MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Morgantown native, Luke Darnell, and his team celebrated 1st place at the American Royal in Kansas City for his barbecue chicken.  

Luke Darnell with the 1st place chicken trophy

Over 490 teams competed at the event which some consider the ‘world series of barbecue’.

Darnell cooks with his wife Kim and his two best friends Leigh Ann and Rick. This was the team’s fifth time competing in the American Royal and their first time winning.  

“When they got to first place chicken, we hadn’t heard our name yet,” Darnell said. “We knew it was good, but with 490 teams you really don’t know. It takes a lot of degree of luck, and I kind of had this feeling. And then, when they said our name, all of our friends around us exploded with joy, and it took us three minutes to get up to the stage with all the hugs and handshakes and high fives.” 

They use Springer Mountain Farms chicken thighs from Georgia. Darnell trims them to all be the same size. Then Kim takes them to the smoker for more than an hour. Once cooked, they sauce it with Blues Hog barbecue sauce, put it back on the cooker for a little bit, then it gets boxed up. Darnell said they wouldn’t be where they are without his wife who makes the chicken look beautiful in the box.  

The Darnell team’s 1st place chicken

The pitmaster and team also recently competed and won the Country Roads Barbecue Clash in Morgantown that was put on by the Hoss Foundation.   

“Being able to win that event and then to have it propel us into these different competitions, it really means a lot to me because I think it can give a spotlight to some of the things that are going on in West Virginia, and that’s home,” Darnell said.  

Luke Darnell and his barbecuing team

Darnell started barbecuing as a child with his father in Westover. Darnell remembered when his father and boxing celebrity Pat Mahe would cook a whole hog “island style” together. From there, he learned more cooking tricks from his parents and eventually entered barbecuing competitions.   

Darnell and his team are gearing up to compete in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in October.  

“To be able to go to the Jack Daniel’s World Championship and represent not only Virginia where I live now but also West Virginia where I’m from, it’s the biggest honor I could ever hope for,” Darnell said.