Masters of the Pit: Byron Chism
June 1, 2011
This week, Grilling.com launches a new interview series entitled “Masters of the Pit.” Here to kick things off is competitive cook, television star and creator of Butt Rub dry seasoning, Byron Chism.
Thanks so much for taking the time to be part of our ongoing Masters of the Pit series on Grilling.com, Byron. First of all, what’s your earliest barbecue or grilling memory?
My friend and neighbor Jim and I (mostly him) built me a BBQ pit and I remember everything we made it with cost 11 cents a pound. Lawn mower wheels, old propane tank, etc. This was 1992 in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. My first night to fire it up I invited about a dozen friends over. The plan was for Jim to teach me every step. The problem was, he got called to the hospital as his daughter was born that night! I had to wing the whole thing and I somehow pulled it off. No BBQ has ever been more challenging than that night. His girl, by the way, was named Chance.
So where did the name Butt Rub come from? And I believe you were one of the first, if not the first, teams to use a URL as your team name?
Jim, taught me to cook butts. The few BBQ books I had were from Texas and rubs were commonplace it seemed. Jim didn’t use a rub. I said “Jim these books all say you should use a rub.” He would respond “Them people who write those books don’t know everything.” So I would make a rub and put it on the butts. The name had a ring to it and a year or so later it became a commercial product.
The team name Buttrub.com was the first website team name in 2000. It made sense to me to bring as much awareness to the site as I could since it was such an important tool to launch our product.
And how long have you been competing?
I started competing in 1998. My “run” was 2000 to 2007.
I may be mathematically challenged, but I believe I counted nearly 30 grand champion victories during your career. What single victory are you most proud of?
The win I’m most proud of was Tryon NC in 2007. 86 teams and (3) 1st place trophies and the Grand. Tryon ironically was my 1st contest in ’98 and is very sentimental to me.
Any contest you still have your sights on winning?
It would be nice to get the 10 year pass to the Jack. I am at 8 years of competing there now which means I need to be drawn once more and then the 10th will be an automatic with any qualifying win. The teams that have done this can be counted on one hand.
The competition world has changed quite a bit since your first victory with an exponential increase in the number of contests and competitors. Anything you miss about the early days?
It was much more of a culinary contest meaning the best cooks almost always emerged, and they weren’t talking! These days we are producing technicians with the “I’ll teach you how to win” schools. It’s like Applebees — they crank out decent food but no one is creating anything except the corporate chef in the home office.
And some people may not know it, but you are actually a trained chef, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America then deciding to forgo the traditional restaurant route to pursue this barbecue thing. Do you think the formal training was beneficial in honing your competition skills or is that time better spent on the road learning through trial and error?
My 2 years at the Culinary Institute was absolutely incredible. It was paradise for me at the time even though it was a lot of hard work. The school has to be experienced to be believed, a true phenomenon.
It was a big advantage to have the culinary training and the experience I had when I began competing in BBQ. I thought outside the box and I was practicing more intelligently and creatively I believe. The best teacher of course is experience but the biggest factor an aspiring champion needs is passion. I had that in abundance. I can’t say I have all of that anymore but I do still enjoy an occasional contest.
Care to share a first time recipe or technique that failed miserably?
It’s important to experiment. The joy of connecting on something totally of the cuff is sweet. The reality though, is 98% of your experiments will not be memorable. I remember a brisket I marinated overnight in buttermilk. The dogs wouldn’t eat it!
Out of all of your various barbecue related experiences, what’s the one that you wouldn’t trade for anything?
I will have to answer that in 2 parts. One is the personal friends I have made, some have passed on. We were all brought together and they have made my world a better place and still do. That’s the best part of all of this.
The other significant experience is how it all felt at that moment or a handful of moments I will say. All the late nights practicing, all of the original concoctions that were the result of hundreds of experiments, all of the miles driven and nights competing with no sleep, all of the passion spent and when you make the Grand Champion walk at a major event you realize you must have been on the right track after all and here is your moment in the sun when you walk on air and take a bow. These are the moments we live for.
So, what’s next for Bad Byron? More TV, a book, perhaps?
I am excited about the interest for Butt Rub in Europe. I’m going to Grillstock in the UK in July to compete and to help my distributor there promote our product. We also have a distributer in the Netherlands and I’m planning on attending a trade show there in September. Other than that, as a company the focus is on growing our distribution and I think we are making good progress. BBQ has been good to me in more ways than one. I am grateful.
Thanks so much for your time, Byron. Are you a “Master of the Pit” or know someone who should be featured here? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to put it together!
By Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Guest Editor