On a sunny July afternoon, Jennifer Luckhart talked to Griller’s Gold about her family’s award-winning BBQ team, Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co., and the business that’s sprung from it. (Bradney Luckhart cheerily answered the call but handed the phone to his wife so he could climb down into the pit to fix a smoker problem.)

Jennifer says, “We have been cooking on a competition level about 10 years. Most teams consist of a group of guys who are friends. We are one of a few husband-and-wife teams.” Today, the Luckharts cook with their two daughters, who are aged 10 and 11. “Since they were old enough – 4 or 5 – they’ve been watching, then helping as they got older. We just dragged them around with us everywhere!” The Luckhart girls cook competitively with the family team, and also on their own at the kids’ level. “It’s a lot of family time together, giving the kids something constructive to do. “

The people on the competition scene matter. “We have found that the BBQ world is very friendly. A majority of people are really nice and helpful. As a team that’s been around for a bit, we pass (knowledge) on to new teams. We all know it’s an art and it’s nice to talk to someone who understands.”

Nuthatch Hill has opted for a more local competition circuit in recent years. “We used to travel all over Illinois and surrounding states – Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kentucky. Now we do favorite competitions to keep accolades coming in and see our friends that we’ve made along the way. Competitions become a little vacation now,” says Jennifer.

Practice, practice, practice

Even when they’re barbecuing for fun, the Luckharts are thinking about the next competitive event. “At home, we practice for BBQ competition. It’s all down to timing.” The family uses a checklist to manage four meats – just like in competition – each of which requires different timing and attention on the smoker. Jennifer says, “We’re always looking for new flavor profiles and different ways of turning the meat in. We don’t want to get stale; we tweak a little and add something new.” Who eats all this bounty?  “We like to practice on Sunday and a lot of visitors stop by to hang out. We live out in the country on a dead-end road, so they have to have a purpose to come down here. It’s the famous ‘oh I just popped by!’ ‘Oh you have some chicken for me to try!’“ On a typical Sunday, 10 to 15 friends drop in on the Luckharts. They’re always made welcome.

What they look for in wood pellets

Great BBQ is a big picture, and wood pellets are a vital element in the process. “It’s really an art,” Jennifer says. “Your art changes with each smoker you use, your type of wood, the piece of meat.”

In the second post of this 2-part series, learn how the Nuthatch Hill family took their competition experience and built a business in sauces, seasonings and catering.

Griller’s Gold is proud to sponsor the Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. team.

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