The story of Pork Barrel BBQ is similar to the stories of the countless American entrepreneurs who came before us and paved the path to American innovation and prosperity. Our story like theirs is the story of the American Dream.
Our journey down that path began in early 2006 during a heated budget debate in the United States Senate. We were two fatigued Senate staffers working late into the night discussing the late night dinner options on Capitol Hill. While we ordered pizza we dreamed of a delicious plate of smoked meat from one of the numerous legendary BBQ joints back home in Missouri and wished one of these joints would open in Washington, D.C. At the same time we were dreaming of ribs and brisket Senators had engaged in a debate over the merits of earmarks, which are better known in Washington as pork barrel spending projects. At that very moment our dinner conversation merged with the debate over pork barrel spending and an idea suddenly popped into our heads and the foundation was laid for what would become Pork Barrel BBQ.
Two years later, in early 2008, Pork Barrel BBQ remained as nothing more than the idea we had conceived during that late night budget debate in the Senate. Over those two years our boss had lost his bid for reelection and we had gone our separate ways, but we never lost the desire to bring award winning barbecue to Washington, D.C. In the spring of 2008 we decided it was time to dust off our idea and introduce Washington, D.C. to the kind of barbecue we loved growing up in Missouri.
In June of 2008 we convened the first meeting of the Pork Barrel BBQ Kitchen Cabinet and asked members to rate six variations of spice rub. After several hours of eating, Kitchen Cabinet members narrowed the six down to their two favorites, highlighting the elements they liked from each. The following week we reconvened the Kitchen Cabinet and presented them with a single spice rub blend that was crafted from their previous week’s comments and recommendations. That Sunday afternoon in late June, with the blessing of the Kitchen Cabinet, our first product – Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub – was finalized and ready, we hoped, to take the barbecue world by storm.
Like most startups we quickly found out that starting a business is much more difficult in practice than on paper. After months of reviewing food regulations, business licenses and looking for a manufacture we officially founded Pork Barrel BBQ in December 2008. Many people thought we were crazy founding a company at the peak of the economic crisis, but we wanted to prove that a company not owned or operated by the federal government could succeed if it was created on the foundation of a good idea by founders who were willing to work hard. It was our goal to prove that the free market was still the greatest path to success for a small business and that it was still possible to grab a piece of the “American Dream.”
It took nearly 6 months, but on December 4, 2008 we sold our first tin of Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub for $8.00. Over the next three weeks we sold nearly $2,000 in rub – if you knew any of our friends or family you probably got a tin of All-American Spice Rub for Christmas in 2008.
We were certain we could carry over our nearly perfect friends and family sales conversion record to retail stores so we set out in early 2009 to do just that. Our efforts started out with a bang. We landed our first retail account with the first store we approached, Let’s Meat on the Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Their first order was for a dozen tins of rub and we were so ecstatic that you would have thought we’d sold 1,000,000 tins. Our fast start didn’t last long as we spent the next six months getting retail doors shut in our face as we ran Pork Barrel BBQ out of the basements of our homes selling rub one tin at a time.
In May our luck began to change when we were contacted by Mark Burnett productions who cast us for a new reality show called Shark Tank that would begin airing on ABC in late summer. In June, we formed the Pork Barrel BBQ Competition BBQ Team and entered our first professional BBQ contest, the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle in Washington, D.C. At this contest we introduced our first BBQ sauce to the world when we entered our Pork Barrel BBQ Original BBQ Sauce in the Nation’s Best BBQ Sauce Contest and we finished second out of dozens of entries. We also walked away with our first category call when we placed fourth in pork shoulder in the Memphis in May portion of the contest.
In July we headed to Hollywood and filmed our episode of Shark Tank in the same studio the Wizard of Oz was filmed in and finally felt as if we had begun our journey down our own yellow brick road. We produced our first commercial run of Pork Barrel BBQ Original BBQ Sauce in July and landed our first major grocery store account with Harris Teeter in August. We ended August by announcing we would be opening the first Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant with “Mango” Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Just two days after announcing plans for our first restaurant we won the People’s Choice Award for best restaurant in Del Ray at the annual Taste of Del Ray.
