1st Place Finish

Jayna Todisco

A mazie Q
Jayna Todisco
Final Score
KCBS Score
WFC Score

I have worked in restaurants and bakeries but found that my favorite place to be is on the competition circuit. It just suits me best.

The backyard grill or smoker has long been considered the domain of male pitmasters, a place where men stand around and drink beer while cooking huge hunks of meat over open flames. The world of competitive barbecue was also a men's club for years before talented female pitmasters like Melissa Cookston, Brooke Orrison Lewis and Danielle Bennett proved that there is no reason why a barbecue contest has to necessarily be a manfest.

Enter Cowboy Charcoal, the leading brand of natural wood lump charcoal, who decided it was time to shine a light on the finest female pitmasters in the Kansas City Barbeque Society by creating a separate contest series called "Fire & Ice." Of course Cowboy Charcoal supplied the fire, and the "ice" was secured from Manning Jewelry in Alabama, where the finals of the series were hosted by the World Food Championships.

More than $15,000 worth of "ice" gift certificates and prizes, including a brand new Deep South Smoker, were up for grabs by 10 women who had qualified for the finals through ten months of success on the KCBS pro circuit from January through October of 2016.

The Fire & Ice challenge was divided into two days of competition at The Wharf in Orange Beach, AL. Round 1 was a "Griller's Choice" where the ladies could cook anything they wanted as long as they used Cowboy Charcoal to prepare a dish that could be completed within a two-hour time limit. For pitmasters used to low and slow cooking, this was an opportunity to show off their grilling chops as well. The second half of the competition was a more traditional barbecue presentation, with four separate turn-ins using the KCBS meats and typical barbecue contest rules. All entries were scored by trained judges employing the WFC's EAT (Execution, Appearance,Taste) criteria in round one, and KCBS's CBJ rules in round two, with the two rounds combined to pick a champion and award the grand prize of $5000 in "ice" jewelry.

After two competitive days, Jayna Todisco of Concord, NH emerged as the Fire & Ice Grand Champion, cooking with a team named A Mazie Q after her grandmother.

"I started cooking with my grandmother, Mazie at a very young age and that continued into adulthood," explains Todisco. " I have worked in restaurants and bakeries but found that my favorite place to be is on the competition circuit. It just suits me best."

Although the contest was specifically aimed at women competitors, the event was a family affair for Todisco. "I brought my team which consists of my husband, Pete Coulon, and my kids. My family is so important to me. If I didn't bring them, I wouldn't have been able to concentrate. We were at the WFC for five days, and I know I would've been a mess without them by the second day. All my proud moments or times of defeat are shared with them, so it was only natural that they were there."

But to be clear, this wasn't a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. "They are my support system. And let's be honest, yes, I do all the cooking. I really do. All of it. However, that means nothing without the mental and physical support in terms of logistics. Pete loads and unloads mostly everything. All the heavy lifting, moving and maintenance. He gets up in the middle of the night to check on the fires, goes to all the cooks meetings, makes sure we have ice and does the rest of the things I simply just cannot get to."

A Mazie Q qualified seventh out of twenty-five eligible teams for the Fire & Ice Women's Barbecue Championship Series, but Todisco quickly rocketed to first place with her opening round entry, a burger recipe she had entered in a previous competition. "I just thought of what I liked in a burger and that was it. I wish I had this great elaborate story but I don't. It's simple with no crazy ingredients or toppings. It's just done right."

A solid performance in the four compulsory meats in the KCBS portion of the competition sealed the victory for Todisco, who was especially appreciative after years of entering contests in spite of sometimes feeling like there were extra obstacles placed in the path of a female pitmaster. "Personally, I had to overcome a lot to get to WFC and also for every competition. And seeing that was the cream of the crop for competitions I've done - it was so surreal. Every feeling of doubt, every memory of ridicule washed away at that point."

Her positive and dogged attitude was a big part of her success, and she shares advice with anyone looking to get into the world of food sport. "Be your own cheerleader or lean on others that bring you up and ignore those that knock you down. The BBQ/grilling competition circuit is a big undertaking and you need to surround yourself with a can-do attitude. You don't need to have fancy things, just some passion and one by one you will get where you need to be. Don't be scared, don't be daunted; be the fire you've always wanted to be."