The Heat of Competition

The Heat of Competition: The Jack Daniels’ Championship

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The Heat of Competition

Teams at the Jack Daniels World
Championship Barbecue Contest Use
Chiles to Add Flavor to Their Cue

By Suzanne Hall       Photos by S. Parks Hall


Jim’s Hot Mustard

Raccoon Flats Chile Powder

Amy’s Basic BBQ Rub

Award Winning Barbecue Sauce

#1 Award-Winning Memphis in May Hot Wing Sauce

WhiskeyQue, Too Recipe

Spicy Maple-Glazed Canadian Gamebird

Deep-Rubbed, Slow-Roasted Pork Ribs


Halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga, the little town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, seems an unlikely place to draw a crowd. But as home to the Jack Daniel Distillery, its 361 citizens, give or take a few, welcome some 250,000 visitors from across the country and around the world each year. They come to see where every drop of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey are made.

During one October weekend each year, the smell of whiskey-making gives way to the smoky aroma of barbecue as some of the best barbecue cooking teams in the world arrive for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Contest. From early Friday through late Saturday the fires are hot and so is the competition. But what about the barbecue? Should it be hot too? What role should chile peppers and other spicy ingredients play in cue, especially the award winning varieties?

“Chop up the jalapeños, crush those chipotles. The hotter the better,” some fans exclaim. “No way,” others say. “We like a sweeter taste.” Just like the folks in North Carolina and Tennessee argue over whether sauce should be tomato-based or made with vinegar and cue fans in Texas and Kansas City carry on the beef versus pork controversy, barbecue’s bite is open to debate. How hot is enough depends on who’s doing the cooking and where they call home. And, sometimes, whether they want to win.

At the Jack Daniel’s competition last year, Philip Dragotakes, a member of the Dirty Dick & The Legless Wonders team from Norwell, Massachusetts, was hawking Dirty Dick’s hot sauce. “It’s made from habaneros grown in Massachusetts. It’s very hot and you can use it in anything,” he says. But the team doesn’t use it in competition. “I go for a spicier barbecue than most folks, at least those that I know personally,” says Mike Kerslake, an avid barbecuer from London, Ontario. A member of the Canadian Little & Large BBQ Competition Crew, he was in Lynchburg helping out Swine Fellows, another Canadian team. “When you’re in competition, each judge may take only one bite to determine your score. That bite better be packed with flavor. But,” he warns, “there is a fine line between creating a taste that captures their attention and one that overwhelms it.”

Judy Anderson



Judy Anderson of the Madd Momma & The Kid
team from Olympia, Washington, bastes her chicken.



Amy Anderson, the kid in the Madd Momma and The Kid team from Olympia, Washington, agrees. “I tend to cook for myself more than the judges and like barbecue that’s sweet-hot. But at an international competition you have to be careful. You don’t know where the judges are from and what their tastes are. When we’re competing in a more regional competition, say in Arizona, though, we crank up the heat.”

Those who travel the barbecue competition circuit agree that their goal is to make great barbecue that pleases the judges and wins prizes. Taking the top of a judge’s head off with one bite is not the way to do that. But, that doesn’t mean they ignore chiles and other spicy ingredients when making barbecue. They’re constantly experimenting with them to provide the subtleties of flavor that set their ‘cue apart from others. When they want to and have an appropriate audience, they all know how to turn on the heat.

Like many competition ‘cue-ers, Dwayne Devlin of the Swine Fellows does some catering. “I like to use crushed chiles, cayenne, and bell peppers. Since Canadians generally don’t like a lot of spice and smoke, I tend to keep the spicy things on the side. “But,” he explains, “when we did a party for some East Indians, we made a sauce with cayenne, chopped jalapeños and lots of Tabasco Sauce.”

Canadian tastes may be changing, though. On a recent visit to a local market in London, Ontario, a city of about 350,000 people, Mike Kerslake found only a few kinds of fresh chile peppers but more than a dozen varieties of dried peppers. “I asked the two market vendors who carried the dried peppers what consumer reaction was to them. Basically I got the same answer from both. Chipotle madness has struck Canada! It is the most popular of the dried chilies and people are asking for them often. Barbecue sauces, hot sauces, dips, and marinades with the smoked jalapeño are the most popular items by far.”

That’s good news for Kerslake who uses ground chipotles, cayenne, and chile powder in his personal and competition rubs. “I also like to use smoked paprika, both sweet and hot. “It adds an interesting twist to a rub or pot of baked beans,” he says.

BBQ Ribs



The ribs look very tempting.



