John Brotherton passed away on Monday while hospitalized following a cardiac event that occurred on January 4. He was 49.
You may have seen the #JMFB hashtag on social media along with the massive outpouring of support for the beloved pitmaster. There’s a long, expensive road ahead for his wife, Brenda, and son, Braeden. John’s friend Russell Roegels started a GoFundMe page for medical expenses. Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue, in Pflugerville, the restaurant John opened in 2017, remains open and operating.
Back in 2019, I called John Brotherton the day before the Texas Barbecue Town Hall at Texas A&M. He was tasked with preparing the meat for the hundred or more attendees, and I offered to help him cook the following morning, with a major caveat. I had been gifted the skin-on midsection of a raw hog, and I needed a crowd to feed it to before it spent too long in my garage fridge. John had planned to serve fajitas precisely because he didn’t want to wake up early and tend to a smoker for hours. I wondered if he’d meet me at the crack of dawn instead to help get a fire started and cook a massive piece of meat. He didn’t hesitate to say yes, and when I arrived, John already had the pit hot. As anything but a morning person, I was appreciative, and he ended up doing most of the cooking while letting me take the credit when it was served. That’s the kind of person John Brotherton was.
My most memorable trip to Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue was in August 2021, just as the joint opened for the day. John was behind the counter dishing out sides. He knew from the timing that I was there on official business. The Texas Monthly team was finalizing our visits for our Top 50 barbecue list, which would come out a few months later. Even before he had a place of his own, John traveled the state eating at all fifty of the joints on the 2013 list, and he did it again in 2017. He wanted to be in that number, and he did the legwork to see what it would take. When I ordered, John didn’t shove Jason Tedford off the chopping block to prepare the tray himself. He was the kind of leader that trusted his team. I had a great meal, and as I walked out the door, headed to several more stops, John shouted, “I hope everybody else sucks today!”
The moment was so memorable because John rarely said a negative word about anyone. He loved barbecue and supported countless aspiring cooks and established pitmasters, but I knew what he meant. Everyone else did not suck that day, or the day after, but John’s barbecue was the best of the trip. A few months later, he sent a note thanking me for adding him to the 2021 Top 50, and I reminded him that he did the work, not me.
As for John’s generosity to the rest of the barbecue community, don’t just take my word for it. Below, many of his peers, employees, and friends share what John meant to them and to Texas barbecue. And you can share your remembrances, too, in the comment section.
Co-owner of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue
John Brotherton helped me in so many ways. He found me at my lowest point several years back and put me back on my feet again. This good man believed in me and gave me a chance. He was my brother, and I love him dearly. When I think of great men who invest their own time and talent in others, I think of John. He, in my opinion, is the epitome of Texas barbecue. He helped bring this community together. This is a tight-knit community because of him, and we are all now drawing even closer together, because of him.
We will love him forever. We will love his family forever. We must honor him by doing our best and being our best. We must remember his heart, be there for each other, and live like he would want us to.
Co-owner of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue
John helped me tremendously throughout the five years I worked for him. He entirely changed every aspect of my life for the better. When I started working for him I had no idea what craft barbecue was. I had never even eaten any before. As I took on more responsibility working for him, he gave me a viable option at supporting myself by working in the service industry.
I had really only been going to school to make my folks happy, but I really enjoyed working in a restaurant, specifically a restaurant that John was at the helm of. He spent countless hours with me, teaching me how to cook barbecue his way. It was absolutely paramount to me at the time to absorb every bit of knowledge he had pertaining to the pits. After several months of being on the rib shift together, he eventually allowed me to cook by myself. I truly have run with it, and I will continue to. He was everything I always needed him to be, when I needed it. He was like an older brother and a second father to me. He has left me with a job to do, though, and that has come with the gift of receiving partial ownership of his business. The team and I will continue to make him proud.
