Interview With the Champs – Luke Darnell, Old Virginia Smoke

by Brian Walrath, MABA Board Member and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ

You may not believe this coming from me, but I met Luke Darnell over a few drinks.  Since that time, we’ve grown a great friendship.  He’s been there for me in some dark days and been there to celebrate some of my greatest accomplishments.  That’s just Luke…he’s always there for me, for you, for everyone.  He’s the mayor of Barbecuetown as I say.  He knows everyone.  He’s an ambassador for our sport…and has a KCBS award that says so.  He won’t like this, but I’ll say it here anyway…I once asked Luke what his goal in barbecue was.  He looked me dead in the eye and without hesitation said, “I want to be the best in the world.”.  He’s spent countless hours practicing and even more hours traveling to cook.  Combine that with a thirst of learning everything out there and taking multiple classes, he’s put himself and the Old Virginia Smoke team in position to be among the best in the world…and I for one won’t count him out to one day be the very best.

Now, I like to feature first-time winners and lesser know teams with recent wins here with IWTC, but after coming to Fredericksburg, VA for the first annual two-step double contest and winning the whole shootin’ match, I thought it might be time to feature the big bearded softy with the best branded gear in barbecue!  So, without further ado, I give you Luke Darnell…

Boom!  Let’s get to this early…as a fellow Northern Virginian, how was it to win on day two in what is one of our closest contests and home state?

Luke Darnell, Old Virginia Smoke:
I can’t tell you how much it means to us. We’ve never won in Virginia.   Plus, the BBQ Jamboree was our very first contest more than five years ago.   Winning it is something the three of us have thought about for a long time.

Tell me what you were thinking after day one.  Did you feel good about being within striking distance for the two-day overall after a great sixth place finish or did you think otherwise?


We thought we had a chance, but knew we had to fix ribs.  They always say not to make any dramatic changes to your program, but we knew that we had to make one.  But we were also very aware That Who Cares BBQ and Uncle Toad’s were gonna have strong cooks as well.

You had Leigh Anne (teammate who recently moved to Arizona) back with you for the first time this year…what was it like to have the band back together?

The Lil’ General, Kim Darnell, Luke Darnell, and Leigh Anne Terry…Old Virginia Smoke!

We were like peas and carrots again.  Like we were never apart.  Just smiles all around.

Describe the Lil’ General (Luke’s wife and teammate Kim) in four words.

Fierce.  Competitive.  Jovial. Vibrant.

This weekend you brought out a stellar John Busch impersonation.  What was your motivation and inspiration for the character?  Can we expect to see that or any other characters later this year?

I had been thinking about doing it for a while.   I even once had one of his trademark peach polos and hats from his van in my hands.  Johns one of my favorite people.   I jut thought it would be fun.  I don’t think there are any other characters planned, but you never know when one might pop up.

Ok, here’s the short answer round, rapid fire:

Favorite 80s band?  –  Prince
Turn in music genre? – Gangster rap
Bacon is ________? From the gods
Most people don’t know I’m _________? I have a degree in creative writing
Favorite brown liquor? – willet pot still reserve
Favorite competition? – BBQ Jamboree
Cats for dogs?-  so tough.  Probably dogs.
Favorite place to vacation? – I love Key West

You’ve travelled all over the east coast, and as far as Arkansas and Kansas…what’s your favorite area to compete and why (reason does not have to be related to competitions)?

That’s a super tough question.   Each area has its high points and different reasons to go.  Kim and I love traveling to new states and cooking.  This year we went to Tennessee, and have future trips planned for Vermont and Illinois.  So I’d kinda have to say—our favorite area is wherever we’re cooking!

I ask this to all the teams that do IWTC, so you’re getting it too…what piece of advice would you give to teams to up their game or push them over the edge and win that first GC?

Practice is key.  You have to be able to maintain consistency in your product, and in yourself.  Keep a clear head and stay on your tasks.

What do you like to do outside of BBQ?


Is there anything else???  I do like wine tasting, bourbon tasting and beer tasting.  I also love golf and reading.

As many know, you’re the MABA president.  What do you want to leave as your mark on the association and/or what do you want to accomplish before your time as president concludes?

Hopefully we will be able to build a strong base for the Association to be able to grow and thrive in the future.Q:
Now that you’ve won a grand in Virginia and been featured in IWTC, what are the rest of your goals for 2017?LD, OVS:
To keep on trucking, and have fun at as many contests as we can.  Love our BBQ people.Q:
Any parting shots?LD, OVS:
Everyone be safe out there and get ready for an awesome summer.