Alyson Lupinetti Takes On the Male-Dominated World of Barbecue

Following in her late father's footsteps, the Mount Laurel resident has made a career as a serious pitmaster.

Alyson Lupinetti "mans" the grill, tending to her award-winning ribs as part of 'Butch's Smack Your Lips BBQ'. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

Alyson Lupinetti is proving that “like father, like daughter” definitely applies to barbecue. Not only does the 27 year-old Mount Laurel pitmaster follow in her late father Butch’s footsteps all over the country, she wins awards like him, too. On the road for seasonal competitions with the Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ  team, Lupinetti already has 100-plus awards to add to her father’s lifetime of over 600.

The family talent isn’t a surprise: Butch grew up Jersey Italian on a farm in Pemberton. “There was always cooking going on,” says Lupinetti. “He grew up cooking pigs underground.” For her part, Lupinetti grew up assisting her dad in low-and-slow school night cook-outs and—occasionally—sharing the backseat of the family car with a whole pig (see below).

We caught up with Lupinetti a couple days before she left for the New Jersey State Barbecue Championship in Wildwood to ask what it was like to learn from her dad, how she came into her own as both a legacy and a woman in the male-dominated world of barbecue, and what could possibly be next when you’re already a proven pitmaster under 30 (it’s not what you think).

Alyson with her dad Butch in Trenton in 1996. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

Table Hopping: Tell us about your journey into barbecue.
Alyson Lupinetti: My parents used to do pig roasts for catering, around 45 a summer. Some of my earliest memories are sitting in the backseat next to this whole pig wrapped in plastic. I used to fall asleep on it! I would name it and make it my friend. It never really freaked me out. Then my dad started doing these events on weekends. He was traveling a lot, and my mom let me go to the ones closer to home. I had a blast. My dad would set me on the counter. He called me his “Little Mascot.”

TH: When did you really start to get hands-on with the barbecue in a serious way?
AL: I definitely started being way more involved when I turned 16. My mom was letting me travel with my dad during the summertime, so I went to a lot more events. I was 18 when my dad passed away. I took the whole business over. I won my first award at the first event I did without him—got second place, “Best Sauce.” It was actually an award they named after my dad because he’d won “Best Sauce” something like 20 out of 22 times there!

TH: You do award-winning St. Louis style ribs, among other things. And the barbecue team does “North Carolina” style. What does that mean?
AL: It means we cook with dry rub only. We let you add your own sauce. A lot of times, people don’t want to cover their meat in sauce—they want to taste the flavor of the actual meat and seasoning and process. We find a lot of people try to hide their mistakes with sauce. If things dry out, you put sauce on it. If it’s too smoky, you add sauce.

TH: I read you sometimes use New Jersey hickory. Why? Besides Jersey pride, anyway.
AL: We always use New Jersey hickory! As long as it’s available to us, anyway. It has a nice, light, smoky flavor that adds to the meat and doesn’t overtake it. A lot of people love cherry and apple; they’re not my favorite, I’m not keen to the way it makes the meat taste.

TH: You’ve probably been asked a lot about being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Do you think it would have been harder for you to be accepted as a woman if you weren’t Butch Lupinetti’s daughter?
AL: Absolutely, unfortunately. It’s starting to change now, obviously there’s a lot going on in the world. But it’s been hard for people to branch into a situation where they’re not the norm. When you think of “barbecue,” you think of an older man, not a younger girl. I faced a little bit of trouble even though I had all these connections! Some people were still giving me a bit of a hard time.

It was difficult. It sort of felt like they were waiting for me to crash and burn. But a lot of people were offering to help me any way they could. I sort of felt like I needed to prove myself. I wished I was proving myself for myself, and not for other people. Now I think I’ve proven myself. I think they know to take me seriously. I’m not going anywhere!

Alyson sharing some of her award-winning ‘cue expertise. Photo courtesy of Alyson Lupinetti

TH: In addition to seasonal competing, you guys also have a truck for catering and events?
AL: Yeah, we built a food truck a couple of years ago. “Butch’s ‘Smack Your Lips’ BBQ.” It’s a year-round thing. My husband and I really enjoy doing barbecue, but I don’t want to be gone that long. We can do food truck events an hour or so away from home, get out, do what we love, and come home to be in our own bed!

TH: What about products? There’s a line of “Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ” sauces. Any chance you’ll come out with your own?
AL: We’re actually working on a sauce right now! We really enjoy it on steak—it’s a heavier molasses base, pretty different from the rest of the sauces in our lineup. I started to develop sauces with my dad. On the label, it’s going to have him and me. I never want to not have him associated with it! I’m so proud to be his daughter.

TH: So you have this weekend in Wildwood coming up, a busy summer, and a year-long food truck. I’m afraid to ask if anything else is on the horizon.
AL: My husband and I actually also flip houses. He’s a general contractor. We own apartment complexes. And we’re getting ready to open a brewery towards the end of the year. We definitely like to stay busy!

TH: No kidding. Can you tell us anything about the brewery? Will you be brewing?
AL: I think I’m gonna leave that to the professionals. We hired a really great brewmaster—Ingrid Epoch. She’s very innovative. A lot of people in the South Jersey area know who she is. But the idea wasn’t ours. We have two partners, who came to myself and my husband wanting my husband to do contract work for the brewery. We believed in the business plan so much, we decided to invest. What goes better with barbecue than beer?

You can order any of Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ sauces, “Magic Dust” dry rubs and even some T-shirt swag here. They also offer a catering menu for larger events. If you’re feeling ambitious, here’s the recipe for “Butch’s Whole Hog” (no kiddin’).

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