Strike a match and light a fire. That’s all you’ll need to do to attract the attention of Travis Clark, the 2017 World Champion of the American Royal, considered the World Series of barbecue.
Clark, an Oklahoma native, is relatively new to the barbecue competition circuit. Clark and his team, Clark Crew BBQ, have only competed for the past five years.
His inspiration to compete was sparked by the decision to attend the 2012 American Royal in Kansas City as a spectator. A fun weekend, Clark says, became a life-changing experience. The sweet smoke, ‘que and the excitement had him hooked.
“I remember my first American Royal in 2012. I walked through it and saw everything that was going on and decided I wanted to get into it,” Clark said. “I literally drove home trying to come up with a team name. I started competing the next year.”
Since that decisive American Royal weekend, Clark and his barbecue team – which consists of his wife, Kimberly, and their four kids – have barbecued in over 160 competitions. Those competitions have, to date, won Clark 41 grand championships and 20 reserve grand championships. Clark Crew BBQ has finished in the top 10 in over 130 contests, not to mention being named the 2017 Kansas City Barbecue Society Team of the Year.
With such successes, one can’t help but wonder where Clark learned the art of barbecuing. Outside of a class he took from Rod Gray, another famous BBQ champ, Clark learned how to cook with fire as a kid from his grandpa.
“I’ve always loved barbecue since I was a kid. Actually, it was more grilling than barbecuing,” said Clark, an Oklahoma native whose country roots included cooking outdoors at his grandpa’s farm. “We grew up cooking hog hogs and grilling out almost every meal, so I have a huge passion for grilling.”
Clark gave up a career as a master electrician to barbecue full time this past March. He’s currently in the process of opening his own barbecue restaurant in his home town of Oklahoma City, and consulting for Famous Dave’s, a national barbecue chain that numbers 152 locations in 33 states.
Ask Clark what kind of pit he uses and he’ll likely tell you to forget using gas smokers, electric starters and fancy smoker pits. Clark prefers to cook and compete on a traditional, old-school, offset pit with a wood firebox or a drum smoker, which he reserves for cooking chicken. Pecan is the wood of choice Clark uses to stoke the fire.
“I use pecan wood because it’s a sweeter wood with a mild smoke. It’s not offensive to anyone, [whereas] hickory or mesquite smoke can be heavy,” said Clark, who admits he loves cooking with fire.
During professional competitions, four meats usually are prepared: chicken, pork, ribs and brisket. Brisket is Clark’s favorite, followed by ribs.
“Brisket would have to be my favorite because back in 2013, when we competed for the first time at the American Royal, we got a perfect score on our brisket and took Brisket Team of the Year.”
Visitors to this year’s Wildwood BBQ Bash [Sept. 28-30 at St. Louis Community College – Wildwood] will have an opportunity to meet Travis Clark, this year’s BBQ Bash VIP Barbecue Ambassador. According to St. Louis Home Fires Owner and St. Louis BBQ Society President Frank Schmer, Clark will be on hand to meet and greet barbecue teams and Bash attendees.
“Travis is the biggest name in competition barbecue; he is a down-to-earth guy who I think has been humbled by his success,” Schmer said. “He’ll be accessible to barbecue fans throughout the Bash. You can meet Travis after the main stage super jam on Friday night at a free meet-and-greet at Wildwood Pub and Grill at 10:30 p.m. Barbecue people can come by and get their photo taken with Travis or ask questions.”
Clark says he loves to answer questions. “When I was an electrician, 90-percent of my time was spent trouble-shooting.”
When asked what has been the best experience he’s had along the competition barbecue trail, aside from winning, Clark said it has been the people he has met. “Barbecue has taken us to places we never could have been. It’s been amazing. We’re looking forward to competing and meeting more friends along the way.”
Barbecue fans considering entering the world of competition barbecue can take one of Clark’s classes, which he offers on select dates throughout the year. For a complete list of Clark’s competitions, events and classes, check his website, clarkcrewbbq.com.
For more information on the Wildwood BBQ Bash, check the schedule right here in West Newsmagazine or visit the Bash’s Facebook page, Facebook.com/STLBBQBash.