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Meet Red’s True Barbecue Co-Founders, Scott & James

Meet Red’s True Barbecue co-founders, Scott and James

"Real barbecue in America is nothing like we perceive it in the UK."

That's one of the first things Scott Munro, half of the brains behind Red's True Barbecue, tells us when we meet for a chat. He's talking about a 'pilgrimage' he took to America back in 2011, with fellow co-founder James Douglas.

"It was such an eye-opening trip. Out in the States, there are BBQ joints that have been open for sixty, seventy, eighty years, and those handling the barbecue ('pitmasters', as they're known) take it so seriously, it's almost like a religion."

While UK summer barbecues are all too often synonymous with cremated sausages and mullered chicken thighs, in America, real barbecue is all about low-and-slow cooking  – a low, indirect heat resulting in tender, smoke-infused meat.

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Barbecue believers

Scott and James returned on a crusade to create a real barbecue culture in the UK, opening the first American-style smokehouse, Red's True Barbecue, in Leeds in 2012. Playing on the likeness to religion, the brand's personality is mock-evangelical, with the slogan, 'let there be meat'.

"We're inviting people to come and worship BBQ the same way the Americans do," James says, completely deadpan.

Fast-forward five years, and Scott and James have opened seven Red's restaurants across the country and are the first people outside America to ever be invited to enter the World Championships Bar-B-Que competition in Houston, Texas.

"We really went to extremes with our brisket," James claims of Red's Championships offering, which beat 120 American entries to 24th place.

"We import it from the US, and one of the things that's most difficult to get right is the animal you start with – the breed of cow, what it's fed, how it's treated.

"Then you need a very skilled butcher who can select the best piece of meat – as much fat as possible, but without it being too fatty."

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The Pitmasters

And that's all before it arrives with the Red's Pitmasters.

"How the meat is handled when coming from the US is very important, and then it's the rubs you use, the wood you use, the time it goes into the smoker, knowing when to adjust the temperature, knowing how to wrap it. Our Pitmasters learn all this on our trips to the US, and we can only continue to get better by going out there regularly."

There's a very obvious, almost obsessive attention to detail here, as well as a commitment and passion – something the Red's owners are keen to impart. In a bid to create homegrown talent, they've opened their own 'Pitmaster Academy', where wannabe barbecuers undergo an intense three years of training (with periodic visits to the US, of course!).

"We have two types of kitchen," Scott reveals. "There are our restaurants kitchens – the smokehouses – where we have your typical kitchen equipment. But then there are the pits or 'pitrooms', manned by the best pitmasters in the UK."

And their kitchens are never closed.

"We're constantly serving from our restaurant kitchens throughout the day, then smoking meat in our pithouses throughout the night. We do around three or four smokes per day. Smoking times vary depending on the product – pork shoulders can take up to 14 or 15 hours."

As much as Scott and James take their devotion to 'true' barbecue seriously, they have fun with their menu too – as is clear with their infamous Donut Burger, inspired by a particularly memorable US visit.

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It's all theatre

"We discovered the donut burger at a BBQ joint in Memphis. I thought it sounded a bit grotesque, but Scott was like, 'I need that in my face right now.'"

"We ordered one and it was unbelievable. It was just one doughnut cut in half with a burger in it, but we thought, we have to bring it back and make it even better. So we went even more out-there, with two doughnuts stacked up upon layer on layer of burger-cheese-bacon."

The crazy, even intimidating look of the food is all part of their mission to make barbecue a completely sensory experience, from the smell of the smokehouse to the lively atmosphere and manner of eating.

"If we see anyone using a knife and fork, we tell them to pick it up and eat it with their mouths – just get involved!"

One of their new dishes, the ox cheek bone luge, is particularly theatrical.

"It's shredded ox cheek over a huge marrow bone canoe. We serve it with a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon and a spoon. Once you've eaten the meat, pour the bourbon down the marrow so it picks up all the juices, and drink!"

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