Feb. 6, 2023 - A Smithson Valley High School student won the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Junior Pitmaster Challenge along with a $10,000 scholarship on Jan. 28.
Tait Stanush, 16, an 11th-grade student at SVHS, and his partner, Alexandria Lugo, who attends Stevens High School in San Antonio, were more than happy to divide the Grand Champion prize of $20,000 for their dynamic team, Taiter’s Surf-N-Que.
“I was surprised that we won because there were a lot of great cooks there, and even though all our turn-ins were fantastic, you just never know,” says Stanush who has participated in almost 40 cookoffs including six adult contests since he was 8.
“This championship meant that all the time I have put into barbecue has paid off.”
Only in its second year at the stock show, the Junior Pitmaster Challenge attracted 42 teams according to the division chair and volunteer Rishanne Frech, who is also a teacher at Comal ISD.
The teams of two to five members competed in three categories including chicken, pork spare ribs and brisket. All meats were provided by the teams and had to be cooked on-site. The cooking area was off-limits to anyone who was not on the team including adults.
Stanush believes that his strongest category is brisket which is also his favorite meat to cook and explains that he uses several commercial sauces and ingredients to make his secret sauces for each meat.
“My tip to other pit masters would be to work through problems during the cookoff. They will always come up, so you need to be prepared to deal correctly with them.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about cooking on a pit is that it is easy, Stanush says.
“Fire management is an important part of cooking and keeping the pit at a certain temperature during different times of the year can be challenging.”
The newly crowned champion is now turning his attention to defending his Grand Championship title at the Palmfest Southern Coast Open in Port Aransas in May and competing in the Neal’s Lodges Cookoff in Concan in April.
Stanush plans to attend college after graduating from high school and hopes to turn his hobby of cooking into a career one day.
“I cannot thank the volunteers of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo enough,” he says. “Without them this wouldn’t be possible.”
-Smithson Valley High School student Tait Stanush along with is partner Alexandria Lugo took the top Grand Champion title at the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Junior Pitmaster Challenge.
-Smithson Valley High School student Tait Stanush along with is partner Alexandria Lugo accepted the top Grand Champion title at the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Junior Pitmaster Challenge on Jan. 28.
-Pictured from left is division chair Rishanne Frech, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo scholarship committee member Neal Brodbeck, Tait Stanush, Alexandria Lugo and Junior Pitmaster sponsor Mission representative Ellie Rubenstein.