September ushered in a new chapter for Pork Barrel BBQ that began with the airing of our appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank. With this airing our company was taken to a whole new level, moving us from a local brand to a national brand almost overnight. On the show we struck a deal with New York real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, who became the first outside investor in Pork Barrel BBQ. We also made our first appearance on Fox & Friends where we smoked hundreds of pounds of meat at the Fox News headquarters in New York City.
A month later ABC aired our second appearance on Shark Tank, a follow up that highlighted our restaurant groundbreaking and Costco picking up our BBQ Sauce and spice rub. The remainder of 2009 was spent responding to thousands of inquiries that were generated as a result of our appearances on Shark Tank. We also found time to get back into the test kitchen and develop our second sauce – Pork Barrel BBQ Sweet BBQ Sauce.
2010 began with a trip to New York where we got to ring the closing bell at the NASDAQ with the Sharks from Shark Tank. We attended our first major trade show in January, the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show, in San Francisco, CA. At the show we officially launched our new Pork Barrel BBQ Sweet BBQ Sauce to rave reviews and secured retail deals with Whole Foods, Safeway and Save Mart. In late January we gave the DC area a sneak peak at what they could expect at our planned Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant by participating in our first Meat Week.
In April we kicked off the 2010 competition BBQ season in Salisbury, MD at Pork in the Park and announced that Wagshal’s had become the team’s first sponsor. A month later we headed to Memphis, TN to compete in our first Memphis in May, one of the country’s most prestigious barbecue contests, where we earned four top 15 finishes, including fourth place in the Anything Butt: Beef Category for our brisket.
Over the Memorial Day weekend we had the special opportunity to travel to New York City and cook for the troops on Fox & Friends during Fleet Week.
In June we returned to the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle and took home the Chinet People’s Choice Award for best BBQ sauce with our Pork Barrel BBQ Sweet BBQ Sauce. During the summer we continued to grow our retail presence and in just under a year we had moved Pork Barrel BBQ out of our basement and into more than 1,000 stores in 38 states.
In September we cooked Pickin in the Panhandle in Hedgesville, WV and had our most successful contest to date with calls in chicken (4th), pork (5th) and overall (5th). We headed home to Missouri in October to cook our first American Royal where Heath got to cook against one of barbecue’s legends, Johnny Trigg – The Godfather of BBQ, in the Kansas City Barbeque Society Grill Masters Series (and he came out victorious!!).
Later that month we headed to Fort Riley, KS to cook our first Operation Pork Barrel BBQ event for the troops with our good friends and mentors Rod and Sheri Gray of 2009 KCBS Team of the Year Pellet Envy.
At the peak of tailgating season we launched Pork Barrel BBQ’s first cookbook – The Pork Barrel BBQ Guide to Tailgating – and offered it for free to tens of thousands of tailgaters across America! In November we received our biggest honor to date by being named one of “The 125 Best Foods for Men” and the Best BBQ Sauce in the Nation by Men’s Health magazine. Not only was this a huge honor for us, it was proof that not everything that is good for you has to taste bad!
We returned to the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, CA in 2011 to introduce our third BBQ sauce – Pork Barrel BBQ Mustard BBQ Sauce. In February we launched BBQ Backyard – The BBQ Social Network. BBQ Backyard is the only place on the internet were BBQ’ers of all skill levels, from backyard novice to veteran pitmaster, can interact in an online social setting and it’s free to join!!
We kicked off a busy competition BBQ season in April cooking the Capital City Cookoff in Jefferson City, MO and the BBQ Capital Cook-off in Lexington, NC. At the end of April we launched our new 24 ounce Pork Barrel BBQ Original BBQ Sauce twin-packs at Costco’s in the Mid-Atlantic region.
