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  • Writer's pictureVolume 82 Magazine

Netflix's Winner of 'Barbecue Showdown' Season 2, Thyron Mathews, Talks About Being a Nationally Renowned Pitmaster!

Thyron Mathews

Thyron Mathews won season 2 of Netflix's Barbecue Showdown. In this interview, he shares his incredible journey, focusing on how he became a nationally renowned pitmaster!

Volume 82: Tell us about TnT Barbecue!

Thyron: TnT Barbeque was started in 2000 by me and one of my great friends, Tory Hanson, at Upper Iowa University. However, he had to leave and go back to Texas. Since I was engaged to this wonderful woman, Terri Mathews, we decided to keep the name T&T Barbeque! Over the years, we cooked for artists Charlie Daniels and David Allen Cole. We also began organizing competitions and fundraising initiatives. We started fundraising for churches and cancer foundations, raising money for people with illnesses, house fires, etc. When we began doing weddings, we decided to start charging as we found ourselves encountering many Bridezillas!

Thyron in TnT's trailer

Volume 82: I bet. Your name is really growing across the state of Iowa, and you've won some major competitions.

Thyron: Yes, our name has grown a lot due to competitions and YouTube. States like Texas and Georgia are where we sell most of our sauces.

Volume 82: Where are you from?

Thyron: I'm originally from a small town called Royal, which is the second oldest Black community in Florida. It was one of the only towns where citizens got their 40 acres and a mule.

Thyron & his wife Terrishane

Volume 82: Really?

Thyron: Yes. That's why the Mop sauce is so important to me. The Mop sauce originated a long time ago—my family's history and heritage is rooted in it. Despite its simple ingredients, it's made good!

Volume 82: Ok! How long have you been cooking?

Thyron: I started cooking when I was a little kid (before the advent of cell phones). We were a family of farmers. So, occasionally, when my father and grandfather would run to handle business, sometimes they would leave me with 20 slabs of ribs on an old smoker and tell me, "Watch this, make sure it don't burn." So I was out there without any instruction, just using my common sense to tame the smoke and fire and keep cooking. At the time, I didn't know I was learning. Yet, I was learning fire control with the most primitive means of barbecuing. I used sticks and wood logs under a brick pit. While it was undeniably primitive, it was the best barbecue anybody could ever have! And we would use the mop sauce to keep the meat moist and add flavor!

Volume 82: Absolutely! I've heard some good things about your product line. Can you explain the Mop sauce?

Thyron: The Mop sauce is a vinegar-based sauce that's used to continually base the meat while it's cooking. Essentially, its purpose is to add moisture and flavor, and to tenderize. Back in the day, refrigeration options were very scarce and they didn't have the best cuts of meat, so they had to come up with solutions like this to offset that. It is very interesting to point out that this goes back to first-generation freed slaves (they used the mop sauce). This sauce was passed through generations in my family! This is what I'm bringing to America!

Volume 82: Wow! This is really your family's heritage?

Thyron: Yes. And it's a blessing I get to tell my story because both my grandfathers (Johnny L. Solomon and Alexander Matthews) participated in World War II. Sadly, after the war, they couldn't wear their uniforms, they didn't get a parade, and they didn't get treated like Veterans should have been treated. So I'm truly blessed to tell their stories because they both used Mop sauce. They get their parade now!

Volume 82: Where can we purchase your product?

Thyron: At We'll also be in Hy-Vee stores all over the United States - approximately 236 stores.

Volume 82: That's excellent! Your good food also drove you toward entertainment.

Thyron: Yes, we started a YouTube channel about 12 years ago, following a medical scare. We didn't start the channel for money. Instead, we wanted to leave a timestamp - a documentary for our kids. But we were blessed to have attained financial success with YouTube. Some of our videos have garnered over 2 million views. And we get calls from people from all over the United States. We've been all over. We work with John Henry food products. Among their products, ours is one of their top sellers. Our pecan rub is my number one seasoning (it goes well with pork), and our all-purpose seasoning is a top seller as well. Today, there are a lot of imitations out there and it is important not to buy any fake products. I always tell people that if Mom's picture isn't on the back of it, you don't have the original TnT seasoning.

