John Coon is a man in search of perfection.
Coon, a 43-year-old Springville resident, makes his living both in construction and at the barbecue pit. As a cook, he says, the goal is always perfection.
"A lot of people think of this as a hobby," he said last week. "To me, this is something I want to spend the rest of my life doing."
One of two cooks that makes up the "House of Q" barbecue team, Coon has been competing from behind his grill a decade ago. He recently found himself featured on Destination America’s competition series "BBQ Pitmasters," where he emerged victorious against New Yorker Howard Daley Jr. from "DTS BBQ" and Louisiana’s Jeff Petkevicius from "Give it to God." He will compete in the semifinal round which will be broadcast Saturday, in an effort to win "the ultimate barbecue bragging rights, a $50,000 cash prize from Kingsford Charcoal, and entry into the prestigious Kingsford Invitational."
"It was a ‘mystery meat’ competition," he said. "We didn’t know what we were cooking, but we knew we weren’t cooking a whole meal. It’s something that’s got to be appealing to barbecue judges."
For Coon, it was another opportunity for perfection.
"I’ll spend 30 minutes just cutting up one piece of chicken," he said. "We’ll cook about 30 pieces when we go (to competition), and use maybe six."
A native of Pinson and a "second-generation homebuilder," Coon says he began cooking at an early age, starting with church functions.
"My first contest was about 11 years ago, and my first sanctioned contest was about 10," he said. "I got hooked."
He began competing – along with his partner, Russ Lannon – in "serious" competitions, around 20 per year, in 2008, finishing in the top 15 nationally as part of the Kansas City Barbeque Society. That circuit includes 19,000 members, 8,000 cook teams and 480 contests per year across the country.
These days, "House of Q" is a well-known name, both among competitors and sponsors.
"We’ve won 14 grand championships, eight reserve grand championships (runner-up) and over 100 top-5 finishes," he said. "When you can do that well, that’s a pretty big deal.
"About 80 percent of the top-100 barbecue cooks are here in the South. The field we compete on isn’t exactly the same as what they do in California. It’s a whole new ballgame down here."
Competitors participate in four different meat categories: chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket. Coon says his specialty is chicken, but only for the moment.
"We used to be known for brisket and pork," he said. "We’re definitely known for our chicken right now, and that’s a hard one to do well.
"Tastes change all the time. Judges’ palates change. It’s got to be something that just wows them."
Coon’s cooking prowess isn’t limited only to competitive settings – House of Q is available for catering, as well as fundraisers. Even then, he says, he is seeking perfection.
"We take the same amount of time when we’re catering and doing fundraisers," he said.
Coon estimates that "probably 10 people" on the circuit compete at a high enough level to justify the full-time profession.
"You have to have a lot of wins," he said. "You need a lot of really great sponsors, as well."
That and family support. Coon says he is quite fortunate there with his wife, Kristin, and their three-and-a-half-year-old son, Mason.
"She’s the most awesome wife there is," he said. "Even in the last seven years … the economy hit us pretty hard. She’s just been awesome, and she’s always encouraged me to keep going.
"Last year, there’s no way I could’ve competed without our sponsors and winning, and she was supportive through all of it."
Coon also takes the time to share his faith during his travels.
"We want to be sure we’re examples of our faith when we’re on the road," he said. "The barbecue cooks are basically a huge gypsy family – we have Barbecue Church every Saturday morning, and then it’s game time until about 2 p.m."
Coon and House of Q will once again appear on "Pitmasters" this Saturday, at 8 p.m., on Destination America. For more information on him and his team, visit houseofqonline.com, or follow House of Q on Facebook or Twitter (@houseofq_bbq).