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Rockwall ISD's barbecue team readies itself for another searing season

There are now more than 90 barbecue teams at high schools across Texas. At Rockwall ISD, their club counts 20 members among its competitive pitmasters.
Credit: Bryon Harris/WFAA
Rockwall ISD barbecue team member Ethan Conaway bastes his chicken. Chicken, his fellow team members say, is the trickiest protein to grill.

ROCKWALL, Texas — At a Royse City BBQ joint called Smoke Sessions, part of the Rockwall ISD barbecue team is in the midst of a preseason workout. 

With grills looking like a collection of R2D2s spread out on a side lawn, four team members are searing their best efforts while a TV crew from North Carolina shoots video.

Nobody from Texas needs to be told barbecue is a big deal. And yet here it is -- not just a high school sport all of a sudden, but a news story too.

The Carolina TV crew, from a YouTube channel called Eat More Vegans, is on a five-day tour of Texas chronicling pitmaster passions both professional and, in the case of Rockwall ISD, amateur. 

Credit: Byron Harris/WFAA
The Rockwall ISD BBQ team engages in a practice session as Eat More Vegans' crew and host Al Wasserberger (red hair) watch on.

There are now more than 90 barbecue teams at high schools across Texas. At Rockwall ISD, the club hopes to add to the honors it has picked up in the last few years.

Jonathan Chapa, a club member who graduated from Rockwall ISD last year, won’t forget the experience. 

"Hanging out with some friends while cooking was great," Chapa said. "And especially the coach, y'know. When you have a good mentor you will have a great time."

Sean Hill is the team coach. A business teacher at the Dr. Gene Burton College & Career Academy, the former football coach calls his barbecue team members his "kids." 

Credit: Byron Harris/WFAA
Rockwall ISD barbecue team coach Sean Hill used to coach football before he picked up his coaching tongs.

In addition to culinary skills, Hill says his kids garner a lot of other lessons from their cooking. 

"A lot of it has to do with teamwork, and working together and being able to multitask," Hill said. "Y'know, knowing that next man up, if we have somebody out, you can’t just say, 'I'm only going to be a rib cook.' You’ve got to be able to know how to do brisket and chicken or beans as well."

Barbecue competitions are focused on cooking proteins -- chicken, ribs, brisket, pork chops and skirt steak -- as well as beans and dessert. Each of Rockwall’s team members -- there are 20 in total, four of them young women -- chooses a specialty. They meet as a club and compete against other schools, but look forward to team camaraderie as well as the contests. 

Credit: Bryon Harris/WFAA
Rockwall ISD barbecue team members Larson Trast and Ryan Wiedeman.

Their pride extends to their home lives, too. The team member say their improved skills have brought them new popularity around their family dinner tables, and that their abilities have led to intra-family cook offs. Larson Trast, who placed in the top 10 in a brisket competition last year, said he now regularly grills against his dad. Ethan Trammell, a “rib guy,” who placed in the top ten in the same competition as Trast, said he cooks against his dad as well -- with his grandfather as judge.

There are even in-team rivalries -- half of the club's members belong to "Team Smoke" while the others are assigned to "Team Fire."

All of them, however, are looking forward to November, when they’ve been invited to compete in the World Food Championships in Dallas.

That's when the heat will really be on, they said.


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