By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
In the world of professional competition barbecue, Danny Coogle is a heavy hitter.
The 50-year-old Coogle, who in January moved from Kennesaw, Ga., to Kalapana, was featured this past season on the Destination America reality television cook-off show “BBQ Pitmasters.”
Coogle and his team, “Pit Bulls Up in Smoke”, won the grand championship in five mainland competitions last year. That has earned him a spot in barbecue’s most prestigious competition, the 25th Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, Oct. 26 in Lynchburg, Tenn., known by competitors as “The Jack.”
“You can’t buy your way in and you can’t solicit your way in,” Coogle told the Tribune-Herald on Sunday. “There’s only one way into The Jack — and that’s by winning and having your name picked. It is the world championship of barbecue. You have the American Royal (in Kansas City), which many consider the Super Bowl of barbecue, and there’s Memphis in May, but the Jack Daniel’s is the most prestigious barbecue contest in the world.”
The Jack has invited approximately 50 teams, both domestic and international. To qualify, domestic teams must have won a state championship with a minimum of 25 teams entered, or a competition with more than 50 teams battling in the categories of pork ribs, pork butts, chicken and beef brisket. The final competitors are then selected during a blind drawing of all eligible teams in early September. The Jack’s 2012 grand champion, Pig Skin BBQ from Iowa, joins this season’s Memphis in May, American Royal Open and Houston World’s Championship Bar-B-Que grand champions receiving automatic invitations.
About 25,000 fans and spectators are expected to descend upon Lynchburg to watch the world’s best barbecue cooks compete for a share of $40,000 in prize money.
Coogle is well-known on the competition circuit, but this is his first invitation to The Jack.
“I’m really hopeful. I’m one of the guys that I’d put money on at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship,” he said.
Coogle shipped a custom-made smoker from Georgia to Hawaii when he moved here, and has set it up where he hopes to open a restaurant called Bare-Bones-Q, soon. In the meantime, he sells his tasty wares at Uncle Robert’s popular Wednesday night market in Kalapana, and Thursday through Saturday in the lower Puna village, as well.
“The whole thing here is to prepare competition barbecue, championship barbecue, the kind that the judges get to eat but nobody else gets to eat. And that’s been my plan, from day one, to come to Hawaii to do that,” Coogle said. Asked about the difference between restaurant barbecue and the competition variety, he replied: “Time and attention to detail is what makes the difference between everyday barbecue and world-class competition barbecue.”
At Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar on Sunday, Coogle’s pulled-pork sliders were a hit. Sam Keli‘iho‘omalu, one of Uncle Robert’s sons, pointed Coogle out to visitors and said, “This guy is famous.”
Coogle has been preparing barbecue the time-honored, traditional way, low and slow, for most of his life, but only became a competition pit master about five years ago.
“By chance, I was hanging out with some friends who were cooking in a competition and they told me, ‘You’re in charge of the pork butts.’ So I did it and I took third place with that and I thought, ‘Well, this is easy.’ That’s what got me started,” he said.
Despite his initial success, Coogle soon found “there’s nothing easy about being the best.”
“The top 25 in the world, in order to stay there, it’s hard work,” he said. “It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of practice. If I’m not working a contest, I’m practicing. I’m cooking a practice run of chicken. I’m cooking a practice run of pork, a practice run of ribs, a practice run of brisket. I’m tweaking, readjusting and tweaking my food constantly, taking it to a new level.”
Coogle said he moved to Hawaii, because he’d already experienced driving an Ford F-350 custom flatbed rig and trailer to 35 or 40 competitions a year, winning trophies and accolades.
Now, however, The Jack has come calling. Coogle wants to compete, but said that moving to Hawaii, shipping the smoker and mounting start-up costs for his still-to-be-opened restaurant have left him in need of financial backing to get there, about $3,000.
“I’ve appealed to the mayor’s office and I haven’t heard back from them,” he said. “I’ve appealed to the county council. I’ve sent out emails to the Rotary. I haven’t heard from anybody, and quite frankly, I’m surprised. I’d think that people here would want to see that their state and their island are represented in this prestigious event and would help with the financial backing so a team could go.
“I want to bring that trophy back to Hawaii, for Hawaii.”
Those interested can contact Coogle at (770) 846-8436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.