Out of all the characters on the TLC BBQ Pitmasters show it is her that I relate to most. Her struggles as a Mom, Restaurant owner and competitor resonate with me. Being a female in a male dominated sport is incredibly difficult and challenging. We face a lot of unnecessary comments on our actual abilities. We get questioned and doubted despite our results. Rarely does the hard work get acknowledged by others. However I believe that our focus and determination excels with each challenged faced and ultimately conquered. Garnering respect is an uphill battle.
I would not let her smile, blond hair and demeanour fool you. She doesn’t want your chivalry. Reality is – she really doesn’t need it. She can haul her own pit set up her own site and do it all herself. Behind her beautiful appearance is a sharp, knowledgeable woman who knows how to fiercely compete, and she will do just about anything to beat your ass…
D-How did you learn how to BBQ?
LA-It has been a combination self taught and from my father Jim Tabb . I have competed almost my entire life without my Dad. He’s a great guy. This doesn’t take anything away from how much I love and respect him. However he is not responsible for my competition accomplishments.
D-Favorite thing to cook on a BBQ?
LA-I used to hate to cook brisket and now it’s turned into my favorite now. Because it’s challenging.
It changes with the trends and challenges of whatever category and then it becomes my favourite item. It’s never cooking the same thing the same way. Once you achieve and conquer then you move on to the next category.
D- What’s the farthest you have traveled for a BBQ competition?
LA-Mesquite NV took 4 -12 hour days I don’t think it can get much further than that.
D-How did you like Mesquite?
LA- The weather sucked. It was horrible dry hot and dry. I hate cooking in heat. The event itself was tremendously run. The caliber of teams was great and overall very well organized. If it wasn’t for the trek I would go back.
D- What have been some of the challenges of doing the show?
LA- Aside from the time away – my trailer. I had to get new tires and new brakes just for Mesquite. I had the tires delivered to the site and had to get them on. The trailer is 24 ft long. The pit (jedmaster) weighs a lot. It has a full kitchen with grey water tanks and of course all the rest of the equipment.
Jamie Geer advised me -I think your axles are off with the trailer. It will cost me close to $3000.00 to get it fixed and redone before the next long trek. I knew something was not right. When I am vending I am carrying tons of meat I am filled to the brim. I kept blowing tires. Overall I have had it for 7 years.
D-What are some of the challenges of being female at competitions-?
LA-Being a female I hate asking anyone for help. For example it’s always a challenge backing up my trailer- I mean I will tell them thanks for being a gentleman but let me do it. I refuse to let them do it. I will back it up 50,000 times before I will ask.
D-Why do you think there are so few females in competitive BBQ?
LA-IF you look at these guys. It’s like the guys getting together doing the guy thing. I think a lot of the guys -for them- it’s an excuse to get out. Also I know from the aspect of doing catering and business in itself and it’s a really heavy- lifting dirty job. A lot of women don’t have any desire to do it. Cleaning pits is messy. For the women that are with the men they tend to do the dishes and the boxes. They seem to be content with that.
D-Do you think this show will change the impression of female competitive BBQ’ers?
LA-I don’t really think so. Typically it’s still the guys that come up and discuss BBQ. Women will come up and say go get em’ girl more like a cheerleader.
When I was younger I was begging guys to let me cook with them. Just so I could learn. I have never had a woman come up to me and ask to cook with me. I can’t put my finger on it completely. I just can’t explain it.
I don’t compete a lot but I think that women are more focused. They don’t get as involved in the partying aspect. You have to know better. The guys just sometimes get on the party trek maybe from peer pressure. Maybe it’s the man thing the guys trying to outdo each other with drinks.
I don’t start drinking more than maybe 1 or 2 for the whole night- until its 1:35pm and turn ins are done. Then the tequila can come out. Not before.
I am seriously focused. I’ll tell my staff if we are vending and competing from this time to this time stay the hell out of my way. I don’t mean to be mean and I just want to concentrate and focus. Period. You spend money to be there. You don’t want to screw up.
