An Insiders Guide to the JD BBQ: An interview with returning Grand Champion Gettin’ Basted

Brad Leighninger (second from the left) and his team, Gettin’ Basted, return to Lynchburg this weekend to defend their title of The Jack Grand Champion. (Photo Courtesy of the Jack Daniel Distillery)

Beyond his team, Gettin’ Basted, holding the title of the 2022 Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue Grand Champion Brad Leighninger is kind of big deal in the world of competitive barbecue. He serves as the pitmaster of his successful team and they continue to rack up (pun intended) the awards. In 2018, they earned the coveted Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) Team of the Year Grand Champion. They placed fourth in the points chase champion in 2019 and then repeated as Team of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

That’s in addition to co-owning a successful line of Missouri restaurants in Branson, Nixa, and Springfield that bare the same name.

He’s cooked at The Jack five times since 2016. In additional to his team’s Grand Champion title last year, Gettin’ Basted won the Pork Category in 2018. The Times recently caught up with Brad and his crew as they headed to Lynchburg this week to defend their title as Grand Champion.

LT: What initially drew you to the world of competitive barbecue? Can you tell us briefly what it takes to get started and how you work up to a competition like The Jack?

Leighninger: I was an athlete in college and very competitive. I’ve always loved to cook and been the designated cook in my family. In southern Missouri, where we live, barbecue is just a way of life. We started watching BBQ Pitmasters on TLC – watching guys like Johnny Trigg and Tuffy Stone – and thought, hey man, we should go do one of these competitions. We signed up for a local competition in Springfield in 2012 and did pretty well. That got us hooked.

As far a preparing for competition, to me, The Jack is like The Masters of barbecue. It’s one of the majors. It’s prestigious. You really prepare for it all year long. The hardest part is trying to get into it. This year, we automatically qualify as the returning Grand Champion, but you can also earn an automatic bid with seven wins in a single season. You’re always looking for events you can cook at that will get you back to Lynchburg.

LT: Competition barbecue team names are a whole vibe. Can you tell us the genesis and origin story of Gettin’ Basted?

Leighninger: We actually did our very first competition under a different team name. It belonged to a friend’s team. He signed up for that Springfield competition and then couldn’t make it so we took his spot. But after we knew we wanted to keep going, we knew we needed our own unique name. We sat down for a brainstorming session. We had several “punny” names but my wife, Sarah, actually came up with the name. As soon as she said it, I said, “Yep, that’s the one.” Now it’s not only the name of our team but also our restaurants and our brand.

LT: I’ve read that for professional barbecue teams competitions are a little like NASCAR races. You could race every weekend. You did almost 50 in 2018 and then decided to cut back. Can you tell us why?

Leighninger: Professional barbecue uses a points chase just like NASCAR. In 2018, I was cooking against a guy from Texas. We were neck and neck all year and crisscrossing the country chasing points. You couldn’t afford to take a week off. He cooked 54 that year and I cooked right around 50. I ended up winning that year and then backed off a little in 2019.

LT: Also when do you normally arrive in Lynchburg? What do you and your crew do during the days leading up to that Saturday?

Leighninger: We’re driving down now (Wednesday) and will arrive in Lynchburg sometime tonight. When we get to town, before it’s time to cook, we play tourist. We’ll definitely hit Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant and take the tour of the Distillery. Friday morning we’ll relax but as Friday afternoon approaches, it’s time to get down to business.

LT: I’ve read that you have a pretty unique approach to cooking barbecue. Your cooking style has been described as “hot and fast” as opposed to slow and low. Can you describe what you do differently and how you discovered the method?

Leighninger: Drum cookers and hot and fast are kind of a new revolution in barbecue. We were on the forefront of it. We started experimenting with it about 10 or 11 years ago. We cook using direct heat right over the top of Missouri hardwood coals, so you get a lot of flavor from the fat dripping on the coals. But it also cooks a lot faster. Barbecuing in general is a harsh environment for meat. The fire is dry and hot. Our philosophy is: the faster we can get it done and get the meat tender and get it off the fire, the better our finished product will be. Six or seven years ago at The Jack, hardly anyone cooked on these barrel cookers. This weekend, probably three quarters of he field will be cooking on them. Some of things that people think they know about barbecue aren’t always true. There are multiple ways to get the meat tender. It’s also more fun, to me. It’s a more active process.

LT: With so much time spent on the road doing barbecue competitions, does your family usually travel with you? Will they be in Lynchburg?

Leighninger: My wife, Sarah, is travelling with me this weekend and she’ll turn in some of the ancillary categories for us like Dessert. We won the Dessert category last year as well. That was a nice surprise. One of my business partners from the restaurant, Tammy Roberts, and her husband, Matt, are with us too. We’ve kind of got a scaled back crew this weekend.

If you’d like to learn more about Leighinger, or his Missouri restaurants, you can visit their website. You can also follow their team on their Facebook page. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}