At The Pit With Rod Gray

I was recently able to interview one of my BBQ heroes, Rod Gray who was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the readers of the Atlanta BBQ Store blog. In January 2014, I took Rod's Pellet Envy competition BBQ class and it was one of those rare instances of someone you look up to actually exceeding what you expected of them. Rod is not only a first class pit master, but a stand up guy as well and even has a great wit to boot. Hope you enjoy getting inside the mind of Rod as much as I did with this short interview!

Me: How did you get started in the world of competition BBQ?

Rod: There was a new contest on the infield of Kansas City's shiny new NASCAR track in the Kansas July heat.  I went, expecting to see 200 teams melting on the fresh black asphalt, but instead found a huge party.  Within minutes of attending and after seeing how much fun people were having despite the conditions, I knew competition barbecue was something to which I had to be a part.  That was 2001.

Me: What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in on the competition circuit since you started competing?

Rod: The biggest change I've seen is the ability for a new team to win.  When I started, seasoned veterans who had spent years honing their skills and recipes, were the only team winning contests.  Now, with classes and instruction from some of the best pitmasters, it's not unusual for a team to cut years and thousands of dollars from the competition barbecue learning curve, standing atop the podium in short order.  Did I mention that Pellet Envy teaches classes, instruction that has produced more grand champions than all of the other classes combined? <----- shameless plug 

Me: Rod's class has been instrumental in the early success we've had as a first year cook team and I can't recommend it enough. This guy  is one of the winningest cooks out there on the circuit. Speaking of winning, what has been your most meaningful win and why?

Rod: Winning the national championship in 2009 is definitely at the top of my list.  Traveling over 14,000 miles in five weeks, butting heads with two great friends and pitmasters, and finishing the season as the best team in the country, is something I will never forget.  However, winning our first episode of BBQ Pitmasters at the American Royal in 2012 is my most meaningful win.  Most know 2012 was a very tough year.  It was that year my wife and teammate developed a very rare illness.  We almost lost her.  But she is a fighter and we endured a rough patch for her to battle back and be instrumental in our success on that show in the fall.  I will never forget the look in her eyes and the expression on her face when we were named the winner that day, never.

Me: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the world of competition BBQ?

Wow, you lobbed me a softball there.  This sounds self serving, but I would tell someone new to competition barbecue to research the available classes, find one that fits you, and take it right now.  It won't be cheap, but it will save you thousands of dollars in trial and error and maybe even save your marriage, and potentially a friendship or two. 


Me: Besides classes you need to start with great products and some of the best are Rod's Eat Barbecue rubs and sauces. Rod, can you tell us a little about your EAT Barbecue line of products and their development? 

Rod: Great segway.  If you're going to be a full time professional pitmaster, a line of your own products is pretty important.  I had always wanted to create my own signature sauces and rubs, but it wasn't a priority.  When we won BBQ Pitmasters, we decided that if we were going to do it, now was the time.  So, I went to work creating rubs and sauces inspired by the combinations of products that we used to be successful on the competition circuit.  Little did I know it would be such hard work.  I wanted products that I could look someone in the eye and answer "yes" when asked if I used these products in competition. That meant they had to be perfect.  Being perfect doesn't come easy and neither did the EAT Barbecue products.  I am very proud of the results.  The success shows in the tremendous support we've received for these products, not to mention the countless e-mails received reporting amazing finishes in competition around the country using EAT Barbecue products.

Me: Bonus Question- You recently went to Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, TX: can you tell us a little about your experience there? Did he make you wait in the infamous line? Franklin's was an amazing experience.  Aaron Franklin is a very gracious host and he welcomed us with open arms. The food was exceptional and the atmosphere was incredible.  To anyone who asks, I strongly recommend they go.  As for waiting in line, take the Godfather of Barbecue Johnny Trigg with you when you go.  Just the rumor of that gun in his boot makes special things happen.

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