An Interview with PHIL THE GRILL

In this first episode of the BBQ 321 PIT MASTER INTERVIEWS, veteran pit master Phil the Grill shares his experiences in competitive barbecuing and his unique "freestyle" approach to the craft. The former general contractor from the Bronx, who transitioned into the BBQ circuit after winning his first two calls at an event, talks about his adventures cooking at the American Royal with a TV crew for "BBQ USA" and his prior collaboration with Michael Symon. Phil provides insights into his competition gear, including Gateway Drums and Green Mountain Pellet Smokers, revealing his reliance on intuition over thermometers. He also offers valuable tips for barbecue competitions, such as using lump charcoal for clean smoke, investing in a good smoker, and using sweet jams and butter for chicken, as well as the strategic placement of wood logs and baskets for even cooking. Now focused on building his brand with his own rubs and sauces, Phil is gearing up to return to the competitive field.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]
BBQ 321: We were at the American Royal with you, watching you do your thing. How was your experience filming for BBQ USA, especially with a TV crew following you around?

PHIL THE GRILL: It was a bit crazy at first, especially considering the caliber of the competition at the American Royal. I was a little concerned, but I've cooked with Michael Symon before on TV, and I feel like we have the same style of cook. You know, just be loose with it and just get in your groove and get down. So it was great, no hiccups, and presenting to the judges at the same time, it was a good time.

BBQ 321: Spoiler alert, you did well. You got some walks. You got your name out there. How does it feel competing against so many people and still managing to make your mark?

PHIL THE GRILL: Anytime you can get a walk, and you're competing against 500 people, that's a huge deal. I might not be Grand Champion, but I aim to wear that American Royal Cape one day. Every year I've been out there, I never come back empty-handed. I love competing and just hanging out. It's a great time all around.

BBQ 321: You mentioned earlier that you've filmed with Michael Symon before… What's it like filming with him?

PHIL THE GRILL: Filming with Michael Symon is always a blast. We've been on the same show in the past [on BBQ BRAWL], and our cooking styles align quite well. I just love to bring flavors from my background of being from New York with all of the different ethnic backgrounds that I grew up with and put that into a sauce or a rub.

BBQ 321: You have decided to close your restaurant and concentrate more on the Phil the Grill brand. How has this decision influenced your journey in the barbecue world?

PHIL THE GRILL: It was a tough decision, but I feel it was the right move. I have decided to go back into the competition field because it was keeping me away from building my rubs and my sauces. I've got two new rubs coming out, two more sauces, as well as a cookbook. I’m adding my own flavor and flare to the game.

BBQ 321: How did you transition from being a general contractor in the Bronx to becoming a competitive pitmaster?

PHIL THE GRILL: I used to love cooking in my backyard every Sunday, just having friends over watching football games. Then I started getting invited to everybody's house for their events, and they would tell me to bring the appetizer, the main course, and the dessert. And I was like, wait a second, I think I might have something here. So I put it all together. I built a food truck, and that’s what got me in the game.

For more stories, insights, and competition barbecue tips from PHIL THE GRILL, check out the BBQ 321 Pit Master Interviews Episode 1 podcast.