RANKIN What could be more Texan than a high school barbecue team?
Well, maybe having three different teams from the same high school squad. In just three short years, the Rankin Red Devils have built a barbecue team that’s become one of the most recognized in the state.
The team is coached by Robbie McClure, who also teaches shop and welding at Rankin High School.
Throughout this season, the Red Devils have collected awards at each competition they have attended and posted 52 awards this year.
That includes last week’s appearance at the State High School BBQ Championships, which took place in Llano where Rankin’s teams each placed in the top 15.
The team is split up into three different squads: “Kickin’ Ash,” “Hot and Ready” and the “Fire Devil Smokers.”
The three squads are divided by categories with “Kickin’ Ash” being made up of freshmen and sophomores. The “Hot and Ready” team is for juniors while seniors are on the “Fire Devil Smokers.”
McClure said most are novices and are also in welding.
“They’re out here with me most of the time and we do all the hospitality rooms for all the other (school events).”
At state, “Hot and Ready” placed eighth while “Kickin’ Ash” took 10th and the “Fire Devil Smokers” took 13th.
“We won the grand champion in brisket and my juniors won fifth place chicken and third place beans and then our seniors won 10th place in dessert and fifth place in beans,” McClure said.
In the past, Rankin’s Barbecue team has had up to two separate squads. This was the first year it had three.
“Normally, there’s one or two (teams),” McClure said. “This year, we went above and beyond.”
The million dollar question, however, is how does each competition work with high school barbecue?
“It’s like any other barbecue competition,” McClure said. “You have to get your entry fees. We’ll have a cookers meeting and then they’ll draw their numbers to draw their meat. Most of the time, all the cooks are on Saturday. We can start our fires at 5 a.m. They don’t pick up their meat until six and when they do, they can do whatever they want.”
The rules for competing, which are detailed on the Texas High School Barbecue’s website, state that all meat must be furnished the day of the cook-off. No pre-marinating, pre-soaking or pre-spicing prior to the official start time is allowed.
The meat is prepared from scratch within the time constraints of the cook-off. No meat is allowed to leave the team’s site area and a promoter will advise teams of the start time.
As for the judging format, all entries are submitted in identical containers. The teams turn in their foods, which include chicken, ribs, brisket, pinto beans and a dessert.
The dessert is an open category and must be cooked on site. Each team can cook what they want as long as it is a dessert and is acceptable to garnish and make it look nice for presentation.
“Each competition is a little different,” McClure said. “Most of the ones we’ve been in have been an average competition. They get their meats, they get to season them. They do what they want. Nobody can help them. Only students go in. we give them the basics but we can’t help. We can’t do much except talk to them.”
Normal competitions include about 20 teams but the state championships had over 60.
“They compete against everybody,” McClure said. “They compete against Lubbock, Katy and then we had some small schools.”
The team has won $67,000 in scholarships.
“This has changed a bunch of these kids’ lives,” McClure said. “For every team member that wins a grand championship, it’s about $3,000 per person. $2,000 for reserved and $1,500 for third place. They’ve made some good money.”
There are six seniors on this year’s team, including TJ Templeton.
Each of the three teams have a “pit master.” Templeton is the pit master for the “Fire Devil Smokers” and has been a part of the program for all three years now.
“It’s hard to explain but I like the experience,” Templeton said. “It’s something you know for a life-long time. You can use it every day and it’s just really fun competing with your friends.”
He plans on going to Tarleton State in Stephenville where he aims to get his degree in chemical engineering.
While his team ended up 13th at state, he’s enjoyed his time getting to be on the barbecue team.
“It was pretty fun,” Templeton said. “I liked it. I was kind of disappointed in the outcome but you know, it can all go in different ways. It’s the luck of the draw.”
Junior Noah Armendarez, who is finishing up his second year on the team and competed on the “Hot and Ready” squad, said his curiosity in learning how to barbecue is what drew him to the team.
“That’s something that everyone needs to know how to cook,” Armendarez said. “It’s a life skill.”
One of the things Armendarez said he enjoys about going to different competitions is the challenge and the competitive nature that it brings.
“Since we’re all football players, that’s what we love to do, compete,” Armendarez said. “We get all riled up.”
Indeed, most of the Rankin barbecue team members are involved in different sports and activities. Sometimes not all of them can make every single barbecue competition and a little adjusting is needed.
“These kids are in everything,” McClure said. “They’re in basketball, football, golf so we have to work around what they’re in and we might have two or three this week that got to cook but didn’t cook last week. We just move it around.”
The team has a unique way to practice and often use experiences such as cooking for school board meetings, fundraisers and at home track meets as a way to get better.
“We cook a lot for the school,” McClure said. “We do the hospitality for the track meet, which we’ve had about three of them. We’ve had four one-acts that we’ve cooked for. We’ve cooked breakfast lunch and dinner for them. We do the school board dinner.”
They’ve cooked in 18-degree weather and in wind storms.
“We had to work on our barbecue pit temperatures,” McClure said. “They had to learn to control their pits because we use different pits. We have pits here at the school and pits that we travel with. The freezing cold was probably the first one that we had to cook through.”
McClure said practices will include going over the basics and showing the kids how to tweak some things and make adjustments.
“Our classroom consists of sitting down and talking about it for 20 or 30 minutes and then go out and start something and then come back in and do something else,” McClure said. “They keep notebooks and write down and keep track. If you cook in a blizzard, you have to cook longer because it takes forever. One thing that’s been hard is everyone here likes spicy foods but when you get up in the Hill Country, they like it sweet. We have to change. When we went to Dallas, they found out really quick that they like it dark. It’s one of those things that we’ve learned.”
Freshman Parker Prewozniak has had a lot of fun this season.
“I like hanging out with the barbecue teams,” Prewozniak said. “It’s always a lot of fun being together and always working hard. It’s fun cooking. I enjoy it.”
Competing alongside Andres Reyes on team “Kickin’ Ash” Prewozniak said they both enjoyed their experience of competing at state where they took 10th.
“It’s different,” Prewozniak said. “It’s a lot bigger than you’re used to. Usually, we’re used to 10, 15, 20 teams. This one was 61 teams. We did pretty well.”
The progress his squad has made in a short amount of time since starting a barbecue team has been impressive, according to McClure, adding that they’ve already received recognition from the magazine Texas Monthly.
“They’ve come a long ways since we started,” McClure said. “We’ve helped quite a few schools. That’s one thing that’s nice about it. We were recommended by Texas Monthly and others because we had helped other schools.”