Formerly of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue
John Brotherton was like a second dad to me. He brought me onto his team at Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue after one conversation on July 7, 2018. That one conversation changed my life. I was in a dark place after leaving a barbecue job after eleven years. Johnny reached out to me and told me he didn’t want me to lose my passion for the craft. He asked me to come in and talk to him, and in that two-hour visit my passion for barbecue came back. I felt my outlook on life was forever changed. John has a way about him that makes you feel like the most important person in the world while talking to him.
I could go into a ton of stories about John Brotherton and how he supported my business, and this one or that one, but I don’t want that to get lost with the fact that John’s biggest passion in life was his wife and son. I never saw him light up more than when he talked about them. I think that, for me, John sets the perfect example of how to live life, which is put 100 percent effort into everything you do. “Ain’t no half steppin’,” he would say. His example was to have a generous heart, always turn around and help the guy behind you, and love what and who you are passionate about.
I read this quote today and I think it is fitting: “Often, we don’t realize that a moment might be our last with someone, assuming there will always be another chance. We live as if time is limitless, but in reality, it’s fleeting. Cherish every moment, because sometimes, forever is shorter than we think.” I will continue to live my life to honor everything John taught me. #JMFB.
Formerly of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue
John was everyone’s cheerleader. When I was finding my way back to Austin, I needed a place to land. John didn’t really have any openings but was happy to take me in. He always is there for anyone who needs him and supports the barbecue community with all his heart. He had an enormous personality and the barbecue community won’t be the same without him. #JMFB Forever.
Jeff Savell, Davey Griffin, and Ray Riley
Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science
Ray, Davey, and I first met John Brotherton at Barbecue Summer Camp, June 2016. Russell Roegels came to Barbecue Summer Camp in June 2014 and began helping us with both Barbecue Summer Camp and Camp Brisket soon after. John showed up in 2016 to help Russell cook. For the first camps we conducted, we struggled to both cook and teach, and we are not sure who first said this, Russell or John, but at some point, it was said, “Y’all teach and we will cook!” It was the best decision made, because the quality of the barbecue went up and we are able to focus on delivering content and working with the camp participants.
From 2016 forward, John Brotherton became a fixture at Camp Brisket and Barbecue Summer Camp. Whatever needed to be done, John did it with a smile on his face and a can-do attitude. In addition to cooking and serving barbecue, John began serving on panels such as “Wood and Smoke,” “Pit Design and Maintenance,” and “Life as a Pitmaster.” John’s story of where he began and where he ended up was inspirational. Russell and John began helping with ANSC 117, Texas Barbecue, when we covered briskets. John would share his journey with our freshmen, who were so impressed with his background. I love the statement John made at one of the camps, where he said, “I gave up a forty-hour-a-week job to take on an eighty-hour-a-week job!” I think that is what people who are true entrepreneurs do. The love of the task at hand and the want to do something on their own simply outweighs the safety and comfort of most jobs.
Over time, more pitmasters began showing up to help Russell and John at the camps, so the group grew. The camaraderie shared by everyone who came together to help out was remarkable. As more people began to participate in various barbecue festivals, this community has grown tremendously.
Much of the success of the Texas A&M University Texas Barbecue program can be attributed to the pitmasters who have shared their time and talents with the participants. John Brotherton was a key contributor to this, and Davey, Ray, our students, and I have been primary beneficiaries of his unique love and devotion to all things Texas barbecue.
Brad Doan and Family
1775 Texas Pit BBQ, in College Station
We were so blessed to know John and be able to not only call him a friend but, more important, family. He was a champion for a lot of barbecue joints out there, and we were no exception. John was one of the first barbecue family members to promote and believe in what our vision for barbecue was in Bryan–College Station. He would always call on his way into town for Camp Brisket, Barbecue [Summer] Camp, and barbecue town halls at A&M and stop by to see us. John introduced us to a lot of people we now call friends and family in this business. He loved all of our family and treated us as his, and we treated him the same. He would always tell me, “Hold some of your mom’s corn casserole for me on our way.” People like John aren’t around every corner. He was definitely one of the good ones.
