Summer is here and it’s prime time for all those grill masters across the country who will find any reason to cook outdoors. These barons of the barbeque take their grilling seriously and there’s no better group representative of this spirit than the Naheola Pride Cooking Team, a competitive cooking group based out of Georgia-Pacific’s Naheola mill in Pennington, Ala.
The 10-person team serves as ambassadors for the mill during cooking competitions, community activities, and at special events, preparing mouthwatering barbeque staples including pork, chicken, ribs, beans and corn.
So far this year, the team served more than 700 employees during company-supported events, such as their CEO Safety Excellence Award ceremony.
Team member Tony Jackson, a mechanic in the maintenance department who has worked at Naheola Mill for 29 years, explains how the cooking team was started.
“Our first cooking competition was the ButlerFest Memphis-in-May sanctioned cook-off in 2004. Bobby Davis, a retired electrician and one of the original team members, was asked by mill management to put a team together because of another successful cooking team he led in Demopolis, Ala.,” said Jackson. “Under Bobby’s leadership, we won first place in the whole hog category.”
In addition to participating in competitions, the Naheola Pride Cooking Team used their culinary talents in support of critical humanitarian projects. In 2005, the team traveled to Waveland and Diamondhead in Mississippi to provide hot meals to approximately 200 volunteers assisting during the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.
Since the team began almost 10 years ago, it has had consistently strong showings at various competitions across Alabama and Mississippi. From ButlerFest, to the HamJam Arts Festival and the Battle of Brandon BBQ Challenge Mississippi State Championship, the team has a full trophy case at the mill to prove their meaty might.
For the Naheola Pride Cooking Team, their secret to success is being patient while cooking the meat low and slow, along the lines of 220-240 degrees over several hours, spanning nearly a full-day in many cases.
“We don’t like to rush it and you’re less apt to burn food - you get better flavor through and through the slower you cook it,” says Jackson. “You can cook things like hamburgers, hotdogs, and steak hot and fast. While it’s possible to cook barbeque ribs in two to three hours, that’s not our way of doing it.”
We’ll take their word for it - and a heaping helping of their barbeque on a Dixie® plate any day.