When I wrote recently about barbecue in London, a reader asked why I hadn’t mentioned Prairie Fire BBQ’s Michael Gratz with strong ties to Kansas City. Short answer: I didn’t know about Prairie Fire or Michael. I thanked the reader for the tip, and then I reached out to Michael via the Prairie Fire website.
It turned out that Michael would be in KC with his wife and son on a Christmas visit with relatives. We arranged to meet at Slap’s for a get-acquainted lunch.
I invited Jill Silva to join us as I wanted Michael to meet her and vice versa. Jill met us at Slap’s and we three had a delightful chat over a fantastic barbecue meat feast of pork spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends, turkey, Polish sausage, jalapeno cheddar sausage, pit beans and baked potato casserole.
Some interesting information Michael shared with us:
Michael, a KC native, founded Prairie Fire in London in 2013 in a street food stall near Cerner’s UK headquarters. Today he and 18 employees run a thriving catering business and a shop in the Mercato Metropolitano.
He sold his first brisket sandwich to “a guy from Kansas City.”
Prairie Fire uses oak and apple to smoke KC-style barbecue in a Southern Pride SRG 400 pit.
Prairie Fire BBQ is also sold in several London breweries and pubs.
Michael’s catering clients include the U.S. embassy, Apple, Nike, Red Bull, NFL, Adidas, Adobe and Ernst and Young.
Prairie Fire Original and Spicy BBQ sauce is available “at the best butchers in London and at major groceries like Whole Foods.”
Plans are underway to open a new restaurant over the next six months and to expand Prairie Fire’s product line to include “bar snacks, BBQ-inspired cocktail mixes (think BBQ Bloody Mary’s) and more condiments including hot sauces and queso.”
In Kansas City we take the availability of packer briskets, pork butts, spareribs and other standard barbecue meats for granted. Not so in London. Here’s what Michael told us:
“When I started in 2013 sourcing packer briskets and pork butts wasn’t easy.”
Today he uses “USDA Creekstone Farms briskets and English pork, chicken, turkey and lamb. The English abattoirs now do cuts specific to American BBQ because of the growing demand for those cuts, but they didn’t until recently.
“In the early days of Prairie Fire I was giving my supplier instructions on how to trim the pork shoulders and St. Louis ribs. The English call pork butts ‘neck end shoulder’ and pork spareribs are called ‘belly ribs.’ ”
Prairie Fire BBQ Sauces — original and spicy — are a tomato base fusion of sweet and sour, sour being the predominant note, in step with Gates and Jack Stack. The slightly sweet finish has a gentle spicy kick in the original, with more of same in the spicy.
Although influenced by Gates, Jack Stack, Joe’s Kansas City and LC’s, the flavor is unique to Prairie Fire. I like it.
Our encounter with Michael Gratz left me with admiration for his barbecue knowledge and his passion for the art and business of barbecue. I look forward to enjoying Prairie Fire BBQ the next time I’m in London. I hope you will do so as well.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. He is author/co-author of 11 published barbecue books and is a 2016 inductee into the Barbecue Hall of Fame.