Becoming a Backyard Hero
Apr 06, 2012 12:17PM
● By Mike
Kyle Clark Knows Grilling
The outdoor season is upon us and anyone who calls themselves a Texan knows there is no better way to spend an evening than barbequing in the backyard and chilling with friends. These days the popularity of elaborate backyard kitchens is a testament to the American love affair with cooking and eating outdoors and no one enjoys an afternoon slow smoking BBQ, tipping back a cold, unique, crafted beer and visiting with family and friends more than our own Southlake Sultan of the Smoker, Kyle Clark, founder of Rusted Truck Ranch.
Kyle is a West Texas native who grew up surrounded by the traditions of life on a Texas ranch. Born in Abilene, he spent many a weekend at his grandparent’s ranch in Rule, TX, “A one stoplight kind of town,” according to Kyle. The Tesbar Ranch was founded in 1876 and is still in the family today more than 130 years later so it’s no great surprise that while Kyle’s career took him far from the wide-open spaces of Texas after college he just couldn’t stay away forever.
Heading off to college at Texas A & M after high school, Kyle received a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and met the woman who would become his wife, Jennifer, another Aggie graduate. The young couple was interested in trying the California lifestyle and moved to the west coast where the multi-talented Kyle added a master’s degree in Film at the University of Southern California to his resume.
Merging the two degrees together, Kyle landed a dream job in the animation industry, working at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a division of LucasFilms, Ltd. Founded in 1975 by George Lucas to create his epic Stars Wars series of films, ILM was the first facility of its kind and still leads the industry in special effects more than 30 years later contributing cinematic magic to more than 300 films. ILM has been involved in 10 of the top 15 worldwide box office hits of all time including films like Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. While at ILM, Kyle worked on the film Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace becoming part of the enormous hype surrounding the development of the film also acting as creator of the iconic Gungan, Jar Jar Binks. The media buildup to the movie just might have been a contributor to the letdown the film experienced in reviews after opening. Looking back on the experience Kyle laughed, “ It was fun, a good experience.”
While Kyle and Jennifer were living in the golden state he discovered other Texas Aggies working at ILM and everyone had the same issue; they couldn’t find the spicy food they loved. As Kyle put it, “They were always looking for that taste of Texas.” As luck or divine providence would have it, he started cooking and soon the Clark home became the go to place for groups to get together and eat some good old Texas BBQ. When he and Jennifer were expecting their first child they decided that they wanted to raise their children back in Texas and made the move to Austin. A further move to Dallas brought the family to Southlake visiting friends and four years ago the decision was made to settle here. Like many Southlake residents, the Clarks came for the schools and the small town feeling they enjoyed on their visits. Along the way, Kyle and Jennifer had daughter, Peyton (10), daughter, Callahan (8), daughter, Landry (6) and two years ago their son, Cameron, joined the family.
Places change but people stay the same, through all of their moves Kyle and Jennifer still loved to have people over for some backyard time. “Some people get on a plane and fly somewhere for a vacation but I just love having people over, chilling in the backyard, cooking, having a beer, relaxing, being King of the backyard.” Kyle said. Guests often asked how Kyle made a certain dish and since he always loved the idea of teaching a natural evolution took place and he combined his love of teaching with his love of cooking. So, as the story goes, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, (otherwise known as California) a seed of an idea began to grow and Rusted Truck Ranch (RTR) began to marinate.
Rusted Truck Ranch
Never one to disappoint a gathering of folks, or send anyone away still hungry, the budding entrepreneur began spending his hours away from his day job following a passion to create the perfect BBQ. Developing his spices with trial and error, Kyle would try something, cook it, and have people over to eat it. Then he’d revise the recipe, cook once more, and have the taste-tester friends back to try it again. The first product to come out of Rusted Truck Ranch was a premier spice and rub product, Classic Cruiser. As the signature BBQ Rub, Classic Cruiser is a custom blend of brown sugar, salt, chili powder and other spices, perfect for any type of meat being grilled or smoked and Kyle swears he has a fan that uses it in lasagna.
Classic Cruiser was followed by the introduction of Midnight Ride, a blend of roasted whole peppercorns with a hint of roasted coffee and kosher salt. Kyle recommends Midnight Ride for any steak, ribs or chicken but also mentions he loves a few shakes on his scrambled eggs in the morning. Intrigued by this idea, and a huge pepper fan, we took home the sample Kyle gave us, tried it on our morning eggs, and it was perfection. Even Kyle’s brother, who doesn’t like coffee, loves Midnight Ride.
Appealing to all heat levels of taste buds, Kyle developed his third flavor of spice named Pedal to the Medal, a fiery, yet sweet, blend of dried honey powder and ground jalapeno pepper with just a dash of brown sugar and kosher salt. Pedal to the Medal is guaranteed to give your BBQ a kick, starting out sweet and finishing with a touch of warmth.
As founder of RTR, Kyle enjoys buying local and using local vendors whenever possible. Going out of his way to stay local and authentic in his manufacturing is so important that he’s willing to pay a little more to use something locally produced. The actual manufacturing and bottling of RTR product is also kept close to home taking place at a facility in Arlington with final distribution handled right here in Southlake.