Co-owner of Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue, in Harker Heights
So many of us can say Brotherton is the best. He wanted to be the best, and frankly, he earned that title of being so. I remember one time telling John how much I loved chicken-fried steak. He whispered loudly enough so Steven [Rossler, co-owner of Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue] could hear that he could make a better chicken-fried steak than Steven. Challenge accepted, and the challenge was on. We went to John’s, and I ate the chicken-fried steak and instantly smiled and told John it was better than Steven’s. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Steven so mad. He went home and cooked chicken-fried steak the next night for dinner. He tried so hard, and honestly, I can say it was a tie. John and Steven both loved the competition, and Steven always shook his head at me when I would “fangirl” over John, but you couldn’t help but love him. John loved his family fiercely, and that was always something we admired about him. There is a special bond between the barbecue community that no one can understand unless you’re in it. John helped build that and continued to build that bond between our family. He showed us how to be loved and how to love, fiercely and with loyalty.
Co-owner of Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue
Wow, what does JMFB mean to the Rosslers? We met through Brett Boren and were attached at the hip ever since. I wanted to be a well-rounded pitmaster, so John worked with me to nail down the time, temperature, and seasoning of our “bomb turkey” recipe. Along the way, our girls, Juju (five) and Paisley (eight), fell in love with Uncle Johnny! There are multiple pictures of him with them. Juju was so upset at Johnny’s health, she cried and then got angry and punched several chairs. That’s how much JMFB meant to us. We feel the same. He should be sainted.
Formerly of Brett’s Family BBQ & Tacos, in Rockdale
For me, John Brotherton is the reason I made the switch from recreational barbecue to commercial barbecue. He helped me cross that bridge physically and mentally from day one, and was in my corner and my number one fan. He was about a year ahead of me when he left his full-time job to go full-time in barbecue, so I got to lean on him through his personal experiences. John helped me and so many people; he touched so many lives. He was a selfless individual, and he gave so much to others just to see them be successful.
We got to spend a lot of time together in the early days and got to grow together as both of our businesses grew. John has left a legacy in Texas barbecue. I don’t think he will ever realize the impact he made on people’s lives, even now that it’s all coming full circle. He wasn’t just a barbecue guy. He was a life coach, a counselor, a teacher, and a community-driven individual. He painted a life picture of an extraordinary human.
Owner of Rollin Smoke, in Austin
John Brotherton included me and treated me like a peer with respect from day one of meeting him. He always made sure our name was in the conversation when it came to Austin barbecue. He came to any event or pop-up we had and brought people with him. When you are starting out—or going for years—it means the world. I know most people in barbecue through him. I know that he got us included in many barbecue festivals, and we were always right next to him if possible. He showed me how important it is to support the new guys. He believed in making barbecue better and that lifting up others was the way to elevate the whole culture. He is the king, in my opinion. My favorite barbecue pimp. JMFB FOREVER.
Owner of 850 Barbecue, in Pace, Florida
Several years ago, I lived in Austin and had my first time at Brotherton’s. The food changed my life. In 2017, I moved back to Florida with my Texan wife, and we started cooking barbecue for fun. Everyone raved about it and always told me I needed to sell it. So in 2019, 850 Barbecue was created. Since then, we have done mostly catering, but I wanted more.
As I traveled back to Texas every year, I became good friends with John Brotherton. I often asked him for advice on how to go about it, what it would look like, what to watch out for, and he always knew just what to say. I’ve taken words of wisdom from pitmasters and owners all over the great state of Texas, but John’s was always on time, blunt, and perfect for the moment. But he has always been kind. Behind all of that fraternal attitude and nonchalant meandering he would at times do was a caring spirit that just seemed to somehow put you at ease. Of all of the Texas pitmasters I stay in touch with, he was the first to reach out to me, and invite me to something, and to just check in on me.
