One of the things we love doing at M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks is catching up with customers to see what they’re up to and hear how their trailer, truck, or other vehicle is working for them. Today we have the opportunity to talk to Wade Morris who operates TREmendous Que in Tampa, Florida. In 2016, Wade purchased a customized NS 72 SWT trailer he calls the “Mistress” (read the full interview below for the story behind the name).
Within just a few short years Wade has gone from grilling in his backyard with his setup from Home Depot to winning numerous awards for his smoked meats and crafting his own custom-made sauces like the Mighty Mango Habanero. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see what Wade does next! Until then check out this interview with Wade Morris, where he shares his passion for traditional BBQ, methodology to cooking mouth-watering meats, and plans for the future! Enjoy!
M&R: How were you introduced to BBQ and competitions?
Wade: My father has shown me how to grill since I was knee high to a pickle but for barbecue I really started cooking in Ohio when we were stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB. Probably like most cooks out there I am a huge football fan. BBQ and football go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. So about 5 years ago, I was waiting for a football game to come on and my son was sleep on my chest. He was young and my fellow parents can all attest to how sacred that “quiet” time is. So instead of getting up, I just started channel surfing and came across a show called BBQ Pitmasters. It was a marathon and I watched every last episode. I missed the football game and immediately became hooked.
Later that weekend, I went out and bought my first pit. It was a Charbroil offset from Home Depot. Nothing fancy and not very big, but I threw it together in my garage and bought the first slab of ribs I could find. I’m not going to lie, those first ribs actually turned out pretty good. Feeling overly confident, I thought I would try my hand at a pork butt next. That brought me back down to earth real quick. I kept cooking though, perfecting my craft…I just wanted to do a competition and eventually do well enough to get an invite to the show that got it all started. A bit ambitious but I figured all those guys got started like I did in their backyard cooking for friends and family. Eventually we PCS’d (moved) to MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL.
We hadn’t been in Tampa but maybe 2 or 3 months and I started looking for another cooker. I wanted something on a trailer and with the capacity to cook a whole hog. I had no real need for either but I kept remembering the whole hog my dad did up after I graduated from school and thought about how cool I thought that was. I figured I could find what I was looking for on Craigslist so that’s where I started. One of the listings was for a guy that built cookers. When we went by to meet him and see some of the pits he had built, he told me about a contest that his friend was putting on in a couple of months. It was in town and the second year they were holding the contest. I didn’t buy a pit from the guy but I did sign up for my first contest!
In November 2015, I rented a U-Haul, packed up my Charbroil, Kingsford Kettle grill, a couple of tables, a huge cooler, pop-up tent, and some lawn chairs and did my first BBQ competition. I took 2nd in Pork and 2nd in Brisket. I was exhausted but more important I was hooked and haven’t looked back since.
M&R: What do you consider to be your style of BBQ?
Wade: Style…? Like virtually every other aspect of our lives and food, Barbecue has its styles too. Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina’s, and Texas. My style probably leans more so towards Kansas City BBQ than any other if only because KC is sort of a melting pot for styles from so many of the regions around it. Because KC is centrally located, it has picked up many of the characteristics from a lot of passersby over the years. But some of the staples are sweet/molasses and tomato. I would definitely say that is what characterizes my barbecue.
But for me, personally, I think traditionalism is the most important part of my barbecue. I have always had a thing for nostalgia…Keeping it old school and keeping it simple. If you take a look at the history of barbecue and the culture that has surrounded it, you’ll notice that it is filled with blue-collar workers, large social gatherings, and cheap cuts of meat. There wasn’t a lot of fancy rubs, sauces, and injections, just meat, fire, and long hours tending the coals. That is what I try to remember when I am cooking… the Tradition.
Tradition is what makes the difference. Whether you are cooking on the competition trail or in the backyard. Repetition and consistency are key and two of the hardest things to master. But that is what I aim for every time I fire up the pit. I keep it simple and honor the old school method of low and slow. That is a flavor that cannot be replicated in an oven, crock-pot, or with propane. It can’t be rushed, reasoned with, or imitated. That is what makes my product/style unique. I am not in it for the money so I don’t need to cut corners or sacrifice quality for quantity. I can burn 100% wood, buy a good grade of meat and take my time to turn out genuinely authentic and juicy barbecue because that is what I love to do!
M&R: I see from your Facebook page that you make your own style of BBQ sauce. What is your BBQ sauce like?
Wade: If southerners like their Tea Sweet, then they’ll love this sauce! In a word, its TREMENDOUS. Sticking with the traditionalist theme, my sauce is simple to make and super sweet. It is thin, has a hint of black pepper and a brilliant red color to it. It is a long time in the making, almost 3 years to be exact. But the beautiful thing is that it is doesn’t take that long to make. I could probably whip up some complex concoction that would have me in a white lab coat and rubber gloves and eye goggles, but I like things simple and that is the main ingredient. I stay experimenting though and always looking for new flavors to add to our tool bag.
