Anna Montgomery: The BBQ girl story
(This is an edited version of a story that first ran in the National Barbecue News in December 2004.)
In 2003 a ten-year-old fourth grader, Anna Montgomery, joined the local 4-H Club and chose Chicken-Que as her completive activity. This was not unusual (as her dad was a BBQ judge), and she had attended several professional BBQ competitions. On a chilly April morning facing 28 junior competitors, Anna’s BBQ adventure would begin. Armed with her trusty Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, tools, rub, and the Sauce (remember the Sauce), Anna worked methodically throughout the morning and was rewarded with a First Place finish, thus winning the county and advancing to district competition where she would also prevail with another first place win.
To step up her game, Anna entered a local 4th of July non-sanctioned contest, placing second out of 17 adult teams. Anna had a big trophy and a $300 check. Fifteen teams went home knowing they were bested by a 10-year-old girl. This ended competitions for the year, but Anna would continue to travel to BBQ events that her dad judged where she was becoming well-known among the competitors.
Spring 2004 rolled around, and again Anna found herself at the County 4-H event, this time facing 43 competitors. Now a poised and confident Anna prevailed again by taking the top spot. After her dad posted Anna’s accomplishments on the BBQ Forum message board (Pre Facebook days), good-natured offers from competition teams began to come in. Poppa J’s team from Tuscaloosa wasn’t kidding. “Come cook our chicken in Huntsville, and we will split the winnings,” said team leader Stan Johnson. Now this was a KCBS event with some of the top teams in the country competing. Anna was dropped off at the cook site with her Weber and quietly went to work. A low buzz began as people realized what was happening. Jaws dropped when Anna took third place out of 57 teams. Anna was on TV and written up in the newspaper. Steve Marrs, promoter of a large KCBS contest in Denver, CO, that benefits the Children’s Hospital, invited Anna to come cook his event.
While preparing for the Denver event, a decision was made to form a family team and do at least one event prior. The Wild Turkey Tennessee State Championship in Lawrenceburg in June 2004 would be the first KCBS contest for TEAM Top Chick. Where would this fledgling rank against some of the best in BBQ? Incredibly, Anna’s team would take first place in both chicken and pork categories and seventh overall. That is not supposed to happen with a rookie team and an 11-year-old chicken cook.
This initial success was followed by a sixth place finish Albertville, a fourth place finish in Denver, and a seventh place in Decatur. The teams first Grand Championship would come in Gallatin, TN, at Smoking on the Square in October 2004. Afterwards an all-women team, Chicks in Charge, drafted Anna’s services for the Clarkesville, TN, KCBS event, and she brought home another First Place in Chicken.
The last contest on the schedule that year clearly stood out as being special. The National Barbecue News was hosting a major event in Douglas, GA. This was an event that brought together the top teams from all of the sanctioning bodies — KCBS, MIM, FBA, IBCA, and others — in the Best of the Best Invitational and Open events. There would be 67 of the best BBQ teams in the nation assembled in downtown Douglas on a beautiful fall weekend to see who the best was. Food Network would be on hand filming a BBQ show about the legendary Blind Dog’s Outlaw Gang. The TV crew quickly discovered the 11-year-old BBQ cook and became her constant companion. If this rookie team could place anywhere in the top half of this outstanding field, it would be an accomplishment. The anticipation would build as the awards were delayed by the CPA firm that was charged with insuring the accuracy of the count. In the chicken category, the team would take fifth, followed by a forth in ribs. These scores tallied together would be good enough to earn the team an amazing Reserve Grand Championship. What a way to end the year — a Grand, a Reserve, and never out of the top ten! While this story may sound like a little girl’s fairy tale, it is all true, and Team Top Chick can’t wait for 2005.
And Now…The rest of the story!!
So whatever happened to Anna Montgomery and Team Top Chick? Well, a lot! Anna would dominate 4-H competitions for years to come in local, state, and national competitions. Anna and the team continued to compete on the KCBS circuit for 10 more years. Anna (and the rest of the Montgomery children) grew up in the BBQ community (and what better community of people to grow up in?). Through all of this, they learned to work hard as a team, to interact with adults as peers, to win and lose with class, and to form friendships that would last a lifetime. They’ve traveled the country meeting new people and seeing the beauty of America, all because of BBQ.
During that time, they would score five Grand Championships, five Reserve Grand Championships, and numerous category and top 10 awards. Perhaps none was more special than when “the girl with the chicken hat” took 5th in the 2009 American Royal out of 473 teams. Along the way, Anna grew up and was active in school, 4-H, and church work, and also took a mission trip to Mexico. Anna also stayed busy doing community service and attended and graduated college from the University of North Alabama with a degree sociology and family counseling in 2015. Anna is now a counselor at Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, and has applied to graduate school, so with all of this happening now, there was less time for BBQ.
However, there was a bit of unfinished BBQ business…the sauce! The sauce that was on the chicken the first time Anna cooked in 4-H and every time after that…the sauce that won awards on its own…Anna’s Famous Sauce! It’s a sweet, thick sauce with pineapple overtones with a bite at the end. Yeah, that sauce! In January 2016, Anna’s Famous Sauce was professionally bottled, and in February it became available for sale in local markets and by mail order.
The marketing plan is simple: Put a box under your arm and go out and tell the story. Will Anna’s Famous Sauce become a household name and take its place among the giants of the BBQ sauce world? Could this be the start of a line of Anna’s Famous Food products? Who knows? But with a proven track record like this, we wouldn’t be betting against her!
Check out Anna's Famous Sauce at www.annasfamoussauce.com or on Facebook.
All Photos by Nancy Montgomery