Earning a paycheck while working at a job that also encompasses something you are passionate about is a goal many people strive to get. Every once in a while you come across someone who has made the move from earning a living at a job they may or not like to earning their paycheck at a job that brings out their passion. Steve Coddington is one of those people.
The road to Pitmaster at Lockhart’s BBQ in Royal Oak, Michigan is probably not the road Steve want to start down, but the prize at the end of that road probably makes the journey a little better. It was a road that started, like all to many people, with losing a job due to the economic downturn.
“In 2007 Michigan’s economy took a hard nose dive and I was laid off of my building superintendent job of 7 years. With the construction field coming to a standstill I was out of work for almost 2 years,” Steve explained when asked why he started down this road. “I had already been competing in Kansas City BBQ Society competitions and was doing some BBQ catering. I realized there was a need for good BBQ in my area and decided I would try to make a go at it. I purchased a 16 foot car hauler and transformed it into Michigan’s first rolling BBQ kitchen. With a borrowed pit I started selling roadside BBQ in the spring of 2009.”
The road to Lockhart’s BBQ had a couple of learning curves for Steve. “When I opened that BBQ stand I had no idea what I was doing. My only earlier kitchen experience was as a dishwasher when I was 15 years old. All I knew was how to make great BBQ and figured I would learn as I went,” he explained. ”I worked that roadside spot and farmers markets every weekend for 4 months until I had to close due to winter. I had paid off all my equipment and my bills, met a ton of great people and had built my brand”
So, where did this love of low and slow BBQ come from? “Growing up in the great white north we always associated BBQ with cooking burgers, chicken and ribs on a grill,” he told me. “It wasn’t until 2002 while on a whitetail deer hunt on a southeast Texas ranch that I got my first introduction to “real” BBQ.”
“One morning as I was heading out to my hunting blind I ran into the ranch owner. He was working over a small black metal pit. As I walked over to say good morning I caught a whiff of mesquite smoke. The smell was mesmerizing as he opened the lid to show a huge brisket he had put on the night before,” he continued. “The next thing I know I had stripped of my ‘camo’ and pulled up a chair. We spent the day drinking beer and talking BBQ. I never did get a trophy whitetail that trip but I did go home and buy my first smoker the next weekend.”
Being in the right place, at the right time played an important role in reaching the current place in his career. “The week I was closing down theBBQ stand a couple of guys stopped in for lunch. After eating and chatting it up they informed me they were opening a BBQ restaurant right around the corner from where I lived. They had a menu and all their rubs and sauces in place but needed some help with the real cooking. I took a winter job as pit tender for Bad Brads BBQ,” Coddington told me.
But that wasn’t the only time Steve was in the right place. “In March of was attending a KCBS judging class where i first met Drew Ciora. He was opening Lockhart’s BBQ in Royal Oak and invited me for an interview. With Drew being a native Texan and my cooking style stemming from Texas style BBQ I was a perfect fit. The rest they say is history,” Steve said.
Steve’s day is a little different that his earlier career. I asked him what his day as a pitmaster was like. ” I roll in, to the restaurant, about 6:00 a.m. Check the fire, start coffee and get the restaurant opened up. Between 7:00 am and 9:00 am I unload the butts and briskets from the overnight cook and start prepping and loading any of our dozen or so smoked meats. I am responsible for food costs, ordering, scheduling and obviously the quality of all things BBQ,” Steve shared.
“I am the social media hound for Lockharts so there’s always something to post or tweet. I visit with our guests between loads and while the day cook is finishing I start prepping for another overnight cook. We are constantly preparing for special dinners, cooking classes and BBQ events. My typical day is usually 10-12 hours but I enjoy a few weekends off,” Steve continued.
I asked Steve what were some of the best things about being a Pitmaster. “Being able to do something I love. Meeting so many great people who enjoy eating great BBQ. Having the opportunity to cook on a J.R. Oyler pit, possibly the best commercial BBQ pit in the industry. I look forward to coming to work still…..everyday,” he revealed.
So, what about the bad things? “The long hours. I’ve been known to work 100 hour weeks when needed. I have a two hour round-trip commute to the restaurant. And smelling like a BBQ and smoke 24/7. Wait, is that a bad thing?”