Retiring early to launch Meat Church BBQ, Matt Pittman finds success and joy teaching others to master their grilling technique
Anyone who knows Matt Pittman will not be surprised that he retired from the finance world to create a smoked meat empire. In the eight years since he participated as a contestant on the show BBQ Pitmasters, Matt has turned a couple of meat rub recipes into BBQ marketing gold. Not too bad for a guy who, spoiler alert, came in third (last) place.
If you tune into an episode on the Meat Church YouTube channel, you will hear the familiar welcoming words, “Hi guys, it’s Matt from Meat Church, and welcome back to our outdoor kitchen. Today I am going to show you how to make….” If you follow his technique, you will be the most popular griller in your house. Just read the hundreds of comments on his videos, and you will know he has found his niche.
“You made my little girl’s first birthday a hit. I totally followed your steps on this video and another one, and it turned out amazing. My brother texted me how delicious it was; he never compliments me. Thank you!”
“I love how you encourage us to use visual cues for each step. Once I learned to use the visual cues, it brought my ribs to a whole other level. Great video.”
While he may have a social media following that makes him an influencer (670K followers on Instagram and 453K YouTube subscribers), he hasn’t let the internet fame or hanging out with sports greats and music stars go to his head. He is the same thoughtful and engaging person who wants to spread the BBQ gospel by teaching viewers the tools to do it right.
For Matt, Meat Church is about making great memories around food.
Matt was born in Tennessee and grew up appreciating big Southern meals, particularly on Sundays. Coming from Southern Baptist parents, he would watch his mom and grandmothers put a huge dinner on the table an hour after arriving home from church. Mashed potatoes with lots of butter, fried okra, and sweet tea. He would ask questions and enjoyed the interaction. He was impressed that these women would cook a meal, clean up, then ask their guests if they would like more food. He realizes now that he was not only learning how to prepare food but also that they were teaching him how to take care of people.
Matt’s parents divorced when he was eight. When he was in sixth grade, his dad, a welder and pipefitter moved to Texas for work, and Matt and his brother Josh moved with him. His life was very transitory through high school as he moved back to Tennessee for seventh grade and back to Texas in the eighth. Even though this time was difficult, Matt learned by watching how hard his parents worked to provide necessities for their children. When the job didn’t work out in Texas, his dad, Steve, became an independent contractor. His mom, Jona, was a thrifter and would sell items at flea markets. She would give Matt $10, and he would walk through the market, buy three things, bring them back to her stall, and sell them all for twice as much. In high school, Matt reconditioned bikes and lawnmowers and resold them. He also made and sold candy and bracelets. He had an inherent entrepreneurial mind, naturally instilled from his blue-collar parents and grandparents.
Because he moved so often, Matt only had a few friends. When he was in eleventh grade, his father moved two hours south, and Matt asked his father if he could move in with his friend to provide stability for the last two years of high school. His father agreed. Matt loved football and loved going to Alabama games with friends. But when it came to college, if he wanted to go, he had to figure out how to get there. A first-generation student, Matt enrolled in a local community college, Tarrant County College. He applied and received a scholarship for both years he attended. The school’s graduates were highly sought after by local universities, and they provided incentives for those students to attend. This was the case with attending the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA); 75 percent was paid for, and he worked to pay for the rest.
Because Matt went to a local university, a commuter school for many, he had numerous friends nearby. When he started at UTA, he didn’t consider a Greek organization part of his college journey. Then, as a senior, Matt decided he wanted to get more out of his college experience. He became friends with a Sigma Chi, who invited him to a recruitment event. He enjoyed the camaraderie and went through the recruitment process. Matt clicked with the Texas Kappa Phi Delts best because they were outdoor guys, more country, and enjoyed camping and sports. The chapter even won the All Sports Trophy. Because the football program was disbanded in the mid-’80s due to financial loss, one of the events the chapter looked forward to was Friday night brotherhood. They just stayed in and hung out with their fellow brothers. No other groups did this.
While Matt doesn’t have any regrets about his college path, he does wish he could have joined Phi Delt sooner. As it was, he only had a year but made the best of it. He was the social chairman. He created all the event shirts and had quite a knack for them; other Greek organizations even hired him to design theirs, which led him to start a t-shirt business while in school. Even though these were the internet’s early days, Matt wanted to have a website selling funny shirts. But graduation came, and he dreamed of earning six figures by thirty. While in school, Matt worked as a customer services manager at Bank of America and wasn’t confident he could advance at the rate he needed to achieve his goal. His friend and mentor, Dave Jimenez, ’97, suggested he take Microsoft courses. This resulted in a short-term setback in pay but led him to take a help desk job with Penson. Completing his certification training quickly led to promotions as a manager, director, VP, and overseeing all things hardware.
While he was leading a sixty-person team and managing real estate, the opportunity to be on the BBQ Pitmasters show arose. Matt and fourteen or so brothers had been tailgating at Dallas Cowboys games since around 2000. While he did do some cooking at the chapter house, it was mainly crawfish boils. Grilling was the order of the day in the Cowboys’ parking lots. Chapter Brothers Pete Pruitt, ’93, and Chip Porter, ’97, were the barbeque guys, and they entered competitions. They invited Matt to help them out, and on one occasion, they won. When Matt visited the so-called BBQ capital of the world, Lockhart, Texas, he knew he had found the style of cooking for him. No more sweet sauce. Use post oak, keep it simple with salt and pepper, and let the meat speak for itself.
