Life After BBQ Pitmasters | Robby Royal’s Secret Sauce for Success

What do professional Pitmasters have for Holiday dinners? At Robby Royal’s house, they smoke a turkey and “do a ham” on Thanksgiving to go along with cornbread, dressing, deviled eggs, gravy, butter beans and sweet corn. “I inject it [the turkey] with creole seasoning and smoke it ‘low ‘n slow’ overnight at 225,” attests Royal. “On Christmas, we usually grill steaks, prime rib roast, or fry fish.”

Royal says they grill year round. His wife Stephanie cooks at least twice a week on their Green Mountain Smoker or Holland [gas-burning] Grill – even when it’s “32”, which Royal notes is cold for them in Georgia.

12.4BigPigJigRescue Ratings

The Rescue Smokers competition team has racked up 89 1st Place rankings over the last five years among countless other wins. Since claiming the Season 5 BBQ Pitmasters title last June, Royal and his partner, Raymond Poor, have met with unexpected notoriety and new opportunities.

At a recent Georgia “cook” a 9-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl from Tampa made a beeline for the team’s trailer to meet the guys who won BBQ Pitmasters. A Dad from Lakeland, Florida, drove his kids, 10 and 13-year-old junior barbeque competitors, up north to shadow the team for a weekend. Surprised but delighted by the unexpected attention, Robby is quick to point out the kids on Junior BBQ teams absolutely “know what they are doing. They are great young Pitmasters,” he subscribes.

While there aren’t many junior level competitions (yet), Robby likes the idea of kids cooking outside versus being glued to “indoor technology” for hours on end. “I grew up around the grill – grew up hand-churning ice cream – we were outside all the time. Kids need to get out again!”

Royal has three grown daughters, 22, 25 and 26, and two granddaughters, ages, 5 and 7; Poor has two children, ages 14 and 19. Both men feel very fortunate to have “great wives” who support the competition lifestyle. Royal says his granddaughters are starting to show participatory interest, (and possibly a son-in-law), but is quick to warn, “when you start cooking 28-30 times a year, you may want to back off, so you can keep it fun.”

New Avenues

Outside of the competition circuit, the team is busy “ tweaking flavor profiles” for their own bottled sauce slated to come out next year in four varieties: Original, Sweet Heat, Mustard and Vinegar. Royal says the mustard sauce is inspired by his partner’s restaurant chicken dish. “Ray’s restaurant is doing very well – we have seen a wider variety of people coming in [since their TV win]. There’re only 9,500 people in our county, but Ray has lots of great reviews on Yelp from people travelling through!”

Royal and Poor also created a weekend barbeque school model to help others develop competitive skills. They had their first session last September, where they talked about the quality of rubs, sauces, and meats, demonstrated a variety of tried and true techniques and cooked eight different products over the course of the weekend.

CookingClass“We can cut the 3-4 year learning curve it normally takes to be competitive and potentially save people 30-40 thousand dollars in the process. Every competition you go to, costs – you pay for travel, entry fees, ingredients, etc. So you’re investing about $1,000 on average every time you go to a competition.”

Poor and Royal have spent as much as $10,000 on one competition – something he says they didn’t realize would be quite that expensive until they were fully committed to it.

They hope to offer the weekend session two to three times a year, and are looking to do the next class sometime in the Spring. Royal says they couldn’t do it without the help of Butcher BBQ, Stub’s BBQ, Swamp Boys, and others, who sent samples of their products to use for their first session. “They’re all great; we help each other.”

Helping others is what “it’s all about” according to Robby. “If we can help someone else get in the top 10, or get a win. To see folks get their first call, see them walk the stage for the first time… it’s about wanting to win, but also being happy for others.”

Strategic Differences

Royal feels the biggest difference for him between backyard and competitive cooks is that he isn’t necessarily cooking what he likes to eat in competition. “Judges lean toward the sweeter side. I put Montreal steak seasoning on my ribs and a little bit of butter – I want to taste the meat.”

