Smoking Success: A Quick Bite with BBQ Champ Joe Pearce

Joe Pearce discusses his rise from a casual meat smoker to a competitive barbecue champion and restaurateur. Alongside his brother, they turned a shared passion into a thriving business. Pearce attributes his success to consistency and meticulous attention to detail. He offers insider insights into the competitive world of barbecue, where strategy and presentation are as crucial as the food itself.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
BBQ 321: How did you and Michael decide to team up for Memphis in May barbecue championship?
JOE PEARCE: Yeah, we were texting during the awards of Memphis in May 2022. We were both so excited about our friends winning that we decided to team up and go down there and just destroy everybody. It was a match made in heaven.

BBQ 321: Comparing Memphis in May to American Royal, what are the differences between them?
JOE PEARCE: American Royal is 30 minutes from my house, so it's convenient. But Memphis in May has an onsite presentation aspect that American Royal doesn't have. You have to consider everything from wind direction to table decorations. It's a different experience altogether.

BBQ 321: Do you think you'd want to return after putting three months of your life into it?
JOE PEARCE: I would love to go back and cook. I'd like to experience all the categories at Memphis and I think it would be a lot of fun.

BBQ 321: What have you seen changing in the barbecue competition world since you got into it?
JOE PEARCE: When you're from Kansas City, you're born into barbecue. We started with a small contest and got hooked. We had some success and got publicity from TV shows, and it's been history ever since.

BBQ 321: How many competitions did you have under your belt before you decided to open a restaurant?
JOE PEARCE: Not enough, maybe like 20 or 22 contests. But we were on a TV show with a lot of publicity, so we decided to open a restaurant. We sold out every day for about four years.

BBQ 321: What do you contribute your consistency in winning competitions to?
JOE PEARCE: It starts with products. You have to be consistent with what you're cooking with. If you're cooking with frozen chicken thighs from the dollar store, do that the entire year. Attention to detail is crucial.

BBQ 321: If you had to do it all over again and start in barbecue competition, what's the one piece of advice you'd give yourself?
JOE PEARCE: If I had to do it all over again, I would be less worried about what everybody else was doing and more focused on making sure that I was turning in great food week in and week out.

For more stories, insights, and competition barbecue tips from SLAP's BBQ, check out the BBQ 321 Pit Master Interviews Episode 9 podcast.