Highland News Leader

Highland native turned Texas barbecue pitmaster competes on Food Network

Aaron Vogel spritzes a pork shoulder in his custom-built smoker. Vogel, who owns Cackle & Oink BBQ in Sherman, Texas, was chosen out of 2000 applicants to be one of four teams to compete on Mixon’s show. The show is called BBQ Rig Race. Vogel and Larsen will star in the pilot episode will air on Saturday, May 13 at 2 p.m. on the Food Network.
Aaron Vogel spritzes a pork shoulder in his custom-built smoker. Vogel, who owns Cackle & Oink BBQ in Sherman, Texas, was chosen out of 2000 applicants to be one of four teams to compete on Mixon’s show. The show is called BBQ Rig Race. Vogel and Larsen will star in the pilot episode will air on Saturday, May 13 at 2 p.m. on the Food Network. Provided photo

In Texas, they love barbecue and they love racing. You put those two thing together, and you’ve got some must-see TV.

That’s the concept behind Food Network’s new show, “BBQ Rig Race,” and a Highland native is right in the thick of the pilot episode.

Aaron Vogel, a 1993 Highland High School graduate, has traveled all over the country showcasing his talents in various competitions as a barbecue pitmaster. Those contests were all about the basics of good barbecue, doing it low and slow. But in Vogel’s latest challenge on “BBQ Rig Race,” there was also a need for speed.

In the show, hosted by Michael Mixon, four teams of top pitmasters compete in a series of cook-offs that take them on a wild road trip through the heart of Texas. The final two teams face off for ultimate bragging rights and a giant $10,000 prize.

“It was epic,” said Vogel, who embarked on the 1,200-mile journey across his adopted home state with 10-year cooking cohort JR Larsen, also a Highland native.

Back in January, Vogel, who owns a barbecue restaurant in Sherman, Texas, called Cackle & Oink BBQ, was approached by a Los Angeles production company that offered to make his dream come alive. They said that his restaurant had been chosen out of 2,000 applicants to provide one of four teams to compete in the pilot episode. (The casting video that got the restaurant noticed by the Food Network can also be seen on YouTube.)

Of course, Vogel, who had long dreamed of such a chance, accepted the offer.

“I’ve always wanted to lead up to Food Network,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s finally happened. I can cross it off of my bucket list.”

Vogel said that as the group traveled through the Lone Star State, the tasks would change, depending on each region they were visiting. There is also a special guest judge in each region.

The show debuted Saturday, but will run again Thursday, May 18 at 5 p.m. on the Food Network.

This was not the first time that Vogel has appeared on television. In 2012, Vogel made it on to a show called, “Eating the Enemy,” hosted by Guy Fieri. During the show, Vogel was challenged to take an invasive species known to his area and run it as a menu item. He said his particular assignment was wild boar.

While he has already made it on-the-air, Vogel hopes that one day he can achieve his ultimate dream, being on Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Cackle & Oink is born

Vogel’s love for the barbecue started at a young age. He recalled standing at his father’s side, while he brandished a squirt bottle. He would wait eagerly to stamp out any flare-ups that might threaten their delicate meat.

As he grew up, like a leaf in the wind, he drifted away from the barbecue. His priorities shifted as hanging out with friends became more and more important.

After he graduated school, Vogel found himself working construction and was in need of a little extra cash. He picked up a job at a nearby barbecue joint named Super Smokers. There Vogel would work his way up from a bartender to being district manager.

At last, in 2000, the sacred day came when Vogel was invited to compete in his first professional barbecue competition with Super Smokers. It was the Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship and the team won first place in the “Whole Hog” category. He said the experience might have blown his ego up just a bit, but from that moment on he was in hog heaven.

“That’s what hooked me, them inviting me to come and cook with them,” Vogel said.

Four years later, when he and his wife decided to settle down, Vogel bundled up the family and his eight years of barbecue experience and moved down to Texas. There he met some opposition while applying for jobs at the local barbecue restaurants. Believe it or not, he simply had too much experience.

“I was overqualified, I guess you would say,” Vogel said.

The owners saw Vogel’s qualifications as a potential threat to their operation and decided to miss out on enlisting Vogel’s help. But, it would seem that those restauranteurs missed out on quite the opportunity.

“I said, ‘Heck with y’all,’” Vogel said.

He shrugged off their rejection and rolled the dice on opening his own restaurant. His father suggested that he name the place after his own barbecue rub, Cackle & Oink.

“I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s kind of a mouthful,’” Vogel said. “People called us ‘crackle,’ ‘the oink place’ or the ‘pig place.’”

But then they tasted the food, and Vogel said the name started to roll off all of the locals’ tongues. From there on, it’s all history.

World class material

Vogel’s competition experience did not stop with his first title. He and his crew has enrolled in multiple barbecue competitions, and have even placed very high in multiple world championship competitions.

Vogel said some notable accomplishments are:

▪ One time Texas State Champions

▪ Three time Oklahoma State Champions

▪ 13th place out of 600 in the ribs competition at the 2017 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo World Championship

▪ Third place in ribs and hot wings, fourth place in sauce at the 2015 Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship

▪ First place in hot wings and fifth place in ribs at the 2013 Memphis in May World Barbecue Championship

A list of other achievements can be seen on the Cackle & Oink awards page.

A special invitation

Vogel would like to invite anyone from the Highland area to Cackle & Oink. He said while he lives in Texas, all of his roots are still in Illinois.

Thousands of signed dollar bills line the ceiling of Vogel’s restaurant, and one special area is designated for people from his home. He knows that not everyone can come down just for a trip to his barbecue joint, but he hopes that if anyone is ever in the Dallas or Sherman area, that they will come in and say hello.

“Let us buy you dinner, sign a dollar bill and wish you safe travels,” Vogel said.

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