Memphis mourns loss of two BBQ legends - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis mourns loss of two BBQ legends

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BBQ cooking champion John Willingham BBQ cooking champion John Willingham
On the right, Corky's founder Don Pelts On the right, Corky's founder Don Pelts

(WMC-TV) - The man who made Corky's a household name died just hours after a former Memphis In May barbecue grand champion passed away.

As the Memphis In May Barbecue Cooking Contest kicks off, the participants and visitors are paying tribute to a few of barbecue's best.

When you mention names like Don Pelts of Corky's and former champion John Willingham, the competitors downtown say it is a loss for the barbecue world.

Mike Mills and Pat Burke had a hard time hearing one of their former rivals passed away on Wednesday.

"We were all saddened by it, it would be much better to see John down here cooking," said Mills.

Willingham is a former champion who Mills and Burke say knew it all when it came to the grill.

"When we first came to Memphis back in 1990, John Willingham was the only pitmaster as far as we were concerned," said Burke.

Mills and Willingham were recently inducted into the hall of fame.

Don Pelts' son, Barry, says his father, who founded Corky's Ribs & BBQ, passed away from a sudden heart attack early Thursday morning.

"Between two and five in the morning, I probably had over 250 text messages and it wasn't just friends. It was family, the Corky's family," said Barry.

Corky's was never in the competition, but still gets respect from barbecue lovers in Memphis.

As the Pelts family prepares to lay Don to rest, his family hopes to continue his legacy in Memphis.

"He taught us the business and he was so proud of what he created with Corky's and he was so committed to it and wanted to teach us to be as successful as he was," said Pelts' grandson, Brandon.

A manager says all of the Corky's restaurants will be closed for lunch Friday so that everyone can attend Pelts' funeral.

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