Behind the Pit interview with Sterling Smith of Loot N Booty

Pitmaster: Sterling Smith

Age: 43

Location: Scottsdale, AZ

Brand Name: Loot N’ Booty BBQ

IG Handle: @lootnbootybbq


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

I didn’t find Competition BBQ until 2007. I joined the US Navy in 1994, then graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Finance. I worked mostly with small business and commercial banking clients. Eventually, I worked for a bank based out of Kansas City, Missouri. The bank is a huge sponsor of the American Royal World Series of BBQ annual competition. They also hold an employee BBQ competition every year. I’ve always loved to cook and am a very competitive person; I grew up playing football and wrestled for the All-Navy team while I was in Sonar School in San Diego, CA. So when I went to Kansas City in 2007 to compete in the bank’s employee BBQ event and I saw the huge smokers, big chunks of meat, smoke rolling, and people have fun, I knew I wanted to do what they were doing.


When I got back to Arizona, I started researching everything about BBQ — smokers, competitions, events, you name it. I went to Home Depot and bought an ECB (El Cheapo Brinkmann), a bag of mesquite wood, and some lighter fluid then picked up a pork butt on the way home. I’m not sure why the neighbors didn’t call the fire department on me because I had the whole neighborhood smoked out. I made the worst piece of meat I’ve ever had. I knew I wanted to do it better, so I started educating myself on all things BBQ. Soon after, I started a BBQ team and in 2009 entered our first professional BBQ competition in Prescott, AZ.


How did you come up with the brand name Loot N Booty ?

When I created our competition BBQ team in 2009, I knew I had to have a great name because there are so many creative BBQ team names. As a U.S. Navy Vet, I wanted a name that represented my time at sea as well as my segue into BBQ. I had my pig skull and crossbones logo already so I needed something that fit with that theme, too. Loot N’ Booty BBQ was on my list of possible names. I kept coming back to it — and it just stuck. After all, out at competitions we are cooking for cash and trophies, right? Sounds a lot like of Loot N’ Booty to me…


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

Out of the rubs and sauces, my Everything Rub is the most popular. It was the first product that I launched under my Loot N’ Booty BBQ brand. Its popularity is due to its versatility. From winning multiple first-place categories in the biggest BBQ competitions in the world to sprinkling it on popcorn at home, it works well on everything! I’ve seen people use it in guacamole, on watermelon and even on ice cream. I use it on all four of my competition turn ins: chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.


What is the story behind creating that product?

When I won my first KCBS Grand Championship in 2013, I became eligible to compete at the 2014 American Royal World Series of BBQ Invitational held annually in Kansas City, MO. That year Old World Spices, a seasoning co-packer in Overland Park, KS, was having a promotion for winners of certain categories and overall winners to be involved in the American Royal BBQ Rub program they were launching. I was working on a couple different rubs at home so I signed up thinking it would be a cool to get picked for the program. I was the only team representing Arizona in both the Invitational and Open that year. On day one of the Invitational competition there were 175-plus Grand Champion teams. We ended up placing 1st in chicken with a perfect 180 score and 7th in ribs! We were elated but knew we had to cook again the next day for the Open and the team count jumped to almost 500 teams. We placed 2nd in pork, 19th in brisket and Reserve Grand Champion with a 700-plus score in the 2014 American Royal World Series of BBQ Open! After the competition, I received a call from Old World Spices telling me they would love to have me work on a pork rub for their American Royal Championship Rub line. The rest is history and now I have the American Royal Pork Rub, three Loot N’ Booty rubs, three sauces, and Loot N’ Booty BBQ pretzels out on the market.


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

Yes – I have been working on two new rubs to add to my line and a couple of new sauces. I love experimenting with new flavors and when I put out new products, I want them perfect. It takes time to get things just where I want them. I don’t want to push out products that don’t have the time invested in making them right.


What do you think people love most about your Loot N Booty?

It’s authenticity — and people can relate to that. I’m just a dude cooking meat in a random parking lot. I’ve also built my brand from the ground up for the last 10 years on the competition BBQ circuit with blood, sweat and tears. BBQ is a family and several of us not just here in Arizona but across the world are BBQ family. We’ve seen each other’s highs and lows, successes and failures, and we support each other no matter what. We share cooking tips and tricks, pointers and guidance, red solo cups and laughs over comment cards. We cheer each other on at awards ceremonies and share bottles around the firepit. We share in each other’s successes and we are proud when one of our own does well. My brand is me. It’s my story. I’m going to continue to build my story for years to come — I feel like I’m just getting started in BBQ!


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

The best advice I have is to be genuine. All too often people that are trying to make a name for themselves try too hard to be something they aren’t. Be real, be yourself and spread positivity and love. It also helps to work with other businesses to cross-promote your brand. Green Mountain Grills has been an amazing partner of mine for several years now and we cross-promote each other’s brand constantly. It has been an integral part in helping me make a name for myself in this industry.


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

To everyone who has purchased my products, attended one of my classes, came out to a BBQ festival or competition, watched one of my videos, or met me in the grocery store, thank you all for your love and support! It’s what keeps driving me every day to promote and spread BBQ love. There’s more to come from Loot N’ Booty BBQ!

Closing Thoughts: There’s no right or wrong way to cook BBQ. The right way is the way that you and your family enjoy. BBQ is just like anything else and the more you do, the better you get. Keep learning, attending classes and events, and applying what you learn every time you cook — and you will learn something new, good or bad.

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