Rob Patterson, a member of UFCW Local 227, is the Chief Steward at Carhartt in Hanson, KY. When he’s not working his union job, you can find him posting on social media about where in the community he’ll be cooking BBQ that day – everyone knows to find Rob early, or else his delicious food will be gone by the time you get to him.
In 2000, two weeks after graduating high school, Rob began working at Carhartt, where he became a UFCW union steward three years later. Since 2011, he’s been the chief steward there, and is well known for taking great care of the members who works with .
During his time at Carhartt, Rob has done just about every job at the facility, including working as a picker and special handler. After their latest contract negotiations, Rob and the other hardworking members there were able to win a better pay scale based on seniority, as well as more flexibility regarding positions worked. On top of that, Rob and his fellow steward Matt Henderson helped win the biggest grievance settlement in Carhartt history, in the amount of almost $500,000.
With his job flexibility and great union benefits, Rob is able to not only succeed at Carhartt
and take care of his young family, but also to pursue his passion: Barbecue.
Rob’s interest in grilling began as he was growing up, and as he entered adulthood. Since he began working right after graduating high school, he moved out on his own a lot sooner than most of his peers. Cooking for himself and for friends at home, on lake trips, and out camping, he got a lot of experience using a charcoal grill. He was also getting a lot of compliments on how good his food was.
All of this, paired with inspiration from his favorite TV show, BBQ Pit Masters, led Rob to build his own smoker out of a 55-gallon drum, and start his own company, called Tru Blu BBQ. He became an expert at grilling ribs, pork, butts, and making his own sauce – writing down each iteration of his recipe and tweaking it until it was just right.
Taking his skills on the road, he entered his first grilling competition in 2009, accompanied by 9 other teams, who all had big trailers that dwarfed his small smoker. He encountered some good-natured ribbing from the other competitors, who’d clearly been in the game for a while. But Rob and his girlfriend stayed up barbecuing all night through the chilly October weather, and come judging time, Rob won the competition, “hook, line, and sinker.”
He certainly was hooked on competing, because since that time, Rob has become and 18-time grand champion, including at the renowned Owensboro International BBQ Festival. And his little smoker has become a 24-foot concession trailer. He’s also a member of the Kansas City BBQ Society, and regularly competes against reality tv contestants, including grill-masters who have competed on the show that began his culinary quest – BBQ Pitmasters. He’s also been interviewed to compete on the show two times, and hopes to get the chance to do so in the near future.
Grilling isn’t just a hobby for Rob, it’s his life. In 2014, after winning one of his many competitions, Rob proposed to his girlfriend on stage, accompanied by the couple’s two-year old daughter. The ring was engraved with the number 180 – which is a perfect score in the grilling competitions. Rob had never received a 180 from the judges, but this was his way of telling his girlfriend he had a perfect score all along. He also had his bride-to-be’s Maid of Honor waiting in their BBQ trailer with a bouquet of parsley, a popular grilling herb.
Outside of working at Carhartt, these days you’ll find Rob cooking in the community, catering, or working festivals. His specialty is pulled pork ribs, chicken, and brisket, which he makes in one of his four jumbo BBQ kits. Where Rob is from, brisket is a bit of a rarity because it is more of a Texas-style meat, so he sells out quickly.
His biggest tip for others who want to master the grill, is all about “smoke management”.
“You need good airflow,” he says. “You’re looking for a faint blue smoke, not clouds of white smoke which is what you’ll see a lot of folks producing. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Rob also makes his own rubs, and says that whatever rub you use should be “real light.”
“Less is more – too much takes away from the meat’s natural flavors.”
Want to make the perfect ribs? Here’s Rob’s recommendation:
- Smoke the ribs for 2 hours, until they are a mahogany color
- Cover with tinfoil, turn them upside down, and put back in the smoker for another 2 hours, until the meat is pulling away, leaving an inch of bone sticking out
- Sauce the ribs, and put them back on the smoker for five minutes. (this is called “setting the sauce”, which allows it to thicken)
Rob is thankful for a union job that gives him the flexibility and means to provide for his family and follow his dreams of taking over the BBQ world.