Pork Barrel BBQ: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

The story of Pork Barrel BBQ begins with two guys who were working late and just wanted some great Missouri-style barbecue. Unlike many barbecue joints that start with the meat and eventually package their sauces and rubs, founders Heath Hall and Brett Thompson started with the spices. In 2008, the two pulled together a group of friends they fondly called the "Kitchen Cabinet" as a tribute to their former jobs as senate staffers. The opinions of this ad hoc focus group eventually led to the creation of its first blend — Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub. It includes the usual suspects like salt, dehydrated garlic and onion, ground mustard, and smoked paprika, but it also contains celery seed, cilantro, and ancho and chipotle chili powders.

The name Pork Barrel BBQ isn't just because its products taste great on pork. "Pork barrel" is a political term for legislative initiatives that fund popular but inessential projects in a legislator's district, a move that can help a politician stay in office. Hall and Thompson keep the American politics jokes strong. The back of Pork Barrel BBQ rubs reads, "Liberally (or conservatively) apply seasoning... We support your right to use our seasoning anyway you wish — That's the American way!"

Why was Pork Barrel BBQ asked to audition for Shark Tank?

Starting a food business is already an uphill battle with strict food safety regulations and the challenges of finding a manufacturer, but Heath Hall and Brett Thompson were also trying to launch their company in the middle of the Great Recession. The two hit the pavement trying to get into small retail shops, built a following in the early days of Twitter, and started entering grilling and barbecue sauce competitions. They won second place in the "Nation's Best BBQ Sauce Contest."Pork Barrel BBQ even attracted the attention of Alexandria, Virginia, restaurateurs Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn.

Around this same time, a casting executive for the brand new reality show "Shark Tank" noticed Pork Barrel BBQ's online popularity and asked Hall and Thompson to audition. Hall and Thompson made a splash in their audition video, including figures like controversial political commentator Tucker Carlson, former Senator Jim Talent, and "Top Chef" contestant Carla Hall. Pork Barrel BBQ snagged a slot on the sixth episode of the first-ever season of "Shark Tank," which premiered in August 2009.

How did Pork Barrel BBQ fare on Shark Tank?

Heath Hall and Brett Thompson asked for $50,000 in exchange for a 10% stake in their business. They knew they wanted to present themselves in the best way possible, but as attorneys, they were used to the high-pressure courtroom and were able to keep their nerves in check. While they didn't have previous seasons of "Shark Tank" to mine for tips, the pair did prepare by watching the Canadian version of the show, "Dragon's Den," which Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavec were both a part of. 

Instead, they gathered as much information as possible on each shark to prepare for anything they might ask. Their knowledge, demeanor, and product made a mark, and shark Barbara Corcoran decided to invest in a company that had only seen around $5,000 in sales with $50,000 and a 50% stake. On the decision, Corcoran said, "I don't even like barbecue sauce — I couldn't have been less likely to invest in this. But I saw two superstar salespeople," reports Inc.

Corcoran's hunch was right. The appearance on "Shark Tank" sparked a massive increase in sales, an appearance on Fox & Friends, and an in with grocery giant Costco. The pair even rang the NASDAQ closing bell in New York City alongside Barbara Corcoran and the other "Shark Tank" investors. They went on to open a Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant in 2011 and continued to shine in prestigious barbecue competitions across the United States.

Is Pork Barrel BBQ still selling its products?

Pork Barrel BBQ no longer only offers spice rubs, though this product remains its bread and butter. Pork Barrel BBQ has a steak and chicken rub as well as four classic barbecue sauces — original, sweet, mustard, and Carolina vinegar. Uncured bacon jerky has also joined the lineup in flavors like sriracha, honey pepper, and maple. The barbecue company even offers grilling tools, wire brushes, and heat-proof gloves so you can put all those barbecue seasonings to good use.

The brick-and-mortar restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, holds a respectable 4.3-star rating on Google and has all the classics like brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, and St. Louis ribs served with sides like cheesy grits, coleslaw, cucumber salad, and collard greens. Hall and Thompson, a duo known for doing the most, even went so far as to create a barbecue-scented cologne to keep Pork Barrel BBQ on the people's minds. In addition to online avenues such as Pork Barrel BBQ's website and Amazon, products can also be purchased at stores like Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons. The products are available internationally, and Pork Barrel BBQ has notable brand partnerships with companies like Cheerwine, an iconic North Carolina cherry soda. 

What do the founders think about all this success?

Though the reach of Pork Barrel BBQ is impressive, the founders are most blown away by the community and connections they have been able to create in the barbecue world, like mentor and friend Dave Raymond of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. Heath Hall shared in a YouTube interview with Kevin Kelly about how a barbecue is such an incredible unifier. It allows people from various backgrounds to come together to share some smoked meat and sides — food brings people together. 

They walk the walk by having a large community table at their Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant to support this sort of camaraderie. Heath Hall and Brett Thompson continue to frequent barbecue competitions, sell their products in more than 6,000 stores, and post barbecue recipes and grilling tips on the Pork Barrel BBQ website. Barbecue sauce flows through their veins, and the pair remains committed to using Pork Barrel BBQ to fulfill their ultimate mission to "unite the nation through the great tradition of BBQ, and bring bipartisan flavor to your next meal."