Aaron Franklin pork butt recipe
People, Review

Top 10 People [Pitmasters] of BBQ

Nothing can compare to a delicious, well-done barbecue, and these people know best how to prepare it. Meet the BBQ pros, 10 Pitmasters whose experience and passion are worthy of admiration.

AaronFranklin Pitmaster

Aaron Franklin

In the barbecue world, Aaron is often considered a legend. In the past, he launched his own restaurant in Austin under the name of Franklin Barbecue. At first, it was merely a little trailer, but over time things started to move. It grew and developed into a seasoned and respectable business. The restaurant has received multiple awards and proudly bears the status of the best barbecue joint in Texas, a highly prestigious award that only the best can win. In his book, “A Meat Smoking Manifesto”, Aaron Franklin sheds light on his numerous techniques that led him to success.

Chris Lilly Pitmaster

Chris Lilly

Chris Lilly is a famous barbecue champion who took part in a number of different contests and challenges and attained success. He is notoriously famous for being the only man who participated in the Memphis in May BBQ cook-off contest and won it five times. The contest is also jokingly known as the Super Bowl of Swine. Chris is the author of two books. His Alabama BBQ joint is widely considered to be the most influential in the country. He uses a mixed technique and combines the grilling speed with the low-and-slow method. His meals are for any day of the week.

Robert Rainford Pitmaster

Robert Rainford

A famous Canadian chef, Robert made plenty of appearances over the years. At one point he was also the host of an extremely popular TV show called “License to Grill”. He dedicated his whole life to the culinary career. Today, he is a renowned master of grill. He is best known for his Rainford Method. Robert’s personal advice is to always use a two-tiered heat approach. This is something many people forget about when grilling. It is necessary to have a cooler zone during intense grilling. Tody, Robert Rainford has the official status of the Chef Ambassador.

Steven Raichlen Pitmaster

Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen is a famous author and one of the most widely known BBQ pros. He is the author of a popular bestseller series, the Barbecue Bible, which is his most well-known work. In Colorado Springs, he founded Barbecue University which has been successful at preparing BBQ pitmasters. The primary ingredient that Steven always relies on is extra virigin olive oil. He uses it literally for everything and considers it to be the lifeblood of his barbecue. Another technique that he uses is cavemanning. Grilling food on the embers always gives a very special taste to his dishes.

Larry McGuire Pitmaster

Larry McGuire

When it comes to pitmasters who have their own distinct style, Larry McGuire is certainly one of them. His unique style is described as slow-smoked barbecue, something that Larry is very proud of. His BBQ career has been pretty successful. In a matter of just six years Larry opened as many as six different restaurants – roughly one per year. Now, he shows no intention to slow down and is determined to continue his ventures. Today Larry is clearly on track towards a celebrity status, and time will tell how much successful he’ll be. By far, his McGuire empire is clearly expanding.

John Mueller Pitmaster

John Mueller

John Mueller is perhaps a somewhat controversial character. He is known as a prominent member of the Texas barbecue community, and some people certainly love bashing him. Nonetheless, he succeeded in building a highly successful and well-performing family business that continues to remain popular up to this day, which was not an easy journey and required some courage and resolution on his part. His latest business enterprise is John Mueller Meat Co., which can be considered the next step in his career. While Mueller may not be the most popular BBQ star, he is undoubtedly a very talented pitmaster.

Johnny Trigg Pitmaster

Johnny Trigg

This is a seasoned and serious pitmaster. Johnny Trigg is also called the Godfather of Barbecue. His team “Smokin’ Triggers” has been noticeably successful in various competitions, particularly in Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational. Winning this famous competition is not an easy milestone, but Johnny Trigg has won it as many as two times, which makes him the only person with such a track record. He was awarded the title of Grand Champion, something that he deserved in full. Today he sometimes participates in BBQ Pitmasters and is included in the Barbecue Hall of Fame.

Daniel Vaughn Pitmaster

Daniel Vaughn

Daniel Vaughn is a well-known barbecue guru. It’s been a long time already since he became a barbecue editor in Texas Monthly. Thanks to its dedicated barbecue section, it is one of the most authoritative periodicals catering to barbecue lovers. Texas Monthly BBQ is widely considered to give the most extensive coverage on the art of barbecue. Daniel’s position is well-deserved as he demonstrated his level of expertise plenty of times. Additionally, Vaughn is known for authoring the book “The Prophets of Smoked Meat” where he details his approach to barbecue sprinkled with facts from his biography.

