CONSUMED BY BARBECUE
Story By Matt HornYETI Ambassador | Pitmaster
Location: Oakland, CA
About five years ago I was working retail at a shoe store. I really wasn’t happy doing that, but one thing that gave me joy when I got off work was finding a recipe and trying to cook it. I’d been doing that for not even a month when I invited a girl I’d been seeing over for dinner. I said, “I’ll cook, you bring the wine,” and decided I was going to make barbecue for her – cook some ribs, maybe some hot links. Make some nice sides. Since the apartment I was living in didn’t allow grills, I had to take my small Weber charcoal grill onto the roof to cook.
With the sides all ready to go, I went upstairs and put the ribs directly over a nice flame. When I saw the ribs getting a char, I pulled them off, brought them downstairs, covered them in sauce, and served dinner. I was starving when we ate, so it wasn’t until my plate was almost finished that I noticed Nina had eaten everything else on her plate, but only taken a small bite out of the meat. I asked her, “How is everything?” She said, “Want me to be honest with you? I’m grateful you cooked, and I’m having a good time, but the ribs…they’re not that good.”
The rest of the night I could think about nothing but those ribs. Nina was right – they were tough. I thought I knew what I was doing, but the truth is I was winging it. And the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about it all week made me realize I had become obsessed with figuring out what I did wrong. The next weekend I got in the car and drove three hours to Fresno to my grandmother’s backyard. I needed to see about the smokers I knew she had there – the ones that my grandfather and father would use to cook for the family and neighborhood when we were growing up.
“Go ahead,” my grandmother said, pulling off the tarps. That weekend I spent all day and night alone in the backyard on those pits, listening to B.B. King, the soul music resonating in the night along with the fire and smoke. I started noticing the different colors and textures that were developing, and every so often my grandmother would come out to let me know it was smelling good. When I lit that first fire in my grandmother’s backyard, it sparked my curiosity and obsession with making a barbecue the best it could be. Even though I didn’t – and still don’t – have any formal training, what I do have is a commitment to excellence. Cooking barbecue literally consumed me wholeheartedly.
Since all I had at my apartment in L.A. was that charcoal Weber, I continued to make the drive out to Fresno every chance I got – which was easier after I quit my job at the shoe store. When I knew making barbecue was what I wanted to do in my life, everything else was irrelevant.
Even though I cooked that first batch of ribs over fire, with charcoal, without enough time, and covered them in sauce, Nina still agreed to marry me a few months later. At least now the barbecue has gotten better.
Meet Matt Horn
Known in his area as a pop-up legend, Matt successfully opened his first brick-and-mortar location in October 2020, despite all the complications that the year has thrown for all, particularly those in the hospitality industry. He brings central Texas-style BBQ to northern California with a dedication to craft that has customers lining up.See Matt's Profile