Barbecue champion Christopher Prieto says he has reached the pinnacle of “barbecue excellence” by traveling the country to learn and compete against the nation’s finest pit-masters.
Since moving to Wendell five years ago, Prieto, 31, has opened up a catering company, Prime Barbecue, all while continuing to compete and keep his day job as a global clinical trials manager for a pharmaceutical company.
“I’ve been cooking meat for so long and I’m so interlaced with it that now it’s tweaking and perfecting, that I can think about what do people in Raleigh like, what will they call in sick to work for,” he said.
Based on the fame he’s earned from his barbecue skills, he’s now released a book, Southern Living’s “Ultimate Book of Barbecue,” a 360-plus page grilling and smoking cookbook filled with glossy – and realistically messy – pages.
He wanted it to reflect his favorite cookbooks, ones marked with wrinkly rings from a glass of water, smudged with sauce-covered fingerprints and a smoky aroma.
“I don’t like (barbecue) books that are too clean, with perfectly glazed ribs... that’s not barbecue, it seems easy and too polished,” he said. “Barbecue is a very hardcore, dirty, aggressive art form, self-taught. You really have to touch and feel, it’s very dirty.”
By traveling and training under pit-masters across the country, Prieto is still perfecting the art form.
“What I want to do is be as broad-stroked as possible, I don’t want to be pigeonholed, I want to learn all techniques – what makes people go berserk over barbecue ... I want to learn all of these things and bring them to North Carolina so people don’t have to travel.”
Currently, his most time-dominating project is planning for his annual festival and competition at Lafayette Village in Raleigh, where 100 percent of the event’s proceeds flow to the Raleigh Rescue Mission.
But what dominates his business, and his passion, is using his love for barbecue to serve others. In addition to donating to causes at his church, Prieto carefully researched a national and a local charity.
“I’m called to do this, I’m called to serve people, that’s what I’m supposed to do. Before becoming a leader you have to serve first, and you can lead people to do the same,” he said.
The local charity is Raleigh Rescue Mission, while nationally, he supports the Wounded Warrior Project by teaching veterans with extreme psychological and physical conditions how to cook barbecue.
During this past class, Prieto rented out a cabin in Knightdale surrounded by trees, hammocks and a lake for the nearly 50 students with conditions from missing limbs to severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
He utilizes cameras wired to the pit and to himself so that those who were handicapped could still study his techniques with ease. He teaches frankly, with straight-forward instructions. And he’s been told that some soldiers say it’s been a key element to re-acclimating to society.
“It makes every second behind the pit worth it,” he said.
In the near future, Prieto hopes to turn the private catering company into a brick-and-mortar business and teach some classes for barbecue techniques. He also plans to launch a clothing line and an updated website.
Prieto and his book will be available for signings at BREW coffee bar in Raleigh Tuesday, April 7, beginning at 6:30 p.m.