The Three Best Things I Judged at the Food Truck Championships

Food Truck judging
The deliberation. It was like 12 Angry Men, but there were six of us and with women. And not angry. And stuffed full of food.

by Cole Pepper

This past Saturday, I was pleased to judge the 2nd Annual Jacksonville Food Truck Championships.

Three best things I sampled (and where to get them):

The Crunch Melt with Mac ‘n Cheese and tomato soup (Happy Grilled Cheese)-IMG_0725I believe this is the single best thing I sampled all night. Despite knowing that I should just sample one bit and move on, I ate half a sandwich of this “comfort food in your hand.” Imagine a creamy mac and cheese with a grilled cheese sandwich, throw in some bacon and a tomato bisque. Now combine it. That’s what Happy Grilled Cheese did here. I don’t know exactly how they got the tomato soup to act like a condiment, but it worked. It worked big-time. If anybody asks me what I want to eat on a rainy day with a golf tournament on the television and a cold chocolate milk, this is the answer. And if Happy Grilled Cheese wonders if I’m going to begin stalking them, the answer is yes. In fact, I’ll probably show up for lunch at their truck later this week.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bar from On the Fly

Chocolate peanut butter pretzel bar (On the Fly) – I’m not a guy with a sweet tooth, I will admit that I have a meat tooth, instead. But the balance of this salty, sweet, creamy, chewy, crunchy delight is just awesome. Some folks like a very sweet desert, but this has amazing balance of all the aforementioned characteristics. This could be sold in a gourmet bakery or as a desert at a progressive restaurant (there are a few in Jacksonville, you know!). One word of caution: this is a substantial bar. This is not one of those “I’ll just get a quick snack” occasions. My recommendation? After a modest lunch, search this out to finish of the meal, then go for a light salad, perhaps with some grilled salmon for dinner. Believe me, it’s worth it. I can also see this going very well with an after dinner drink. A Sauternes may be too much, but maybe a milk stout or a particularly earthy port. Then, just let the food coma commence.

Poke watermelon
This is a perfect summer dish. Cool, refreshing and bursting with flavor.

Poke on watermelon (Unknown…maybe someone can help me out on this). This is the one of the three listed here that didn’t win an award, but that’s only because it was entered in the “Most Innovative” category, which was very competitive. This dish is perfect in the summer. The only suggestion I had for this is to cut the watermelon in half. It’s too much and can overpower the topping. I realize this is a difficult proposition, because it has to be deep enough to hold up the rest of the dish. I’m splitting hairs here. Still, it was one of the three best things I sampled at the contest, two of which came from the overall winner, On the Fly. Keep up the good work, guys!



For those who missed the results, the winners in each category were:

Best BBQ: Driftwood BBQ (BBQ brisket atop blue cheese mashed potatoes)
Best taco: Monroe’s BBQ on the go (spicy pulled pork with creamy slaw and Sriracha)
Best sandwich: Taste Buds Express (chicken Shawarma flauta)
Most innovative: Happy Grilled Cheese (Crunch Melt with Mac ‘n cheese and tomato soup)
Sweet tooth: On the Fly (chocolate peanut butter pretzel bar)
Best overall: On the Fly
People’s Choice: On the Fly

If you want to try some of these selections, I suggest following @JaxTruckies on twitter to find daily locations for the food trucks.

I came away from the event with three main thoughts. First, I believe that the food truck culture and the cuisine being created by food trucks is a great sign of a progressive food city. As an Avondale resident, I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood that boasts so many great restaurants. I hope that the success of the food trucks can lead to more great restaurants opening in the city.

Second, there is a certain approach to creating the perfect food truck food. At the risk of getting too Anthony Bourdain here, I love to see a dish that is easy to eat standing up and that I would crave after a night of adult beverages.

Finally, I understand how hard it is to create a great dish. It’s even harder to create it in mass quantities. Hats off to all of the food trucks for doing such a great job at the Food Truck Championships. I look forward to tasting the creations next year (and on several occasions in a non-contest setting)!

