Sunday, November 18, 2007

Interview: American Royal Grand Champions

The American Royal is the Superbowl of BBQ. With well over 500 competing teams and over 70,000 attendees, this event is the gold standard to which all others are compared. The most prestigious competition at the Royal is the Invitational. You have to asked to compete in the invitational and you will be up against the very best in the BBQ world.

We are very honored to talk with the Grand Champions of the 2007 American Royal Invitational, Great Grills O’ Fire aka Mark and Becky.

How many people help you out at events, or is it usually just the two of you?

Yes, usually it is just the two of us. We have had friends that have come out and helped at a few of the bigger contest when they are not cooking. The people that have helped us in the past are Floyd and Terri Murray and Dan Burkhart. Out of the 19-21 contests that we did this year we had help at 1, which was the American Royal.

What are your first memories of BBQ?

My first memories of BBQ are eating overcooked hamburgers and hotdogs at all the summer holidays. But I do remember seeing BBQ restaurants and always wondering what it tasted like.

When did you first start making your own BBQ?

I first started making my BBQ at the age of 21. I started cooking pork steaks and country style ribs for friends (had no idea what I was doing).

Do you remember the first dish that you made?

The first dish that I ever made was pork steak soaking in beer, not very good.

When did you make the jump from backyard cook to competitor?

I ran the backyard circuit from 1993-2000. The first KCBS contest that I cooked was in Serotma in Springfield, MO. Didn’t place in anything, but was helped by several of the bbq people that we now call friends.

Do you remember when you first got the feeling that you could be a serious, successful competitor?

No still waiting for that feeling. Like everyone says ‘any given day’.

Can you give us an outline of how you prepared for the American Royal?

We always have a list that we go by with what needs to be packed. For the past three years that we have done the American Royal we treat it like any other contest. Yes it is a lot bigger but you still need the same stuff at smaller contest also.

What was your experience like?

Every time we have done the American Royal we have always had a good time. It is great going and seeing people that you haven’t seen in a while and being able to sit there and talk with them, not to mention all the new people that you get to meet.

What equipment did you use to cook on?

We always use the same for every contest. We cook on a homemade smoker, made by a friend of ours, Chris Koetting, who also puts on a contest in Sedalia, MO. We also cook our chicken on a Weber Bullet.

Does Chris Koetting make smokers for purchase?

No he does not sell smokers. He just plays around on what he can make and what can be done to what he does have. One night he told us that he had a smoker that maybe we would be interested in, go out to his house cook on it and then buy it. If you haven't seen our baby it looks kinda ruff, but it does what needs to be done. She used to be all red, that is why she is called BIG RED, but now we painted her black but yet still the RED comes out. She is not pretty to look at but she can cook.

What type of wood did you use?

Oak, Cherry and Apple.

What sort of sauce do you use?

We make our own sauce, which consists of several ingredients. We also use Four Men and A Pig.

I realize that you don’t want to give away too much information, but can you give us a bit of detail on the sauce that you used and how the sauces changed per category?

All of our sauces that we use are tomato based. The sauce that we make for chicken sometimes work and sometimes doesn't. You know once you use something you are always going to try to improve it. We could tell you that we use pickle juice and blah, blah, blah....We could tell you everything in the sauce and someone would go back and say....He really doesn’t use that does he????? You just have to try different things to make it work...We lose more then what we have won. But we always have a great time.

Does your sauce change depending on the category?


When do you apply the sauce?

At the very end.

How many sauces have you experimented with?

Probably about 70.

Are you considering changing your sauce at all?


For fans of BBQ that are looking for a sauce that they can purchase, what would you recommend?

Head Country, Blues Hog, Four Men and A Pig, Lutz and Spicewine Iron Works.

What BBQ resources would you recommend for someone that is just getting interested?

We would recommend going and cooking with someone. Just being there helping will teach you a lot. Another place to go to get good info would be the BBQ Brethren (, a lot of info to learn there. We can’t recommend any books or videos because we do not have any. Just practice, practice, practice.

Do you have a website where people could visit Great Grills O’ Fire?

Nope. Don’t have the time or the money...Anyway who wants to look us up? We are just a no name team and just try to go out there and have a good time...Yeah sometimes we win but more then others we lose. We go to every contest worried about all the big teams that are there. Just go cook and have a good time is the best advice that can be given. If you are not having a good time and meeting awesome people, you are doing something wrong.

We appreciate the very humble Mark and Becky taking the time to answer our questions. They are great cooks and gracious winners.