Kingsford Invitational Crowns Top BBQ Champion

"It's the toughest contest to get to," said barbecue world champion Chris Lilly, author of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book and executive chef of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. "And it's the toughest contest to win."

As the Kingsford Invitational Barbecue Competition emcee, Lilly was speaking of the first Kingsford Invitational Barbecue Competition, held from Nov. 8 to 11 in Belle, Mo., which had superlative teams competing, the best-of-the-best chosen from eight top-tier regional contests like Memphis in May and the Jack Daniel's World Championships. There were almost as many star judges of the contest, seven, as there were teams, eight, competing for $50,000 and the Grand Champion title.

The Daily Meal attended the competition, just up the road from the Kingsford charcoal factory on Cook's Farm, where a semi-circle of eight pitmasters prepared to compete in chicken, ribs, pork shoulder/pork butt/whole hog, and brisket categories.

The contest began with the One Bite Challenge on Friday, Nov. 9, with Yazoo's Delta Q, led by team captain Melissa Cookston of Nesbit, Miss., winning the appetizer pre-contest with stuffed shrimp wrapped in bacon dipped in Asian sweet sauce. The team received $5,000 for its efforts but, more importantly, a point applied to the following day's bigger barbecue contest.

Yazoo's Delta Q took top honors. Photo credit: Mark Damon Puckett

The Kingsford Invitational was such a big deal in its debut showing that aptly named Meathead Goldwyn, a self-described "Barbecue Whisperer/Hedonism Evangelist" who runs and was one of the seven judges, even developed a new rating system for the "king of contests" based on the 14-point hedonic scale.

"Some other scoring systems get less repeatable data," said Goldwyn of the rating system traditionally used at many barbecue competitions, "so we wanted something that accounted for the subjectivity of taste and dispelled the myth of objectivity."

The teams competing on Saturday in four separate disciplines — chicken, ribs, pork shoulder/pork butt/whole hog, and brisket — had tongue-in-cheek barbecue names like Motley Que Crew, five men from Houston, Smoker's Purgatory, eight men from Des Moines, Iowa, and Smokin' Triggers, led by pitmaster Johnny Trigg.

Rounding out the competition were the trio Derek Schansberg, Jeff Vanderlinde, and Ted Moonen, of Shiggin' and Grinnin', Lucky's Q of Denver, Iowa; family team Pig Skin BBQ (Scott and Katy Nelson and their five children, Gavin, Ben, Chloe, Valerie, and Lucas, hail from Rockwell, Iowa); and the folks from the Checkered Pig BBQ in Martinsville, Va.

Pitmasters from across the U.S. brought their best barbecue to Belle, Mo. Photo credit: Mark Damon Puckett

Yazoo's Delta Q swept the competition, taking an unprecedented three of the four categories (losing only chicken). They received a $50,000 check along with the Grand Champion award. Lucky's Q, Sam's Club National BBQ Tour Grand Champion led by team captain Justin McGlaun, took top honors for chicken.

Mark Damon Puckett has written for Saveur and Greenwich Magazine. He is the author of The Reclusives, YOU with The Ill-usives, and The Killer Detective Novelist (October 2012), all available on and Please visit him at