Billy Butler’s BBQ Sauce Has Secret Powers

Billy sauce2

by Cole Pepper

As a Kansas City born, Jacksonville transplant, I have things in common with Billy Butler. Butler is from Jacksonville and now plays for the Kansas City Royals. And apparently, we have barbecue in common.

The Royals broke out of a slump with a six game winning streak thanks to (they say) a bottle of Billy Butler’s “Hit it a Ton” BBQ Sauce. Apparently, it’s just one bottle, unopened, that has been imbued with magical powers–powers so strong that it can even lift the Royals out of the doldrums.

Then again, maybe it’s the addition of George Brett as the teams hitting coach.

Or, maybe (and my money’s on this one), it’s the fact that they won five of those game against two last place teams, the Twins and the Astros.



For the sake of science, I am willing to use my sauce to break any bad streaks out there. For science. 

How Companies Can Make A Difference

Elkins Check
Joe Newell (right) presents a check to Daniel Foundation Executive Director Kellie Ann Kelleher and Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships chairman Cole Pepper.

by Cole Pepper

This post is a little bit off the beaten track of what you might expect from this site, but I think there is a good point to make.

I had the pleasure of attending a check presentation on behalf of Daniel (I’m the Vice Chairman of the Board of the Daniel Foundation). This event took place in the clubhouse near the top of the Berkman Plaza and was hosted by the folks from Elkins Constructors.

Elkins has participated in the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships each of the last three years and they really adopted the Glyn Cook Memorial Scholarship for Daniel kids as their pet cause. This year, they not only competed in the BBQ contest as a team (two teams actually, one that won the Grand Championship), but they also sold tickets to the event and held several mini-fundraisers throughout the year. All told, Elkins donated over $8,000 to the scholarship fund and to Daniel.

And they tell me that they get more out of it than Daniel does.

How do they do it?

First, they have a strong team leader. If a business is going to adopt a cause (or several causes) you really have to have someone on the inside, driving the efforts. This creates motivation, accountability, even someone for the employees to go to for simple questions. For Elkins, Joe Newell is that guy. He’s not only a passionate BBQ chef, but he’s passionate about Daniel’s cause. Daniel, for those of you unaware, is Florida oldest child-service agency and the oldest charity in Jacksonville (founded in 1884).

The Glyn Cook Memorial Scholarship helps pay the cost of college for formerly homeless kids who have gone through the programs at Daniel. It’s named for my late father-in-law, a former Chairman of the Board at Daniel.

In addition to strong internal leadership, its essential for a company to have buy-in from the top. If management doesn’t support a cause, they may not look favorably on employees spending time on it. At Elkins, they believe in active participation in charitable fundraising and it shows.

Third, Elkins has fun with it! Okay, so forming a barbecue team isn’t the toughest thing to enjoy, but it does take time, energy, planning and resources to do it well. Elkins cooked over 1,000 pounds of meat over the past year in preparation for the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships. The crown they won as the Amateur BBQ Kings of Jacksonville is being handled like the Stanley Cup. Each team member gets the crown for a week and can take it anywhere.

The Crown is awarded to the winning Backyard Division Team each year at the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships.
The Crown is awarded to the winning Backyard Division Team each year at the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships.

Here are a few of the ways Elkins raised money:

  • Selling BBQ dinners to employees, business neighbors and groups.
  • Bake sale
  • Drawing for an Elkins truck
  • Selling tickets to the BBQ contest to vendors, clients and partners

Here’s the wild part about this: Newell told me that its one of the best team building activities they’ve ever done. It’s not just the barbecuing. Truthfully, only a few people really have an influence on how the chicken, ribs and pork come out. But they have people in charge of games for the area, some handle handing out the BBQ to the patrons, others are there to help when needed and generally enjoy the contest. But as much of that team building comes in the months leading up to the contest as on the actual day of the contest. That’s what makes the Elkins story such a great one for companies. Build team morale, get positive attention in the community, make a difference for those in need and be a part of a great community event.

