Fanning the flames

by Joel Crews
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Joel Crews
Joel Crews

As a fortunate attendee of this year’s Camp Brisket at Texas A&M Univ. (see Pursuing Pitmaster Status,”) it was enlightening and inspiring to rub shoulders (no pun intended) with some of the most accomplished barbecue cooks and operators of some of the most iconic restaurants in Texas and beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. While the event was held during a chilly weekend in January, I hoped the experience would provide interesting and useful information and resources for one of my favorite issues of the spring: MEAT+POULTRY’s Annual Barbecue Report. My hopes were more than fulfilled and included a brush with barbecue greatness when I got to meet one of my idols: Aaron Franklin, one of the featured pitmasters at the event who shared his experiences and advice openly with attendees.

Franklin got his foodservice career started in Austin, Texas and made his food business debut by opening a food truck in an obscure location surrounded by a chain link fence, kicking off his meteoric rise to barbecue fame. The founder of Franklin Barbecue, which has evolved to a unique, yet more traditional sit-down restaurant where customers routinely wait in lines around the block hours before it opens for business and closes by about 2:30 when they sell out of food.

Franklin is one of many A-listers in the barbecue world quoted in M+P’s Barbecue Report. This year’s report also includes input from other barbecue icons including Tuffy Stone, Chris Lilly and Jess Pryles. The report spotlights some of the success stories of these and other people who, through the smoke and fire, heard opportunity knocking and have made enviable careers from what started out as hobbies.

Most of these experts have gone on to become regulars on one of the many competition-based cooking shows dedicated to barbecue and broadcast on TV while others have become restaurateurs, cookbook authors and some have created successful branded products including rubs, sauces and even smokers and instructional cooking classes.

Dedicating the June issue to this segment of the food industry began about five years ago when barbecue had already evolved to much more than a niche and it was a timely opportunity for M+P to highlight it just after the Memorial Day holiday.

As many of the sources quoted in this issue will attest, the appetite for barbecue information and resources is hearty among consumers and the growing number of people manning pits, whether in their back yards or as part of a business venture. Being a part of a competitive barbecue team for the better part of 18 years, I can attest to the hard work, time, expense and commitment required to create low-and-slow cooked meats. I can only fathom what it takes to make a career of it and I have the utmost respect for people like these who risk it all to compete in this space.

Realizing the opportunity in this segment, Smithfield Foods is leading the pack among meat processors in capitalizing on the potential. The company has partnered with many pitmasters and is sponsoring events all over the country to promote the barbecue culture at the competitive level while promoting its retail products designed to appeal to current and aspiring pitmasters.

Spotlighting the expertise of barbecue celebrities like Chris Lilly (who won top honors at the coveted Memphis in May cook-off this past month) at events where promoting grilling and slow-cooking of Smithfield pork is the focus (see Lessons Learned,”) could be the secret sauce for even more partnerships promoting a segment that continues to be a red-hot sensation for many grilling seasons to come.

 

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