Sylvie Curry knows a thing or two about grilling. For the past 17 years, she’s been competing in barbecue competitions across the country, wowing judges with her mouthwatering grilled masterpieces. Known as the “Lady of Q,” the award-winning pit master has perfected her craft and made a name for herself while doing so.

Talented and seasoned in the culinary arts, one might assume Curry has been cooking all her life. However, she says she did not develop a love for cooking until after she got married and had children. 

“I learned to cook by watching cooking shows on PBS and Food Network in addition to cookbooks,” Curry shares with EBONY. “Trial and error with the enthusiasm to try new things. Early on, I remember my husband saying, ‘Please stop experimenting on me.’ Eventually, he was okay with most anything I cooked.”

The barbecue pro started out with backyard grilling of simple proteins like burgers, hot dogs, steaks and the occasional rack of ribs. In the early 2000s, she started a food blog highlighting her restaurant adventures and food she had prepared. In one post, she shared a photo of her grilling some spare ribs. This prompted another food blogger to contact her to see if she was interested in starting a barbecue team with two others. 

“Until then, I had no clue what was involved in competition BBQ. This was 2006 and there was no YouTube or competition level classes. Just a couple of BBQ forums online. We formed a team called Four Q, competed in our first competition one month after, and I’m still doing it 17 years later.”

Award-winning pit master Sylvie Curry. Image: Courtesy of Curry.

Since she began, Curry has competed in nearly a couple hundred competitions, including the American Royal and the World Food Championships. She also appeared on season one of Netflix’s "American Barbecue Showdown". Her favorite part of competing, though, is neither the accolades nor the recognition. 

“What I enjoy the most are the people we meet from all walks of life who also share the love of smoking/grilling and the competition. I love to cook just about anything, from Southern style soul food to an array of international cuisines. My husband does a lot of recreational deep sea fishing, so I cook a lot of fish. In competition, my favorite thing is brisket.”

Want to throw down on the grill like Sylvie Curry? Here are some of the Lady of Q’s top tips for achieving the best barbecued meats:

  1. Patience is key. Meat is done when it is done. 
  2. Fire management is very important. You have to learn to run a clean fire, which is achieved when air flow around the fire is adequate with proper venting. Dirty smoke will give your food a bitter taste.
  3. When grilling, always have a direct fireside (hot side of the grill) and an indirect side (cooler side with no fire source under the grate). This is important, especially when grilling something like chicken. The indirect side allows you to cook the chicken all the way through, while the direct allows you to get color and some char. 
  4. Invest in a meat temperature probe. It can be used to tell you what temperature your meat is, and for meats like brisket and pork shoulder, the probe can be used to tell if you have reached tenderness. 
  5. Season your meat (to your taste). Salt and pepper are your friends. Fancy competition rubs are great but often expensive. Go online for a recipe for a simple BBQ rub to blend yourself. They usually contain salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne and chili powder.
  6. Your local grocery store or big box stores are just fine for purchasing meats for backyard grilling or smoking. In competition, we invest a bit more in high-end meat products.
  7. Wondering what woods are good for smoking? There are regional differences in selecting cooking woods. I use primarily pecan and cherry for competition. I can’t suggest a wood for you, but I do not recommend mesquite, as it can be quite harsh for those not familiar with how to use it. 
  8. I recommend not using fire starter fuel. It can give an off flavor to your meat if not burnt off completely before cooking. There are a good deal of paraffin type cubes and tumbleweeds which work very well to light your charcoal.
  9. When it comes to lump versus briquette charcoal–your choice, it doesn’t really matter for backyard cooking.
  10. Do not sauce your meat until it is nearly ready to pull off the fire. Most BBQ sauces have sugar in them, and that sugar can easily burn.