A few years ago, I was lucky to be introduced to Draper’s BBQ AP (All Purpose) rub. Heading up the Draper’s BBQ brand at that time, as is the case now, was Shane Draper – a man with whom I’ve since come to consider one of my good friends in the world of BBQ. In fact, I’d wager that anyone who’s spent any time talking with Shane at all probably feels the same way. He’s just good people, and he’s always willing to lend an ear to things I’m thinking about for this blog. Most recently, he offered up some great feedback on the post I wrote about Choosing the Best Pellet Grill.
While speaking with Shane a few weeks back, I learned that he and the Draper’s BBQ Team have a lot of interesting things in the works. I got to thinking that many of you might be interested in learning a bit about what they’ve been up to and have on the horizon, so I put a few questions out to him which he’s kindly answered for us here.
Interview with Shane Draper of Draper’s BBQ
Thanks to you Shane for agreeing to talk with me a bit about Draper’s BBQ and where things are going of late. For those who don’t know much about you or team, can you give us a bit of background?
First of all thanks for asking. We have done our best to be a bit incognito this past year while doing some evaluation and soul searching. Our background is one with a few forks in the road so for sake of brevity I’ll hit the highlights.
My grandfather started Draper’s Pit Barbecue back in the 70s as a restaurant and catering company. He had great success with this and we still today hear from former customers about how they remember eating at the restaurant. Some even remember me being a blonde headed 4 yr old running around while my parents worked in the evenings there.
After a few years though the toll of cooking all night and serving most of the day was too much and he decided to close down the restaurant portion of the business. He still cooked for customers on special events and holidays and that continued right up until I left for military.
Fast forward another 15 yrs or so and my grandfather has passed away and I had finally moved back to Western Kentucky with my wife and children. I realized how much I missed sitting around a fire with my family and cooking and my father and I decided to resurrect things a bit and start cooking again. One thing led to another and we ended up at Memphis in May with Tucker Cooker Co. and entered a tomato based sauce I had worked on over one winter and it finished very well. That more or less set us on the path of creating the sauce portion of the company and then the rubs.
Draper’s was hitting it pretty hard and fast a few years back with your sauce and rubs. Can you tell us a bit about these products and whether they’re still available to those of us who love to use them?
You are correct, I was definitely pushing the sauce and rub line very hard a few years ago. We are fortunate to have very good and unique sauce and rubs that complement most any food and I was determined to let the world know about them. We had pretty solid sales and all looked good, but unfortunately growing so quickly brought to light the many areas we lacked personnel and expertise. It also showed me that while I love to create sauces and rubs, love to market them and just in general love the people and creation aspect of the business I had zero interest in the paperwork, shipping, order fulfillment and supply chain management pieces.
This business was me, myself and I for the most part. My dad helped where he could and my wife and family did their best to support the dream but they were clear this was not their dream. My pushing so hard on the company side of things almost cost me my marriage and family and it was a tough realization. It has taken a lot of time to find a balance again.
It was around this time that a great friend of mine, Mike Owings, was brought on to help and he quickly became my right hand in everything. Working with Mike helped refocus a few things at that point and we started vending much more and we both found quite a bit of enjoyment in that. Mike and I have a great creative connection and have developed a lot of great ideas together.
So circling back around, where does all of that leave the products today? Literally this past weekend while at the Jack in Lynchburg, Mike and I sat down and made some decisions. Some will not like these decisions, but I will explain why they are necessary and where that leaves us in just a minute.
We will still produce Smokin’ Sauce and distribute it locally to stores and even some web stores and it will stay with our current copacker in Tennessee. We will consider licensing the product under different names and allow the licensing companies to work directly with our copacker for order and distribution. If any company is interested in doing this we would love to work with them because it helps get Smokin’ Sauce, or a product very similar to it, in more hands which helps our fans and teams.
We are going to retire our Moo’d Enhancer rub for 2015. It is still a great product and I know several teams are going to be pretty upset with us concerning that one. This was a full competition product from the beginning and frankly we never pushed it hard enough to market in order to make it profitable. We can still small batch this if needed, but honestly prefer to let it rest for a bit.
Our A.P. Rub will still be in production. Thankfully we are working with a great new rub company out of Chicago who has been a wonderful friend in helping us get back up to speed on a few projects. We will not be distributing this widely at first. If the demand is there as 2015 rolls on then we will adjust this.
So what does all of this mean for our die hard fans that aren’t close to Western Kentucky?
We will be working with and identifying 1 or 2 online barbecue companies that will handle your orders. We will no longer accept orders via our website. This will be in effect come January 1, 2015 and we will well document everything on the website/blog so please follow it closely in the coming months.