In May we returned to Memphis in May and cooked the Middletown Barbeque Cook-off in Middletown, DE where we won our first Reserve Grand Championship with calls in Chicken (9th), Pork (2nd) and Brisket (5th).
In June we shocked the world with the launch of Que, the world’s first barbeque scented fragrance. Que is “An Intoxicating Bouquet of Spices, Smoke, Meat and Sweet Summer Sweat.” Hundreds of articles and commentaries ran on Que in places like Sports Illustrated, MSNBC, Fox News, The Tonight Show and Glamour Magazine.
The Pork Barrel BBQ Competition Team had a great June competing in three contests, the Beltway Barbecue Showdown in Upper Marlboro, MD, the Sedalia Lions Club BBQ in Sedalia, MO and the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle in Washington, D.C. At the Beltway Barbecue Showdown we received calls in Chicken (1st), Pork (7th) and Overall (8th). At the Sedalia Lions Club BBQ we received calls in Chicken (9th), Pork (2nd) and Overall (9th). At the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle – the site of our very first competition in 2009 – we won our first Grand Championship with calls in Chicken (1st), Ribs (5th), Pork (7th) and Brisket (5th). Additionally, we were crowned the Perdue National Chicken Champions and had the championship trophy presented to us by Jim Perdue. The Grand Championship secured us invitations to both the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City, MO and the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, TN.
In July we won our second straight Grand Championship at the Wellsville BBQ Cookoff in Wellsville, MO where we received category calls in Chicken (2nd) and Brisket (3rd). We were also named one of the Best Barbecue Sauces in the Country by Country Living Magazine. We finished the month with a strong showing at the Bluemont BBQ Bash with calls in Ribs (6th), Brisket (5th) and Overall (7th). We also partnered with FERIDIES to launch Pork Barrel BBQ Peanuts at the NASFT Summer Fancy Food Show.
In August and September we continued to cook a number of competitions including the Maryland BBQ Bash where we received a call in Chicken (7th), the Windsor BBQ where we received a call in Chicken (5th), Pickin in the Panhandle and the Murphysboro BBQ Cook-off.
We wrapped up September on a strong note with excellent cooks at both the American Royal Invitational and Open. In the Invitational we finished 26th out of 140 of the top teams in the country with a call in Brisket (10th). In the Open we finished 40th out of 475 teams with a call in Chicken (6th).
In October we got our first chance to cook the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue, perhaps the most prestigious contest in all of competition BBQ. We didn’t get any calls, but we had an incredible time meeting teams from all over the world.
November marked a major milestone for Pork Barrel BBQ as we opened our first Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant to rave review. Our lines were so long that we were running out of meat within several hours of opening. It was a long time in coming, but the wait to make sure we had everything right was well worth it!
2012 started with the launch of our fourth BBQ sauce, Pork Barrel BBQ Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce at the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show. We also hosted our first Meat Week at Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant.
In March we had several unique opportunities as we were asked to write an article for the Harvard Business Review on teamwork in competition BBQ and testify before the United States House Small Business Committee on the importance of entrepreneurs and the economic recovery. Our second Shark Tank follow up, which highlighted the opening of the first Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant, also aired in March.
We also kicked off our 2012 competition BBQ season and took Horace Greeley’s advice and headed west to cook the Academy of Country Music BBQ Throwdown in Las Vegas, NV. Out of 111 teams we received calls in Chicken (6th), Pork (1st), Brisket (20th) and Overall (3rd). Our first place finish in Pork also gave us the Kingsford 40K Challenge Pork victory.
In May we cooked the Middletown BBQ Cook-off and received calls in Chicken (7th) and Overall (8th). Over Memorial Day weekend we put on a ton of miles first cooking Banjo-B-Que in Evans, GA, receiving calls in Chicken (1st) and Brisket (6th) with the Chicken call giving us our second Kingsford 40K Challenge victory of the year. After the contest was finished we drove to New York City to cook for the troops during Fleet Week on Fox & Friends on Memorial Day.