Every BBQ chef worth his salt loves to show off their skill and Kyle is no different. Rusted Truck Ranch competed in several events last year taking home awards and accolades but Kyle admits competition is probably the third tier down of the three facets of his business. “Competition is a whole different animal,” he explained. With plans already in place to compete a few times this year the growth in the other two areas of his business keeps RTR hopping.
In 2011 the number of catering opportunities that RTR managed grew in frequency and size. From cooking traditional BBQ for 200, steak and potatoes for 140, to breakfast tacos for 150 and many events in-between RTR brought their signature dishes to folks around the Metroplex filling everyone’s belly and bringing smiles to their faces. Catering to larger and larger corporate events caused the parallel evolution of Kyle’s BBQ Boot Camp.
BBQ Boot Camp
According to Kyle, BBQ Boot Camp evolved from people wanting to be able to recreate their entire experience with him from the cooking to the serving of food and the camaraderie around the event. Now, corporations will entertain clients with a BBQ Boot Camp instead of just a BBQ meal giving clients a completely out of the box experience. As Kyle put it, “Everyone wants to be a backyard hero.”
“BBQ Boot Camp,” Kyle says, “gives people a solid foundation. Then they can go home with the basics and experiment on their own.” Kyle commented, “People can take my system, walk away, replicate it, and get great results.” A typical day at camp will have backyard heroes in training cooking brisket, two styles of ribs, chicken, bacon wrapped pork loin, and maybe some chicken wings.
Not everyone has a custom-made rig built by Pitmaker like RTR, including a 58” long Sniper offset smoker, a 48” Grill Meister, and a 20-gallon on demand sink but that’s okay. At camp you will have the chance to cook on various types of equipment to learn different cooking methods. A gas grill is something most of us have in our backyards but boot camp survivors often go out and buy a Big Green Egg after experiencing it in class. Kyle loves the versatility of using the egg but gas grill operators can still learn to BBQ.
The difference between grilling and barbequing was simpler than you might imagine. Kyle explained to this novice griller that BBQ is cooking slowly, over indirect heat, smoking the food, and grilling is cooking faster, over direct heat. Should have figured that out. There are various products on the market for smoker boxes that sit on your gas grill so your food stays in the smoker while the direct heat is only on the opposite side of the grill. You can even get small cans with different kinds of wood chips like cherry or apple to give your meat a particular flavor. A gas grill creates less smoke but it can be done.
A typical day at camp may begin in Kyle’s own backyard but he’s perfectly happy to take it all on the road to several venues he likes or RTR can bring the entire camp directly to a corporate event. Imagine you’ve signed up to learn how to become a backyard hero. It makes sense that to end up with good BBQ you need good meat, so the first item of business at camp is a lesson on how to pick meat and what to look for depending on the type of meat you want to cook. Kyle recommends Costco and Sams for meat purchases because they cater to the restaurant crowd and will often carry cuts and sizes of the meat he wants that a standard grocery store won’t carry. Once the meat is in hand, campers learn how to prep their selection before cooking. Next comes your course on proper seasoning then you’re ready to get your meat on the pit so Kyle can teach you the ups and downs of temperature control and cook times, hot and cold spots, and the key topic of heat consistency. After cooking perfection takes place you’ll learn how to carve and serve all the different varieties of meat you just took out of the pit. At the end of the day you’ll leave boot camp ready to take control in your own backyard armed with a book that summarizes the course and includes recipes for everything you cooked.
Everyone knows that BBQ isn’t complete without the perfect side dishes and for Kyle Clark and the RTR team that means music. Check out the blog at www.rustedtruckranch.com and you’ll read that music is a key component of the BBQ experience. As a guy who played guitar professionally throughout college, Kyle loves to have music playing while he cooks and his favorites are anything he calls “Texas music” including the likes of Pat Green or Cross Canadian Ragweed. If you click on the music tab on the RTR website you can get a link to the RTR Pandora station featuring “music to cook by.”
Truly a jack-of-all-trades, Kyle has been a craft home-brewer for about 15 years but his interest in Texas beers was sparked when the family came back to the Lone Star state in 2001. With so many local labels to choose from he began sampling the beers and found what he calls one of his favorite breweries, ”not just in Texas, but on the planet,” Real Ale located in the town of Blanco in the Texas hill country. Proclaiming that Rio Blanco Pale Ale is a great addition to any BBQ experience, Kyle describes the flavor as smooth enough to enjoy more than just one but with significantly more taste than a basic light beer.
Admitting that his taste in beers tends to follow the seasons the grill-meister drinks the lighter beers in summer and the darker brews in winter. Part of BBQ Boot Camp is teaching the way he categorizes beer and why a particular brew ends up in a certain category. “I take the crazy world of craft brewing and break it all down,” says Kyle. A recommendation for Rio Blanco Pale Ale sounds delicious but a callout to try Dogfish Head Beer? Not so much.
In 2011, RTR cooked up over 1500 pounds of meat and is looking at exceeding that amount this year. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of BBQ. Even if you don’t have a custom built outdoor kitchen you can still be a backyard hero. This season, with the help of Kyle and the team at Rusted Truck Ranch, you can become the toast of the neighborhood. Fire up those grills and don’t forget to call us when dinner is ready.