Michael Gratz is a native of Kansas City and St. Louis, which fast becomes clear when tasting anything from Prairie Fire BBQ. The food scene in the UK was thriving when Gratz arrived, but there was a Kansas-sized hole in his heart.

So, using his own recipes for sauces, rubs and smoked meats, Gratz indulged in his love of Kansas BBQ by regularly cooking for his friends and family. After much praise, he finally opened Prairie Fire BBQ and began selling his delicious creations at markets and food stalls around London. It’s all about the sauce with this BBQ, but what else is behind Prairie Fire?

Q: How did your career as a food vendor start?

A: My wife and I moved to London three and a half years ago for her job, and I couldn’t find authentic Kansas City Style BBQ here. Growing up in the Midwest, we had family BBQs every weekend and that taste of home is something I missed.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking for family and friends for as long as I can remember, and years ago I completed culinary coursework for my own personal enrichment, not ever thinking I would end up working in the food business. Street food was just catching on when we first arrived and I saw an opportunity to bring authentic Kansas City-style BBQ to Londoners, making all our sauces and rubs from scratch.

‘Back in Kansas City, BBQ is a way of life…’

Q: If you could eat just one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Tough call. It would have to be eggs, for their versatility alone… I’m not the type to eat the same thing for consecutive meals.

Q: American smoked meats have really taken off in the UK in recent years, especially in cities like London. Why do you think this is?

A: Back in Kansas City, BBQ is a way of life for many. It’s a part of people’s identities, not a fad or a trend. There’s a realness to authentic BBQ and when done right, the time and effort that goes into it shines through the final product. BBQ is a crave-able food that is, frankly, delicious. People that do it take pride in it, and there’s camaraderie amongst those tending to the pits. It takes a lot of time and effort to do it right, and if it was easy everyone would do it.

Q: How long does it take to smoke a brisket, and what kind of smoker do you use?

A: Smoking a brisket our way takes a couple of days including prep time. Our USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) briskets from Kansas City will sit in the smoke for 15 to 18 hours. We are currently using a big FEC (Fast Eddy’s™ by Cookshack) smoker but need a bigger one, so we’re looking at Southern Pride and Ole Hickory (smokers).

Q: When people in the UK think ‘BBQ sauce’ they conjure up something very different to the sweet sauce favoured in the US, what is it that makes your sauce work so well with smoked meats?

A: People often ask what makes Kansas City-style BBQ a style of its own, it’s the sauce! We are known for the thick, sweet, and smoky tomato-based sauces. Prairie Fire’s BBQ sauces are modelled after a few of my favourites from Joe’s Kansas City, Gates, and LC’s back home.

Our sauces complement each of the meats – we have a spicy one that works wonders on pork, chicken and fish and our original sauce goes well on everything. In the US, BBQ sauce is a staple condiment in every fridge, just like Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise.

‘Growing up in the Midwest, we had family BBQs every weekend…’

Q: Do you have a favourite recipe that you turn to, when you need something really comforting? If so, would you mind sharing it with us?

A: It’s hard to find a more comforting dish than a bowl of Chili con Carne.

Chilli con carne recipe

500g ground Beef
500g ground Pork or Chicken or Turkey
6 strips Smoked Streaky Bacon
2 medium Onions (diced)
3 cloves Garlic (minced)
2x 400g cans San Marzano Tomatoes (chopped)
2x 400g cans Red Kidney Beans (drained)
1x 330ml can of your favourite beer (drink 1/2 while cooking, use 1/2 in recipe)
1 tbsp Tomato Paste
2 tbsp Chili Powder
2 tbsp Cumin Powder
2 tbsp coarse Salt
1 tbsp coarse Black Pepper
1 tbsp Coriander
1 tsp ground Chili Flakes
1 serving of salted cream crackers
Your favourite hot sauce to taste.

1.) In a large Dutch oven, sweat the onions until translucent, and stir in garlic after 30 seconds.
2.) Add the meats and brown for about five minutes.
3.) Add spices, then tomato paste, beer and tomatoes. Allow to simmer on a low heat for about an hour.
4.) Serve with crackers, grated cheddar, sour cream, minced onion.
5.) Something to keep in mind: chili, just like most soups, is better the next day as the flavours have time to meld even more.

Q: Where do you see the future of American BBQ in the UK, will its popularity continue to increase?

A:  BBQ in the UK will continue to increase because it is a crave-able food. Furthermore, once more people taste it, they too crave it. When we started here two years ago you could name the London BBQ joints on one hand, now there are over 20. If I were to make a prediction, I’d say that there will be several very good BBQ restaurants in every major city in the UK within the next five years. Who knows, some many even be called Prairie Fire BBQ.

Q: In your opinion what are the base ingredients in a good brisket rub?

A: A good Brisket rub has lots of course salt, course pepper, paprika, cumin, celery seed, garlic, and onion powders.

Prairie Fire BBQ frequents pop-up food markets across London, so check out their Twitter and Facebook to find out where they are serving up, or better yet contact them and hire them for your own event!

Now, head over to our interactive State of Food hub to discover the signature foods of all 50 US states and plan the tastiest road trip ever!