MABA Business Member Feature – Mason Dixon BBQ
Long time MABA supporter and Business Member Eric Forrester who owns two barbecue stores in the Mid-Atlantic tells his story about his entry into the passion we all love!
So let’s set the scene, it’s January 2009, I’ve now had my metal-finishing business – CELF Services – for 2 years now and things are going fairly well…and we are going over finances and planning for the coming year. And as a small business guy and serial entrepreneur, I’m looking to get into more stuff…my wife and I have extensive backgrounds in the restaurant business although we’ve both been away from it for 15 years now…so I have a genius plan!
Me: “So, I’m going to buy a bar…”
Carrie (wife): “A what?”
Me: “A bar in Shippensburg (local college town) is for sale and I know the guy who owns it and I can get it for a good price…”
Carrie: “A college bar?? Are you out of your mind? Did you start smoking crack? Do you know how old you are? You just want to look at college Chippies (slang for drunk college coeds) all day! Do you think I’m going to work there? Sling drinks to drunk college kids? Ha. That is NOT going to happen! Where do you come up with this crap?”
Me: “OK. Sorry.”
So then I opened a BBQ Supply store. The end! Ha. It actually did go down almost exactly like that! For me it was a win-win situation…I get to work with and around restaurant and catering folks, which was great!….I get to work in and around Competition BBQ folks, which is great!…and on a daily basis we get to educate folks about BBQ – types of smokers and grills, types of rubs and sauces, and how to BBQ! And, my wife didn’t leave me! WooHoo!
As described above, at Mason-Dixon BBQ we have (3) customer groups – the homeowner/backyard guy, the caterer/restaurant folks, and the competition BBQ community (we also ship smokers and grills all over the world under a Military GSA Contract, but that’s all computer and contract stuff so it’s not fun, profitable, but hands-off so I won’t discuss it here…). As a BBQ Supply store, Mason-Dixon BBQ is not just a niche of a store. By specializing in only wood and charcoal-fired smokers and cookers, we are a niche of a niche.
When I first opened the store in Greencastle, PA, folks didn’t know what to make of us. I can’t tell you how many times people came into the store thinking we were a BBQ restaurant. You could always tell because they’d have a slightly confused/glazed look in their eyes when they opened the door and looked around, but couldn’t find our menu board….then it dawned on them that we weren’t a restaurant. It took about 6 months for us not to get at least one person looking to buy lunch…it still happens about once a week and we’ve been open for 8 years now! Same thing happened when we opened the store in Frederick, MD in 2014…and at that store, it still happens 2-3 times a week!
While I could really go into what we do and what we have at the store, for the purposes of this article for MABA, I’d like to talk about Competition BBQ and how it relates to Mason-Dixon BBQ. We sell (4) lines of Competition BBQ Smokers – Backwoods Smokers, 270 Smokers, Meadow Creek Smokers, and Webers (WSM’s). Over the years we’ve looked at other brands – Humphreys, Stumps, Peoria, Yoder, Mixon, and Deep South Smokers (missed the boat on that one!). But we’ve stuck with those brands and haven’t brought in anything new since 270 Smokers in 2014.
We’re looking at bringing in Drum Smokers this year and have been looking at a variety of brands. Recommendations are welcome! Mason-Dixon BBQ always stocks the most popular models of the smokers we carry and it’s one of the few places in the country where you can go and pickup a Backwoods, 270, or Meadow Creek smoker off the showroom floor.
We also carry over 200 rubs and sauces from competition teams and/or used in competition around the country….Victory Lane, Meat Church, 3Eyz, Head Country, Dizzy Pig, Smokin’ Guns, ObieQ, Butcher’s, and Dixie Meat Rub to name a few! With a few exceptions, if it’s not used in competition, we don’t sell it. We also carry most competition injections as well – Butchers, Kosmos, Fab, Meat Church, Victory Lane, and Smoke on Wheels to name a few….very few, we have a bunch more!
