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Blue Collar Smokers

by Vaun Thygerson
Staff writer and mother of three

When local barbecue aficionados Jeff Williams and Bryant Arnold of Blue Collar Smokers load up their gear to compete on the burgeoning barbecue circuit, they always remember the most important ingredient:  their families.  With six of their 10 team members under the age of 13, they continue to perfect their mouth-watering culinary creations while battling against some of the top grill masters in the nation. 

Working together at Braun Electric, Jeff and Bryant decided to create a barbecuing team.  When they started looking for another partner or two, they decided their families would be the best choice to complete it.  The Williams family includes Jeff’s wife, Lisa, and their four children:  Gavin, 11, Ryleigh, 9, Ainsley, 6, and Tatum, 4. The Arnolds include Bryant’s wife, Megan, and their two children:  Zac, 13, and Macy 8.  

The team, formed earlier this year, competed in their first competition in July and placed 7th in ribs against 74 other teams at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA.  After four more competitions, they haven’t placed as high, but their overall score keeps improving.  As members of the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), their team is ranked 542nd nationally out of 3,000 teams.  KCBS is the world’s largest organization of barbecuing and grilling enthusiasts in the nation.    

“We are learning how it all works.  Our scores have been increasing and have gone up with every competition,” says Jeff.  “We are figuring out what the judges want – they are looking for perfection.” 

Each KCBS-sanctioned competition requires they cook four types of meat:  ribs, pork, brisket, and chicken.  Then they are judged based on appearance, taste, and tenderness.  The wives and kids participate in a lot of the preparation work, including set up and clean up, but the men do the grilling, usually all night long before the competition starts early in the morning.  “We cook at 225 degrees, slow and low,” says Bryant.    

Lisa and Megan have been given the task of preparing the boxes to present the meat to the judges, which is a serious part of the competition.  “The box can have no dents and no barbecue sauce on the meat.  The parsley even has to be cut into the same size pieces to look more leafy and uniform,” says Megan.  

With the help of their sponsors, Braun Electric, Lewis and Gayle Frye, and Nolan Enterprise, Blue Collar Smokers have become a favorite among barbecue fans by selling out of their ribs every time.  In addition to their meats, they have also competed in dessert competitions making a lemon-infused cheesecake with blueberry topping and a chocolate caramel bacon cheesecake.  

To put their own unique spin on the team, the younger girls have taken up selling their signature smiles where patrons pay fifty cents to have their day brightened.  At their latest event in Dana Point, the kids made $56 in smile money, with a buy-two-get-two-free sale.  Four-year-old Tatum says this is her favorite part of the competition.

The adults say what they like best about the teamwork is the family time they experience together.  “The extra benefit is the quality time you have with your family,” says Bryant.  “You get to kill two birds at one time.  You get to enjoy your hobby and enjoy your family.”

Thirteen-year-old Zac loves helping out his family with these barbecuing adventures.  “It’s really fun and I’ve learned a lot more about how to barbecue,” Zac says.  “We sit out late at night and cook meat and bond.  It’s fun with all of us.”          

Gavin and Ryleigh have taken this BBQ business very seriously.  In fact, they have had their own personal competition against each other where their family members judge prepared hamburger patties.  Most recently, Ryleigh won.  Gavin had his own win where he took third place in hamburgers at Bakersfield’s Biggest, Baddest BBQ Competition earlier this year.      

Jeff says barbecuing, whether it’s for fun or competition, should not be a chore.  And, for those who might want to compete someday, he says to keep practicing and experimenting, but to remember to always take your time and not rush it.  “There is no such thing as bad barbecue,” he says.  “And, if you don’t know how to do it, don’t be afraid to ask for advice.”  

What’s the next stop on the competition circuit for the Blue Collar Smokers?  They have been asked to attend an invitational rib competition in Missouri.  In addition to competitions, they hope to expand their catering business and one day open a restaurant locally.  

For more information on Blue Collar Smokers, you can like their Facebook page.  For more information on Kansas City Barbecue Society, please visit

Blue Collar Smokers share two of their “secret” recipes to complement your Thanksgiving holiday.

Grilled Apricot Stuffed Turkey Breast
    • 1- bone in turkey breast half ( remove skin) 
    • 1/2- cup diced dried apricots 
    • 1/4- cup chopped pecans, toasted 
    • 3- tablespoons unsweetened apple juice, divided 
    • 1- tablespoon vegetable oil 
    • 1/4- teaspoon dried rosemary 
    • 1/4- teaspoon garlic salt 
    • 1- tablespoon Dijon mustard
 Remove bone from turkey. Cut a horizontal slit into the thickest part of the breast to form a pocket. Combine the apricots, pecans, 2 tablespoons of apple juice, oil, rosemary and garlic salt. Stuff mixture into pocket and secure opening with soaked wooden skewer. Grill, covered, over indirect heat for 30 minutes. Combine the mustard and remaining juice. Brush over the turkey. Grill until golden brown and the internal temp reaches 165. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Pumpkin Cheesecake 

    • 1 cup almonds, whole 
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/4 tsp ground clove
    • 2 Tbsp sugar
    • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
    • 3 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese, room temperature
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
    • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
Preheat oven to 325. Process nuts together until they look like coarse crushed graham crackers. Mix almond meal, butter, sugar & spices. Press in bottom of 9-10” springform pan. Place in oven.

In mixer or food processor, mix together cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Add pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, & spices. Mix until smooth & homogeneous, being sure to not over-mix. Pour filling into the crust. Place 9x13 pan filled w/water on bottom rack of oven. Bake until center is set (doesn’t slosh around at all in the middle when wiggled) edges will begin to pull away. (About 50-55 min). Close oven door & allow to cool in oven for at least 3 hrs. Chill for at least 4 hrs. Run a knife around edges, then remove sides of springform pan.

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