Those interesting twists or special touches are what distinguishes great barbecue from simply good barbecue. Amy Anderson, for example, barbecues a lot of lamb when she’s cooking in the Pacific Northwest. “We spice it up by using jalapeño jelly as a glaze or sauce. Because people here don’t like a lot of spice, we tone it down with honey and lime.” When the team was competing in Arizona, however, they made a salsa loaded with jalapeños. “We may have overdone it a bit,” she says. “But we won the salsa competition.”

Anderson, who uses a dry rub on her barbecue and holds off on brushing the meat with sauce until the last hour of cooking, says the important thing to remember in cooking with chiles and other spicy ingredients is balance. “You want to be able to taste everything.”Paul Lengeling, a member of the Raccoon Flats BBQ team from Taluca, Illinois, is another fan of hot pepper jelly. “One of the best heat additions is to glaze ribs or chicken in the last half hour of cooking with a hot pepper jelly or jam. It’s sweet and hot,” he says. Lengeling looks to chiles to provide deep flavor more than heat. “I think the best dried chilies are anchos and chipotles for flavor and japones for heat. Chipotles in any style of preparation are just fantastic as a source of flavor.” Of the fresh peppers, he favors pasillas and serranos.

Paul Lengeling (left) and Jim Schwass



Paul Lengeling (left) and Jim Schwass
of Raccoon Flats, Taluca, Illinois, sample
their ribs.



Whichever chiles you use, though, Lengeling cautions that you need to keep in mind what you are cooking and how you are cooking it. “When cooking fish, for example, you’d want to use less seasoning because of the delicate nature of the meat and the shorter and hotter cooking process,” he says. “If you’re cooking over direct, hot heat, the piece of meat can’t stand as many chiles in the seasoning. Whereas a large, slow roasted or smoked roast can stand lots of chiles as the rendering fats and slow heat have a tendency to dissipate the heat of the chile.”

Like most competitors on the barbecue circuit, Lengeling generally guards his recipes carefully. But, for the sake of barbecue lovers everywhere, he, Kerslake and Anderson did let loose of a few for you to try.


Jim’s Hot Mustard

Jim Schwass of the Raccoon Flats BBQ team created this rub that the team sometimes uses in competitions.

  • 1cup yellow prepared mustard

  • 2 or 3 pureed hot chiles of choice

  • Up to 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar

Combine the mustard and the chiles in a bowland mix well. Use the cider vinegar to thin the sauce to the desired consistency. Use as a rub on meat roasts prior to using a dry rub.

Yield: About 1 cup

Heat Scale: Medium

Raccoon Flats Chile Powder

Many barbecue teams create their own seasonings. This one was developed by the Raccoon Flats BBQ team.

  • 1 tablespoon ground dried cayenne or de arbol chile

  • 2 tablespoons ground dried ancho chile

  • 2 tablespoons ground dried chipotle chile

  • 2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile

  • 1 1 /2 tablespoons ground cumin

  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon ground oregano

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Yield: About 2/3 cup

Amy’s Basic BBQ Rub

Amy Anderson of the Madd Momma and The Kid barbecue team loves black pepper. It plays a key role in this rub.

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 cup seasoning salt

  • 1 /2 cup paprika

  • 1/3 cup red chile powder

  • 1/3 cup black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Apply liberally to meat 1 to 2 hours before cooking.

Yield: About 3 1/4 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Award Winning Barbecue Sauce

To the members of the Madd Momma and The Kid barbecue team, sauce should be a finishing touch and only used during the final stages of barbecuing. In this recipe, they use honey to get the sweet heat they like.

  • 1 32-ounce bottle ketchup

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar

  • 3/4 cup honey

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not let the mixture boil. Allow sauce to cool; then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 6 1 /2 cups

Chipotles en Adobo

Paul Lengeling uses this traditional recipe as a wet rub on uncured (fresh) hams. It’s also a good addition to commercial barbecue sauces.

  • 2 dried chipotle chiles

  • 1 medium onion, sliced

  • 3 cloves garlic, diced

  • 3 cups water

  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar

  • Salt to taste (about 1 /2 teaspoon)

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, over low heat until the mixture is reduced to about 1 1/ 2 cups and the chiles are soft.

Yield: About 1 1 /2 cups

Heat Scale: Mild

#1 Award-Winning Memphis in May Hot Wing Sauce

“Floating a jalapeño in a simmer sauce adds tremendous flavor,” says Amy Anderson of Madd Momma and The Kid. Here’s an example.

