Randy Lion fires up his smoker. A fine, grey, gentle smoke erupts from the stack. What normally comes next is the unmistakable smell of one of the big three woods: hickory, oak, or pecan. Known as the staples of the BBQ wood world, the three wise woods, or the 3-trees: these woods have long ruled competition BBQ (cue Texas guy that would argue for mesquite, which we are leaving out because it’s a Texas tale). While competitors lean on the aforementioned woods, Randy has an ace up his sleeve. His purple under-toned light grey smoke smells more of a country breeze than a wood stove. The smoke caresses one’s senses with hints of floral inspiration. Randy’s distinct smoke smell is the result of a chance encounter just over a year ago. Little did he know this event would single-handedly change the game for his team, now aptly named Lilac Lane. It was at a remotely located contest that fate would knock on Mr. Lion’s door, or more appropriately knock on his fire box door.
“The contest was located some distance away in a remote location,” Randy recalls. “Many teams had sourced and reserved wood from a local supplier ahead of time, one of them being us. We were running quite late and long story short, we arrived last and the supplier had run out of wood. The next closest supplier was over 3 hours away, one way.”
As luck would have it, the supplier had recently cut down a tree at his residence and suggested Mr. Lion use this as a last resort. Upon arrival, Randy gazed his eyes upon the Southern Lilac. Desperate, he loaded the lilac and returned to the contest with his only hope being that he was not laughed off the circuit. The result: 1st place chicken, 7th ribs, 2nd pork, and 8th brisket. In this 27-team contest, Randy Lion walked away with his first Grand Championship. It would not be his last. Randy went on to 3 more GC’s last year, all powered by Lilac. By year’s end, he changed his team name to Lilac Lane, inspired by his chance encounter. Look for them in 2015, they will be the ones holding the big checks at the end of the contest, Randy proclaims.
Randy’s story is not unique. Reports from across the country are pouring in that lilac is back (was it ever here?). Growers nationwide are feeling the craze for lilac. Lindsey Lheef, owner of Lindsay’s Lilacs in Spartanburg, SC, cannot keep saplings in stock.
“We’ve seen the demand quadruple over the last 18 months. While it’s great for business, most people don’t realize Lilacs take a minimum of 5 years to mature,” Lindsay stated.
If the demand wasn’t high enough, it was also recently revealed that the 2 category winners of the 2014 American Royale, the world series of BBQ, were using lilac.
One cannot be certain as to why the Lilac has had so much success. Perhaps the judges are ready for new smoke profiles and Lilac is in the right place at the right time. One thing is for sure; the uniqueness of this wood puts it in a category of its own and has it positioned to be added to the Mount Rushmore of woods in the coming season.