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Big deal BBQ: Local dad and son team compete on world stage


Live Oak —

The barbecue team of Johnny and Damon Wooley of Wooley Bully “BBQ Mafia” have done it again, making their name known on the barbecue cook team competition circuit after recently returning from Las Vegas, Nevada, where they competed in the World Food Championships.

The team returned to Live Oak with a seventh place overall finish out of almost 100 of the worlds best barbecue cooks with a third place pork being their best category. 

The event allowed the Mafia to compete against some of the greatest pit masters on the planet. Before they were invited to the world stage of barbecue competition, the duo had to compete in the Smoke on the Water BBQ and Bluegrass Festival held in Thomaston, Georgia.

“We won the Thomaston, Georgia, event which is one of the biggest events in Georgia,” said Damon. “That was our qualifying event.”

Damon said he was unsure if they were going to be able to go to Vegas because of the sheer daunting task of getting all the equipment needed to Nevada. 

“I decided to fly out there because I’ve got a friend out in Oregon and another buddy from South Carolina who’s been dating her,” said Damon.

His friend convinced him that they would help coordinate getting some gear transported to Vegas, so that cut down on the time factor and a lot of the stress. His friend even offered to bring tents and camping equipment to help out.

“I figured it was a lot cheaper than me trying to pull my rig out there,” said Damon.

He got there and saw that the competition was on Fremont Street, what he referred to as “Old Vegas” with some of the older, well-established casinos and attractions.

Damon said generally with barbecue competitions there are anywhere from six to 15 tables with six to eight judges at each table. He said it was not uncommon for eight or nine teams presenting their food to each table.

“When I say I won my table, that means I was the top scoring team that table judged,” said Damon. “When we talk about winning our tables, that’s about all you can do. You make your product, you turn it in and you want to win your table.”

He said there have been times where he didn’t do too well at his table, but still “placed”.

This contest was a little different than other competitions he has been in, Damon admits, because they only had three categories opposed to the traditional four: chicken, ribs, pork, brisket. This competition didn’t have chicken as an entry.

The top 10 teams were asked to go to the next round and compete the next day. Damon said they placed eighth in the preliminaries which advanced them to the final Saturday competition where they had to cook and enter a meat they didn’t enter in the previous competition.

“It could be any single protein which was not one of the proteins you had already turned in, so it couldn’t be pork ribs, or pork butt or beef brisket,” said Damon. 

He and his dad had to rack their brains because the competition was fierce and they knew the last round judges were comprised of celebrity chefs, highly skilled culinary artists and a few who were not.

“My friend Corey, she was actually on ‘Barbeque Pit Masters’ last season and won one of their challenges with a meatloaf recipe she had,” said Damon. “We were talking and I said, ‘let’s use that barbecue meatloaf and tweak it some.’” 

Damon said they wanted to focus on a good appearance for it and decided on incorporating a bacon weave around the loaf to give it that extra eye (and definitely meat lover) appeal.

They presented the whole loaf on one platter and five individual slices on another. Damon said there was often concern for the presentation stage because you never knew how long your food would be sitting and waiting to be eaten and judged. This could often cause a piece of meat to dry out quickly and affect your overall score. They knew with meatloaf, the extra moisture would keep it more palatable if the judges didn’t get to it right away.

“If you have a piece like a filet mignon and it sits out there like that, it tends to get dry quickly,” said Damon.

When the judges tried their meatloaf they liked it, but had a minor complaint.

“They said, ‘we really like your meatloaf. The taste was awesome. The only thing we could complain about was we thought the flavor of the bell pepper was a little too much.’ I was like, whatever,” said Damon. 

He said in all it was neat to be a part of the competition because a lot of the competitors were taken out of their element, so it was a great learning experience.

“It was an experience I’ll remember forever,” said Damon.

When the Democrat asked Johnny Wooley what he thought about it, he said with a somewhat tired expression, “it was fun, a lot of fun.”

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