Thrill of the Grill at the NBBQA Conference and
Trade Show!

By Vernee Green-Myers
“The Southern Girls BBQ Roadshow”

Photo courtesy of Brittney Wiggin
Denny Mike congratulates a very surprised Kell Phelps for winning
"The Thrill of the Grill" Steak Cookoff at NBBQA Conference in Texas.

At the National Barbecue Association conference and trade show held in San Marcos, TX there was a new event on Friday night! It was a steak cook-off challenge put together by Brad Barrett with Grill Grate and Linda Orrison, President Elect of the NBBQA, between the “low and slow” smokers against the “fast and fiery” grillers from the Steak Cookoff Association (SCA).  All entry fees would fund the efforts of Operation BBQ Relief, a non-profit disaster response team, who provide meals to residents in areas stricken by natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. It was a challenge no one could turn down!  The winner would win bragging rights and a handcrafted Stetson made by NBBQA President Elect, Linda Orrison, also known as “Mama Shed.”  
With 20 contestants including four steak cook-off world champions and several BBQ World Champions, it was a tough field. Linda introduced each cook and their accomplishments.  Kell Phelps was the last contestant introduced and stated his only hope was not to come in “D.A.L.”  Each contestant only had one chance to show their superb grilling skills. Each person was provided with one Meyer Natural Angus rib eye from sponsor Meyer Natural Foods.  They had one hour to prepare and grill to “medium” and turn it in for blind judging.  The Steak Cookoff Association (SCA) handled the judging and scoring of the event.  Each cook received a raffle ticket with the ticket number that was taped to their box at turn-in.   You have to hold on to your ticket to know if you’re a winner.  Then, a panel of six judges, all experienced in blind judging process, rated each steak based upon Doneness (a warm pink center), appearance, taste, tenderness and overall impression on a scale of 1 to 10.
Some grills were provided and other people cooked on the own grills.  National Barbecue News publisher, Kell Phelps, cooked on a grill provided by Big Fish BBQ at the Operation BBQ Relief tent.  I watched Kell and Brian from Big Fish BBQ get their steaks ready and showed some concern that they were doing more talking than grilling as the hour dwindled away.  As turn-ins approached, I went to find Kell and actually said, “I feel like y’all are running behind schedule.  Shouldn’t you have steaks on the grill by now?”  Both Brian and Kell laughed and said the steaks were resting and they’d put them on shortly.  Then they discussed cooking on the grill grate, time and temps.  
While the crowd waited and watched, conference attendees enjoyed a dinner provided by NBBQA and Meyer Natural Foods prepared by Guest Chef John Enright from the Meyer Company Ranch.  Let me tell you the tri-tip was so good, many people – including me – went back for seconds!  As Linda Orrison announced winners from 10th place down to 1st place, the crowd gathered.  We all wanted to know if it would be “Low and Slow” or “Fast and Fiery” cook!  As they approached 1st, some of the contestants not called was quietly making their way to the back of the crowd.  Kell Phelps had almost managed to sneak away when they called his ticket number.  He threw his arms up in the air and screamed, “Are you freaking kidding me?” No, Kell, Linda was not kidding! Kell Phelps, the Publisher of the National Barbecue News, won “Thrill of the grill,” the very first steak cook-off held at the National Barbecue Association Conference and Trade Show.
Kell Phelps won with a rub concocted by his dad, the late Joe Phelps, co-founder of National Barbecue News and a founding member of the National Barbecue Association.   Kell took the trophy hat around and collected more donations for Operation BBQ Relief.  Several people suggested he auction off his hat and he said he’d consider it, but you could tell he really wanted to keep the hat, because as he said, “Think I owe this one to Papa Joe.”  Jared Robertson, President of Southern Pride Smokers, told Kell he had a way to help him raise more money for Operation BBQ Relief without him giving up his hat.  Southern Pride would match the donations to make the total contribution of $1,000.00.  

After the event, one of the judges, Suzanne Rhea, Memphis Barbecue Network Vice President and Sanctioning Coordinator, commented, “And may I say it was a mighty fine steak…and hat…and guy!!!”

We all agree.  Congratulations!

Photo Courtesy of Brittney Wiggin
Kell Phelps, sporting his custom Stetson for winning "The Thrill of the Grill", counts the money he's collected to donate to Operation BBQ Relief.

Photo Courtesy of Brittney Wiggin
Kell’s surprised reaction when it was announced that he was
The Thrill of the Grill winner.

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