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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Decatur residents Jan and Linda Mitchel travel the country with their dog, Muffin, to enter barbecue competitions. Their Fowl Butt BBQ team has won many awards.

Area BBQ team collects awards

Fowl Butt BBQ has brought home several trophies in national competitions.

In 2008, Jason Kreigh put together a team of five men for a competitive barbecuing tournament.

Known as Fowl Butt BBQ, the team consisted of Kreigh, Jeff Kreigh, Joey Johnson, Shane Cauble and Jan Mitchel, who were hooked after their first competition and signed up for another just a few weeks later.

It was there they won their first trophy: fifth-place brisket.

Now, after many competitions and several trophies later, the Decatur-based team is still kicking fowl – and pork – butt at barbecuing events across the country.

“In the last three years, we’ve won enough trophies, plaques and banners to fill one wall in my garage,” Mitchel says. “Hopefully next year I’ll have to clear out another wall.”

Because of their achievements, Mitchel and his team were invited to a special pork cooking competition called the National Butt to Butt Cook-off. They won this competition in 2012 and 2013, a feat only completed by one other cook, TV personality Ray Lampe – also known as “Dr. BBQ.”

But the team has changed.

Mitchel – who did his first competition alone in October 2009 – and his wife, Linda, drive around the United States in an RV with their dog, Muffin. Since beginning their travels, Ed Hack of Decatur has joined the couple in competitive barbecuing.

The crew has barbecued from Florida to upstate New York, Las Vegas to Atlantic City, N.J. The team’s final competition for the year was a week ago in Cumming, Ga.

Mitchel, who fished the Professional Walleye Tour before barbecuing, is the only original member of the barbecuing team left. Jason and Jeff Kreigh decided to keep their cooking to one location and now operate the Double Eagle Bar and Restaurant in Decatur. And Johnson and Cauble have family obligations, Mitchel says.

There are only a few sanctioning bodies in the competitive world of BBQ, but by far the largest is the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the circuit in which Mitchel and his team compete. Competitions generally run on the same timeline and teams cook four types of meat: chicken, ribs, pork shoulders (commonly referred to as butts) and brisket.

Teams are judged on appearance, taste and texture by a blind judging process. Also, all meats must be inspected upon arrival to the competition to ensure proper weight of the pork butts and temperature of all meats.

“Teams are allowed to trim their meats prior to competition,” says Mitchel, 51. “But absolutely no spices or marinades can be applied before arrival.”

But it’s not just the barbecue society that is stringent on the meats used for competition. Mitchel is particular about where he buys each ingredient. This has paid off for the team, winning them countless awards and many championships.

“I purchase leg quarters at Fresh Market and trim them down and turn in the thighs (for competition),” Mitchel says. “As a side note, throughout the competitive world of BBQ, everyone hates prepping chicken. It’s often referred to as the devil’s meat. I spend on average two hours trimming to get eight thighs ready for any given competition.”

For ribs, “(At competition), I turn in St. Louis-cut spares,” Mitchel says. “Ribs are by far the easiest to prep. I buy six racks and trim them down and take the best four to the competitions to cook. I basically look for good marbling (fat content) and straight bones.”

Fowl Butt BBQ has had numerous wins in all four competition categories. The team’s winnings total more than $50,000, and it is consistently ranked among the top 100 BBQ teams in the nation.

Because the Kansas City Barbecue Society has a points system similar to that of NASCAR, teams must compete often and well to be noticed in the BBQ world.

“My dream is to be able to compete 30 to 35 times a year,” Mitchel says. “And get into the top 10 rankings one of these years.”