Published: September 1, 2011
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In all of my Barbecue and Grilling travels and also interactions on the internet via twitter, I get a chance to meet with some really great people in the Barbecue world. From Barbecue greats Mike Mills, Chris Lilly to small BBQ Competition teams from around the country.
Shane Draper from Drapers BBQ Sauce, is not only a great up and coming force in the barbecue sauce world, but he has become a great personal friend and being that Grilling with Rich likes to highlight great people in the barbecue world, it was only natural for me to ask him to participate in our ever popular Meet the BBQ Pro series, which is sponsored by Tucker Cooker.
My first question that I always ask my guests for the Meet the Pros Series, is what made you start to barbecue?
Shane: I was born into it basically. Some of my earliest memories are of my Grandfather’s barbecue restaurant. Unfortunately it was closed by the time I was 5, but I my Grandfather and Dad have barbecued my whole life. I always enjoyed eating it and after growing up, moving away for 15yrs during my military and government service, my Grandfather passing and then coming back home I decided it was time to resurrect the barbecue craft. I think at first it was more of me getting my Dad to show me what he knew and as a way for us to reconnect. I think some things you are just made for and barbecue is just one of those things for me.
What do you like most about Barbecue?
Shane: It’s hard to say and it changes from day to day for me. I think it changing is part of what makes it great. Every time I cook I learn something new or gain new appreciation for something simple. Barbecue can be a ridiculously planned out and scripted course of events that results in great food or it can be something ultra simplistic that also results in great food. It is for the person who is very scientific and it is for the person that is simplistic. In the end barbecue is a blank canvas that we use to paint our flavors on. Sometimes it’s masterful, sometimes its pedestrian, but it’s always an adventure and challenge.
Why do you think that a lot of people love to barbecue?
Shane: In a word Love. When we eat great barbecue something magical happens. The mix of flavors, textures, smell all come together into this one perfect moment that makes us feel loved. To know that someone spent an inordinate amount of time to give us that one perfect moment just makes you feel loved. In the South people show you they love you by cooking for you. I think that act transcends social, economic, cultural and geographic boundaries when it comes to barbecue. If you really think about barbecue has the greatest and widest reach of any food. Don’t get me wrong here in the states there are different styles of pizza that have been made famous, but name another food that has a reach that is as global and has the diehard following that barbecue does. I cant think of another off hand that comes close in my opinion.
What in your mind draws people to competition barbecue? Do you think that it is the atmosphere? Good Friends??
Shane: Easy questions with many answers depending on who you are asking. I think it starts with the idea of “hey I’m pretty darned good at this barbecue thing and I can do that as well as those guys.” Then you go out, get your tail kicked a little bit and realize “wow, I got a lot to learn.” So, if your pride wasn’t completely destroyed, you go on a quest to learn as much as possible. Along the way you realize you’ve made some of the best friends and encountered some of the hardest working and most humble people you’ve ever met. Then you start getting good at competition barbecue, which is a whole other way to cook that has little to do with real barbecue in my humblest of opinions. Next thing you know you cant imagine not doing this.
What inspired you to make your sauce? What is the secret ingredient in your sauce (you have give me props for trying!)
Shane: I just want one guy to answer a question like this one time and say something like “money” or “for the women.” lol. The truth of the matter is that the sauce thing happened as one part dare, one part gauntlet being thrown down and two parts sheer luck (I would say talent but I’m not that full of myself….yet lol). My Dad was a long time SBR fan and we still like that line of sauces. I just decided we couldn’t be serving, selling, making barbecue with our name on it if we were topping it with some other guys sauce. So I made the mistake of saying in passing one day “I bet I can make a better sauce than that.” To which Dad responded something to the gist of “haha, good luck.” Which was nothing short of a challenge. So I set off making sauces for a whole winter and one day it all came together after about the 50th batch and I knew we had a pretty good sauce, or at least a sauce I wasn’t ashamed to turn in anyway. I knew it was different, but not so far out of left field that it would throw people off. It was exactly what I wanted, something different, yet familiar. Something mildly sophisticated but not so over the top that it couldn’t be enjoyed by the average family.
– The secret ingredient is actually the balance of ingredients. There are about 5 ingredients in that sauce that people may occasionally guess one or two of, but the combination and balance of all 5 really does some interesting things to your pallet. That is the secret. Can I say one thing about ingredients to all the sauce makers out there? Why? Why do you insist on making sauces sickeningly sweet? I was sent one recently to try that seriously I thought someone was playing a practical joke on me it was so sweet. Please for the love of barbecue back down on the sweetness, strive for balance and accommodating flavors. I personally don’t care one bit if your sauce has high fructose corn syrup in it because I’m not eating a gallon of it a week, but I do care if it is so full of molasses and honey that it can no longer be poured if it is chilled.
What is the single most important piece of advice that you can give to professional, amateurs about the sport of barbecue?
