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Meet our Pitmasters

Get to know our championship pitmasters
and watch what inspires them to barbecue.

Tuffy Stone

Tuffy Stone, of Cool Smoke BBQ, is a five-time World Champion on the barbecue circuit. Nicknamed “The Professor” due to his scientific approach to barbecue, he served as a judge on Destination America’s “Barbecue Pitmasters” for five seasons. Tuffy has also led Cool Smoke to a record-setting three-peat at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational.

Sterling Big Poppa Ball

Owner of Big Poppa Smokers, Sterling Big Poppa Ball is the founder of two highly coveted competition barbecue events, "The Guinea Pig" event and "The Smithfield® King of the Smoker Invitational Competition." Sterling has taken home more than 11 Grand Champion titles in the last year, including 2015 KCBS Pork Team of the Year and California Team of the Year. A past Champion of the American Royal World Series of Barbecue, he also has his own line of rubs and smokers.

Melissa Cookston

Known as the winningest woman in barbecue, Melissa Cookston is a four-time Whole Hog World Champion and two-time Memphis in May World Champion. Melissa is the author of two best-selling cookbooks, Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room and Smokin’ Hot in the South. She is also the owner of the three Memphis BBQ Co. restaurants and the recently opened STEAK by Melissa in Southaven, MS.

Darren Warth

2016 was a banner year for ten-time World Champion Darren Warth. The biggest wins with his team Smokey D’s included Grand Champion trophies at two of the most prestigious competitions this year: the 2016 American Royal World Series of Barbecue Open and the Sam’s Club 2016 National BBQ Tour. Darren also owns three locations of Smokey D’s restaurants in his home city of Des Moines, IA.

Ernest Servantes

Self-taught pitmaster Ernest Servantes has been able to incorporate ideas from the New American Cuisine, but with Texas flair, during his 20 year career. Known for his love and passion for barbecue, he is a 40-time Grand Champion on the competition circuit. Ernest has appeared on several TV shows on the Food Network, Travel Channel and Destination America and has won Chopped: Grill Masters.

Jeff Stehney

Restaurateur, caterer, and head cook of the World Championship Slaughterhouse Five barbecue team, Jeff Stehney owns the legendary Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. His Slaughterhouse Five has twice taken home top honors at one of the most prestigious barbecue competitions, the American Royal, winning both the Open and Invitational. Jeff is also a Reserve Grand Champion of the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational.

Chris Lilly

Chris Lilly

Chris Lilly of the legendary Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala. is regarded as one of the top pitmasters to ever cook the circuit with expertise that spans from competition to cookbooks. He has dominated the field at Memphis in May, winning the contest five times and winning the Pork category a record ten times. Lilly has also found success as Grand Champion the American Royal Invitational, Reserve Grand Champion of the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational, the American Royal Open, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Barbecue Cook-Off, and winner of the first-ever Smithfield King of the Smoker.