D- What do you think of some of the comments thrown your way?
LA- It surprises me sometimes what happens. I hear comments that the contests are fixed if I win. That is just a sorry bunch of crap. Its just crap talk.
Maybe they are scared about women winning.
D- Which competition was the most challenging from the series?
LA- Murphysboro was the most difficult. It had different turn in times for KCBS and MIM. It took me 2 hours to work out a time line for it. Myron excells at it. He was the most experienced at that even in MIM. However in KCBS – I did well. They are probably not going to show that. Myron is spectacular on TV. It was an awesome experience. I would do it again for the challenge because I am so competitive. Took me out of my comfort zone.
D- How did you get involved with the show?
LA- I did the Versus show. John Markus called my Dad and got my number or maybe through Carolyn Wells. Also having prior experience with the Food Network they can see I am really serious about BBQ. On my phone even there is a box of sliced brisket instead of my children.
D- How many children do you have?
LA- 2 girls- 19 yr old in college and my 10 yr old who came with me to 3 events. She will be the one that takes over someday. I feel bad sometimes due to the time I am away from them. My photo albums are full of competitions pictures. Not enough pictures of my children. It is very difficult to juggle it all. Being a single mom is hard as heck. I worry about my 19 yr old -with her gone. My youngest will be 11 this year and she comes with me to work. She goes to school then she comes to the restaurant. She is occupied here and I try to get out at a reasonable time. I have to support myself and my family. I have to share the devotion to the business and to them. I live with the guilt every day that I may not be doing enough. My kids are both extremely independent. For my youngest she doesn’t think a whole lot about her Mom being on TV. It’s just her personality. She is really mature. It’s just normal for her.
D- What about your boyfriend Billy? Does he help you?
LA-He (Billy) made it through 5 episodes he became enthralled about competition BBQ but after 3 years we went our separate ways. I won’t say the show had anything to do with it. It was just time.
D- What was your very first pit you took to your first competition?
LA- My first pit was my Dad’s Oklahoma Joe. The first competition was in 1996 competing in a Georgia state competition. At that time I had just been through the judging school. Then I had WSMS along the way.
The big investment was the jedmaster on the trailer in 2002. I was practicing a lot- I did not know how I was going to handle the pit for its first competition in Bel Air Maryland and I ended up getting a RGC.
Over the years I have brought the bullet back in and the Big Green eggs came in due to Billy and its just part of the Artillery.
D- How much meat do you cook for a comp?
LA- I am famous for cooking way too much meat. (she laughs when she says ) Typically for a contest 6-8 butts,2-3 briskets, 16 pieces chicken, 8 racks ribs both backs and spares . I believe in safety in numbers. I have the luxury of bringing it back to the restaurant for my staff to eat.
D- What has been your favorite contest?
LA– Danville VA, is great as well as Chesapeake Jubilee VA because it’s a really nice event and everyone will attest it is really well organized right from the very first year. Well run. Home turf and lots of friends and family that’s what it’s about.
D- What was your favorite part about the series?
LA-Camaraderie -the whole group became so tight. Just like a family. I have this emptiness now a bit because we were really getting to know each other- due to the stress levels and the environment and how hard we all worked. We all hope overall will come out great for BBQ.
I really hope that this brings some of those corporate sponsors in and awareness about what we do. Overall we have become such good friends. No one seemed to be singled out. We were all so different. Plus the crew – Wow they were with us day in and day out. Shooting the last show and going to the goodbye party was difficult. It was really like walking away from family.
One of the nicest things that happened involved Myron Mixon. I have a high respect for him.
I had won in Mesquite 2nd in dessert 2nd in steak. SO here I was with these trophy cutting boards. I thought it would be nice if everyone from the show signed it:
Dear Lee Ann –You are the hardest working woman in BBQ. That meant so much to me. I work so hard and to have it acknowledged is great.
You can also become a Wood Chicks Facebook Fan
John’s Markus article in National Lampoon about Lee Ann