Behind the Pit interview with Mike Boyd of Black RIver BBQ

Owner Name: Mike Boyd

Age: 46

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona

Brand Name: Black River BBQ, LLC (dba Black River BBQ)

IG Handle: @blackriverbbq


Has BBQ always been your passion, or did you have a career before?

Honestly, I was a late bloomer with BBQ. It wasn’t something that I really craved until just a few years ago. That’s when I realized that I’d never been blown away by anyone’s BBQ, ever. It’s kind of sad, but true. That’s also when the new obsession with craft BBQ hit my radar and it pulled me in with a vengeance. So, yeah, I got the bug a little late, but I’ve been obsessed ever since.


How did you come up with the brand name Black River BBQ ?

The Black River is a gorgeous, perennial stream in eastern Arizona. It starts in the White Mountains and, apparently, it’s one of the best trout streams in the country. I just like the name and decided to run with it. In hindsight, I suppose the word ‘black’ is a no-brainer and ‘river’ implies water, so dark, smoky, juicy BBQ should come to mind.


What is your most popular product and why do you think that is?

You know, at this point, it’s pretty much a tie for all four of my original rubs. First it was the Bandelier, then the black stuff, and then came the poultry and pork rubs. I get amazing feedback all the time and that feels incredible, like I’ve done something special that goes way beyond what people expect. The new Rancho Rub just came out in late-May. So far, the reviews are right up there with my other rubs.


What is the story behind creating that product?

I have really high expectations for things that should be done properly, like cooking or income tax returns or even auto repair. You know? I was brought-up to take life seriously and not do things half-assed. That’s why I had to teach myself to smoke proper, slow and low BBQ that rivaled anything I’d ever had. That also meant creating spice rubs and seasonings that destroy the popular, mass-produced stuff. I love Southwestern flavor profiles, which are based largely on old world foods from Mexico. So that’s what I did with my rubs and I’m damn proud of it.


Do you have any new products in the works? Can you share any details?

I have probably another half dozen rubs that I’ve been playing around with, including a couple of collaborations with other rub makers and a pretty famous chef in Phoenix. I’m not interested in developing a sauce line. Too many people are already doing that and it’s a lot more complicated than producing dry spice rubs. A lot of people have been asking me about hats and shirts, so I need to finally get some merch ready for my fans.


What do you think people love most about your brand?

Black River BBQ rubs are all 100% natural with nothing but kosher salt and Southwestern spices. A lot of the big names cut corners with shitty ingredients, chemical fillers and preservatives. Then they try to make up for it with cartoon animals on the labels, kind of like the crappy breakfast cereals that my mom wouldn’t buy for her kids. That’s not what I want and my fans don’t want that either. Quality matters more than anything, followed by originality and real customer service. It’s just me doing 100% of everything, from recipe development to test cooks to logo design, website design, social media, making all of my rubs in micro batches, always from scratch, as new orders come in. I even package and fulfill every order. So that’s something that people love about my brand. Every part of it is honest, transparent, and worth every dollar. Also, my rubs are made at 7,000 feet elevation, which might be the highest rubs in America!


Do you want to say anything to your fans, followers, and supporters?

Absolutely! You all should know that I have a huge place in my heart for the wildland fire community. I’m on a mission to build my little business to a point where I can afford to donate money to a special foundation that means a lot to me. That’s why -- hopefully soon -- a portion of the proceeds from sales of my Back in Black Rub will go to that foundation to help them provide financial assistance to families of wildland firefighters killed in the line of duty and to help those struggling with mental health issues. It can be really tough and these people are doing some of the most dangerous, selfless work out there, but they get a fraction of the attention that cops and structure firefighters do. God bless all of them, but when the next major wildfire breaks out and people start dying from it, that’s when the nightly news might care for a minute, but that’s not good enough. I want people to buy my rubs because these products are truly awesome, but also because they can feel good about it and know that money is going toward something bigger than all of us.


Do you have any words of wisdom for those who are looking to make a name for themselves in the world of Barbecue?

There’s never been a better time in human history to start a business and use modern technology to your advantage. The BBQ scene is exponentially more popular than it’s ever been and a lot of people want to get on board. My advice is this: Don’t just do whatever someone else is doing. Listen to your gut and trust your opinions about things. If you think that something can be done better, no matter how small, then figure out how to make it better. Get online and start an LLC by yourself for $50. Then get your federal and state tax IDs for free. Then start an Instagram profile and put yourself out there. Success doesn’t happen overnight. I’m still hustling to make it happen for myself, but stick with your vision, believe in yourself, make mistakes, learn from them, keep pushing, and you’ll get to where you want to be. I believe that, even as an introvert who has a hard time putting myself out there and walking the talk to make shit happen.


Closing Thoughts:

I want to thank BBQ Island for this tremendous opportunity to spread the word about my mission and my products. I also want to thank Blur Lifestyle Branding for coming all the way up to Flagstaff to meet me, take hundreds of photos, and let me brag about myself and my amazing BBQ rubs.

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