By Will Johnson              
Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – Barbeque and classic cars were both smokin’ during the inaugural Grapeland Area Grillers Cook-off and Automobile Extravaganza held Saturday, May 6 at the Grapeland City Park

Sponsored by the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce, with prizes and funding from Grapeland State Bank, the day-long event fired up at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Chamber President Pat McNeive was out and about to welcome visitors and contestants as they arrived to cook/taste the barbeque and check out the classic cars as they rolled into the park.

“It’s early in the morning and we have several vendors already here. I think for the first year we’re doing well,” he said.

The BBQ contestants had their choice of entering into one, two or all three of the cook-off categories comprised of brisket, chicken or ribs but as McNeive explained, “… it is strictly up to them.”

“Right now,” the chamber president said, “we have seven contestants. Some have come from as far away as Austin. They have family ties to the area.”

The judging was conducted by a panel of volunteers who were selected by the chamber.

“Next year, we are going to move this back to April. It is a sanctioned barbecue event by the IBCA (International Barbeque Cookers Association). It’s not just your run-of-the mill event,” he explained.

One of the contestants in this year’s event was Oley Willis who said he heard about the event through the IBCA website.

“We kind of keep up with that and saw this little old thing about an hour from the house and thought it would be a fun, friendly, family outing so we decided to roll over and compete,” he said.

Willis said he had competed in several other IBCA events and revealed he started in barbeque competitions because of a suggestion from his brother-in-law.

“He had seen ‘BBQ Pit Masters’ on TV, two or three years ago, and said it would be neat if we could do something like this. We gave it a try and I got the bug and stayed with it. Usually, I do pretty well in brisket and pretty decent in ribs and chicken,” Willis said.

Asked if he had plans to attend the Grapeland event next year, Willis replied, “Absolutely. When we pulled up and saw the nice venue here, we decided this looks exactly what we wanted to be involved in.”

Set up next to Willis was the BBQ team of the Pridgen Cattle Company Cookers made up of John Boone, Matt Pridgen, John Pridgen and Greg Peters.

“We all do this as a hobby and my dad (Harry Pridgen) told me about this, so we rounded up all the troops, got a smoker together and here we are,” M. Pridgen said.

“This is a restaurant smoker,” he said, as he gestured towards his BBQ set-up. “Greg and I work at Underbelly and Hay Merchant in Houston and this is the rig for the restaurant when they do catering. They weren’t using it this weekend, so it worked out.”

“We had an inside track,” J. Pridgen said with a laugh. “We won’t be able to blame it on the equipment if we don’t win.”

A few spots down from the Pridgen Cattle Company Cookers was Jason Haynes and his wife Amber, from Rusk.

“We saw this on the IBCA website. We follow that and we try to do at least one of these a month, maybe two, until it gets cold.  Then, we take off a little bit,” he said.

“We got started with this back in 2013. There’s another group of folks here who we started following and then we tried it, got hooked on it and that was it. We’ve won a couple of grand championships and a few reserve champions, we usually place in the top 10 but sometimes we don’t get anything,” Haynes said.

After the event concluded, Linda Reed, who helped plan and organize the BBQ cook-off and car show, said she felt the day went very well.

“We could have used some more cookers, but those that were here totally enjoyed themselves. We had 18 vehicles that showed up so that was great. My favorite part of this was meeting all the different cookers. They came from all over and from all different backgrounds,” Reed said.

The winners of the BBQ Cook-off are listed below:

Grand Champion:  First place – Oley Willis, $506; second place – Amber Haynes, $304; third place – Jason Tucker, $202; fourth place – Justin Richie; fifth place – Keith Griffin; sixth place – Matthew Pridgen; and seventh place – Josh Woodrift.

Brisket: First place – Oley Willis; second place – Keith Griffin; third place -Matthew Pridgen; fourth place – Amber Haynes; fifth place – Josh Woodrift; sixth place – Justin Richie; and seventh place – Jason Tucker.

Chicken: First place – Jason Tucker; second place – Oley Willis; third place – Justin Richie; fourth place – Amber Haynes; fifth place – Matthew Pridgen; and sixth place – Keith Griffin.

Ribs: First place – Amber Haynes; second place – Jason Tucker; third place – Justin Richie; fourth place – Josh Woodrift; fifth place – Oley Willis; sixth place – Keith Griffin; and seventh place – Matthew Pridgen.

The winners in the car show were:

Cars: First Place – 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, LaVon Swagger, Jr.; second place – 1930 Ford, Don and Patsy Stokes; third place – 1951 Ford Victoria, Cloyse Wooley; fourth place – 2010 Ford Mustang, Wendy Smith; and fifth place – 2004 Chevrolet Corvette, Jimmy Terrell.

Trucks: First Place – 1954 Ford, Loail McKinney; second place – 1961 Ford, Don Hobson; and third place – 1973 Ford.

Most Unique – Volkswagen

Motorcycle – Harley Davidson

Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at