GRILLED to perfection: Backyard BBQ Competition

The battle for the champion of the Back Yard BBQ at the Kentucky State BBQ Festival brings out the competition between the weekend warriors and the barbecue junkies, and cash prizes and bragging rights are on the line.

Yearly competitors Michael Tipton and Charles Kistler, from Lexington and Kokomo, Indiana respectively, consider themselves the “littlest” of the 18 teams in the competition, operating with a Big Green Egg. That hasn’t stopped the duo, who took first place in the rib competition last year; third place in 2013, their first year; and won the One Bite Challenge last year.

This is the only competition the two attend each year. Childhood friends, they enjoy getting together to cook barbecue. In 2013, they decided “What the heck?” and competed, Tipton said. That first taste of placing has kept them coming back.

Plus, “It’s a lot of fun,” said Kistler. “Everyone is nice.”

This year, they competed in the one bite challenge and the ribs competition.

The Back Yard BBQ Competition began in 2013. Anyone can enter the competition, which featured three categories this year: the ribs, the steak and the One Bite Challenge. Each is judged according to taste and presentation; the One Bite Challenge is also based on creativity.

According to Rick Walden, the competition’s organizer, competitors can’t have participated and won an event sanctioned by a professional cooking organization, such as the Memphis Barbecue Network or the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

Across the parking lot from Tipton and Kistler, with a homemade smoker crafted from a refurbished propane tank coupled with a wood stove to keep the heat on, Melissa Ingram with he Celtic Pig BBQ has eyes on first. This is Ingram’s third year. She took second her first year, losing by one point, and second last year, losing by half a point.

Ingram, who has been a chef for 30 years, and her boyfriend Sam Bracken started with their smoker, cooking a variety of meats — kangaroo, for one — and feeding their friends.

“We’ll put meat in, call someone up and by the time it’s ready, we have 15 people to feed,” Ingram said.

“Our friends are adventurous eaters,” Bracken said.

The barbecue spawned into a food truck and now the duo operates he Celtic Pig, a food truck that serves Scottish and Irish food, along with some barbecue.

First-time competitors Michael and Alice Todd, with Drop the Fork BBQ from Frankfort, are looking forward to someday running their own catering business, but for now are just getting in the competition mode.

“It’s fun,” Michael said. It’s only been the last five years or so that he’s really gotten into cooking barbecue, but said the experience has been great so far. “Our favorite to cook is brisket.”

The duo cooks for family, friends, co-workers, even their church, having fed hundreds before. They visited the Kentucky State BBQ Festival last year for the first time and decided this year would be their premiere, by entering the rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

They were joined by first-time festival competitors Mike and Matthew Poynter, the father-son team behind Bullheaded BBQ from Stanford. They may be new to the Back Yard competition in Danville, but they’ve competed more than a few times.

The Poynters started competing about three years ago.

“We like to eat it. We started paying around with cooking it. Started catering. Started competing,” said Mike Poynter, the patriarch. “We’re having fun.”

The two hit about one competition a month. This is the first year they’ve been free to attend the Kentucky State BBQ Festival as competitors for the Back Yard competition, and said “we thought we’d give it a shot,” trying the rib, steak and One Bite competitions.

Down the row, brothers Greg and Mark Elkins make up the Elkhawg Smokers from Winchester.

Their name comes from Greg Elkins’ high school football days.

“That was my nickname — Elkhawg,” he said.

The two have been cooking barbecue for about three years, but this is their first time competing in the Back Yard competition.

“It’s just for fun,” Mark Elkins said.

Along with the duo travels Greg Elkins’ wife, Kim, who jokes she’s really in charge. The men have a nod to her, naming their homemade delights Momma Hawg Sauce and Momma Hawg Rub.

“I’m Momma Hawg,” Kim said with a smile.

They were competing in all three categories.

Donnie and Sheila Baker with Red Rock Bar-B-Que in Lawrenceburg were also on-hand to compete. Donnie Baker said he has been “cooking barbecue on and of for a while.”

The two came when the KY State BBQ Festival started six years ago, but hadn’t been able to come in a while.

“He’s also a big Moe (Cason) fan,” Sheila Baker said and smiled.

Others make it a family affair, such as Tad Porter with Smokers Only. Entering just the rib portion of the competition, Porter brought along friends and family to spend the day, even throwing some extra food in the smoker.

“It’s fun, we always have fun. We bring the family,” he said.

For Zack Greene, with Pa Buddy BBQ from Eddyville, it’s a team of friends and family.  Named after his late grandpa, Pa Buddy BBQ formed in 2014, just after he died.

“We did it as a tribute to him,” said Patrick Curran, a family friend.

Greene makes his own sauces and rubs using an old family recipe, once used by his dad and uncle in a restaurant they owned. The guys entered all three competitions.

They make it a fun affair — after all, they said, that’s what it’s about.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Michael Tipton examines the ribs to choose the best ones for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Michael Tipton examines the ribs to choose the best ones for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ plats her ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ plats her ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ holds a rib, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ holds a rib, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ cuts ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ cuts ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ unwraps her ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Melissa Ingram with The Celtic Pig BBQ unwraps her ribs, her entry for the Back Yard BBQ Competition, Rib challenge.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Michael Todd pulls ribs off of the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Michael Todd pulls ribs off of the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Michael Todd pulls ribs off of the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Michael Todd pulls ribs off of the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Michael Todd spray ribs on the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Michael Todd spray ribs on the smoker to prepare his entry for the Rib portion of the 2016 Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Matthew Poynter brushes sauce onto Ribs. Poynter and his dad Mike are the duo behind Bullheaded BBQ from Stanford.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Matthew Poynter brushes sauce onto Ribs. Poynter and his dad Mike are the duo behind Bullheaded BBQ from Stanford.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Zack Greene with Pa Buddy's BBQ from Eddyville, sprays the ribs before the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Zack Greene with Pa Buddy’s BBQ from Eddyville, sprays the ribs before the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Emily Baldwin offers food to Mary Robin Spoonamore, right, and Theresa Stanley, center, judges in the One Bite Challenge portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Emily Baldwin offers food to Mary Robin Spoonamore, right, and Theresa Stanley, center, judges in the One Bite Challenge portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Corey Kenny, executive chef of Cue on Main, takes his "one bite" food from Emily Baldwin, during the One Bite Challenge judging of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Corey Kenny, executive chef of Cue on Main, takes his “one bite” food from Emily Baldwin, during the One Bite Challenge judging of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Mark Elkins with ElkHawg Smokers from Winchester shows off the Ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Mark Elkins with ElkHawg Smokers from Winchester shows off the Ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Donnie Baker with Red Rock Bar-B-Que prepares his ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Donnie Baker with Red Rock Bar-B-Que prepares his ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com Shelia and Donnie Baker, with Red Rock Bar-B-Que from Lawrenceburg, prepare ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.

Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com
Shelia and Donnie Baker, with Red Rock Bar-B-Que from Lawrenceburg, prepare ribs for the Rib portion of the Back Yard BBQ Competition.