Pitmaster Kevin Bludso's Long Journey To BBQ Cooking - Exclusive

Kevin Bludso is recognized as one of America's leading pitmasters and is considered a veteran of the BBQ world who also appears as a judge on the hit Netflix show "American Barbecue Showdown." This is a man who once was smoking meats for the OGs of hip-hop. A man who has his own line of BBQ sauces and rubs. And a man with restaurants in both hemispheres (c/o his spot in Melbourne, Australia, San Antone by Bludso's BBQ). 

It's all the more impressive given the fact that, as a young man, Bludso was adamant he would never be involved in the food world in any professional capacity. Why? Because, as he explained during a recent exclusive interview with Mashed, while helping in the family business, he had seen with his own eyes the dissatisfaction of several family members who worked in the food industry. "I spent my summers down here in Texas with my granny, and she ran a little roadside stand. I would come and cook for her for free and she wouldn't pay me," Bludso said. "Like I always say ... I swore up and down I wasn't going into food service because my uncles used to work there and they used to seem so unhappy."

True to his word, Bludso went to college and then took a job with the California Department of Corrections, which he would hold for 13 years. After all that time, two things would lead him to a life cooking BBQ: First, a wrongful termination from his corrections job, and second, the fact that he actually never stopped cooking.

Kevin Bludso was led into his career by hip-hop stars

During his time working for the Department of Corrections, Kevin Bludso was still doing on the side what he does best: cooking BBQ. It was just for fun, even though his cooking was seriously good. Fired from his job, with a dispute that dragged out over the termination, Bludso found work in Los Angeles as a caterer for hip-hop's elite during the early 1990s — a move that would prove fateful.

"I was DJing a lot and like I say, I'm from the West Coast, and when I was coming up during that time when I was catering, that's when the West Coast was running rap. [Dr.] Dre, Tupac, all of them. I was doing a lot of catering for a lot of those guys [on] a lot of video shoots and people were going crazy over the food." As Bludso recalled, he was trying to supplement his income until he finished the wrongful termination case with the Department of Corrections. "I was talking to all those people and it kept going on and on, and people kept saying, 'Man, you need to open up a spot.'"

So he did. As he further explained, "Bam! We opened up Bludso's, and the rest was history." It would be the first in a string of successful restaurants over time — in fact, Bludso has opened five, four of which remain in operation today. And it would lead to the various product lines and TV shows he appears on, while he still finds time to support the next generation of Black pitmasters via a partnership with Kingsford. Contrary to his early thoughts, cooking BBQ has in fact led Bludso to professional satisfaction.

Follow the chef on Instagram and learn more about the Kingsford Preserve the Pit Fellowship program here.