After nailing his second Grand Champion title at the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle last Saturday, Rod Gray dropped a few pearls of wisdom.
“Never go into a contest expecting to win,” Gray said. “If you do, you’re going to wind up sad and miserable most of the time. There’re lots of good cooks out there who’ve been doing it a long time and they’re out to win, too.”
Gray, who lives in Leawood, is a Pitmaster — a professional competitor — who travels around the country entering barbecue contests virtually every weekend. In 2013, he won TV’s “BBQ Pitmasters” contest, to a tune of $50,000.
“There are no real secrets to winning,” he said. “The best you can do is consistently cook good food and have lots of luck, like finding judges who like the taste.”
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Gray’s Pellet Envy team (his wife, Sheri) won Grand Champion at Lenexa the first time in 2011. Before that, their best finish was third in 2008. “We’ve been entering the Lenexa contest eight or 10 years now and we feel we’ve done pretty well. There are 185 cooks entered every year who know what they’re doing.”
Grand Champion wins $2,500 in prize money and a banner proclaiming the Pellet Envy team the 2015 Kansas State Champion. The winner is determined by an accumulation of points from seven categories.
The 34th annual Great Lenexa BBQ Battle, a two-day event, was held in Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park at 87th St. and Lackman Road and drew about 20,000 people.
“We had the maximum 185 teams entered again this year and 240 judges certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society,” said Lindsay Hart, recreation superintendent of :enexa parks and recreation.
Randy Van Slyke felt especially good about this year’s BBQ Battle when his High I Que team was judged Reserve Grand Champion and won $1,250. “This was the first time we’ve entered the Lenexa contest,” he said. “We also picked up $175 for placing third in the brisket category.”
“Our team is kind of a family affair,” said Van Slyke, who lives in Gardner. “It’s my brothers-in-law John Radcliff, Olathe, and Chris Hendricks, Gardner, and my wife, Nikke. We had a great time. We’ll be back next year for sure.”
“We cook barbecue so often around home we get a little tired of it and send out for a pizza. My daughters, 9 and 3, want hot dogs,” he added.
Jason Crees and his Jaestar BBQ team placed third overall for the second year in a row and won $750 in prize money. “This is just the third year we’ve entered the Lenexa contest so we feel good,” said Crees, who lives in Adel, Iowa.
“I was scrambling all day,” he said. “One of my smokers went out and I had a grease fire in the other so I was on the run.”
Crees entered the Lenexa Battle at the urging of family and friends in the Kansas City area. “It was fun. I met some nice people. I’ll be entering every year from now on. I’m getting ready to move from Adel to Smithville, Missouri,” he said.
Winners of these individual categories received $500.
Chicken: Rib “I’s”, Mike Kalny, Kansas City, Kan.
Pork Ribs: Sublime BBQ, Dub Siegel, Olathe.
Pork: Big Sausage BBQ, Brian Landry, Overland Park.
Brisket: B & C Smokers, Cortney Drake, Olathe.
Sausage: Midnight Vultures, Chris Manning, Lenexa.
Miscellaneous: B & C Smokers, Cortney Drake, Olathe.
Whole Animal: Knights of the Holy Grill, Terry Pellant, Overland Park.