Pitmaster Bryan Mroczka – Setting a High Bar-B-Que

Bryan Mroczka, Head pitmaster for “Sonny’s BBQ,” has always had a drive to compete, and this competitive spirit is what led him to the culinary world.

“I was born and raised in Central Florida, and then I went to college in Boston, Massachusetts, where I played football, and I graduated with a degree for IT in Accounting. When I hit the job market, I became a Financial Analyst in the restaurant world, and spent five years on that side of the business.”

It didn’t take long for Financial Analyst Bryan to become enamored with a certain side of the restaurant business, “I am a competitive person, I love competition, all the learning, growing, and effort it takes to win.” When Bryan discovered there was a competitive barbecue circuit, that was all the urging he needed to get on board. “I began competing on the barbecue circuit, and I never stopped… I still compete to this day, and I am pretty much a regular there.”

“I fell in love with competition barbecue, and so I began learning more and more about it, the science of it all, the best ways to get the smoking just right, sauces and ingredients… I have taken barbecue classes and been mentored by some of the top Chefs in the business, I really love learning all I can about barbecue!”

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Competition is the path that has led Bryan to where he is today, “I met a couple of ’Sonny’s’ employees on the barbecue competition trail, and, in fact, I beat them at that first competition. We hit it off really well, and competed against each other a few more times, and after three years, they offered me a position with ‘Sonny’s Restaurants,’ and before long, I was ‘Head pit master’ for the chain.”

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Speaking of competitions, the “American Royal World Series of Barbecue” is the one of the largest competitions in the country, with over 600 Bar-B-Que teams competing, not only for the “Best Overall” title, but in several specific categories, as well. “Big bragging rights go to the winners at the ‘American Royal,’ and many great barbecue pit masters have made a name for themselves at that competition. Most of the teams who win have been in competition for quite a while and are well-known on the circuit. This year will be our third year at the ‘American Royal’ and we are training hard for a good showing. Our first year at the competition was fantastic, we placed 14th in the Brisket competition, which is really spectacular when you realize there are more than 600 teams that you are facing off against! It takes a lot of work to do well in these events, you have to cook a LOT and make sure you are honing your skills, but the best part is seeing all the different teams with different methods and learning new tricks of the trade… it definitely pushes you to excel!”

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Bryan’s thoughts on what advice he would give a younger chef or pit master are pretty direct, “You should always, always follow your heart. That’s what I did… I was sitting in an office all day, crunching numbers, but I kept my head up and was actively exploring other avenues and interests, and then, ‘Bam,’ I got the chance to do what I always wanted to do. Now, when I wake up in the morning, it’s just so easy to get up and go to work. So follow your dream, get out there and put in the hard work, become better and better every day, just like parents always tell their kids, ‘practice makes perfect.’ There is no substitute for practice and hard work, you can’t just walk in and be the best, you have to earn it, you have to work every day until you are the best.”

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When asked for his advice on the best way to barbecue, pit master Bryan is quick to say, “On a flame in an open pit… it’s the only way to get that good ‘char-taste’ that barbecue is known for… plus, it is the only way to get a nice smoke ring and have a great, smoky taste.”

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“Face it, when you bite into that brisket, and it melts in your mouth, that’s what perfect barbecue is… when it all comes together, the color, the smoke, the rub, the sauce, it just all melds together to become that perfect, awesome bite of barbecue. That’s what I am all about, and that is what ‘Sonny’s’ wants each and every customer to experience, the best barbecue in a friendly, home-style environment with your enjoyment as the primary goal. That’s what is real, and that’s always our goal!”

Stop by any “Sonny’s BBQ” and you will find a great selection of barbecue with all the flavor of cooking in your own backyard… but mostly, you will get a taste of real Southern Hospitality… just remember to always finish it all off with a great dessert!

Produced by: Irina Pabis
Photo/Video by: Richard Pabis
Written by: David Morizot

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