Competition BBQ was never a path that Paul Buob (pronounced BOO-ahb) expected to follow in life.
But that changed when his children became active in athletic programs at Illinois Valley Central High in Chillicothe. As a parent, Paul and his wife Sarah were naturally obligated to support the booster club and its fundraising efforts at the concession stand during sporting events.
“The first thing we did was look at the current menu and change it,” recalls Paul. “We considered margins and meats that we figured couldn’t be that difficult to barbeque. My buddies and I invested in a smoker and we adapted the concession choices to increase profits. The last thing I ever thought while being involved in fundraising was learning how to make barbeque for a competition.”
But the experiences that started about a dozen years ago prepared him well for an unexpected shift in his career. Soon, Paul was competing at various events with his BBQ rub recipe. Each opportunity convinced him that he could improve, so he studied and learned as much as he could. With each contest, he grew increasingly more serious about his seasoning, but wondered if it was good enough to go to market.
“I thought there was a problem with the BBQ brisket,” Paul says. “I felt it didn’t have the right flavor or taste and figured that was the reason I wasn’t scoring well enough in competition. So, I turned to Excalibur Seasoning in nearby Pekin for expertise.”
Teaming up with Excalibur, Paul identified the flavor he was looking for. In less than a year’s time, the three versions created for him by Excalibur’s R&D team were ready for tasting and feedback, so he joined them at the company headquarters for the group test.
“One version of the rub we sampled was really close,” he remembers. “I could tell on the lower right side of my tongue that something was missing and I always follow that instinct. The Excalibur team said, ‘It needs celery seed,’ and that’s the version we chose and eventually took to market.”
Paul says it was always his intention to collaborate with local businesses like Excalibur to further develop SmokinGhostBBQ Steak and Brisket Rub and truly keep it local. After all, the namesake is native to the area. The Grey Ghost is the mascot for Illinois Valley Central High. Staying close to Central Illinois for consultation more than proved to be worthwhile.
“Around the time when we revised the label for the rub, I asked Excalibur some questions about including a QR code instead of the nutrition deck,” Paul remembers. “The conversation launched a positive email relationship and I felt like our partnership was starting to brew.
“Then a large grocery store in central Indiana and Illinois came into play through good luck and hard work, inquiring about the rub recipe. But, a lot of the logistics and pricing were going to be challenging. I knew I needed help and Bob’s (retail) background could do that for me. Scott Werner was supportive, and Bob embraced me and coached me. It really made me believe the Excalibur family was with me. It was at that moment I realized that the company cared about the product and what we were doing.”
Paul has a couple of projects in planning, such as developing a pork rub, and tweaking the steak & brisket rub. Looking back, he’s learned a few things in this journey, especially the best steps toward product development and how to enter the marketplace.
“The key is once you solve a problem, like our fine-tuning the rub recipe seasonings, don’t forget to take a step back and determine the nearest application for it. SmokinGhostBBQ Steak and Brisket Rub has a cult following. While it’s a natural favorite on brisket, I think it tastes even better on hot buttered corn and salmon.”
Through all the struggles and successes, Paul’s says his takeaways have been constructive and valuable experiences for anyone with plans to launch a product.
“I became a member of the National BBQ Association and they held a contest where all of the national brands submitted their rubs and products for awards. The first year I came out with the rub, I was in a hurry to enter it and eager to know how it compared to the others in competition. In 2018, SmokinGhostBBQ got a ‘Top Ten’ on the product right out of the gate. That’s when I realized we could be on to something here and that I needed to lean in like everyone else.”
SmokinGhostBBQ produces an award-winning BBQ rub that is used in competition across the U.S. Their Steak & Brisket Rub developed with help from Excalibur Seasoning has earned Awards of Excellence from the National Barbecue & Grilling Association in Kansas City, and scored first place in the People’s Choice Awards for the Steak & Brisket Rub and Best Product Label.