BOISE -- Someone who's on KTVB nearly every election cycle has a somewhat hidden talent that's gotten him big attention around the nation.
When he's not helping run elections or doing other county clerk's office duties, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane is part of a championship barbecue team.
In his county office, McGrane keeps mementos from his competitive weekend hobby. A hobby that's taken him more than 3,000 miles in the last month.
"I keep all my barbecue trophies in my office and my law degree in my garage," McGrane said.
That pride is understandable since he's not just a casual competitor. At this year's Sam's Club National BBQ Tour, his team, Phil & Lou BBQ took 1st place in pork at locals in Salt Lake City, 2nd place in pork at regionals in Las Vegas, and 3rd in pork at the national finals in Bentonville, Arkansas. Overall, they finished 18th in the nation.
How does someone end up invited to big-name tournaments? As with most of these things, it starts as a hobby and grows from there, but the original hobby wasn't cooking or grilling or barbecuing.
"I needed something to do. So as a hobby I kind of built a smoker. I was trying to teach myself how to weld. Once you have a giant smoker on a trailer, you need to use it," McGrane said.
So welding turned into barbecuing, which became a family hobby when McGrane teamed up with his wife's father. His wife, by the way, is a vegetarian, but still credited with bringing this team together.
"I always say, what do you need to start a competitive BBQ team? You need a vegetarian. She's what brought me and my father in law Lou together, and it's Phil & Lou BBQ, that's how it started," McGrane said.
As it's turned out (and perhaps the proof is in the trophies), McGrane says counting ballots and cooking briskets aren't so far apart.
"People ask me all the time, when are you going to open a restaurant? Honestly, I really enjoy what I do for the county. I love elections. I have a passion for serving the public, so it's a great opportunity to work in the clerk's office, and it's where I started," McGrane said. "I just take that same passion that I have for elections and being able to count ballots and the detail we have to have there, if you put that same energy and that same attention to detail in your barbecue, it turns out just as well."
While you might think the secrets to great winning competitions would stay secret, Phil & Lou BBQ happily share their food, and recipes, including one for a barbecue cupcake.
"It's one of those things, it's a hobby to me. It's not my business. To me, it doesn't really matter whether I share it with you, if you decided to pull out the smoker and start competing, we could go head to head, and I think we could still do a pretty good job," McGrane said.
In fact, Phil & Lou BBQ have defeated some pretty big names in the competitive barbecue circuit.
"We've also had the privilege recently to go head to head against all the people you see on the food network. If you see someone cooking barbecue on television, whether it's Travel Channel or Food Network, we've gone head to head. At least in one instance, we've beaten all of them," McGrane said.
McGrane plans to keep upping his game at barbecue competitions, but he's also considering seeking state office. If current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa doesn't run, McGrane says he might run. Former Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney has already announced he will run.
If you'd like to see McGrane's tricks and tips for cooking what he calls the "world's best ribs", he did a demonstration.