Summertime means barbecue time, and on any given day aromas from neighborhood grills and backyard smokers waft through the air while teasing and tempting all those who catch a whiff. For those doing the cooking, especially when it comes to smoked foods, it’s about the cooking process as much as the finished product, requiring a commitment of several hours and periodic monitoring. A local company, Backyard Pitmasters Colorado, offers immersive classes—on wheels—that teach people the knowledge, skills, tips, and recipes that can help them achieve barbecuing success.
Owned by Central Park residents Tony and Sarah Bolding, Backyard Pitmasters Colorado is the first franchise of Houston-based Backyard Pitmasters, which holds classes in Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas. The team hitches their big, shiny, red smoker to a pickup truck and pulls up to local breweries, wineries, and cideries to teach classes on-site. That partnership works well for everyone involved.
“What makes us unique is that we come to our customers. We go into their neighborhood and to the local place where they like to hang out and teach the classes there,” says Tony. “The breweries have an established brand and following, so we partner with them to bring something new to their current customers and to bring some new customers to them.”
Three-hour classes include BrisketU, RibsU, ChickensU, SeafoodU, TurkeyU, and the new Pitmaster360 Class, each costing $149 per person. Tony covers different types of grills and smokers, the best kinds of wood for various meats, the solutions for potential problems, and the recipes for delicious rubs and sauces. The sessions also address ideal barbecue tools, preparation methods, cooking times, and temperature levels. Although the classes are primarily visual with Tony demonstrating the techniques, hands-on exercises include smelling different types of wood smoke, testing meats for readiness, and best of all, tasting samples of the finished product.
Job opportunities in advertising brought Tony and Sarah to Colorado from Texas in 2021, but they soon started looking into franchise opportunities that could be part of a long-term retirement plan. Back in Texas, through their work, the couple had gotten to know the founding members of Backyard Pitmasters.
“I’d been cooking up here and neighbors would ask me how to do this or that, so I just threw the crazy idea out to Sarah of reaching out to those guys in Houston to see if they’d be interested in partnering with us up here,” explains Tony. “Because we are friends, they know us, my cooking background, and my business background, so they were willing to test the franchise system with us.” This partnership became official, and Backyard Pitmasters Colorado was started in April of 2022.
Tony feels one of the reasons his classes are well-received is because he can relate to his students.
“I am the people in my classes—I’ve been cooking since the late 90s with friends, at events, in competitions, and just having fun,” Tony says. “I’m not professionally trained, but I’ve become a decent barbecue cook. It’s just that I’ve done it thousands of times more than the people in my classes, so I can teach them from my mistakes and show them how to overcome challenges and make adjustments. Barbecue isn’t a recipe. It’s a guide of how it should happen—but all these different things will happen.”
“You have to know the dynamics for each piece of meat,” adds Sarah. “The fat content is different, the weather’s different, and there’s a whole lot of nuance. Learning the tricks that go along with it is really complex, but it’s also very fun.”
The way those variables happen in Colorado was intriguing to Tony, who had never lived or cooked outside of Texas. Adjustments have to be made in temperature ranges and cooking duration because of the higher altitude, which he discusses in his classes. He’s also happy to answer specific questions people have after the classes.
For now, this is still a side business for the couple. “At first, it was just the concept of something we would want to do down the road,” says Sarah. “That evolved into the barbecue conversation where I would be in more of a supporting role. At this point, it’s definitely taking up a little more time than we expected, but that’s the reality of any new business. We’re both used to being really busy and doing lots of things.”
Tony agrees. “We’re getting into a rhythm now of learning what we need to do and when we need to do it. So we’re getting there, we’re sleeping some, and that’s good,” he says, laughing.
There are multiple Backyard Pitmasters Colorado classes each month, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. Classes are held through the end of the year, including on how to smoke or fry turkey for the holidays. To learn more about the company, upcoming classes, and to book them for private events, visit https://colorado.brisketu.com/
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch