Car salesman-turned-barbecue pro balances jobs while he chases smoked perfection



By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

It's not just a matter of slapping a few ribs on the grill and hoping for the best.

Chris Schumacher, a third-generation auto dealership owner, is driven to create new methods and flavors as he grows his side business of barbecue catering.

"I don't want this to be average," he said. "It's got to be to my liking.

"That's why I haven't rushed into anything. I'm just continuing ... improving on my processes and flavors and not settling."

What started as a tailgate barbecue competition has blossomed into Shorty's BBQ and Catering, a collaborative business venture with Hays City Quality Meats.

Serving everything from small dinner parties to the Kansas State University football team and banquets of 500, Schumacher has balanced his day job at Fort Hays Auto Sales with food preparation at Hays City Quality Meats, where he operates his smokers and grills.

"I go over early in the morning and then go to work," he said. "I'll check on it (meat on the grill) several times a day, or the people that work there (at the meat market) will keep an eye on it for me.

"Then after work, I'll go home and change and head to the meat market to finish it."

Schumacher got his start in barbecuing when he bought a Traeger pellet grill and began experimenting with recipes. Interested in competition, he got his feet wet at a tailgate competition during a KSU football game. He placed third with a smoked salmon entry and later joined forces with Paul Jones, Hays, to win the first Blues, BBQ & Bargains competition in Hays.

Although he has a fair share of competitions under his belt, Schumacher prefers to prepare food for other people and events, a preference that is evolving into a successful business venture.

His menu includes a wide selection of meats including brisket, pulled pork, sausage, ribs, chicken and side dishes.

Handcrafting his own sauces and rubs, he said, is key to developing his own style. Schumacher is considering a future sideline business selling those items locally.

It's likely some of Schumacher's cooking talents lie in good genetics, as Schumacher pointed out his mother and grandmother have a knack for cooking.

"I can't take credit for what he learned," Debbie Schumacher said. "My mom was a good cook, so I wanted to be a good cook.

"If I made something and it didn't taste like my mom's, I was disappointed. ... So it follows down the line."

A quick visit with Schumacher often ends with the opportunity to sample one of his specialties. With baby back ribs covered with his aromatic sauce, the Fort Hays Auto Sales kitchen instantly transforms into a lunch venue.

One of his biggest fans, his mom watches as he cuts and serves the sample.

"When you come to see a barbecue guy, you can't get away without trying something," she said, laughing.