Our History

John Willingham, left, with Muhammad Ali.

John Willingham knew how to make great barbecue, and it was a passion throughout his life.

“John Willingham was a true legend of barbecue,” said the organizers of the Memphis in May Festival, “winning awards everywhere he cooked, and winning friends at every stop with his own brand of wisdom, humor and kindness.” The contest organizers termed him “the most acclaimed barbecue chef in the world.”

In 2012, John was inducted into the American Royal’s Hall of Fame, barbecue’s top honor. The award recognizes contributions to the advancement of barbecue by individuals in the competitive, business and entertainment communities.

He knew how to make great barbecue, and a lot more

John, a former St. Louis Cardinal baseball player, invented more than just a better way to cook barbecue.

His other patented ideas included:

  • A prefabricated construction technique known as the “Wham T” method, used in numerous buildings around the world.
  • A device known as the “Harmonic Stress Reducer,” one of which was acquired by Muhammad Ali.
  • And…a nasal spray bottle!
John at the Memphis Legends Trip and Cook in Ireland.

Enduring genius

John died in May 2013, at 80. He’s best remembered for his barbecue genius, which you can taste in every Willingham’s barbecue sauce and seasoning. Cooks who want to make great barbecue know that Willingham’s is a secret weapon.

I Believe

If you don’t believe you can,

you won’t.

If you always wonder if you should,

You will never know if you could.

And

if you never try,

you will forever wonder why?

What could have been

But never was

is

because you didn’t try.

Written by John H. Willingham
Dedicated to Ida Vaunceil and Elmer L. Willingham

W’ham®! The Best. No Brag, Just Fact.

Award-winning barbecue, again and again

Want award-winning barbecue? The Willingham team started winning awards in 1983 and never stopped. Today any cook can make award-winning barbecue (or at least crowd-pleasing barbecue!) by using Willingham’s barbecue sauces and rubs.

Major Awards

YearAwardEvent
2017People’s ChoiceSip & Swine, Lawerenceville, GA
2014First Place SauceCornelia Apple Blossom Festiavl, Cornelia, GA
2013First Place ChickenPigs and Peaches, Kennesaw, GA
2013First Place RibsAtlanta BBQ Festival, Atlanta, GA
2011People’s Choice Best Butt in TownCanton Pignic, Canton, GA
2001First Place ChickenBig Brother, Big Sister Charity BBQ, Lafayette, La.
2000Best Sauce on the PlanetAmerican Royal, Kansas City, Missouri
1999Grand ChampionMississippi State BBQ, Ashland, Miss.
1999Grand Champion, Best Ribs OverallMemphis Flyer, Memphis, TN
1998First Place RibsPrim Valley BBQ Championship, Prim, NY
1998First Place Whole HogJack Daniel’s Invitational, Lynchberg, TN
1998Grand ChampionMississippi State BBQ, Ashland, MS
1998Grand ChampionNorth Carolina State Championship, Tryon, N.C.
1998Grand ChampionPrim Valley BBQ Championship, Prim, NY
1997Grand ChampionMississippi State BBQ, Ashland, Miss.
1997People’s ChoiceSmithsonian July 4th Invitational, Washington, D.C.
1996Best SauceArkansas BBQ Championship, Batesville, AR
1996First Place RibsSt. Jude/VFW BBQ Festival, Whitehaven, TN
1996Grand ChampionSt. Jude/VFW BBQ Festival, Whitehaven, TN
1996People’s ChoiceMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1995First Place BeefAnything But Pork, Southhaven, MS
1995First Place Cajun Hot SauceAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1995First Place Hot SauceAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1995First Place Mild Vinegar SauceAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1995First Place Seafood PastaAnything But Pork, Southhaven, MS
1995Grand ChampionAnything But Pork, Southhaven, MS
1994First Place Beef BrisketAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1994First Place Farmland RibsAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1994Grand ChampionMiss. State Championship, Lexington, Miss.
1994Reserve Grand ChampionNorth Carolina State Championship, Tryon, N.C.
1992Best Sauce on the PlanetAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1992First Piace PoultryGreat Yankee BBQ, Boston, MA
1992First Piace RibsGreat Yankee BBQ, Boston, MA
1992First Piace ShoulderGreat Yankee BBQ, Boston, MA
1992First Place “Skinner’s Pasta”Memphis In May, Memphis, TN
1992First Place Anything But PorkMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1992First Place BrisketAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1992First Place LambAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1992Grand ChampionGreat Yankee BBQ, Boston, MA
1992Grand Champion ChickenAmerican Pitmasters BBQ, Boston, Mass.
1992Grand Champion People’s Choice RibsStar Trib, Magis, MS
1992Grand Champion RibsPeople’s Choice, BBQ Festival, Norfolk, VA
1992People’s ChoiceGreat Yankee BBQ, Boston, MA
1992Reserve Grand ChampionAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1991First Place BrisketAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1991First Place BrisketCastle BBQ Fest, Orlando, FL
1991First Place RibsChristmas on the River, Demopolis, AL
1991First Place ShoulderAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1991First Place ShoulderCastle BBQ Fest, Orlando, FL
1991First Place ShoulderCity Fest, Tuscaloosa, AL
1991First Place Whole HogCastle BBQ Fest, Orlando, FL
1991First Place Whole HogChristmas on the River, Demopolis, AL
1991First Place Whole HogCity Fest, Tuscaloosa, AL
1991Grand ChampionAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1991Grand ChampionChristmas on the River, Demopolis, AL
1991Grand ChampionNational Rib Cookoff, Cleveland, OH
1990First Place BrisketAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1990First Place ShoulderAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1990First Place Whole HogMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1990First Place WingsAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1990Grand ChampionNational Rib Cookoff, Cleveland, OH
1989First Place LambAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1989The Hickory Switch AwardBest “Que” in Memphis, TN
1987First Place Spare RibsWorld’s Best Ribs, Richmond, VA
1987Grand ChampionWorld’s Best Ribs, Richmond, VA
1984First Place BeefAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1984First Place LambAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1984First Place PorkAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1984First Place RibsMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1984Grand ChampionAmerican Royal, Kansas City, MO
1984Grand ChampionMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1983First Place RibsMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1983Grand ChampionMemphis In May, Memphis, TN

Other Notable Appearences/Recognition

YearAwardEvent
2013Featured on Adam Richman’s “Fandemonium”Memphis In May, Memphis, TN
2001Featured as “Best BBQ in Memphis, TN”Chili Pepper Magazine
2001Featured on Food Network’s “Bobby Flay TV Show”New York, NY
2000Frito Lay’s / Cross Creek RanchBBQ & Barn Dance, McKinney, TX
1999Featured on Food Network’s with Al RokerNew York, NY
1998Best Cooker in the WorldMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1998Featured on “Home Cooking with Amy Coleman”Vancouver, B.C.
1998Featured on NBC Today Show’s BBQ SpecialNew York, NY
1997Best Cooker in the WorldMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1997Featured on “At Home on the Grill” PBS SpecialMemphis, TN
1997Featured on “Prime Time Live” at Memphis in MayMemphis, TN
1996Best Que OffshoreFreeport McMoran Invitational, Gulf of Mexico
1995The “Sony’s” Best Barbeque in AmericaLong Island, NY
1995The Quinn Award for Bar-B-Que ExcellenceJonesboro, AR
1994Best Cooker in the WorldMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1993Best Cooker in the WorldMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1992Cook Team of the YearMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
1991Cook Team of the YearMemphis In May, Memphis, TN
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