Then at the 2023 Texas Monthly BBQ Fest, he let me hang out with him and his crew all day, and made us feel like family. In 2023, we took 850 Barbecue full-time in September, so by November I had tons of questions, and he didn’t mind taking the time to answer them and just talk it out, even when he was in the middle of prepping for catering. He stopped what he was doing and just talked with me. It’s times like these I can’t stop but to think, he didn’t live above anyone; he held himself as equal across the board with everyone. No better, no worse. Just a man that loved people and what he got to do every day. God bless John!
Owner of Blake’s at Southern Milling, in Martin, Tennessee
Since meeting John in 2018 at the Houston BBQ Festival, “Brotherton,” as I’ve always called him, has been above all else, a true and perfect example of the term “friend” to me. My story of friendship with Brotherton undoubtedly holds similar meaning and value for many others in the industry who have also had the opportunity to befriend him over the years. He never had—and nearly refused—to ever “meet a stranger,” as he could get along with a brick wall. His spirit allows him to be friendly with nearly everyone that he encountered.
Brotherton has always been there for me, whether it be for business advice or to lend me a spare room at his and his wife Brenda’s home in Pflugerville during a dozen trips to Austin in just over five years. During that span, you could always find us tied together at the hip, running around Austin, Pflugerville, Round Rock, Belton, and down to Seguin eating barbecue, visiting friends of ours, and running errands together.
Brotherton has been a constant source of encouragement since the first time I met him. We have talked on the phone nearly every single day for over five years to catch up, report on our day, talk barbecue or business or just about life in general, and so on.
He’s been an inspiration to me and seemingly to everyone who’s known him, to be honest. He inspired me both in business and in my personal life every single day to push without pause to be the best in business, and to encourage my team over the years to be our best and find ways to get better. In my personal life, I try to live life to the fullest and be a kind, selfless human like him, yet no one can be “Brotherton” the way he has always been in that regard. He was a true servant. A true leader.
He helped show me how to support, as he has always been the ultimate supporter of everyone. He’s supported my business over the years and honestly helped us grow through his support. And I know that’s a true statement for many others too.
There will never be another John Brotherton. Brotherton is “1 of 1,” the Greatest of All Time, a hero, a king, and a legend. Above all, for me, he was my best friend. I have always loved him, always will love him, and will do my best to honor him through my work and personal life as long as I live.
Fernando Vela and Eugenío Martinez
Old Jimmy’s BBQ, in Monterrey, Mexico
What can be said about John Brotherton that hasn’t already been said by all of our peers, colleagues, friends, and the whole barbecue community? We’ve known John for a few years now, and he’s supported and encouraged us in this barbecue journey that we call life. He was on the forefront alongside Bill Dumas promoting and helping shine a light on the Monterrey, Mexico, barbecue scene with his knowledge, cheerful spirit, and especially his friendship. He welcomed us at his place as part of his family, and that’s just how they make us feel, as if we were home. At the end of the day, that’s what barbecue is all about, people sharing a passion for something we love that just brings us all together. Writing this makes us realize just how lucky and privileged we are to call him hermano.
Founder of True Bomb smokers, in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil
It all started when I was talking to Max Chiefari of Texicana BBQ about my smokers, and I asked him if there was someone in the barbecue community I should meet to talk about marketing my brand in the States. Right away, Max said John Brotherton. My trip was planned for May 2023.
I shot John a message asking to meet him during my trip, and I explained my intentions. He just replied, “Come on over.” I met him at Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue on May 14. I was so very welcomed by him—he spent three hours with me over there. We talked about smokers, and he showed me all the pits he had and the stories behind them. He served me a beautiful tray of barbecue with all the sausages on the menu.
