They’re a team. At home, Ty and Debbie Staley have raised two children. As Boeing Machinists on strike, they’re together on the picket lines. And with a world championship in their sights, they’re a sizzling duo called Smokin Ty’s BBQ.
Next month, they’ll pack up their Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, a contraption that looks like R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” and pile into their motor home for the long drive to Lynchburg, Tenn.
“Lynchburg, it’s the World Series, the Super Bowl, everything in one,” Ty Staley said.
Strike or no strike, the Everett couple will compete Oct. 24 and 25 at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Each October, the prestigious cook-off brings more than 50 barbecue teams from the United States and other countries to the Jack Daniel Distillery. The whiskey maker has hosted its competition at Jack Daniel’s Hollow since 1989.
In just three years of competition, the Staleys have smoked and grilled their way to the top. In 2007, their team won a grand prize at the Evergreen State BBQ Championship, held each September on Seattle’s Alki Beach.
“We do about five to seven competitions a year,” said Ty Staley, 45. His Smokin Ty’s BBQ team was grand champion at this summer’s Western States Regional Open BBQ Cookoff in Albany, Ore. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the Oregon event put the couple in the running for Lynchburg.
Cooks at the Jack Daniel’s contest vie for points in four categories: brisket, pork ribs, pork shoulder and chicken. To get there, a team must have won an event with 50 or more teams, or be tops in a smaller contest deemed a state championship. Drawings are held among qualifying teams to choose who’ll go to Tennessee.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ty and Debbie Staley cooked for camaraderie, not for competition. Smoke and the savory aromas of grilled salmon, burgers and hot dogs were in the air at a spot near the railroad tracks in Mukilteo. As he manned the fire, Ty Staley chatted with a dozen or more striking Machinists gathered near the intersection of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks and the Boeing rail spur.
As a Sounder commuter train zipped past, strikers waved and held up signs. Today is day 21 of the strike that has about 27,000 Machinists walking picket lines.
Ty Staley works at Boeing’s Everett factory as an environmental control technician, while 46-year-old Debbie Staley is a seal mixer at a Boeing plant in Seattle. Both are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union pushing for better pay, retirement and health benefits.
With the financial uncertainty of a strike, the Everett couple wasn’t sure they should go to Lynchburg. They were convinced to make the trip by friends Stan and Billi Startzman. “These people are my guinea pigs,” said Ty Staley, who tests barbecue recipes on his friends. Stan Startzman, also a striking Machinist, plans to tag along to Lynchburg.
This weekend, the Staleys are holding a garage sale to raise money for their drive to Tennessee.
“It’s an expensive hobby. We average $700 to $1,000 per competition, including about $250 for meat, seasonings and sauces,” Ty Staley said. “Last year, we did pretty well and made $6,000 in prize money.”
The Boeing workers got into barbecue by accident. At a Cruzin’ to Colby car show in Everett several years back, they met Jim Minion, a barbecue expert from Federal Way. Both took classes from Minion, then president of the Western BBQ Association, and learned to judge as well as cook.
“I was always just doing steak. I wanted to be adventurous,” Ty Staley said.
Now experts themselves, their barbecue talk is over my head. Wet or dry, sweet or saucy, pecan or applewood, Kansas City or Texas. It all sounds scrumptious.
If the food is great, the crowd is even better, Ty Staley said.
“Barbecue people, they’re awesome,” he said. “That’s why I got involved.”
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or email@example.com.