Meet Your Maker #19 – Steve Burnham of Blue’s BBQ
Some of you may or may not remember but back in March of this year, I reviewed Blue’s Carolina Pepper Sauce and gave it high marks as an SAS (specific application sauce). The original is the perfect compliment to pulled pork, BBQ’d chicken and just about anything you can grill or smoke. Recently Steve & I have been exchanging emails and thoughts regarding his current work in progress, the Carolina Pepper Sauce Habanera Reserve and Steve was kind enough to agree to doing a meet your maker profile for the HSBers. Just putting this post up makes me crave some pulled pork slathered in Carolina Pepper Sauce…
Why Hot Foods? And what was your first sauce?
I’ve always been into sauces, but not really hot sauces. Initially I started a catering company that used pull behind smokers that I would take to events, weddings, parties and things like that. Folks enjoyed the catering but they flipped over my first sauce that I called Carolina Dip. I had used some Tabasco sauces in the past and thought that I could do better.
What is your favorite product you make?
I like my original Blue’s Carolina Pepper sauce. It’s not very hot, but it brings out foods natural flavors instead of overpowering foods. This was my goal initially to start with.
Any new products we should be ready for in your line?
I am working on a new sauce that will be called Blue’s Habanera Reserve. I have done two trials, both were good, but I liked the second version better. I’ve sent out many samples to critics and Chile heads and have been given good feed back. Everyone has loved the sauce but still want more heat. On this last trial run, I will add more habanera peppers and I think I’ll have a winner. I’ve got more plans down the line that include Blue’s Hot ‘N Sweet Mustard and Blue’s Wing Sauce. I’m also FDA approved for a fantastic dry rub, but I can’t figure out how to make it cost effective. I’m taking baby steps on growth. If my pockets were deeper I’d launch all my products as quick as possible.
Where do you see the future of hot sauce in 5 years?
I see hot sauce in 5 years even more competitive than it is today. Humans can only take so much heat, so I don’t see sauces getting hotter, I see manufactures getting back to flavor. Right now, that is missing in a lot of hot sauces. 10 years from now hot sauces will be packaged with holographic labels. There will be so many sauces out there that whatever catches the consumers eye will sell. The market will be so flooded that no one except the big, big companies will be able to make money. 20 years from now, who knows maybe “hot sauce pills” I’ll be too old to shop for sauce by then.
What is your favorite sauce you don’t make?
I recently demo’d my sauces at The Southern Season in Raleigh-Durham. I had the good fortune of meeting Page (Cackalacky sauce) and the folks from Joe Bud’s Foods. I like a lot of sauces but the Joe Bud’s Everything Sauce would even make dirt taste good. It wasn’t hot, but is a great product.
Do you eat the foods you make?
I have my Carolina Pepper Sauce pretty much everyday. I use the mild on everything and use the hot a little more sparingly. I have bottles sitting in our kitchen everywhere.
What do you eat hot sauce on?
Hot sauce has to go on all of my wife’s cooking. Seriously, I keep several sauces handy. My sauce goes on all pork and all grill type meats. Texas Pete goes on my wings, Joe Bud’s Everthing Sauce goes on everything else. My mild Carolina Pepper Sauce gets mixed with a little olive oil and goes on salads.
What sets you aside from the other hot sauce producers out there today?
My initial goal was to make a better sauce than Tabasco. I believe that I have done that. I don’t have a flashy name or a gimmick label. No key chains come with my sauces. My sauces are food enhancers instead of mind melting heat. My growth is being realized thru repeat customers. I believe that great flavor, fair heat and reasonable price will eventually make Blue’s Sauces a household name.
What is your inspiration before you embark on a new concoction?
I tend to get creative in my head in the middle of the night. I keep a pad of paper and a pen by the bed. A few years back, I sat straight up in bed with the absolute best invention that this world needed. I didn’t write it down and that’s why I get to work a full time job and run Blue’s BBQ, Inc.
Outside of creating hot products, what else keeps you occupied or out of trouble?
Between my job with Nascar, playing in a band, being active in our church, raising kids and paying bills, there is no time to get into trouble. I’m lying, there’s always time.
Any weird stories or uses for your hot sauce that you would like to share?
Nothing really weird about my sauce. My first trial run Of Blue’s Habanera Reserve got a little interesting. I added water to this version, and then decided to boil the water back out. Not a smart thing to do with a real hot Habanera Sauce. The smell and the heat in the air forced us to evacuate.
How much sauce do you make in a week?
I currently make 8 gallons per week of my Blue’s Carolina Pepper Sauce (mild). It goes to a restaurant called Board Walk Billy’s in Charlotte. For the 10 oz. bottles, I was forced to go to a co-packer. They are doing another run as we speak. By years end, they will have done about 9,000 bottles this year. My Blue’s Habanera Reserve will initially be done out of the house until demand gets too great. I’ve already got orders and haven’t started on a new label yet.
How many different recipes do you go through when developing a new sauce?
I’ve been fortunate with my recipes. Carolina Pepper sauce was already in my head and my new products will be variations. My Hot’n sweet mustard is in my head. Blue’s Wing Sauce is a no brainer. A little Habanera Reserve and a little butter and bingo, Blue’s Wing sauce.
How did you get started in the industry?
I started as a caterer. It was way too much work. My customers asked me to develop my sauces and Blue’s BBQ, Inc. was born
What is your biggest challenge so far?
Marketing, marketing and marketing. Volume, volume and volume. You can have the best sauce in the world and still lose money. I truly have a great product but I don’t have the brains or funds for marketing. As far as volume, you can’t make money selling a bottle or even a case at a time. You need to sell pallets. To sell pallets you need Wal-Marts, Costco’s or BJ’s. These places get you the volume, but they want your product for less than you can produce it. I’m currently in 28 grocers, but the sauce doesn’t sell very well. It’s got to be marketed in the stores.
What is the most common question you get?
The most common question I get is “Can I have another free sample”? And of course “What’s the hottest thing you got”?
What do you want to know from the readers of the HSB?
I want everyone to try a bottle of Blue’s Carolina Pepper Sauce and let me know his or her comments. I want to know if your HSB readers are after just heat or flavor with heat. Also, I’ve been given mixed reviews of my label. It’s a love, hate thing. Reviews have been 50/50. The big blue guitar on the label started out for product recognition. With the addition to Blue’s Habanera Reserve to my line, I am looking at a total “do-over” of my label. Nick, how about a label competition on HSB for a new label for me?
What’s a typical day for you?
Typical Day, lots of coffee. At least 5 calls to sauce wholesalers or distributors. Lots of emails to sauce web sites. Several trips to the grocery store. Packaging my sauce and mailing from my web sales. This is predicated on me not working at my real job.
Worst burn ever?
Worst burn? Dad left me outside too long on a sunny day when I was only 3.
Best burn ever?
Best Burn? I have a friend that said I couldn’t make wings hot enough. I took a bunch of red savina peppers that I had grown and simmered them for hours in Texas Pete Hot Sauce. This made the hottest wings that I had ever had that didn’t include an extract. They were good!
Blue’s BBQ, INC.
1260 Boswell Court
Concord, NC 28027