By BONNIE BAILEY
Tennessee’s oldest town has long been known for its world-class storytelling, but Jonesborough natives Walt and Rebekah Moulton put Jonesborough on the map recently for a spicier reason: barbecue.
The couple, who compete as Rocky Top Barbeque, claimed the title of Grand Champion at the 29th Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in October of 2017.
The prestigious competition, which took place in Lynchburg, attracted 67 championship teams from the United States and 23 international teams, from countries including Austria, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
“It’s hard to get there, and if you do get there, it’s hard to win it,” Walt Moulton said.
Walt has been making barbecue for about nine years, and has been competing for about eight years. He started out in his backyard, making barbecue for friends and for parties. He then decided to enter an area competition.
“It’s fun. It’s competitive. You meet a lot of good people,” Walt said.
One of the best parts of competing is socializing with the other teams, said Rebekah Moulton, Walt’s wife and barbecue competition teammate.
“You have people from all different walks of life … it’s like a big family. Everybody’s good to you,” she said.
The couple, who won several other barbecue competitions in 2017, entered chicken, ribs, pork butts, and brisket into the Jack Daniel’s World Championship.
“When you win The Jack, that’s about the biggest thing you can do, really,” Walt said. “We’ve been fortunate.”
For the Moultons, barbecue is a family affair.
According to the husband-and-wife team, couples who compete together are common, and they often do well.
“She does all the organizing and keeping me straight,” Walt said with a laugh.
“We both know what’s going on,” Rebekah added, but both admit she is the one who keeps the team on track.
“I can anticipate what he needs,” she said. “I know when to say, ‘Stop talking and come over here, it’s time to do this.’”
The Moultons’ 3-year-old daughter Mia even has a part to play.
“She’s our taste-tester,” Walt said.
“If she tries the chicken and says it’s good, we know it’s going to win,” Rebekah said. “She’ll tell us if it’s not good, and if she does, it won’t do well.”
The couple travel all over the United States to attend competitions, and Mia usually accompanies them.
“She’s been to a lot of places in her little life,” Rebekah said.
While the pair are experts at barbecue, they only make their fare for fun.
“It’s just an expensive hobby,” Walt said, “but it’s been paying its way. Anytime you have a hobby and it pays its way, that’s a good deal.”
Rocky Top Barbeque took home $10,000 for their win at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship last year.
According to the Moultons, there is no secret recipe to making great barbecue; it just comes down to practice.
“It’s like everything,” Walt said. “You’ve got to work at it.”
After all the success he has seen in the last year, and especially after his win in Lynchburg, he has been asked to teach classes on his methods, he said, and he is considering doing so in the future.
Next up, however, is another big trip for Rocky Top Barbeque. In February of 2018, the Moultons will leave their Jonesborough farm and head to Texas to compete at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, an event which features a variety of entertainment, including concerts, a carnival, and a parade.
According to Walt, it’s an event the family wanted to attend anyway, and now, thanks to their win at The Jack, they will have the opportunity to compete with their world-class barbecue.
“We had a good year,” he said.