Wicker BBQ

If you ever make it to Mooresville, North Carolina, you will find a large town that’s part of the fast-growing area in Charlotte’s metro section. The town is best known for being home to many NASCR racing teams. Over time the town was nicknamed, “Race City USA.” And fast becoming the place to go, is, Wicker BBQ, owned by Philip Wicker and Jeremy Hadoges. And you don’t want to miss this place. We recently caught up to Philip and asked about his BBQ business.

Philip Wicker and Jeremy Hadoges

 

Lang: Was there any particular reason you chose your company name?

PW: Before I ever decided to start a BBQ business, I had always had the name Wicker BBQ picked out as a company name.  I like the simplicity of using my family name for the business.

Lang: What was the motive behind starting your business?

PW: It was actually a little unplanned.  A close friend really wanted me to cook for his wedding.  I had never cooked for more than a couple dozen folks, so I had to pull a lot of strings and do a lot of guesswork to figure things out for my first rodeo.  After the wedding, the venue owners were very impressed and asked me for my business card (which I didn’t have because I didn’t have a business at that time). I realized I had a pretty big opportunity to break into catering at that moment and the light bulb sort of clicked on.

BBQing at a private event in Charlotte, NC.

Lang: So can you talk a bit about your previous cooking experience?

PW: Like most pitmasters, it all started in the backyard.  I have always loved outdoor cooking and grilling since I was a teenager, but I got into cooking BBQ shortly after I got married around 2008. I had grown up on NC BBQ and had become very interested in how to make my own.  I cooked on little UDS style smokers and slowly worked my way up to small offset stick burners.

Lang: Did you get any support while learning?

PW: My brother-in-law was doing some similar stuff at home and we’d share recipes and techniques.  He helped me a lot on how to cook shoulders.  We came up with our own sauce and rub recipes, and word started getting around about how good of BBQ we were cooking.

A whole shoulder fat side down in a pan towards the end before letting it rest

Lang: How is your partner involved?

PW: Jeremy Hadoges, my partner in the business, and I have been running the business since it started.  Before there was the business, we were doing a lot of backyard cooking together and hosting small parties at our homes.  We met when we were pretty young and have been close friends for a long time.  Jeremy has a great eye for detail and has pushed us to new limits as a BBQ catering company.

 

Lang:  What would you say makes your business unique?

PW: We spent so many years cooking for family and friends that when we set out on this catering journey, we simply wanted to replicate that same experience, but with a focus on our roots and preserving North Carolina C BBQ.  We wanted to bring that backyard, NC style pig pickin to the table for these events we were getting booked to cater.

Lang: How do you relate to customers?

PW: We love interacting with guests at events that we cater for.  Things like, showing them the smoker, giving them fresh samples as the BBQ is coming off the cooker, you’ll even have frequent guests that are backyard pitmasters themselves that know the Lang brand but have never seen one in person.  We try to tailor each client’s event to best fit their needs and help guide them in a direction that will deliver the best product and presentation for their event.

Hosting a private party with family and friends showing what a typical setup looks like

Lang: How did you go about starting the business?

PW: After things wrapped up at my friend’s wedding that I mentioned, the venue owners approached me and asked me for my business card.  Since I didn’t have a business, I just gave them my number for them to give out to potential clients that were booking the venue.  I didn’t think it would really generate any calls until a few weeks later when my phone started ringing.  I was getting calls from couples who were planning to get married at the same venue and were looking for BBQ at their wedding.

Setup at a wedding venue in the mountains of NC.

Lang: So, things started happening quickly?

PW: I was in a minor jam because I borrowed an older Lang to do my friend’s wedding.  If I was going to commit to anymore weddings, I was going to need my own cooker kind of quick, and there was no question that it needed to be a Lang.  I had very limited funds to go out and buy a brand-new Lang, and a bunch of catering equipment, so I had to get creative.  I found a used 84 Deluxe all the way down in Florida for a decent price, but it needed some really major TLC.  I decided to pull the trigger and in one day drove to Florida and back to get this cooker.  I spent days getting it cleaned up and repainted but overall was ready to answer the phone and start booking events.  I managed to book a few events and build up enough funds to start adding on some of the necessities for catering, like cambros, containers, chafing dishes, and serving utensils.

