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Back of House: Q&A with Saddleback BBQ co-owner Nick Drumm


Starting off as a dishwasher for Saddleback BBQ after moving to Lansing in 2015, Nick Drumm, 23, is now one of the smoke pit eatery’s co-owners. Over the years, Drumm learned the tricks of the trade and was willing to share with City Pulse what goes down at Saddleback. Drumm explained the daily preparations: how the meat is tenderized and sauced and the great difference that temperature and wood varieties can make when the protein hits the smoker.

Every barbecue place wants to have its own unique stamp — how would you define Saddleback’s style?

The signature of Saddleback is doing a little bit of everything. Matt Gillett wanted to incorporate a bunch of different aspects of barbecue into Saddleback, and not just stick with one specific style.

We were trying to get to the roots and the heart of what barbecue actually is, so we could take it to the next step and have our own spin on it. That’s what we do with a lot of the specials.

And how do you accomplish that?

With some of our dry rubs, we do a wide variety of spices. The basis of our pork rub is brown sugar. It’s definitely on the spicier end, compared to Texas style. Texas style basically uses salt and pepper as its main rubs. It doesn’t elaborate, it just keeps it traditional and utilizes the flavor of the protein.

Going into Carolina Style and going into Kansas City style, they’re a little bit different. They go a little bit sweeter, they’re not as spicy as Texas. That’s where the brown sugar comes into play. And we use onion powder and garlic powder that doesn’t touch on the spicy side of things, but adds just a little bit of a character.

Does Saddleback concern itself with the conversation over what constitutes “real” and “fake” barbecue?

Obviously we like to make good food, but no, I don’t think we really concern ourselves with that. We get a lot of people that come into the store and say, ‘Hey, I’m from Texas and, obviously, Texas has the best barbecue in the world.’ People can argue that, there are definitely places in Texas that have fantastic barbecue. But you can’t compare the Texas style to the Michigan style or the Kansas City style.

Obviously, everyone has their own different likes and dislikes. We try to stay away from the negative side of the criticism that some people might put on our barbecue. We’re just trying to make good food, dude. I feel like if we just stick to the roots of what we’ve grown, and what we’ve built as Saddleback, then we will please a lot of people

The wood, and the temperature it burns at in the smoker, is an important nuance for barbecue. What goes into Saddleback’s selection process?

We locally source our wood and we get it delivered every couple of weeks.

But it all comes down to what we have available. If you’re looking at Texas style barbecue, they obviously don’t have very many different kinds of hardwood in Texas. The weather limits the kinds of trees they use, but here in Michigan we have a wide variety of hardwoods that we like to utilize. We like to utilize the fruitwoods and hickory, because they have a lower burning temperature, but produce a lot of smoke and a lot of flavor.

What’s Saddleback’s gold standard for tenderness?

A lot of the time we go by temperature.

Obviously we want to make sure that the product is cooked thoroughly, and is brought to our customers at the correct serving temperature.

But sometimes it’ll come down to feel.

A lot of the time if I’m running the smoker, I’ll just grab onto a brisket or shoulder with some gloves on and kind of feel it.

You can tell when it’s nice and tender.

The meat still holds its form, but it also has that softness to it. When you slice into it, it’s not going to shred and fall apart, but it will hold the form and still be super soft.

How important is the sauce?

The sauce for a lot of people is a big aspect. There’s a lot of people that enjoy the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. There’s a lot of people that like to have a Frank’s style garlic buffalo sauce. There’s people that love their mustard-based sauces.

But it depends. Some people like to come in and just get the protein. They don’t need any sauce, because they enjoy the flavor, the bark and the texture so much.

But I think it’s important to have a good array of sauces, and everyone loves our sauces; they’re all homemade from scratch. We actually might be getting our sauces picked up by a larger distributor, and maybe they’ll be in stores around Lansing soon enough.

Saddleback BBQ REO Town

Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 1147 S. Washington Ave., Lansing (517) 306-9002 www.saddlebackbbq.com

Saddleback BBQ Okemos

Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 1754 Central Park Drive Suite G2, Okemos (517) 306-9002


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