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Low and slow…it’s how they roll

What do you get when you mix a whirlwind romance with a great recipe for barbecue?
You get one sweet Jonesborough couple that has taken the world of competitive barbecuing by storm.
Rebekah and Walt Moulton were all smiles recently after their Rocky Top Barbecue was named North Carolina state champion at the Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival in Tryon, N.C. last month. As a reward for their culinary efforts, the pair took home a cash prize of $5,500.
In addition to winning the overall prize, the Moultons placed first in both the barbecue chicken and pork ribs categories. They took third place in the brisket category.
The couple competed against 98 teams from throughout the southeast, and as far away as Oklahoma, Texas and New Jersey.
Their next competition is closer to home — at the 1st Annual Smokin’ the Valley Blueberry Festival and BBQ Cook Off July 19-20 in Unicoi. That event — like the others the couple enter — is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
The Moultons enjoy competitive cooking — something Walt has been doing for about four years. For Rebekah, a kindergarten teacher and Walt’s wife of just two years, barbecue competitions are something new and completely unexpected.
In fact, the thought of doing something like that had never crossed her mind, she admits.
“I asked him, ‘Who does that? Do people really do that?’ I didn’t know this existed until I met him,” Rebekah said.
But then, doing the unexpected seems to be a theme for the Moultons.
After dating for only four months, the two quietly planned a very special trip to Las Vegas.
They surprised friends and family when they returned — married.
“I told my folks, ‘I hope you like Rebekah because she’s you’re daughter-in-law now,’” Walt said with a grin.
That sense of adventure apparently has extended to their decision to traipse all over the country, entering barbecue competitions.
Walt, a farmer with 400 acres of land, raises corn and cares for 350 steers. He says he never planned to do any of this and found his way onto the barbecue circuit almost by accident.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I got started grilling for friends on an old smoker at backyard parties during my single days,” he said.
A welder and fabricator, Walt said he built his own smoker and used it for about a year. Then, he bought a different one, a Lang, off Ebay and, after a lot of coaxing by friends, decided to try his hand at an honest-to-goodness barbecue competition.
His first contest was the Battle of the Pigs at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.
“I got a third place for my chicken wings,” he said. “Not too bad for the first time.”
He entered more contests after that, but says he hadn’t seen any real success until recently.
“He didn’t win anything until I came along,” Rebekah joked.
“Yeah,” Walt said, “I had to regroup and clean up my act after she came along.”
Whatever “cleaning up” was done, it worked. The Moultons won their first top prize May 11, taking the Grand Champion title at the Sam’s Club competition in Knoxville. That win qualifies them to move on to the semi-finals in Hendersonville in September.
A top-10 finish there will send them to Bentonville, Ga., where the top 50 cooks in the country will compete for the top prize of $50,000 on Oct. 19. First place finishes in the various categories can pile on additional prize money — anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.
It takes a lot of cooking to compete at such a demanding level. During an average competition, the Moultons barbecue five racks of ribs, three pork butts, one brisket and 12 chicken thighs. They are required to present six pieces of each for judging.
The competitions have been a lot of fun, the Moultons said, and they have made a lot of friends during the events.
They have even cooked alongside Pitmaster Tuffy Stone, of TLC Network’s “BBQ Pitmasters” fame, who Rebekah blames for urging Walt to buy his new — and expensive — Jambo Pit cooker.
Emblazoned with the team’s slogan, “Low and slow, that’s how we roll,” the two pull it behind their University of Tennessee themed bus, which they purchased secondhand from a defunct gospel group from Asheville, N.C., to travel to various competitions.
“He just kept telling Walt, ‘Go ahead and get it — it will pay for itself,’” Rebekah said. “So far so good. I guess Tuffy was right.”