FLORENCE—The Pinal County Fair has plenty of great food to choose from. You can get your standard corn dog on a stick or be a little adventurous with a braised turkey leg. One food vendor has pushed the envelope of outdoor culinary cuisine each year at the fair: Whiskey Ranch BBQ.
Their method of turning a side of beef into a mouth-watering, slow-cooked barbeque masterpiece caught the eye of Food Network producers. The owners and pitmasters, Tom and Jennifer Duncan, will be competing on this Sunday’s season premiere episode of “Chopped: Grill Masters.”
“It’s very cut-throat and very difficult,” said Tom, who had to compete against his wife on the show. “As a cook you generally know what you will prepare, what ingredients you will have and what kind of equipment you will be using. That wasn’t the case on the show. You didn’t know what you were going to cook until they unveiled it.”
The show Chopped is usually set in a studio with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment. This season’s series premiere was videotaped on the Old Tucson Studios movie set featuring a battle of the barbeque chefs. Although they can’t divulge the winner, the Duncans were pleased to be chosen for the on-air competition.
“It was really amazing,” Jennifer recalled. “You have four different people who had four different ideas on the food that was given to us. You would look at their ideas and you couldn’t help but to learn from it.”
“No matter how we did on the show, there are tens of thousands of people that the producers look at. We were lucky to be the one percent picked to participate,” Tom said. “Jennifer and I were the first married couple to compete on the show.”
The Whiskey Ranch BBQ truck is a staple at both the Pinal County Fair and the Bluegrass Festival. Their repertoire not only includes barbequed beef and pork, but wood-fired pizza as well. The mobile nature of their business has allowed the couple to cater a large variety of events from weddings to corporate parties. It allows them to spend more time with their children Cole & Cassie.
“Before food trucks became big, we were already two or three years into it,” said Tom. “We developed a niche of being mobile. This allows us to serve anywhere from 50 people at an event to 20,000.”
Now that Whiskey Ranch BBQ has hit the “big time,” will they be back for the Pinal County Fair and the Bluegrass Festival?
“There are things that are near and dear to our schedule,” Tom said. “We have already blacked out different events for the next year and Pinal County events are part of that.”
When they arrive for next year’s Bluegrass Festival and Fair, Tom and Jennifer might have a new item or two on their menu thanks to their appearance on Chopped: Grill Masters.
“The show gave us some new ideas,” Jennifer said. “It might be a small change in our ribs or a little change elsewhere. We love this business so much and it shows in our food. If it puts a smile on a customer’s face, it’s all worth it.”
Note: The season premiere of Chopped: Grill Masters is this Sunday at 7:00pm on the Food Network.