Max Lavoie Pitmaster

Max Lavoie

Max Lavoie, the BBQ Guru, is a proud family man and a successful entrepreneur from Quebec. He decided to dedicate himself to barbecue grilling at an early age, back when he worked at his father’s store. He received numerous awards in Canada as well as the USA. These include the first place for Product Innovation in Texas, among many others. His book is called “BBQ au Max”. Max Lavoie puts a heavy emphasis on spices and recommends using them on every suitable occasion. Today, Max continues to nurture and cultivate his passion for barbecue.

Pat Martin Pitmaster

Pat Martin

Pat Martin is from Nashville, Tennessee, and he is pretty famous there. Martin admits that he has a real, serious cause: to preserve the West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue tradition. As for himself, he learned it when he lived in Henderson, a small rural town in Tennessee. Today he runs several restaurants under his own name where he daily smokes a few hundred pounds of hogs in open pits. The hallmark dish is called the Redneck Taco which is served atop a hoecake and is covered with sauce and slaw.

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People, Review

Making the Best BBQ Ribs [Roundup]

Making good ribs is undoubtedly an art. Here’s our top tips for competition style ribs from three of our favorite Pitmasters.

Meathead Goldwyn

Meathead Goldwyn ribs top Pitmaster

If you’ve ever heard of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead Goldwyn is the founder and publisher of this tell-all BBQ website. He’s the best-selling author of The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling that’s a hit with the New York Times best-seller list. He’s also quite a master at BBQ ribs and has plenty of tips for what makes great BBQ possible. Here’s what Meathead recommends for getting better rib results:

Be friends with your butcher

To get a top cut for ribs you need to have a good relationship with your neighborhood butcher. Then you can specify which part of the pork ribs you really want. When it comes to baby back ribs, these are cut from the loin meat. While most baby back ribs are pre-packed and trimmed, so you should ask your butcher to cut these ribs so they’re meatier with at least a half-inch around each rib.

Don’t boil your ribs first

As Meathead advises, ‘If you boil ’em, the terrorists win’, which seems to be a common noob mistake when cooking ribs. Even though there are many BBQ folks out there that think this is a good idea, it takes away flavor from the meat. If you have rib meat that falls off the bone it likely has been boiled first. You want meat that tugs away rather than falling off.

If you can’t beat them, Smoke Em

Meathead is a big supporter of smoking meat to get even more flavor into BBQ rib meat. But over-smoking your meat can be a big mistake. As long as you prepared your ribs with a great rub, you’ll need to learn how long smoking should occur so your meat develops a nice smoke ring. He also recommends tenderizing your ribs with another trick called The Texas Crutch. This is where you wrap them up in foil and a bit of water for an hour.

Rus Jones

Rus Jones ribs top Pitmaster

Rus Jones is a BBQ pitmaster with a long-running Youtube channel that’s dedicated to the art of BBQ. He’s also very informative on how to prepare meat for BBQ grill and obviously smoking ribs. Hence the name of his channel: Smoky Ribs BBQ. He’s shared many of his favorite recipes for ribs before but has one recipe for Texas BBQ beef plate ribs that can’t be beaten. Here are some of the pro tips Rus recommends:

Don’t remove the silverskin

According to Rus, there’s no need to remove the silver skin on the back of beef ribs since this will be cooked away by the time they’re done. Once the meat is cooked, the meat will also fall easier from the bones.

Remove the fat

Most of the meat is going to be layered on the top of the ribs but your butcher may not have removed all the fat from the meat. You want enough meat showing so that your rub sticks better to the surface.

A good Texas rub

To get the flavor of real Texas-style you’re adding a 50/50 base coat of mustard and Worcestershire sauce followed by salt, pepper, and garlic dry seasoning all over the top.

Add some hickory wood

As you start to slow cook these ribs it’s recommended to add a couple chunks of hickory wood onto your coals so the smoke into your rib meat. The chunks should be palm-sized and the first step is cooking your ribs on the cooker side of your grill for 3 hours.

It’s a wrap!

The next stage is wrapping your ribs in some heavy-duty aluminum foil to get them nice and tender. Now that the mustard and Worcestershire rub has set to a nice hard bark. The foil needs to be form-fitting but not overly tight. The point is that you preserve the color of the rib meat as well as getting better tenderness. The internal temperature needs to be between 200-210 Fahrenheit degrees. Then it’s ready to eat!

