The Bishop of Barbecue
by John O’Donnell
Paul Pettefer wasn’t always a barbeque fan. Yet five years ago, there he was, standing in his kitchen, craving a rack of ribs. So Pettefer made himself a rack of ribs. “They weren’t great, but they hit the spot and satisfied my craving,” he said. “Even meat that’s cooked badly is still pretty good.”
That day Pettefer vowed to perfect his rib cooking. He bought a cheap smoker and started experimenting and learning the craft and art that goes into cooking meat. One day he invited a friend to visit and taste some of his latest creation. The ribs were a hit and Pettefer noticed something. “Dudes love talking about barbeque.” That’s when it hit him. Pettefer would use BBQ as a way to bring people together and build community, fellowship, and faith. That’s how the Rib List started.
“The Rib List” is a multi-page document that Pettefer keeps on his phone. It’s full of names, dates, and recipes. “It’s like a barbeque diary!” he explained. Once on the rib list, Pettefer would look for an opportunity and shoot people a text when he would have extra ribs on the smoker. Then you go to his house and pick up a rack of delicious meat. “If I invite twenty people to come over and pick up ribs from the house, we basically have a street party in my driveway. If someone wants to talk, they’ll linger until the end, and sometimes we end up praying together.”
Word spread about the incredible cooking and the good deeds of the “Bishop of Barbeque,” and it wasn’t long until Pettefer was cooking for special events. He was approached by a local school that was having trouble getting parents to participate in their Parent Teacher Organization. They asked if Pettefer would cook for their first meeting of the year to try and attract more participation. Not one to back down from a challenge, Pettefer accepted, then upped the ante. He recruited a class of 5th graders to help him cook and used it as a teaching opportunity.
“Had I ever cooked chicken and ribs for that many people? No! Have I ever done it with a bunch of 5th graders helping me?! No! It was a huge challenge, but it worked. We had 140-something people at the second PTO meeting.”
Pettefer’s charity barbecue work exploded. He cooked for churches, donating rib dinners for auction items and fundraisers. He was so busy that barbecue was taking over his everyday life. “So I thought if we had a food truck, it would allow us to do more charity events, and pay some of the bills,” Pettefer said.
And so was born Paul’s Rib Shack Barbeque Food Truck. He assembled a team to learn the craft of authentic barbecue, led by Sam Turner, his right hand and a full-fledged pitmaster now, and began traveling to learn more about cooking meat, and then pulled the trigger on the purchase of a blazing red food truck.
He debuted his food truck at Live at the Lakefront in March 2017 to great fanfare. Since then, Paul’s Rib Shack Barbeque has been present at community events like Food Trucks Invade, in addition to numerous charity and business events.
“I have two price points: Full price and free,” Pettefer said of his on-going philanthropy work.
The Bishop of Barbecue, or @BishopofBBQ, as the social media handles and cool T-shirts display, is working on expanding his operation to be open for serving lunch on a regular basis from the food truck. His plan for the future of his business is simple: “Create a good vibe. Take care of your people. Make it fun. Have consistency in your products. Be a good friend and neighbor.”