There’s nothing better than a Carolina barbecue, unless it’s a grilling competition in good fun to celebrate the Food Network show, Chopped: Grill Masters. Four regions are featured in the New York production; Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and North Carolina. The ultimate prize is $50,000.

On Aug. 7, 20 friends and relatives of restaurateur, Jerry Stephenson Jr., met at the home of Tom and Joanne McNamara in Jacksonville, to celebrate Stephenson’s selection to the Chopped competition and watch the show as it aired.

Stephenson, originally from Jacksonville, is a long-time barbecue champion in local, regional, and international competitions. Paired with his sister, Roxanne Manley, of Jacksonville, they travel the U.S. barbecue circuit most of the year. While Stephenson is noted for his chicken, chopped pork, ribs, and brisket, Roxanne Manley is typically the first-place winner in the dessert category. The competition rankings allowed Stephenson to be chosen as one of four barbecue cooks competing for the North Carolina title.

In good family fun, a prelude to the Chopped segment brought on a semi-serious grilling competition between Roxanne Manley and her husband, Sean Manley. Set in the McNamara backyard, two gas grills and table top burners were positioned on either side of a patio and a veritable pantry of items surrounding the competitors with additional ingredients for their secret basket of items.

Similar to Chopped standards, the Manleys were given only meat and dessert baskets. Joanne McNamara introduced the first basket of ribeye steaks, kale, white wine, blue cheese crumbles, and sweet potato fettuccine.

After the allotted 40 minutes of cooking, Sean Manley produced grilled ribeyes, topped with a thick sweet-hot barbecue sauce, and slaw made of pickled onion, garlic, wine, blue cheese, fettuccine, and fried Kale pieces. A fried egg topped the steak. Roxanne Manley prepared a marinated steak in chimichurri sauce and a side dish of fettuccine with kale topped with garlic, butter, and wine in a blue cheese sauce.

The second basket included fresh peaches, a Duplin County white wine, a Dairy Queen vanilla milkshake, honey, and one dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Sean Manley used ramekins for the bread pudding and cooked peaches in a cream mixture on a sheet pan for the grill. A thick topping of milkshake, wine, honey, pecans, Craisins, and a caramel sauce coated the finished pudding. Roxanne Manley cooked the bread pudding in an aluminum pan using everything from the basket, and just before serving added fresh whipped cream to the top.

As predicted, Sean took the steak basket and Roxanne the dessert, but it was the group that won by tasting everything before the real Chopped show began.

During the television show, Jerry Stephenson, received secret items in an appetizer basket containing pork cracklings, cone cabbage, white vinegar powder, and brook trout.

Stephenson created a pork rind crusted trout and a grilled cone cabbage with radicchio slaw. Trouble appeared when the trout stuck to the grill and the slaw was criticized for having radicchio, not typically found in N.C. slaw.

“It’s North Carolina slaw with a twist,” said Stephenson, his humor shining.

Stephenson felt his success in the Chopped Grill Masters competition would mean more to the five women in his life; his mother who taught him to cook, his competition partner Roxanne Manley, his wife, Liz, and his two daughters, Elle and Fiona.

Unfortunately, Stephenson was “chopped” from the competition in the first round. Even successful cooks and champions make errors, but lessons are always learned. In this case, it helps to oil a grill before cooking fish.

Would he go on Chopped again? Stephenson said, “Oh yeah, bring it on.”

Beyond the Barbecue competition circuit, Jerry Stephenson can be found at his restaurant, The Redneck BBQ Lab, in Benson. It not only serves his and his sister’s winning recipes, but includes his mother’s chicken salad, homemade bread and butter pickles, among other menu items.

Redneck BBQ Lab also produces its award-winning sauce, SAWSE, and is available in local retail businesses or through Stephenson’s restaurant.

Redneck BBQ Lab, located at 12101-B NC Hwy 210 in Benson, is open from 11 a. m. to 7 p.m. or until the food runs out. More information can be found online at TheRedneckBBQLab.com