables, chairs, coolers, etc.. and borrowed a few things from a couple of local teams (Smoke on Wheels and The Slabs). I bought all my supplies like cutting boards, rubs, sauces and injections from the Kansas City BBQ Supply store. The only thing I brought with me were my clothes and two briskets, I would buy the rest of the meat in KC!!
So fast forward to Friday, I trimmed all the meat for the two contests (Invitational & Open). 2 Briskets, 4 Butts, 8 racks of ribs and 40 pieces of chicken, it took me about 4 hours but it was so worth it!! Pretty much a typical day prepping for a contest. Put the big meats on Friday night, go to bed, get up early Sat morning and get the ribs on then the chicken. We had some down time sat morning so I was able to get the brisket, butts and ribs seasoned and injected for the open contest. So all I had to do after turn in was season the chicken!!!
Saturday was a long day, we had the four main turn-ins (chicken, ribs, pork and brisket), but aso had 4 ancillary categories(Beans, Veggies, potatoe and dessert) to turn in as well. Overall we felt pretty good about the cook, there was nothing that went terribly wrong. Everything tasted good and so no matter what the outcome was we knew we had a good cook.
So, the time comes for the award announcements and I am a nervous wreck, like I usually am for award time. They go through the chicken category and we get nothing. Next up was Ribs, again nothing! Then, they call us for 3rd place pork, we were absolutely thrilled, pork for us that year was really up and down. We made a couple of tweaks to our pork program a few contests before and it looks like they paid off!!! Finally, Brisket. As the MC gets to the top three he makes an announcement that the top three in brisket are all perfect scores (180), then proceeds to call us for 3rd place brisket!!!! Again, I was totally psyched about the call because this was our first 180 in brisket!!!! Now getting ready to call the overall, at this point I really don’t know what to think, we just had two awesome calls, so the nerves are really settling in. As they count down from 20th and into the top ten then top five I am a complete mess, LOL, they call 3rd and it’s Dr Nordy’s. Now I start to think that Loot’n’Booty must have won this thing, I remember they had two really good calls (1st chicken w/180 and 7th in ribs). They call Reserve Grand Champ and it’s Dirt Road BBQ. Now I really start to think we have no chance, we must have really tanked chicken and ribs… Then all I hear over the speakers is ‘Grand champion for the 2014 American Royal invitational is Bill Gillespie of Smokin’ Hoggz BBQ’……. Holy crap!!!!! We just won the American Royal Invitational, I can’t friggin’ believe it!!!!!!
Last year was truly an incredible year for the Smokin’ Hoggz BBQ team, not only did we have 5 GC’s and 4 RGC’s, But we had our BBQ sauce bottled and we also wrote a BBQ cook book called ‘Secrets to Smoking on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and other Smokers’. The book was released this past March and the Sauce is available through our website.
I’m happy to share a recipe from the cookbook with my Aussie BBQ mates, I really hope you enjoy it:
Baby Back Ribs
When you think All-American BBQ, what do think of? My first thought is baby back ribs. This is what got me started in the fun and crazy world of competition BBQ. I love ribs!! I used to order them every chance I got when we would go out for dinner. Then one day I though hmm….I bet I could make these at home. So, I went out got a smoker. It was a small red Brinkman, and the temperature gauge read low, ideal, and hot — I’m sure some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The first set of ribs I cooked came out awful. I think there were only two bones from each rack that were even edible. It was a complete disaster! That was over 15 years ago. I have honed my barbecue skills since then, and have come up with a rib recipe that I can certainly be proud of! I think you’ll like it, too!
Cook time approximately 3.5 hours
Yields about 8 servings
2 Racks of Loin Back ribs(Baby Back) with the membrane from the back side of the ribs removed
Dry Rub – recipe to follow
BBQ sauce – recipe follows
Apple wood chips or chunks (if using chips, soak in water for about an hour)
½ cup sugar
½ cup Kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar, dried
2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP ground cumin
2 teaspoon Accent (MSG)
2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoon onion powder
* Mix all dry rub ingredients together and store in an air tight container
1 c Sweet baby rays
¼ c cider vinegar
¼ c apple juice
2 T dry rub
Combine all ingredients and store in the fridge
Apply some of the yellow mustard to both sides of the ribs, just enough to lightly coat them (the purpose of the mustard is to give the rub something to stick to). Then sprinkle meat with the rub and let sit for about 1 hour before cooking to allow meat to come to room temperature. A good overall dusting on both sides of the ribs is all you will need.
While the ribs are resting, now would be a good time to pre heat your smoker for low and slow cooking ~250 Degrees F. Fill your water pan about ¾ full with hot water. Add your smoke wood about 5 min before putting the ribs on the WSM
Now it’s time to put the ribs on the cooker, you will want to put them in meat side up. Let them cook for about 2.5 hrs. After the 2.5 hrs are up, take a couple of sheets of aluminum foil and drizzle on some honey and brown sugar and a little bit of butter. Place the ribs on the honey and brown sugar meat side down. On the back side of the ribs pour some of the BBQ sauce, wrap tightly and place back on to the cooker for another hour or until done.
You will know they are done when you can see the meat shrink from the bone about ½ – ¾ inch. Take the ribs out of the foil and glaze them with the left over juices and let them rest for about 20 min. Cut them up and serve.