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Sterling Smith: The Best in BBQ

Sterling Smith's rise to competitive barbecue champion and the maker of award-winning rubs and sauces.

Originally a banker, Sterling Smith found his calling in the world of competitive barbecue (BBQ). Here, his rise to the top, his championship line of rubs and sauces, and one of his yes-that-really-happened stories.

How did you become involved in the world of BBQ?

After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in finance, I worked in the banking industry. Eventually, I worked for a bank based out of Kansas City, Missouri, the motherland of BBQ. The bank is a huge sponsor of the American Royal World Series of BBQ annual competition. They also hold an employee BBQ competition. I’ve always loved to cook and am a very competitive person. I went to Kansas City in 2007 to help out and compete, and I saw huge smokers, big chunks of meat, smoke rolling and people having fun, and I knew I wanted to do what they were doing. Eventually, I started a BBQ team and then in 2013, my own company. 

What do you love about it?

I love everything! Some of the people we have met on the BBQ circuit have become our family. Most of the people in BBQ will give you the shirt off their back if you ask. Besides the people, cooking sets me free. It allows me to be creative. I can shut off everything around me and focus on creating the best possible product. I love the smell of charcoal and wood lighting up in the morning, the look of a beautiful piece of meat on the smoker, the touch of a perfectly cooked brisket, hearing our team name called at awards, and celebrating with family and friends at the end of the day.

Sterling Smith
"I chose Loot N’ Booty BBQ as a homage to my Navy days. All sailors have a little pirate in them!" says Smith. (©Chris Loomis)

When did you launch your company and why?

I launched LNB BBQ, LLC in 2013. At that time I was still working in the banking industry and competing. I was also working on a few BBQ seasonings and sauces that I was using in competitions, and was getting multiple requests to cook for family, friends and to cater events. In 2014 I had the opportunity to work with Old World Spices, a seasoning co-packer out of Overland Park, Kansas, to create and produce a pork seasoning for the American Royal Championship Rub line.

Why did you choose the name, Loot N’ Booty BBQ?

After graduating high school I joined the U.S. Navy. I served four years onboard the U.S.S. Chosin (CG-65) and two years in active reserve here in Arizona. When I got into BBQ I knew I had to create a team name. There were so many clever and cool team names out there and I wanted something that represented me. I chose Loot N’ Booty BBQ as an homage to my Navy days. All sailors have a little pirate in them!

Favorite item to BBQ?

I love cooking everything, but my favorite has to be pork ribs. It is hard to beat a perfectly smoked, tender and delicious rib. In competitions, I have been using a hanging technique for my ribs, which is unique. I can get overall coverage of heat and smoke, which makes my product unique and stands out against the others.

You’ve won numerous awards. 

Yes, a few I've won include: 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Arizona BBQ Team of the Year; 2014 American Royal Open Reserve Grand Champion; 2016 Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Pork Champion; 2017 Australian Kingsford Invitational Grand Champion; and the 2016 “Smoked” BBQ Boss Title (a TV series hosted by Myron Mixon that aired on the Destination America channel).

Loot N' Booty products
Smith has become famous for his award-winning rubs and sauces. (©Michelle Glicksman)

Any good BBQ competition stories?

Several! One of the best is how I won my first Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned competitions. Lake Havasu, Arizona, used to host an annual BBQ competition that was one of the biggest competitions here out West. In 2013, there were close to 90 teams from across the country competing. During set-up day, I noticed the one and only smoker I was using wasn’t running properly. The control panel was shot and I had no way of getting another one from the manufacturer in time. I thought my only option was to go out and buy another smoker. Luckily, some BBQ friends of ours were cooking on the same type of smoker and they had an extra control panel. I switched it out with my bad control panel in time to get the meat on for the night. We ended up taking Grand Champion the next day, thanks to the BBQ family and friends we have made along the way!

Tell us about your rubs and sauces.

The first rub I created was a pork rub for the 2014 American Royal Championship Rub line. This line is sold at thousands of locations nationally. Since then I have created my own Loot N’ Booty BBQ branded line of Championship BBQ rubs and sauces.

I have three award-winning rubs: Loot N’ Booty BBQ Everything Rub, Gold Star Chicken Rub and What’s Your Beef? Rub. I also have three sauces: Loot N’ Booty BBQ Original Competition BBQ Sauce, Southwest Sweet Heat and Arizona Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce. I am currently working on two rubs to add to my line and a couple more sauces.

In addition to selling products, you offer catering and classes. Can you tell us about those?

I started teaching competition and backyard BBQ classes in 2014 out of requests. I was moving up and getting better in the competition circuit, and many people were asking me to teach them. I held my first Loot N’ Booty BBQ Competition BBQ Class at my home to a sold-out crowd. Since then I have taught over 20 classes. In 2017, I taught eight classes in Arizona, Nevada, California, Ohio, Texas and Australia. I am currently working with Green Mountain Grills, a pellet smoker company, to teach more classes. I also offer private BBQ catering services—everything from grand championship pulled pork to 15-hour pecan smoked brisket.

Best BBQ tips?

Educate yourself! The more you know about airflow, heat management, muscle structure and proteins, rendering fat, etc., the better you will be as a cook. Research online, attend classes and cooking demonstrations, join your local BBQ club—there are many resources available. You also have to cook. The more you do at anything in life, if you are passionate, the better you will be.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As a military veteran, I feel it is important to give back to those who sacrificed for our freedoms, and I am a founding member of Arizona Que for a Cause, a group of local BBQ competition cooks, restaurant owners and BBQ-related business owners who get together to help feed the homeless and less fortunate veterans in Phoenix. I also partner with Green Mountain Grills to sponsor Veteran-related events and charity cooks nationally.