Big Mo and His Big Time Barbecue
Local Cook Team To Compete in International Competition
Story by Anna Oakes
In May, he was grand champion and took home first place in pork and brisket at the Battle of the Pigs in Johnson City, Tenn. He cleaned house at the Prilosec OTC BBQ Shootout at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September, taking home trophies for first place in pork and ribs, second place in chicken and overall winner.
As of last weekend, when he brought home two more trophies from the Eastern Carolina BBQ Throw Down in Rocky Mount, Morris Hampton—better known as Big Mo from Aho—has racked up 65 awards in barbecue competitions throughout the Southeast and Midwest over the past five years.
Big Mo’s succulent successes have led to an invitation to the 21st annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn., on Saturday, October 24. Known as the world’s most prestigious barbecue competition, the Jack Daniel’s Invitational Barbecue features 63 teams from across the country and 18 international teams representing Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Estonia, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Puerto Rico and Switzerland.
“It’s the biggest,” Big Mo said. “It’s the daddy rabbit of all of them as far as prestige. If you win The Jack, nobody will forget you.”
To be invited to “The Jack,” a Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned event, teams must have won an automatic event, a state championship with 25 teams, a competition with more than 50 teams or have won seven contests in the past barbecue season. The final teams were then selected from a drawing of all eligible teams in early September. Mo said this is the first time his team—which includes he and his wife Susie—has been entered in the Jack Daniel’s drawing.
“It might be the chance of a lifetime,” said Big Mo.
At the competition, teams will compete in seven categories: ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, chicken, cook’s choice, dessert and Jack Daniel’s sauce.
Big Mo started cooking barbecue about 10 years ago. He honed his skills while cooking Boston butt for his buddies, who were helping him build a garage at his home in Aho, between Boone and Blowing Rock. After entering a whole hog competition in Foscoe and placing second, “we were hooked,” he said.
In his first contest as a member of the KCBS, at the Hog Happnin’ in Shelby, Big Mo placed 15th out of 75 teams.
“We were pretty tickled with that,” Big Mo said.
The KCBS is the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts and sanctions nearly 300 barbecue contests throughout the country. Out of more than 6,000 cook teams registered with the KCBS, the Big Mo from Aho team ranked 120 before last weekend’s contest in Rocky Mount—now Mo figures that ranking to be closer to 100.
The Big Mo from Aho team enters about 18 competitions a year.
“I try to find the one that’s closest to me,” Big Mo said.
Big Mo and Susie travel to competitions in a 36-foot fifth wheel toy hauler with a kitchen area in the back. His daughters Brandy, Jennifer and Julie tag along if competitions are close by.
Typically, each competition features four categories—chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket. When they arrive to the competition, the meat is inspected on Friday morning. Mo then spends the rest of the day Friday with the seasoning process—using about 20 different seasonings to make his dry rubs and sauce. Mo cooks with apple, peach and hickory wood pellets he orders from Kansas City in Fast Eddy’s pellet cookers made in Oklahoma City and specially designed for competition.
Big Mo starts the cooking process at 10:00 p.m. on Friday and starts again at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, seasoning the chicken and ribs and checking the temperatures on the pork and brisket. Mo said he tries to select identical pieces for judging.
“I cook 16 pieces of chicken to find six perfect ones,” he added.
Judging usually starts around noon. The team works to the last minute, with Susie boxing the entries and garnishing them with parsley for presentation and rushing to submit them to the judges.
“She knows every move I’m going to make,” Big Mo said about Susie.
One of the best parts of competing, Big Mo said, is the “barbecue family.”
“We’ve met some super people all over the country,” he said.
Big Mo has been barbecuing full time for about two years now. When not away at competition, Mo and Susie are vending or catering their barbecue at various events. This Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17, they’ll be at the Mountain City Pumpkin Fest.
Big Mo also locally sells his signature sauce, Big Mo’s Bold and Zest BBQ Sauce. The sauce is available at the Tomato Shacks on Highway 105, the Daniel Boone BP station on Highway 321, Jim’s Produce in Deep Gap and online by clicking to www.cheapjoes.com.
Mo said he would eventually like to open a restaurant in the area.
“I’d like to, it’s just finding the right spot,” he said.
For information about Big Mo’s Championship Barbecue catering or vending or to order Big Mo’s sauce, call 828-266-1440.
Want To Taste Big Mo’s ‘Cue?
Head to the Mountain City Pumpkin Fest this weekend, taking place Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17, in downtown Mountain City, Tenn. For more info, click to www.mtnpumpkinfest.org.