Elite Spotlight: Artust BBQ (@ArtustBBQ)
Would you fly across continents for good BBQ? A bonafide BBQ enthusiast, @ArtustBBQ hails from the UK and has made multiple pilgrimages to the US in search of the best BBQ possible.
Fueled by the desire to share his flavorful findings with his home country, he took on the task of sourcing the different styles of BBQ, the knowledge, the tools, and spices necessary to make truly great BBQ on his own. He sat down with us at Dalstrong to talk about the evolution of BBQ culture in the UK, the importance of building a robust BBQ community, and much more.
Tell me about your background
It started off as a passion for American food about 15 years ago, with a couple of trips to Florida. It was an introduction to low and slow-cooked food: pulled pork and ribs, etc. I came home with the excitement for something that at that time just wasn't big in the UK.
BBQ here is sausages, burgers, chicken, no consideration that you’d cook something for 12 hours, dedicated cooks. It was food I hadn’t seen before: smokey flavor, long cooks. So I thought “How can I cook this food over here in the UK in my backyard, what options are open, how do I source equipment and ingredients to get the slow and low profile?” This contributed to growing my own passion for BBQ here and a much deeper, rooted hobby and passion than I anticipated.
By the time I was getting into low and slow cooking myself, there was already a BBQ competition circuit happening in the UK, it was established but small. A core group of guys who embraced the whole American cooking style to tap into the resource locally, back then Youtube wasn’t available, fancy cookbooks weren’t widely available, there was a shortage of resources back then.
You’d go to a restaurant and maybe get a rack of ribs, but they would be a crude version, likely boiled in a bag, brushed with sauce, and meat that had never seen a smoker. No restaurant seemed to have a smoker here before 10 years ago.
Where do you get inspiration for recipes?
I guess in a way I have been very fortunate to gain the experience and profile I have. When I helped teams cook in competitions both here in the UK and in the US, as well as my road trips I managed to build a good social media following.
I am also part of a BBQ review website which is one of only a handful in the UK, so I am often asked to review and test products to post about. I base the cooks and the styles of dishes around the equipment that I’m reviewing at that point in time.
For instance, I’ve just finished a 4-week program with a company launching a premium gas grill. And whilst gas isn't for everyone it still has mass-market appeal and was fun adapting recipes and styles of cooking with them. Gas is great for convenience and done right it can be great. It's not my passion (live fire and smoke is), but I get to help them launch the brand and establish a presence in the marketplace.
Whatever opportunities present themselves I am happy to consider them. Like I did some huge pancakes on a transportable pellet grill recently, thinking bigger with cooks than just the usual stuff. You can maybe drive down onto the beach, take grills camping, really show how flexible that grill can be. You can smoke on it, cast iron (smash burgers), again you can do the standard pancake stack (pecans, chocolate chips — have a bit of fun, over here not seen very often). The pancakes are really thin over here, there’s no ability to put anything actually inside the mix like the American-style pancake.
I love my engagement with my followers on social media and I’m always willing to learn, never stop learning. It may be that someone’s got a great idea in their head, asking questions to help bring those answers forward. Recently a conversation brought up salt and pepper battered onion rings, and from somebody else throwing ideas out there, maybe six months down the line, that might turn them into the inspiration for a cook and post.
Tell me a bit about your experience in the BBQ community
I have always found the BBQ community to be amongst the most helpful and friendly there is. And now that I am more established I always try and help others with information on cooks, products, or tips and tricks wherever I can. There are certain people who will keep their cards close to their chest, or give you 80 and keep the 20 back for themselves and in some instances, I fully understand that. But, out of everything I’ve done in my life, people were so helpful and open when I started in BBQ, so that’s how I am now.
I pride myself on the fact that there isn’t a single direct message that I don’t answer. I will give them an answer if I know and if I don’t know, I will find them the person who will give them what they need. I’m so grateful that I was welcomed in, so I give that back wherever possible.
You can make the difference in helping someone nail a dish and whether they continue with their passion for BBQ or not. The community is still smaller here but growing year on year, so the effort we put into inspiring people to year-round cooks — holidays, etc. outdoors all year long — can grow into better access to products for everyone.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where are you?
We’ve just bought a new house, just moved in and it’s a huge project. A lot of freshening up to be done and will be ongoing for a long time, but the garden space is lovely for the whole family and our little French Bulldog called Molly. I really do hope a nice BBQ area will feature at some point down the line but there are other priorities first.
