A high school Football, Track and Basketball Coach in Oklahoma, then Arkansas, over the course of forty years and many Prize Winning BBQ competitions in between, eventually led Jim Sposato to another winning career: Coach Sposato’s Bar-B-Q Sauce. With a strong desire to see how his BBQ played out among other contestants in the BBQ world, Coach Sposato had his eye on the winning prize. One particular evening foresaw his fate, weekly football game over, and game related ends tied up, afterward, Coach then loaded up his car and headed off to Holiday Island in Eureka Springs Arkansas arriving at two in the morning to enter his BBQ Ribs and BBQ Chicken in the competition early the following day. On first try, Coach landed a 5th Place Ribbon in the BBQ Ribs portion and a 4th Place Ribbon in the BBQ Chicken portion. The Holiday Island BBQ contest was the beginning of many ribbons and trophies that Coach Sposato would fill his home with in the years ahead.
The second of twelve children, Jim grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma in a home where his first generation Italian immigrant father would annually host a very large BBQ for family and friends to celebrate his birthday each year. “Even though I learned to cook from my Mom” said Coach “I used to help out my Dad with the BBQ and I really grew to like grilling a lot.” “Then as an adult I belonged to the Kiwanis Club and after the meetings a bunch of us guys would then grill up our dinner. I had a close buddy and he and I were very competitive from everything to predicting sports games to the weather and I guess that then kind of grew into a grilling competition.”
In 1991, Coach Sposato then began participating in about fifteen to twenty Grilling competitions each year. “Every part of the country is different but in the mid-west there are grilling contests everywhere, sometimes 2 or 3 in a weekend.” He said. In 1992 while watching the local farm report television station there was an advertisement for the World Pork Expo Grilling Contest that would be in Des Moine, Iowa the following year. Coach explained that the Pork Expo event rotated between Des Moine and Indianapolis, Indiana. “When I saw that announcement I just knew right then I wanted to be in that competition.” Sposato said. “I was looking for a sponsor, and Kingfisher Kookers was looking for a sponsor advertising for their smokers.” A deal was struck that would continue for years ahead, and yes, Coach did get to keep the smoker with the rotating shelves and he says that he still has that grill today.
At the World Pork Expo competition, Coach cooked an eighty pound whole hog and separately, Pork Loin, Shoulder and Ribs. Categories judged and points awarded then combined for a winning total number of points, the First Place Winner out of ninety contestants that year, of course awarded to Coach Jim Sposato.
Coach Sposato also lived in the rural northwest section of Arkansas the land of lots of Angus, and the home of Tyson Chicken who had also expanded into other meat areas. In time, Tyson also became a sponsor for Jim Sposato providing both chicken and hog used at the competitions and paying the entry fees with a split in prize monies awarded. “I had six young children at the time,” said Jim “so the sponsorships really worked for me. I was into the contests for the grilling competition and the companies knew I was clean living and serious representing what I did so it worked well all the way around.”
After a few years on the grilling competition circuit, Coach Sposato was not very pleased with the BBQ sauce that he was using in his competitions. “One night I got to messing around in the kitchen making my own Bar-B-Q sauce. I had an idea of what I wanted to put into it and I recorded everything as I was making it and it turned out really good.” He said. Next, Coach entered his Bar-B-Q sauce into the Kansas City BBQ Society Contest, the KCBS competition, and came home with the Blue Ribbon Prize. From there Coach began canning the sauce at home and taking it into the high school where he worked and selling it to the teachers. It went over so well that eventually Coach decided to bottle the sauce at a site, now at the House of Webster, which also bottles varieties of Smucker’s brand products.
Today in between catering Bar-B-Q events for churches and various charitable organizations, Jim and his wife Helen also breed calves on their 63 acres of land with eight Scottish Highland Cattle in Arkansas between Evansville and Morrow. Coach continues his annual tradition begun through the Catholic Campus Ministries while his son attended the University of Arkansas. “That was a time when the dormitories did not serve meals on Sundays, so a couple of times a year, after the Mass, I would host a big Bar-B-Q for all of the kids.” Jim said. Each year he and Helen still cater a special event following ‘The Mass on the Grass’ the celebration of Mass by the Bishop of the Little Rock Diocese. Afterward, Jim provides a big Bar-B-Q meal for over two hundred university students at the Pavilion area outside the stadium, naturally served with Coach Sposato’s Bar-B-Q Sauce.
With a great story to share, I’ve meanwhile been hard at work trying out some of Coach Jim Sposato’s Grilling Tips and the recipe for his Baked Beans as a preliminary for the next upcoming Team Family Tailgate. I spent some time yesterday putting together my own spice rub for the ribs and followed Coach Sposato’s tips on rubbing the ribs with olive oil before coating. Using a spray bottle filled with apple juice I also sprayed the ribs throughout the grilling process. The results were quite good. Since the timing of this Post and the next upcoming Team Family Tailgate did not coincide, I scaled down the baked bean recipe using all of the indicated recipe ingredients, including Coach Sposato’s Bar-B-Q Sauce, and simmered the beans for a little over two hours. They are the best baked beans ever! I will be making Coaches recommended Baked Bean recipe amounts for our next event. I think my Rib Rub was a pretty big winner too and so with Coaches grilling tips, and the finishing with Coaches Sauce, my Ribs should also score some winning points at the next Team Family Tailgate. Go Team!!!
You can learn more about Coach Sposato’s Bar-B-Q Sauce here
- 3 Pound Baby Back Rib Slab
- olive oil to coat ribs before rub
- 1 cup Spice Rub (see below)
- 1/2 cup apple juice in a spray bottle
- 3/4 cup Coach Sposato's BBQ Sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons coarse cracked black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
- 2 Tablespoons Paprika
- 3 teaspoons cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- Remove ribs from packaging, clean and dry thoroughly. Remove any membrane skin, oftentimes baby back ribs are already trimmed and ready to proceed. Rub both sides of ribs with olive oil. Coat with Spice Rub, above. Let ribs marinate in spice mixture for an hour or more. Before cooking make sure ribs sit at room temperature for a half to one hour. Pre-heat grill on high for a good ten minutes with the lid closed to bring grill up to a high temperature. Lay ribs first, top side down on grill to create a little sear, no more than one minute, then turn over and sear for another minute. Next, move the slab of ribs to the side of the grill, ribs placed top side up, with no direct heat. Turn the opposite grill burner temperatures down to low and close the lid. Beginning a half hour after grilling begins, spray ribs with apple juice from a spray bottle. Continue grilling ribs about 2 hours until the ribs bend easily without resistance and appear to be easily removed from the bone. In the last 5-7 minutes brush entire top side of ribs with Coach Sposato's Bar-B-Q Sauce and close lid. Remove from grill and let rest for about ten to fifteen minutes.
- Rub Yields approximately one cup, enough for one three to three and a half pound rack of ribs.
- With this recipe I used a gas grill, indirect heat cooking. I have three grill burners so I kept two of these on and cooked the ribs on the side of the grill with no direct heat.