Just recently we actually threw together a sort of island blend, the Mighty Mango Habanero. This sauce is good in and of itself but when married to BBQ it turns into something amazing. There’s sweet. There’s heat. And just a whole lot of rich and savory goodness. It is light and compliments not just TREmendous Que products but all your cuts you are thinking about cooking up, whether on the grill, smoker, or even in the oven. There really is no wrong way to serve up this newest addition to the family.
Wade: What goes into making BBQ sauce? A little bit of everything. I have watched television shows like ‘Man, Fire, Food,’ ‘BBQ Pitmasters,’ ‘BBQ Pitwars’ and ‘Smoked.’ I have joined virtually every online BBQ forum I could find, read books and online articles, and even talked to other pitmasters on the competition trail. In the end the most important lessons I learned were all from trial and error. Nothing beats putting a pan on the stove and standing there adding a little of this and a little of that always taking notes along the way. And of course, scurrying over to the wife, wooden spoon in hand asking her to taste the latest and greatest as she rolls her eyes because this is the 5th batch of the evening.
Her palette was always phase 1, if the sauce made it past phase 1 then I would put it to test during a cook out or get together. Towards the end, I would always ask what everyone thought of the sauce and my scale was simple: either it was hot or not. I was/am my own hardest critic and pretty much would only let a sauce out of phase 2 if folks raved and asked about how they could get some. Anything short of “we loved it” just didn’t matter to me, because I wanted only the best. Each and every time you try our products I want as much flavor packed into it as possible so any time I took results I always polarized them and that took me to phase 3.
Phase 3 was performance at BBQ competitions. This phase was a little bit harder to determine how much of the success…or lack thereof, was attributable to the sauce, but I took notes based on scores and how the sauce performed as I was prepping the food in my turn-in boxes. Believe it or not, BBQ sauce is served in multiple different fashions and at multiple temps, so I even took notes on physical characteristics of the sauce in a variety of environments. Folks get more annoyed than they consciously admit when bottles get clogged or they need to beat the bottle to get that little bit of sauce at the bottom. So 3 phases in, if a sauce has made it this far, then the recipe will make to the ‘She’s a Keeper’ pile.
M&R: What’s your “secret” to success in BBQ competitions?
Wade: I don’t have a secret. In fact I share as much as I can. And I always lead off with the same thing, consistency is key. I have had really good cooks and really bad cooks. Each and every time I took copious notes but there are always going to be variables, for instance, you will never cook the same piece of meat twice and never burn the same log twice. So you try to control the things you can like the temperature, the age/grade of the wood, the quality of the meat you cook, the humidity of the cook chamber, and how clean of a fire you burn.
Great barbecue is all about the basics. Don’t start off complicated with crazy rub and sauce mixtures, stick to tradition and keep it simple. Master your fire management, learn to recognize good cuts of meat, inspect your wood so you know the difference between seasoned and rotten wood and how it performs on your pit. As you cook more and improve these skills you will naturally pick up tricks along the way.
So my ‘secret’ if I had to give it up is to keep it simple, take notes, and try to reduce as many of the variables as you can. If you can attain a consistency that your patrons can trust they will definitely keep coming back!
Wade: My first cooker was a Charbroil off-set from a big box store. Those things are probably only supposed to last 2 maybe, 3 years, but I have managed to keep my burning for more than five. I call her my “Ol’ Lady.” It’s a traditional off-set and can do 1 large brisket or 2 butts or about 8 slabs of St. Louis style ribs. I didn’t make any modifications to this pit even though I have thought about it many times. Those are probably coming very soon those as I think she is on her last leg and I don’t want to let her go. The second barbecue I got was my M&R trailer and she is the “Mistress.”
The Mistress is six feet wide, 24” deep and 22” high. She is long enough to do 18 full slabs, 14-16 – 15lb briskets, 12 – 20lb turkeys, or even a whole hog. All of that capacity is great but my favorite functional feature is the reverse flow design. Unlike traditional off-sets, the reverse-flow design forces the air and smoke from the firebox along the bottom of the cook chamber inside of channel created via a metal pane. The smoke raises into the cook chamber at the end opposite of the firebox through an opening in the metal pane and reverses flow back towards the side with the firebox and stacks. The smoke then smacks the meat and does a few circus tricks before exiting through the smoke stacks which are situated on the same side of the pit as the firebox. Once the pane heats up, it helps with heat retention because it will bring the temperature inside the cook chamber back up quicker than a traditional off-set would. This helps a lot especially during the cooler cooks during overnight competitions when you have to open the pit to wrap meats.
