Russell's BBQ ready to defend world wings title

May 2—LINESVILLE — With a World Championship title on the line this month, Jon York is a bit jittery.

"I'm more nervous this year than last year — we did well, but the expectation (of winning) is there," said York, who heads Russell's Dam Good BBQ Team of Linesville.

In 2023, the team did more than well — it won a World Championship in the chicken wings category at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Tennessee.

The smoked chicken wings of Russell's BBQ earned first place out of 111 teams competing. In the ribs category, Russell's earned seventh place out of 80 teams.

Last May was the first time Russell's BBQ had ever entered a competitive barbecue event — let alone the one billed as "the most prestigious barbecue cooking contest in the world."

Around since 1978, the competition this year has 129 teams representing 22 states and five foreign countries competing from May 15 through 18.

More than $150,000 in prize money is available in the contest which features championship pork categories of ribs, shoulder and whole hog, as well as competitions of hot wings, sauce and "Anything But Pork," according to the Memphis in May's website.

A barbecue-focused restaurant since 2017, Russell's BBQ, 11107 Hartstown Road, Linesville, started as a local diner in 2007. It's where York's father, Russell, offered homemade meals, and Jon's sister, Janna Black, developed a rub in 2007. In 2011, the elder York began offering smoked pulled pork as a menu item on weekends.

York senses other teams in this year's competition may be targeting Russell's BBQ because of its strong showing last year.

"We have had people ordering our sauces and rubs and they're being shipped to Memphis. My conspiracy theory is there are other teams trying our product," York said with a wry smile.

"Which is fine, that was the goal of us going (in 2023)," he continued. "We were there to get our name out there. But now we have other teams seeing 'Why did your wing sauce win the prize?'"

Winning at Memphis last year was proof that good barbecue isn't just available in Memphis, or Kansas City or in the Carolinas, according to Black, also a member of the Russell's BBQ Team.

"We belong," she said of last year's wins.

Russell's Dam Good BBQ Team and Russell's BBQ are named for their father. The team is a family affair with more than a dozen members going.

Judging is done by a blind box entry (where whose entry it is isn't identifiable) and an in-person by a visit from three judges.

"They don't just judge your food but the overall appearance of your booth," Black said. "They want to talk to you and see the overall team effort.

"Last year, we treated it like a restaurant, we were quiet," she said. "One of the judges said, 'Where's all your team? You should have people cheering you on.' We wanted to be focused, we didn't want any distractions. This year, we're going to have to be focused and distracted at the same time."

York says he will be more confident this year, especially with the judges when they arrive at the booth.

"We're going to brag — brag about how we made it. There'll be some 'schmoozation' done," he said with a laugh.

As a warmup for Memphis, Russell's BBQ will feature competition barbecue at its restaurant Saturday.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at