So all of this begs the question of “why would we drastically limit a good product line?” My answer is one that has taken me 2 years to be able to admit. Frankly, we don’t love making sauce and rub. We do love people using our products and we love that people enjoy them. Some will immediately push back that our move is a bit selfish and perhaps you are right. But what Mike, myself and my dad love the most is getting out there face to face with people and cooking great food and having it completely blow people away.
To this day there is no trophy that will ever match a customer coming up to us and saying “holy cow, that was the most amazing thing I have ever ate, how did you do that!?!” That is nirvana for us and it is where we have focused our efforts this past year.
We made the decision back in June of this year to make moves necessary to get us back to loving what we do. What we love most is vending and competing and in order to do that we have to withdraw from somethings. No longer are we willing to spread ourselves so thin. We realized this resulted in us being unable to any one part of our business well and only allowed us to do all parts halfheartedly.
So scaling back the product lines and downsizing allows us to rework the product distribution aspects and allows us to get Draper’s back out in the competition world. Once the demand increases we will be in a better position to properly meet the demand.
I understand that there have been some changes taking place with Draper’s in terms of the cook team, your approach to competitions, and maybe even some new hardware. Can you talk a little about this?
Yes, there has definitely been a lot of changes taking place and it all centers on what I have touched on already, getting back to what we love to do and doing it in a way that we love. Before the team was about 80% me and 10% Mike and 10% my dad. That has changed for the better.
I feel like after getting everyone to attend Barbecue Live (www.barbecuelive.com) we are all on the same page and how we compose our flavor profile is in sync. Also, the way we cook in general has undergone some significant rewrites.
There is much less “show up and figure it out when we get there” and much more method to our madness. We are a much better team now and will get 7 fold better as we continue to practice in this off season.
I know you’ve been cooking on pellet smokers for a while now. What’s prompting the shift to the new smoker variety and this new brand?
This falls heavily in with the core changes in the competition team. The last couple years we have used pellet pits and they are still a solid option for most teams. What we found after much talking and soul searching is that we just fundamentally did not enjoy competing with them. They gave us the ability to dial in a temp and execute the plan, but we found that we just lost connection with what we were doing. We are a team that has to focus from the time we get on site until the last turn in is done.
Frankly the pellet pits just gave us too much time to screw around and not really be focused. It also took away that core craftsman feel of what we loved to do….cook.
The three of us all consider ourselves craftsmen and love a solid smoke element in our turn in boxes. Now, before the hate mail starts about “I can get smoke in my meat using x pellet smoker” or “I’ve won countless trophies on a pellet smoker” let me say this… Great, we are glad they are working for you and you should continue using them.
Draper’s really prides ourselves on using the least amount of ingredients to turn out great bbq and that even includes competition. When competing with pellet pits, we found ourselves chasing constant injection changes, sauce experiments, rub alterations, etc.
Once we really delved into why we felt we needed to make these changes it came back we felt the meat just lacked something. We started on stick burners and have developed our process and profiles around how they work and how much smoke they impart. It is just our preference, and after working with a few brands of pellet pits I feel the manufacturers could make three changes to their smokers and it would significantly improve their smoking ability.
1 – As a general statement, better door seals.
I dont think all manufacturers have this problem, but I would say about 90% do. Most of the companies that have followed the Traeger design lack good solid door seals. If this one thing was changed it would greatly change the cooking dynamics of the pellet pit.
2 – In a word insulation.
Again most companies have followed the Traeger design and opted for thinner metal to make up their bodies and keep cost down. They do this because they know they can control the heat via the computerized controller. The flaw in this thought though is that the controller has to keep the fire pot in its burn/heat stage longer which creates little to no real usable smoke. If the pits were insulated and had better door seals then the controller could keep the burn pot in the sweet spot of longer smoke cycles and less heat cycles. I understand these companies are building these pits for mainly for the backyard cook and that is fine, dollar is after all king, but there really needs to be a pro line built for the competition folks.
3 – Change the design.
The reality is that the Traeger design is not really efficient. There is a fire pot in the center of a rectangular or oval shaped body. To make the most of the fire pot more companies should be looking at how Cookshack does things. That cooker design is a good model of efficiency. The “safe/vault” style cooker would make much more efficient use of all smoke and heat produced and allow for better control of the environment.
This is why I think companies like Backwoods and Humphreys who are adapting their cooker with pellet options will soon be the pits to watch on the circuit. They are sealed well, have a good air flow, insulated and upright. All the things that would make the best use of the firepot and how it operates.
These changes are why I think the companies like Cookshack continue to lead the smoker field. And just as importantly why companies like Backwoods and Humprheys who are adding pellet options to their cookers are going to catch up quickly. It is all about smoke control, trapping the smoke with proper seals, insulation and cooking in a manner that allows the pellet burn pot to be in its smoke cycle longer and out of its heating cycle as long as possible.
