Dylan Kier is a tired, but happy man. The Blackstrap BBQ and Tejano BBQ Burrito co-owner welcomed a second child six months ago with life and business partner Clara Barron, has a second Tejano in the works for September, recently pulled off another impressive performance on the competitive barbecue circuit, and is in the midst of building a new back kitchen at Blackstrap (because why not). On this Eater Barbecue Week, we sent photographer Randall Brodeur to capture the busy scene at Blackstrap BBQ on a Friday at lunchtime (photo gallery below), when the Wellington eatery does a brisk brisket (and pulled pork, chicken, et al.) business. Kier also took some time out from juggling family and restaurant duties to update us on the state of his flagship Verdun restaurant, and the state of the city's barbecue scene in general.
How long has Blackstrap been open now? And what do you remember about those first few weeks?
Blackstrap opened in October 2012. I was so fortunate because I had good people from the start. Pelo [Tsavoussis, now chef at Bishop & Bagg] who came from Liverpool House and Joe Beef, we had people from our old place, Griffintown Café, and Brian Jameson, who we all call Jello. Brian's taken over the pit now, just because there's so much for me to manage day-to-day. He tends the fire and does an amazing job. I'm gonna take him to a competition in Ottawa later this summer. The product he's putting out is on par with what I'm doing, and honestly, sometimes even better.
"I was so fortunate because I had good people from the start."
It was crazy because at the end of our first month we went to do our second competition ever at the World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee, at Jack Daniel's, and these guys held it down. It's unheard of to leave your restaurant three weeks after opening. It was our first time at the World Championship, and we finished in 13th place for ribs. That's tremendous for a Canadian and first-time team. At first I was bummed, but when it sank in I felt a lot better. All this to say that the first month we opened was super hectic, but we pulled through pretty well.
Can you talk about what the barbecue culture is like down south in the U.S.? Can that ever translate here in Montreal? And how do you describe your style of barbecue at Blackstrap?
We'll never have those barbecue roots here. That's something you can't manufacture or duplicate. But that's okay. This barbecue thing started in a few different spots, and we can argue until we're blue in the face about which style is better. You know what they say: don't talk about politics, religion, or barbecue, unless you want to have an argument. Personally, I like not being pigeonholed because I love it all. I don't have barbecue roots. I was raised in Toronto, went to chef school, and worked in fancy restaurants and stuff. I adopted it, and fell in love with it.
"You know what they say: don't talk about politics, religion, or barbecue, unless you want to have an argument."
I think barbecue can be anything — you want to call the hot dogs you grill in your backyard barbecue, that's cool. I'm gonna be there to eat them. I've explored everything barbecue wise, and experiment a lot at home. The next thing I want to cook is Indonesian-style rotisserie pig, because that's barbecue too man, for sure. My only personal rule for barbecue is that it has to be a wood fire. I differentiate between grilling and smoking, but it doesn't bother me when people call grilling barbecue, or grilling followed by a slow cook, or vice versa. The more I cook different cuts of meat, the more I want to cook different types of things. Lamb, goat, I'm always trying to find stuff outside of the classics.
It seems like competitive barbecue has taken off here. You won some more hardware at an event this past weekend. How would you characterize that scene?
There's a fantastic competition scene here now. A great scene in Quebec and Ontario. That's thanks to a lot of hard work from people like John Thomson, Eatapedia, and the Canadian BBQ Society. John is spearheading the East Coast scene — the West Coast is pretty big. But John is driving it here, and we're all part of this society together, guys like Greg Lundy from Smokin Boys & Hot Grills, and Blackstrap too. We made it to the Jack twice, and we had ten teams out there. Last year we had three, so you can really see it's starting to bud. The camaraderie is beautiful. We had never been beaten in Quebec until last weekend [at the Wolfe BBQ Fest in the Eastern Townships]. John killed my streak, and I couldn't be happier! It was to the point where at the awards ceremony we knew it was one of us, so I went and sat on his lap [laughs]. We're great friends and rivals, and we're trying to get this scene to a higher level.