Jacksonville continues to overload our wall of awards with food spotlights with another local business being featured on TV on September 12th on The Cooking Channel. When Ali Khan’s Cheap Eats began searching Florida for the best dishes, of course the show settled on Jacksonville and picked one of Jacksonville’s favorite BBQ destinations — The Butt Hutt Smokehouse. Slinging BBQ from their food truck all over Jax since 2015, The Butt Hutt has made a name for themselves by defining Florida BBQ in their bright yellow food truck. After racking up accolades throughout the years for their slow cooked meats and signature sides, they caught the eye of producers of The Cooking Channel as a business defining Florida flavors. From their housemade rubs, spices, and sauces to their unique platings and specials, The Butt Hutt Smokehouse was ready for the spotlight.
Owner Jacob Bander started the building blocks of The Butt Hutt by making sauces, spices, and rubs. Playfully mischievous and certainly resolute, Jacob had the drive and personality needed for success. Without formal culinary training, Jacob calls himself a “Kitchen Countertop Commando”, having learned from his grandfather and mom by watching and absorbing techniques. He’s lived in Florida his entire life, having grown up in Orlando and Cocoa Beach before moving permanently to Jacksonville in 1998. He laughed as he explained he was homeschooled due to a “little problem with authority” which influenced his passion of working for himself now. He vividly remembers visiting his mom here in Jacksonville as a child and thinking that the city was cool even then, prior to Jacksonville becoming the foodie destination that it is today.
Jacob had a love for cooking long before the food truck was born. His uncle owned the Hungry Iguana at the beach when he was young, but his first official cooking job was at Ninth and Main Restaurant and Bar. The chef he worked with, David Whitt, became his trainer and inspiration, teaching him southern Caribbean fusion food which no doubt led to the worldly influences in his current recipes. “I started to step up my game”, said Jacob, “He was challenging me with new techniques, cooking styles, and flavor profiles. That’s where it went to the next level. But like most cooks and chefs we started butting heads and I left the food industry for awhile to do my own thing.” Jacob was working at The Mayo Clinic when he started doing catering and selling sauces, and one thing led to another and a he and a friend of his made the leap to start a food truck.
The joy of having business freedom and the lower start up cost for a food truck is what ultimately led him to make the decision to be mobile versus brick and mortar. “The freedom of a food truck is far beyond a restaurant. You don’t have to rely on staff as much, depending on how much you want to grow or do. That was probably the main influence of choosing a food truck” explained Jacob. Having experience with retailing sauces already, Jacob ramped up production of his signature sauces. Prior to opening the food truck, he had sold gallons and half gallons of the sauces here and there, and his largest order was 60 cases of each flavor at AA Bottled Gas. “We even retailed on Amazon for awhile, but I learned it’s hard to get your product on the front page. I didn’t have time for that so it took the back burner.”
Shifting the focus from sauce distribution to menu planning, Jacob was able to refine his Florida BBQ and develop a unique menu with new spins on old school BBQ. When asked what Florida BBQ is in his own terms, Jacob readily answered “Florida BBQ is taking the OG technique of wood, fire, and meat and incorporating flavors from all over the world. We don’t do salt rubs, every single nationally known place for bbq does salt, pepper, and bbq seasonings as rubs. We do sugar rubs. And we don’t sauce the meat. We want the meat to speak for itself. We’re going to incorporate BBQ into a dish that you normally wouldn’t see brisket in or smoked pork in. It’s also important to have things that aren’t all smoked — like having a nice piece of grilled chicken or sausage on the menu where you can enjoy the technique without having something smoked.”
The debut of The Butt Hutt Smokehouse led to a quick success. With a straightforward menu of classics and signature items, they had something to please everyone. Jacob’s personal favorite dish is the Florida Boy, laughingly saying, “If it was a sandwich, it would be me. The Curry Fries are also a favorite and are an outside of the box type of meal. I have a guy who eats with us every Tuesday and he orders The Florida Boy and a side of Bangin Curry Fries. He is basically me. Those are also the best sellers along with the Florida Fries if they’re iffy about curry.” So what do these mouthwatering eats consist of? The Florida Boy sandwich has pulled pork served open faced on fresh garlic toast, then topped with housemade cilantro lime slaw and garlic cream sauce. The Florida Fries follow suit with pulled pork loaded onto fresh fries and topped with sauteed peppers and onions, melted cheese, and garlic cream sauce. The Bangin Curry Fries (JRR’s personal favorites) consist of crisp fries tossed in their Bangin Curry seasoning and garlic butter, then topped with pecan smoked brisket, sauteed peppers and onions, cheese, then covered with Coconut Curry Honey Mustard (our favorite of the Butt Hutt bbq sauces) and garlic cream sauce.
These signature items caught the eye of Cheap Eats and The Cooking Channel, who contacted Jacob in early spring saying they would be shooting in the area and they wanted to get to know The Butt Hutt brand. Jacob said it stood out to them that The Butt Hutt is branded as Florida BBQ, and they wanted to know more about what that meant to him. He gave them the history of the food truck and set himself apart by featuring his sauces, his rubs, and the build up from those ingredients to create his restaurant on wheels. After a month and a half of breaking down recipes to their most minute components, including the ingredients and sauces, The Cooking Channel finalized their top secret filming dates with Jacob. “They were so big on ‘You can’t tell anyone about this’ once they confirmed and I was like ‘Damnit I want to tell everyone about this!’’
