The South loves a great bar-b-que! Jackson County is home to some of the most talented competitors within this category. Bill and Lynelle Bridgeman of Tuckerman began competing in 2012. With a little encouragement, Bill and Lynelle entered the Depot Days Contest in 2012. A co-worker of Lynelle’s, David Manuel, has a bar-b-que team called Just us, which competes locally. “We did not win a single thing,” laughs Bill, “But, it sparked the fire. We are very competitive people.” The couple spent that winter cooking and perfecting. “I bet we cooked close to 50 butts that winter,” jokes Lynelle. The kids were taste testers. With each product, Bill and Lynelle anxiously waited for the kids to say WOW!
The couple knew very little about competing that first year, but decided to enter another competition. They soon realized they needed to step it up a notch to satisfy Bill’s competitive nature. “The first contest we entered, we looked like the Clampits from Beverly Hillbillies when we rolled in. Our only experience was the Depot Days. This competition had 75 teams, most with 40x60 tents. Ours was a 10x10 purchased at Wal-Mart,” laughs Bill. The husband and wife team won 5th place out of 43 teams in the division. The score was calculated in tenths, with only a single point keeping them from first place.
After achieving their goal with butts, the team focused on conquering ribs. Lynelle’s role was to develop the rub and the “turn in box.” Most competitions have Certified Memphis Bar-b-que judges, which evaluate taste, tenderness and appearance. Realizing the importance of presentation, Lynelle studied and soon perfected the team’s box. What came after is a total of four Grand Champion titles.
Today, the team competes with enclosed trailer, grills, Lynelle’s rub, and meat from Red Tie Meat Shop in Newport. Lynelle’s creation, Nell’s, is marketed nationwide in grocery and specialty shops from Minnesota to Mississippi. These shops include Bill’s Fresh Market and Red Tie Meat Shop. When asked what sets Nell’s apart, she disclosed the love of cumin and jalepeno powder. It took two years for the recipe to be perfected and ready to market. The team is quick to say they use other Jackson County products, from Redneck Lipstick and What’s This Spice to local meat shops.
Although the couple are Grand Champions, they love competing at Depot Days in Newport each year. “It is a different completion that the others. The judges are hometown and the bar-b-que only needs to taste wonderful,” states Bill. “I tried over and over to win the rib competition,” laughs Bill. “The year we won, our son Morgan’s score was so close that it took the judges a second taste to award the winner.” The couple love to cook enough to give away at the events. “Often, we bring much of it home and drop it off for various neighbors,” explains Lynelle, “They love it when we compete!”
When asked about what they do after competitions, Bill smiles and tells that he always eats Beefaroni out of a can! How about that. Competing is something the couple do together. “If we win, it’s fun. If we lose, it’s fun,” explains Bill. The team is slowing down this year. Their daughter is graduating from Arkansas State University and their son is in the Air Force, preparing to buy a house. Even though they may compete a little less this year, some things will continue. Depot Days is a yearly event which is fun, helping cater the Topless 100 in Batesville, and small catering jobs will remain on the calendar.