Above The Coals Seasonings – Kick Your Grilling Up A Notch
Chris Kulturides is the brains AND brawn behind Above The Coals Seasonings, a lineup of seasonings that has almost completely altered the way I approach grilling. When I was notified to keep an eye out for a package from Above The Coals, I was apprehensive due to the hundred upon thousands of self-proclaimed “best flavor ever” brands that pollute the marketplace. I couldn’t have been more wrong to be apprehensive and can’t thank Chris enough for sharing his products with the YGET staff. There’s just something about hand-crafted, natural ingredients combined in perfect measurements that boosts even the most rudimentary cooking to restaurant quality.
Our interview with Chris covered his product line and how Above The Coals came to be among other things.
Q: What inspired you to follow this path? I’m sure Above The Coals didn’t just fall out of the sky, so is there any background to this story?
A: In the Summer of 2011 and 2012 after moving from Boston to NJ and hosting many outdoor cookouts, a very close friend said that I should “make some videos to teach people how to work with BBQ and also how to grill it.” During the conversation, I made a mention that if I was to do any videos, I should have a product to show off/sell for the public to see. Also, in the same conversation the topic of seasoning came up and he asked me if I was “doctoring up” a popular off the shelf brand. My answer was yes! He asked, “Do you know when that (the seasoning I was doctoring) was made?” I said “No idea.”
The light bulb went off in my head subconsciously.
Q: Let me personally thank said friend. My stomach wouldn’t be the same without that conversation! Is there a funny / unusual / peculiar story that happened early on with this?
A: I had narrowed the company name choice to approx 5 -7 names just 3 weeks before I launched the product. BBQ and Seasonings are so inter-twined that the name had to be different. It was something that Beth (my other half) and I talked about for countless hours. The decision for Above the Coals was because we knew people would ask either “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” So, to make it a name that would increase our social stance, I named it Above the Coals…(because that’s where great BBQ/Grilled fare takes place.)
Q: How do you stay focused amid the craziness of being a small business owner? What advice do you have for others in your position / taking a similar path to yours?
A: It is crazy. I’m everything that you see in this business: Webmaster, Buyer, Chef, Scientist, Taste Tester, Shipper, Customer Service and the list goes on. As far as focus goes, I try to plan out what the plan of attack is going to be day to day, with a separate “folder” in my head that is reserved for long term goals. Long term goals in a small business like mine are what we want to do in 2-3 months, not next year. Advice for others: just go for it. When you and others believe in what you do, that tells you a lot. We had great feedback about what I wanted to do before testing even started, that tells you a lot. Finally, if you don’t take the risk you will NEVER know the reward.
Q: Some people have a mantra, superstitions, even pictures of where they envision themselves to keep the fire lit. How do you stay inspired?
A: One of the conversations that comes up here in the house by the kids is that they want to go to Disney, so when they see “rub” being made, they light up and always ask who bought some and if we are going this weekend! The look on there faces is priceless and knowing someday we may be able to go will complete them.
Q: What is your inspiration in creating different seasonings?
A: I grew up in a family restaurant business and we catered to everyone’s needs. I felt the same way with the seasonings. I wanted something for everyone within the initial 3 and I achieved that. With the other blends that have been added, I’ve been inspired by my customers and the feedback. They want more and I deliver.
Q: What is your lab process like? I know there’s a ton of trial and error involved!
A: My process starts with an overall idea that whatever I develop it has to include fresh ingredients, no MSG or preservatives, and be original [while looking] nothing like anything you have ever seen. After I pick the key parts to the recipe, I make a few crucial decisions on major ingredients and write everything down. I also do research [to ensure] that this exact blend isn’t being done anywhere else. From there, it’s grab a bowl and the ingredients and start making a batch; taste it, make adjustments and get some food to taste it on.
As far as trial and error goes, it is a cat and mouse game. You want a great tasting product, but you want it to be easy to work with (for the BBQ Pit Masters and the everyday grill person). You want it to look great also.
Q: What do you do with the experiments gone wrong?
A: Trash them if they are really bad, or send them to some friends that may want to try them out.
Q: What is the significance of your “617″ seasoning?
A: The “617” is special for a few reasons:
- It was decided on the morning of April 15th that this would go into production as a limited production under a different name. When the tragedy happened at the Boston Marathon, and being from Boston for my whole life before moving to NJ, the name was changed and a portion of the selling price would be donated to The One Fund. It was just a way to give back to the city and the people who need it after the events at the Marathon.
