Category / On The Road


Third Annual Kingsford Invitational 2015


In April, I traveled to New York City for the filming of the third annual Kingsford Invitational.


The setting was Pier 26 in Tribeca, with a majestic skyline and the Freedom Tower in the background.


We warmed up by these custom Kingsford firepits in the evenings.


And of course, a little tequila helped, too.


Can you match the shoes with my fellow judges? Tom Ford sneakers, Lucchese boots, Vans, Nike pumps, and Lucchese boots.


Also known as Ben Robinson, Moe Cason, Melissa Cookston, Brad Orrison, and me.

KingsfordInvitational-MelissaChris Lilly was the host of the past two Kingsford Invitational contests, and as he was cooking this round, former NFL linebacker and sports personality Dhani Jones joined the cast as the host. He is personality plus and a consummate professional. So much fun to be around.


The set was one of a kind. This is the Dirty Water Dogs, a team formed just for this show, representing New York City. Billy Durney, Hugh Magnum, and Will Horowitz jumped into the fray with some very experienced competitors and did extremely well.


Jamie Geer, the 2015 Houston Rodeo Grand Champion, inventor of the coveted Jambo Pit, and very recent winner of BBQ Pitmasters. You can read more about Jamie on these Texas Monthly BBQ blog posts.


Getting to know Donny and Tracy Bray was such a pleasure. His skill is well known, but our paths have never crossed.


Drew McGowan and Owen Lilly are all smiles as they haul charcoal to their site in preparation for the Wal-Mart One-Bite Challenge.


Each contestant had a choice of steak cuts and could use just five ingredients in the preparation. These were some of the best entries I’ve ever tasted in a contest.


Big Bob Gibson was the clear winner. His steak was all about heritage – seasoned with Big Bob Gibson dry rub and garlic and a marinade as an ode to his favorite childhood steakhouses. They were thrilled to collect a check for $5,000, but more importantly, they received an extra point for the next day’s score.


What I really enjoyed about this contest was the opportunity for cooks to experiment and turn in simply good barbecue, not the homogenous competition ‘que that is so ubiquitous on the circuit today.

Sometimes that experiment paid off, as was the case with Chris Lilly’s quarter chickens dunked in white sauce … and sometimes it did not, as evidenced by the Dirty Dogs’ take on Peking chicken. The effort, however, was valiant and appreciated by the judges. And of course, it all made great television.


Cool Smoke, comprised of Tuffy and Leslie Stone, and his dad and constant teammate, George Stone, took home the grand prize of $50,000, this amazing trophy, and a custom ring. Tuffy was a judge on the first Kingsford Invitational show, and a competitor last year. This victory was a sweet one, indeed, for him and for all of us. Cheering one another on and reveling in the success of our barbecue family is what makes this world so special.

Kingsford Invitationals to can see behind the scenes of the first two Kingsford Invitational contests.


 Follow our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter.
See lots of entertaining and barbecue ideas on our Pinterest boards.
And we post fun things on Facebook, too! 


Hogs for the Cause 2015

In March, we traveled to New Orleans to compete in the Hogs for the Cause contest. This multi-layered event raises funds for families whose children have brain cancer. Operating at a grass roots level, families can apply for these grants directly. The purpose of Hogs For The Cause is to provide aid and relief of those variable expenses and economic burdens families face while their child is being treated for pediatric brain cancer. While the money devoted to pediatric cancer research is dwindling, there is an even bigger void in the variable expenses associated with cancer treatment. It is our goal to fill this void. As a result of the support and success Hogs For The Cause has garnered in past years, Hogs currently operates as a premier funding source for pediatric brain cancer outreach services in the United States..

In order to compete, each team raises money prior to arriving, donates to a silent auction, and vends during the actual event, with all funds going to the cause. We auctioned a Whole Hog Extravaganza for 100 as our primary fundraiser.


Our first stop (and the site of multiple visits) was the outstanding Cochon Butcher.


Chris, Phillip, and Mike and the Le Pig Mac. Two whole pork patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun! Outstanding.


Beignet stop.

Café du Monde bright and early Friday morning…


…followed by a stroll around Jackson Square, prior to heading to the park for set-up.


It was also my birthday, and conveniently the start of crawfish season. So this was Friday night’s dinner.


These are mostly local New Orleans teams who don’t run the barbecue circuit. This reminds me very much of old-school Memphis in May, where people are just cooking great barbecue and not a specific flavor profile.


The contest is pork-centric in nature, with shoulder, ribs, whole hog, and porkpourri categories. We cooked a beautiful Compart Duroc hog. Gorgeous marbling.


Lots of inventive cookers.


And clever games. This is frozen pork butt bowling.


Vending to the public is a huge part of the fundraising at this event and there was a variety of food for sale.


Kettle corn with maple bacon cumbles on top.


The Porkpourri event was new to us. Becky made “Hogsagna Soup,” a lasagna soup with fresh pork sausage we made ourselves, several different types of cheese, pork broth, and other seasonings and spices.


The opportunity to catch up with friends is the best part of a contest. This is Mike and Howard Conyers, NASA scientist and old-school whole hog cooker. Howard is from South Carolina and he lives and works in New Orleans.


And of course the Ubons family, who has been involved with Hogs for a Cause for several years.


We were situated directly across from Donald Link’s team and we enjoyed some fellowship with Ryan Prewitt and Steven Stryjewski while drinking lots of rosé.

Grant recipient families were in attendance and meeting those families whose lives are directly enriched by this organization is humbling and heartwarming. Other charitable barbecue organizations could learn a great deal from this group. Their next event will be in Charleston in October. And then again in New Orleans on April 1-2, 2016.

Follow our adventures in real time on Instagram and Twitter.
See lots of entertaining and barbecue ideas on our Pinterest boards.
And we post fun things on Facebook, too!