Tootsie Tomanetz

Tootsie Tomanetz ribs top Pitmaster

Who says the boyz have all the fun when it comes to playing BBQ pitmasters all the time. Norma Francis aka Tootsie Tomanetz isn’t a spring chicken when it comes to doing ribs the right way. At just the ripe old age of 86, she’s the head pitmaster at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington Texas. Since 1966, she started running the pit at Lexington’s Meat Market until she opened Snow’s BBQ in 2003. She’s got a few tips on what makes her whole pork spareribs so special:

Remove the membrane

You’ll want to trim the membrane on these pork ribs since this doesn’t make Toosie ribs very appealing.

Add your rub

It’s a common trait that Tootsie adds only French’s Yellow mustard to her ribs so it helps the spices stick better. This is then followed by a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and coarse black pepper mixture that is added to the ribs on both sides. Add a medium coat to get the best results.

Slow cooking

Once your ribs go into the BBQ pit, these ribs need to cook for no more than 4 hours. After this, the mopping process starts. The mop sauce is very simple since it includes simple ingredients that Tootsie has perfected. This includes One stick of butter, half a cup of vinegar, half a cup of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of Coleman’s dry mustard, and two cups of butter.

The real secret when making this mop sauce is starting with a saucepan. Then you’ll cook one whole diced purple onion with a bit of oil until the onion gets translucent. Then you add your stick of butter and let melt away to liquid followed by the white vinegar and Worcestershire and then the dry mustard. Bring it up to a simmer before adding your cool water. Then your mop sauce is ready.

Wrap it up!

These ribs need mopping every 30 minutes with your mopping mixture for the 4-hour duration that they’re cooked on the grill. You need to use Post Oak to smoke your ribs to get the authentic flavor that Snow’s BBQ is famous for. After you’ve mopped your ribs for a bit more, they’re ready to get wrapped up with aluminum foil. Now you just continue cooking them for an additional hour and a half.

You can do the bend test to see how finished your ribs will be. If they bend easily from their weight, they’re done!

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Best Pork Butt for Top Pitmasters featured image

Best Pork Butt Rubs and Preparation Tips

Here’s our favorite rubs and meat preparation tips for smoking a pork butt or shoulder from three top Pitmasters in the industry.

Aaron Franklin

Aaron Franklin pork butt recipe

We’ve mentioned before that Aaron is one of the few BBQ experts, but he’s passionate about pork butt too. In fact, he’s taken home the coveted James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the Southwest for smoking pork butt in 2015. We’ll share some of his tips on how he achieves the incredible tenderness that pork butt can deliver if you pay attention to his expert advice. Even if you’re a beginner, you can pull this off in your backyard BBQ setup. Here’s why:

A bone to pick

Aaron recommends that you pick a pork butt that still has the bone inside. This allows your pork to remain in a uniform shape while it slows cooks for several hours. Once your meat is done, the bone slips-out nice and easy.

The skin-win’ trick

Since pork butt has a silverskin covering it. This needs to be removed so that the smoke flavor will penetrate all throughout the meat. Since this cut of meat is much fattier than others, excess fat does need to be trimmed off as well. This doesn’t mean you should remove all the fat as this will slide away once your cook is done.


Now here’s the real kicker since Aaron recommends ordinary mustard or even hot sauce as your slather. Hot sauce that makes an excellent slather is hickory and cracked pepper mustard sauce which compliments pork very nicely. This is followed by coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper with a tiny bit of paprika for a nice color. You can find the hickory and cracker pepper mustard sauce found here

Slow cooking all day long

Once you’ve slathered and coated your pork butt, it needs to go into your smoker grill fatty side up. It will take up to 10 hours per 8-10 lbs of pork butt. It’ll take 5 stages to cook this pork butt, so every step is tending to your butt. You can get a better idea from checking out Aaron’s free preview of how he does it best.

Pitmaster X

Pitmaster X pork butt recipe

This guy could be the next best thing in Youtube pitmaster video stars right after the Crazy Russian Hacker dude. He’s dedicated to doing extreme BBQ in his backyard pit with incredible results that are mouth-watering to boot. His approach to making an amazing Boston Butt is simple and savory. Here is what Pitmaster X aka Roel Westra recommends adding to your next butt in the future.

Applewood for the smokey flavor

Roel recommends that the Boston pork butt is only smoked for an hour. After that, it needs to get wrapped in aluminum foil. This way the smoke flavor stays inside the meat as it cooks further.

