I had a chance to interview Jason Best from BourbonQ BBQ prior to their participation in the Best in the West Nuggest Rib Cookoff in Reno Nevada.
BourbonQ has been in business since 1984 when his Dad bought a mobile pit in Prospect Kentucky – just outside of Lousiville
They would grill tenderloin and people started to ask if they would come over to their house to cook for them so they started a catering business.
They moved into an old general store in Prospect started out making custom meats and catering. They got some notoriety from the New York Times for having the best mail order hams in the country. The place was floor to ceiling country hams for months.
Jason grew up around BBQ and he must have been 12 years old when he first started cleaning out BBQ pits. They did some catering, running the country store and then in 1990 they got an invitation to the World Invitational Rib Cookoff in Richmond Virginia. They had never competed in a rib cookoff but they packed all their grills and cooking stuff in pickup trucks and hauled it all to Virginai for their first competition. The purse was $10,000 and it was huge for them when they won!
From that, they got the twinkle in their eye and eventually stopped catering and running the general store and focused on rib cook-offs and creating a line of custom sauces and rubs.
Rib cook-offs are a tough business. It is hard to find a solid crew of folks that can take off for 3-4 months in the summer to do rib competitions all over the country.
Today their focus is their sauce and rub business. They go to a lot of fancy food shows and market their products to vendors. They sell their sauces and rubs in Australia, Europe, Canada, and America. They send out over 30,000 gift packs a year just to the Target stores in Australia.
They have multiple sauces that range all over on the heat index. They have sauces with no heat all (They call it Sauce for Sissies) all the way up to ruin your meal hot.
Q. What is your specialty
A. Everyone out there that competes does the same basic stuff, ribs, brisket, etc. We created an awesome side called blue cheese coleslaw. It is a blue cheese lovers dream. Last year in Reno, they sold over 600 pounds of Blue Cheese coleslaw at the event. They came up with this awesome idea to combine their Blue Cheese Coleslaw with their pulled pork in a jalapeno cheddar tortilla and they call it the Big Blue Wrap. It has become one of their staples at the competitions where people come every day to the booth to order their Big Blue Wrap. They are great and people really respond to them. That is probably the product that they have distinguished themselves with. Another item that they were the first on the street to offer at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff in Reno was roasted Corn on the Cob. The first year that they offered it, they went through dozens and dozens of cases of corn on the cob. The next year no one caught on either, but the next year there were several vendors offering roasted corn on the cob.
Q. What is your favorite BBQ Experience?
A. There are a lot of funny road warrior awards. The first time he went out to Reno, he was ~16 years old and has been almost every year since. There are pranks that happen out on the road often times between cookers. It is all in good fun and the cooking teams are like family. They have had competitions that they have won. They have had some competitions that they have really done well! They have had trips where the trailer with their BBQ’s get a flat tire and the driver didn’t realize it and kept driving and the wheel was down to the hub. Getting up on stage is always a neat thing, especially at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff. They award First place through Fifth place in Reno and they also award Best Sauce and the Peoples Choice awards.
Q. How have you done at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff?
A. The best we have done in Reno was 4th place and 5th place in 2008 and 2009. They do a double blind judging system which is a great scoring system and after the event you get a printout of your scoring and they were 6th place in 2013. That is awesome for them because this is the only show they do every year. To go out once a year and do well is great for them. This year they have done some pit modifications on their smoke boxes so this year they are hoping to get up on that awards stage this year.
Need to get with Tracy. He will compile and get it to me.
They have won Scoview Awards – Sauce Manufactures
Gallow Awards from the Wineries – Best new product or something like that.
Just Named Best BBQ Sauce in Kentucky in Every Day Magazine with Rachael Ray
Bluesh – Took First place in a 5 year run
Q. What is the future of BourbonQ
A. Continue to grow in their sauce sales division and compete in Cookoffs.
They just became the official sauce of Churchhill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. They are licensed to use their trademarks on their products.
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring cookoff competitor
A. Best advice I could give is don’t be scared to experiment and try different things. Eventually you will find things that no one else is doing. They may not work for you and you will finish in last place, but other times you may hit it out of the park.
Our products continue to evolve and to change. People seem to be eating spicier food these days than they have in the past. They are in Kentucky and there definitely is a regional style of BBQ that people enjoy. Traditional Kentucky BBQ was a lot of pork and lamb. BBQ sauces in Kentucky seem to be thinner, more Worteshire Sauce consistency with lots of black pepper. They still have 2 sauces that they have that caters to that style.
They came up with the original BourbonQ Sauce – it was not too spicy – not too sweet.
In Texas, they want something more spicy with a little bit of sweet.
Sales seem to have changed to more spicy versions. On a spice scale of 1-10, people originally seemed to buy sauce around a 3 or 4, now they are buying around a 6 or a 7.
James lives in Austin TX now. When he moved there a Jalepeno was too spicy, now he loves them and eats them on everything.
People’s tastes have changed to a more tangy sauce…sweet with a kick. Something that will warm your lips after you are done.