Female Pitmasters Weigh In On What It Takes To Compete
Men have commanded the grill for far too long. The idea that the man of the house somehow naturally knows more about cooking meat than anyone else is, of course, absurd. Grilling is for everyone (yes fellas, that includes charcoal grills too), and we're finally starting to see more females competing at a high level.
Today, on International Women's Day, we decided to feature four of our favorite female pitmasters. They've been at it a long time, and they know their way around a grill better than most. Let's meet them.
Sylvie Curry @sylvie1950
Sylvie Curry got her start as a food blogger back in 2005, and while she didn't have an interest in competing intially, she soon found herself on a team called Four Q, with three other men. Unfortunately, some of them became too busy to compete over time, so she decided to compete solo, as "Lady of Q." Sylvie appeared on The Great American BBQ Showdown on Netflix in 2020, and is still as active as ever.
Megan Day @burntfingerbbq
Jason and Megan Day are the pitmasters behind the professional barbecue team Burnt Finger BBQ. Since its founding in 2008, Burnt Finger BBQ has racked up countless awards on the competition barbecue circuit, including numerous State Championships, 1st place chicken at the prestigious American Royal World Series of Barbecue, and overall Top 10 finishes at the American Royal, Memphis in May and World Food Championships. In addition, Megan was the darling of Food Network's Chopped Grill Masters Season 4. She won her preliminary round and bested all other pitmasters in the series finale.
Sunny Moody @grilledfit
Sunny is the 2021 World Food Steak Champion and has received numerous awards, Grand Champion, and Reserve Grand, and multiple 1st place and top 5 finishes in multiple categories in BBQ and Grilling.
After a life-altering diagnosis of a brain and spinal malformation along with MS, Sunny went through a major lifestyle transformation losing 80 pounds which ignited a fire inside her to become a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer. She now develops recipes with her extensive background in nutrition, and nothing gives her more satisfaction than teaching others how to create mouthwatering food through BBQ and Grilling.
Sunny and Jeff Moody founded Moodswing BBQ as a professional competition BBQ team. What started as a passion for backyard BBQ and live-fire cooking with family and friends has evolved into a full-fledged, high-profile, professional competition BBQ team.
Lu Barbecue Holter @duchessofbbq
As an avid food sport competitor, Lu has won numerous awards nation-wide in professional cooking competitions, including Kansas City Barbeque Society competitions, Steak Cookoff Association contests, Culinary Fight Club events and the World Food Championships. Lu has been found competing on television programs such as Food Network's "Family Food Showdown"," "BBQ Brawl," and "Guy's Grocery Games."
What got you started in grilling and barbecuing?
Sylvie Curry: In 2006 I had a food blog where I often posted photos of my food ventures and cooking. I received an invitation from another food blogger asking if I was interested in being on a BBQ team. Prior to this, I Just did some backyard grilling so competition BBQ was very new to me.
I am very adventurous in my cooking and always willing to learn new things. Therefore I did join this ethnically diverse team (Four Q). The team consisted of three guys and me. After never meeting face to face until one month before our first competition, we each took on a meat to cook in a KCBS contest in Los Angeles. We got one call in ribs and from then on, we were hooked.
Over the years, I was the only teammate that continued in competition, forming my solo- lady Pitmaster led team Lady of Q in 2012.
Megan Day: I spent many corporate years behind the scenes coordinating events, so when my husband and some friends started competing in BBQ competitions, I jumped in to help. Mostly getting their drinks, but eventually, I started taking on auxiliary categories. I enjoyed figuring out how to make the sides and desserts on the smoker, and the big checks were a big bonus!
Sunny Moody: Sometimes, the smallest spark can turn into the biggest flame. My BBQ Journey began in 2015 when my husband Jeff, asked me to put the meat that he had marinating in the fridge, on the pellet smoker for dinner because he wasn't going to make it home in time from work. He said that all I had to do was turn the button on and let it smoke for 5 minutes before putting the meat on.
Well, I did just that- but when I returned to put the meat on, the ENTIRE smoker was in FLAMES!!!
So I FaceTimed my husband and showed him the burning smoker.
Apparently, he hadn't cleaned it, so a grease fire ignited.
At this point I was ready to give up and never grill again, but Jeff knew that I needed to overcome my fear- so he continued to have me help him.
So in 2017 my husband built a massive trailer, mounted a 500 gallon reverse flow smoker, and signed us up for a competition bbq class to start competing on the professional BBQ circuit and catering.
