The charcoal briquet road to nationals

The 2021 Regional Grill Master Challenge competitors from junior and senior division teams, from left, are Gracie Denton, Noah Carmichael, Conner Rollins, Braxton Lamb, Dylan Thomas, Ella Smith, Callie Smith, Noah Lindsey, and Emma Kinsey. – SUBMITTED

“When you tell middle and high schoolers that they will be literally playing with fire, there is a mixed response of excitement and nervousness,” said Jefferson County 4-H Program Assistant Robyn Elswick. “But we start with grill and food safety to calm nerves, ensuring a very safe experience overall.”

For competitors in the 4-H Grill Master Challenge, preliminary lessons include crucial tips such as not to lean over an open flame, how to avoid cross-contamination, how to safely fire up their grills using shredded paper, charcoal, and a chimney, and direct versus indirect cooking.

Participants can use their own grills or those provided by Jefferson County 4-H, and they must practice at least once per week at home, “which is their parents’ favorite day of the week to have the night off from cooking dinner,” said Elswick. Practices span July and August, focusing on perfecting their chosen recipes for poultry, lamb, pork, or beef while performing all tasks to completion within two hours - the same amount of time allotted at competition. Participants grill two cuts of the same meat using the same recipe, one for the display table’s Food Safety Judges and the other is for the Meat Judges. Each team chooses a theme, collaborates to coordinate their recipes with catchy names, and gathers decorations for their competition display table.

Regional competition

After several weeks of practice, the Eastern Region Grill Master Challenge at the Appalachian Fair in Gray had finally arrived on August 23. The Junior High team placed second overall. Individual placings were: first place in beef for Emma Kinsey, second place in lamb for Braxton Lamb, third place in pork for Noah Carmichael, third place in beef Noah Lindsey, and fourth place in chicken for Ella Smith. Team members are already buzzing about everything from recipes to flavor combinations with the anticipation of moving into the Senior High division next season. Although regionals is the end of the line for junior high teams, their cumulative experience of the past couple years is sure to stoke future success!

Individual placings for the Senior High team were: third place in pork for Gracie Denton, third place in lamb for Conner Rollins, twelfth place in beef for Dylan Thomas, and second place in poultry for Callie Smith. As a team, they placed third overall and advanced to the State 4-H Grill Master Challenge in October at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

State competition

With time to make tweaks to recipes and sharpen their skills, the Senior High team descended upon the State 4-H Grill Master Challenge at the UT Brehm Animal Science Building on October 23, with grills ready to roll. As a team they placed ninth overall. Individual placings were: fifth place in pork for Gracie Denton, second place in lamb for Conner Rollins, and first place in poultry for Callie Smith with her recipe for Cade’s Cove Sunrise Turkey Tenderloin.

National competition

As a result of her first place win, Callie Smith, a sophomore at Jefferson County High School, competed in the National 4-H Chicken Barbecue at the Poultry and Egg Conference on November 18 at the University of Kentucky in Louisville. Each state could send only one participant to the contest, and all were judged based on a presentation and their grilling abilities. During her presentation on the poultry industry, Smith showcased her multifaceted talents by wearing the suit and sublimated silk blouse that she made for 4-H Roundup earlier this year. Hitting the grill immediately afterward, she felt confident saying, “I know what I’m doing. I made it this far,” especially after practicing every day during the week before competition.

With two hours to prep, grill, and finish four skin-on chicken thighs, Smith stuck to the recipe she had used on turkey tenderloin that won first place at state competition. She placed eighth overall and is already looking ahead to next season with returning to nationals at the top of her list. When asked if she would like to mentor others in the future, she said “I definitely want to help my sisters – next year will be my youngest sister Ainsley’s first year on the team. I also want to teach others that being on the grilling team is about more than grilling skills. It's about being part of a team and having fun!”

Since joining the team a few years ago, “it has been a major confidence builder while teaching a hugely important life skill of cooking on their own,” said her mother. Karen Smith. “And at the root of all this is Jefferson County 4-H with the wide variety of activities and consistent dedication that Karen Nelms (4-H Agent) and Robyn Elswick (4-H Program Assistant) pour into it of themselves. Those ladies and their passion are why we are so involved!”

Callie and her mother, a music teacher at Rush Strong School, found the recipe that took her to national competition in The Standard Banner last winter, saving it to try in competitions this year. She gave it a catchy name: “Cade’s Cove Sunrise Turkey Tenderloin” and it clearly works well on chicken thighs too! If you like award winning recipes, this one is for you too!

Cade’s Cove Sunrise Turkey Tenderloin

1/4 c. apple juice

2 tbsp dried minced onion

1/4 c. reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 c. canola oil

1/4 tsp ground ginger

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 dash garlic powder

1 dash ground black pepper

2 (1/2 lb) turkey breast tenderloins

Serves 4

1) In a large zippered plastic bag, combine apple juice, soy sauce, cooking oil, lemon juice, onion, vanilla, ginger, garlic powder, and pepper; add turkey. Seal bag, turning to coat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

2) Drain and discard marinade. Grill turkey, covered, over medium heat. 8-10 minutes per side or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey reads 170 degrees F.

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