By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Donny Bray of the Warren County Pork Choppers has been cooking barbecue for more than 30 years. His experience at the grill has earned him and his team the reputation as the team to beat in this year’s Kansas City BBQ Society cook-off season.
Bray and the Pork Choppers tied for first place in last year’s season, missing the series points record by a mere three points. Currently, the Pork Choppers have the lead in points, already four contests into the 2014 season.
“Last year we stepped it up a lot because we were told our team could win,” Bray said. “We cooked pretty much every weekend and competed in 31 contests. The year before we competed in around 24 contests.”
According to Bray, he and his team went through 1,000 pounds of beef, 3,000 pounds of chicken, 4,000 pounds of ribs and 3,000 pounds of pork during the 2013 KCBS barbecue season.
Despite cooking so much barbecue throughout the year, Bray says he still enjoys eating it.
“If I go to a barbecue restaurant, I look for smoked wings or something that isn’t in the KCBS barbecue contests,” Bray said. “Most professional cooks are looking for perfection but, in contests, our food comes straight from the grill to the judges. In restaurants, the food sits. It’s different from what we’re used to, but I still enjoy going out and having barbecue.”
He said his team’s specialty is definitely beef, closely followed by chicken.
“There’s certain things people can’t turn down,” Bray said. “Sweet, heat, smoke and salt. People like those flavors and we like to keep it simple. If you cook unusual kinds of flavors, you run the risk of one of the six judges not liking it. We keep it simple.”
Despite his keep it simple attitude and experience, Bray says he gets nervous going into a competition.
“I teach how to cook barbecue and a lot of my students are now competing,” Bray said. “They know a lot of my secrets. I get really scared going in to a contest like the one in London because the level of competition is just so high. I’m a very consistent cook, but there are a lot of great cooks in these competitions. In this sport we do the very best we can do, but it all comes down to what the six judges think.”
Bray said through his travels across the country for contests, he has noticed an increasing interest in competitive cooking.
“Barbecue is bringing a lot into the towns,” Bray said. “A lot of the competitors have been on shows like BBQ Pitmasters, and A&E is starting a barbecue show soon. People are getting interested and that’s getting corporations involved. These contests are becoming big events.”
Grills Gone Wild will be open from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, March 28 and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. The event is sponsored by the London-Laurel Tourism Commission and will take place at the Laurel County Optimist Center. Learn more at www.ggwbbq.com.