Meet Rasheed Philips
"For all the interest and accolades that anyone has for me, I owe 100% to the women who raised me: my mom, my grandmother, and my Aunt Jenn. Thanks to them, today I’m the proud owner of Philips Barbecue Co., runner-up for Netflix’s American BBQ Showdown, and host of the Entro Podcast — where I showcase the real stories of hard-working, upcoming entrepreneurs.”
Recipes From Rasheed Philips
Master Grillabilities ® From Rasheed Philips
Born to Grill™ With Rasheed Philips
My journey to BBQ has followed a long trail of pivotal, interesting seeds.
Emigrating from Jamaica to America was… let’s call it, ‘enlightening.’ For example: when I was 11, my standardized test results gave me my peak of success as either as blackjack dealer or a “lead custodial engineer.” Those were the options afforded to me. Cooking was simply never on my radar as a career. I never thought I could do it — I just did. But you can probably say that about my whole life. From the world-traveling and my stint at the CDC to competing on Netflix’s American BBQ Showdown… It was never a question of how or why. I just do things. And I don’t let anyone outwork me.
One of those small seeds I mentioned hit dirt about 10 years ago. A good friend took notice of the cooked lunch I brought every day; you see, the man was getting married in a small ceremony of 30–40. Had I ever catered? Not at all. Even after accepting the challenge, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t watch them eat my food… not until the groom grabbed me to show off out how happy they were! Same deal, a few years later: another friend of mine and I getting BBQ locally. We walked out wondering what we’d paid for; he kept convincing me my food put that place to shame. He pushed me into driving straight from the restaurant to buy a grill — which we did — and started filming me having fun with it.
Then came another big seed: a graphic designer friend for an Athens brewery, Creature Comforts, convinced them to ask me to come in and cook. The staff loved it; the owner asked me to be ready for a different event in 4 weeks. Thing is, they do the season opener for the UGA football team! [Laughs.] That first cooking event was feeding 800 people coming through Atlanta to go to or from UGA football. But I took the challenge. I embraced the challenge.
For all the interest and accolades that anyone has for me, I owe 100% to the women who raised me: my mom, my grandmother, and my Aunt Jenn. Thanks to them, today I’m the proud owner of Philips Barbecue Co., runner-up for Netflix’s American BBQ Showdown, and host of the Entro Podcast — where I showcase the real stories of hard-working, upcoming entrepreneurs. But even as the seeds of my life are planted, I hone and practice my craft. BBQ is more than a pretty plate; it’s a heritage you build and rebuild with your bare hands.
Q & A With Rasheed Philips
As a career globetrotter, you’ve been all over the world, such as France, Chile, Argentina... so, what’s the strangest flavor you’ve ever tried, and where did you find it?
Oh, that one’s easy: beaver! Never in my life had I imagined I’d have to prep, cook, and eat beaver. Growing up on a farm in Jamaica, you might say what’s strange to some might not be to me. Innuits eat it; it’s big in Canada from what I hear, even certain parts of Europe and Latin America… I still don’t know where I can order it. Where does one get USDA-approved beaver? Is there an “all-purpose beaver rub?” [Laughs.]
Well, that’s a new one on us. How’d it come out?
Right? You know, it’s actually more tender than you’d think. The way I cooked it, it tasted like fillet mignon — believe it or not! It’s oily, extremely fattening, and the littlest piece of meat I’ve ever seen. Not a harsh aroma, though. I used port wine to brine it in; natural acidity separated it. Once trimmed, brined, and rinsed, you’d have no idea it was ever beaver to begin with.
What would you say is your earliest BBQ memory?
Two really stand out. First one’s in Jamaica: my grandfather was a fisherman, taking me out on the boats with him. At an early age, I was learning to repair nets, how to make my own, and went fishing with him for red snapper. We always found ourselves some tucked-away little island, pulled from the trees, and cleaned and roasted snapper right there off the spit — as fresh as could be.
Now, when coming to the States, I had older brother duties. I can remember making mac ‘n cheese for my brother for the first time. I mean, Emeril could do it — so why not me? [“Oh boy. How’d that come out?”] Let me tell you: orange milk. Overcooked noodles. My brother ate it because he didn’t know any better, and frankly, neither did I. And every time he wanted Mac and cheese again, he’d ask: “Can you make the soupy Mac and cheese like Rasheed did it?” To this day, I still haven’t lived that one down.
