They’re Masters of the Pit … the Barbecue Pit

Maryland septic service professionals Rolfe and Robyn Garrett spend their weekends traveling to competitive outdoor cooking events.
They’re Masters of the Pit … the Barbecue Pit
Garrett gives a demonstration during a whole hog cooking competition.

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Rolfe and Robyn Garrett enjoy new challenges. In 2003 they took on a new challenge professionally when they founded Robyn’s Septic Service. More recently the Forest Hill, Maryland, couple took on the challenge of a new hobby: competitive barbecue.

The couple is known in the barbecue circles throughout the Southeast as Rockin’ Robyn’s Competition BBQ Team. They compete in at least a dozen Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned events each summer and are frequently top finishers in the society’s four meat categories as well as overall. In KCBS competitions, every team must provide an entry in the categories of beef brisket, pork, ribs and chicken.

“When we go into something, we go into it all the way,” Rolfe Garrett says. “We immersed ourselves in reading and studying and did a lot of research on the Internet. We made a lot of mistakes at our first contests, but we learned from our mistakes.”

The Garretts took the same approach when he transitioned from the automotive industry to the liquid waste business, studying the industry and learning from experience what would make them successful.

“Our business model has evolved, with the bulk of our business now in the consulting and inspection areas,” Garrett says. “We still have a thriving pumping operation and continue to perform repairs and installations. Plus we have become one of the leaders in our area for real estate transfer inspections and provide training classes to real estate professionals.”

After 13 years, Garrett says he and Robyn still love the business and are happy they work together every day – so happy they had no qualms about spending even more time together by hitting the road and traveling to barbecue competitions together on weekends.
Officially, Garrett’s title is pit master. His brothers, Randy and Rodney, round out the team as operations manager and head of security. Robyn is the assistant cook and team manager.

For a typical weekend competition, teams arrive and set up on Friday morning. They start cooking beef brisket and pork on Friday evening and it cooks throughout the night. On Saturday they cook the ribs and chicken.

“We’ll leave late on Thursday in order to be at the competition on Friday morning,” Garrett says. “We set up and do the trimming of our meat so we can start cooking Friday night at 10 p.m.”

Sleep is not a priority on contest weekends, but the Garretts do try to get a bit of shut-eye.

“We designed it so we have a queen-size AeroBed (air mattress) in the front of our trailer,” Garrett says. “A lot of people sleep outside in cots or in chairs, but I’m not going to let my bride sleep like that.”

After about four hours of sleep, the Garretts get up and get cooking again.

“Part of the fun and challenge is to manage the cook overnight,” he says.

The trailer the Garretts take to competitions was added to their corral of equipment that includes a Ford F-800 vacuum truck with 2,400-gallon tank and Harben jetter from Abernethy Welding & Repair, two General Pipe Cleaners portable jetters, UEMSI pipe camera system and a Prototek locating system.

Garrett says the trailer was designed and built specifically to meet all their needs when they are at a competition. In addition to the bed, there is a table and cabinets to store barbecuing supplies, and room for the cookers during transport.

“We cook on Weber Smokey Mountain Cookers,” he says. “It’s a cooker you can buy at Home Depot – nothing fancy.”

For the low, slow cooking of the pork and brisket, the Rockin’ Robyn’s team uses a Backwoods Smoker.

Garrett says some teams come to the competitions with much pricier equipment than he and Robyn, but he’s satisfied with his team’s setup.

“We’ve developed such an accuracy with our equipment we’re reluctant to change,” Garrett says. “It’s the cook, not the cookers.”

Garrett says in competitive cooking, timing is everything.

“Over the years we’ve developed a regimented way of doing things,” Garrett says. “Everything has to be timed perfectly for the predetermined meat turn-in times early Saturday afternoon.”

Turn-in and judging are followed by an awards ceremony, as teams are competing for trophies as well as cash prizes. And while it’s nice to win, the Garretts won’t be leaving the pumping business any time soon. It is, however, the nature of that business that allows them to pursue their hobby.

"Sometimes Robyn gets the sauce going during the week between answering business phone calls,” he says. “These contests would be difficult for people with regular full-time jobs. You need the flexibility you have with owning a business.”

While the judges only taste a small portion of the meat that is cooked at a competition, the food doesn’t go to waste. In fact, lots of people, including their customers and business contacts, benefit from the Garretts’ barbecue passion.

“We feed everybody. … We pass it around,” Garrett says. “Sourcing good meat takes a lot of time and it’s a huge expense, but it’s worth it because so many people enjoy it.”

Sometimes – especially during football season – the Garretts share their barbecued bounty with family and friends. Other times they give it to people they don’t even know.

“We love to send to a veterans home in the area, so it’s doing some good for people,” Garrett says.

Because inspection and repair has become the Garretts’ niche in the septic industry, they work with a lot of Realtors.

“Realtors know we do this and are happy to work around our schedule during the competition season,” Garrett says. “So when we do real estate training sessions, we’ll bring a barbecue lunch for them. We use our hobby to treat our customers.”

The competitive barbecue season starts in early to mid-April and goes through the end of October. The Garretts participate in a contest every three or four weeks during the season.

“We did 16 contests in 2015,” Garrett says. “That’s the most we’ve ever done, but once you get the bug, you want to do more each year.”

The highlight of the 2015 season for Rockin’ Robyn’s Competition BBQ Team was the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour Finals in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“We had a great cook, coming in 21st out of 50 among the best in the country, and we took seventh place in the brisket category,” Garrett says of the October event. “We were very proud of our first trip to a national event. The competition was extremely skilled, so we felt we did a great job.”

Garrett says while he and Robyn have won their share of prizes, what they’ve really gained is a lot of friends.

“It’s a very, very strong community even though it’s a competition,” Garrett says. “It’s not antagonistic or cutthroat; the only thing that makes us happier than winning is seeing our friends win. When someone does well, the other people who do it know how hard it was. We try to be a mentor and help other folks do well.”


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