In June we attended the NASFT Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, DC and cooked three contests. At the Beltway BBQ Showdown we received calls in Chicken (5th), Ribs (10th), Pork (3rd), Brisket (10th) and Overall (5th). At the Swinetastic BBQ Festival we received a call in Chicken (8th). We returned to the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle at the end of the month and had our first vending booth at a BBQ competition.
Inc. Magazine ran a feature article on Pork Barrel BBQ in their July issue, highlighting our story and the influence Shark Tank has had on our growth. We traveled to Kansas City, MO to cook the Buck, BBQ & Baseball charity event for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week with our friends from TippyCanoe BBQ Crew, Plowboys and Burnt Finger BBQ.
We continued our busy competition schedule with three cooks in three states in July. At the Wellsville BBQ Cookoff in Wellsville, MO we received calls in Pork (8th), Brisket (5th) and Overall (6th). In South Kingston, RI at the Wakefield Rotary BBQ we received calls in Pork (4th), Brisket (1st) and Overall (3rd). We finished the month in Bluemont, VA at the Bluemont BBQ Bash and received a call in Brisket (7th)
In August we launched BBQ Race, a website that tracks KCBS Team of the Year standings and weekly results from the world of competition BBQ. We cooked the Maryland BBQ Bash and recived calls in Chicken (1st), Brisket (6th) and Overall (8th) and the Mountain Maryland BBQ. We also cooked the first round of the Sam’s Club National BBQ Championship finishing with calls in Pork (1st) and Overall (1st) moving us to the Regionals in September.
We began September by cooking Pickin in the Panhandle where we received calls in Chicken (2nd), Pork (5th), Brisket (5th) and Overall (3rd). Our second cook of the month was the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour Regional Championship where we received calls in Chicken (5th), Ribs (9th), Brisket (2nd) and Overall (6th) qualifying us to cook the Sam’s Club National Championships in October. We finished the month by cooking Roots’n Blues’n BBQ in Columbia, MO where we received a call in Ribs (7th).
In October we cooked two of the biggest and most prestigious BBQ contests in the world, the American Royal and the Sam’s Club National BBQ Championship Finals at Sam’s world headquarters in Bentonville, AR. Everyday with Rachael Ray featured our Pork Barrel BBQ Sauce in her November issue.
In November we opened Holy Cow, a gourmet burger joint, with our restaurant partners in the same Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA as our Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant.
We kicked 2013 off with our most successful NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show to date picking up many new store accounts and adding our first Canadian and British distributors!! At the end of January we introduced Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant’s first eating challenge, the High on the Hog Eating Challenge, during Meat Week.
In March we picked up Ole’ Glory, our competition BBQ team’s brand new Jambo Pit. It took nearly ten months from placing the order to picking it up, but it was worth every second of the wait. Like a kid at Christmas we couldn’t wait to get cooking on it so we headed to Mobile, AL and cooked the BBQ Championship & Hog Wild Festival less than 48 hours after picking up the Jambo. We were also featured in Parade Magazine in March as one of the biggest successes from Shark Tank.
By early April we had already sold more BBQ Sauce and Rub than we had for the entire year in 2012. This rapid growth came as a result of adding nearly 1,000 new retail stores in early 2013 including Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Costco Bay Area & Midwest, and Giant.
In late April our Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant won the Annual Carpenter’s Shelter Cookoff with our award winning ribs! It’s always great to support great organizations in our community like the Carpenter’s Shelter. We also had 5 recipes included in the new Southern Living Cookbook, All Fired Up.
