Pit Master Profile: Stephanie Wilson

 All photos by Emily Bordner.

All photos by Emily Bordner.

Kansas City is indisputably proud of its barbecue. Barbecue is an integral part of the fabric that makes KC what it is.  We recently had the opportunity to meet with one of KC’s many pit masters, Stephanie Wilson, co-owner and grill master for The Slabs, who has cooked in hundreds of contests.  Most recently she represented Kansas City in the season finale of Chopped Grill Masters on Food Network.  We visited her and her “Slab Bus” in Excelsior Springs as she prepared for the 18th Annual “BBQ on the River” event.

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Wilson’s brother, Tom, and her cousin, Josh, established The Slabs under the name Tom and Josh’s Orgasmic Slabs. She then took over leading the team and modified the name twenty years ago, after Tom’s passing, to carry on his legacy.  Stephanie and her siblings initially grew up in the inner city before moving to Raytown. They learned the art of cooking and hosting from their parents. Her father worked as a racing promoter and her mother enjoyed being the social hub of everyone they knew.  Stephanie states, “My mom was smoking meats before it was cool.” Stephanie spoke fondly, multiple times, of her mother’s rump roast. Their team has continued to remain within the family. Her sister, Val, was also there for the duration of the visit assisting with every step of preparation for the competition.  Stephanie confirms she couldn’t do it without her. Her son, Brent, grew up in this food-loving and sharing community and went on to win competitions and create his own team.

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The Slabs has participated in the American Royal for twenty-three years and can be found there again this year.  This is one of nearly thirty competitions they enter each year. They consistently place in the top ranks at competitions and have won first place a total of four times, as evidenced by the four pigs painted on the side of their competition bus.

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Stephanie was without a doubt one of the biggest personalities we’ve encountered.  She was extremely fun and excited to share her stories and experiences with us. She was welcoming and included us in her private party with friends and her other competitors.  We got to see her in her true element as she grilled dozens of burgers, with tunes blasting out of her converted bus. She made time to greet friends, answer questions, crack jokes, and hand out beers simultaneously.  She was epically entertaining to be around.

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Sadly, we weren’t able to try any of her barbecue as this was the Friday night before the competition.  She had prepared all the meats and stated she would be sleeping on the floor of her bus that night. All so she could get up again at midnight, to get her smoker going and start cooking the meats around one in the morning.  Then she’d have the day of competition, sharing bites with this tight knit community, as well as “Lucky Shots.” Partaking in these shots assists with the process we learned. And I quote, “You can’t get lucky if you don’t have liquor!!”

The Slabs also makes a variety of barbecue accessories available for purchase.  They offer three different kinds of rubs, a glaze, and a barbecue sauce. They come in “backyard” combo packs or larger, “competitor,” portions.  You can find them online at theslabs.com, or at roughly a dozen locations around Kansas City. All locations can also be found there as well.

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Lastly, due to her meat consuming expertise we asked her for a couple recommendations around town.  For barbecue, she said we had to check out Slap’s BBQ over in Kansas City, KS. Particularly, their Mike Johnson sandwich.  For burgers, she said to check out Beerded Man’s Kitchen in North KC. She said the pork belly burgers and fries are a must.  Definitely going to check those out! If Stephanie’s boisterous enthusiasm for life, community, and food is any indication, I bet they’re great.