With a little nudge, Bill Heyen went from backyard barbecuer to a barbecue grand champion.

The Gillespie resident often cooked at home for friends and family and was always rustling up some barbecue on camping trips.

“I was just cooking here at home and while camping and a friend put on a rib cookoff and wanted me to compete,” Heyen said from his shop in Macoupin County, where he’s vice president of the county Farm Bureau.

“I shouldn’t of done that because now I got hooked,” he said, adding he’s been competing since 2016 as Triple H BBQ, but it wasn’t until three years ago he ramped up his game.

A room in his shop is lined with ribbons and trophies — some 3 feet tall — but his most treasured trophy sits in his home. In September, Triple H BBQ won grand champion of the American Royal World Series of Barbecue invitational at the Kansas Speedway. Triple H qualified by winning a grand championship in March at the Sip & Swine BBQ Festival in Lawrenceville, Ga.

As he and his wife, Andrea, listened to the top 20 winners’ names being read at the American Royal, Heyen said he was dizzy with anticipation.

“My stomach was turning and it was all I could do from passing out,” he recalled. “We knew we turned in good food like we do every time, but to win, that was big.”

More than 180 teams were invited to the competition, which entailed tournaments for chicken, ribs, pork butt and brisket with the total scores from all the contests determining the winners. As grand champion, Heyen received a cash prize and trophy, as well as bragging rights.

A winning plate of barbecue, in Heyen’s opinion, is not about any particular rub or sauce.

“It comes down to a feel, a visual, a smell, not a temp. It’s not any particular rub or sauce ... it’s got to taste good, but it’s more of a tenderness contest,” Heyen said, adding he uses commercial rubs and sauces and smokes his meat with pecan wood. Bagley Farms Meat Market in Edwardsville supplies his meat, and he’s also sponsored by SmokinGhost BBQ and Heavy Smoke BBQ.

Gillespie farmer crowned barbecue grand champion

Triple H BBQ has several sponsors, including Bagley Farms Meat Market in Edwardsville. Edward Bagley (left) of the meat market said he’s proud of their recent win at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue Invitational and enjoys watching Bill compete. Visit FarmWeekNow.com/video to watch a video featuring Heyen. (Photo by Tammie Sloup)

Triple H started with Heyen, his wife and father-in-law, Pat Hill, and stands for Heyen, Heyen and Hill. But now just he and his wife make up the team. While Bill handles much of the cooking, Andrea is an essential part of the team, overseeing inventory leading up to competitions and other tasks.

“I do the meat trimming, getting the smokers ready, but on competition day we’re both in it 100%,” Heyen said. “We kind of have our jobs but if something happens where one of us falls down and breaks an arm the other one can jump in.”

While “low and slow” is the cooking method for some barbecue enthusiasts, Heyen said he prefers “hot and fast.” During competitions, this ensures he can get a good night’s sleep while other contestants are up all night cooking.

For those hoping to grab a plateful of Triple H barbecue, you won’t find a brick and mortar operation, or even a food truck.

“I have no desire to get into that,” Heyen said. “We cook for church events, but outside of that, no desire. I enjoy the competitiveness ... and the places it takes us.”

In fact, competitions have taken the Heyens over 15,000 miles so far this year to 30 tournaments, with more contests in the coming weekends. But all that travel is worth it, as “barbecue is a huge family,” he said. As for the future, he’d love to win a Kansas City Barbecue Society or Jack Daniels invitational.

“At the end of day, I just like to compete and like the people around. I see us doing this for a long time.”