…why not? We ARE afterall a ‘BBQ Caterer’ which I believe that this week’s posts so far have done a pretty good job of covering. Although, all this reflection and education has got me to thinking a whole bunch about the evolution of BBQ in my life and how that translates to all we are doing today! So, if you’ve got the time to oblige…here’s a bit of a retrospective followed by an overview of our capabilities as a ‘BBQ Caterer’!
As a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh, I had a pretty funny perception of what “BBQ” was in contrast to my knowledge today. Back THEN…I thought of what I now call “BBQ” as “Pulled Pork” because that was all I knew of it! In my hometown we were fortunate enough to have Isaly’s, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaly’s) which were a Restaurant/Dairy chain that was started in Ohio and they had many outlets in Western PA. Many folks know of their most famous legacy…the Klondike Bar, which survives today in a variety of forms, all of which are considerably thinner than the originals! Another thing that Isaly’s was famous for in ‘The Burgh’ was ‘Chipped Ham’…a concept that was entirely foreign when I arrived in Central PA at the turn of the Seventies into the Eighties. It started with an incredible cooked ‘deli ham’ that was then sliced so thin that it didn’t come off the ‘log’ in full slices…you could also call it ‘shaving’ the meat, but it was ‘chipped’ where I came from. It took years & a fair amount of migration from Western PA for the groceries in Central PA to learn to do the technique correctly!
SO…why do I spend so much time talking about ‘Chipped Ham’ in a BBQ Blog? Well…THAT’s what I associated with BBQ until arriving in the Harrisburg area in the early eighties. You see, ‘Ham BBQ’ was (and still is) an INCREDIBLE treat that comes from starting off with what many would associate with a traditional ‘pan BBQ sauce’ cooked in a pot on the stove using a LOT of ingredients from Western PA. You start with Heinz Ketchup and then add in whatever ingredients your family used….ours included; brown sugar, Welch’s Grape Jelly, Lemon Juice, Worcestershire sauce and Heinz Sweet Relish. Bring the whole mixture to a boil and then add in the Chipped Ham. Cook it all together for a while and the combination of flavors all mix together into a VERY TASTY Ham BBQ which is best served on two slices of white bread. It’s hot and messy and burns your mouth, but it is a VERY tasty treat and what I knew ‘BBQ’ to be from my youngest years.
Then we moved from Western PA to Central PA and I can still remember the VERY FIRST time that I ordered a ‘BBQ Sandwich’ in a restaurant! It was a SLOPPY JOE!!! Ground meat in a sauce that was VERY similar to that mix from a can! I couldn’t believe that this was considered BBQ and it was perhaps my endoctrination to the regional differences associated with such a simple term! When you asked for HAM BBQ…people looked at you like you were from another planet! (Same for ‘Chipped Ham’ for many years) To this day, you will only rarely come across the regional delicacy that I know NOW to be ‘Ham BBQ’ sandwiches. AND…they STILL call Sloppy Joe’s ‘BBQ’ here in Central PA, although word is spreading that there’s more to it than THAT!
Fast forward many years and more than a few failed ‘BBQ Restaurant’ concepts and I thought I would learn the art of ‘Real Deal’, wood-smoked BBQ! Why? Well…because I could recall those ‘Pulled Pork’ sandwiches that I used to eat on the way to the beaches of North Carolina when I was a kid and more importantly, I remember specifically the old Pitmaster at the ‘shack’ we would typically stop at and I was ready to see if I could reproduce his product…I am still working at it, but I’ve gotten pretty good! It was (at the time) a dying American ‘Art’ and I thought I could help to preserve it! There were no National BBQ Organizations or Competitions back then and ‘Food TV’ was limited to PBS and folks like Justin Wilson (The Cajun Chef) and Graham Kerr (formerly the Galloping Gourmet) who was WAY ahead of the healthy food curve!
As I chose my equipment and taught myself to ‘do BBQ’, I began with a sauce. It took nearly two years and TONS of attempts to come up with MY version of an Eastern North Carolina Vinegar sauce that was uniquely my own. Next I researched smokers and took into consideration the 60+ hours a week that I was working as a Paramedic back then and ultimately chose Pellet Smokers. Now…here’s where the ‘Stick’ and ‘Coal’ burning BBQ folks like to make fun of me, but once again…that’s a topic for another Blog…I can crank out some REALLY GOOD, wood smoked product from my rigs because I’ve put in the hours and learned how to use them…just like whatever gear you choose to do your BBQ with!
Fast forward to today and a BBQ Catering Operation that finds itself facing the challenges of the current economy and the proliferation of other ‘BBQ Caterers’ and restaurants who have their own approaches to doing BBQ. I started out doing WAY more Competition that Catering and I loved it because, while that Vinegar sauce rarely earned me respect from the Judges, I always learned a great deal at Competitions from my fellow competitors! Then…as word got around, folks just started to ask me to cater events and one thing lead to another…so here we are! We are a ‘Full Service’ BBQ Catering Operation with a LOT to offer customers in and around Central PA and an ever evolving mix of products to put on the table!
No matter what our customers needs, we are committed to listening, understanding and working hard to exceed them! We have been and always will be committed to sourcing most of our products from local farms and markets and when we do source from outside PA, we do it because of our relationships with incredible sources who are as committed as we are to tradition and quality. We offer everything from Event Planning, Delivery, Full Service Buffets to our new Whole Hog Roasts (reference yesterday’s post) and Charcuterie catering options that feature all American Meats and Cheeses that rival any of their European counterparts! We remain committed to each and every customer as if they were our only one and we will NEVER sacrifice the quality of our product in order to make a dollar!
And it ALL started way back when I thought Isaly’s Chipped Ham, mixed in a pot on the stove with a mish mash of ingredients was ‘BBQ’…wow, what a long, strange trip it has been! Want to know what we can do for you? Visit us online at www.GreatQ4U.com and we’ll be happy to help any way that we can!