Score the fat cap

The top of the fat cap is scored like a chessboard and while flake sea salt is pressed into the scored lines on top. This is to pre-flavor the fat so as it reduces it also salts the meat as it cooks.

About the rub

What Pitmaster X does to his Boston Butt is to season only the exposed meat with a good meat rub. It shouldn’t go over the fat cap at all and needs to be packed onto the exposed meat until it appears dry on the outside. Then it goes into the smoker for just an hour.

Wrap it up already

After the butt is smoked enough, it gets wrapped up with two layers of industrial aluminum foil. It will then cook for an additional 4 hours. Pitmaster X recommends draining the excess fat by cutting a slip at the top of the foil. This fat can be used for cooking on other projects. After this, the Boston but is removed from the foil and put back into the BBQ to finish cooking for a couple more hours.

Big Bob Gibson

Big Bob Gibson pork butt recipe

If there was ever a shortlist of championship awards that Bob Gibson has taken home, it would be from the Memphis in May BBQ event. He’s attended this event over a dozen times winning top awards, yet has taken 5 Grand Champion titles for his hard work. It just so happens that his award-winning recipe for pork butt includes a method that’s very different than other recipes. Here’s what tip make his butt so juicy:

Flavor injected

This recipe includes a series of injections all over your pork butt so the meat will have tenderizing and flavor-enhancing juices inside the meat itself. Bob is using apple juice, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Every square inch is injected beforehand with this mixture until the meat is bursting with juice.

A complex rub

Bob sure likes to give his pork butt rub some serious attention. He doesn’t just use salt and pepper, he’s using sugar, brown sugar, garlic, paprika, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper. This mixture doesn’t need a binder smear and all of these ingredients are mixed together and packed on just by using light pressure. It will stick easily since the injection will have made the pork surface slightly sticky.

A very twangy mop sauce

While this pork butt has been slow cooking for 13 hours, it’s going to need mopping every hour to keep your meat moist. Bob likes to use vinegar, lemon, cayenne pepper, and salt. By this point, it will be nearing the end of the cooking time at 15-16 hours.

Leave the bone inside

When the meat is finally cooked the bone can be removed like a cork out of a bottle. The internal temperature should be 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

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People, Review

Best Brisket Tips by Top BBQ Pitmasters

We’ve collaborated some of our favorite brisket smoking tips, tricks and hacks from Harry Soo and Doug Scheiding who have evolved the art of smoking brisket.

Harry Soo aka Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ

Harry Soo aka Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ

This championship BBQ pitmaster is a real winner and has won more grand champion awards over the years. He’s also an instructor and teaches others all about what makes BBQ better through real science. He also has a very successful Youtube channel where he helps others learn about BBQ techniques. Here you can find out what Harry considers the best tips for preparing any brisket.

Trim your brisket first

Using a nice sharp knife, you’ll want to remove excess fat that is on the fat cap side of your brisket. This is usually found on the leading edge of the cap and needs to have inch removed beforehand. Flipping it over, you also need to remove the tiny strips and layers of silverskin and fat on the meaty side. If you don’t, the seasoning rub doesn’t get into the meat.

Have a great basic rub

Now it seems that Harry recommends using very simple ingredients to make your own rub. This includes whole black pepper, kosher salt, and celery seed. The salt and pepper are very basic seasoning additives that are a 75/50 cup mixture, leaning heavier on the black pepper. Add a one-quarter cup of celery seed to this mixture so it helps create a better smoke ring when you smoke your brisket. Then you mix it together and add it to your brisket.

Where to place your smoking wood

According to Harry, your smoking wood needs to go at the bottom of your BBQ. This is better for getting the flavor into your meat. Place your chunks of hickory and applewood right at the bottom before adding your lump wood charcoal. You’ll want to cook the brisket for 3 hours and spray it every half hour with simple water to get the rub to crust over and get hard.

Wrapping your brisket

This next step involves aluminum foil but one tip that Harry adds is pure genius. He lays butcher paper onto the foil and then wraps the foil around the brisket like a postal package. Use a bamboo skewer to test the tenderness of the meat which should feel like poking it into peanut butter. This lets you know it’s done when your skewer goes into the meat with the same amount of ease as the peanut butter.

Doug Scheiding from Rogue BBQ Cookers

Doug Scheiding from Rogue BBQ Cookers

Doug and his wife represent a BBQ pitmaster team out in Texas and is a seasoned pro when it comes to Texas-style brisket. Doug shares his top tips on how to make brisket a pleasure to make. Here is what he recommends when preparing your brisket to go on the BBQ. When it comes to tender, we think that Doug is a real stickler for moist and tasty brisket like no other.