 

Lang: Tell us about your business with some detail –

PW: When we first started, we were a meat only option.  I didn’t really have the capacity to handle both BBQ and sides, so I would tell clients that I could provide amazing bbq, but they would have to come up with everything else, starting with the sides, serving, and cleanup.  I was only able to go about that way of business for so long, so I started coming up with side dishes we often used in the backyard scenarios.  We came up with formulas to expand them into a catering size serving portions and slowly tweaked them over time to get them just right.

Beef brisket cooked to perfection, Texas style, rubbed with only salt and pepper, slow smoked for hours and wrapped in butcher paper.

Lang: Sounds like you were facing a transition with your business.

PW: For the first year or so, we stuck with the basics, white slaw, pit cooked baked beans, and potato salad.  We had others we’d occasionally throw in there, like corn on the cob, or a house salad, but for the most part our offering was pretty traditional.  Today, we have a much wider variety of side offerings and appetizers aside from the proteins that we have added on.  Some menu items even originated as a special request for something that wasn’t on our menu that worked well and stuck.  Our menu has never been a set in stone component that we throw out to potential clients.  We treat it as more of a conversation starter to help us dial in exactly what it is they desire for their event.

Our original vinegar-based sauce recipe has been a staple with our pulled pork.  We’ve been known to impress folks that normally wouldn’t prefer a vinegar-based sauce.

Lang: How were you growing the business?

PW: Today, we still rely on references only.  We’ve been able to grow a lot through that sort of grass root method and have established good relationships with various venues that are happy to make recommendations to their clients.

Lang: What were the pitfalls you didn’t expect when you went in business?

PW: Time and Preparation.  Me and Jeremy both work full time jobs, so it is extra critical for us to manage all the moving pieces weeks in advance of any event we are catering.  We found out early on that there is a tremendous amount of time and preparation required leading up to an event plus the time to prepare the food.  This is something we learned early on and were able to get more efficient at as we did more and more events. Then you have regulations, codes, licensing, insurance, and a lot more on the business side.

St. Louis spareribs slow smoked and finished with our signature tomato-based sauce.

Lang: What would you recommend to someone new getting in the BBQ business?

PW: Start small and have a dedicated helper (or two).  Offer to cater some family or friend’s small parties and get a feel for how a small event works.  Establish some expectations and scheduling details and get comfortable running the show.  It’s also great to have some friends in the business.  I learned a ton from fellow friends that I had met in the BBQ community who were catering and who let me come and work some of their events and get some experience in the industry.

Lang: When did you first purchase a Lang, what model and why?

PW: 2014. Lang 84 Deluxe. The 84 is a great size pit for catering events from 50 to around 150 or so guests. There’s plenty of room in the cooker for your proteins and even your hot sides like baked beans or corn on the cob.  The warming cabinet is a bonus.  We can hold finished BBQ for hours without it getting over done.  It can double as an additional cooking space if need be which can come in handy, especially on those larger events. It’s our full-time catering cooker, but occasionally gets utilized for personal family or friend’s events.

Our tomato-based sauce offers customers a second sauce option

Lang:  What features do you like best about Lang?

PW: The Lang Smoker Cooker is built very well and hold up over time.  Ours was originally built in 2011 and has stood the test of time even through heavy use with catering.  The reverse flow design produces an amazing product that burns clean and is very efficient.  I’ve had a chance to cook on some competitor’s cookers right next to the Lang and have witnessed firsthand how much better a Lang does over its competition.

Lang:  What is your main goal as a chef?

PW: To continue learning and perfecting my craft, and to not be afraid of experimenting and trying new things.  Just because you’re comfortable and satisfied with how your product comes doesn’t mean you can’t do it a different way.  Especially when cooking at home.  Try cooking a butt fat side down, adding some different spices to your rib rub, or cooking at different temperatures. Heck…try cooking something you’ve never put in the smoker before.  The sky’s the limit and doing the same thing over and over can get boring.

