I earned my chops as a fine dining chef so I was surprised to be invited to serve as a judge for the Jack Daniel’s 2004 World Championship Invitational Barbecue Competition (also known as the Jack.) My only prior experience with BBQ had been at so-so restaurants or roadside stands. In fact back then, I thought BBQ was anything you grilled in the backyard.

Boy, were my taste buds about to be awakened!

Becoming a certified judge involved taking an eight-hour course through the Kansas City Barbecue Society before judging the competition the next day. I was a little dubious especially since I was taking off for Lynchburg, Tennessee in the middle of October—the busiest time for my restaurant. But I’m a sucker for new food experiences.

I was blown away! The competition BBQ gave me goose bumps it was so good! I had never tasted BBQ like that in my life! And so, I found a new obsession and it became my passion. My holy grail was to reproduce that competition quality BBQ I had in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Frankly, it’s not easy.

The world of BBQ—really over-the-top, award winning BBQ—is like a centuries-old secret society. No one will tell you how to cook competition BBQ. Sure you’ll get the guidelines. You can go on the Internet and read basic recipes. You can visit the team blogs. But no one’s going to give you his or her secrets. That’s proprietary, kept within the family, not spoken aloud, so I went on an odyssey of experimental trial and error to learn how to cook competition BBQ. I started in my backyard, setting up my own amateur competitions. I judged competitions whenever I could get away from work. Then, I was ready to participate in real competitions.

Finally, after seven years of cooking, experimenting, developing recipes and perfecting rubs, I just had to share my results with the public. (I am a chef after all!) The BBQ Joint was born in January 2010 and has been serving a devoted fan base in Easton, Md ever since.