In December 2013, Matt tried out for BBQ Pitmasters and found out on New Year’s Day 2014 that he would be on the show. He had three weeks to prepare before competing in Tampa. Each contestant is assigned a producer, and this producer called Matt a kindred BBQ nerd, because he knew so much about BBQ. This producer mentioned that if he had a product of his creation, he could bring it and use it on the show. He was making two rubs then, so he went to his supplier to get more honey powder to create what he needed. He told the guy about the show, and the supplier offered to bottle and label both blends for him. Holy Cow and Honey Hog BBQ rubs were born, and these rubs would be the difference between a disappointing third-place finish and one that changed his career trajectory.
While disappointed that he lost, he took a compliment to heart given to him by judge Myron Mixon who dubbed Matt’s the best in taste and even wanted to take his rubs home with him. Matt immediately filed for trademarks on the name Meat Church. He opened a web store to sell his two rub blends, the shirt, and the hat he wore on the show.
When Matt first started Meat Church, it was more of a hobby. He was still working full-time but began using Instagram to show his process. He started using the platform while on BBQ Pitmasters because he liked the visual aspect. You can tell stories on Instagram, but he was eager for more. He began filming videos and wanted to differentiate himself from others by not being entertaining (he isn’t looking to impress anybody) but educational. The only credits he is looking for are the ones in the comments telling him they were successful based on what he had taught them.
After four years of working in IT and Meat Church on the side, Matt decided to retire. He didn’t intend to create a lifestyle brand with his Instagram account, but that is precisely what happened. The company sells twenty products and has one hundred stock-keeping units (SKUs), everything from wearables to stickers. Meat Church has only ten employees and made $20 million in sales last year. Matt is a husband and father when he isn’t filming videos for YouTube, competing in events, running sold-out cooking events in Waxahachie, helping celebrities with their charity events, and tailgating Dallas Cowboy events. The success of Meat Church has set him up to have the financial security to spend more time with his family, a dream that far exceeds his goal in college, especially with the birth of their first grandchild.
Matt’s priorities are family and company; whatever is left goes to others. During the week, he makes the kids breakfast, drives them to school, and picks them up in the afternoon as often as possible. He knows that soon his children may not want him to, so he is taking advantage while he can. Matt and his wife Tracie schedule their events around son Sam’s flag football and daughter Ava’s volleyball practices and games. He also cooks them dinner and thinks that eating meals together is sacred. It helps that the company is a family business as his eldest son Christian, and his wife, Kate, work at Meat Church. Christian oversees all shipping and the store, and Kate runs customer service and specialty sales. Even the youngest, Sam, is a budding marketing entrepreneur. He is constantly selling the brand when they are at Dallas Cowboys’ games and other events.
Matt credits some of his early successes to the networking he created being a Phi Delt. He attended the Fraternity’s Leadership College and fondly remembered road-tripping to Oxford from Texas with his brothers. Attending Convention showed him for the first time why being a Phi Delt is being a Phi for Life. Meeting members who have devoted their lives to the Fraternity was inspiring. Then there was his friend Dave who suggested he take the Microsoft certification course, and his Chapter Adviser Roy Anderson, ’70. Matt only had one year to experience Phi Delt as a student, and he wasn’t ready to walk away from that brotherhood. Anderson suggested to Matt that he run the Arlington Texas Alumni Club. It was a challenge because it was closed at the time. He enjoyed meeting the older alumni and networking with other Phis. Joining Phi Delta Theta was an enriching college experience that has created lifelong friendships, jobs from networking with those friends or other Phis, and a strong moral compass; being in a fraternity affects your whole life.
When asked if he has any advice for college seniors, he says nothing replaces hard work. His parents and grandparents instilled in him a strong work ethic, and he is adamant that working hard will get you far. By showing up at work, owning projects, and being proactive, you will get respect and acknowledgment that lead to growth and promotions.
Matt finds leadership a natural fit and wants to support any organization he joins. Giving back is essential to Matt and is built into the Meat Church pillars. Matt has been fortunate, which has helped his family financially, so he feels he has a responsibility to be generous with his time and money. He enjoys aligning with other organizations that give back as they open his eyes to new charities, and he uses his platform to inform others about these causes.
When asked where he sees Meat Church in five years, Matt acknowledges that it is difficult to be strategic because the company has grown and changed so much. They enjoy being small and nimble, and Matt likes to be the face of the brand; he loves cooking and teaching. He wants to continue inspiring people to cook and make memories around food. He’ll be doing this through his YouTube channel, in-person cooking classes, recipe development, and writing a cookbook. You will also find him tailgating in the Cowboys’ parking lot with his Phi Delt chapter brothers, creating memories with slow-cooked food grilled over a fire.
You can find Meat Church products at meatchurch.com, at local retailers like Ace Hardware, and on social media.