Robbie Shoults: Smoking the Competition with a Family Business

Texas smoked brisket

Those who have been following Robbie Shoults’ career know that he is a man of many talents. But, most importantly, he’s the owner and operator of one of the best smokehouses in the United States. His operation, Bear Creek Smokehouse, is a family business that has been running for 78 years. So, what makes his company so successful, and why do people keep coming back for more?

Thankfully, Shoults was kind enough to answer these questions and give us some terrific advice about getting into cooking and what makes his business so unique. His guidance also includes his story of running his thriving business, curating the perfect environment for his guests, and becoming a great cook.

Modern Professional
Bear Creek Smokehouse owner, Robbie Shoults / Photo courtesy of Robbie Shoults

Bear Creek Smokehouse

Since 1943, Bear Creek Smokehouse has served the best smoked meats in town. However, things weren’t always easy for the Shoults family. When the family business first started, times were pretty rough. Their business originally consisted of only a hot pot of water and some turkeys.

But even though their set-up was much less advanced than it is now, that hot pot of water made a huge splash.

Now, with such a prosperous smokehouse in the Shoults family for generations, Robbie Shoults grew up learning the ropes of the business. His family’s success grew because of one necessity: putting food on their own table.

Through this process, Shoults’ grandad passed down his wisdom to his son, eventually reaching Robbie Shoults. This tried-and-true consistency is what has allowed them to make their mark in Texas and attract people from all over the world.

As Shoults puts it, “We continue to provide that consistency of every turkey tastes the same no matter if it’s number one out of production or number ten.”

Exceptional Products for Generations

The Bear Creek Smokehouse legacy is built on premium products. And Robbie Shoults ensures that this prime tradition continues for his future kin.

“We’ve always strived to give the customer the best possible, highest-quality product that we can produce. We’ve always been honest and tried to uphold all of our family values and pass that through the generations,” says Shoults.

This commitment to value and customer satisfaction has made Bear Creek Smokehouse the success it is today. By never compromising on their products, they’ve been able to maintain a top spot in the smokehouse industry.

But it’s not only their products that have set them apart from the competition; it’s also their service. From the food itself to the overall experience, Shoults ensures that everything about his business provides his customers with a joyful and welcoming environment.

A Family-Friendly Atmosphere

It’s not often that you find a family-centric business with the longevity of Bear Creek Smokehouse. And it’s even scarcer to find one with the same commitment to their customers.

Not only does Bear Creek Smokehouse provide delicious meals, but Shoults has also expanded it to several events, including parties, church group functions, and even weddings. There is also a merry-go-round available for kids every weekend.

To Shoults, it’s not just about the food. It’s about giving every visitor a wholesome experience that they’re going to enjoy and come back for.

“We’ve created experiences for people. We’ve got a big Amish wagon I pull with my tractor, and we take people to do farm tours here and there. We enjoy carrying on the tradition and keeping that legacy alive.”

Not only that, but they offer special events on different days of the week, including barbeque on Saturdays with a 20-foot-long smoker.

It’s this integrity that has allowed Bear Creek Smokehouse to continue to grow and flourish. And it’s this inclusivity that has helped Shoults turn his family business into a smoking sensation.

Discovering Your Love of Food

If you are inspired by Shoults’ ability to bring people together to feed them, he has some advice on finding your love of cooking.

First, start with preparing dinner. Start cooking at home when you get off work and aren’t distracted by your daily tasks. Remember that dinner doesn’t have to be a big production; it can be something simple. Likewise, you don’t have to make yourself dinner every night either. Just pick a few nights a week to start with and see how you feel about it.

Once you get the hang of cooking dinner, try cooking for others. Invite some friends over and see how you feel about the experience.

“Food is what’s been bringing people together since the beginning of time. In our kitchen, it’s almost like the center of the universe because that’s what everybody revolves around. We love having guests come in before we have dinner ready. They can sit there, and it becomes a centerpiece to carry on a conversation and to have a good time with each other,” says Shoults.

Here are some other tips for uncovering your favorite dishes:

Travel

When you travel, try the different foods that are available in that area. You may find a meal you really enjoy and want to recreate at home.

Cooking Shows

Watch cooking shows on television or online. This is a great way to get ideas for dishes and see how they’re made.

Cook Together

Cook with friends or family. This is a great way to get comfortable in the kitchen and learn from others.

Overall, the best way to find your love of cooking is by experimenting and trying new things.

Modern Professional
Rachael Ray is pictured during the production of “The Rachael Ray Show” in New York on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Photo: David M. Russell/Rachael Ray Show ©2016 King World Productions. All Rights Reserved / Photo courtesy of Robbie Shoults (far left).

How to Experiment with New Things

Once you feel like you’ve got a good grip on cuisine and want to start experimenting with new things, how do you go about it?

When following a recipe, it’s OK to change some things here and there. You don’t have to feel entirely constrained by a recipe. Be open to trying different measurements, spices, and ingredients. Shoults recommends, “If you mess up, no big deal. Throw it out and start over. I always say that recipes are just a guide.”