Volume 82: How often do you work during the warm seasons?

Thyron: Three to four times per week. Both my wife and I have full-time jobs! She's a domestic abuse advocate. I'm a jail warden. I'm the head of the jail. Even with our jobs, we barbecue six to seven times per week. We often do multiple events each weekend - sometimes we work with five events in a weekend. We cook anywhere from 600 to 1200 pounds per week (in the summer).

Thyron: The larger goal is to step away from work and do barbecue on a full-time basis, along with YouTube and endorsements. Right now, I'm endorsed by a company called Cookshack, which is a premier smoker business. Heartland Cookers is another one.

Volume 82: Will you relocate out of Iowa to pursue this?

Thyron: No. Iowa (Northeast Iowa and Olwein, Iowa) is a special place for me. I kinda smelled the American dream here a little bit. I've been able to start my business, run it successfully, and scale it up. And today, I have a recognized brand now. So, I never want to move away from Iowa.

Volume 82: Do you see yourself opening a location in another state?

Thyron: Probably. Or maybe in a bigger city here in Iowa. I have a lot of family recipes, and I also bake.

Volume 82: Are a lot of your baked products offered with your barbecue?

Thyron: Once I move into a building (currently, TnT foods operates from a full service trailer), I'll probably bring the baked things with me. It's hard to coach people on how you want the food to be. It's better to do it yourself.

Volume 82: Yes.

Thyron: It's a stressful side to barbecuing. It looks easy, but it's very demanding. It's very labor intensive. But the money is good. And we often try to incorporate our vacations when we go to cook.

Volume 82: I bet.

Thyron: It's other things...In 2020, our business was doing very well, but we got attacked that year. About eight restaurants signed a petition against us, stating that we could no longer cook in the community. They claimed that we were stealing their customers. And we had to cancel all of our cooking events! This issue emerged after we had 300 cars show up at a drive-thru. So the next day, I cooked five times the amount of food I'd ever cooked in my life, and it still sold out in two hours. The following week, we had 360 cars in a drive-thru! We clogged up traffic that day. We cooked over 700 pounds of food and were sold out in two hours, which is when the petition happened. That was a dark period in our lives.

Volume 82: So they filed a petition against you because they didn't like your success?

Thryon: Yes, I believe that's what it was. But the community came to our aid. They rallied behind us. We like to help people and people tend to remember things like that. People in the community started coming forward with stories about us. One person said, “I remember when my grandfather died, you were the only business that brought us food," or "You cooked for this funeral and you didn't get paid." The community went against those other businesses for us. Righteousness won! God fought that battle for us.

Volume 82: Yeah, he fought that battle! Since Iowa is a big tailgating state, do the universities ever call you to tailgate?

Thyron: Yes, ESPN (College GameDay) called me to cater for them at an Iowa vs Iowa State Game. Also, the ESPN GameDay bus came by our house! It's amazing how many people we've reached through barbecuing.

Volume 82: Yes!

Thyron: We'll never let a kid go hungry. We have a program called intentional giving. If there are families who need assistance, we will sponsor their Christmas or cook for them. We have food set aside for such causes at every event. This was my wife's idea. I couldn't do any of this without the help of my wife and kids! My wife pushes me behind closed doors toward greatness.

Volume 82: How many championships have you won?

Thyron: I have won 36 championships out of about 45 competitions that I participated in. (At the time of this interview)

Volume 82: That's just awesome! Your business also caught the attention of Hollywood!

Thyron: Yes!

Volume 82: Tell me about the experience of winning the competition on Netflix.

Thyron: It's been amazing! Winning the competition gave me the confidence I needed to step into other states and various bigger cities, like Atlanta and Houston (The Mecca of Barbecue) and perform at my best and show up and show out. It boosted my confidence enough to step out on faith. And through the grace of God and the support of my wife, I'm doing bigger and better things. This win has opened the doors for many other events in my life and helped me provide for my family. Shout out to all of my supporters!

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1 Comment

Natalie Montgomery
Mar 09

They look like twins.

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