Interview With the Champs – Adam Hughes of Old Colony Smokehouse
by Brian Walrath, MABA Board Member and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ
It’s always great to meet new folks on the KCBS circuit and hear about their experiences. I met Adam Hughes last year in Ayden, NC and I knew right away he was going to be a force in competition barbecue. Fast forward to this year and I’ve seen a lot more of that awesome looking black porch trailer! He came up to Fredericksburg for the VA Two-Step and then I saw him in Ayden the very next week. Well, wouldn’t you know he hit it big in Apex, NC in mid June at the Peak City Pig Fest for his first ever GC! I decided to feature Adam in this month’s IWTC. If you see that Old Colony Smokehouse trailer out on the trail, knock on the door and get to know Adam…great guy and true gentleman!
Congrats on winning the Peak City Pig Fest in Apex, NC. Describe winning your first contest?
Adam Hughes, Old Colony Smokehouse:
Thank you! Where do I start? The feeling of winning my first contest is indescribable. I’ve gotten lucky and had a couple of top 5’s in the last month but never in my wildest dream did I think a GC would come my way this soon and especially not in Apex at the Peak City Pig Fest. This event is one of the premiere events in North Carolina. The City of Apex rolls out the red carpet and everyone brings their A game. As the overall standings were being announced at awards, the math in my head told me I was in pretty good shape to make the top 3. When I didn’t hear my name called for 3rd or Reserve, my knees instantly got weak and my heart about beat out of my chest. I honestly don’t remember much after hearing my name called as Grand Champion. The pictures, handshakes, hugs, and congratulations were all a blur and the next thing I know I’m on the way home. It was an amazing feeling and really an overwhelmingly humbling experience to get phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages from so many people I have met on the BBQ trail.
Did you feel like you had an especially good cook worthy of winning?
I was pretty happy with my turn-ins and thought I had a decent shot at a Top 10 overall finish. I knew chicken was on the money and thought ribs had a chance. Pork was good but not great and my brisket, which has been my best category this season, was a little tight but tasted good. Knowing the caliber of teams that were at this event, it was hard to be confident in anything other than 4 perfect boxes, but I thought if I could hit some lucky tables and manage 2 or 3 calls that might get me into the top 10.
Let’s talk about Old Colony Smokehouse…tell us where you’re from, about your team name, your team, and your competition set up.
Old Colony Smokehouse is based out of Edenton, North Carolina, which is about an hour south of Chesapeake, VA and about an hour inland of the Outer Banks. Edenton is a historic landmark, as it was the first permanent settlement in North Carolina. Edenton has a very rich colonial heritage, which is where the idea for “Old Colony” came from. “Smokehouse” seems to fit the old-fashioned, colonial theme better than “BBQ” or some of the other popular team names, so we just went with that.
I cook most contests by myself as a 1-man team. There’s no “I” in team though. I get a lot of support behind the scenes from my family and from my job which allows me to take the time and really focus on Friday and Saturday. Occasionally, a friend, family member, or even a fellow competitor will join me for a weekend cook which is always enlightening and always fun.
As for my competition setup, I cooked my first few contests out of E-Z ups which is fine when you have plenty of help to set up and tear down. But after the first time I cooked solo, in November, in the rain (and sleet), and had to tear down in the mud, and the rain, then drive 5 hours home, I decided I had to get a better setup if I was going to continue competing. I was lucky enough to find a used porch trailer for a good price and with a little DIY, I turned it into my competition home on wheels. It’s got all the comforts of home; a roof, a floor, heat/ac, hot water, TV, and even a bed along with plenty of space for competition prep.
I cook on a Stump’s Classic gravity-fed smoker. Coincidently, the contest in Apex marked my 1 year anniversary with this cooker. The 2016 Peak City Pig Fest is where my gravity-fed smoker made its debut. Making the move to a gravity-fed smoker from another type of cabinet smoker was a real game changer for me. Cooking solo, you need as few distractions and as few things to worry about as possible, and this smoker is absolutely worry free. It holds temp to the degree and recovery time is lightning fast, allowing me to focus on all the other stuff that’s going on.
How long have you been competing?
My first professional KCBS competition was in September of 2015, so almost 2 years now. I cooked 3 contests in 2015, 12 in 2016, and 9 so far in 2017.
What’s the best part about competition barbecue?
The people! Friendships and camaraderie among the teams, judges, and reps and also the event spectators. I’ve met some really great people in my short time in competition BBQ and have made some really great friends.
What’s the worst part about competition barbecue?
I think its an addiction. I have lots of hobbies, but that feeling of withdrawal on weekends when I’m not competing makes me feel like I should really seek professional mental help. Add to that dish washing and trying to analyze a score sheet while driving home by yourself after a contest.
You seem to be competing a lot more this year…is that true?
Yes. I’m on track for 17 this year, maybe a couple more if I can squeeze them in. Gotta try to keep the withdrawals at bay. Last year I spent a lot of weekends catering. While that’s guaranteed money, I have more fun at competitions so I’ve dialed back the catering some this year to spend more time competing.
Ok, I always ask our winning pitmasters this…what’s the one tip you have for those teams to help them break through and win their first GC or up their game in competition BBQ?
Funny you ask that because as I was cleaning out my trailer and taking inventory after Apex, I looked at the basket I keep my rubs and sauces in. I laughed at how few products I use now compared to when I first started. I would have never believed that you could win with just a handful of items. My tip would be to keep it simple and don’t try to overdo anything. Its more about underwhelming the judges than overwhelming them.
What’s in store for the rest of the year for Old Colony Smokehouse…the Royal, etc…?
Well, I mapquested directions to Kansas Speedway on the way home from Apex. Its quite a haul! Most of me wants to take advantage of the opportunity because it may not ever present itself again, but part of me thinks I’m not ready for that level of competition. I’ve still got a little time to decide on that one.
In the short term, I’ve got plenty of local contests to participate in, including a date in Richmond to try and advance to the Sam’s Club Finals in Arkansas. My buddy Rick Flora from Grate Smoke BBQ joined me in the local qualifier in Laurel, MD which was a huge help. It’s a bit of a reach for us to think we stand a chance against the teams that will be in Richmond, but we’re gonna give it all we’ve got and who knows, we might get lucky. That would definitely make my year, but I’m not going to be disappointed if we don’t make it. I’m ecstatic that we made it through the first round.
Really though, the primary goal for the rest of this year is to try and continue to improve consistency. I’m cooking a product that I feel good about, I just need to learn to do it every week like so many of the guys I look up to.
Anything else to add before we sign off?
Yes. First off, thank you for the opportunity to share a little about myself and Old Colony Smokehouse with the MABA members. I don’t get a ton of social interaction time at contests because there’s so much work to do but I really enjoy getting to know more about everybody out there.
Secondly, I’ve been very blessed to get awesome support from some great sponsors and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them.
-Grill Billies BBQ Supply in Raleigh, NC and online at www.grillbilliesbarbecue.com
-Swamp Boys BBQ Sauces and Rubs
-Sweet Smoke Q Injections, Sauces and QDS drum smokers
-Mojobricks Wood Products
Lastly, I want to thank all the people who have given me tips, loaned me products, and done all the things the BBQ family does. There’s no way I can even begin to name them all but I really do appreciate it! As I said earlier, I cook most contests by myself, so if anyone ever wants to tag along or if any judges need to cook for their Master, I’d be glad to have a helping hand.
Best of luck to everyone for the remainder of 2017 and I hope to see you all out on the trail!