Barbecue team sizzles to a start

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Brett Claypoole

The Prosper Pitmasters barbecue team members Maddox Rains, Ashmani Clifford, Sydney Fisher and Kaley Folkins pose at the White Oak Regional barbecue competition. This is the team's first year together and competing. For their first competition, they placed 13th overall out of 32 high schools.

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When culinary teacher Brett Claypoole spoke to administration about providing something different for culinary students to get involved in, the Prosper Pitmasters formed as the district’s first barbecue team.

After making their debut at the White Oak Regional BBQ Cook-Off, the Prosper Pitmasters barbecue team now prepares for their next competition Apr. 17-18 in Conroe, Texas. They work to set the bar high in an area that not many schools around us have experience in.

“Our adviser, Mr. Allen, who has competed at state level at the adult competitions called the district and said he’d be happy to help sponsor,” Claypoole said. “This was over a year ago that we started this, so he and I had just been talking and were able to get the funding to buy the rig. And now, here we are.”

Not every day you get to say you were a part of your high school barbecue team. There’s so many different things that I’m grateful for because even if I never make barbecue again, I still have those skills, and I still have this team.”

— Ashmani Clifford

Junior team member Kaley Folkins found her spot on the team originally as a help-out, but ended up joining later on.

“When chef asked me to join, I said yes,” Folkins said. “I really love cooking and thought it was a good opportunity.”

Other members joined Prosper Pitmasters to gain more exposure for their future careers in the culinary field.

“I really wanted to do it because my dream is to go to culinary school and learn everything I can,” senior Ashmani Clifford said. “I talked to chef, and he was like ‘I have to be on it,’ so that’s kind of how it happened.”

At their first competition in White Oak, Texas, the team competed against 31 other high schools. Clifford said they were ready for the challenge, even if they didn’t quite fit in among all the mullet hairdos.

“Being from Dallas, we definitely did not fit in there,” Clifford said. “And it was funny because everywhere we went, you could tell we were together.”

The competition starts at 4:30 a.m., and by 5 a.m., all teams light their fires. Then, a lottery is held for each competitor to pick their meats, and out of all 32 schools, the Prosper Pitmasters were fortunate enough to pick ninth. At this time, they started butchering their products, and it was time for Claypoole and Allen to step behind a barrier and leave it up to the students.

“We cannot cross that barrier, or we’re disqualified as a team,” Claypoole said. “It’s completely on the students – 110% it’s on them. At practice we guide them and tell them what to do, but we’re completely hands off.”

At each competition, the team has a lot on their plate, but Folkins said having all teammates there for each other to help gets it done faster. They worked through the different categories – dessert, beans, chicken, ribs and brisket – and even as they turned in their different entries throughout the day, they did not know how they compared to the other teams until the end of the day.

“Your dessert counts the least, then beans. As you get into meats, it starts counting more and more with brisket counting for almost half the category,” Claypoole said. “So if you don’t place in brisket, it’s very hard to get into the top-10 overall and invited to state competition.”

The Prosper Pitmasters had three top-10 finishes, which Claypoole said is unheard of for a first-time team. They placed 13th overall, and the judges told them that if they could get their brisket down, they would have taken that top-10 overall.

“The whole day I didn’t think we realized how good we were because we looked at all these teams and it was very intimidating,” Clifford said. “I think after the 20-something hours of cooking and standing in the cold and freezing, it was good that all of those hours were worth something.”

Brett Claypoole
The Prosper Pitmasters display their smoked chicken with raspberry chipotle finish glaze.

Brett Claypoole
The Pitmasters entered the pictured pork spareribs smoked over pecan logs.

Brett Claypoole
For their dessert, the team entered the pictured cowboy cookie sandwiches with fresh cream filling, rolled with sweetened coconut flakes and mini chocolate chips.

Claypoole and Allen took notes during the competition, and they feel they learned what to improve on and are ready to apply that to their next practice.

“We definitely were able to learn from our mistakes and know what we did wrong,” Folkins said. “There’s things we did good and not so good in, and we were able to take that and fix some of those problems.”

While the team prepares for their next competition in April, Folkins said they enjoy goofing around and growing their friendships.

“I feel like it’s a little family that we have,” Folkins said. “It’s just fun to hang out with these people and do something that we all love together.”

Clifford mentions that through applying and getting accepted into different culinary schools, being part of the team has helped her stand out among others because of the experience she gained.

“Not every day you get to say you were a part of your high school barbecue team,” Clifford said. “There’s so many different things that I’m grateful for because even if I never make barbecue again, I still have those skills, and I still have this team.”

Claypoole says he is “ridiculously proud” of his hand-picked team and how much they have accomplished, and that their work ethic shines through their chemistry and tight-knit friendship.

“They’ve gone through barbecue war together, and they’ve built a huge bond because of that,” Claypoole said. “I knew I’d picked the right team when after that first competition they had an inkling for how close they were, they were about ready to go again that night. That competition and that fire is there, and I knew I picked the right ones.”

Article has been updated for grammar.