My conversation with Johnny Trigg
When one is growing up in a small town in Central Texas, as I did in Cisco, there is hardly any notion that someone who lives next door or across the street will grow up to become a rock star. I certainly did not have one, however, the guy who grew up across the street from me became a rock star. Oh, not a rock star in the music sense, but rather one in the world of competition barbeque cooking. I recently had a opportunity to sit down with Johnny Trigg in his living room and talk about one of my favorite subjects: barbeque.
Johnny and his wife, Trish, both graduated from Cisco High School. Johnny graduated a few years before I did (being a Southern gentleman I didn’t ask which year) but when I went into high school he was at North Texas State Uni-versity.
Johnny was already working at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company when I started there as a casualty underwriting trainee. Later I moved to another insurance company then went with Maxson-Mahoney-Turner, Inc. insurance agency, one of the Fund’s largest and most profitable agencies. He retired in December of 1996 after 35 years with the company.
My immediate supervisor at Fireman’s Fund was Joe Richardson. Joe and Johnny were close friends and Joe could cook anything. In fact, he made some of the best divinity candy I ever put in my mouth.
When I asked Johnny how he got started cooking barbeque he told me Joe was cooking briskets in a barrel cooker, and they were awesome. Johnny said his first attempt was terrible, tough like shoe leather. Joe advised he hadn’t cooked it long enough. In 1984, Joe called Johnny and told him he had bought a trailer pit, so the next Monday Johnny went out and bought one also. Thus began what would eventually become a sterling career in championship barbeque cooking.
In 1989, Johnny went to a cookoff at Trader’s Village then subscribed to a publication out of Denton called "The Pit" which gave a schedule of all the cookoffs in the state. In 1990, he entered a cookoff in Denton. He and his wife loaded up their Suburban, hooked up the pit smoker, threw in all the spices in the kitchen, and arriving at the location noticed a bunch of the veteran cookers gathered around.
Being a rookie he parked some distance away. One of the vets came over, introduced himself and asked Johnnie if he’d cooked a lot. Johnny said he had. No, the vet asked, in competitions, to which Johnny confessed he had not. With some sage advice from the old hands Johnny finished third in brisket. At that point he was hooked. "This is what I want to do," he told Trish, and so began his distinguished career.
In 1999, Johnny hit the road and quit cooking in Texas almost entirely because the money was better cooking at Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) events. In those early years he said he got a lot of help from veteran cookers.
Over the years he and Trish have logged a lot of miles going to sanctioned cookoffs. They are on their fifth RV and it has 208,000 miles on the odometer. All those are cooking miles, he said, except for one reasonably short vacation trip they took with some friends. The Triggs spend 225 to 230 days a year on the road.
During a recent TV series entitled "Pitmas-ters" Johnny was dubbed "The Godfather of Ribs." He said Trish’s prize-winning beans, which she enters in contests, earned her the moniker "the Queen of Beans."
Johnny’s awards and prizes are legend in the world of competition cooking. In 2000 he won the Jack Daniels World Championship in Lynchburg, Tennessee. You have to qualify for that then go into a lottery to be chosen. He won it again in 2003, becoming the first ever to win twice. Johnny has cooked the "Jack" 11 times out of the contest’s 21 years of existence. In 2003, he was also named the KCBS Cooker of the Year. Quite an honor.
At a contest in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Johnny won a Harley Davidson Eltra Classic valued at $24,000 plus a cash prize of $18,000. That was quite a payday. He said the motorcycle had four miles on it when he got it and eight when he sold it.
Johnny was invited by the Swiss Barbeque Society in May of 2004 to attend a cookoff in Ingerlock, Switzerland. Of course, they went there all expenses paid and were put up in absolutely first class accommodations.
Last year his prize money amounted to over $50,000. My comment was that’s not too shabby a second income for a retired guy. Plus, he gets to write off the expense of his meat, spices, miles and so forth. All the while having fun.
I told Johnny there’re a lot of guys out there just like me who have no desire to enter the world of competition cooking but love to cook brisket and ribs. When friends or family put some of our brisket or ribs into their mouths, their eyes roll back and they say, "Man that’s good," it’s the equivalent of winning the Jack Daniels. So, for guys like me Johnny has this advice to offer:
· Buy the best meat possible.
· Don’t keep spices too long. Johnny keeps his about six months then throws them away and starts over.
· Use spices that compliment the meat. He uses different rubs for brisket, ribs and chicken.
· Use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. Briquettes have fillers and other stuff to help them hold their shape and he doesn’t want that smoke on his meat.
· And, finally, don’t put too much smoke on the meat. Don’t soak the chips because they’ll smoke too much.
All-in-all Johnny Trigg is a happy man. He gets to do what he loves, is well paid and very successful at the doing of it. Don’t we all wish we could say that?