Text by Sheila Nelson
Photos by Always and Forever Photography

P.J. Slaughter’s earliest kitchen memories include playing with his mother’s pots and pans on the kitchen floor and his first cooking experience with eggs in a microwave. He comes from a big family which put a lot of emphasis on good food in large quantities, as well as the fellowship which went along with enjoying it together.

This 33-year-old Pulaski County native and resident of Dublin has always enjoyed cooking. Last September, Slaughter and Brian McGinnis started their part-time catering business, Big Roosters Wings & BBQ. It is named for Slaughter’s great-grandfather, Frank “Big Rooster” Payne, a self-taught cook who was the male cook of the sizeable family and a cook in the military.

The seed for the business was planted about three years ago after Slaughter prepared a large quantity of food for a successful fund-raiser for a mission trip to Thailand by his church. Valley Harvest Ministry is very supportive and allows him to use their kitchen for food preparation. Steve and Kimberly Johnston gave him his first real catering job for their daughter’s wedding. After that, the Johnstons and others encouraged him to cook professionally.

The son of Terry and Theresa Slaughter, P. J. is a 2000 graduate of Pulaski County High School. He has worked for 13 years as a motor specialist at Kollmorgen. While he enjoys his job very much, his passion for cooking, art and painting are always with him. He is continually developing new recipes and experiments with a wide variety of meats, sauces, rubs and woods for smoking the meats. “The true art of barbecuing is much more than tossing a hamburger patty on a grill,” he explains. “Preparation time is great for this slow-cooking process over low temperatures. Allowing the flavors to blend and rendering the fats of the meat is not something for the impatient. To be successful requires not only time, but also hard work.” He researches the market prior to each event. For example, will attendees prefer vinegar-based Carolina style taste or the Virginia sweet barbecue?

All of Slaughter’s recipes are original, and he prefers to barbecue over hardwoods such as hickory, oak, cherry and apple as each one gives a different taste to the meat. Slaughter and McGinnis have invested in a Lang BBQ Grill & Smoker, and the majority of the food they prepare uses the smoking process instead of grilling over direct heat. In addition to pork shoulder and butt, ribs, chicken, tenderloin and brisket, the New River Valley Sheep & Goat Club convinced them to add lamb and goat meat. The most unusual meat Slaughter has barbecued is beef tongue.

McGinnis and Slaughter, along with Benjamin Manning and Nick Edwards, occasionally pool their talents as Front Porch BBQ and compete in events. In their first competition at Chateau Morrisette’s Black Dog Festival in 2014, they won the People’s Choice Award for a variety of barbecued foods.

Slaughter credits God with giving him the opportunity to pursue his passion for cooking more and more as his part-time business slowly expands. He has catered for groups large and small and truly enjoys every opportunity. “You eat with your eyes first,” he states, emphasizing the importance of presentation as well as taste. This affords him an opportunity to combine his artistic talents with his cooking skills.

The partners in the business complement each other. Brian appears more laid-back, while P. J. describes himself as high strung. They both take great pride in what they do, trying new things and learning all the time. Will he one day become a Pit Master? Will the catering business go full-time? Slaughter responds to these questions in a way that seems typical of the way he lives his life. “I am not sure what the future will bring,” he concedes, “but I know that cooking is my passion and calling. I am happy when I cook and will continue to pray and seek God’s will for the next steps in my journey. I know that as long as I keep God first in my life, anything is possible. I continue to be a work in progress and strive to be the best that I can be. I always ask God to influence my work, to bless my hands and the foods I prepare, and to let me always reflect Him.”

When Slaughter is asked what makes his barbecue special, he reveals his special ingredients — faith, passion and love!

Sheila Nelson is a Pulaski County native and frequent contributor to New River Valley Magazine.