  • 1 12-ounce bottle hot sauce (She prefers Red Hot)

  • 1 cube butter

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 fresh jalapeño chile

Mix the hot sauce, the butter and the garlic in a saucepan. Make 3 to 4 slashes in the skin of the jalapeño pepper. Put the jalapeño in the sauce and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring constantly.

Yield: 1 ½ cups

Heat Scale: Medium

WhiskeyQue, Too Recipe

Sauces in the annual Jack Daniel’s barbecue contest must include some of the host’s product. This recipe is a good example of what the judges look for. It comes from the Jack Daniel’s Old Time Barbecue Cookbook.

  • 9 cups Worcestershire sauce

  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar

  • 1 1/2 cups tomato juice

  • 1/2 cup hot pepper sauce

  • 2 quarts ketchup

  • 1 /2 cup minced garlic

  • 2 cups brown sugar

  • 2 cups white sugar

  • 1 /2 cup paprika

  • 1 /2 cup black pepper

  • 6 tablespoons onion powder

  • 1 /2 cup salt

  • Liquid smoke, to taste

  • 1 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey

In a pot, mix and simmer all the ingredients except the Jack Daniel’s Whiskey for 1 hour. Add the whiskey after the mixture has cooked and cooled.

Yield: 1 1 /2 gallons

Heat Scale: Mild

Spicy Maple-Glazed Canadian Gamebird

This is a variation of a recipe Mike Kerslake developed to use for chicken. Here, he uses pheasant. But any game bird, chicken or a small turkey would work as well. The brine helps keep the meat from drying out when cooking. In the glaze, Kerslake used morita chiles, which are red chipotles that are smoked less that the typical dark brown variety. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

The Brine

  • 1 cup coarse/pickling salt

  • 1/2 cup coarse-chopped onion

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns

  • 5 or 6 hot peppers, each cut in half, variety of choice (de arbols suggested)

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 pheasant

  • Mild, low-salt or salt-free poultry rub, optional

  • Aromatics: Herbs, onions, garlic, apples and/or fresh or dried peppers, optional

  • Apple juice or apple cider

The Glaze

  • 1 cup maple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon (about 3 pods) of ground dried red chile


Combine all the brine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil for 5 to10 minutes. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator.
When the brine is cooled to 40 degrees or below, add the pheasant, placing a plate on the top to keep the bird submerged. Allow to brine for 10 to12 hours.

After brining, rinse the bird, pat dry, then place it on a rack over a drip pan in the refrigerator to air-chill for about 3 to 4 hours. Rub with the poultry rub and place the aromatics in the bird’s cavity, if desired.


To Barbecue

Preheat the barbecue to 250 to 275 degrees and set up for indirect cooking (place firebricks on the cooking grid, then position the drip pan and rack with bird, on top of the bricks). Add a small piece of smoking wood if you wish. Suggested: use a 3″ by 3″ piece of pecan. Remember that poultry absorbs smoke like a sponge, so use it sparingly.) Add some apple juice or apple cider to the drip pan if you wish.

Cook for about 1 and a half hours or until breast meat registers 155 degrees Use a spray bottle to spritz apple juice onto the bird every 20 to 30 minutes. At this point, begin to glaze the bird with the warmed-up glaze. Baste once or twice until the breast temperature reads 165 degrees. Remove the bird from the barbecue and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Carve the bird and drizzle the remaining glazes over the slices.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild to Medium, depending on chile peppers used.

Deep-Rubbed, Slow-Roasted Pork Ribs

Most barbecue cooks have their favorite dry rub recipe. This one is from the National Pork Producers Council. It calls for rinsing the rub off the ribs before cooking, a technique some cooks might choose not to use. The ribs can be rubbed and kept refrigerated for up to two days.

  • 1/4 cup coarse salt

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 tablespoons minced yellow onion

  • 4 teaspoons crushed black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1 teaspoon crushed thyme

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1 /2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 /2 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 4 pounds pork back ribs

Mix all rub the ingredients together in a small bowl. Thoroughly rub the mixture over all surfaces of the ribs. Refrigerate the ribs, covered, for up to 2 days.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, rinse the ribs thoroughly and pat them dry. Cook the ribs over indirect heat, with a banked medium-hot fire in a covered grill, for 1 1 /2 to 2 hours, turning occasionally, until very tender.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Top of Page

The 14th annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest will be held in Lynchburg, Tennessee, on Saturday, October 26. The festivities, which include an arts and crafts show, exhibits, free tours of the Jack Daniel’s distillery, lots of barbecue, and many other activities for the whole family, begin at 9 a.m. For more information, call 615-340 1035 or visit the Jack Daniels website at




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