UGA commit Chris Barnes, Jr., hovers over a grill that is set anywhere between 225 and 250 degrees for 3 1/2 – 4 hours.
Before that, Barnes tossed his signature dish – “Big Daddy’s” baby back ribs – in a dry rub that doesn’t contain any special ingredients, but he still isn’t going to tell you what’s in it.
“Combined together, the spices I use just make a good mix,” Barnes told DawgNation. “I can’t reveal my secrets, though. That’s an old-time family recipe. I can’t let go of that one.”
His father, Chris Barnes, Sr., did reveal one secret ingredient, though.
“His special ingredient is love,” Barnes said.
That top-secret recipe helped Barnes, a 3-star offensive lineman from Lee County High School (Leesburg, Ga.), win $500 in the second annual Modern Gas Ribs Showdown, which was held in Leesburg, last year. Barnes’ “Big Daddy’s” ribs won first place in a 2014 competition that had approximately 30 other grill masters. He purchased a deer rifle with the prize money.
That’s right. Barnes, a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder who will play for the Bulldogs next year, is an award-winning chef.
“He just knows everything about how to make the ribs so good,” his mother Casandra Barnes said. “He knows how much seasoning to put on them, how long they need to rest, how long they need to cook, the technique of how to bend them to make sure they are nice and tender. He knows how to do it all. His heart is in it, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Chris didn’t start his culinary career making award-winning dishes. His father remembers the first time Chris cooked for his family. Remarkably, he was only 6 or 7 years old when he first manned a small deep fryer in the family kitchen.
The first meal he ever made was a cheeseburger. It didn’t turn out so well.
“A lot of salt. There was so much salt,” his father said.
Chris has been in and out of kitchens for the majority of his life. His family actually owned Barnes’ Best restaurant in Albany, Ga. Their signature dish wasn’t ribs. They were known for their fried chicken, collard greens and fried cornbread.
The future Bulldog did whatever he could to help out at the restaurant. He put up stock, washed dishes, cleaned tables and cleaned the meat so it was ready to be cooked. Anything to be around his family at the restaurant.
With Thanksgiving being today, his cooking prowess will be back on display. Barnes’ Best has closed, but they still operate a small catering business out of their kitchen. A customer recently personally requested Chris’ ribs for the holiday.
“Right now, we have four people that want two fried turkeys, some ham and some shoulder smoked,” Barnes’ father said a couple weeks before Thanksgiving. “Closer to Thanksgiving, we’re going to make around 20 turkeys and 20 hams for a group of people. We’ll have to make some dressing, too. We also have to make some collard greens, sweet potato pies, cakes. We’ll have a good amount of orders that we will have to fill by Thanksgiving.”
If Chris could do all of the Thanksgiving cooking himself, he would. His dad recalls a family reunion they all attended when his son was 12.
At that time, the restaurant was still active and his dad brought along one of his assistants, James, to the reunion to help with the cooking. Chris hated that. It was at that moment when his father knew Chris was hooked .
“We don’t need his help because I can do it,” Chris told his father at the time. “We don’t need his help. I know how to fry and do all of that stuff.”
“When he did that and showed that he wanted to take on all of that responsibility when he was 12 years old and handle all of that cooking, I knew he was serious about cooking. He felt like that guy was invading his territory. Chris took the ownership and wanted to be the head chef that day.”
At one point, Chris didn’t think about playing college football. He wanted to go to culinary school. It wasn’t until he received his first letter in the mail from a college – it was actually from UGA – that football became a big priority.
Now that he has committed to UGA to play football, Chris will still find time to cook. He already picked out a small Coleman grill for his dorm room. Not only does he have a grill, he also has a bag of seasonings to make him feel at home.
“It’s something that I can use so I can cook for some of my teammates,” Chris said.
Chris said the other UGA targets don’t know about his cooking skills yet. The only person may be Bulldogs offensive line coach Rob Sale. Chris said the two have talked about trying different foods when he gets to Athens.
A year after winning his first cooking competition, Chris was back over the grill in the third annual Modern Gas Rib Showdown to defend his championship. The temperature was set to 225 degrees. The special dry rub was applied to the “Big Daddy’s” ribs before being slapped on the grill where they would be monitored over the next four hours.
This time, however, something went wrong.
“When we cooked this time around, we just didn’t feel like the ribs were spot on,” Chris’ father said. “They tasted good, but there was just something off. Sometimes when you’re cooking, you get that feeling that something just isn’t right and that’s what it felt like. It ended up showing in the results.
“I didn’t finish as the top dog in this past competition,” Chris said. “I either came in fourth or fifth place. When the ribs came off the grill, they just didn’t taste like my ribs for some reason. They didn’t have that kick that they normally have.
“I don’t know what went wrong. We did a normal prep. We seasoned everything right. We did our normal thing.”
Even though he didn’t win this time around, Chris said the thrill of winning the ribs competition beats the feeling of winning after any high school football game he has participated in.
“Going into Fridays, I have a good sense of whether we are going to win or not,” Chris said. “Going into that ribs competition, having never done one before, I was a rookie. I came in first place and that was just a total shocker to me.”