Team Redstone is always well-represented at WhistleStop Weekend, but this year two of its members laid claim to the top spot in the annual Huntsville barbecue festival.
Robert Vanderipe and Lex Vanegas, both contractors supporting installation organizations, were named grand champion in the Kansas City Barbecue Society's WhistleStop Weekend, collecting first place in ribs, sixth in chicken, seventh in pork and ninth in beef brisket. More than 130 teams -- nearly 70 of them KCBS professional teams -- competed for trophies and prize money. With that showing, one would think that the team has been perfecting their product for decades, but they actually did not start competing in barbecue events until 2011.
After moving to Madison from New Orleans, the couple were looking for opportunities to meet people locally. Nowadays they have a network of friends across the country that they call their "BBQ people."
"The way we started was that Booz Allen Hamilton (their employer at the time), had a team in the ShadeTree (amateur) division," Vanderipe said. "I went and helped out and I was addicted. I was on the Internet every night (researching). My wife said, 'You are going insane with this BBQ stuff!' Now she is worse than me."
"Smoke Me Silly" competed in their first competition in Decatur in 2011 and from the get-go were in it to win it, with their ribs placing in the competition. Nowadays, they compete in 30-35 competitions around the country, and in June will be traveling to Gothenburg, Sweden, to represent the United States at the World BBQ Association's World BBQ Championship. Their first international competition will push them out of their comfort zone, as they will be competing in a seafood division for the first time.
While competing keeps them busy, the couple also enjoy teaching barbecue technique classes at local churches, with part of the proceeds donated to the hosts. Their number one rule of barbecue?
"Always start with a good product," Vanderipe said.
Although the team is understandably excited about traveling to Sweden to compete, the competition that is their "Everest" is actually closer to home. While placing sixth overall out of 92 teams in the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational BBQ in 2014 is certainly impressive, "Smoke Me Silly" is aiming for that top spot.
"If you are on a roll you don't want to stop," Vanegas said.
"It is an addiction," Vanderipe added with a smile.