Panther Creek Cookers

Panther Creek Cookers

We missed the National Barbecue Championship out in Meridian, Texas this year as we had pressing affairs in New Orleans. In lieu of being able to attend we reached out to Kelly Curtis, the engine behind the Panther Creek Cookers competition barbecue team.

And the winner of the 2016 National Barbecue Championship.

If you want to improve your barbecue methodology turn toward the men (and women) who have perfected theirs. If you’ve already reached perfection then go back to what it was you were doing

If you’re still chopping wood and carrying water then continue reading.

1) How hard of a competition is Meridian, and where does it rank compared to other shootouts where you’ve competed?

Kelly Curtis: Meridian is what I would consider a tough competition. Any competition that has that many teams can usually be considered tough. That being said, having been around the cooking circuit for a couple of years now and gotten to know ‘who’s who’ in the cooking realm, I would have to say that although Meridian had a high number of teams, a lot of the top cooks did not cook there.

2) Was it revealed that you did not win brisket prior to the announcement that you were Grand Champion? If so, did you abandon hope at that point given Texas preeminence on beef breast?

Kelly Curtis: …Hell man…third place is winning brisket.

It’s just not first place. The thing about BBQ competitions that most folks don’t know or understand is that in a competition of this magnitude when a individual places in the top 3 he’s pretty much a superstar.

These events work on a point system. Basically, you are awarded points on a scale of 1-10 for the places. 10th place being 1 point and first place being ten points. In the end when the points are tallied, the grand champion is the person with the most points.

If there is a tie, the guy with the highest brisket score determines the winner. Most cooks are able to track the awards by keeping a sheet and tallying as the categories are called out. We knew that we needed a brisket call of at least 5th place or so in order to beat the guy that had gotten a 1st place rib call and a chicken call also.

So basically once we saw that he did not get a brisket call, we knew we had the event sewed up.”

Now, let me paint another scenario.

Lets say you have sat through an entire awards ceremony, and not received one single call. They are down to the LAST CALL…FIRST PLACE BRISKET…and it happens that you are the recipient.

THAT is a total shocker and a huge surprise for you and your team.

We have had a few of those, the biggest one being a 1st place brisket call at The Humble Rodeo cooking among 150 plus teams. That call alone gave us 10 points which was enough to get us a RESERVE GRAND CHAMPION in that event.

3) When you were fooling around in the backyard cooking meat for friends and family did you ever envision being on the level you are now? Tell us about the path you took to become a superstar in the world of barbecue

Kelly Curtis: I learned my basics cooking as a teenager in the Boy Scouts. I was an Eagle Scout. I would have to say that this was really my first exposure to building fires out doors and using dutch ovens to prepare meals.

Regarding BBQ I think Id have to say that I really started getting in to it back in the 80s when taking a 55 gallon drum and making a BBQ pit out of it was popular. If you had one of those devices, you were set! I actually started competing in July of 2014, so I only have really been at it for a couple of years.

As with anything I do, I have jumped in neck-deep and sought to become as good at it as possible within a short period of time. This is evidenced by the fact that I was ranked 8th out of hundreds of BBQ cooks in the IBCA sanctioning body for the 2016 year.

My wife Lisa is my partner and we pretty much cook every weekend. We have traveled many miles chasing these events and have become fairly consistent at it.

In the two years I have been competing I’ve managed to take around 8-9 classes offered up by top cookers like Myron Mixon, Tuffy Stone, Johnny Trigg, Craig Sharry and a few local guys that do pretty well on the local circuit. I think that this has propelled me down the cooking trail at a faster rate than most folks.

Never in a million years did I ever imagine that this is something I would be doing. I remember sitting in Myron Mixons class ignoring all that he was teaching that pertained to competitions as I was only there to gather a few facts for back yard cooking.

Competition was not on my agenda. It really started when my son-in-law Jay Frankovitch with Team Merica did a small local competition and won it. I told him “that looks like fun, I’m thinking about doing it”. His response was “you should turn that old 1948 GMC truck you have into a cook wagon.

That’s what we did. We have a one of a kind cook-wagon as we call it. It’s basically a Myron Mixon smoker, a few Ugly Drum Smokers, a hot water sink and prep table; all mounted on the back of a tilt-bed 1948 GMC grain-hauler that we bought out in Terlingua, Texas a few years back. It’s quite a sight to see and gets lots of looks from the public when we roll out.

Kelly Curtis, Trinidad Enriquez (Promoter of Texas BBQ King Cookoff) and Lisa Curtis

Kelly Curtis, Trinidad Enriquez (Promoter of Texas BBQ King Cookoff) and Lisa Curtis

4) Finally, since your chicken was best in show would you please walk us through your winning technique with fowl?

Kelly Curtis: “Pretty much all cooks that I’ve come in contact with are very protective of their winning recipes, but I can tell you a bit about it.

Basically I cook my birds on a Ugly Drum Cooker using a fairly in-depth recipe that requires about an hour to prep the day prior to cooking. The only secret I will share that puts us over the top and above the rest is the fact that we use lots of lighter fluid to start our fires with. Kingsford blue bottle to be exact. We feel that in order to give those judges what they are accustomed to, it’s a requirement to use lighter fluid. Most cooks would frown upon that statement stating that petroleum distillates are imparted into the flavor profile and ruining the food. I’m here to tell you it gives them what they are used to. Hey, we are winning doing it!

ed note: I suspect that Curtis was having a bit of fun with us with his petroleum claims, but feel free to run by the Dollar Tree and grab a bottle of briquette starter and report back with your experiences.

Hope to see y’all out in Meridian next year when Curtis returns to defend his crown.

And here’s our interview with Randy Valentine, the gentleman who brought home ‘best brisket’ at National Barbecue Championship

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