Even without your career in mind, losing 55 pounds is a dramatic life change. What was the pivotal moment to get you moving?
Thanks! I made that decision on the anniversary of losing my father. It was a heart attack that took him, but — and here’s an example of how tough my dad was — it took four in 24 hours to bring him down. A year later, my thinking was, “If I’m gonna die, I’m not gonna die from something I can control.” So I put on some running shoes… and came back to my driveway sucking wind. [Laughs.] But I didn’t quit. I ran every single day. Irrespective of losing so many pants sizes, I feel so much healthier and better. You know, I just plain like being smaller. Well, as small as you can be at 6’6” and 250 lbs!
Your site focuses on the amount of work that goes into the behind-the-scenes of barbecue. What’s the toughest cooking day you’ve ever had?
The one that comes to mind was that early Creature Comforts event before my career really started. The night before, I dropped off some serving plates… only to find the power had gone out and spoiled all the food. “Is this a sign from something?” I wondered. Like, “Hey, back out. This isn’t something you should be doing.” By the time I’d arrived the next morning for the early live cook, I’d already decided this was a test. So, I rolled up my sleeves, tossed everything, got all the rubs, did all the prep work all over again. By the time I was finally done, it was already time to load up and get to cooking. Grueling, but rewarding.
In what ways does your birthplace influence your cooking?
Unsurprisingly, it influences it a lot. Showed that on American BBQ Showdown. For instance, when I think “sweet”, I think cane sugar — the actual root, wherein you chill it, split it, thaw it. Smoke some mangoes, make a sauce. Tastes great! With my relation of typical flavors, I find brown sugar’s sweet to be sweet. There’s just no variance there. But something like mango? It can be tart if harvested too early, sour if too late.
Jamaican cooking also guides me toward building flavor in layers. Thyme is dangerously strong, as is fresh-cut parsley. Cooking, to me, is like conducting an orchestra. If everyone in the band played at the same time, what would you get? That ties back to everything happening at a certain time. For instance, I can remember countless times that Mom prepared beans the day before by covering them in water… not even turning on the pot, but just softening them naturally overnight. That’s a step that takes time; there’s no rushing it. Faster isn’t better. Faster’s more convenient. Easier? Sure. Tastier? Usually not.
What is the most valuable BBQ lesson you’ve learned?
I think cooking teaches you so many lessons in a meal. Making a brisket alone can teach you so much. There’s a thing called a ‘stall’ you just can’t predict. How and when it strikes, there’s no clue. It just happens. You could have done everything categorically correct by the book. And now you’re faced with a brick wall.
The big thing I always told myself on the show was: “How can you think your way out of the problem?” If you’ve given me a whole turkey and 90 minutes to do it…? Sure, no worries. What techniques and knowledge do I have to solve this problem? It’s very outside-of-the-box. What are my resources, and how can I use them?
Absolutely, flexibility and improvisation are key skills to learn. Can you give us a personal example of that lesson in action?
Sure. There was a point on American BBQ Showdown where the storyteller-producers were asking what I was doing — they thought I needed a medic because I’d grabbed a shovel, started digging, patting clay, and dumping coals. But the one guy who got it was Kev [Bludson, a judge]: “That boy’s making an oven! He’s making a convection oven in the ground!”
Whether it was that or something else, I’m in his phone as Superman! [Laughs.] But there’s so much more to be learned. I get in a certain mindset and fall in tune with what I’m doing. And you need that calm for cracking these problems. This kind of work requires all my attention, especially with live cooking. You’re not controlling the fire. You’re just borrowing it for a little while. Pay attention. Respect it. And have fun with it.
Everyone approaches the philosophy of cooking differently. How does your take go against the grain?
Most people are highly focused on what’s on the plate — and I get that, of course. But, from the way I see it: if you’re a pit master, you’re also an arborist. And a butcher. You’re a mature thermodynamics engineer, a food scientist, a farmer. I go out and grow my food and source my trees. I choose them, chop them, split them. I’m taking butchery courses because I want to buy the whole animal. There’s so much to the craft. So much to learn. I’m always learning more about the fundamentals before the process. If someone built a Harvard Med for barbecuing? Me, I’d be first in line.