- “The 617” is the area code for Boston and that would be indicative of the area that we want to support.
- The seasoning was available through the end of August.
Q: What is it like trying to get your product out there to the masses? Are you a big proponent of social media for marketing, or do you depend on word of mouth and in-person networking?
A: All of the above mentioned. I have always been a big proponent of Social Media. We are present on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, on our Blog at the website, and through direct marketing via our mailing list.
Above the Coals has received a lot of recognition from sites like YGET and others. Our marketing from word of mouth has been incredible to this point. We look forward to the ongoing support when the product arrives in retail stores in the Spring.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to make using Above The Coals seasonings?
A: I love the finish and taste of ribs done in our Signature Classic and Carolina Heat Wave. Low and slow St. Louis style ribs are a specialty here when we have BBQ’s and friends over for dinner.
Q: I know picking a favorite seasoning is like picking a favorite child, but…?
A: Wow…that’s tough….If I was to answer this before the new habanero seasoning it would have been our Carolina Heat Wave….but now I would have to go with “El Toro” our original habanero seasoning!
Q: What side are you on, North Carolina BBQ (Vinegar and Red Pepper Flakes) or Midwest BBQ (Smoked Pork and BBQ sauce)?
A: I would say Midwest because I prefer to smoke pork shoulder/ribs/loins and add sauce after!
Q: Where’d you learn to cook?
A: I was fortunate to start working in my parents restaurant at the age of 6 and working there till I was in my 20’s. My grilling/BBQ skills have been developed since I was in my teens.
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: Chicken Parm… Then pork!
Q: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?
A: Liver. When I was a kid I was asked to try it and it will never make it near me… ever!
Q: If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?
A: I won’t ever make it to death row; the prison wouldn’t want me to leave them after seeing my grilling/BBQ skills. Instant pardon!
Q: Anything special you’re working on? I added some fresh ghost peppers I dried and powdered to some of my Signature Classic and it was pretty effing awesome (and blazing!). Got any secret spices, special ingredients, etc. that you’ve been itching to try out?
A: I have a breaded seasoning that I am working on at this time. I have actually done some taste tests with it, and we are close. I wouldn’t expect anything else for the rest of 2013. As for as Ghost peppers go, you may see something in the Spring featuring them. I can say this about things that are special about the Above the Coals Seasonings: It’s a very special process that each batch goes through and to duplicate it would be close to impossible. That is the very special part of what you get.
I have been doing ongoing research on rubs/seasonings that work with coffee. Something about coffee that lends a flavor note that I want in a seasoning. That one will be special.
Q: You had me at coffee. I can’t wait to buy a few bags! Anything final words you want to say to our audience?
A: First off, I am extremely grateful for the team at YouGottaEatThis for taking such a great interest in Above the Coals BBQ Seasonings.
I am very pleased to say that since our launch in April of , we have been blessed with some amazing feedback, customer interaction, and the inspiration to continue to add to the line. Above the Coals is the real deal. We strive to deliver to the market a 100% handcrafted/no preservative BBQ seasoning with the ultimate customer service behind it. I know it makes my current customers happy to know they can reach out to the owner/developer of the company and ask cooking questions or order product. I don’t want that to ever change. I love what I do, and I want it to shine through from our seasonings to the shortest of conversations with our customers.
As a side note, this is where the line stands at this point:
- Signature Classic ( No Heat, great flavor)
- 2 Alarm (Some spice, made with green bell peppers)
- 2 Alarm Plus (Some spice, made with orange and red bell peppers – limited run)
- The 617 (Spicy with jalapenos)
- Carolina Heat Wave (Nice spice with a bite)
- El Toro (New Habanero seasoning with a flavorful rising heat sensation)
- Lavanero (New Habenero seasoning with 50% more Habanero in it for the heat lover!)
Q: Where can the public find your product?
A: Our product is available through www.abovethecoals.com and also through our Square Marketplace at https://squareup.com/market/above-the-coals-bbq-slash-grill-seasonings
We’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to talk with us in the midst of such a busy time for business owners and shoppers alike. We here at YGET not only stamp Above The Coals as #YGETApproved, but wish him MUCH success in the coming year; it truly does “always taste better, above the coals…”
If you guys want a chance to win your own package of Above The Coals Seasonings, head over to our Instagram starting January 3, 2014 and enter our giveaway!