Prepare your brisket

Trim off excess fat and get your rub together. Using a beef broth, the brisket is then injected all throughout the meat and in the fat cap. For this Doug likes to use a smear that is made from Head Country Marinade mixed with a bit of chili powder. Rub this onto both sides of the brisket and finish this off with ground pepper. You’ll want to let the meat sit for at least 15 minutes before putting it on the grill.

Slow cooking all night long

Your brisket is going into the BBQ with the fat cap side down so it’s protected from the heat. It’s going to be cooked at 200F for the next 10-12 hours. It will also need to be spritzed with a mixture of apple juice every half hour during the entire cook time. You’ll also need to tend to the fire to keep the heat consistent all through the cooking time.

Wrap it up for a few hours more

After the internal temperature of your brisket reaches 155-165 degrees Fahrenheit it needs to be wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil. You can add leftover beef broth that was used for the injecting process at the beginning. It needs an additional 2-3 hours to finish the cooking process. When your brisket finally reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s done.

Let it steam a bit

Now you want to transfer the brisket that’s wrapped in the foil to a container that’s insulated. Keep it in a cooler for 2-6 hours before slicing it into strips and served. There is also another option to add Apple Habanero BBQ basting sauce before it’s sliced and served.

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Hecky Powell A BBQ Legend

Hecky Powell: A BBQ Legend Taken by COVID-19

Not since the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 has something been kept smoldering for so long. The real flavor of BBQ in Chicago is a secret that is well-kept and passed down from generation to generation. For one Chicago native, Hecky Powell has done more than making a name for himself in the world of BBQ. Sadly his efforts to build a better community on his watch have ended. His battle with COVID-19 led to complications and Hecky passed away on May 22, 2020.

But that’s not where this story ends since Hecky Powell started more than a successful BBQ joint in Evanston. He was an inspiration to a younger generation that could see a future outside of poverty. He was a champion of helping to promote education, which aided and elevated blacks in his community to professional levels. Outside of his professional background he was a community leader and respected visionary. Buried underneath all these accomplishments he had a humble approach to his ethics through his BBQ treats.

A BBQ legend is born

Hecky grew up learning the values that his mother helped solidify. By the age of 8 years, he had already learned how to prepare Creole dishes. This included gumbo and jambalaya which were family favorites as his mother was a transplant of New Orleans. He also learned that food was part of family life and not returning home by dinnertime had consequences. If any of the family wasn’t in school for learning they wouldn’t have dinner put aside. There was no excuse for raising a family that wasn’t rising-up in some way.

Hecky’s BBQ restaurant
Hecky’s BBQ Restaurant

In 1983, the doors were opened to Hecky’s BBQ on the corner of Green Bay Road and Emerson Street. This little known BBQ joint in Evanston had no more than 100 bucks in the register but had big ambitions. The word began to spread that Hecky’s offered the kind of BBQ that was delicious and had a memorable sauce. People came from all around town to get a take-out plate that never lost the appeal. It led to a larger menu that allowed Hecky to push forward with his dreams of not just feeding the community.

Having the best BBQ depends on the way the food is prepared. It all starts with the right amount of smoke and rubs. Only a handful of respected barbecue places in Chicago could deliver tender meat that has a delightful crispness. One look at their ribs or hotlinks could see that wonderful pink smoke ring along the outer edge. What ended-up as finished meat was falling off the bone before you could get it in your mouth. Slathered in a tasty BBQ sauce was the icing on the cake that always kept their customer coming back.

Hecky soon was able to expand his business with a delivery truck and then a catering service. It led to the opportunity to market his tasty sauce and seasonings for larger business prestige. In 1985, two years after opening, he made a bold move inviting William Perry aka The Fridge to his joint. Perry was just a rookie at that time but this was when the Bears were major news for American football. Perry showed up and realized 2500 fans were waiting to see him eat.

They needed to move the event to a hall down the street for the fans and press that was there. It was the turning point for Hecky Powell where his BBQ ribs were no longer a secret. He became a celebrity in his own right and started a friendship with William Perry that lasted years. As years passed Hecky would add photographs and awards for his products inside the restaurant. One impressive fact is that the photographs were community people that achieved recognition as black citizens in Chicago.

