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FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Tracey Royer doesn’t let people know when she and her team are practicing for a barbecue competition.

Royer, a senior financial analyst who lives in Spotsylvania County, never knows how the food will turn out. But her coworkers at Booz Allen & Hamilton in Dahlgren, she said, love it when she brings the leftovers to share.

And why wouldn’t they?

Royer took over pitmaster duties from her father this year for the JD’s Smokin Misfits barbecue team, and they qualified to compete in the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Ala., earlier this month. They came in seventh place in the second annual Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series Final, one of several competitions held during the five-day event.

“It was amazing,” she said. “Just being down there, having qualified and knowing I would compete against some of the top cooks in the country and I was included in that category,” she said. “Being able to see the other cooks and what they were doing because we had time to walk around. It was just amazing to be in that atmosphere and be with all these incredibly talented people.”

Cowboy Charcoal sponsors Fire & Ice in partnership with the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) to pick the top female pitmasters. Teams have to rack up enough points at KCBS-sanctioned shows from January to the end of October to qualify, and only the top 10 from that group are chosen to compete. They get a travel stipend to attend the World Food Championships, where they compete in two contests for a chance at winning a share of $25,000 in cash and diamond jewelry.

JD’s Smokin Misfits came in third in the first contest, a 2-hour Fire & Ice grilling challenge in which teams can grill any food using Cowboy Lump Charcoal as the heat source. The team didn’t fare as well in the second, where it faced off against 93 of the country’s top barbecue cooks in the World Barbecue Championship. It came in 23rd and 39th place in two of four meat categories, but “tanked really bad” in the others, Royer said.

“I’ll never know why,” she said. “Maybe the flavor profile wasn’t what they were looking for down there.”

The Fire & Ice Series Final winners were determined by the combined points, equally weighted, from both contests. Royer won a $1,000 gift certificate to Manning Jewelry in Foley, Ala., and used it to buy several pieces of jewelry for herself, her sister and a friend who’d taken care of her pets.

“I absolutely learned a lot,” she said. “I was absolutely thrilled to death when I got third in grilling. I was up against some amazing women doing amazing things. I did learn a lot about what the judges are looking for, and ideas about what I want to try to do if I’m lucky enough to qualify next year.”

Royer has been competing with JD’s Smokin Misfits for more than 15 years, but her father_JD stands for Jerry Dyer_has been barbecuing competitively since the early 1980s. He was an active duty Marine stationed just outside Memphis back then, and he and some of his Marine buddies put a team together and entered three or four events.

“I was just 10 or 11, so I was just hanging out when they did the cooking,” Royer said.

Years later Dyer remembered how much fun it was to be in a barbecue contest, and asked his family if they’d like to form a team. The first barbecue competition they entered was held at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds.

“We had to borrow a cooker,” Royer recalled. “We entered and had a really good time, so we decided to try to continue. We just did that one that year, then only one the next year.”

That one the second year was a KCBS-sanctioned event, and the team had no idea what they were doing.

“We came in dead last,” Royer said.

That didn’t stop them, though. They went on to buy a cooker and a trailer, and then bigger cookers and trailers over the years. They also switched from using Dyer’s sauces, which initially helped them score well, to a secret combination of rubs and sauces made for barbecue teams.

“We don’t generally use one in particular,” Royer said. “We blend several to get the flavor we’re looking for.”

Dyer, who turned 70 this year, finally decided to step back and hand over pitmaster duties to his daughter. He and his wife, Mary Dyer, are still on the team, which also includes Royer’s boyfriend, Duane Underwood.

“We do it as a family,” Royer said. “It was a way to spend time together. With me as pitmaster, we still get to spend time together.”

Royer said the transition from being a member of the team to heading it “was very much a culture shock at first. My scores were horrible. Even thought I thought I was ready, at the beginning of the year it was clear I didn’t know what I was doing.”

She didn’t think she had a shot at the World Championships until the team’s scores began improving in June. That, she said, is when they pushed hard to get their scores up. Near the end of October, they were in ninth place to make the Fire & Ice Women’s Championship, but there were a couple of teams that could have knocked them out of the running.

“I can’t even describe how excited I was when I realized I was in the top 10 and could get to go,” Royer said.

After two straight months of practicing and competing, she said she’s ready for a break.

“After the first of the year, we’ll get together as team and talk about what we think we need to change and start practicing,” Royer said. “Our first contest will be at the end of March in Urbanna. We’ve got until then to try to get our game together.”


Information from: The Free Lance-Star,