The Untold Truth Of Chopped Champion Dr. BBQ, Ray Lampe

Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe is one of — or perhaps the – most famous pitmasters in the country. The barbecue star got his start cooking in barbecue competitions, and, finding a true talent, worked his way up to eventually become a competition judge as well as judge on Food Network programs such as Chopped and American Grilled (via Locals Dish Tampa Bay).

Lampe has written nine cookbooks featuring various barbecue niches ranging from a football game day cooking guide to a book solely on pork chops to another chronicling his travels in search of some of the best barbecue in the United States (via Amazon).

Lampe is currently a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida where he owns and runs his restaurant, Dr. BBQ.

Lampe was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame in 2014 (via Locals Dish Tampa Bay), and since then he seems to have no intentions of putting a halt to expanding his barbecue empire anytime soon with the help his ever-growing celebrity status and booming restaurant. With his signature beard and cool guy vibe, Lampe is one to watch in the barbecue world. Here's the untold truth of the BBQ giant.

From chasing girls to chasing a BBQ lifestyle

When Ray Lampe first waltzed into his high school "Foods" class, he had no idea that his participation in the class would foster a lifelong love of cooking. He had signed up for the class because he thought there would be lots of girls and he was excited about getting to eat. But he surprised himself. "I liked to cook from day one, and I never expected that" (via St. Petersburg Foodies).

Lampe's specific love for barbeque began in 1982 when a friend of his signed them up for a rib cooking competition. Lampe borrowed a grill, lit it up, and was hit with a sense of euphoria that would last him to this day.

"I had found my calling, man. Instead of cooking something in the kitchen, I was out cooking in the parking lot with a cooler of beer and a bunch of other guys and fire and danger and pieces of meat. ... This was the perfect thing for me and it's been my life's obsession ever since" (via St. Petersburg Foodies).

Once a truck driver, always a Chicago Bears fan

Lampe grew up in Chicago where he spent 25 years as a truck driver with his family's business. On the side, Lampe was also growing, fostering, and nurturing barbequing as a passion and hobby, so, when the trucking company went under, he fell back on the only other thing he knew how to do and was good at: grilling meats. Lampe spoke about this experience on a podcast with St. Petersburg Foodies.

"The reality is it (the family trucking business) had run its course ... Little by little, there was just no need for a guy like me anymore. Luckily, I saw it ... and luckily, I've just got entrepreneurial genes and instead of just being mad at everybody, I was like, 'Well, I've got to get out of this and do something different.' And barbecue had been my hobby since 1982."

While Lampe now runs his barbecue empire from Florida, he maintains ties to Chicago, perhaps most significantly as a Bears fan (via Twitter). He joked about the team's rivalries on another St. Petersburg Foodies podcast. "I really put up with a lot of things, except Green Bay Packers fans. I don't tolerate them very well at all."

Dr. BBQ's fire for the grill has since exploded

Ray Lampe has come a long way since making casseroles in Foods class in high school. The pitmaster has mastered cooking ribs, chicken, pork shoulder, and beef brisket, all necessary skills to win major barbecuing competitions. Of course, when it comes to jobs, making money doesn't hurt, but Lampe said his heart is in barbecuing, speaking about the differences between his career in truck driving and in grilling, as in the former he had little human interaction, and in the latter, he's able to watch happy customers devour his food (via Medium).

"Cooking and teaching people about barbecue seems to have been my calling in life and I get to share it with so many others. When you see people eating and enjoying what you've created it's the best feeling in the world and that's what I live for," he explained. Additionally, Lampe credits his perseverance in the light of failure or hard times to his no-quit attitude, which he says is characteristic of many fellow entrepreneurs like himself (via Medium).

Dr. BBQ has been a spokeschef for a variety of barbecue-related brands

Upon first moving to Florida, Ray Lampe felt it wasn't wise to open a restaurant, so he did the next best thing: he bought a food truck complete with a smoker. When the food truck didn't work out, a friend of Lampe's suggested he find a grill company to sponsor him as their "spokeschef" (via St. Petersburg Foodies). Since then, Lampe has been a spokeschef for a myriad of companies including The Big Green Egg, which sells their original multifunctional cooking device; Dizzy Pig, a seasoning company; and, most recently, the National Turkey Federation's Turkey Smoke project.

Lampe doesn't just endorse an item willy-nilly, in fact, he has known the owner of Dizzy Pig and used their products for 20 years. "I have been a fan and friend of the company for years and I'm a big fan of their products. I really love this company because it's a family company, home-grown," Lampe said on Dizzy Pig's website.

Dr. BBQ as a restauranteur

Ray Lampe has not only won and served as a judge for many barbequing competitions, he also has worked preparing delectable barbecue delights in restaurants, namely Justin Timberlake's restaurant Southern Hospitality in New York and his own restaurant, Dr. BBQ in Saint Petersburg. Lampe was first brought on at Southern Hospitality in an effort to better critic reviews and increase sales. Here, Lampe concentrated his efforts on preparing ribs (via DNA).

"We want them to be competition-style, where when you take a bite the meat comes off easy, but doesn't just slide off the bone," Lampe said (via DNA).

In 2017, Lampe partnered with Datz Restaurant Group to open his own restaurant, Dr. BBQ. The restaurant highlights "new American barbecue" with main dishes like smoked turkey, sliced brisket, and pulled chicken. The full-service restaurant offers a healthy selection of bourbons to accompany the meats and features an enjoyable atmosphere with both community tables and private booths.

Dr. BBQ has lots of advice for new BBQers

Ray Lampe sure has made a name for himself as a renowned pitmaster, but he isn't beyond sharing the tips he's learned along the way with new barbecuers on journeys of their own. In an interview with Medium, Lampe broke down his top tips for those looking to start barbecuing, whether for fun in their backyards or seriously in barbecue competitions. His first tip, not surprisingly, is to turn off the YouTube videos and get your hands dirty. For Lampe, experimentation is key to developing one's own style of cooking. 

Additionally, Lampe advises barbecuers looking to go pro to first work in a restaurant to see if they actually enjoy cooking as a living. Thirdly, Lampe recommends using thermometers, but also using other senses, such as touch and smell to determine the doneness of a piece of meat. Lastly, Lampe has serious opinions about barbecue sauce, stating it should be used as a condiment.