Pappy's Mafia Hitman Rub: A Legend in the Making

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by Brandi Sikora

For those who are considering cooking their own BBQ but don’t know where to start, we have just the guy for you!  About a year and a half year ago, Billy ‘Pappy’ Eaton started bottling and selling his secret recipe rub that has taken as years to perfect: Pappy’s Mafia Hitman BBQ Rub!

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It all started 15 years ago, when Billy was fortunate enough to be employed by Jim Johnson of Complete Scales in Memphis who was not just a business owner, but also a 76-time grand champion in the BBQ circuit.  One of the top pitmasters in the country, Jim has been competing for 25-30 years—topping out at #1 in the nation in 1998. Billy worked as a weigh scale technician and during his first week on the job, Jim noticed Billy was interested in learning more. So, he got Billy cooking.  You see, Jim would often cook for his customers to help nurture the customer-company relationship, teaching Billy everything he knew. That was then. Now, Jim has since sold the business and moved to Indiana...but is still finding time to travel the world as a KCBS (Kansas City BBQ Society) International Cooking Instructor.  As luck would have it, Reed Food Technology (Taste Maker) in Memphis was one of Jim’s scale customers, so it was only a matter of time before Jim, Billy, and Reed Food started talking and worked to develop a BBQ rub. Just like that, Pappy’s Mafia Hitman BBQ Rub was born.

At this point you might be wondering how Pappy got his name.  In his own words, “It isn’t a name I came up with. It was given to me, and I’ve been Pappy ever since.”  Pappy’s pitmaster friends were shocked to find out he was about 10-12 years older than all of them, so as a joke, they just started calling him Pappy.  Like rub to a rack of ribs, the name stuck!

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Hitman Rub is still in its startup phase.  According to Pappy, Phase 1 has been a hassle to get the label figured out: ingredients, nutrition information, barcode, sourcing affordable ingredients, etc.  “Being in the startup phase, it can take a while to really get rolling.” He isn’t planning to stop with rub, though. Phase 2 will hopefully be a BBQ sauce (Pappy’s Mafia Godfather Sauce)—a Memphis style sauce which has a sweet and tangy flavor (both vinegar and tomato base).  BBQ sauce is not only more competitive than rubs but it’s also more of a hassle to develop. It doesn’t have as long of a shelf life and you also have to produce and bottle in bigger batches. Pappy believes Phase 3 would be a variation of rubs incorporating orange peel or pecan to tickle a few different taste buds.  You’ll just have to wait and see what he comes up with next!

Most of Pappy’s sales are by word of mouth but he does have some shelf space at Long Road Cider company if you’re in the area and would like to pick up a bottle.  If that location isn’t convenient for you, simply reach out to Billy in the Facebook group, Pappy’s Mafia BBQ, and he’ll gladly mail you a bottle of your own. Pappy manages all distributions himself.  Has mailed bottles of the rub to Colorado, Texas, Ohio, and Germany, among others. Sending it overseas is expensive. In fact, it costs more so ship than to just buy it!

When asked what advice he would like to share with someone making their own BBQ, Pappy had a few cardinal rules one must follow:

  1. Pork is a mild meat so you have to put the smoke and flavor to it.  You want to infuse flavor into the meat. Pork is the star and you want your smoke, rub, and bbq sauce to be the backup singers. You don’t want them to be overpowering.  

  2. Always cook to your personal taste but Pappy recommends using fruit woods such as apple, peach and pecan.  The sweeter woods really bring this rub to life! The quality of the charcoal matters as well; use hard wood!  

  3. Every rub has three  basic ingredients: salt, sugar, and paprika.  Everything else added is to enhance the flavor and highlight different flavor profiles.  Suggestions include adding orange peel or cocoa powder to put a spin on things.

  4. Pay attention to details!  Cook at the right temperature and make sure it stays at that temperature!  Different cookers will give you different flavor profiles.

  5. Don’t ever use lighter fluid!  EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER! Instead, Pappy suggests using a chimney to get the grill/smoker going.

  6. Keep Pappy’s Mafia Hitman BBQ Rub cool and dry and it’ll be good for up to one year (but I doubt you’ll have it around that long).

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Pappy’s rub has a very versatile flavor profile.  I’ve personally tried it on chicken (as is) and on grilled veggies (adding some lemon zest) and my goodness!  He’s right—it truly enhances the flavor of the food, it doesn’t overpower it.  Have you ever eaten seasoned food that just tasted like the seasoning you put on it?  This won’t happen with Pappy’s Hitman Rub. The veggies tasted like veggies, but better!  The chicken was so juicy, smokey, and versatile that I ate it as a main course, on a pizza the next day, AND in a salad.  Each time it tasted different, how cool is that!?

As mentioned, if you’d like to swing by and pick up a bottle for yourself, go by Long Road Cider Company in Millington, TN.  Or, you can hit Pappy up on Facebook in the FaceBook Group: Pappy’s Mafia BBQ and he’ll mail you a bottle.  Happy Grillin’ Y’all!