Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two friends in rural country build their own pit and get pretty damn good at smoking meat. They want to take the next step and start monetizing their passion for great barbecue.
Most will run out of steam, says John Gambill, Jr., a pit master and co-founder of Historic BBQ, an Ohio-based catering business that also sells rubs, sauces and smokers. Gambill and his buddy Tony Bunce did not.
Gambill and Bunce started by investing in a custom cooking rig from American Barbecue Systems in Olathe, Kansas, and later a food truck they called the BBQ Bus.
The pair first hit the competition circuit in 2012, winning top prizes in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee over the next few years. In January 2016, Historic BBQ won the Smithfield Great Rib Rivalry, judged according to performance in Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions and Smithfield-branded contests. This won them the opportunity to serve as Smithfield’s sponsored team for the 2016 competitive season.
Today, Historic BBQ’s catering company does hand-pulled pork shoulder, beef brisket, pulled chicken, pork ribs, rib tips, and mild and hot sausage. They’re available for corporate events, graduations, fundraisers, festivals, you name it – they’ll deliver, set up and provide everything you need.
Somewhere in between catering and competing, Historic BBQ launched their own line of rubs, sauces and dressings. And the momentum continued when they partnered with Myron Mixon Smokers for both competition team and commercial barbecue sales. Now Historic can continue competing and ramp up their catering outfit with new with new cookers.
We caught up with Gambill recently to check-in on how Historic is progressing.
Q: Tell me about Historic BBQ in three sentences.
A: We will do it in one: We do what we do because we love barbecue and we want you to love it too!
Q: What region of barbecue is the best and why?
A: We don’t believe any region is “the best,” per se. Each has their own style, flavors and specialties. Some are similar, while some vary greatly and reflect the heritage and culture of that region. We enjoy them all.
Q: What are your thoughts on the importance of cooking local meat and using local ingredients?
A: We try to use local products whenever possible, in order to not only support local business, but to help showcase what our great area has to offer. When something local is not available, we work to incorporate some of the best regional flavors and styles.
Q: What are the most important first steps to launching a barbecue business?
A: Know your market and your customers. Develop a great brand and stay true to it. Be prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and monetarily to persevere.
Q: What are the biggest hurdles to launching a barbecue business?
A: The willingness and courage to try, and the passion and determination to not give up.
Q: During an event, how many cooks are working and how do you divide the responsibilities?
A: We have two pit masters, however we have several people filling vital roles and working as one team to make sure the customer has a great experience, whether it’s their first time or another time. We couldn’t do it without everyone involved.