021 Rob – Smokin’ Hot’n’Saucy

021 Rob - Smokin' Hot 'n'

This is Episode 2 of the ‘Living the Dream’ series and in it, I talk vending and catering with Rob from Smokin’ Hot’n’Saucy.  Rob was trained in BBQ in the United States and has spent significant time competing there and also in Australia. If you have dreams of catering, this is just for you!

Much thanks and appreciation go to this episodes sponsors:

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  • One of his slogans is ‘You don’t need teeth to eat my beef.’
  • First tried BBQ in Canada and hated it
  • He married a girl from Texas and his father-in-law and introduced him to real BBQ
  • Learned from his father-in-law Melvin Young and uncle-in-law Johnny-Lee Johnson
  • He couldn’t find ‘real BBQ’ in Australia so he started his own BBQ business
  • Rob prefers to eat other people’s BBQ rather than his own as a point of comparison
  • At home, he eats lots of pasta and salad. Sometimes a steak on the grill
  • He’ll actually do a bit of background research before eating BBQ when he’s out and about. He’ll check out the premises and talk to the chefs. Generally, he stays away from eating BBQ out and about
  • There are about 15 different styles of BBQ just in Texas
    • E.g. in Mexican influences in the South, Austin is all about brisket and post oak
  • What makes Texas BBQ different to other styles?
    • Mexican influences in the South
    • Austin is all about brisket and post oak
    • Austin is leading the way with BBQ in Texas: Franklins, La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats
    • In the Hill Country there are German influences with sausage and cured meats
    • North East is all about hot links
  • Culturally, BBQ is a Sunday ‘after-church’ meal in Texas – it’s all about family. People often cook before church and then reheat after
  • Rob’s recipes have been handed down to him from his family members based in Texas
  • His catering gigs are often family-related too
  • The younger generations are now getting into BBQ with craft beers etc
  • At Wollongong, they competed and served the public
  • His vending and competition food is very different
    • Often rubs are similar
    • Final product is quite different
    • The temperatures are often higher on a vending brisket and he spends less time ‘feeling’ the brisket
  • His comp highlights:
    • GC at Gloucester
    • RGC at Girrakool – virtually solo
    • Catching up with his mates is always what it’s about
  • His catering cooks influence his comp cooks
    • He doesn’t get to practice his comp cooking at home, but he does get to practice flavour profiles and different combinations
    • The amount of cooking that he does for catering gives him massive amounts of detailed knowledge of his pits – the hot and cold spots, the exact size of the logs to put in it
  • The events he covers:
    • Morning markets – used to do 8 markets a month
    • Moved into private catering
    • Music festivals
    • BBQ competition festivals
    • His favourite are local foodie events – he gets lots of local, repeat customers. These people have now become BBQ converts themselves
  • Most popular item is brisket: lines of 30 to 40 people deep
  • He uses Costco briskets and pork butts
    • For the price and the quantities, Costco is perfect
    • They are affordable, so he can keep his prices down which means he sells more
  • What makes his brisket so unique?
    • He’s not too sure what makes it so unique
    • He uses a heavy 50/50 mix of salt and pepper
    • Trims it back to leave a nice fat cap and trims all the fat on the bottom side
    • Cooks at 250F – 275F
    • Spritzes if necessary
    • Time is the key – leave yourself enough time so the meat is off at 6am if you’re starting serving at 10am. The meat must have rest time
    • All meat must have 4 – 6 hours rest time before serving
    • He cooks brisket fat side up
    • Point goes towards the fire
  • Foil vs butcher’s paper
    • He uses foil in the winter for extra heat, but other than that uses paper
    • Foil will help push through the stall and gets you through the stall in 3 hours
    • Paper will get you through the stall in 6 hours, but saves the bark
    • If using foil, he opens the foil and lets them cool a bit before closing the wrapping
    • At the end of a rest, he’ll open up the foil again for about 20 minutes before slicing to give bark a chance to form up again
  • In the future, they’re heading to Newcastle, setting up a permanent location
    • They’ve leased a block of land in an up-and-coming neighbourhood that feels like Austin, so they can bring an Austin-style venue to Newcastle
    • They will throw in a few Mexican and Cajun influenced recipes
  • Rob’s background before Smokin’ Hot’n’Saucy
    • He was an electrical engineer in the coal mines
    • Left the job with a redundancy payout after an organisational restructure
