Big Daddy's

Joshua and Jill Emerson Taylor stand with their smoker and bottles of Big Daddy’s BBQ Sauce at their home in Owensboro.

Joshua “Big Daddy” Taylor has had more lives than a cat.

In 2007, he developed strep throat, which attacked his heart.

Over the next 13 years, he went into cardiac arrest three times, spent six months in a coma, had to learn to walk and talk again and lost more than 170 pounds.

And finally, last October, he got both a heart and kidney transplant.

Oh, and during those years, Taylor created Big Daddy’s BBQ, a catering team that’s become a force in local competition cooking.

Last month, he released his own barbecue sauce, which is available at eight locations in Owensboro.

“And we’re talking with Houchens about getting it into their IGA stores,” Taylor said.

Later this year, he plans to have his rub available locally as well.

Barbecue is in Taylor’s genes.

His grandfather, Walter Epison, ran the Mutton Shack, a barbecue joint in Whitesville, in the early 1950s.

“My father barbecued and I loved to grill,” Taylor said. “I did it all through high school and college, but I didn’t start smoking (meat) until 2011.”

Heart failureIt was his failing heart that brought him into smoking meat and catering.

“In 2008, they told me they had done all they could for me and I needed a heart transplant,” Taylor said. “I spent most of the year in the hospital and finally got a pacemaker. I changed medicine and that made me better for awhile.”

He said, “About that time, ‘BBQ Pitmasters’ came on TV. I got hooked on it and I thought I could do that. I had plenty of time to study the craft.”

Taylor entered his first competition in 2011 at Taylor’s Tavern.

“I had to borrow a smoker from the owner,” he said. “But I won first place in chicken. And I was hooked.”

Taylor said his secret is “being different from everybody else. Owensboro is known for dip. But I don’t dip. Mine is more of a mixture of central Texas and Kansas City with a tomato base and my own dry rub.”

In 2012, he met Jill Emerson, who would become his wife.

“We took competition to a new level,” Taylor said. “We started developing our recipes and learning to cook for the masses.”

He said, “Maria Kelly came into our lives then. I was cooking at Nona’s (Kelly’s store at 126 W. Second St.) from 2015 to 2017.”

On Christmas Eve in 2017, Taylor cooked 22 turkeys, 15 hams and baked six pecan pies.

Two days later, he went back in the hospital to have his pacemaker battery changed.

On life supportBut that didn’t work and he was sent back to the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

Later in 2018, Taylor said he suffered a total organ shutdown and was on life support.

“I coded three times,” he said. “I was in a coma for six months and dropped from 360 pounds to 189. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I had to relearn everything.”

Taylor said, “I wouldn’t have survived without Jill. She was there with me the whole time.”

He said, “When I came back home, I couldn’t even sit up.”

His wife, family members and friends had to move Taylor from his bed to his wheelchair and then to the couch during the day and back to bed at night.

In 2016, Big Daddy’s had taken second place in brisket in the Backyard BBQ Cookoff at Owensboro’s International Bar-B-Q Festival.

A year later, the team placed in the chicken competition.

“In 2019, I decided I was going to compete at the barbecue festival again,” Taylor said. “I was still in the wheelchair and I didn’t place. My team had to do most of the work.”

Jill Taylor needs help with the fire, but can do everything else on the team, which includes Steven Edge and Ronald Gossom.

Last September, Taylor said, “The right side of my heart started failing and I was back at UK. On Oct. 7, I got a new heart and a new kidney. Everything is better now.”

And this year, his team placed third in chicken and a surprising second in pork at the International Bar-B-Q Festival.

Since then, Taylor has reopened his catering business.

If you’re wondering about the name, “Big Daddy,” take a look at Taylor.

“I’m 6-foot-7,” he said. “I’ve always been tall and people called me ‘Big.’ I’ve always been taller than the other kids.”

Taylor said he played football at Daviess County High School and rugby at Western Kentucky University.

“In 1999, my senior year in high school, I was 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds,” he said.

Before his heart trouble, Taylor had sold cars, managed an entertainment group in Bowling Green and was a gas and oil broker.

“I was making good money,” he said. “And then I couldn’t work.”

There were a lot of scary years both financially and with his health between 2007 and 2020, Taylor said.

But he never thought he was going to die.

Taylor said, “I’ve always stayed positive. I have no give-up in me. I might not be able to do something, but I’m going to try.”

And that’s how Big Daddy’s BBQ came to be.


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