Spirits in the Holler: Three time Jack winner Tuffy Stone and Cool Smoke will compete in honor of his father this year

Tuffy Stone and his father, George, pose at a recent Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. George passed in 2020 and Tuffy and his team, Cool Smoke, will compete this year in his honor. (Photo Provided)

Barbecue isn’t just food here in the South; it’s a religion. It’s good conversations over smoke and two fingers of good whiskey. It’s family reunions, Saturdays cheering on your favorite team, and Sunday dinners. And to Virginia native and team leader of the three time winner of The Jack, Cool Smoke, this year, it will also a bit of a special occasion.

Light a fire in his dad’s honor

This year, Tuffy will roll into Lynchburg on Thursday without his key influence and lifelong cooking partner his dad, George Stone, who passed away in 2020. The last time Tuffy cooked with his dad was at the 2019 Jack Daniel’s World Invitational.

“COVID’s been tough on my industry so I started doing these Sunday suppers at my restaurant. When I went to light the pit, I realized those ashes were from the last time I got to cook with dad in Lynchburg at The Jack,” Tuffy says.

His dad traditionally ran the fire pit for the Cool Smoke team and his contributions were innumerable, according to Tuffy. This year his father’s brothers — Tuffy’s three uncles Mike, Dick, and Bob — will attend the Barbecue with Tuffy and continue the tradition of playing cribbage near the pit.

“Coming to the Holler this year will be a tribute to my dad,” Tuffy says. “We didn’t get to have a funeral for him because of COVID, so this will be our way of celebrating his life and honoring him.”

Tuffy says his dad would get up at 2 a.m. on competition morning to light the fire and then put the meat on at 3 a.m.

“I wouldn’t get up until around 5 a.m. and he’d have the coffee ready,” he said. “He was the night pit guy.”

Tuffy says said his father loved the people of Lynchburg and burst with pride every time they got a win here.

“He always sent our results in an email to everyone in his office and iced down the leftover meat to take into work the next day for his co-workers,” Tuffy said.

Tuffy’s science of smoke

Tuffy Stone has been cooking for a living since 1980’s. He’s a former Marine and French-trained chef who turned to pit barbecuing in 2004 after becoming temporarily disillusioned with the world of professional cooking.

In addition to his three Jack Daniel’s Barbecue wins, Stone and Cool Smoke have won a total of six world championship including Memphis in May, the American Royal Invitational, and the American Royal Open. He’s a well recognized master in his craft who’s been nicknamed “The Professor” because he loves to talk about the science of cooking with fire.

And there’s as much art as science in his approach to competitive barbecue cooking. Tuffy says he starts with good knives, a clean pit, fresh rub, and good wood. To Tuffy, good wood means smaller, hand-cut pieces meant to burn clean. He runs a small fire on purpose because he believes the more the fire can breathe the better the smoke tastes.

“World Championship barbecuer John Willingham said in one of his books that smoke is dirt,” Tuffy said. “He went on to say: We’re not smoking. We’re cooking. That resonated with me.”

Tuffy says he treats smoke like a seasoning like salt or pepper

“I want the meat to be tasted and I want the smoke, rub, and sauce to be the backdrop flavors that compliment that meat.”

A glimpse of American

Tuffy’s barbecued professionally all over the U.S. and even abroad in places like Kuwait and Brazil and he says to him coming to Lynchburg is one of the most beautiful places he visits.

“It’s like a slice of Americana. The people of Lynchburg, eating breakfast on the Square each morning, having lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s, the awards ceremony … it’s just all exciting,” he says.

Tuffy — like all The Jack competitors — is super friendly and approachable Thursday and Friday as well as Saturday after 2 p.m. when all the turn ins are complete but he admits competition days can be intense.

“I get really focused the day of the Barbecue,” Tuffy says. “There are certain times when it’s go time. Thursdays are kind of chill and then Friday is the Parade of Teams, but as it rolls into Friday night, things get serious.”

Tuffy says his rituals and check list keep him focused and he stays locked in until after the chicken turn in.

This weekend, Cool Smoke will set up in their usual spot near the Mulberry Creek with the fall leaves beginning to pop against a local barrel house in the background. The air will smell like sour mash and wood smoke. He’ll set up a cribbage game near the pit and let the memories of his dad flood in.

“We’re gonna light the fire and remember dad and know that he’s up there making sure we’re doing it right.” •

Written by Tabitha Evans Moore | Editor and Publisher

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}