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 NBBQA President Roy Slicker Talks Apprentice Program

NBBQA President Roy Slicker Talks Apprentice Program

The National Barbecue Association offers an apprenticeship program that’s intense on flavor and foodservice.

Roy Slicker, president of the NBBQA, pretty much lives on the road these days, spreading the gospel of barbecue all over the country. He has been traveling a lot in the past year with the pilot of the BBQ Apprentice Program. “A lot” means almost 30,000 miles and thousands of plates piled high with brisket, coleslaw and baked beans.

Slicker and a team of legendary barbecuers are ready and willing to share their knowledge with aspiring BBQ professionals. The goal is to give them the tools they need to be profitable in the growing BBQ industry.

FM asked Slicker about what the program entails and why he thinks the Barbecue Apprentice program, with its intense immersion experience, would be a good fit for chefs in onsite noncommercial settings. To find out more about the association and find resources, go to
How do you define BBQ?

Technically it’s cooking that’s low and slow over indirect heat. Some people say, “I have a barbecue grill and that’s what I’m doing” (though that’s really grilling). Still, if you’re having fun with it, I say you’re a barbecuer, and you’re in my family.

Great! So what is the Apprentice Program like?

It’s great camraderie. When a student is learning something new while having fun and getting attached to others with similar intent, what they learn sticks with them longer.

It’s an intense 2 to 4 days of learning about food preparation, portion control, tracking, food safety, food cost, staffing, customer service, waste management and more.

Where do you start when it comes to food preparation advice?

We teach what you are looking for in terms of meat and cuts. How to cut meats, how to trim and when not to trim (the fat is flavor, after all). We cover different flavor profiles and how to combine them. You’re dealing with sweet, savory and sour—the most boring BBQ has just one of those flavor notes.

Onsite foodservice deals in really big volumes. Does this make a difference in BBQ training?

Not at all. I’d rather serve 800 people than 20. It’s actually easier. Sure, you need more staff. I don’t mean to say less effort, but you really just need more pans, more chafers, etc.

Why is food waste so important?

Slicker: If you have an overzealous cutter in the kitchen, they could cut off all the fat on a brisket. A raw brisket weights 14 lbs. and a lot of that is fat. What I’ve learned in Texas is, you don’t want to trim all the fat. You smoke it for 14 to 16 hours, the fat renders out and you trim out excess fat before service. I now have 7 lbs. of usable meat.

What about portion control?

Slicker: In catering, you could serve two meats and three sides for each person. You have to know your demographic. If you have a group of senior diners, you would figure 2 to 2.5 oz. for each meat. But if you have a football team, that would be 4.5 oz. per person.  

What’s an example of a great BBQ flavor combo?

The Memphis Bowl.  It’s pulled pork, barbecue sauce and sweet coleslaw on top. This would work really well for onsite menus, too. Good BBQ should really please the palate.

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