When it comes to Dry Ribs, Royal claims they don’t compete well. “Judges are trained for sauce – they’re judging for flavor – even if they know that’s not what they want, they’re judging what’s in front of them.”

On the subject of sauce, Robby offers the main difference between tomato, mustard and vinegar based sauces is strictly, “100% regional. It boils down to what you were brought up on. We do sweet/vinegar sauce. The Carolinas and Virginia are going to be vinegar; in South Carolina and Kentucky they like mustard based sauces.”

RS TENTRobby professes if he and Ray had cooked just for Myron [Mixon aka The Winningest Man in BBQ] they wouldn’t have won. They tried to cook with a more Mid-Western flair (Kansas City, Iowa, Colorado) to appeal to Tuffy’s and Moe’s backgrounds because they needed to consistently win over two of the three judges on the show. Their “secret sauce” was strategy.

Wrap Up

Would they want to do Pitmasters again? Royal says he’d love the opportunity and would like to see an all stars version of the show. “If they call, we’d absolutely go!”

The team will always do their home cook, the Big Pig Jig, which they’ve won before, in addition to an annual KCB event in the area Royal currently organizes. He doesn’t think they’ll quit, but may scale back. He forecasts they’ll probably do 8-10 events next year, but quickly hedges over the fact there are 15 to 20 events in Georgia they still haven’t done.

Robby feels he and Ray have been very blessed. They are extremely appreciative of the support they have from friends, family and sponsors. He feels strongly about being proud of others and enjoying seeing them be happy.

“There are a lot of Pitmasters that love to see people do well and others that don’t like to see others win. We shake everyone’s hand even when we’re bummed we didn’t win. Be proud of others and enjoy yourself seeing other folks happy!”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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The Grand Champions of BBQ Pitmasters

WINNER - RSSeason 5 of BBQ Pitmasters came to an end last Saturday night with Rescue Smokers taking the title of Grand Champion, $50,000 purse and an exclusive invitation to the prestigious Kingsford Invitational later this year.

Rescue Smokers and Squeal Like a Pig competed in a final showdown where they were challenged to cook an unprecedented four different meats for one turn-in box: chicken, spare ribs, brisket point and pork shoulder. At four hours out from the finish, a surprise “one bite challenge” for whole shrimp was added to the mix for a chance to win an extra point.

Rescue Smokers also won that challenge with a bacon wrapped grilled shrimp. Judge Myron Mixon told the team afterward it was risky adding “an extra protein” to RS-TURN IN BOXthe challenge because it had to be “cooked perfect too.” Squeal Like a Pig’s Pitmaster, Joe Pearce had never cooked shrimp before the challenge.

Robby says he knew their turn-in box looked perfect and affirms you have to be a hit with “appearance” because that’s where the judging begins. Pearce, the youngest competitor, to ever make it to the show’s finals, lost by an undisclosed margin. “Joe is an accomplished Pitmaster for his age,” says Royal, “and I respect him for that.”

BBQ Brothers

Where Joe Pearce actually competed with his brother, Robby says he and teammate Raymond Poore are definitely like brothers. “There’s always a front man, and I have the gift ofRS-TASTING gab,”describes Royal, “but Ray and I are equals…we also argue. You didn’t see this on air, but we had a disagreement in every episode.” Royal says it’s easy to disagree on things because it’s very frustrating when you have to cook something you’re not familiar with.

“The team that Robby and I used to compete on before we created Rescue Smokers believed that one man made it all happen, ” recalls Poore. “So when we got started we never put the “i” in team. If I need to do a comp and Robby needs to do a comp, we are confident that we both can make it happen. And if I make a change or Robby makes a change, we trust each others’ decision whether good or bad.”

Royal and Poore always kRescueSmokersnew each other, but never had a relationship before BBQ. Royal says he got into it because of his father. “My dad joined a cook team and my brother and I would go hang out with them. When my dad died in 2002, Ray came to me and asked if he could take my dad’s place.”