A champion for freedom with BBQ for all

Hecky Powell at Neighbors at Work
Executive Director at “Neighbors at Work”

The efforts of Hecky Powell often went beyond a tasty rack of ribs. He was a continual fighter raising awareness within his reach. He had tirelessly worked as a social services administrator after his graduation from Northeastern Illinois University. It quickly extended into acting as the executive director for a local program called ‘Neighbors at Work’ with CEDA. This is a non-profit organization also called The Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County.

But after some time Hecky could see that his efforts weren’t going in the right direction. This program was only helping people survive. He wanted to see them lifted-out of a universal problem in Illinois called poverty. It was also about the same time that he bought a closed restaurant. Even though this little BBQ spot was just part of his plan, he wanted to teach the kids as well. If he could teach them a skill like fishing, they would not need to ask for a fish instead. With this plan in mind Hecky started a new business that also bloomed.

He was a frequent employer hiring young adults and teens at his BBQ place that was often praised. He eventually was given a key to the city in 2014 for his efforts. Good fortune allowed him to be given the title of Small Business Person of the Year. This was awarded by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce that he proudly displayed at Hecky’s. As he rose to a celebrity-like status he found time sitting on the Board of Transplant Village and other community services.

In 2015, he further commemorated the meaning of June 19 in his way for celebrating Juneteenth. This is the national day that commemorates when George Washington stated his Emancipation Proclamation. This is the day in US history that ended slavery and allowed all black people in America to become free. He invented a bottled drink that was titled Juneteenth Strawberry Soda. It was sold for only 50 cents per bottle through Hecky’s. In his words it bears the catch-line: A sweet sip of freedom’.

Forest E. Powell Foundation and Hecky Powell
Founder of Forest E. Powell Foundation

Not only did he actively employ local youth in the community, but he also founded a program to elevate Evanston school kids. He created the Forest E. Powell Foundation work ethic program. This is a special program that helps to give Evanston youth proper support for learning trade skills. He named this program after his father who continually spent most of his life working in various trades. The program includes workshops, counseling, mentoring, and also financial assistance.

Not only do young black people have a chance to learn valuable skills, but they can also learn about professional careers. It has been Hecky’s vision to give local disadvantaged kids a chance to move forward. A situation that Hecky knew all too well when he was growing up in his young adult life! Most people don’t know that Hecky went to jail, trying to survive in a repressive system that looks-down on poverty. He went on to get his high school diploma while he was in jail and when he was released, he had a new lease on life.

A recipe for success

employees serving at Hecky Powell bbq restaurant
Employee Serving at Hecky Powell Bbq Restaurant

To sum-up all the efforts that Hecky Powell has made for the Evanston community, he has left us with a legacy. That means so much more than BBQ since many of the previous employees went onto bigger and better job positions. The restaurant was closed in his honor but his family will continue the business that he helped build. His line of sauces and spices will also remain part of the BBQ magic that he created. One thing that stands-out is the foundation he founded that helps expand lives in an area that deserves change.

In the short space of time that Hecky’s BBQ first opened nearly 30 years ago, he became a success. It went on to show everyone that even BBQ can bring a community together. But even more than that, the kindness and persistence that he strived to achieve will not go unnoticed. Not only will his fans miss him, but the people he has touched to elevate their lives will also continue to seek their dreams. This is something not too many people can achieve without knowing how to lead them in the right direction.

We might be seeing more people in the future who’ve benefited from Hecky and his contributions sharing their story soon. Especially since the recent wave of COVID-19 related deaths has taken away many good people too soon. In his honor since his passing he has received many commemorations of respected government members of Chicago. With their support over the years, many of the programs that Hecky had created would not have been possible. Knowing the determination of Hecky he would find a way if he didn’t have help.

We can all be inspired by the determination of Hecky by honoring his achievements. His family would like to hear your thoughts on their Facebook page and of course the continued interest in reopening Hecky’s BBQ is growing daily. I think he would want to see the business grow despite his passing. Please let them know how much his BBQ means to you while this virus is still not beating the community down.

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Chili Cookoff Cheater

BBQ competitions are serious business when it comes down to how you play by the rules. This is the nature of the beast down the line when it comes to following these rules. With that being said, each contestant is given a set of rules to follow and the rest is a simple principle. That doesn’t mean that rules can be bent to gain an edge. The real secret to cooking is having a secret in the first place. Other teams will use tactics that aren’t exactly considered illegal and are right up there with ‘shiggin’, which is essentially snooping for secrets.

