Nationally renowned pitmaster returns to Dowagiac, serves up BBQ to hometown

Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 7:11 PM EDT
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DOWAGIAC, Mich. (WNDU) - Folks in Dowagiac lined up on Friday to get a taste of some hometown barbeque that’s made its way into the national spotlight!

Pitmaster and contestant in the Netflix series “American BBQ Showdown” James “Big J” Boatright returned to Dowagiac to share his ‘q’ with his hometown.

Born and raised in Dowagiac, Boatright now runs his own BBQ business in St. Louis. On Friday, he was back home to not only share his passion with those who supported him back when he was growing up, but also with those who now know his name from the big screen.

Having served up plates to the harshest of critics while going up against some of the best pitmasters in the world, Boatright says making barbeque for his hometown couldn’t be more different.

“It’s definitely not the same stress that you have,” he said. “Probably more comfortable than the ones I’ve been doing. You’ve got a lot going on and a lot of moving parts when doing a competition on television. It can be pretty stressful.”

If Boatright’s reputation didn’t precede him, the smokey aroma of rib tips, baby back ribs, and barbeque chicken tells you all you need to know about why folks were willing to wait in this long line for a taste.

“I’m a fan of rib tips, and chicken is always good, so I want those,” said Deborah Hackworth.

“I want that cornbread, I want those beans, I want everything up there,” said Amos Clark Jr. “I want to taste just about everything throughout the day.”

It wasn’t just Boatright running the pit. He was joined by his father—the person who ignited his passion for barbeque—and his son, who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. The three-generation connection only happens when “Big J” comes back to Dowagiac.

“I remember watching my dad and my uncles dig a hole in the ground, and they put a whole hog in there,” Boatright said. “It just tortured us all night with that smell. I’d have to say that’s when I got hooked. I’ve been enthused and excited about barbequing ever since.”

Boatright has come a long way from the humble roots and folks will still be able to see his stamp on Michiana. You’ll be able to find Boatright’s special BBQ seasoning blend on the shelves of Harding’s Markets even after he returns to St. Louis. But while he’s here, he’s making the most of it.

“This is love man,” Boatright says. “Ain’t no other way to put it. We’ve always been a tight knit community and it’s always been great here in Dowagiac. I love it and talk about it all the time, even though most people can’t even pronounce it.”

Luckily, the folks in line on Friday only needed to know how to pronounce B-B-Q.

You can watch Boatright’s season of “American BBQ Showdown” right now by logging onto Netflix, and make sure you keep your eyes open for “Big J” on TV next spring. His BBQ landed him a spot on another pitmaster challenge, which we’re not yet allowed to reveal. But he’ll once again be representing Dowagiac on the big stage.