Fred Robles knows meat. A butcher by trade and owner of Rio Valley Meats in Weslaco, Texas, Fred entered his first barbecue competition with a borrowed smoker and a love for barbecue. After placing fifth in chicken during his first competition, he was hooked. Since then, he has been awarded hundreds of first place categories, 95 Grand and Reserve Grand Championships and was named the 2019 American Royal World Champion and 2019 National BBQ Grand Champion. His most recent accomplishment was winning second place in ribs at the 2021 American Royal World Championship.
“When I realized that cooking could become a creative outlet for me… that’s when I was hooked.”
– Sterling “Big Poppa” Ball
With more than 30 years of cooking experience, Sterling “Big Poppa” Ball’s passion for cooking outdoors has led him to have his hand in almost every aspect of the barbecue world. From veteran pitmasters to weekend warriors, outdoor cooks across the nation trust Sterling’s taste when it comes to which meats, rubs and sauces to use.
As the head cook of the Big Poppa Smokers BBQ Team, he has won over 140 first place trophies. In addition to those awards, Big Poppa Smokers is the first team west of Oklahoma to win the American Royal Invitational (2012) and has cooked in over 10 different states. Sterling has been the KCBS National Pork champion, Tri-State Champion, 3x CA Team of the Year, inducted into the CA BBQ Hall of Fame, and has consistently ranked in the top 20 in KCBS since 2012.
Tuffy Stone is an American chef who has competed in the barbecue circuit since 2004. His classical French culinary training and obsession with precision have earned him the nickname “The Professor.”
He has won Grand Champion titles in nearly every major barbecue competition, recently earning his sixth world championship title and has been inducted into barbecue’s Hall of Fame. He runs the “Cool Smoke” competition team, owns a restaurant called The Westover and a catering business called A Sharper Palate, and has released a cookbook – Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue
Iowa barbecue competitor Justin McGlaun has been in the game for a decade. Most weekends, he and his family can be found cooking across the country. His team, Lucky’s Q, has participated in nearly 200 competitions and won 24 Grand Championship and 22 Reserve Grand Championship titles. Some of their biggest wins are the Sam’s Club National Championship and King of the Smoker. It looks like barbecue talent runs in the family; Justin’s 8-year-old son, Gavin, took home first place at the 2019 American Royal in Kansas City.