Smokin’ Success: High School BBQ, Inc. Kindles a Youthful Flame for Texas BBQ

by Diego Cantu on August 30, 2023 in Food+Drink,

Texas, famous for its BBQ culture which stands as a symbol of tradition, community and Lone Star pride, sees “High School BBQ, Inc.” blazing a unique trail that empowers the next generation. This initiative takes a hands-on and competitive approach in combining the art of barbecue with the enthusiasm of young Texans, creating a one-of-a-kind melting pot of flavors, skills, and community spirit.

Igniting the Fire

Six years ago, Chuck Schoenfeld, a seasoned pitmaster with four decades of experience on the barbecue competition circuit, teamed up with a dedicated culinary arts instructor at Burnet High School to form High School BBQ, Inc. Together, they planned a friendly competition for the students of the agricultural and culinary arts programs at the school. The event was a huge success, which gave Schoenfeld the inspiration for a new program. He founded High School BBQ, Inc. as a nonprofit organization because he saw the potential to develop young talent and spread barbecue culture throughout Texas. The goal was to create a series of local and regional cook-offs throughout the academic year and to take the competition outside the walls of the school. The size of the competitions increased along with the interest and participation, and each spring, a much-anticipated state championship was the result. Since then, High School BBQ, Inc. has played a significant role in inspiring a new generation of BBQ lovers, advancing culinary education, and igniting a passion for the traditional Texas craft of barbecuing.

Chuck Schoenfeld, president of High School BBQ, Inc., addresses the crowd. Photo courtesy High School BBQ, Inc.

From Classrooms to Smokers

Not all students start off as skilled 5-star BBQ culinarians. Dedication and a hunger for knowledge are essential ingredients for students who want to enter this world. Learning the fundamentals of grilling, from fire control to seasoning and cooking times, is the first step in creating a strong foundation. Their abilities are honed through consistent practice and learning from mentors, which enables them to create a distinctive grilling style. They take their creations to new heights by embracing the art of experimentation and remaining receptive to novel flavor combinations. As each competition presents unique challenges that call for quick thinking and improvisation, students must also develop adaptability. 

Mentors play a huge role in the success of the students in and out of the BBQ scene. Photo courtesy High School BBQ, Inc.

Through the support from each team’s mentor, aspiring pitmasters develop into top dogs throughout the season, leading young students on a path to grilling mastery using their unique knowledge and love of the grill. These seasoned BBQ experts come from all different walks of life and impart not only fundamental grilling skills but also virtues like cooperation, self-control, and sportsmanship. By imparting their smoky wisdom, they introduce teens to the welcoming BBQ culture by offering advice and support while creating enduring bonds with their mentees. Consequently, these team bonds cultivate a love for BBQ that goes beyond the competition grounds as part of their mentoring, transforming students into grill aficionados for life.

Competition, Camaraderie, and Community

On competition days, the rules set the stage for a fair and friendly showdown. All meat must be prepared from scratch on-site, with no pre-marinating or pre-spicing allowed. The cook area, a designated 20′ x 20′ space with no mentors permitted, becomes a culinary battleground where students, like BBQ warriors, wield their grilling skills.

Determined students select their cuts of meat, setting the stage for the competition. Photo courtesy High School BBQ, Inc.

As the clock starts running, cleanliness is essential, with the head judge inspecting each team’s cooking area for sanitary conditions. The anticipation grows as the scheduled turn-in times approach. Desserts at 10 am, beans at 11 am, chicken at noon, ribs at 1:30 pm, and brisket at 3 pm. In the midst of the sizzle and smoke, the students balance their stress with a little bit of fun during breaks throughout the day, playing yard games like cornhole with peers from other teams and taking some time to bond, sharing not only grilling secrets but also tall tales of BBQ triumphs and tribulations. 

Judges go from palette cleansers to BBQ as they go through the difficult job of ranking. Photo courtesy High School BBQ, Inc.

Back at the judging tables, six seasoned BBQ enthusiasts evaluate each entry’s appearance, taste, and texture. The double-blind judging system ensures anonymity, resulting in a level playing field in which each dish is judged solely on its merits. Rightfully so, the excitement builds as the judging concludes and the scores are tallied. Nonetheless, the atmosphere is friendly, with students cheering on their opponents as if they were their own teammates. The competition ends with a shared sense of accomplishment and a love for BBQ that transcends winning or losing.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Pitmasters

These high school BBQ competitions not only fire up passion for barbecue throughout their teen years, but also set them on a route to a prosperous career. The considerable scholarships for the top-ranking teams provided by the organization and the famous Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts provide more than simply financial benefits. These competitions provide all with a unique opportunity to network, get significant experience for their professional lives, and learn from their peers. Interactions with industry professionals and those who simply enjoy a good bite broaden students’ views and connect them to a vast network that can lead to future job prospects. 

Students, parents, and mentors, anxiously await results, a mix of hope and anticipation in the crowd. Photo courtesy High School BBQ, Inc.

Beyond the thrill of the grill, these competitions help build a supportive community where young pitmasters find inspiration, mentorship, and a lifelong passion for the art of barbecue. As these young students step into the world beyond high school, they carry with them not only the skills and knowledge gained from these competitions but also the connections and experiences that will continue to shape their journey regardless of where they may find themselves. After all, nothing makes a better friend than someone who can cook up some melt-in-your-mouth brisket.


Diego Cantu is a proud Texan and dedicated Telecommunications student at Texas A&M University, channeling his passion for writing to share with others unique experiences all will love.