After nearly a decade of barbecuing, Walt Moulton and his team, Rocky Top BBQ, finally took the crown at the competition against cooks from across the world.
“A lot of people told me you can win a lot of contests, but no one will ever forget that you won the Jack. That's one contest that everybody remembers,” Moulton said after winning the competition on Oct. 28. “It was a shock to win.”
Moulton made it to the competition in 2015, which is limited to 67 qualified contestants every year. He didn’t win that year, but after taking the Reserve Champion position at the Sam’s Club National Barbecue tour in Arkansas and winning the West Virginia Almost Heaven BBQ Bash, he was feeling more confident about “winning the Jack.”
“Just to get to cook in it is a big honor,” he said. “A lot of teams have been cooking for 15 years and haven’t been able to make it to the contest. I always wanted to cook at the Jack.”
The competition requires each team submit pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken and a pork butt or shoulder. It takes a lot of experience and effort to get the meat just right, according to Moulton. The meat is judged based on appearance, taste and tenderness.
He said getting the meat just right is a result of a good rub, a balance of spices and the type of smoker and wood used to cook the meat. After all of the work, the judges make their decisions based on one bite.
“It takes quite a bit of experience. The main thing is getting the meat just right and having the flavor profile that everybody will like,” Moulton said. “Everything leads up to that one bite, so you’ve got to make one bite count.”
It’s an expensive hobby, too.
“When you go to a contest, you often have an entry fee that ranges from 250 to 400 dollars, then we cook about $400 worth of meat,” he said. “Then once you pay for your fuel and other things, you’re looking at at least $1,000 a contest.”
But above all, Moulton said the contests he participates in are all about fun and a passion for cooking. He said he and his family have had a lot of fun traveling across the country and making new friends that share his passion for barbecuing.
“We’ve met a lot of good friends across the country doing this,” Moulton said. “It's kind of like a mini-vacation for us.”