A couple of months ago, I posted a quick review on Oak Ridge Rubs.I’m still using these great rubs and am most impressed by the fact that they have blends specific for venison and other game meat. This company is cool enough that I wanted to learn more from Mike Trump, the owner. Thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer these questions. This was a great interview! ~DRR

1.What made you want to get into the BBQ rub business?

This is a long story but, the quick answer is God. Let me elaborate..

I guess I’ve always had a natural talent for cooking. When I was as young as 10 years old, a childhood friend and I would make homemade barbecue sauce in mom’s kitchen. It was pretty nasty stuff, but we sure thought it was great! A few years later I got my first smoker, a Brinkmann charcoal smoker, or ECB (El Cheapo Brinkmann) as they are lovingly referred to in BBQ circles. It took me several years before I could actually produce something I was proud of off that cooker. I ended up going through two of them, then moved up to an Oklahoma Joe offset smoker. My BBQ started getting pretty good, and family and friends would rave about it. It was at this time, around 1999-2000, that I started making my own rub.

By the summer of 2002, I had worked up enough courage and bbq acumen to feel ready to enter my first KCBS barbecue contest. We ended up getting a first place call in pork ribs with a perfect score! From that point forward, I was hooked. I wasn’t a very prolific bbq competitor, only competing in a couple contests each year, but we always ended up getting called for a top-ten ribbon in at least one category every contest we entered. In 2005, I swapped out the Oklahoma Joe cooker for a 2000 lb. trailer-mounted Lang model 84 Deluxe, and started doing bigger and bigger cooks for friends and family. By 2006, I was doing small to medium sized bbq catering gigs on the side, and soon found with a growing family I no longer had the time to compete. It was during this time I began to feel God leading me to do something bigger with this gift of BBQ He’d given me, but I didn’t know exactly what, nor was I totally open to the idea yet, either.

Fast-forward one year to our 2008 bow hunting deer camp. I had secretly been working on a new venison rub to wow my hunting buddies. Little did I know, but this would end up being a turning point and the catalyst in pushing me to go public with my rubs. The meal was quite simple; venison backstraps, cut into 1½” thick medallions, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and liberally coated with this new venison rub. I grilled them over hardwood coals to a perfect medium rare. They were exquisite. The new rub didn’t try to cover up the flavor of the venison. Instead, it harmonized with the natural flavors perfectly in a way that elevated them to brand new levels. My hunting buddies were so utterly and completely blown away by the flavors, I realized then that I might be on to something big.

It was also at this time that God started to work in my wife and I’s personal lives in a completely different way. We both began to feel His leading to adopt a child. Not just any adoption, but an international adoption from Ethiopia. We prayed and struggled with this decision for a long time; finally yielding to God’s leading and began the adoption process. However, as international adoptions are very expensive, we were stopped short by a lack of financial resources.

Meanwhile, God continued to impress upon me that I needed to move forward with this barbecue rub business idea. So, in February of 2010, my wife and I formed Oakridge BBQ LLC. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of blessing after blessing. The business is growing at a very rapid rate and we are beginning to see God’s plan unfold.

A key part of our business model, that is a direct outgrowth of our life’s experiences to date, is to give at least 10% of our business’ profit to support local, national and international global outreach programs that focus on homelessness and orphans. And, in time, it is our hope that someday through the fruits of this business venture or God’s blessings elsewhere, we will be able to adopt internationally as well.

2.One thing that intrigued me was your rubs for wild game. What’s different about rubs for wild game, vs. “regular” rubs?

Do you remember the old grade school comeback “It takes one to know one”? I think that a similar logic applies here

Before I developed our two Oakridge BBQ wild game rubs, it seemed to me that the vast majority of rub manufacturers out there treated wild game as an afterthought; merely just something parenthetical to be added to the litany of other intended uses printed on their labels. As a matter of fact, based on our market research, you can literally count with one hand the number of rub manufacturers who have developed any spice rub products specifically for wild game.

I think the reason for this is most rub manufacturers don’t hunt nor do they eat venison or other wild game meats. Sure, they can say their product “works” on wild game, but I doubt if any of them have ever tried it. And to my knowledge, only a very few products have ever been developed specifically for it.

Our perspective is different. I am an avid hunter, and have been one for over 20 years. Not only am I familiar with taste of venison and other wild game meats, I happen to love them. It was with this knowledge and a great deal of culinary research, that I developed our two spice rub blends specifically to go hand-in-hand with wild game meats of all kinds. It’s all about the special ingredients we use and their ability to accentuate the natural sweetness and succulence of wild game without drowning out any of the natural flavors. It works so well, in just the past year and a half since its release; our Venison Rub has already been dubbed “The Best Venison Rub on the Planet” by our customers and our Game Bird & Chicken rub has developed an equal following.

3.What’s your favorite product?

