BREAKROOM A one-on-one conversation with an industry impresario
Jon Springer: Welcome to the
Breakroom, Lucas. You’re the director of
membership for FMI. How did you land
that job? And what does a membership
Lucas Darnell: I moved to the northern
Virginia area in 2000 and worked for
the American Frozen Food Institute in
varying capacities for 13 years under Leslie
Sarasin. When I had the opportunity to
work for her again at FMI, I jumped at the
chance. I’m responsible for linking member
needs to FMI resources that can help food
retailers meet their business goals. I spend
considerable time on the road listening
to our members and creating customized
solutions that address their priority issues.
How does one become a competitive
I’m a bit of a foodie at heart. Barbecuing
started out as a hobby—making meals for
friends and family—but once I discovered
competition barbecue, I was hooked. My
wife, best friend and I started the team about
six years ago and now compete all over the
country. The highlight so far was winning the
World Barbecue Championship at the World
Food Championships in 2016 and receiving
the Kansas City Barbeque Society Chicken
Team of the Year in 2017. We’ve been
fortunate to take our backyard hobby and
turn it into something special, creating new
friends and experiences along the way.
In addition to practicing in the “off
season,” I’ve found it’s important to sharpen
my skills by attending competition barbecue
classes. I’ve also taught several courses,
because teaching others is part of the
barbecue culture. One of my passions in life
is helping people cook great food outdoors.
Your barbecue team is known as Old
Virginia Smoke. Do you have a specialty
or particular style you cook to?
I’m originally from West Virginia and now
live in Virginia, so we wanted to have a
team name that incorporated both states.
This is where we got the “old” part of our
name, since West Virginia [was] a part of
Virginia until 1863. As a result of my travels
and appreciation of different barbecue
regions, Old Virginia Smoke’s barbecue is
Lucas Darnell is director
of membership for the Food
Marketing Institute (FMI) and a
competition barbecue chef.
What’s the most unusual thing
you’ve seen cooked on the
competition circuit (and how did it
Carp. It tasted fine, but I wouldn’t want
to cook it or eat it again. It’s impossible
to remove all the bones.
What’s the one mistake too many
home grillers make?
It’s actually two: underseasoning and
kind of a mishmash of all styles. We like to
incorporate elements from the Carolinas,
Kansas City, Texas and the South, and
over time, our team created its own style.
Barbecue is an art; it’s all about personal
preference, and even your mistakes taste
As you’ve pointed out on the FMI blog,
the home grilling/barbecue trend has
been great for meat sales. In your
opinion, why do we love cooking that
I think we associate cooking outside with
great times and great people. Throughout
American history, cooking outside was a way
for people to gather, celebrate and engage
with each other. Our founding fathers used
barbecues to bring people together and
share thoughts and ideals. In my opinion,
barbecue is the second American art form
after jazz—it’s in our blood and part of our
What are a few things supermarkets can
do to be sure they are capturing their
share of barbecue sales?
Cross-merchandising is the key for
barbecue. Supermarkets need to make sure
they have everything a barbecue shopper
needs in one place: the condiments, the
protein, side dishes and vegetables. There’s
even a role for household merchandise, as
I’ve even seen a lot of grocery stores offering
giveaways of smokers and grills around the
barbecue season. The grocery stores that
are making it easier for customers to have a
great outdoor cooking event are the stores
that are winning barbecue season.
Read the full conversation at WinsightGroceryBusiness.com.