John introduced me to Bill Dumas, who told me about his project designing a sausage pit with a pit builder. I came back to Brazil thinking about all the insights I’d had during that trip. Right after I came back, I planned a barbecue class in Brazil with Max, and I invited Bill Dumas to come test a prototype of the sausage pit during the class. John told me he was coming also. So during that time, I also decided to change the design of my offset smokers due to some insights I had on that trip. I told them that they would also test that pit. I called it the True Bomb.
They came for the class in August, and we spent one week together. It was just an amazing time getting to know John better. During the barbecue class, John was amazed by the True Bomb pit and the sausage pit. We talked about how to get them to the Texas Monthly barbecue festival in November. At the festival, John did a whole Brazilian menu because of me. He literally gave me all the attention, put me under the lights over there. Let me cook all the picanha. I did not ask for anything like that, but he did it.
The last conversation was about me coming to the Houston Rodeo barbecue competition, because the Brazilian team is going to use the True Bomb pit. When I told John that I would like to lend the pit to them, he said, “Okay, I am taking the pit over there whenever you need.” Unfortunately, he will not be able to do it.
The license plate on his big Ford F-250 says “JMFB,” but I see him and remember him as “the Gentleman of BBQ.” I’ve met many people in the barbecue community so far, but no one is like John, truly willing to help and support.
J. C. Reid
Cofounder of the Houston BBQ Festival and columnist for the Houston Chronicle
In December 2018 we hosted our first event outside of Houston: the second annual HOU-ATX BBQ Throwdown at a brewery near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. John Brotherton had been invited and agreed to be a participant several months before. By coincidence, the schedule to open his new place, Liberty Barbecue, resulted in an opening date a couple weeks later, so he was totally in the weeds getting it ready in the days [ahead] and didn’t have time to come up with a competition entry. The night before, we heard that he was still working at Liberty. We figured there was no way he was going to make it to the event to compete and serve. But Sunday morning, after working late, Brotherton rolled up with a kettle grill in his truck and a cooler full of ribeye steaks. He cooked and served the steaks to guests and other vendors alike. We told him he didn’t have to submit to the judges, but he insisted on fulfilling his commitment to the event. Though he came in last in the blind judging process against some of Houston’s and Austin’s heaviest hitter pitmasters and their creative dishes, he will always be number one in my book.
Cofounder of the Houston BBQ Festival
What has John Brotherton done for me? What’s he done for all of us?
John lit up the room and people were just drawn to him. Why? Spend a few moments with him and you’ll know; whether it’s sharing someone else’s brisket or talking about his latest creation at Brotherton’s Barbecue. He was equally excited about his barbecue as he is about others. He was a true fan, and his passion and enthusiasm are infectious. He listened first and talked later. He loved to see other people succeed in whatever their endeavor. The two most consistent traits of John’s were his big beaming smile and, of course, always wearing shorts. John was one those rare breeds that, despite working in the barbecue business, constantly traveled to support others, particularly the new guys.
When we started the Houston BBQ Festival over ten years ago, there was this guy who was there every year helping out others (usually Roegels Barbecue). He was always willing to do whatever needed to be done, and always with a smile. As he became more capable and established his own place, he kept coming to help others and was then gracious enough to travel to Houston and represent his style of barbecue at our festival.
His restaurant’s sandwich game is strong, and the sausage program he and Bill Dumas created is outstanding. It’s easy to talk about his barbecue and how good it is, but John is the true definition of an MVP. He lifted everyone else up through action and his leadership in the community, which is based on attraction, not promotion.
His journey was a tough one, both personally and professionally, but being around John, you’d see that he didn’t let those travails darken his spirit. He wanted you to succeed, and whether through advice, support, or just being a vocal advocate, he was there for you. The world was a better place with him in it.