Wow! That’s like asking me who’s my favorite kid 😉 Of course, I love them all. However, just like children, each has its own personality and each is better at one thing than another. For steaks, it’s really hard to beat our new Santa Maria Steak Seasoning. And for brisket, pulled pork or ribs, our Competition Beef & Pork rub is very, very good. Our Secret Weapon rub is outstanding on pork and chicken as well. Then, you have our Game Bird & Chicken rub, which is fabulous on just about every game bird imaginable as well as chicken too. Plus, it’s our go-to rub for just about anything else non-meat related, like baked potatoes, French fries, onion rings, grilled vegetables, seafood, scrambled eggs, biscuits & gravy, you name it. Finally, you have our Venison rub, which excels on all kinds of venison, not just whitetails… elk, moose, caribou, fallow deer, speed goats, mule deer, etc., etc., etc.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot our newest rub – our Limited Edition Habanero Death Dust! This stuff is just flat out awesome too! It packs a big punch. For those folks who like it HOT, this rub delivers in a big way. Loads of flavor, plus a surge of habanero chile heat that stays with you for a long time! Better get this stuff quick, though. Because, we’re only making a limited number of these and they’re already almost half-way gone!

4.OK, you have company coming and they aren’t big BBQ fans, not big meat eaters. What are you cooking, to “Wow” them and win them over?
I suppose grilled chicken is always a safe bet, but I think I’d do something unique that would be sure to get their attention.

One of the perks of owning a bbq rub business is you get the opportunity to cook lots of new things. Recently, I have been experimenting with skirt steaks and our new Santa Maria rub, and a few weeks ago we made Tacos de Carne Asada. These were absolutely phenomenal. Skirt steak is similar to flank steak, but it’s texture is more tender and juicy and it packs a huge amount of beef flavor. Basic preparation is simple, just trim the skirt steaks, apply a liberal coating of Oakridge BBQ Santa Maria Steak Seasoning to both sides, and then drench them in fresh-squeezed lime juice. Allow the steaks to marinate in this mixture in the fridge for an hour. Then, grill them to medium rare over a very hot hard wood fire. Drizzle the juice of more fresh limes on the skirt steaks as you grill them. Allow the skirt steaks to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing them across the grain on a bias (45º angle). Now, just build your tacos with fresh corn tortillas, sliced skirt steaks, some Monterrey Jack cheese and a dollop of fresh pico de gallo salsa. They end up looking like this, and dang were they good!

5.What’s your biggest seller?
By the numbers, our Competition Beef & Pork rub is our #1 seller, followed very closely by our Secret Weapon and Game Bird & Chicken rubs. However, that’s almost unfair to say because our Santa Maria rub wasn’t released until earlier this year, we sell the heck out of our Venison rub during the hunting season, and we’ve sold over 15 cases of our new Limited Edition Habanero Death Dust in just the past 5 weeks… Suffice to say, each rub has its own very loyal following and all are selling very well!

I would also like to mention we take great pride (and pleasure) in sponsoring over 20 of the very best Professional Barbecue Teams from across the country. Their performance this year using our spices has so vastly out-performed even our greatest expectations; we would like to personally thank each and every one of them from the bottom of our hearts! As of October 6th, they have managed to amass a total of 192 top-ten calls across all four main meat categories (chicken, pork, ribs and brisket) as well as numerous top-ten placements over entire contests!

6.What’s your best advice for people new to smoking?
To quote Charlie Papazian, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”

Far too often, folks new to smoking get too wrapped up in all the details; What smoker to buy?, what woods to use?, what temp to cook at?, briquettes or lump?, should I foil or not?, is it smoking or is it barbecue, etc., etc., etc.

My first advice to anyone getting started in low & slow cooking is to relax! Don’t sweat the details. Go out and buy a Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) and some charcoal and just dive right in. Don’t expect to make competition quality food right away, but expect to get better with each cooking session, because that’s just how it happens. Low & slow cooking is easy, but it takes time, so don’t rush it.

My second word of advice is to learn how to build and maintain a clean burning fire. This is almost as important as relaxing and not sweating the details. Unfortunately, this is one detail you can’t skip. If your smoker looks like an old coal locomotive taking on a steep grade, your fire isn’t running right… The only smoke you should see coming out of your smoker is a thin line of blueish-white smoke. Any more than that, especially for long periods of time during the cook, will mean bitter, over-smoked meat when you’re finished.

Finally, my last piece of advice is to get on the internet and spend some serious time reading everything that is posted in The BBQ Brethren forum and Ray Basso’s BBQ Forum. The wealth of information shared on these forums will shorten your learning curve exponentially.

7.Do you hunt too? What’s your favorite thing to hunt?

Do I hunt??? Oh heck yeah!

I’m a die-hard bow hunter, but I also greatly enjoy spring turkey hunting and hunting deer with my rifle, handgun and muzzleloader as well. I actually have a degree from the University of Missouri – Columbia in Wildlife Biology and Management. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a job in that field when I graduated college, but now I get to practice my wildlife management skills on my folk’s farm in NW Missouri.
I grew up hunting squirrels and rabbits, and started bow hunting when I was around 15 years old. Because I couldn’t’ drive yet, my mom would have to drop me off at the nearby Army Corps. of Engineer’s land and then come pick me up after dark… Over the years, I’ve hunted just about everything that can be hunted ni Missouri. Now, I primarily hunt whitetails and Eastern wild turkeys. I’d love to hunt other species, but I just don’t have the time right now. Here’s some pics of me with few of my kills from over the past couple years

My 2011 January bow-killed turkey. I almost doubled on birds during this hunt, but my second long beard got up and flew away after the shot and couldn’t be located. This one wasn’t so lucky-

My biggest bow-kill to date, measuring in at 171 3/8” Gross. I’m in street clothes in this picture because I made an iffy liver shot and it took us 2 solid days of searching to find this deer…

Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to answer some questions. Please – be sure to have a look at his website: Oak Ridge BBQ