Matt Pittman wasn’t born in Texas, but he barbecues like a native. After his first exposure to true Central Texas barbecue, Pittman’s passion for smoking meats grew quickly, and soon he was a regular on the competition barbecue circuit. In 2014, he landed a spot on Season 5 of the TLC show Barbecue Pitmasters, on which Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue is a frequent judge.
While prepping for the show, Pittman learned that the spice rub recipes he used on the show could be packaged and sold commercially. Pittman named his barbecue business Meat Church — after a comment that former food writer and Meat Fight founder Alice Laussade made about eating barbecue on Sunday mornings — and launched his website when the episode aired. The site’s inventory list at the time was brief: just Pittman’s two custom barbecue rubs, a hat and a T-shirt.
Five years later, Meat Church has over 250,000 Instagram followers and a burgeoning online business. Meat Church's product line includes over a dozen barbecue rubs and brines of Pittman’s making, sold online and in stores from coast to coast. Pittman is a bona fide barbecue celebrity and teaches barbecue classes to spread the Meat Church gospel.
With Meat Church's wild popularity, Pittman finally quit his day job last year to pursue his passion full time. The first Meat Church flagship retail store opened on the square in downtown Waxahachie on June 15.The Observer caught up with Pittman at the grand opening to pick his brain on all things barbecue, from opening a store in his own backyard to what it’s like to smoke meat with Dave Grohl.
Did you think when you started Meat Church that you would ever have a store?
No! (Laughs) I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but this was never the end game. It was always just a hobby, and I never thought this would happen. I just left my corporate job of 21 years last December, and I never expected to do that.
You live here in Waxahachie. How did you find such a great spot right on the square in downtown?
We've got a warehouse where we do wholesale and online stuff. I was just casually looking, and a buddy of mine, he and his wife owned a women’s boutique in this building where we’re at. He said, “Hey, you need to come to downtown (Waxahachie), it’s a really cool vibe.” Our building is really old, it’s built in 1890, and after I saw it, I immediately said, there’s no way I’m going into some strip mall. I’ve got to do this.”
Plus, The Vault Smokehouse moved in next door, and their smoke permeates all through this building. In the boutique, customers would buy something, get home, and think, “Damn, this shirt smells like brisket.”
Bad for them, but that’s perfect for you.
Yeah, so he had to move out, and we moved in. And the guys who own The Vault are some of the best humans ever. We’re totally complementary, and we don’t compete at all. They’re all restaurant, and I’m all supplies.
Are you still doing competitions?
I only do big ones. I do the Houston Rodeo World Championship, I do the Memphis In May, and I’ll do the American Royal. But mostly, I don’t have time because I’m doing classes that have gotten so popular. When I do the classes in my backyard, we limit them to 40 people. So this last one, we had 80 people over two days, from 16 different states and three different countries. We had a guy from Rome, Italy, we had a guy from Winnipeg. So now the city loves us, the visitor and convention bureau gives us deals on hotels for all these people coming in for Meat Church. It's insane.
Your store really looks amazing.
It is — I love that everything down here’s old. Everything in it is old. We put in 100-year-old shiplap and 50-year-old corrugated tin ceilings. I really just like the feel. But I said the store maybe wasn’t my best idea ever. Honestly, I can wake up on a Tuesday morning, make something, take a picture of it and make money online.
But this is such a great way to meet people.
Oh yeah, it’s fun. I’ll have my son take over eventually, but I’m here for the day-to-day stuff while we get it off the ground. But I get to sit out here and tell people how to cook food and drink beer, so I’m good at that. It’s amazing.
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We saw your photo with Dave Grohl, who’s a big barbecuer now …
He is so nice. I’ve hung out with him two years in a row at Memphis in May (Festival), and he’s awesome. First time, I had just landed, and my buddy texted and said, “Dave Grohl’s in our tent!” I love the Foo Fighters, but we get there, and he’s cooking right in front of us. So it was a Friday night, and I wasn’t sure how long he was gonna be there. So we’re drinking, and my buddy says, "You two should get a photo together.” So I don’t know him, I haven’t said “Hey, my name’s Matt,” or if he doesn’t know Meat Church, so I said, “Hey man, can I take a picture with you?” And he says “Hey man, if you hadn’t asked me, I was gonna ask you!”
Then last year, I’m in Nashville (at a competition), where the judges come by our tent, and I convince them that my barbecue is the best. So these judges are coming by, and I look over, and Dave Grohl is behind me, poking his head into my tent watching me cook and get judged.
Did you give him any tips?
No … but I’m such a fanboy, I wanted him to sign that photo of us at Memphis. I brought it with me, but we took another photo together, and that's the one that's in the store, so I chickened out. I did give him a Meat Church T-shirt, though. I was really lucky, because I thought that all rock stars wear that skinny shit, so I grabbed a “Barbecue AF” T-shirt in medium and brought it with me. When I asked him if I could give him a shirt, and he was like “yeah, a medium,” so I nailed that. Now I just hope that he gets photographed in a Meat Church Barbecue AF T-shirt. That will be perfect.
Meat Church, 205 S. College St., Waxahachie. meatchurch.com