Sharing a love of barbecue and beer, Grantham and Neels own two-thirds of Mad Anthony Brewing Co. Kelley is a network manager for a local software development company.
In 2005, Kelley and Grantham entered a local barbecue contest and won. Two months later they entered their first professional contest in Madison, placing sixth with their chicken.
They were hooked, and soon enlisted Neels. Now the trio travels to at least 12 competitions a year in the Midwest, although they like to stay within a four- or five-hour drive from home.
The competitions test their barbecue skills in four categories: beef brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs and chicken. The meat is judged by taste, tenderness and appearance. Their three-day weekends are costly ventures, with gas and groceries running $700-$800.
Entry fees can range from $200 to $300.
They now hold nine grand championships, two reserve grand championships, 7th place American Royal Invitational and 15th place Jack Daniel’s world invitational and were ranked 22nd in 2008 among the 4,400 members of the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
The team has many tales of contest tribulations, including trying to hold onto a tent during a windstorm.
“We sat there at a competition and watched them load up the Budweiser Clydesdales in a hurry. A few hours later a 70-mile-an-hour storm blew in. They told Budweiser the storm was coming, but no one told us,” said Kelley.
To qualify for “The Jack,” a team must have won a competition in which 50 or more teams participated, or have won a competition with 25 teams that has been designated a “state championship.” For every win a team is awarded a bung – a wooden plug traditionally used in beer or whiskey kegs. The bung has the team name written on it and is tossed into the state draw for “The Jack” competition.
In this contest, they will be judged on the usual meat categories but also on a Jack Daniels sauce and desserts.
The team isn’t sure how they will fare this year, but they are hoping for the best. They have been tweaking their recipes over the past year and have been offering the results through a new catering service and as Friday night specials at the Mad Anthony Brew Co., 1109 Taylor St.
It is an honor to be in this competition, Kelley says. “Every team has won at least a grand championship; these are the best of the best.”