BBQ Buddha is the award-winning brand that focuses on making BBQ products that are free of additives, artificial flavors, and colors – or as founder Ray Sheehan likes to say – he’s making sauce and rubs that have “all the flavor without the junk.” On the eve of launching his latest cookbook, Ray talked with us about his journey, being a certified BBQ judge, and how the Big Green Egg he won as champion of FKP’s inaugural Sauce King NYC led to the publication of his newest cookbook.
Food Karma: What was your first job in food/cooking?
Ray Sheehan: I got my first kitchen job as a teenager cooking at a chicken and rib joint in my hometown. I was instantly hooked on working with food. I loved everything about it. From the sounds and smells to the camaraderie of a professional kitchen.
FK: What was the impetus for founding BBQ Buddha?
I think it would be fair to say that most people who have cooked professionally have secretly daydreamed about seeing one of their creations on grocery store shelves at one time or another, and I am no different. I have held so many different positions working for others in the food world, whether it was cooking up chicken and ribs, being a baker, a chef, a fishmonger, or a food service director for a chain of natural food stores. I was really at a point that I wanted to do something for myself. The timing really couldn’t have been better.
Around then my wife gifted me a smoker for my birthday, and I started making the sauces and rubs that would flavor our ‘cue. My sauces and rubs were so well received at family cookouts, catering events, and on the barbecue circuit that in 2015 I decided to make a go of it as a business. My dream of creating products that were free of additives, using ingredients that you could pronounce, had come true. Now, after almost eight years in business selling thousands of bottles of sauce and winning dozens of awards, I have five of my creations on store shelves. We have two barbecue sauces, one hot sauce, and two seasoning rubs in our lineup.
FK: What was one of your favorite experiences at a barbecue competition?
RS: One of my favorite things about BBQ competitions is socializing after the cooks, meeting on the Friday night before a Saturday competition. It is great catching up with old friends as well as making new ones. If I had to pick just one experience it would be when my BBQ Buddha Team got our first top 10 call in Brisket at the Historic New Castle BBQ Competition.
FK: How does one become a certified barbecue judge? What does that training entail?
RS: You take a one-day class where you sample barbecue that is otherwise good or bad and discuss the competencies of judging. At the end of the class, you take an oath. Recently new competencies were developed to recertify judges via online testing.
FK: What are some of your favorite ways to grill besides “barbecue”?
RS: Not only am I passionate about cooking barbecue, but what I loved about writing the book is that I got to express my love of cooking as well. The chapters are organized by the techniques used in each set of recipes. Besides all the slow smoked barbecue favorites such as pulled pork, Texas style brisket, and beef plate ribs there are some delicious recipes for grilled steaks and lobster, seared recipes for tuna and scallops, roasted recipes for beef, dry rubbed hot wings, and even chicken shawarma with yogurt tahini sauce. I was especially excited to share some of my baking recipes in this book. Favorites include savory barbecue beef and cheese empanadas, chocolate bread pudding with buttered rum sauce, and a decadent giant cinnamon roll with Bourbon cream cheese frosting.
FK: How did you decide you wanted to write a cookbook focused on the Big Green Egg?
RS: I have cooked on other kamado grills for some time but have always been fascinated with the Big Green Egg. I was really excited to receive one as the grand prize for winning the NYC Sauce King championship for my BBQ Buddha Memphis Mop BBQ sauce. I think the Big Green Egg can be intimidating to first timers; it was for me. I wanted to write a book that would demystify the notion that they are difficult to cook on, with standout recipes and techniques that would ensure success every time you fire up the grill.
FK: What makes cooking on that type of grill special?
RS: The Big Green Egg is billed as the ultimate cooking experience because it is one of the most durable and versatile cookers on the market. You can grill, smoke, roast and bake all on one cooker. With its thick ceramic walls, it has unrivaled heat retention, which makes its charcoal consumption very economical.
FK: What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
RS: It’s hard to narrow it down to a few. I love them all. It’s exciting to be able to share recipes that I truly enjoy cooking. [Editor’s note: Scroll for Ray’s recipe for Smoked Beef Plate Ribs]
FK: Were there any challenges doing R&D for this book?
RS: Cookbook writing is a lot of fun but it is also a lot of work. Throughout the process I am constantly refining the recipes from what I say in the intro to the finished flavors on the plate. The challenge lies in getting the book where you want it by the deadline with everything else that life throws at you.
FK: What are you looking forward to this year?
RS: I am looking forward to getting back to events this year. I have a series of book signings, pop up dinners (where I will be the guest chef) and barbecue cooking classes (that I will teach) scheduled.
FK: Anything else you want to share?
My book (on sale March 29th) is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Book Depository and everywhere books are sold. If you would like more information about me, my award-winning sauces and rubs, or recipes please check out www.bbqbuddha.com
Big Green Egg Smoked Beef Plate Ribs
Makes 4 to 5 servings
At first glance, these giant beef ribs can seem a little intimidating. However, they are easy to make on the EGG. Just give them a dusting of beef rub before they hit the smoke. These are the kind of rich, tender, melt-in-your-mouth ribs that will satisfy that primal urge to gnaw meat from a bone.
SIMPLE BEEF RUB
2 tbsp (38 g) kosher salt
2 tbsp (12 g) freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp (5 g) granulated garlic
2 tsp (5 g) onion powder
2 tsp (5 g) smoked paprika
1 (5- to 6-lb [2.3- to 2.7-kg]) 3-bone beef plate rib
2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 cup (240 ml) beef stock
Prepare the rub: In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the rub ingredients, then set aside.
Set up the EGG to cook at 300°F (150°C), indirect with a drip pan. Fill your firebox with natural lump charcoal, layering it with three chunks of smoking wood. Hickory or pecan work great here. With the top and bottom vents wide open, light the fire and close the lid. After about 10 minutes, close the bottom draft screen. As the dome temperature approaches your target temperature of 300°F (150°C), about 5 minutes, partially close the bottom vent door and the top of the daisy wheel, leaving both vents 20 percent open. Make minor adjustments as necessary.
Prepare the meat: Trim the fat and silver skin from the meaty side of the ribs. Remove the membrane from the bone side and rub all over with the olive oil. Season the ribs with an even layer of the beef rub to coat all sides.
Once the cooker comes up to temperature, place the ribs, bone side down, on the cooking grid. Close the lid and cook the ribs undisturbed until they reach an internal temperature of 165 to 175°F (73 to 79°C), about 3 hours. Using heavy insulated gloves, place the ribs in a disposable pan fitted with a wire rack. Pour the beef stock around the ribs, being careful not to pour the liquid on top of the ribs. Wrap the pan with aluminum foil and place it on the grill to cook until the ribs reach an internal temperature of 203 to 208°F (95 to 98°C), about 2 hours. Probe the ribs between the bones to check for tenderness; you should feel little resistance as the thermometer slides in and out. Remove the ribs from the cooker and open the foil to vent for 5 minutes. Using heavy insulated gloves, transfer the ribs to a new sheet of foil. Fold up the sides to wrap and place the ribs in a dry cooler to rest for about an hour.
Use a large knife to slice between the bones and arrange on a platter to serve.