They will tell you "it takes just one taste," and that's just what happened. Bill and Lana, a husband and wife team from Afton, Minnesota, have turned the Barbecue World upside-down. How? With their unique method of Barbecue called "Minnesota Style". Their methods are simple: "slow-cooked, done right, only wood and never boiled."
Underdogs of the Kansas City Barbecue Society competition circuit, Bill and Lana went on to win first place with their Bar-B-Q Sauce and Grand Champion of the prestigious 14th Annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Barbecue Sauce Contest (a journey you can read about below). It's THAT good.
"We believe it is much easier to make a great tasting barbecue sauce if you just cut to the chase and use only the best possible ingredients," say the couple, "and that is just what we do." Each batch uses only premium quality herbs, spices and 100% all natural ingredients. They have eliminated the use of trans fats and MSG and don't add any additional high-fructose corn sweeteners.
They have since expanded their line to include dry marinades, grilling sauces, salad dressings, pasta sauces and more.
An Unlikely Road Traveled
The road to Lynchburg started just over three years before the couple from Afton, Minnesota, Bill and Lana Scanlan ever entered their first barbecue contest. They attended their first barbecue competition in 1999 as onlookers at the American Royal Invitational held the first weekend in October in Kansas City, Missouri. Bill was hooked, but Lana was skeptical. They spent the next two years learning all they could about barbecue, something people from the south take for granted. It included traveling throughout the barbecue belt, eating, sampling and observing. They even had the opportunity to meet many of the legends in the world of barbecue along the way. The "secret" they came away with is barbeque is not just a cooking method or type of food, but a way of life. It's America's food, something to be shared with friends and family, and never hurried.
Their home became their test kitchen. Finally in 2002, satisfied with what they had, it was time to put it to the test. No, not the more familiar method of seeking approval of friends and family, but rather the toughest test for barbecue, the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) competition circuit. These are not the more publicized rib fests. These are well-organized, highly competitive, high stake contests. All are blind judged by true barbeque aficionados. Most teams that compete attend 10 to 20 contests a year and don't travel more than 75 miles from home. Some have full or partial corporate sponsorship. Not Bill and Lana, also known as Wee Willy's Barbecue. They traveled over 5000 miles to compete in just 6 contests this year and they did it without any outside financial support.
The competition season started for Wee Willy's Bar-B-Q in May at the Minnesota State Barbecue Championship with a tenth place overall finish. The next stop was Marshalltown, Iowa, at the Iowa State BBQ Championship in June and a sixth place overall finish. With confidence building and about six weeks remaining to win a state championship and thus qualify for the American Royal and Jack Daniel's Invitational, they headed off for Columbia, Missouri. They came up just short with a Reserve Grand Champion (2nd place). First place went to a Texas team, Smokin Triggers, which had won the Jack Daniel's Invitational in 2000 and is one of the top teams in the competition circuit.
So close to their preseason goal, Bill and Lana agreed to try one last time. The following week was the Lynch Livestock Pig Stampede in Waucoma, Iowa, a contest they went to several years ago as onlookers. Wee Willy's Bar-B-Q came home with a Grand Champion, but most of all, they were qualified for the invitational contests, The American Royal and the Jack Daniel's. As an added bonus they also qualified for the "Butt to Butt Invitational" held in Shannon, Illinois. In July 2003, Wee Willy's went on to win the Butt to Butt that year.
After winning the Lynch Livestock Pig Stampede State Championship, it was time to return to the place where it had all started just three years earlier, the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City, Missouri. This time Wee Willy's Bar-B-Q was no longer an onlooker and set out to take on seventy other champion barbecue teams. No easy task! They came home with a seventh place ribbon in the chicken category. Not bad for a rookie barbecue team from Minnesota. Less than two weeks after The American Royal, it was time to pack up for their 17-hour, 930-mile voyage to Lynchburg, Tennessee, and the home of the 14th Annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue. It doesn't get any bigger!
It was only fitting that as the truck and trailer were packed in Minnesota, the temperature was around 30 degrees and flurries were in the air. A 17-hour drive over two days leaves a lot of time to talk and ponder over what it was going to take to cook with the "Big Dogs". The "Big Dogs" is what Lana calls the veteran barbecue teams, as the majority of these teams were. Wee Willy's game plan was simple: Do everything as they had all year, change nothing, and let the judges come to them, they were not going to the judges. Other teams will try to adapt their barbecue to the regional taste of the judges, but Wee Willy's Bar-B-Q stayed true to what got them to Lynchburg. And the pay off? First place with their Bar-B-Q Sauce and Grand Champion of the 14th Annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Wee Willy's Bar-B-Q is not only the first team from Minnesota to win, but also the first team north of Kansas City and the first team from outside of the barbecue belt to win The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue. It was a perfect ending to a Cinderella story. "World Champion" and yes, Lana is now hooked!
Bill and Lana have accomplished more than they could have ever dreamed of in their first three years of competition. They have been fortunate enough to win over 60 awards in only 25 contests, no easy task. Even with all of their success there is still a drive to succeed, compete and continue to develop their ideas. There's no doubt that Bill and Lana have done their homework and have beaten the odds. What they're most proud of is that they did it their own way, without compromise, without exception.