Draper’s BBQ or DBQ started life in 1973 as Draper’s Pit Barbecue, born from the hard work and dedication of my grandfather, James Draper. Located in the little town of Bardwell, Kentucky, I spent my formative years playing hide and seek in that smokey dinning room. Grandpa’s small restaurant in that small town became known as one of the go to places for barbecue in Western Kentucky. I will never forget the smell of the pit. The smell of smoldering oak and salt rubbed pork slowly cooking…that’s a childhood memory which is the smell of home to me.
My family quickly learned owning, operating and cooking in a bbq restaurant made for a very demanding life’s work. They all stuck it out as long as they could but finally grandpa decided in the early 80’s to close the doors of the restaurant. It was a difficult decision, but thankfully, was not the end of him cooking. Family and friends still got treated to great bbq on holidays and special occasions, such as home comings. That’s where I learned what bbq is all about….love. You can’t cook something for twenty hours and not love what you’re doing. That is what made my grandfather’s bbq different from anywhere else. Every single bite was about love, honor, and commitment; about not taking short cuts and just doing things right.
Thankfully my grandfather passed down most of what he learned as a pit master to my father, Mike. Dad more or less tinkered around with bbq for several years and became one of the better chicken cookers in the area (if you ask the neighbors). Dad worked construction his whole life and learned that hard work equals good products. That lesson has paid great dividends for Draper’s BBQ as a company and made uncompromising about quality. Both dad and grandpa still cooked for friends and family, enjoying the laid back pace of cooking just for the enjoyment of the people they cared about.
During those years, I had turned 17 and had opted to join the Navy. I was stationed at first in Virginia Beach and then Japan on an aircraft carrier. I think the amount of travelling I did while on active duty tempered my pallet and showed me that honest flavors, layered together make for the best food no matter the culture, the country or the ingredients. After leaving the service I became a government contractor in the Virginia Beach area. It was during this time that my grandfather passed away. To say it was a devastating blow to the entire family is an understatement. About a year after his passing I decided I would not miss another opportunity to spend time with the rest of my family in Kentucky, so I packed up my young family and headed home.
When I got home it was great to be back, but something was missing. Of course I still missed my grandfather greatly, but it was more than that. For the first time in as long as I could remember the Draper’s no longer barbecued. I was determined to change that and finally talked dad into teaching me to cook. Well, true to Draper tradition, it wasn’t long and people were asking us to cook for them. So we started cooking as a hobby again and experimenting with different ideas.
It was during this time that our DBQ Smokin’ Sauce, A.P Rub and Rib Rub were born. It all started with the sauce. Dad was always very fond of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce on his chicken. It’s a good sauce that is readily available but I always had the thought that I could do better. Dad threw down the gauntlet and dared me to try. The very next day I got about 10 bbq sauce recipes together, bought a cart full of supplies and started cooking. It wasn’t long before I found the flaw in most sauces was a lack of depth and clarity of flavors. With that in mind I started layering together flavors, making batch after batch, adjusting and taking notes on what ingredients would go well in a rub to complement the sauce. After months of trial and error (and straining my wife’s patience) one day it all came together. Finally I had a sauce that was authentic but familiar, complex but not complicated or muddy, refined but not pretentious. I knew I had something that would get my grandfather’s seal of approval.
A few months after this Dad and I were invited to Memphis in May to be apart of the Tucker Cooker team. While there we were asked to enter our sauce in the Tomato Based Sauce category. Our sauce ended up beating many of the big names in the bbq industry and cooking circuit and wound up with the 8th best score overall! This was all I needed to know we needed to start the company back up again and get our products out to the world again.
Fast forward almost a year and Draper’s Pit Barbecue has officially turned a corner and became DBQ. We are here on the web selling our products, working with amazing people and meeting friends just like you everyday. Along the way we have never forgotten the truths that made us who we are. It all starts with love but has to be backed by the commitment and honor to do things the right way and never compromise on ingredients or flavor.
When we say “Three generations of pride and flavor in a bottle” we mean it. It took every generation to be what we are today and we will never forget that.