The irony of the situation hangs over the studio like a puff of wood smoke. One of the country's most popular hosts of an on-air barbecue show broadcasts from a city that up until now has provided him with almost zero content. But the previous dearth of quality Cleveland barbecue hasn't slowed Greg Rempe down one bit as he glided through 10 years as the amped-up host of the weekly BBQ Central Show.
"This is not a local show," Rempe says from his Wickliffe kitchen, glass of barrel-strength bourbon in hand. "I want to make the show as broad as possible. I'm the host of a weekly show; I need something that changes all the time."
Barbecue might be the hottest thing since sliced white bread right now, but when Rempe first launched his barbecue-themed program, first as a podcast and later as an internet-based show, the landscape looked completely different. Most of the online chatter was limited to crude message boards and poorly designed web pages. But the lawless state of affairs back then also gave Rempe an opportunity: If he wanted a guest for his show, all he had to do was ask.
"Who the fuck were they when I started?" Rempe says. "You got to know these guys because you went to a book signing, a competition or contacted them online as the internet became more pervasive."
One of those early connections was with celebrity cookbook author Steven Raichlen, who has been a longstanding monthly guest of the show. Other regular spots are reserved for Meathead Goldwyn, Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ, and Max Good, all trailblazers of the grilling and smoking community.
Producing a weekly two-hour program about barbecue sounds daunting. I mean, how much can one possibly say about brisket and ribs? But much of the show's appeal lies in the wide-ranging nature of the subject matter. In addition to name-brand guests discussing the finer points of technique, style and regional variations, the BBQ Central Show covers consumer equipment like grills, smokers and pits, as well as the wide array of cooking accessories like thermometers, temperature-control devices, meat injectors, spices, rubs and sauces.
"There was a distinct period of time where the show might only have been considered geared toward the competition cook," Rempe says. "I don't compete, I don't consider myself an expert cook, but I love to talk to people about why they're doing it, how they're doing it, and what's changing and evolving in the scene."
The fruits of Rempe's labor are quickly apparent to those who visit his suburban home. Out on the back patio is a showroom of gear that includes a Grilla pellet cooker, Green Mountain Grill pellet cooker, Lang off-set stick burner, Pit Barrel Cooker, Weber Genesis Gas Grill and a pair of Weber Smokey Mountains, all sent for the host to review and, hopefully, endorse on the show. Inside, entire shelves are filled with sauces, rubs and marinades.
"I didn't get into this to make any money or get anything for free, I just wanted to serve a niche," Rempe says of the plunder. "But people want to send me stuff."
Rempe's compact basement studio is jammed with equipment like computer monitors, pre-amps, mixers, dynamics processor, microphones, headsets and miles of cable. The slickly produced show, viewable live and after the fact, makes use of a green screen that simulates a rustic wood backdrop onscreen. Rempe takes frequent breaks from interviews to perform "live reads," scripted endorsements of sponsor products. Those combined with other spots and banner ads generate tens of thousands of dollars in annual revenue for Rempe, whose day job is as a Peterbilt Truck salesman.
The recent boom of barbecue joints, both locally and nationally, is great news to Rempe, who says he finally has reason to eat out in Cleveland. On the night that I sit in as a guest of the show, I'm joined later in the program by Shane Vidovic of Proper Pig Smokehouse. So far, Michael Symon remains the host's white whale when it comes to guests.
"Rarely do I go out for barbecue," Rempe says. "When you become good at it, you're not going in search of ribs at Applebee's or Damon's. Mabel's and Proper Pig were the first local barbecue places that really seemed to be doing it right. I like both places and I'm happy that they're here."
Rempe hopes that those two joints will soon be followed by others because, despite assumptions to the contrary, we have barely scratched the surface. As of now, demand greatly outpaces supply.
"If they're good, we could use 10 to 15 more barbecue joints in the Cleveland area," Rempe says.
And if and when they do come, Rempe will gladly invite them all onto the really big show.www.TheBBQCentralShow.com