There are several excellent online recipes for you to try, and you can always find tips and advice on MP Kitchen. Start easy and work up to more complicated recipes. You can also find recipes in cookbooks at the library or bookstore.

According to Shoults, experimenting with your meals comes with experience. For him, it’s all about learning what works and doesn’t work for you. Some days you will mess up what you’re trying to make, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

In addition to figuring out recipes, Shoults also suggests that several prepackaged options can help you out. For example, several different seasoning mixes can save time and ensure your meal turns out great every time. Most grocery stores also offer meat options that come ready to prepare, with vegetables and seasonings all in one package.

If you’re looking for a great cookbook, check out his family cookbook, “Bear Bottom Bliss: Five Generations of Food, Family, and Faith.”

Finding Your Culinary Footing

When you create your own dishes, it can be hard to find a culinary staple that you can rely on. So, what’s your go-to meal? Flavor palate?

Food is an experience.

– Robbie Shoults

Think back on your favorite meals that your mom or grandmother made when you were growing up. What flavors brought back memories?

To figure this out, Shoults suggests testing your palate a little bit. He also indicates that fresh ingredients are always the best to use no matter what direction you go.

As he puts it, “food is an experience.”

However, cooking includes more than just the ingredients you choose to cook. Kitchenware is also a noteworthy component. From pots and pans to spatulas and whisks, having the proper tools for the job is essential. Dull blades and faulty cookware can make cooking challenging and frustrating.

If you’re a beginner, Shoults says start small and work your way up from there. One of the best ways to do this is by investing in kitchenware that’s not too cheap but not too expensive.

As Shoults suggests, “To be a good cook, you don’t have to have the top of the line this and that. If you want to go that route, you can do it. But, for a beginner chef, I don’t really recommend spending $1,000 or more on a cooking set.”

Investing in quality kitchenware can save you money and time and ensure that your meal will be delicious and cooked well. Other essential items include a sharp knife and a good cutting board.

For most of your cookware, several great kitchen shops offer affordable options that are high quality and durable. Shoults suggests checking out Williams Sonoma. The employees are usually knowledgeable and can help you look for recommendations and deals.

Paying Attention When Cooking

One of the most critical aspects of cooking is paying attention to what you’re doing. Focus on your food and be aware of your surroundings.

Keep an eye on things like stovetop temperatures and not letting dishes pile up in the sink while you’re cooking. Shoults also points out that it’s crucial to stay focused on the food, especially when cooking multiple things at once. This level of focus can be challenging, but it’s momentous to have a system in place.

You don’t have to feel bogged down and burdened with cooking. You can make it fun. Start simple with recipes with the minimum amount of ingredients. Just start very basic.

– Robbie Shoults

As you get more experienced, you will be able to do more things at once. “I do think you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. At the same time, you can multitask,” says Shoults.

Multitasking comes especially in handy when you’re cooking with others. Whether you’re trying to teach them how to follow a recipe or need their help, having more than one person in the kitchen can make things easier and faster.

Furthermore, cooking should never have to be restrictive and limiting. If you’re able to have fun with it, more opportunities will pop up for you in the kitchen.

Shoults says, “I think cooking needs to be enjoyable for people. They need to love what they’re doing. You don’t have to feel bogged down and burdened with cooking. You can make it fun. Start simple with recipes with the minimum amount of ingredients. Just start very basic.”

In the kitchen, you must have a sense of order. This includes setting up your cooking area in an organized way and knowing where everything is. If you keep everything methodical, you won’t have to waste time being distracted by easily avoidable things.

Being disorganized and inattentive can lead to mistakes and frustration while cooking. So, it’s necessary to stay calm and think clearly in the kitchen.

Modern Professional
Robbie Shoults (far right) with Martha Stewart (center right) / Photo courtesy of Robbie Shoults

Use Food to Bring People Together

Cooking has a way of bringing everyone together. From inviting friends over for dinner to cooking with your children, food can be an activity that gets everyone involved closer.

Shoults suggests getting creative and using food as a medium to share memories from the past or even create new ones in the future. When talking about cooking, he says, “It needs to be something that you can share along with your family and get the kids involved and have some interaction with mom and dad.”

Pulling away from the outside world and cooking at home can benefit your overall health and well-being. In addition, cooking gives you the ability to display your creativity by making something for others.

Shoults also notes that it allows you to teach your kids new life skills, like peeling a potato or sautéing a dish. Cooking can also be a way to show your friends and family that you want to spend time with them and share a meal.

Use cooking as an opportunity to spend quality time with your family and learn more about yourself. Cooking with your family and friends can be a fun and rewarding experience that you’ll never regret.

Five Tips for Getting Started Cooking

Shoults has a few pointers for new and inexperienced cooks when it comes to making their own food.

Here are five of his top tips:

1. Find food you enjoy.

The best way to get better at cooking is to prepare food that you appreciate. For example, if you’re not a fan of vegetables, don’t force yourself to eat them just because they’re good for you. Instead, find recipes and dishes that incorporate ingredients you like and are comfortable with.

