Q&A with Fire & Ice Champion Jayna Todisco

November 29, 2016

The past few months I’ve been working with Cowboy Charcoal to promote the first ever Women’s Fire & Ice Championship Series. Registered female led teams battled it out for points at KCBS-sanctioned events from January 2016 through October 2016. The top 10 teams earned a spot to compete at the World Barbecue Championships in Orange Beach, Ala. November 9-13, 2016, where they vied for a chance at $15,000 total in diamond jewelry.

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Jayna Todisco of A Mazie Q won the whole shebang, beating out the best of the best female pit masters in the nation to claim the title of Grand Champion (and $5,000 diamond jewelry!) Sylvie Curry of Lady of Q took home second place and Kim Hicks of Midnight Burn earned third place at the finals. Huge congrats to all of the participants! I connected with Jayna and picked her brain for more details about her history, her experience at the competition, and her tips for anybody interested in starting out in competition BBQ. Check it out and when you’re done reading, go give Jayna a follow on her A Mazie Q Facebook page!

How did you find out about the Fire & Ice Championship and what inspired you to register?

I belong to several BBQ groups on social media and I had seen several posts and emails advertising Fire & Ice. At first I was reluctant about signing up…several reasons…first, I really didn’t think I had a shot. Second, Fire & Ice was being held in Alabama – which is half way across the country for me as I live in New Hampshire. Up until that point, I’d never traveled more than 4 hours for a contest let alone a 24 hour drive. Third, I did not think I had or could rally the resources but luckily, I had some wonderful BBQ friends that rallied for me (thank you Rhode Hog BBQ & Insane Swine). Plus, I’m not really a diamond girl (which was the prize). But being a BBQ community, others teams encouraged me to sign up and quite frankly, I did like the fact that I could be inspiring other women to take the leap.

How long have you been competing on the BBQ circuit?

My husband and I started in backyard comps in 2011 and pro in 2012. We only did one pro in 2012 and the following year we did 2. We continued to do more each year. Nowadays we average about 8-10 contests a year.

How did you get started in BBQ? Family history or fun hobby?

Well my family history taught me how to cook, specifically, my grandmother Mazie (hence the team name). She really did not cook BBQ and the extent of her grilling was an electric grill she kept on the porch. However, the cooking I did with her planted the seed of a deep love of food. I wanted to know everything about it. Every type, every cuisine.

When I was old enough to date, I was set up on a blind date. My date took me to a BBQ festival and from there my curiosity and spark was ignited to cook BBQ. Now as for my date…well didn’t last, but hey, a new love was found that night! ?

What was your favorite competition this season?

That’s a toss up between the World Food Championships (WFC) and the Granite State BBQ Championship. The WFC was amazing and from the moment we arrived we felt like rock stars, but the ride was a lot. Granite State was only 45 minutes from my house and it was held at a private campground with a pool. My kids swam most of the day which was so rewarding for me.

What are the best/hardest aspects of competition BBQ?

The best aspect is the feeling of doing well and seeing good results. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment. For me, I’ve cooked most of my life so when I get an award, I’m able see my hard work pay off. The hard part is when you work very hard and get no calls at a contest. Mostly, what is frustrating is it’s a moving target. The game constantly changes. Food that did well last season may not do well this season and vice versa. You have to stay relevant and on top of your game. And that’s not just with food, cause you’re  managing everything at the same time as your cook. Mostly, you have to keep up with research and resources. Some examples- Has my chicken vendor gone out of business? The texture of the pork has change…maybe they’re feeding the pigs a new diet. I need a new thermometer that is waterproof. There is a power outage at the supermarket and now I have to drive 25 min off course to get that one ingredient. All things people don’t realize goes in to it. And frankly, it’s exhausting and it will grate on your nerves. And did I mention we battle the elements too!?! I could go on forever, but I digress.

What are your favorite meats to cook for competitions? Do you use any special ingredients in your rubs/sauces?

My favorite is probably brisket. It’s a category we do well at and I love. I don’t use anything special other than I just cooking it right, or at least I like it.

What type of rig are you cooking on? Preferred wood/fuel?

I cook on a Humphrey’s Pit.  I use a mix of lump, briquettes and a little bit of wood.

Tell me a little about your trip to the WFC! What were the highs and lows. Did you perform better or worse than you expected? What was your winning dish?

I’ll start with the lows – the 24. Hour. Car. Ride. I ate so many granola bars I thought I was going sneeze oats for the rest of my life. And at one point, we had been on the highway so long I actually forgot which state I was in. When we finally got there I was so excited to see 2 things – salad and grass. I will not mention the ride home. Nor will I talk about getting lost in NYC for 2 hours. And I won’t talk about the flat tire. Nope, not going there ; )

For the highs – first off it was in a beautiful location – Orange Beach. We gave ourselves half a day and we spent time on the beach, just amazing. The WFC did a great job with the welcome reception-the food and location couldn’t have been more prefect.

The people and the crew were so friendly, we felt like we were with old friends. I was nervous so this was helpful and i was able to tell myself this was just like any contest I’ve done before so that put me at ease.

All the lady pitmasters were welcoming and we met some new friends that helped us with things we forgot (thank you Haulin’ Butt BBQ). And of course winning was a great high! For the Fire & Ice challenge, we had to cook a grilling and BBQ entry. For the grilling challenge, we cooked our burger which we were very pleased with. Our burger entry has brought us luck before so it made sense that we entered it for the WFC. The next day was the BBQ competition and we cooked the standard KCBS meats – chicken, ribs, pork & brisket. It wasn’t our best cook of the year, but we’ve also done worse. Nonetheless, it was good enough for the win! To win, scores were divided between the grilling and BBQ contests. It was such a feeling of elation to drive that far, overcome so much and win. I’m very grateful!

If you could send some cooking and grilling tips to the backyard BBQ crew from your competition experience, what would it be?

I can’t speak for others in terms of what is the best tips/advice to offer. This is just mine. And to me, it speaks louder than any tip of the grill or smoker. Here goes…start with you. Get out of your own head when you doubt and just believe in yourself. Be your own cheerleader or lean on others that bring you up and ignore those that knock you down. The BBQ/grilling competition circuit is a big undertaking and you need to surround yourself with a can do attitude. You don’t need to have fancy things, just some passion and one by one you will get where you need to be. Don’t be scared, don’t be daunted, be the fire you’ve always wanted to be. You cook something well, enter that. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. People used to laugh at my ideas and wouldn’t you know that those ideas are the ones win. Dare to be different, dare to be yourself.

Ok, now for an actual tip – try to be organized and assign tasks if you can. This game is all about execution and organization. Write everything down. Make edits, write it again.

What are your plans for A Mazie Q? Are you planning to compete in 2017?

 

We plan to just keep swimming. We hope to have another successful year. We’re planning to do more contests this year and venture more out of New England. And we definitely are wanting to return to the WFC and compete in Fire & Ice. Also, my children are getting older so I’m intending to include them more in contests. I revamped a familiar saying and it goes “families that compete together, stay together”. So maybe I can convince my kids that making parsley boxes is the great American pastime. Well, there’s always hope!
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Major thanks to Jayna! I hope you guys all love this interview as much as I did! If you are a lady pit master, don’t miss out on the opportunity to sign up for next year’s Fire & Ice Championship. The announcements for the series will be made on the Cowboy Charcoal Facebook page or on the Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Landing! Grill on, girls (and guys).
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