Willis & Earl’s may have been ‘established’ in 2011, but the seeds were planted long before that. Sam started BBQing ribs around 1999 on a small camp-style grill (by small, I mean really freakin small). For a little while, he was the only one who thought they were any good. Luckily, this kept him going. He kept adjusting seasonings and smoke level until he found something that everyone liked. Several years went by and Sam would BBQ ribs here and there continuing to adjust things along the way.
At a family barbecue in 2006 Sam made some of the best ribs ever… this is where Dan’s interest in BBQ was piqued. Of course, like many other things from the past (sports, various jobs etc.) Dan decided to follow in Sam’s footsteps. Dan went right out and picked up the first offset smoker and studied various recipes and techniques (mostly by picking Sam’s brain). Long story short, just about every Barbecue/gathering since then either Sam or Dan were smoking some sort of meat for the masses. These days, Dan can’t get people to come to his house without the guarantee of some pulled pork.
Sam and Dan are both very competitive. Dan also has a neighbor, Diesel, who is competitive and was bit by the BBQ bug around the same time as Dan. Eventually, with all making some damn good at BBQ (and their wives making some seriously excellent Mac n Cheese) the semi-annual Mac N’ Rib off was established. It’s debatable whether or not the Mac N’ Riboff was fueled by the competitive nature of the Ribbers or the Mac’ers. While Sam didn’t compete in the first 2 events, Dan won first place in ribs (so what if the competition was in his own backyard, it still counts!). By the time the 3rd event rolled around in 2010, Sam and Dan had started talking about forming a team to start competing in events outside the protection of their own backyard. They decided to use the 3rd Mac N’ Rib off as competitive grounds for who’s recipes they would use in competition. Both cooked some of the best ribs they had ever made and surely thought they would win. In the end, it was a tie. How is that possible you ask??? Well, the judges were a little tipsy and decided to toss out the votes rather then count them.
Regardless, Sam and Dan continued to talk about joining forces and co mingle recipes. Deciding they needed some extra hands to make their team complete, they called upon 2 of their brothers, Troy and Mike (Mike may not be a Lyford by blood, but he sure can act like one from time to time). Both have various talents of their own which make this team 100% awesome.
In early 2011, they settled on a name for the team: “Willis & Earl’s BBQ”. Willis and Earl are their grandfather’s names. Let’s face it… it sounds a heck of a lot better than Sam and Dan’s! Plus, both Willis and Earl are pretty cool guys in their own rite.