For Travis Clark, barbecue is king. And right now, Clark is king of barbecue.
Clark, who lives in Yukon and works for OneOk, was crowned world champion earlier this month at the American Royal competition in Kansas City. It’s a competition he had nearly won a couple of times before.
“That is the dream contest. It is the one I always wanted to win. From Day One, that is the one I wanted to win,” he said.
The competition is among the prize gems among barbecue cook-offs.
“I’ve been in the top 10 before, and reserve. I am very happy to win it,” he said
Clark, over the past few weeks, has been the top competitor at several contests, including the Sam’s Club Cookoff in Kansas City. Last weekend, they finished eighth overall in Kimberling City, Mo.
“It’s been an unbelievable career,” he said.
It’s also a career that came out of the blue, Clark said.
He and his wife, Kimberly, were in Kansas City for a kidney walk in honor of a family friend. The American Royal was underway nearby, and the fragrance of the smoke and barbecue lured him.
Once there, the two came up with an idea and Clark Crew BBQ was born.
It now takes up a big chunk of their free time.
Clark said they had competed in more than 150 competitions and have 39 grand championships to show for it. They also have 19 reserve titles and finished in the top 10 at least 125 times.
To be that successful, Clark said, takes work.
“Our last weekend off was Feb. 25,” he said. “I love it so much that I just can’t stop. I don’t know how I’m going to stop. I’m addicted to this.”
Clark said he has been grilling ever since he was a child. He learned on his grandfather’s backyard grill.
He said his grandfather burned everything he cooked. When the kids complained, he suggested they cook their own food.
Clark said that’s exactly what he did, and his love affair with grilling was born.
“I always loved cooking on the grill. I always grilled, I never smoked anything,” he said.
So at 16, he bought his first grill. That led to a larger grill.
“You’re friends are always going to tell you that it’s the best. I felt I had good food, so I did a couple of back yard contests and won,” he said.
That lead to bigger contests and eventually he decided he might try the professional circuit.
“I can’t go play basketball against LeBron James, and I can’t go and be a pro in the NFL, but on any given weekend, I can compete with the best cooks in the world. I like the competition,” he said.
He said he took classes to learn to cook correctly, and the competition is stiff.
“There are some great cooks out there, and to compete at their level is overwhelming,” he said.
Clark grew up in Kansas and moved here to work with OneOk. He said that was a good decision because there are plenty of barbecue competitions in the state.
“Oklahoma is really big into barbecue. It is a big deal,” he said.
He also said the competition is a family affair and involves everyone.
The family includes four children ranging in age from 8 to 17. All are involved.
His son, Cooper, who is only 8, recently competed in a contest for children between the ages of 11 and 17 in Green Bay, Wis., where he finished second.
Their daughter, Madison, 10, won in her age division.
Clark said he is high in the competition for team of the year, an award he won in 2015.
But his goal is to open a catering business or restaurant in the area. So, he’s researching possible menu items.
“I put a lot of work into putting World Champion in front of my name. I’m not going to serve bad food,” he said.
Right now, however, his plan is to continue competing and winning.
“I have the same expectations every week. I expect to put myself into a position to win. You have to want to win.”