By day, Ray Bustos is a network engineer for Google. By night, as in all night—his record is 40 hours straight—he is a champion barbecuer.
Cooking as Lockstock Barbecue, he’s amassed a tableful of trophies since he began entering competitions eight years ago. This month was special because both he and his oldest son Hunter, 11, earned first place trophies at the Buckaroo BBQ May 4, and Ray was named grand champion.
At his first competition, which he won, Bustos surveyed the other entrants, with their $20,000-$30,000 barbecue trailers, “and we’re just sitting there with our picnic table and a couple of smokers and we took down the entire tournament.
“Once you hear your name called for that first time, it lit a fire and I was hooked—and now I’m that guy with the $30,000 barbecue,” Bustos said.
After four straight years of bringing home trophies, he began catering events. Then he shopped around for another two years before finding a company in Georgia that could make his 26-foot custom barbecue trailer at a price he could afford. He bought that two years ago.
He hasn’t gone a year without a trophy, and twice has taken the grand championship. In all he has close to 20 trophies.
As a kid, while his cousins and brother were outside playing, “I’d be sitting on the counter watching my grandma and my mom cook,” Bustos said. He started cooking Mexican food, but his uncle, Jack Kuzma, taught him the art of the barbecue.
The trick? Barbecue the meat low and slow. “Which is how you get tough meats as tender as possible, is to cook it for as low as possible for as long as possible.” Pork is about 16 hours, brisket 18-20. Large catering orders means multiple batches of meat.
That’s where the Red Bull and coffee and all-nighters come in. Bustos doesn’t want to risk the heat source going out, so he stays awake all night to tend to them. His record is 40 hours awake for a 500-guest wedding. Staying up 30 hours straight on a catering job is average.
“It’s therapeutic for me, there’s something cool about it, three or four in the morning, smelling the smoke, the smell of the meat in the air, it’s relaxing,” he said.
“It really comes down to like a system, once you zone out and there’s 100 tri-tip roasts sitting in front of you, you throw a little music on, you get in the zone and before you know it, it’s done.
“It’s kind of the life of a pit master. Long nights, early mornings. And smelling like smoke a lot of the time.”
He can get amped up while he’s cooking, “but then when I’m done cooking I’m garbage for two days afterwards.”
His setup includes an alarm that rings on his phone if the temperature gets too low, but he won’t risk sleeping and then maybe not getting awakened by the alarm. “When someone trusts you to cater their wedding, it’s a huge honor, it’s a huge responsibility.”
While cooking for 300 or 500 seems intimidating, it really wasn’t much of a stretch. “My family’s huge, so when we’d have Thanksgiving or a random family party it’s 75 to 100 people, and so I learned how to cook for big quantities at a very early age, and then when my uncle Jack passed the torch and said, ‘You’re the barbecue guy of the family now,’ for me cooking for 300 is just as easy as cooking for 30.”
And he turns to his family for feedback. “Perfecting your craft means you need guinea pigs and my family is pretty happy to be a taste tester and brutally honest. ‘Thank you for the freed food, but that’s not good.’ And it’s really my Uncle Jack who’s the brutally honest one, and that’s appreciated, because everyone else is so nice. But he knows what’s at stake, he knows I’m not looking for compliments, I’m looking for critique.”
Son Hunter, who loves to do whatever Dad is doing, Bustos said, is proving to be quite the competitor. “The kid can cook. He made a brisket a few weeks ago that I had to seriously think, like, ‘Ok, kid. You got it, alright.’ And he did it all. He trimmed it, he rubbed it, he put it on the smoker, went to bed, woke up early before school. Fourteen hours later it was done, and it was miraculous. Kind of put dad in his place a little bit because I’m still trying to figure out that dang meat. It’s a hard meat to cook.”
He showed a picture of Hunter with a blackened slab of meat. “It looks burned, but it’s bark, and that is the candy of barbecue. That’s where all the intense flavor comes from.”
Bustos not only cooks for competition, catering, and the public, he also does all the cooking at home. His wife Janet doesn’t like to touch raw meat, as it turns out, but can clean up the mess he leaves in a snap, he said.
As for his work at Google, it frequently keeps him on the road and has even sent him to Europe a few times. He explained his job thusly, “I make YouTube go faster. I upgrade networking gear around the country and prevent you guys from seeing that little spinning wheel of buffering.”
After stints on the road, Bustos likes that operating his food cart is a chance for family time, and that his kids don’t shy away from the hard work involved. He’s also grateful that food carts are shedding their once-bad reputation as “roach coaches,” he said. He’s thought of opening a restaurant, but given their 50 percent failure rate, he’s happy to have his restaurant on wheels.
Spring and summer is barbecue season, and his food is a feature at local roller derby events, plus he gives back to the community through various events, including HAVEN from Domestic Violence fundraisers and school events.
He’s often busy with catered events, but if he just opens up the trailer to sell to the public, he has a loyal fan base that follows his announcements on social media, and he can go through 300 pounds of meat in 90 minutes.
He got his business name when he was creating a name for competitions. One of his favorite movies is “Lockstock and Two Smoking Barrels,” so he called himself ‘Lockstock and Two Smoking Traegers.’ It soon was shortened to Lockstock Barbecue.
Bustos started barbecuing with Traeger-brand smokers, but when he wanted more capacity, he scavenged a solution. “My main smoker is one that I built, it was an old McDonald’s bun warmer and I made it into a pellet smoker. It can cook 50 racks of ribs at once,” he said.
He also has four Traegers, big ceramic eggs (Kamado grills), and stick burners.
He’s not secretive about the secret to his barbecue success. In fact, he plans on selling Lockstock Barbecue’s championship-winning rubs and sauces “very soon.”
He’s also going to be launching a YouTube channel soon where he teaches son Hunter barbecuing tips. “If I can teach it as simplistic as I can to an 11-year-old, hopefully that translates well to the video. And step by step, how to make awesome ribs, how to make awesome pulled pork, and it’s another awesome way to spend time with my kid.”v