In April and May we kicked the 2013 BBQ competition season into high gear cooking five contests including Pork in the Park where we received a Brisket call (6th), the BBQ Capital Cook-off where we received calls in Pork (4th) and Overall (8th), and Naptown barBAYq where we received calls in Chicken (8th) and Overall (10th). Over the Memorial Day weekend we traveled to the Roc City Ribfest and World Bacon Championships in Rochester, NY. In the Roc City Rib Cookoff we received a call in Ribs (16th) out of more than 120 teams and our Apple Pear Crisp with a Bacon Brown Sugar Crumble took 8th place in Bacon Dessert at the Bacon World Championships. In the KCBS portion of the Roc City Ribfest we received calls in Chicken (8th), Pork (10th), and Brisket (12th). We ended the month on a strong note at the Beltway BBQ Showdown receiving calls in Chicken (3rd), Ribs (1st), Brisket (3rd) and Overall (3rd).
In June we opened The Sushi Bar with our restaurant partners in the same Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA as our Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow restaurants. We kicked off a stretch of three contests in June at the Beltway BBQ Showdown in Fort Washington, MD, where we received calls in Chicken (3rd), Ribs (1st), Brisket (3rd) and Overall (3rd). Our second contest of June was the MD Swinetastic BBQ in Frederick, MD where we received a call in Chicken (5th). We ended the month at home cooking the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle where we walked away as Reserve Grand Champion with calls in Chicken (7th), Ribs (2nd) and Brisket (7th).
We spent the Fourth of July in New York City cooking a festive lineup of holiday themed barbecue on Fox & Friends, including Grilled Red, White & Blue Sangria! We cooked two contests in July including the Gettysburg Cookoff in Gettysburg, PA during the festivities surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle where we received a call in Ribs (9th). Our second contest of July was the Bluemont BBQ Bash in Bluemont, VA where we won our second Reserve Grand Championship of the year receiving calls in Pork (6th) and Brisket (1st).
In the August issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine our Pork Barrel BBQ Original BBQ Sauce was named Supreme Sauce. The magazine said, “Pork Barrel Original BBQ Sauce, delivered. With generous additions of vinegar, salt, and chili paste along with liquid smoke, it was tart, spicy, and more savory than sweet. It also had enough body to cling to the chicken.”
In August and September we cooked a number of BBQ contests including the Maryland BBQ Bash in Bel Air, MD, the Sam’s Club Local contest in Richmond, VA where we had a great call in Brisket (1st), Pickin in the Panhandle in West Virginia and the Ohio Veterans Barbecue Battle in Xenia, OH where we had calls in Chicken (5th), Ribs (3rd), Brisket (6th) and Overall (4th).
In October we traveled to Kansas City, MO to cook at the world’s largest barbecue contest, the American Royal. We started the weekend off by winning first place in the Kansas City Visitors and Convention Bureau’s BBQ Sauce contest. In the American Royal Invitational contest we finished 54th out of 174 teams including a 20th place in Ribs and in the American Royal Open contest we finished 38th out of 535 teams. Our Desert entry scored a perfect 180 score and finished in 7th place. While in Kansas City we got the opportunity to cater an event for our sponsor Reser’s Fine Foods and their NASCAR team led by Matt Kenseth, who won the race the day we fed him! While we were having fun in Kansas City the Federal Government shut down and in an effort to show our support for federal employees we offered any furloughed federal employee a free pulled pork sandwich each work day of the shutdown at our restaurant. Over the course of the shutdown we served nearly 2,000 free sandwiches.
Our journey has just begun, and we pledge to stay true to our mission – to unite the nation through the great tradition of BBQ, and bring bipartisan flavor to your next meal. We’re sure you’ll love our national award winning Pork Barrel BBQ Sauces and Spice Rub and hope you’ll reach for it the next time you’re looking to add an All American flavor to the meats, seafood, poultry and vegetables you are grilling, smoking, or simply cooking in your kitchen. Our products are made with all natural ingredients and contain no preservatives or MSG. They do however provide a tasty and tangy flavor with the perfect amount of smokin’ kick!
We’d like to thank our family and friends, and all of you we’ve met on our journey that have helped us capture our little piece of the American Dream. You’ve supported us since the lighting of the first briquette!!