Co-owner of Roegels Barbecue Co., in Houston and Katy
“I met John about ten years ago. My wife, Misty, met him on a barbecue run and mentioned to him about helping us at the first Houston BBQ Throwdown. He said he’d love to come help us. We hit it off as friends right away. After that day he was my go-to guy for any help I needed doing any event that we were invited to do. He called himself the Roegels Road Show. He gave us all of this help while building his own brand. John wouldn’t ever take a dime for helping, not even for the amount it cost him in gas. Misty did slip an envelope full of cash into his glove compartment without him knowing after an event we did when the Super Bowl was in Houston. We called him a few hours after he left Houston and told him to look in his glove compartment. He went to cussing. We both laughed at him.
After John opened Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue and he started getting invited to do events under his own brand, he was always there to help me out. I would always forget something. The man had everything to do with barbecue in the back of his truck. We have a festival equipment checklist that Misty created in May of 2017. Number one on the list is John Brotherton. Number two says, if you have number one you don’t need anything else.
Personally, John has been a great friend. We talked on the phone a few times a week at least. Most of the time it was about barbecue, but sometimes it was just about life. John was an amazing person who has always been willing to give anyone a helping hand and not expect anything in return. I am honored to be able to call him a friend.
Co-owner of Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, in Aledo
John was one of the best things about the barbecue community. He set the gold standard for how you pull a community together. His heart shined a light around him. It’s hard to explain. He’s the person who would ask “How are you doing?” and really care and listen. If you were feeling down, he would bring you back up with encouragement. If you were on cloud nine, he would celebrate with you in the clouds.
Back in 2018 I remember having the honor to volunteer at TM BBQ Fest. I was helping Roegels Barbecue alongside John, who also volunteered each year. Back then I had some huge dreams, dreams that seemed so far away and unrealistic. John was so encouraging and made me feel like those dreams were absolutely worth fighting for. I can never thank him enough for believing in me. I wish he knew the positive impact he had on my motivation.
In the over five years I knew him, he always made the time to show up and support me and my business. When I was having a difficult time with making a decision, he was the first one I’d call. He was always willing to offer advice and encouragement. He’s a person I really look up to and hope I can grow to be like one day. He was a real true friend to myself and so many others.
Formerly of Louie’s BBQ, in Buda
If you ever read my story, you’ll know that I was oblivious about how large the barbecue community was. When I started my food truck, one of the first people to follow me was Brotherton. He sent me a few messages here and there, and then one day he popped up at my trailer when I was on Brodie Lane. Ever since then, we stayed in constant communication. He would share his knowledge and stories with me.
That following year he invited me to go hang out with him at the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest, where he introduced me to the likes of Russell and Misty Roegels and Brett Boren, just to name a few. The more I was around John, the more I wanted to be around him, if that makes sense. He was just as genuine as you could get. He’d be honest with you and not sugarcoat anything.
I remember taking a drive with him to Snow’s BBQ and Truth Barbeque, getting to meet more great people like Tootsie [Tomanetz], Kerry [Bexley], and Clay [Cowgill]. When I needed Cambro [food containers] one time for a large catering, I called John right up and asked if he had any I could rent. He said, “Rent? Bro, just come up here and pick them up; I got you!” He was always there for people, always with a smile and a joke. This barbecue journey has allowed me to meet some really amazing people, and John is at the head of that list!
I love you, John Brotherton! I’m your friend and will always be your friend forever!
Co-owner of Zavala’s BBQ, in Grand Prairie
September 7, 2018, was the first time I thought we were doing something right in the barbecue world. Why was that? John Brotherton reached out to me asking if our little pop-up was going to be open. John Brotherton was going to come to Zavala’s Barbecue! I wanted to be John Brotherton. John started by doing pop-ups; then he hooked up with a sandwich spot so he could grow his barbecue business. John made me believe I could do this.