If you know of a company who would like to get involved, like Elkins has, email

BBQers Helping Victims of Oklahoma Tornadoes

by Cole Pepper

Volunteers prepare meals to be served to victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. (photo: Operation BBQ Relief)

There are very few types of cooking that can produce the quantities of meat that barbecue smoking can. Large competition smokers can be so big that they require huge trailers pulled by oversized trucks to move them from place to place.

The ability to cook large quantities of meat and the will to help those affected by weather disasters, these were the key pieces in the formation of Operation BBQ Relief.

The non-profit group was formed in 2011, originally to help victims of tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. Now, just two years later, the group continues to feed those who have been affected by storms. According to a story in the LA Times (that bastion of BBQ news), Operation BBQ Relief (Twitter: @OpBBQRelief) has served up 50,000 pounds of meat to Oklahoma tornado victims.

That works out to 122,000 meals. Amazing.

And that was before yesterday’s storms tore through Oklahoma once again.

According to the organization’s website, Operation BBQ Relief has served meals to those affected by storms from Michigan, to Indiana to Alabama. Kudos to those BBQ chefs who donate their time and talent to help the victims of mother nature.

Cole’s BBQ Ribs


by Cole Pepper

Barbecue chefs are something like magicians. It’s next to impossible to get them to share their secrets. Despite my ability to pull a coin out the ear of a four year old, I’m not much of a magician, so I’m willing to share my technique for great BBQ ribs with you. I’m going to share the approach that I use with the Big Green Egg.

Here’s what you will need:

  • 1 slab pork ribs (I prefer St. Louis cut spare ribs, but the full cut or baby back ribs work just fine)
  • One half gallon, old fashioned lemonade (made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • One cup Cole Pepper’s Blackjack BBQ Sauce
  • One packet Cole’s Rib Rub (available at Green Man Gourmet)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Ziploc or similar freezer bag
  • Hickory wood chips
  • Apple or cherry wood chips

First, prepping the ribs. I prefer the membrane to be taken off. You can usually ask the butcher to Cole smoking on BGEdo this. If you have a full cut of ribs, instead of St. Louis cut, you can always make rib tips as an appetizer.

After the ribs have been trimmed and the membrane removed, place the ribs in the freezer bag and fill with lemonade. Ribs will likely have to be folded to fit. Seal bag and place in refrigerator overnight.

Approximately one hour before you plan on putting the ribs on, start your fire with lump charcoal. Then, soak a combination of hickory and fruit wood chips in water. I prefer a 2:1 hickory:fruit wood mix.

Then, remove the ribs from the freezer bag and place on a cooking sheet. Pour Cole’s Rib Rub on both sides of the ribs until all parts are dusted with a light layer of spices.

Return ribs to refrigerator.

Once fire is at desired temperature (I prefer to start at 240 degrees F), add wood chips. Let fire return to 240 F. Place ribs on Big Green Egg with place setter in place for indirect cooking.

Monitor fire. For the first 2-3 hours, the key is having enough smoke to add flavor to the ribs. I like to run between 225-250 during this time.

At the 3 hour mark, wrap ribs in aluminum foil and return to the Big Green Egg. There is very little more smoke flavor to be gained at this point. Continue cooking at 225 for 2 hours.

When ribs are 15 minutes from being taken off the smoker, mix 1 cup Cole Pepper’s Blackjack BBQ Sauce with 1/2 cup lemon juice as a baste. Brush bast on ribs and return (while wrapped in foil) to the Big Green Egg for the final 10 minutes or so. Remove ribs from heat. Let rest for 3 minutes. Cut and serve with a side of Cole Pepper’s Blackjack BBQ Sauce. Enjoy!