Once the filming day arrived, it was a quick whirlwind of an intense schedule in a limited amount of time. Jacob recounted, “It took about 12.5-13 hours total of filming. We started one afternoon after our lunch service and filmed at that location from 230pm-8pm or so. Then they came Saturday to the Battle of the Allstars Food Truck Takeover and filmed the whole process of the smoking. I had to bring a butt that was ready to go into the smoker and a butt that was already cooked so they could film the TV magic of the in and out of the smoker. There was a crew of probably about eight that did the filming. It was so much fun. It’s absolutely everything you’d think that filming a cooking show would be.” He started laughing and continued, “I am a food nerd and I can’t say that I hadn’t already done the whole process of ‘this goes in here, that goes in there’ before when I was cooking with my grandfather or something. I even told them that when we started filming, that I had done this in my head a million times before!” It was clear to me as I was interviewing Jacob that the delight hadn’t faded, as he cheerfully acted out the process of preparing something while telling me that story. One of Jacob’s greatest attributes is a childlike wonder and excitement about his work that is contagious for certain. He even told me that while filming that Saturday, he was making a sauce in his blender and a huge gust of wind decided to launch the blended sauce all over the truck. The production crew and Jacob had quite a laugh about it. (Let’s pray for a blooper reel).
So what can Jax expect to see on the episode of Cheap Eats? They’ll be featuring The Florida Boy Sandwich with a side of Spicy Mac & Cheese as the entree, but you’ll also get to see so much more. Jacob describes Butt Hutt’s uniqueness as, “Our products and services set us apart. Not to say that anyone isn’t putting out anything good, but I have an extremely high standard for what we do and how we do it. That’s the reason I’m still doing every step. I love my brand and love what we do. I love our food. And of course, I love bbq. We have people come up to us every day and thank us and say it’s the best brisket they’ve ever had or the best side they’ve ever had. And they’re getting good quality for their dollar. And they’ll let you know real quick if they don’t think that, that’s for sure.”
It has to be surreal being a representative of Florida flavors on a TV Show as highly watched as Cheap Eats, and that certainly isn’t lost on Jacob. He happily told me, “It’s pretty badass . It’ll be weird to see myself on tv. Hearing your own voice is always crazy. I think I’m a pretty good representation on what our town has to offer. Our food truck scene overall is amazing. The people in it, the culture of it, what we’ve built. I remember eating my first order of beet fries from Funkadelic before The Butt Hutt was even thought of and thinking ‘wow this is really cool’”. Not only does Jacob think this episode will be helpful to showcase Florida, but overall he believes the culture of food programing and the new wave of food popularity is heading in the right direction. Jacob explained, “You can tell the ones (owners / chefs / cooks) who love it and the ones who are doing it because it’s cool. You can tell the ones who think they’re going to do it for the money. You’ll make money, but you aren’t going to get rich and retire from smoking meat. I don’t see it as a fad though, I think people have realized how awesome food can be. People got stuck in convenience for a long time where if people couldn’t easily get it they didn’t want it. So we went from a drive-thru culture to people seeking out good food from good people. It’s a much better culture to be in honestly. ”
In addition to his drive, Jacob’s meticulous branding has been thought out since the beginning to make The Butt Hutt stand alone as a growing brand, not a personal brand. “I try to keep it off of a personal level. I think that if you’re going to build something that’s going to be world wide awesome you can’t bring your personal views into it. I’ll have pictures of my kids here and there but it’s more of a goofy take, not here’s my kids. You have to focus on quality and setting yourself apart. For example, our logo is ‘taboo’, since it’s a pig with sauce on her ass. That sets us apart. I also think that just always trying to be better than yourself is huge. A lot of people say they’re in competition with each other which is fine but I feel more competition with myself because I’m the only one I have to compete with. It’s like playing a game of golf, but you have to have fun with it.”
The future is bright for Jacob and The Butt Hutt Smokehouse. He recently began supplying the pulled pork for Riverside’s Harp’s American Pub & Grill, run by the formerly mentioned chef who taught Jacob cooking in the beginning. He’s providing about 40-60 pounds of smoked meat to them per week in addition to smoking the meats for his regular lunch services. Now he’s looking to expand on this by providing pre-portioned meal prep meats to crossfit gyms, pilates studios, and individuals. He’s also in the process of rebranding his sauces to separate them and provide their own identity. He’ll be revamping the labels and branding to make them kosher so that they have even further reaching appeal. “I want to get the sauce out to the world!” he smiled, and it was obvious he meant it.
The timing of our interview worked out perfectly for Jacob to reminisce on the beginning of his brand, as we were talking while he was prepping for lunch service at the Mayo Clinic. “It’s ironic that we’re doing this interview here,” he explained, “I was working here when I realized that as a person, I’m going to work as hard as I work no matter where I am. So whether I’m grilling meat or working at Mayo, I’m going to work the same. So that brought me here, following my love for cooking. Food brings people together. Like Anthony Bourdain said, ‘BBQ may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start’”.
Find The Butt Hutt Smokehouse around Jacksonville by checking out their weekly schedule here, and set a calendar reminder to watch them on Cheap Eats on The Cooking Channel on September 12th!