When we bought our building, John was the first person I told. John was the reason why I started selling rubs and sauces, because of what he was doing with his Burnt Ends brand. John had no enemies and was friends with all in barbecue. John was the biggest cheerleader for Texas barbecue. John is Texas barbecue. John helped put DFW barbecue on the map by telling everyone in Texas how good it was. When the Top 50 list came out, his was the first restaurant I looked up to see if he made it. I know how much it meant to him. John was the only person that I 100 percent wanted to see his name. I was so happy he made the list. One thing I love about John is he was always smiling. No matter what, he had a smile on his face! I love you, John Brotherton. Thank you for making me believe in myself and being a steward for Texas barbecue.
Co-owner of Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue, in Tomball
John was always a friendly face and enthusiastic supporter of Tejas. He bragged about our joint on multiple occasions. His greatest impact on us has simply been being an example of hard work, integrity, optimism, and inexhaustible enthusiasm for the success of others. He is an inspiration to many. Here at Tejas, he inspired one of our staff members to discover a renewal through sobriety. It’s easy to root for John, as he’s always been everyone else’s biggest fan. I greatly admire the energy he threw at all his endeavors professionally and personally.
Owner of Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington
I’ve read this on several posts this week . . . “The world is a much better place because of John Brotherton.” No truer statement can be said.
John was no better of a friend to me than he is to the thousands of people he has come in contact with. There are no words that truly describe the man he was and the role he played in the barbecue community. I have surely been blessed with some great people in my time in barbecue, but John Brotherton is definitely at the top of the list. There are no words that I can say about John that everyone who has met him will not duplicate. Again, there is no one in our industry who did more as a whole than John.
I feel like I have been blessed with the Queen of Barbecue in Ms. Tootsie, but if you took a Texas poll of a King of Barbecue, it would undisputedly be John Brotherton. He and I have made several trips together, and there hasn’t been a flight, extended car trip, or event that is not memorable due to J.B. and his actions. The more you were around J.B., the better person you became. His words and actions were contagious. He gave more of his time and knowledge to so many and expected nothing in return. My wife, Kim, does not talk about many people in this industry, but from the first time she met John, she loved him. She often says I need to be more like John!
John Brotherton is a friend to us all, an inspiration to so many, and a true barbecue legend in the industry!
Formerly of Dozier’s Barbeque, in Fulshear
Johnny Brotherton is an inspiration. He was a guy who believed in the greater good and who went out of his way to lift up others. He (almost) always had a smile on his face. Johnny B. was a good friend who was supportive, encouraging, and didn’t hesitate to shoot straight when asked for feedback and suggestions. John was a guy who always picked up the phone when called and was more than happy to share his knowledge and experience. We would have regular talks about “How would you do this?” with respect to our craft. But we also had regular talks about life in general and dealing with the frustrations and challenges of our chosen profession. And I knew that when I was struggling with something, he would lift me up and set me straight. The guy was just a gem of a human being, a friend to many, and an amazing ambassador for the barbecue community.
Co-owner of Eaker Barbecue, in Fredericksburg
It’s hard for me to put into words what John means to me. Genuine, generous, thoughtful, energetic, charismatic, and loyal, just to name a few. He was always available for a call for advice or to just chat with. I don’t know how many times he has helped me, both in large and small ways. Here are a few instances.
The first time I met John was at the Houston BBQ Throwdown in 2018. Eaker Barbecue was relatively new, maybe six months old, and we were honored to be included. I remember him coming by the booth. I introduced myself, and he responded, “I know who you are.” That hit me. We were still trying to find our ground, figure out who we were and where we were going. When he said that, I immediately felt validated.
A year or so later, we had done several events that he had attended, but he had not yet made it to the food truck. I always gave him grief when I saw him for not coming by, to which he responded, “I’ve had your food at events and I know it’s good.” I don’t know if he was being honest or just supportive, but it meant a lot. One day [fellow pitmaster] Darren Lafferty sent me a text message saying that he and John would be coming by the food truck at Kirby Ice House, where we were serving. I remember telling the team about both these guys and how much of a big deal it was that they were coming. We sat and chatted while they ate, and of course, like a fanboy, we had to take a pic together. Them coming by further made me feel like we were on a good path.