Lang: What are the favorite meals you like to prepare and why?

PW: I love brisket paired with some pit cooked baked beans and some slaw. Having grown up in NC, pulled pork is king here and it’s easy to get a little tired of it.  Don’t get me wrong…I love pulled pork, but when I have a chance to do brisket, I look very forward to it.  A lot of the old school BBQ joints across the state don’t do brisket.  When I got into BBQ, I figured out that brisket in Texas is like pulled pork here, it’s a big deal and has to be done right.  It took me some time to get comfortable doing brisket.  Once I got decent at cooking it, I realized how much I loved it.

Lang: Are you in competition?

PW: Wicker BBQ has never officially competed in an event, but one day we’d like to.  A lot of the competitions we’d be interested in, tend to happen during our busy catering seasons, so it’s always been a challenge to commit to one.  We’ve had the opportunity to attend them while catching up with competitors that we know, so we have some familiarity with competition world that would be pretty fun to get into.

Lang: What new projects are you currently working on?

PW: Things are pretty slow right now given the situation we’re all in with COVID.  Our entire spring was essentially put on hold.  We’ve been working on getting the Lang 84 cleaned up recently and a fresh coat of paint. We recently had the tongue extended and have added a chicken flipper to the frame.

Chicken wings cooked in the warming chamber of the Lang 84. The warming cabinet when used as a cooking area is perfect for cooking smoked wings.

Lang: What can you share about the BBQ community as a whole?

PW: The BBQ community is a very welcoming and friendly group of people.  When I first started cooking BBQ, it seemed like a giant mystery that I was going to have to figure out.  The idea of cooking things for hours on end seemed daunting with very little room for error.  I quickly found a community of people through forums like The BBQ Brethren, and the Smoke Ring, and then later Facebook groups, and Instagram that I found to be very helpful.  Folks were happy to offer tips and recipes, which was amazing.  The community has grown a ton via social media, so if you’re new to BBQ, there’s a lot of content out there that can get just about anybody with a charcoal grill started in BBQ.

 

Lang: What type of wood do you favor when cooking?

PW: Primarily hickory, and some cherry.

Prep time before customers arrive

Lang: Can you share a recipe with us and include a photo as well?

PW: The Whole Shoulder:

Similar to your standard store-bought Boston butt, the whole shoulder is slightly larger and a staple in NC, especially around the central part where we are from.  There’s technically a Boston butt in the whole shoulder.  A whole shoulder is just a Boston butt with the lower portion of the shoulder known as the picnic roast removed.  These are usually not common at butcher shops and need to be specially ordered.  They range between 14-20 lbs and can take a few more hours to cook than a Boston butt.  We strongly recommend pairing the shoulder with a NC style vinegar-based sauce.

-Bring your smoker up to around 250-275 degrees

-Look for any loose fat and trim it off the shoulder

-Apply a generous amount of your favorite BBQ to the shoulder.

-Place the shoulder into the smoker fat side up once you’ve reached 250-275 degrees

-Cook the shoulder for about 7 hours, then place it into a large pan fat side down.  The idea here is to capture some rendered fat that we will use later.

-Continue cooking the shoulder for 2-3 more hours.

-Monitor for and cover with foil once you’ve reached your desired bark color.

-Once the shoulder has reached around 195 degrees, remove the shoulder, leaving it in the pan.

-Cover and rest for at least one hour in a warming cabinet, cambro, or cooler

-After the shoulder has rested, remove it from your warming cabinet.

-Remove the shoulder from the pan in chunks and pull/chop to your desired consistency.

-Once the shoulder is pulled, add a moderate amount of rendered fat back into the pulled pork.  This will add some additional flavor and moistness to the final product.

-Place the pulled product into a pan or dish and serve with a NC style vinegar BBQ sauce.

The final product after we’ve pulled our whole shoulder

 

 

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