As a family we often entertain, host, and cook for family and friends, as soon as they realize you love cooking it as much as they love eating it, they’ll keep booking in dinner dates and coming over for it. We also love trying out new restaurants and new cuisines, looking to see if there are ideas we can adapt as a recipe to cook on the BBQ. Supporting local restaurants.
I’m a keen snowboarder, but I’m not doing that as much with lockdown and the baby in the family. I also love a huge range of music and whilst I don’t play any instruments myself, there will always be something on in the background from a whole host of styles and genres, especially whilst cooking. I feel like if you don’t listen to music while you’re cooking, you’re doing it wrong. The food tastes better when it’s made to music.
What’s the one spice you secretly hate?
Do you know what, sadly I am a very fussy eater and it's one of my big bugbears as I really do feel like I miss out on a lot. In life, I don’t eat a lot of veggies. So, I don’t really know what a good grilled vegetable tastes like.
Beyond that, I hate cloves, they ruin an apple pie. And one I do love that splits the pack is coriander/cilantro. For me, it's a must-have on tacos for that pop of fresh flavor. But I know for some people they have a thing that makes them think it tastes like soap.
What is the kitchen tool you can’t live without?
For me, the biggest tool that I have to use in anything I do is fire. Most people wouldn’t think that it’s essential, but it is. The fire is the tool, without that, there’s nothing. Otherwise, you’re just using an oven.
You need to source the best ingredients for your budget and ability, especially when it comes to meat. It’s so easy to run to the supermarket and grab a cheap chicken, but you may not be not getting the best you can, maybe speak to a local butcher where you can. Equipment-wise, as many BBQs as I am allowed, those double-click tongs, some heatproof gloves to stop the burns, sharp knives obviously, and then as many rubs and sauces as I can collect. I do love the Dalstrong BBQ aprons and knife rolls, which I picked up last year.
My Dalstrong collection is limited at the moment because I’m fairly new to the team, but I’ve got a Shogun 14” Brisket Slicer which is my absolute favorite so far, that’s the king. When people see that knife, they just love it. My DMs always get busy with people wanting to know about how the knives keep their edge, can they get them over here, and what did they cost. I went the opposite way, started with the brisket slicer. I will absolutely go for the smaller stuff for boning and trimming to build the arsenal.
What’s your latest BBQ obsession?
My latest obsession is Nashville hot chicken. Was lucky enough to visit Nashville twice in one year and fell in love with the city and the food. Managed to try a few different places that do it, so amazing. And have since used a cast iron pot to deep fry some chicken on my BBQs a few times since.
Who is your cooking hero?
This sounds really cheesy, but from a BBQ perspective, it’s my dad. The reason for that is we lived on a road that had a few US Air Force personnel and my parents were very friendly with them. They were from Texas, and the influence for BBQ and food rubbed off immeasurably.
To the point, we would still have the UK-style family BBQ food but they’d show dad a different way to make a burger, or they’d do ribs now and again because they didn’t have the right smoking equipment.
So, I got the taste for it as a kid and then built that up. Aaron Franklin is also a big hero of mine and a crazy good BBQ chef. His understanding of the science of how food cooks in a smoker is amazing, he’s thinking “how does the science work to make food taste better.”
His book is my favorite BBQ book out there, the reason why is because 95% of the book is his story and the science and eight recipes at the back. Every BBQ book has similar recipes with a different spin, and the lines sometimes get blurred and you don’t necessarily learn from them, but when the Franklin book came out it changed it up, and then those last few recipes helped me learn a style I loved. It’s the best BBQ book.
Do you have any advice for chefs just starting out or home cooks who want to up their game?
I think for me, it’s really: keep it simple and learn how fire works first and foremost, that will change everything that you cook. You can buy a rack of pork ribs and do 100 different rubs, but unless you understand fire you can very easily not be pleased with the end product.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money, you can buy an inexpensive grill or even build something simple to learn on, and gain a good foundation to be set up to cook anything. So many people want the fancy grill first, but that’s backward, learn the fire and the technique, not just learn the equipment.
What would your last meal be?
Definitely a BBQ platter, definitely some point end brisket, ribs, pulled pork, cornbread, some fried chicken. We went to Slow Bone in Texas, which is famous for having fried chicken as a side dish with their BBQ meats, and it absolutely works for me.
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