Fredonia BBQ business tempts meat fans with commitment to ‘low and slow’ philosophy
While conventional logic tells us that Labor Day weekend marks the end of the summer grilling season in these parts, business is still going at a fevered pitch for Mr. Tony’s BBQ.
Town of Fredonia resident Tony Roy started the traveling barbecue business two years ago and has developed a devoted following.
Roy was a remodeling contractor for 20 years when he noticed his back was taking a beating from the heavy labor.
Roy has long been a fan of cooking shows on the Food Network, and when he found himself at a career crossroads something seemed to click.
“I am not culinary trained. I simply have always loved to cook — and in quantity. I actually got into the barbecue business because of my remodeling work,” Roy said.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking on the grill for family and friends, and ended up doing some grilling for construction customers. Then I did a retirement party for a big shot at Harley-Davidson, and within two weeks things just kind of took off.”
The barbecue business has turned into a full-time vocation, but Roy said there is a lot more to it than standing around with a pair of tongs and a hamburger flipper.
The largest “tool” of his new trade is a 24-foot customized trailer that houses a full kitchen (complete with refrigerator, freezer and running water) and a Lang 84 Deluxe reverse-flow, wood-burning smoker. The smoker has an eight-foot grill capable of handling 300 pounds of savory meat.
A smaller trailer gives Roy additional grilling room, with a series of racks spaced at the ideal height to barbecue ribs.
“The little trailer was made 100% from recycled steel that people were throwing out. Most of the work I did in remodeling was with wood, but I learned how to work with steel while putting that smoker together,” Roy said.
The mobile kitchen and smokers turned his barbecue business into a year-round venture.
“It can be 10-below and I can be out there making barbecue. If wood will still burn, I am in business,” Roy said.
The smokers are the essential ingredient for barbecue aficionados.
The devices force smoke to circulate around the meat, which never needs to be turned. Flames never touch the meat’s surface, either, because the heat radiates around it.
Roy said the optimum cooking temperature for the smokers is 225 to 250 degrees, and a series of gauges allows him to keep careful watch of the heat levels in different sections of the smoker.
“Low and slow is the name of the game,” he said, noting that cooking meat at low temperatures over a long period of time ensures a tender entree.
“After cooking in the smoker, once you remove the skin, if you need to use a knife it isn’t done. The meat just falls off the bone,” Roy said.
Because of the low heat, he said, roasting a pig can easily take 12 hours, which sometimes means getting up before the sun to fire up the smoker. Preparing barbecued chicken can take three hours, and pulled pork often requires more than six hours of slow cooking.
In addition to his own sauces and dry rubs, Roy said the choice of wood used in the smoker has a significant impact on the flavor of the meat.
His fuel of choice is a mix of hard woods with a smattering of apple or cherry wood to add a smoky sweetness.
“Some people are very particular about what kind of wood they want used, whether it is hickory or mesquite, and I always do what I can to make them happy,” Roy said.
The smokers are remarkably efficient, burning through about two logs an hour.
Roy admits to being a purist when it comes to grilling meat.
“You would be surprised what a difference it makes using wood as a fuel. I can taste the gas when meat is prepared on a gas grill. That’s what sets us apart,” he said.
Pig roasts are a big part of his business. Roy smokes the porkers in “racer position” with legs tucked in at the side, rather than on a rotating spit.
“There is a lot more waste with a whole barbecued pig, but people enjoy the presentation,” he said. Pork shoulders are a more cost-efficient way to share pork on a large scale, Roy said.
Beef briskets are also becoming increasingly popular with local barbecue fans.
Roy also prepares a tempting array of side dishes, including smoked macaroni and cheese.
“People love smoked cheese, and this just spreads that flavor throughout the dish,” he said.
Mr. Tony’s BBQ has catered corporate outings, church gatherings, wedding receptions and family reunions. Some of those events have meant feeding 150 or more people.
Roy said his biggest — and most exhausting — day came during this summer’s Grillin’ in Grafton event. He, his wife Kristin and son Max served 1,200 pulled pork sandwiches during that event.
“We had people lined up 40 deep for 10 hours straight,” Roy said.
He said last fall the business became the caterer of choice of the Ripon College football team when it traveled for road games. Max is a student at Ripon.
Roy said the traveling barbecue was also a big hit at the Ozaukee County Fair, becoming a favorite meal stop for law-enforcement officers. That relationship continued when he catered a recent reunion of members of the county’s SWAT team.
For big events, Roy hauls his smokers to the site, but for smaller celebrations he will prepare the food at his home.
“It has turned out to be a lot more work than I ever imagined, but I still enjoy seeing the expressions on people’s faces when they bite into what is possibly the best pulled pork sandwich they have ever had,” Roy said.
At the urging of some customers, Roy said, he has been toying with the idea of opening a barbecue restaurant. However, he said the economy still makes that a risky venture.
“I already have plenty of headaches,” Roy joked.
He is gearing up for a busy autumn, highlighted by serving food every weekend during the Halloween season at Meadowbrook Pumpkin Farm in West Bend.
Details on upcoming events and how to order catering services are available at the Website www.mrtonysbbq.com
Image Information: TOWN OF FREDONIA resident Tony Roy has given up the rugged life of a remodeling contractor to run his barbecue business, Mr. Tony’s
BBQ. Above, Roy checked the progress on a barbecued brisket. Meat is roasted slowly on his smokers, with special attention given to the type of wood used for
fuel. Photos by Mark Jaeger