  • He started Smokin Hot’n’Saucy as a business on the side, but found that the business got busier than his work
  • Found a bus while up in QLD at the Burleigh BBQ comp and went all-in
  • He used to do a lot of budgeting and planning work in his job which has served him well at SHS
  • He plans 6 – 12 months at a time
  • He has the verbiage for dealing with councils
  • On dealing with councils:
    • They have councils now ringing them up and getting them into events they didn’t know about thanks to their professional attitudes towards councils
    • If you fight with councils, they’ll put you on the ‘too hard list’
  • Difference between vending and catering
    • Vending are ‘at-risk’ events – you purchase everything up front and then hope to recover the expenses. It might rain, or people might not show up
    • For vending, bigger events like ‘A Day on the Green’ are pretty much guaranteed as people have already bought tickets, accommodation etc
    • For vending, margins are not great
    • Catering is quoted so you can ensure that you are going to make money
  • If they go to an event and no one turns up
    • There is insurance available on particular events
      • Insurance is usually done with private investors
    • They try to save as much of the food and produce as possible, but a lot of it isn’t saveable once it’s cooked. Even coleslaw
    • Sometimes regular clients will buy leftover cuts if not sold
  • Laws and Insurances
    • In NSW, food regulation laws sit with local councils
    • You need a Food Safety Supervisor or more on staff. This can be done in an online course
    • The Food Safety Supervisor must be on-site all the time
    • They have all their vehicles and gear insured
    • They have 20 million dollar public liability insurance
  • Moving from the backyard to a commercial operation
    • It’s more involved than just scaling up
    • The food regulation requirements just to do markets is intensive. E.g. food containers, sides on a marquee etc
    • Getting all the equipment is very time consuming and expensive
    • Finding suppliers is quite difficult if you don’t have a restaurant background already
    • Finding suppliers was the biggest growing pain – building the relationships. They were paying premium dollars for things as they didn’t realise the shortcuts that can happen with you have a good relationship with a supplier
    • Biggest challenge was knowing how much to cook
      • Often at home we over-cook
      • Cannot afford to under-cook at a paid event
      • Need to understand weight loss from cooking, how much yield from a pork or lamb shoulder etc
    • Get in contact with local councils to make sure you have all the OH&S, Food Safety, and Environmental regulations
    • Different councils will focus on different things
  • On budgets
    • People often forget about fixed costs
      • Insurances
      • Council registration fees – each councils have their own fees
      • Fuels for vehicles
      • Fuels for smokers
      • Certifications
      • Event fees
      • Vehicle maintenance
      • All fixed costs need to be broken down to weekly costs so they’re factored into
  • The best events from a business perspective:
    • Mid-afternoon events – you get a lunch and dinner rush
    • Two-day events are great as the set-up and pack-down time is halved
    • You’ll break even on the first day and make money on the second
    • Combine the two and you’ll be winning by miles
  • Biggest challenge:
    • They bought an old bus and fitted it out
    • It was not mechanically sound and has been a big problem
    • They would buy something new if doing it again to negate the mechanical viability of the bus
    • He takes ten steps forward and 3 or 4 steps back each time the bus breaks down  
  • He does food prep Wednesday, packs up Thursday, cooks and serves Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • Listener Questions
    • His top three comps for 2018
      • Just Smokin’ in Gloucester – he thinks it’s the best comp on the circuit
      • BBQ Wars in Port Macquarie
      • Meatstock Sydney – it’s really big and lots of people
    • What does he do with leftovers and how do they affect budgeting?
      • His kids eat leftover pulled pork and brisket
      • Generally can’t reuse meats, though some can be cryovacced, chilled and reheated, but it can’t be reheated twice
      • Leftovers definitely hurt the bottom line
    • What style of BBQ is popular with the Aussie punters?
      • Rob likes the easy, simple flavours of Texan style
    • Any benefits of a bus over a trailer?
      • The trailer is wider than a bus so you can have two people working back to back
  • His Top Tips:
    • Budget everything
    • Make sure you’re cooking good food from the start




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