In the world of chili cook-off competitions there was one case where a respected chili cook got bested. He had a brother who took his ambitions one step too far and it proved what everyone never expected. His brother won first place at a chili cook-off without cooking anything at all! This is the case and point of Don Eastep and the infamous 2003 Terlingua cook-off held in Texas. It seems that Don had two other brothers who were both established chili cooks from Springfield, Illinois.

Since 1976, the eldest brother Les was well-known for entering chili competitions with his brother Larry. Often all three of them would travel to just watch other chili cook-offs in their Springfield chili circle. Les was respected in the chili circuit and held a Grandmaster title as he had won in 11 world championships. In addition to that they would travel across 20 US states to enter these cook-offs. Don was not a chili cook and would often come along to get free Swag and enjoy the event itself.

Don was never a great chili cook but was more outgoing than his other brother. It wasn?t until 2003 that an opportunity to attend the Terlingua chili cook-off came up for the brothers. This event is by invitation only, so these two established grandmaster chili cooks; Les and Larry were chosen to attend. It turned out that Larry had to work, so Don essentially invited himself instead. He even registered himself as his brother Larry just because he wanted to have the Terlingua T-shirt. But there was a big problem, Don wasn?t cooking chili!

What happened next is what set the chili world on fire. Initially, Don was given a cup that?s used to submit his to the judges. But he had no cooking equipment like his brother Les so he hatched a plan to get the t-shirt anyway. He decided to fill the cup with samples from other well-established chili cooks instead. He used his skill of talking and coaxed samples from many award-winning chili Grandmasters. It was enough to fill his cup and gain that Terlingua t-shirt. His brother Les wasn?t amused but couldn?t do anything to stop Don?s pride and ego.

Les was already too busy with his chili to prevent Don from floating around the cooking camp. By the time Don was finished, very few had any idea what would happen when it came time for judging. As it turned out, the cup that Don entered, it won the top prize! Don quickly seized the opportunity to have his shirt and trophy but quickly left the stage after that. It seems that the area where Les was cooking was in a tent compound that was organized by Bob and Cathy Plager.

This is part of the ICS tent compound representing the International Chili Society. There were 5 of the top chili cooks in the country including Bob and Cathy! It was eventually Cathy who became suspicious of Don when he started his shiggin? routine with others in that group. Before Don could get away with his crime Cathy rushed the judging stage to cry afoul. She explained that Don didn?t even cook chili in her tent complex. The organizer of the event Kathleen Tolbert took over this event after father Frank Tolbert passed away in 1984.

He was the huge name that gave birth to the ‘Behind the Store’ chili cook-off in Terlingua. After that it was a matter of approaching Don in the ICS tent to ask him if he cooked or not. He admitted to his crime and a new winner could then be announced. Even though Don had not only cheated but he proved a vital point. The best chili that other cooks took pride in making, wasn’t just one kind, but a mixture of everyone else?s! It was not only a shock that it could have happened at such a prestigious chili cook-off but audacious too.

Don was banned from the State of Texas and his brother Les suffered a worse fate. He was shamed by his brother for mocking the ICS group and the integrity that was broken. Les had then lost the respect from the ICS and the Terlingua supporters. There was a silver lining to this story as it turns-out. Don was eventually invited back to Terlingua for a very special cook-off request just two years later. It was a staged exhibition to patch-up broken ties with the society and the rightful chili winner Ted Hume.

They even played-it-up including a mock-pardon from the ex-governor of Texas, Rick Perry to allow Don to re-enter their state. It was great promotion for the Terlingua cook-off and returned pride to the ICS cooks. They could give Don a widely-publicized public trial for his devious chili plot and soothe old wounds that were hurt. Ted Hume who lost the glory of winning on stage in 2003 could regain his pride in 2005. He won the cook-off with Don and both of them could laugh about the incident after that.

To this day Les and Larry have won several competition chili cook-offs but have never been invited back to Terlingua. It?s been a lesson that has been hard for them because of Don?s actions. But also is a shameful reminder that Les could have prevented Don from doing what he did. Nonetheless, they are family, and they all cooked chili at many competitions around the country since then. Don finally passed away in 2012 from a car crash in the Ozarks. He was returning from all things- a chili cook-off where he was cooking his chili recipe.

