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Home > Hall of Famers > Legacy Inductees > John Willingham

John Willingham

John Willingham 
John Willingham is best known for the cookers, sauces and rubs he developed to enhance his phenomenal cooking techniques. A creative entrepreneur and innovator, he spent years searching for a perfect way to barbecue.

John designed the W’ham Turbo Cooker, built to minimize the smoke but maximize the taste while cooking at low temperatures. The cooker, along with John’s signature rubs and sauces, helped his River City Rooters team excel in competitions across the country for more than 30 years.

The River City Rooters’ most impressive victories include winning first-place Ribs and Overall Worlds’ Barbecue Grand Champion at the Memphis in May World Championship Cooking Contest in both 1983 and 1984 and Grand Champion at the American Royal Barbecue in 1984 and 1991. John also won Reserve Grand Champion honors at the American Royal Barbecue in 1992 and the American Royal’s “Best Sauce on the Planet” award in both 1992 and 2000.

John Willingham died in 2013, but his barbecue genius lives on in every Willingham’s barbecue sauce and seasoning. For these reasons and many more, the Willingham's are known as “the first family of Memphis barbecue.”
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