Brad Leighninger is certainly keeping busy these days: He's head pit master, co-owner and co-founder of Gettin’ Basted in Branson, Missouri, as well as Downing Street Pour House in Hollister, Missouri. He's also highly decorated in the barbecue world, and this spring, he plans to launch his own KCBS-sanctioned barbecue competition. Here, he chats about the world of competitive barbecue, why he cooks hot and fast and training the next generation of pitmasters.
What were some of the competition highlights in 2019? We got Reserve Grand Champion at American Royal, which is the largest barbecue competition in the world. Honestly, 2018 was better. In 2018, we were the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) Team of the Year. We were the top barbecue team anywhere. We took 1st place in Jack Daniels [World Championship Invitational BBQ] in pork that year as well. After we won those competitions, I slowed down and cut competitions by a third. It’s kind of like NASCAR; they have a competition you can do every week. I did 50 in 2018. So last year, I decided to spend more time focusing on family and the restaurants. I did 28 or 29 [barbecue competitions]. I finished fourth overall in the country. Last year, I went to Australia and taught a class. I went to Italy and Amsterdam teaching a class.
What's it like to teach people in other countries about barbecue? What we do is teach people how to win in the KCBS competitions. We teach them how to cook like I cook. We consider what we do unique; we cook over 55-gallon drums, hot and fast, not low and slow. We use Missouri hardwood coals. We call it "burn and turn." We get brisket done in four to five hours, instead of 12 hours. It started in Kansas City but was made popular down here. The other competitors call this ‘"can country" because we’re basically cooking with trash cans.
Tell us about the new location of Gettin' Basted in Nixa. We bought the Buckingham’s building and will have that open in about a month. We will have two Gettin’ Basted locations now. We were looking to expand; we have had a good response in Branson and we are looking to grow the brand in Springfield. I live in Springfield – when we started, we were a food truck in Springfield. The Nixa location was perfect because it’s set up for a barbecue restaurant. We are off [State Highway] 14, next to Nixa Hardware. It was a good opportunity to move our brand up north. And Nixa is growing.
Do your children compete or travel with you? Yes. We have two little girls and a boy. Our daughter Molly has been on the Steve Harvey show and Rachael Ray. She’s 11. Hudson is 5 and Ellie is 9. They all compete. They all won contests last year. When we go to these competitions, they will have a kids’ competition and the kids will grill a burger or steak. They are competitive amongst each other. It’s funny. Hudson won one in Kimberling City; it was cute as can be: a 5-year-old getting his trophy.
My wife competes as well. She’s gotten perfect scores at Jack Daniels in [the] Dessert [category]. She just competed in Red Rock BBQ in Hurricane, Utah. I won it and she got second place. We were Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion. That was a cool day for our family. Some people go camping, go fishing – our family cooks.
Tell us about the Gettin' Basted Open you’re starting on Memorial Day Weekend. A lot of times, these competitions are a labor of love. We are going to hold the KCBS competition in Hollister. We had 30 teams sign up in two days. Heck, we have three teams from different countries signed up now: England and the Netherlands. It should be a big deal. We have the best in the world of barbecue. It should be an incredible event because of our connections. We will have some bands, beer, barbecue for sale.
How much prize money will you have? $15,000 now. Depending on if we can pull in some sponsorships, it may go up. We’d like to get it up $20,000.
Why Hollister? It’s got more space than our Branson location. It’s cool, quaint. It’s a good place to be and a good time of year to be there. It’s been a great ride. We started barbecuing in 2012 and it was a weekend hobby thing and now it altered the trajectory of our family’s life. Barbecue has been a blessing.
Downing Street Pour House, 24 Downing St., Hollister, Missouri, 417.320.6106, facebook.com/DSPourHouse
Gettin’ Basted, 3115 MO-76, Branson, Missouri, 417.231.4445, gettinbasted.com