Shane: I know it’s cliche, but don’t forget to have fun and do it for the love. The second you stop loving it everyone can tell. I do this for the smiles. Whether it being someone trying our sauce and loving it or someone one coming up during a vending event and saying “man that was some awesome barbecue” or seeing my whole family from my grandmother to my wife to my son all out together working an event…that to me is the most special thing. That is why I do it. The money is never enough and the fame is fleeting, but the smiles and appreciation of a job well done in that moment is everything.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far in the Barbecue World? Both via your sauce and also in competitive barbecue?
Shane: Wow that’s a hard one. [Grilling with Rich: I am not going to throw you softballs!] I mean to be honest we don’t compete that much and don’t have a room full of trophies to show for our efforts. We have competed with Team Tucker Cooker (www.tuckercooker.com go there now, great folks!) in two Memphis in May’s and our sauce has done very, very well in both so we are surely proud of that. I think it all comes back to the friends though. I mean we have real, genuine friends and fans that believe is us, our products and they are out pounding the pavement to spread the word about us. Because of those people we were able to take the barbecue world by surprise this past year and have earned the respect of a lot of people that we personally hold in very high regard, so there is something to be said for that. Beyond that my personal greatest accomplishment is that I am starting to get to a level where I feel like I am doing this barbecue thing almost as good as my Grandfather. That is a very long and tall stick to measure myself by and just now do I think that I am doing his memory justice.
What is your favorite barbecue food to make? and why?
Shane: All of it. First and foremost I’m a foodie. I can hold my own cooking just about anything. I love looking at recipes just to figure out how I can adapt, change and make them my own. That said, I think being able to cook a pork shoulder well is a thing of beauty. It takes an good degree of skill, a high level of patience and lots of love. I love pork ribs, but I think overall pork shoulders is my favorite to make.
This might be an odd question but is there anything that you don’t like about Barbecuing if so, what is it?
Shane: Odd question deserves and odd answer. So here goes…trophies. I think they are lame and silly. Yes, of course this is coming from the guy who has never lifted up a huge world championship trophy lol. Every trophy I have I’ve given to my son. I don’t display them, I don’t cherish them and I don’t care about them. I thing every single time I cook I can be a world champion or I can be a spectacle of disaster. Trophies only show the past, never the present and certainly never the future. I think the chase for that hardware has ruined many a great cooks and many great teams. I do this because I do love to cook and I do love to get better and I enjoy good honest competition. For that reason alone I love and appreciate the sport, but I love to cook first, foremost and above all else. I do what I can to live pretty closely to the ideas that inspired me to write The Meat Manifesto (www.drapersbbq.com/meatmanifesto.html) and I think it’s just a good code to live/cook by.
If you had to choose one grilling tool that every pit master needs to have what would it be and why?
Shane: Just one…really? Wow. Well I’ll go with the keep it simple approach on this one. A thermometer and a dang’d good one. I only knew one many that could cook consistently without one and that was my Grandfather. He could lay his hand on a pit and would say “yup, that’s the right temp,” or “add a little more hot coal to the back corner.” He spent many years getting that good. I am not that good, nor that seasoned. So I require a good thermometer and use it religiously.
What do you like better: competing in competitions or making your sauces??
Shane: I will take creating sauces or vending to the public any day of the week over competing. When I make sauces its about the art of creation, testing and honing. When I vend to the public its about the interaction with the people. Seeing the people who are eating your food, shaking their hand, answering their questions and just generally interacting with them.
What is your next adventure for Drapers BBQ?
Shane: We have a lot of irons in the fire. There are preliminary plans that may well lead to us doing a food truck. I have been helping a couple of members of Team Tucker Cooker get their products off of the ground and out in the market. We have a new sauce coming out that is our play on more of a honey barbecue variety. I have about 5 rubs that I need to complete and get marketed. We have several events coming up between now and the end of October including a 4 day contest that includes feeding about 20k of our closest friends WHILE competing in a full blown competition. In general I do my best to have us spread ridiculously thin and on the brink of nervous breakdowns at any given time lol.
What is one thing that your fans don’t know about YOU that you would like to share?
Shane: I don’t bring it up too much, but most folks don’t know that this whole operation is primarily me, my Dad and my good friend Mike Owings. I get to be the face of this thing and do a lot of it, but without them and my family none of it would be possible. I have a great wife, Megan (who put’s up with an insane amount of crap related to barbecue) a 9yr old son named Brendan (who is the toughest, most honest barbecue judge I have EVER served) and about an almost 1yr old son named Drew. Somehow I manage a day job, a family and still do this crazy barbecue thing. It’s not always easy, seldom ever glamorous and never what I thought I would end up doing with my life, but I love it.
[Full Disclosure: Drapers BBQ Sauce is an Advertiser on Grilling with Rich dot com]