Yazoo Mississippi Icon Defined Barbecue
Photo courtesy of National Barbecue News
There are a ton of titles that come to mind when we think about those who have shaped the landscape of our barbecue word. Garry Roark could wear any one of these titles as his barbecue traditions, food and brand have become iconic.
Our hearts broke as we got news that Mr. Garry passed on August 27, 2018. Mr. Garry’s rich family traditions will be carried on by his wife Elaine, daughters Leslie and Jennifer and the rest of the UBONS family there in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Mr. Garry, or Poppie to his immediate family, was quoted numerous times saying “Barbecue ain’t about the trophies. The real trophies are the friends we’ve made along the way.” No better definition of the barbecue world has or will ever be shared.
National Barbecue News crew had the opportunity to interview Mr. Garry and his daughter Leslie back in 2017 in their familiar Memphis In May cook site that faced the river during the annual “family reunion.” During that recording, Mr. Garry had a massive smile on his face as he was describing his family to us. Our condolences and prayers go out to the entire UBONS family.
If you didn’t know Mr. Garry we would like for you to know more about him. We asked his awesome daughter, Leslie Roark Scott, to share some more details about how he defined barbecue.
October 2, 1951-August 27, 2018
Garry grew up with his grandparents throwing a yearly BBQ party- they’d cook a whole hog or a side of beef and invite their friends, family and neighbors to join them. They’d mix up the family recipe for BBQ sauce in a #3 wash tub, stir it with a boat paddle and share what they had. Garry’s father, Ubon, perfected the sauce and passed the recipe to Garry when he died in 1980.
In 1986 Garry decided to put Ubons Sauce on the market. His wife, Elaine, and daughters, Leslie and Jennifer, were his work crew. After years of making up to 50 gallons of sauce at a time in their small home kitchen the family built their own bottling facility. 20 years later after meeting brothers David and Adam Rosen in NYC, Ubons Sauce introduced Ubons Bloody Mary Mix.
Garry heard about competition BBQ in 1989 and cooked in the Back Yard division of the Memphis in May sanctioned contest Octoberfest, Cleveland, MS. That weekend changed the course of the Roark family and was the start of the Ubons Family. Garry fell in love with BBQ. His new friend, Boyd Atkinson, Delta Smokers, shared secrets and encouraged him to perfect his shoulder recipe. Over the years Pat Burke and Mike Mills (Apple City/17th Street BBQ) mentored Garry and helped him perfect his craft.
The fire was lit. The Ubons BBQ of Yazoo team was born! Garry encouraged his longtime friend Paul Hood and Paul’s goofy friend Ross Capwell to join him and cook whole hog for the team. Over the years there were a number of local friends who joined him on the cooking trail- Bill Michaels, Buddy Davis, Bruce Jackson. Garry was very proud of Paul and Ross when they created their own winning teams.
By 1992 his daughter Leslie had joined Garry as a cooking partner. She was eager to learn and took on the role of rib cook. At this time there weren’t any female pitmasters cooking on the Memphis In May competition circuit. Garry always made sure to encourage judges and other teams to respect that Leslie was the chief rib cook. He was a BBQ feminist! He helped clear the path for future female pitmasters. Leslie and the Ubons BBQ of Yazoo team won 1st place and Grand Champion at the Possum Town Pig Fest in Columbus, MS in 1992 where Leslie was the first female pitmaster to win on the Memphis in May circuit. Garry was SO proud of the win but even more proud that his daughter wanted to spend so much of her time with him.
In 1996 Leslie’s friend Brian “Beeve” Campbell, Sultans of Swine, was invited to cook with Ubons BBQ of Yazoo as our new hog cook. Brian and his wife Vivian had met the Ubons family at Memphis in May in 1991 on their honeymoon. Leslie and Jennifer regularly enjoyed the hospitality of the Sultans of Swine team. Brian and his family were happy to join Ubons at Octoberfest in Cleveland, MS 1996. Today Beeve, Vivian and their girls Erin and Claire are an essential piece of the Ubons Family.
In 1998 Garry gave Craig Verhage, Porkin’ To Please, a call after a particularly brutal July contest and invited Craig to cook with the Ubons BBQ of Yazoo team at Octoberfest in Cleveland. Today Craig, The BBQ Ninja, the new guy, is an essential piece of the Ubons Family.
Over the last 29 years the Ubons Family has won trophies from major contests across the country including Memphis in May, Best of the Best, and The Jack. We’ve won 43 Grand Championships at some amazing contests including Murphysboro, IL; Cleveland, MS; Newton, MS; Marion, AR; Greenwood, MS; Vicksburg, MS; Vidalia, LA; Natchez, MS; Southaven, MS; Centerville, MS; Covington, TN; and Madison, MS; and Yazoo City, MS. Our team has appeared on TV shows BBQ Pitmasters, Smoked, Chopped Grillmasters, Chopped Impossible, Chopped, Chopped Jr., Kids BBQ Championship, BBQ Crawl and Stove Tots.
Garry believed in sharing what he knew with new teams and encouraging people to enter the BBQ world. He was always willing to talk someone through the cooking process or the presentation process. He believed that BBQ was the key to bringing people together and he made sure that anyone who was interested could ask him questions or just talk about the world he loved.
Memphis in May was one of his favorite places to hold court. As he got older and couldn’t get around as well many friends, old and new, made their way to visit and share a Bloody Mary or a Ubons Special and The Perfect Sandwich. Garry’s grandson, Jacob, fell in love with BBQ at Memphis in May and that made his heart glow like hot coals. His greatest joy was teaching Jacob how to prep a shoulder and watching as Jacob learned to prep a whole hog. This year’s 6th Place Whole Hog trophy from Memphis In May might as well have been a Super Bowl Ring. Watching Jacob, Erin and Claire take more responsibility left Garry knowing that his legacy would continue.
In 2004 Ubons Restaurant opened and in 2005 was invited to be a part of the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in NYC. He watched BBQ grow from backyard entertainment to an international phenomena. As barbeque’s profile became higher, Garry and the Ubons team were invited to participate in festivals all over the country including the Windy City Smoke Out, Chicago, IL; Que in the Lou, St. Louis, MO; KY BBQ Festival, Danville, KY and BBQ Denver, Denver, CO.
Garry was truly known for his hospitality. He never met a stranger and that new friend was always given a drink, food and a story. His generous spirit touched thousands of people. He firmly believed that all people were equal, especially at the table. He tried his best to have a seat for everyone in the world.
Upon his passing the BBQ world mourned. As the Ubons Family moves forward we have felt so much love, so much respect and so much peace knowing that our Ubons Family is even bigger. Thank you for the love, BBQ family.