We were lucky enough to place 7th in brisket in our first competition against 86 of the top-name BBQ teams- so of course, we were hooked.
At the same time, I went from 60 pounds overweight to the bikini competition stage through my Journey of lasting Transformation through Fitness and BBQ after being diagnosed with a brain & spinal malformation and MS.
We have been competing ever since. My husband and I work as a team on the KCBS circuit, GBA circuit, and MBN circuit. We compete against each other and against our 14-year-old daughter in the SCA Steak competitions. We have three younger daughters that compete in the kids Ques.
Lu Barbecue Holter: I have always loved the outdoors. I remember being fascinated watching my dad grill when I was a kid, but never got into it. Girls didn't grill. They helped mom in the kitchen sorta thing. When Damon and I started Croix Valley, my passion for cooking was ignited and that, paired with my love of being outside, naturally led me to the grill and smoker. Ever since I started my first fire - I've been hooked!!! I love everything about it.
As a pitmaster, were there any obstacles or challenges you felt you had to overcome?
Sylvie Curry: I guess the biggest challenge was gaining respect by being a consistent winning Pitmaster. I never felt intimidated by any team no matter who they were. I remember my first Grand Championship was at a contest in Southern California where one of the biggest names in BBQ
was in attendance with another team. They were located next to my site. He commented colorfully to someone with words to the effect, "that girl beat us."
The only other challenge has been with people who have never met me at a contest. Though my trailer logo says Lady Of Q, they almost always engage in conversation with my husband about my rig, and my smokers, even though I may be sitting next to him.
Megan Day: I'm always pushing to learn more and experiment, so obstacles are ever present. The way a fire reacts and how you react to it means you have to practice and put yourself in more live-fire situations. Cooking the KCBS 4 categories on time and to the judge's liking is a dance we've danced for more than a decade … but figuring out how to make a meal, on a smoker, (that my kids will devour) is a challenge I'll gladly tackle often. Those cooking sessions teach me so much.
Sunny Moody: There were many challenges to overcome. Being a woman and being physically fit in the competition BBQ circuit, which is generally a man's world, you are viewed as not being up to par, or they view you as not being able to hold your own.
I also have to deal with MS and flareups and know how to handle them while at a competition. Learning how to get my circulation flowing or keeping my hands and feet warm enough is important.
There was definitely a learning curve to learn all the different meats and how to achieve the perfect cook using different smokers, which is completely different than backyard BBQ.
Lu Barbecue Holter: I think the biggest obstacle was getting people to take me seriously and see me as something other than a pitmaster's wife. Grilling and smoking are still a male-dominated field, but with more and more women getting into the sport, it's becoming easier and easier.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for others females looking to take to the grill or get involved with competition food sport?
Sylvie Curry: Just do it! Over the last 6-7 years, I have noticed quite a few more female-led teams. I attribute some of it to the exposure from lady Pitmaster teams that are driving big trucks pulling trailers, lighting the fires, and taking winning walks to the stage owning their success.
One thing I do emphasize is you have to be willing and able to do a complete cook on your own if you expect to be recognized and respected as a lady Pitmaster.
Megan Day: I love seeing ladies in front of the grill and smoker. If you're looking to get more involved, I encourage you to simply get out and cook more and watch more cooks. Go stand at the turn-in table and watch what cooks are turning in. Find videos online. Cook everything and learn how the fire chars, toasts, caramelizes, and burns. Take classes. Become a certified judge. Learn what the judges are looking for and then cook to your audience. If baby backs win, cook baby backs. If the judges expect crazy displays, get crazy. If you have to present to live judges, you better have your talking points prepared. The Food Sport world is exciting, and more single meat contests are popping up. Give it a try and have fun with the process and pageantry. If it's a fit, you'll want to do more and more. And please come say hi when you see me!
Sunny Moody: I would absolutely encourage any woman interested in competing to try it. Start in your backyard, play around with grilling or smoking meats. Ask for help, and don't be afraid to ask questions, because they will only help you learn. Come to a competition, observe pitmasters, and watch, learn, and ask questions. Most people are willing to talk to you and give advice. Then, take a class on the kind of competition you want to get involved with. Knowledge is power! Get out there and try it!
Lu Barbecue Holter: Don't ever let anyone hold you back - Don't be afraid to fail - and most importantly, HAVE FUN!