Nebraska may not have the BBQ reputation of its surrounding states yet, but Blane Hunter, BBQ Pitmaster and owner of Porky Butts BBQ, has been contending to put it on the map. With over 130 competitions under his belt since 2013, Hunter has earned many championship titles including the 2016 KCBS National Grand Champion Team of the Year, 2016 KCBS National Ribs Champion, 2017 American Royal Open Brisket Champion, and 2017 American Royal Open World Champion. “My mom grew up walking in the Royals parade, so it was cool for her to see me win it,” said Hunter.
The journey to American Royal World Champion began when Hunter was six years old. He grew up in Texas and helped his father with BBQ competitions and chili cookouts. Hunter learned the technique of building BBQ pits from his father. “The two most important things about making a pit are the airflow—moving oxygen in and out, and a well-fueled fire. You want enough oxygen to flow smoke over the meat.”
Using the “slow and low” method is important, as well as checking the pH level of the meat and the moisture level of the wood. He shared, “It takes years of knowledge. Lots of people know how to BBQ, but few know how to BBQ great. It is not just starting a fire and letting the meat go.” The most impressive aspect of Hunter’s BBQ technique is that instead of judging doneness of meat by temperature and time, he knows the cook of the meat by touch and color. There are no mystery ingredients to his flavoring other than rendering fat and seasoning with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic.
Hunter attended Johnson and Wales University and Fox Valley Technical College for culinary school. After graduating, he moved to Omaha and took a job as a private chef in 2001. Over a decade later, Hunter’s friend reached out to him about joining his BBQ competition team. Hunter took on his friend’s team name, Porky Butts, which would later become the name of his restaurant.
There were many other people who helped Hunter push towards his BBQ success, including his brother, Derek. He explained, “I am very competitive, and my strength comes from my brother. Watching him go through life and trying to compete with him made me want to be as good as him, and my father too.”
After winning his 2017 world champion title, Hunter’s family encouraged him to pursue opening a restaurant, so he opened Porky Butts BBQ in August 2019. Hunter knew there would be challenges starting a restaurant, but he is most proud of the team he created. “This is one of the best restaurant groups that I have worked with. We have a great nucleus, not always the most polished, but we have some extremely intelligent young workers that do well with kitchen staff. They are our bright spots.”
When it came to training kitchen staff, Hunter found it hard to give up responsibility at first, but after several months of training, he now believes his kitchen manager has an even better skill set than him. “My kitchen manager is from Mexico and is a talented man. His regional cooking is unbelievable and his fusion with BBQ is fun.”
What competitions look like now is Hunter traveling with his wife in their 34-foot-trailer, wearing his patriotic lucky socks, and finding the top 10-15 competitions to compete in rather than the 40 or more a year he did prior to opening the restaurant. “We have to make this place right first,” he said. “At the end of the day, you are only as good as the last competition or last brisket you served.”