One of the coolest things we do at the store is our BBQ Bootcamps. When I first opened the store, one of the things I quickly realized is that while folks have a passion for BBQ, very few actually know anything about it. People coming into the store were intimidated by the equipment, by the variety of spices and sauces, and even by the meat – i.e. “a whole packer? I could never do that!” In order to get backyard guys up to speed, we began to do BBQ Bootcamps. Not “show and go” classes, but actual hands on cooking classes. Everyone cooks a pork butt…or ribs…or a whole packer brisket. We invite Pitmasters to come in to assist with the classes as well. No pay, but when was the last time you got to play with 20+ Brisket/Ribs/Pork Butts at one time, and 20+ different rubs, and 20+ different injections on 12 different types of smokers – ALL AT THE SAME TIME! If you’d like to come in for a Bootcamp, just give us a head’s up – we’d love to have you here!
Anyway, another great thing about our Bootcamps is that through this type of exposure, we have brought 22 new teams into competition BBQ – people who had never competed before, took Bootcamps, got interested in competition, formed teams, competed in backyard comps, then went full KCBS comps! That’s pretty cool if I say so myself. One of the concerns I have for competition BBQ is that when I look at the results for competitions, it’s rare to see a new team listed. The results might vary, but I always recognize the same team names. If Competition BBQ is to continue to exist, there has to be new blood. That’s one of the things Mason-Dixon BBQ is committed to – educating people about BBQ, giving them a foundation on how to do it, and possibly making them confident enough to try to compete! I’d love to see MABA put together a formal Backyard Competition program to help develop more teams in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
The IRONMAN. As with all great ideas – started out by a few drunk guys sitting in a bar writing ideas down on a napkin with a borrowed pen (after all who carries a pen with them in a bar??). We started small – The Go Naked BBQ Show – in 2010 as a backyard ribs ‘n chicken comp with no electricity allowed. That was a lot of fun with 30+ teams showing up. Then we played a little more with the idea – going with all (4) meats; then one year with no sauce allowed because judges were complaining about too much sauce on everything (that was a disaster – turns out judges love sauce!); then came THE IRONMAN.
For those of you who don’t know, THE IRONMAN format is no electric for prep or cook,so no electronic controls for your fire…props to Bob Trudnak (BBQ Guru) for coming to compete in 2017 despite that rule!! The other huge rule is limited meat…(1) Brisket, (1) Pork Butt, (1) Rack of Ribs, and (7) Pieces of Chicken only! Essentially, if you screw up one category, there’s no fall-back . You have to be on your game the entire time. No, it’s easier than you think, because the weather in early April in Pennsylvania is normally beautiful, but we’ve had the odd year with poor weather and that really makes it a challenge! Every year we’ve had more teams join us and in 2017 we capped out at 60 teams! The beauty of this format is two-fold – with limited meat it’s a lot cheaper to do than most comps so even small teams can afford to do it; and with each team cooking the same amount of food – i.e. without 6 racks of ribs to choose from – it helps level the playing field for everyone! Every year we’ve had at least (5) teams make THE IRONMAN their very first competition ever! We’re on again this year for April 6 & 7, 2018. Signups are well underway, and we have over 30 teams signed up already!
For 2018 Mason-Dixon BBQ is going to expand and get more into SCA Steak Competitions and Classes. Spoiler alert, we are looking to have an SCA class on the Friday morning before THE IRONMAN and then have an SCA Steak Competition that afternoon! WooHoo! More details to follow….
That’s about it for now….I have to go sell stuff! If you are in the area of either store – 93 Monocacy Blvd, Frederick, MD or 1542 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, PA – we would love to have you stop in. If nothing else, just to talk BBQ for a while….Oh who am I kidding, buy something dammit! Ha. Or like us on Facebook to see what we have going on each week. Or send us an email if you’d like to help out with a Bootcamp – firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit our webstore if you need supplies and can’t make it in, we’d love to help you out and send you what you need – www.mdbbqservices.com!
Happy New Year BBQ’rs!!!