Their relationship blossomed as a social hobby at first. “When we originally started, it was Ray and our wives, then another couple joined us, and a younger couple was also with us for a while.” Both couples eventually dropped off according to Royal because, “…it doesn’t give you anything back. You’re lucky if you break even – it’s just been the four of us for the last 5 years. BBQ is a passion – it’s not about the money. I’d love to do this full time, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” And, there’s only one Myron Mixon, right? “Exactly!”

Winning Profile

RS-BRISKET AND BUTT ON THE PITWhen they’re not competing, Royal says he and Poore’s family get together in their backyards. “Our families taste test for us.” Their children take on the role of spectators, “They love BBQ, and they love to hang out.”

Having lost by a miniscule margin in the semi-finals last year, Robby professes the biggest difference between BBQ Pitmasters Season 4 and 5 was that he and Ray came back ready and prepared to cook anything. “We took swings to hit a home run and it paid off.” Some of that renewed readiness may be attributable to an experience they had late last year when Destination America was filming a new cook show in their home state of Georgia.

RS-BRISKET BURNT ENDSBBQ Pitwars would have four top crews (including Myron Mixon and Pitmasters co-judge, Moe Cason), competing against each other during BBQ circuit competitions. When Royal heard Pitwars would be filming at the Big Pig Jig® in Georgia last November, (his “home cook”), he called the show producer to tell them they better keep their eye on Rescue Smokers while filming because they were going to “take Myron down.” The gauntlet was somewhat brazen at the time given the fact that Rescue Smokers had come in 2nd behind Mixon for the last three consecutive years in a row at the competition.

Placing 9th in Ribs, 4th in Shoulder, 1st in Chicken and 1st in Whole Hog out of 130 teams, Robby and Ray did beat Mixon and won the 2013 BPJ Grand Champion title. [You can see the win in Episo2013BigPigJigChampionde 3 of BBQ Pitwars.] How did Myron react? “He was happy for us,” says Royal, “as he would be for himself.” After that win, Rescue Smokers was invited back to BBQ Pitmasters for Season 5.

Beating Mixon was a full circle moment for Robby who says it wasn’t until he went to Mixon’s cooking school in 2007, that he truly learned how to cook BBQ. “We never won anything before that time and at the very first competition after that, we won a state championship!” Royal is also quick to point out that winning championships Myron competes in is absolutely essential. “You want Myron there. If we’d won [the Big Pig Jig®] without him there, it would be like Barry Bonds’ home run record – there’d always be an asterisk after your name.”

In competitive BBQ, “you have to be extremely consistent,” offers Royal. “Don’t change anything, try it again – be very careful with timelines, and get the product out at the right time. Be confident, have fun, be consistent, and get lucky …in judging.”

Status ‘Q

RescueSmokehouseGrillIn 2007, Ray and Robby each put in $1,000 and have never put in anything since. “We’ve been blessed to have it pay for itself,” says Royal, who says they’ve been able to buy their equipment, supplies and cover expenses with their winnings.

In 2012, Ray opened a restaurant in Ashburn, Ga., Rescue’s Smokehouse Grill, on the same day Robby received a promotion to Director of EMS and County Fire Chief. Poore says winning BBQ Pitmasters has meant the world to him and his family, “…not only is it nice to see your dad or husband on TV, but it has greatly helped out my restaurant.” He likes “making people smile with great food” and the challenges that come along with that. “I have one customer that wants his steak med-rare with no blood, who would figure?”

Prior to restaurant openings aMyron & Ray outside restaurantnd promotions, Rescue Smokers used to compete over 28-30 weekends a year, now they limit it to 10-12. Royal says it’s always been a stress release for him, “The average working life in EMS is only 7-8 years. You see a lot of awful things.” He says the guys at the station have always been supportive of the team, “…and now I’m their boss.”

