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Fire up the Grill for National BBQ Week
From Missouri to Merchant Square (Paddington) – Michael Gratz tells us about authentic US BBQ
Thank you for talking with us Michael. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself - where are you from in the States, and how did you find yourself making the move to the UK?
I was born in St. Louis and raised in both St. Louis and Kansas City. Growing up in the Midwest I was spoiled with great barbecue and comfort food. The weekends were all about firing up the grill in the backyard, from big BBQs at granddad’s, to Burgers and Brats as a teen, charcoal and wood were always in the mix. Cooking and entertaining were a large part of my youth.
I graduated from University of Kansas, my wife was from NYU, and we lived in New York City for a number of years. While in NYC, I worked for the BBC and went to culinary school for personal enrichment, to become a better home cook, not ever thinking I would eventually have a food business. In 2012 we moved to London for my wife's role at American Express and I went on sabbatical giving me time to think about what I really wanted to pursue as my next career and I kept coming back to food.
What got you interested in BBQ?
Barbecue in Kansas City is almost a religion. We eat slow smoked meats at least once a week. Barbecue has been in my life from as early as I can remember. So when we moved to London in 2012 a major gap opened in my diet due to the lack of great BBQ. I have always had a passion for food, and wanted my own business, so those two things led me to start Prairie Fire BBQ. I started small doing streetfood to test the concept and people embraced it. I had ex-pat customers asking for the BBQ sauce to take home so I started bottling it. From there, we started selling to local butcher shops and Wholefoods.
As word spread, we were being booked to cater big corporate and sporting events. It was then in 2015 I met Eric Rosenberg, my business partner, a fellow ex-pat who had relocated to London from Silicon Valley. Eric had recently left his position as CIO of the private equity firm Silver Lake and his technology and business development background was a perfect fit to enable us to grow and expand our business. We then opened a shop in the Mercato Metropolitano in 2016, and are now pursuing our first standalone restaurant in London. We recently set up an office in Amsterdam for our product distribution into Europe.
Your company is all about traditional Kansas City Style BBQ - what's identifiable about Kansas City BBQ?
In Kansas City we smoke every type of meat, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, sausage, you name it and then we sauce it. We see the rich smoky tomato and molasses based BBQ sauce as an enhancement to the BBQ experience, not a cover up. Other BBQ regions debate the use of sauce and only use one type of meat, for instance Texas is all about beef and no sauce, the Carolinas are all about pig and a mustard based sauce, Memphis is pork rib city, wet or dry. What you find now is that most barbecue joints in the US have BBQ sauces. At Prairie Fire BBQ we are very proud to be the first BBQ sauce in the UK to win a Great Taste award for our Original Kansas City Style BBQ sauce. In addition to the Original sauce, we have a growing product line including Spicy BBQ sauce, Spice Rubs and Hot Sauces.
You offer both meat and fish on your menus - can BBQ work with almost any type of meat/fish?
The diversity of Kansas City style BBQ allows us to work with all types of meats and fish and stay authentic. We currently oak smoke USDA beef brisket, applewood smoke Irish pork, free range English chicken and turkey, and hickory smoke Scottish salmon.
What makes American BBQ the best?
Americans define BBQ as slow smoked meats, low temperature and slow cooking times. Each regional BBQ capital in America has its attributes, combine all the regions and American BBQ is the best. BBQ everywhere else is hot fire and grilling. American BBQ uses smoke as a major ingredient.
Of all the world’s BBQ regions, American BBQ is one of the most difficult to perfect. For example, hot grilling a steak in Argentina is easier than slow smoking a brisket for 16hrs in Kansas City while achieving an exceptional result. For the steak, all you need is salt, pepper and a really hot flame, and it’s perfectly cooked in minutes. For the brisket, it needs skilled fat trimming, not too much and not too little, spice rubbing, wood selection, and a precise cooking temperature range maintained throughout the entire cooking process. Technique that takes years to master.
Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing grilled meats found all over the world, but American BBQ takes the cake in my book.
What's the best beverage to accompany your BBQ?
You can’t go wrong with an ice cold beer, however my 5 year old likes his BBQ with a root beer.
What's your top tip for National BBQ Week?
Stock up at your local butcher, head out to the garden, aka backyard, and fire up the grill!
If you're looking for an authentic take on American BBQ, check out Michael and Eric's company at www.prairiefirebbq.com. As well as offering sauces and rubs, which can be bought online via their website, they also offer catering, and regularly attend local markets where you can try their amazing food yourself.