Jeremy Williams of Gardner isn’t your typical backyard griller. While he likes nothing better than to throw a couple of burgers on the grill on the weekends for his family, his skills go far beyond that.
As co-owner and pitmaster of Fergolicious BBQ, a competitive barbecue team, Williams will soon put those grilling skills on full display for a national television audience. He will appear as a contestant on Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters” at 8 p.m. on July 31.
For Williams, who participated in his first barbecue competition in 2012, “Chopped Grill Masters” was a contest like no other.
“The experience was crazy,” Williams said. “Honestly, it was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done when it comes to cooking and competing. It was exciting, humbling and it was quick. Very quick. The clock doesn’t stop.”
With time ticking, Williams had 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer, 30 minutes to cook an entrée and 30 minutes to create a dessert. But here’s where things really got complicated — he didn’t know what ingredients he would be using until a basket was opened in front of him right before the competition began.
“There is nothing that can prepare you for it,” Williams said. “You can practice, you can time yourself, but it’s virtually impossible to prepare.”
On his episode of Chopped Grill Masters, Williams goes head-to-head with three other professional grill masters from the Kansas City area. Out of the four contestants chosen, Williams was the only one from Kansas.
The winner of the Kansas City competition will appear in a final episode on Aug. 28, when he or she will go up against regional winners from North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas for a chance at a $50,000 grand prize.
Williams isn’t allowed to say how well he did in the competition, so tune in to find that out. In fact, he’s had to remain pretty tight-lipped about the whole experience until just recently.
He applied to be on Chopped Grill Masters in November 2017 and found out he was selected as a contestant in February. Over spring break in March, Williams flew to New York City to film the show, unbeknownst to his friends.
Even his co-workers at Nike Elementary School in Gardner, where Williams has taught PE for the past 18 years, didn’t know the exciting secret he was keeping.
It’s all been an incredible journey for Williams who started Fergoliciou BBQ as a hobby with his pitmaster partner Richard Fergola.
After some success on the competition circuit, the team got a big break in 2014 when they were featured on the show BBQ Pitmasters on the Destination America channel. Fergola himself was a contestant on last season’s Chopped Grill Masters.
Williams says they’ve come a long way since their first competition six years ago when they felt lucky to have taken third place in the brisket category. Last year, Fergolicious BBQ ranked number nine nationally according to the Kansas City Barbecue Society standings.
“We’re just a couple of teachers and coaches who started barbecuing in their backyards, had some luck and had people who took some chances on us and here we are now.”
Williams and Fergola’s latest collaboration is a barbecue supply store in Olathe called KC Grilling Company. Fergola is the general manager of the store, and Williams assists him.
At the store, they also teach classes that are designed for everyone from the backyard barbecue enthusiast to the competition-level griller.
For Williams, teaching others how to get more out of their grill is a perfect combination of his skills.
“With the teaching and coaching background, it’s been an easy transition for us to teach the classes,” Williams said. “It just comes naturally.”
But at the end of the day, grilling for Williams isn’t about winning a competition. It’s about something much simpler.
“When you cook for others it make them happy,” Williams said. “And it also makes you happy.”