In the end it’s not so much that we couldn’t get them to work for us, as much as our heart just wasn’t into them. After sitting down with a close friend and mentor and discussing current trends in smokers and competition it became fairly clear to me that moving to a pit style that is born and bred from competition was the solution.
The vault style smokers with their insulation and many options on cooker sizing, draft flow, fuel delivery and construction started to make a lot of sense. So I spent the last 4 months really researching which of the current crop is really delivering on all that they promise. I really got down to looking at Backwoods, Stumps and a few others and then stumbled across Humphreys.
After talking to several teams using the Humphreys (https://humphreysbbq.squarespace.com/smokers/) I was fairly sure they were the company for us. It worked out where Chad and Nicole of Humphreys were going to be at the Jack with my good friend Alan Burke of Smokin Hoggz so Mike and I made the trip down and spoke with them for several hours and looked at each entry that came off of the Smokin Hoggz pits.
After looking at the build quality, the amount of insulation used, the attention to detail and the sizing options we knew Humphreys was the company for us. Speaking with Chad and Nicole directly about how they got started and realizing we could help them with some upcoming endeavors really cemented the deal. It didn’t hurt that Alan Burke with Smokin Hoggz is a big believer in their products and he and his team has won just about every big event you can think of including the Royal and the Jack.
So we placed the order the Tuesday after the Jack and sent in the money for the first of two units we will be using. One of the coolest parts of ordering a Humphreys is that you know each one is being built with the options and colors you choose, and they powder coat everything. There are just no corners cut and about 10k different colors to pick from. I plan on doing an in depth blog post about the ordering process and cover everything from ordering down to receiving and really chronicle the experience.
One exciting thing you have on the horizon is a planned entry at least one of the bigger BBQ competitions this coming year. Seems the goal is to make sure folks know Draper’s BBQ is back on the scene. Can you talk a little about your thoughts in this area?
We have a few things competition wise coming up that we are very excited about. The first is we are committed to going out and doing 20 competitions this coming year. We finally have things flowing where we feel we can send one team to compete and have another team vending on the same weekend. This frees myself and Mike up a bit to focus on getting back out there and really chasing the competition circuit. With this commitment to competition we are literally practicing every weekend from now until the spring dialing in every aspect of what we do.
The biggest overall announcement though is our participation as Draper’s BBQ in Memphis in May 2015. We have literally been in planning for this since MIM2014 and have made moves to make this happen. We have set aside the funding to do it and are stoked to be going down and competing with the best in the world in the whole hog category. We have spent 2014 practicing whole hog, dialing in every aspect and have gone to some classes to help us get that last little bit to score well. We expect to have a very solid showing at Memphis.
We are focused and have put together some of the best barbecue people we know. Our team this year will include Jim Loggins from Crow Creek Barbecue, Ron Worby of Susquehanna Blue Smoke, Chris Grove from NibbleMeThis blog and of course myself, Mike Owings and my dad. I am humbled by each of these amazing pitmaster’s willingness to throw their hats in with Draper’s and go after the world championship.
In this same vein we are taking on sponsors for the 2015 season and also Memphis in May and have already picked up our first sponsor with Fred Grosse of Mojobricks. Fred and Draper’s go way back and I can’t imagine competing without Mojobricks.
Fred will be there with us at Memphis and the rest of the year. We are on the look out for a charcoal sponsor and a meat sponsor and are making headway in both areas. Overall, we like to partner with companies more than just the standard competition sponsorship. We work with companies that are looking to get their brand out there, but also are looking for real feedback from a competition, vending and a backyard perspective. Being a company ourselves we have a very unique perspective that has helped many companies grow and we are proud of that.
Also, we will be a part of the upcoming Barbecue Live whole hog class taking place in February 2015. We are very excited to be invited by Malcolm and Waylon of Killer Hogs and Mark of Sweet Swine o Mine to come down and share what we know.
This class will include 4 of the best whole hog cooks I have ever met. Malcolm and Waylon are on fire right now scoring well with anything made of pork. Mark is one of the foremost experts I know of concerning the inter-muscular make up hogs and is an amazing pork cook all the way around. My good friend Danny Montgomery of Tuscumbia River Bottom Barbecuers has taught me most everything I know about whole hog cooking and presentation. Each of these guys are a superstar in their own right so getting to be apart of their class is a treat to say the least.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about as far as Draper’s BBQ is concerned?
There is a lot on the horizon with Draper’s so stay tuned. The company is constantly shifting and changing and as we continue through this journey we plan to release more of it on YouTube and produce a series of videos. This series will be unlike anything anyone is doing currently and will be a lot of fun and include many great bloggers. We cant fully release the details, but let’s just say our sponsors are going to get their moneys worth this coming year. We are excited and look forward to taking care of all the people, blogs and companies that work with us in 2015.