Three other features that I really like about my M&R trailer are the smoke stacks, box design, and rims. The ‘cool’ factor of the dual stacks on the cook chamber and then the third on the warmer box next to them just makes for a very sexy design. When I am pulling my pit down the road, I can’t even begin to tell you how many ‘thumbs up’ I get from other cars. At competitions, even though I usually do not vend because I am a very small team, I always get people coming up and saying “Wow, is that rims on a BBQ pit?” or “That’s cool!” referencing the versatility of a barbecue trailer with a 6’ cooker, 3 open storage compartments, a high pressure propane burner, a 22’ x 22’ grill, a warmer box, and even the Kitchen sink!
I had been looking at a lot of different cookers but I went with M&R because they had great workmanship and a great price point. After seeing their original 72 SWT (Smoker, Warmer Box, Trailer) video I called them up and asked if they would be amiable to me taking their original design and customizing it. They were 100% on board from the jump. I literally drew up my concept on a piece of paper and emailed it over to them. After a couple of weeks of back and forth and exchanging ideas, they digitized it and eventually we have the monster I cook on today. From first contact until I picked up the pit it was probably about 4 months. I couldn’t be happier with the performance and look of the pit. I was able to get something custom made with a ton of versatility but still maintain the staples of a traditional barbecue with the sleek black paint, big firebox and great performance.
M&R: What’s the goal for your competition BBQ career?
Wade: Easy. No. 1 at The Jack, the Kingsford Invitational, American Royal and the Memphis in May! To win Grand Champion at those events, or hell even just one, would probably be the highlight of a cook’s career besides their first ever Grand Championship. The Jack, Kingsford Invitational and American Royal are all invite only. You need to win a qualifying Grand Championship or State Grand Championship to get an invite. The Memphis in May is a whole hog contest and whole hog is something I feel every pitmaster should try at least once if only for bragging rights. Some cooks believe you can’t really master BBQ without tackling the whole hog but I think that it would just be a great experience that could only be beat by maybe the whole cow, which I have seen before!
Nothing succeeds in life like excess! I love BBQ, almost every aspect of it (competition chicken prep probably being the only thing I could do without)! Anything I do with this hobby I am always looking to improve, learn, or just have fun. I am by no means perfect and competition BBQ is not backyard, so there are a lot of differences and even more that I still have yet to learn. But I think to win those, more so than anything else, would give me a sense of self-satisfaction with BBQ that, I think, could only be rivaled by the raving I hear from customers after they try my food. I am a people pleaser, but winning those contest would be for me and for bragging rights!
On the business side of things, I want to open up a simple BBQ joint after I retire from the military. Sticking with tradition, I envision something like Franklin Barbecue (Austin, TX) or Adamson Barbecue (Toronto, Ontario in Canada) where I am open from 11am until SOLD OUT! I don’t want set hours, because that means guaranteeing product which means you always buy more than you sell but more importantly I think you lose quality if you have set hours. Because you would need to always have meat available, you have to do unnatural things to it in order to hold it throughout the day and keep it moist. If you get a line before you even open up and slice as you serve until you sell out you can ensure you are always giving the best possible, top-quality product to your customers.
I am not a mad scientist but every little thing counts and the guys and gals that make it, I mean really make it, in this industry pay attention to detail and sweat the small stuff because they know that’s what it takes to stay consistent. I love this industry because cooks are not always on the lookout for the newest trends in cuisine like chefs need to do keep their restaurant current or trying to create some super fancy dish. It’s just a bunch of good people that like great barbecue. I sort of equate it to the camaraderie of the military. Every time we move, we are always welcomed with open arms by other military families because they know what it’s like to be the “new kid on the block” every 2-3 years. In BBQ, no matter where we go, we are greeted with open arms by folks that love to eat and talk about this crazy hobby!
M&R: Thank you for your time and sharing your story with us. Any final thoughts? Where can folks find you competing at next?
Wade: I am from a working class family but what I love about this BBQ thing is that it transcends your social class, wealth status, and culture. Barbecue is the people’s food. It doesn’t matter where you are from, if you eat meat (or even if you don’t we got some grilled veggies for you too!) and like friends and family this is the food for you. You can laugh, eat, drink, kick back and relax and I love that about it!
My next competition will likely not be until the fall as my job starts to ramp up going into the summer through the end of September. But you can find TREmendous Que every First Sunday in Riverview just pass the corner of US 301 and Balm Rd. We are right off of US 301 on the east side of the road! Be sure to check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/tremendousque, Instagram, or Youtube “TREmendous Que.” We will always have the latest and greatest info about where we will be and what we will be cooking up!