The team’s winning track record, BBQP experience, and lighter weekend travel schedule has also paved the way to new opportunities. Ray and Robby are getting ready to launch a line of sauces (in July) and have plans to open a cooking school in the very near future. “We don’t just cook in one sanction – we cook them all across a 3-4 state area,” points out Royal. “We were the first team to win in four different sanctioning bodies; your flavor profiles change so much by cuisine, region and requirement. We are one of the most versatile teams in the nation.” [Read more about sanctioning bodies here.]RS- RIBS OFF THE PIT

Royal is looking at the new endeavors as an opportunity to “make a little bit” from their competitive efforts. He also made a point in saying that Rescue Smokers has never had any sponsors until recently – kinda. “Last December, my wife and I bought a camper. Several weeks later, the guy we bought it from invited us to lunch. He wanted to know why with all the BBQ competitors in our area, he wasn’t selling more trailers.” Royal ended up buying a new trailer for Rescue Smokers (which they’d planned on doing) by striking a “better” deal with the dealership in exchange for putting their logo on the trailer.

That’s a Wrap

BBQ Pitmasters was filmed last January and February over a five week period. “Every 3-4 days they did a new round,” describes Royal, “we were there from sun up to sundown – at one point it was 32 degrees – it was really cold!”

BUEDEL FINALS MEATAfter the final episode was filmed, they brought their check home and hid the trophy. It wasn’t too tough keeping quiet about the results until after the first episode aired in April when people kept asking them how they ended up in the competition. Robby tooled a standard reply: No matter if we won or lost, we met some great people, cooked some great product and had a great time.

Royal says they didn’t do anything special for the first airing of the final episode last Saturday night. “We had a bigger crowd. I smoked some sausage; Ray cooked some pizzas. Afterwards, it was a blast.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 6.5.14

Food Apps

mobile-appsAccording to Tech Republic, food apps are one of the hottest 2014 tech startup categories. Last week they published a slide article on “apps that are changing the food industry”, citing 15 new releases. Some highlights on the list: Harvest Mark – traces where your food comes from, Wild Edibles – identifies wild plants and flowers you can prepare for consumption and Farmstand – finds local and seasonal foods by mapping farms and farmer’s markets.

Score Card

Game 1 of the NBA finals may start tonight, but the battle between Pilgrim’s Pride v. Tyson Foods over who buys Hillshire Brands is heating up.

If you haven’t kept up with who’s on first, Pilgrim’s Pride is now up, 2 to 1, after raising the ante this week from their offer of 5.6 billion to 6.7 billion countering HillshireBlogPicTyson’s 6.2 offer. What’s most interesting in this war of the food titans is the fact that Hillshire was focused on acquiring other companies. Ironically, it was Hillshire’s most recent acquisition plan, to buy Pinnacle Foods, which turned the tables on them.

How will this affect food fans? In the consumer arena, ticket prices will most likely go up! Read our latest post: What happens to price after the food fight?

BBQ Semi Finals

Buedel Fine MeatsThe competition was intense last weekend in the first of two semi-finals on BBQ Pitmasters. Each team barbecued three different kinds of ribs, beef, baby back and country style, in an episode appropriately named, Ribs, Ribs & More Ribs. The semi-final round further challenged the Pitmasters by requiring three meats to be cooked versus the normal two.

Judged on “taste, tenderness and appearance”, Robby Royal of Rescue Smokers won the round by a margin of 2/10 points. It was poetic justice for Royal who lost by 1/16th of a point last year in the semi-final round.

The remaining three teams compete this Saturday, June 7th at 8pm CST on the Destination America network. Don’t miss it!

Top Meeting Spots

Crain’s just published a best list of private dining rooms in the city. Focusing on the downtown, River North, Gold Coast and Randolph Market neighborhoods, they whittled the list down to a choice 32 covering “traditional and trendy, refined and rustic, blow-out and budget-conscious”. Here’s their top picks:

Crainslist

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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