The group hitched up a smoker the size of a small locomotive that was created by a welder friend and took their show on the road, wheeling the giant grill into Nelsonville, Ohio, for the Ohio Smoked Meat & Barbeque Festival. They entered every category they could—brisket, pulled pork, chicken, ribs, fish and dessert—and fired up the coals. They didn’t win anything, but the experience was so great they were hooked.
That was in 1998. They’ve been back every year since except once, staying up all Friday night smoking tough beef and pork into melt-in-your mouth delicacies laced with sweet, spicy sauce. They have notched some wins along the way, too, including two first places for ribs and dessert and a second place for smoked salmon. They expanded their smokin’ to contests in the barbeque capital of the nation, Kansas City, as well as Blue Ash, Ohio, and Madison, Ind., their favorite site on the Ohio River.
They’ve also picked up a nickname for the team—the Smokin’ Elvises—and are now accompanied by a life-sized Elvis cardboard cutout and an occasional visit from a friend dressed up like the King.
“It kind of took on a life of its own,” Donnellon says. “We like to barbeque, and we thought of the name because we all like Elvis. Memphis is like a barbeque mecca, and I’m a real Elvis fan. Isn’t everybody?”