The ribs, chickens and Boston butts Tony Rhoden smokes are seasoned with something special. It’s a mixture of passion and family tradition.
Rhoden often cooks hundreds of pounds of meat for area churches and school organizations to sell. When he does, he is usually assisted by stepsons Tanner and Dylan King, who are 16 and 19, respectively.
“The time we spend together is quality time,” Rhoden said while keeping a watchful eye on 15 chickens and 10 racks of ribs cooking in the shade of some large pines in the front yard of his Benton Road home.
Thanks to Rhoden’s tutoring, the King boys have substantial barbecue knowledge.
“They know what that heat has to be,” said Rhoden, who learned a lot from his brother Buddy. “It’s got to be between 200 and 250 (degrees). If it isn’t right, they come running.
“They’ve got it down now, though. They can up the temperature or drop the temperature by working the damper.”
The boys appreciate the opportunity to lend a hand to the operation.
“I like helping him out any way I can,” Dylan King said. “As I get older, hopefully I will be doing this as well.”
Word travels fast when Rhoden and the boys fire up the smoker, especially during the holiday season
“We have people all over the neighborhood ask us to throw stuff on for them,” Rhoden said. “We enjoy doing that, too. We just enjoy helping other people.”
Rhoden has prepared food for as many as 200 people. He cooked for 122 for an Easter gathering at his home.
“When people get together, I love to see that,” he said.
Rhoden, a First Newark Baptist Church member, admitted to being a bit apprehensive the first time he was asked to cook large quantities of meat. That’s not the case anymore.
“I look forward to doing it,” he said.
The commercially built smoker Rhoden uses these days had been used once when he bought it six months ago. He personalized it with a red University of Georgia “G.” It also sports the logo of Holy Smoke BBQ, a business he is on the verge of starting.
“If I want to get out and go public, I have to have a business license. I am in the process of doing that,” Rhoden said. “You don’t have to have a license to cook for churches.”
Rhoden is in the process of constructing his own smoker out of a 250-gallon propane tank. It will be mounted on a trailer.
“I hope to have it ready in a couple of months so I can cook what I want to cook,” he said
The first smoker Rhoden used was built from a 55-gallon drum. He made it while a member of Lenoris Abrams’ vocational agriculture class at Central High School in 1982.
Rhoden has harbored dreams of owning his own restaurant for the last four or five years. His wife Lynn showed her support for the idea by having Holy Smoke t-shirts designed. She and their children greeted him on Valentine’s Day while wearing the shirts that featured a logo designed by their friend Aaron Stolarik.
“People ask me why I don’t do it,” he said. “I’ve always said if God opens that window or opens that door, I’ll do it. I’ve got the smokers, so if God opens that door — I want to be there.”
Rhoden is in the process of developing his own barbecue sauces.
“The boys and I were talking about that a while ago,” Rhoden said. “If I have my own place, I want to have our own barbecue, too.”
Rhoden already uses his own seasonings.
“There’s about eight or 10 spices in there. As a matter of fact, I just told the boys what’s in it. I’m going to have to kill them now,” he joked.
Rhoden and the boys get barbecue tips while watching “BBQ Pitmasters” together. They also enjoy hunting and fishing as a group.
On April 12, Rhoden will compete in the First Newark Baptist Church Cookoff. Proceeds from the event at the church at 225 Russell Road will go to Compassion to the Nations, a locally based missions organization.
In addition to competing for prizes, First Newark Baptist Church Cookoff participants will be allowed to sell their barbecue chicken and/or pork. The church is requesting that 10 percent of the proceeds be donated to Compassion to the Nations.
Suggested prices are samples ($1), sandwiches ($3) and plates with sides ($5).
“I don’t care if I win nothing,” Rhoden said. “I just want to cook. I just want to enjoy it.
“I’m looking forward to it. As long as I see somebody eating it and enjoying it, that’s all I need.”
For more information about the cookoff, call (229) 228-1418.