How cheating may not be so bad

While Don Eastep is an infamous legend that echoes around the chili circuit, some chili cooks have food for thought. The idea that several chili recipes mixed was enough to win the grand prize does have merit. The blend of top chili flavors that all come together can stimulate taste buds more than a single recipe alone. This is one additional story that I’d like to share how I learned to make chili from my Dad’s recipe. He worked hard as an electrician for the port authority of San Francisco.

Many union events brought-out the electrical Longshoreman who worked along the bay docks. One event was for the Local 6 IBEW that had a chili cook-off scheduled. My Dad was always running late for these events and had no time to cook. He went to the store, grabbing only a few essential chili items before he took his chili to the contest. He grabbed a pound of ground beef and a chopped-up a big onion to go into the pot first. When this was almost brown he added chopped and stewed tomatoes from a can.

His next move was unexpected since he had no time to cook beans, so he took a desperate measure. He added 2 cans of every chili bean brand off-the-shelf! There were 4 or 5 brands of every kind of chili he could find. Thick and spicy, big and small beans, extra saucy and sweet, it was a total mess! But what happened over the next 2 hours stewing, that chili was giving all these flavors time to mix. It took first place in the contest and people were asking for the recipe. When my Dad told them what he did, they laughed it off instead.

I guess they were thinking he was joking because he always had told them jokes throughout the day. I used to hear this story all the time from his

friends how he made the best chili ever. They thought he must be guarding his secret ingredient with such a lame-sounding excuse. The truth was a bit too simple for most people to take seriously. But it proves that just like Don Eastep, the combination of every flavor was enough to fool the senses. How an entire contest could be won with off-the-shelf chili sounds insane!

Perhaps it was the fresher ingredients like the ground beef and fresh onion that hid that preservative flavors? Or was it the stewed tomatoes that added a near-fresh aroma that gave the chili new life? Nobody knows for sure until I recreated the recipe myself. I wouldn?t have believed it could be possible but it was perhaps the best chili I?ve ever tasted. Not one that I would try entering into a competition but definitely for close friends. And who would guess that one good story can also bring-out an award-winning chili too?

Are there any other chili Traitors?

Not exactly a traitor but closer to a trader as one anchorwoman Maggie Vespa of KGW8 entered her chili cook-off entry. Just last year in 2019, Maggie was about to enter the annual KGW News chili cook-off at her office. She was pressed for time and ran-off to Trader Joe’s and grabbed all the canned chili they sold. It was another mixture that proved to be a huge hit and she was crowned the winner. Her colleagues begged for the recipe which she admitted the secret via a Twitter comment that fueled an uproar!

It boiled down to one of her co-workers who made his chili with only fresh ingredients. His chili however was the least liked and he vowed to drag Maggie through the mud. But as luck would have-it her real secret was letting it simmer in a crockpot for hours. The support that she received with online tweets was enough to defend her title. It became known as hacker chili, and to this day the exact kinds of canned chili she bought are unknown! Even her co-worker had to face the shame of bad-mouthing her online.

It seems nobody wanted to eat his turkey chili or hear about his complaints that Maggie?s chili was better. Not exactly competition rules by far though it goes to show you how social media gave her support. Just for being honest about her surprise win and how people?s perception online came to her rescue. You would never see this at an official ICS cook-off or official chili competition event. Or would you? Has there been another case or chili trickery?

The odd case of the Terlingua groups

Two camps hold chili competitions in Terlingua every year and have been at each other’s throats for years. The first is the CASI group known better as the Chili Appreciation Society International. The other is billed as the Original Terlingua International Frank X. Tolbert- Wick Fowler Championship Chili Cook-off. The folks over at CASI have very strict rules that inspect meat that is used before any competition can start. The Frank Tolbert ‘Behind The Store’ competition has a different set of relaxed rules.

This is how Don Eastep managed to enter this cook-off without being caught. Despite the presence of ICS (International Chili Society) sponsoring this event, the rules simply weren?t followed as you would expect. But since this event is by invitation only, only the best top-title grandmasters are allowed to attend. They are trusted to follow the rules since their previous wins proved they stick to them. The CASI group is fierce at the competition and includes checking from the start to finish, preventing any cheating from happening.

Frank Tolbert created his Woodstock-like chili cook-off with more attention to entertainment and exclusivity. It?s a rivalry that has caused a lot of ruffled feathers with chili grandmasters over time. But without a doubt the Behind The Store event does know how to attract lots of press as a result. We may never see a chili cheater like Don Eastep happen by accident again for this reason. At least that is until somebody happens to be caught cheating or admits that they cheated to win?

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