To figure this out, you can ask yourself some questions, including:

  • What are some of my favorite meals to eat?
  • What are some of my choice ingredients?
  • How do I like my food cooked?
  • What ingredients am I comfortable with using in a recipe?

When you’re making something that you’re excited about, the cooking process becomes much more enjoyable and likely results in more fulfillment. Then, as you get more confident in your cooking skills, start branching out and trying new things.

Shoults says, “The first thing I would do would be to go shopping and find a great cookbook that specializes in what you like. For instance, find a cookbook with great barbecue recipes and tips and tricks.”

2. Use recipes as a general guide.

As mentioned before, Shoults believes that you shouldn’t feel like you’re stuck with a recipe or that it has to turn out exactly the way someone else tells you.

Recipes are there as guidelines, and they can help influence your steps when cooking something new. That is unless you’re baking something like bread or biscuits. When baking, it’s best to follow the recipe strictly. This is because baking is comparable to science. Slight changes in measurements or temperature can result in an entirely different outcome.

However, if you’re not baking, you have more freedom to explore and change things up a bit. Shoults says, “Tweak recipes. If you’ve got a basic recipe down, you can bend the rules.

And there are no rules with cooking a lot of things, just suit them to your taste buds. If you want to change the flavor profile somewhat, it’s not going to ruin the recipe.”

So, if you’re cooking a dish and don’t have all the ingredients in the recipe, or you want to make some changes based on your preferences, go ahead! As long as you’re staying within the general guidelines of the recipe, it’ll likely still turn out well.

3. Keep it simple.

Shoults recommends keeping your meals simple at first. This way, you can focus on mastering the basics before moving on to more complicated recipes or techniques.

There are plenty of straightforward recipes out there that taste delicious. Start with those while you’re still learning. You can always add more ingredients and complexity to your dishes as you get more comfortable. But it’s always best to start small and simple.

Some simple recipes include one-pot pasta dishes, basic stir-fries, grilled chicken or fish, soups. Sandwiches, pita pizzas, and salads.

One way to make cooking simpler is by using pre-made ingredients or meal plans. For example, you can use a rotisserie chicken instead of making your own or buying precut vegetables from the grocery store. This will help cut down on preparation time and make cooking a little less daunting.

Another thing to keep in mind is that simple doesn’t always equate to boring. Basic meals are also excellent because they give people ideas for dishes that will be easy to prepare at home without overthinking different ingredients or complicated steps.

4. Don’t avoid cooking because you hate cleaning.

For most of us, we hate doing dishes. But unfortunately, they come with the territory of cooking. However, there are ways to make cleaning up a little less daunting. For instance, Shoults recommends buying disposable dishes and pans if you’re trying to cut down on dishes. This tip is especially handy for big family celebrations like Thanksgiving. Also, having disposable plates and utensils can help significantly reduce your dishwashing time and leftover mess if you’re hosting the meal.

If you loathe cleaning after meals, here are some other tips you can follow:

  1. Clean while you cook instead of waiting until the end of your meal prep time and then having to do everything at once.
  1. Set up a dishwashing station before you start cooking. This will help keep your work area organized and make it easier to clean up as you go.
  2. Use a slow cooker with a liner rather than cooking a meal in a pot on the stovetop.
  3. If you have to use a stovetop, use a pot or pan with a nonstick coating.
  4. Soak your dishes in hot, soapy water after cooking. This will help loosen any leftover food particles so that they’re easier to scrub off.

If you’re really struggling to keep your kitchen clean while cooking, you might need to ask for assistance. For example, if you’re trying to cook for a big family event but having trouble keeping up with the dishes, consider asking someone to help prepare food or clean up afterward.

5. If you like to cook outdoors, get a good smoker.

Another way to avoid making a mess inside is to spend some time cooking outside. This is a superb option if you have a backyard or patio. And, if you’re looking to get into smoking, there’s no better way than with a good smoker.

Smokers are a fantastic way to cook meat. However, they have several other uses too. Shoults says, “You can do so much on there. You can heat other items on there. For example, if you’re doing hot dogs, you can wrap the buns up in foil and put them on their side to warm them up.”

Smokers can be expensive, but they’re often worth it. If you want to invest in one without breaking the bank, try looking for used ones on Craigslist or yard sales. You can also look online, where you can find plenty of great deals.

Conclusion

Robbie Shoults is a legend in the smokehouse world, and his advice is invaluable. Throughout the last few decades, his family’s dedication to consistency and quality has made their smokehouse one of the most respected in the country.

If you’re looking to get into cooking your own meals, starting with his advice and simple tips will make food a lot less intimidating and much more rewarding.

Remember, if you’re struggling to get started, there are always ways to make it easier. Buying disposable dishes and pans, cooking outdoors, and starting with simple recipes are all great ways to make your culinary experience more accessible and less messy. So, get out there and start cooking!

View this article in the February 2022 issue of MP: Day 1.