Tube City Almanac

August 02, 2013

BBQ Entrepreneur Cooks Up New Local Business

Category: News || By

Walk the aisles of the Giant Eagle in White Oak, and you'll find a savory surprise where they keep the barbecue sauce.

The award-winning "BBQ Stu's" sauces don't come from some faraway conglomerate. They originated in McKeesport, along with their creator, "BBQ Stu" Wilson.

An employee of the Port Authority of Allegheny County and longtime backyard griller, Wilson, 52, began experimenting with making his own barbecue sauce while grilling for his friends in his garage.

"I started making the sauce in 1989," Wilson said. "Then I brought the sauce to competitions in 1993."

In 2003, Wilson had a stroke, which temporarily put his sauce-making at a standstill. One night while helping a friend cook dinner for his guests, he received a prophetic message.

"I helped my friends cook and I brought the sauce out," Wilson said. "A pastor from New Jersey was a guest to dinner and after he tasted it he said I needed to do something with the barbeque sauce and to remember Psalm 34:8."

Psalm 34:8 reads, "taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." The words "Psalm 34:8 Taste and See" are now printed on the label of every bottle of BBQ Stu's barbeque sauce.

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As Wilson recovered from his stroke, he began going to more and more barbecue competitions. Pretty soon Wilson was getting help from his friends.

"A bunch of us got together and decided to give him a hand with the competitions," said Larry Pusateri, a grill team member who also works for the Port Authority. Co-workers and longtime friends came out to help Wilson refine his barbeque sauce concoctions.

"I've known Stu for over 20 years," said Quentace "Tweet" Todd, a grilling team member. "We used to make and smoke ribs at his house, and he started making sauce and came up with what he has now."

It was second nature for all of Stu's friends to lend a hand to a friend, Todd said. Soon, the grilling team had five members in total. "We traveled around, did competitions, we even did a few wedding receptions and catered," Todd said. "We had some great times."

But when the sauce's popularity blew up, it took everyone by surprise. Things began to get serious after Wilson began submitting samples of his sauce to the national Hot Pepper Awards in New York, run by a website for serious barbecue fans. "A month later they sent us a notice saying we won awards in three different categories for the sauce," Wilson said.

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In 2008, BBQ Stu's Steel City Blast Furnace sauce won Hot Pepper's first-place award among "medium" barbecue sauces. In 2009, Wilson won three Hot Pepper awards --- first place for "smoky heat" (Blast Furnace) and "table condiments" (Pennsylvania Gold) and second place for "hot" sauces (Blast Furnace X-tra Hot).

Wilson and his team have now traveled all over the nation with their sauces, from Kansas City to New Orleans and Las Vegas, and of course their hometown, Pittsburgh. The sauce even has a large fan-base in Canada.

"We have a good distributor up in Canada," Wilson said. "After he tried our sauce he went crazy over the sauce and asked if we could drive up to Canada. We got there at 5 a.m. and he had two radio stations and a TV station to interview us." Though the recipes are devised and carefully controlled by Wilson, the actual bottling is handled by another company.

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After years of traveling and trying different sauces, WIlson perfected his recipes and now offers four different varieties of sauces: BBQ Stu's Original barbeque sauce, Steel City Blast Furnace, Steel City Blast Furnace X-tra Hot and Pennsylvania Gold.

Pennsylvania Gold is a mustard-based barbeque sauce --- which may sound strange, but it's quickly becoming a best-seller. "It's in my DNA," said Skip Majiros, a local real-estate agent and one of Wilson's close friends. He was one of the first to try the sauce while it was in the making. "I tried it when it was still in the 'lab'," Majiros said.

Rick Hayz, another friend of Wilson's and lover of barbeque sauce has four bottles in his cupboard, "I'm a big fan of the sauce, my favorite is the original, and it goes on anything."

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Wilson and his team have slowed down on traveling to competitions. They now hold 12 national awards and 16 regional awards for the sauce.

From time to time, the grill team does travel to a competition just to cook and watch others without being stressed by competing with others.

They have talked about opening a barbecue restaurant, but right now, the grilling team is taking it slow.

"It's a great time," Larry Pusateri said. "Just a bunch of guys hanging out and doing what guys do, barbecuing."

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Jacqueline Dell is a student at Penn State University Greater Allegheny majoring in corporate communications. A resident of Pittsburgh's South Hills, she has worked on the campus newspaper, The Collegian, since 2012. Dell serves as one of the university's Lion Ambassadors and is a member of the Penn State Student Government Association.

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