2023 Rub and Tug Invitational Recap in Key West, Florida

2023 Rub and Tug Invitational Recap | Key West, Florida

Summer is for friends, fun, and new experiences. All of those bases (and more!) are covered in my most recent trip to Key West, Florida. I was honored to compete in Bear & Burton’s 1st Annual Rub and Tug Invitational. This competition is near to my heart as it supports the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation based in Tampa, FL. The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation focuses on funding research to find non-toxic treatments for pediatric cancer patients. It’s a great cause that’s well worth investing in! 

The Rub and Tug Invitational was a 3-day event featuring some of the best pitmasters from around the country. I loved meeting new friends and reconnecting with old pals. Great BBQ connects us all, and there’s always something new to learn from each other. While nothing beats being there, this short recap will give you a taste of what I experienced. I hope it inspires you to get involved next year. 

Day One: Deep Sea Fishing Adventure

Our invitational kicked off Friday night at Papa’s Pilar Distillery, where we learned the rules and got our itinerary. We also learned more about the heart behind the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. 

On the first day, my wife and I took to Key West, Florida's beautiful waters, for a deep-sea fishing adventure. As an avid fisherman, this was a dream come true and an experience I’ll never forget. We met our guides at the dock and set sail for a relaxing yet competitive day. Our objective: Rank as highly as possible. Our points consisted of the type of fish, how we caught them, and how many we brought in. We utilized fly, spin, and, of course, bait fishing. 

We started out in shallow waters, where we caught bait before moving to deeper waters to hook sharks. Heath Riles BBQ made it on the board after Candace and I reeled in sizable sharks. Note: No sharks were harmed in the process. We sent in photos via phone and let them swim away. 

I can’t compliment our guides from All Water Charters enough. They were personable and knowledgeable about the location, making the experience a blast. If you’re in the area, check them out! They’ll make you a deep-sea fishing pro by the end of the day. 

Day Two: Diving for Lobsters

Sunday Funday consisted of a rigorous half-day lobster dive and an afternoon of fun in the sun to kick off the first day of Lobster season. This was another new experience for the books, as I’ve never been lobster diving before. We traveled by boat with our “lobster spotter,” who gave me the go-ahead to start diving. I used my net to catch 8 legal-sized lobsters, 13 total, all the while dreaming of the night’s dinner. 

Once we caught our dinner, we headed to the sandbar, which was about 20 miles offshore. We fired up the grill and grabbed our best seasonings, ready to cook the day’s catch. I prepared a delicious compound butter using Bear & Burton’s W Sauce, which took the fresh-caught lobster to a whole new level. 

Aside from the mouth-watering delicacies, the day was memorable because of the people. Everyone was having a good time, playing in the water and enjoying themselves. It was one of those moments that I realized just how blessed and lucky I am. 

Day Three: BBQ Contest

Day three held a fun mini-BBQ contest that was open to the public. It was wonderful to meet so many people who love BBQ just as much as I do! The competition was held at the Ocean’s Edge Resort, a gorgeous venue with plenty of sun, palm trees, and refreshing pools. 

I smoked some ribs, picanha, salmon, and steaks on the Big Green Egg, one of the amazing sponsors at the event. Be sure to watch the recap video to learn more about how I cooked these delicious entrees. While I can’t tell you where we landed, I can tell you that I had a blast cooking, teaching the trade, and learning a few new tricks. Congratulations to the W Sauce team on winning the grand championship. 

This day was impactful because we raised over $25,000 for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation

Heath’s Highlights

I can’t wait to return for the 2nd annual Rub and Tug Invitational. Here are a few of the top highlights. 

  • I had an opportunity to use my platform to positively affect others and watch my fellow pitmasters do the same. Combined, we have a social media reach of over 10 million! It cemented the concept that together, we can impact the world positively.
  • I loved introducing others to Heath Riles BBQ Seasonings and Sauces! It was great to see other teams using my products as well. Whether you’re cooking ribs, steak, or burgers, I’ve got a product that will make it competition-worthy. 
  • I had wonderful quality time with my family and a few of the Heath Riles BBQ team members. We had a blast shooting videos and creating content around the invitational. Experiencing Florida with my wife was a beautiful experience that neither of us will forget. If you’re looking for a relaxing family vacation, you can’t beat the Keys! 
  • I had so many new experiences, like lobster diving and catching sharks. The Rub and Tug Invitational created a great itinerary that made the invitational fun, competitive, and educational. Bonus: I got to watch an unofficial belly flop contest. Add that to your bucket list! 

If you want to sponsor this amazing event, check it out here. Keep an eye out for the next opening to purchase a ticket to the mini-competition, where you can become a judge! See you at next year’s Rub and Tug Invitational. 


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