When it was finally time to make the move to brick and mortar, John was there again to support and offer advice and guidance. My wife, Boo, myself, and our boys made a trip to Fredericksburg. On the way back we stopped at Liberty Barbecue, where at the time he was part owner. We had a great meal followed by a long conversation in the pit room. I told John that we were likely to pull the trigger on a lease and our build-out was going to be fast. I had reached out to all of the known pit builders, but their wait times were too long. He asked if I’d heard of Cen-Tex Smokers, which was very new, only having produced a handful of pits at that point. I reached out to Michael; long story short, we had our pit in time to complete our build-out and open quickly. That same conversation with John that day netted all kinds of gold in advice and support.
I remember seeing that Daniel Vaughn was in Junction one night and thinking he might come visit the next day. John and I talked at length that night. He told me, “You better be on your A game! If he’s coming, he’s testing you for the Top 50 list.” I immediately shut that down: no way; we have only been open for two months. Sure enough, Daniel came the next day. I wouldn’t say I was on my A game, but I guess good enough. In the coming months, we talked almost daily about the list and whether we would make it. As it got closer, we chatted multiple times a day. This was a held dream for both of us, and when we made it, it felt like we made it together.
That’s just a highlight reel of my relationship with John. So many more small moments that are hard for me to articulate meant even more. Since the moment I heard word last Thursday morning, John has been ever present in my mind. I will miss his cocky smile and him poking fun, but behind it all a heart of gold.
Michael Johnson Jr.
Owner of Cen-Tex Smokers, in Luling
John Brotherton and I met in February 2020 at his Liberty Barbecue pit-release party at the Backline Fabrication shop. I was still in the process of building our first prototype smoker while still at my day job daydreaming about barbecue, smokers, and what could be. I was invited to the party by Backline’s owner, Ryan Newland, and showed up not knowing anyone but Ryan that day. John and I were introduced, and he was immediately enthusiastic and encouraging, but more than anything, he was fully engaged in a conversation with a total stranger who was still just a wannabe pit builder.
Since then, my admiration for John has only grown the more I got to know him. He eventually became a customer of mine, and without his support and encouragement, my business would not be what it is today. Some of my closest friends in barbecue and numerous clients were made through introductions from John. I’m one person in a very long line of folks John has had a positive impact on. He is loved in this community, and Texas barbecue is a better place because of him.
Owner of Backline Fabrication, in Austin
When I first met John Brotherton, he treated me like we were already friends. For someone being so big and important in the barbecue world, he sure didn’t act like it. He had no ego, and I never felt like he was too good to talk to me. He didn’t care that I didn’t own a barbecue restaurant or, for that matter, even cook at a restaurant. He cared about surrounding himself with talented and good people. I’m glad he chose me to be in his circle.
We knew each other for a couple years, and I was still shocked, excited, nervous, and over the moon when he reached out to me to build him a smoker for one of his restaurants. I knew at that point I had to take it over the top and do something really special for such a staple in the business. With him supporting me, it really helped others have confidence in my builds and drove up my business. I could never thank him enough. He was a super genuine and loving person, and I take pride in being his friend.
Co-owner of Sierrah Wood, in Leander
John Brotherton, or J.B., as I often called him, was absolutely one of a kind. He was not only the ambassador of Texas barbecue, but such a kind individual, with a servant’s heart overall.
Many years ago, he gave an unknown like me in the firewood game a shot to supply his barbecue joint. Not only that, he promoted us any chance he got. What we were able to accomplish was largely thanks to that. I never would’ve been considered the “wood guy” had it not been for him. That’s how he approached the whole barbecue community. He clapped for everyone, put in the miles, and showed up for people all across that state.
Over the years friendship turned more like family. On several occasions, John stepped in and helped serve and love on our family when we needed it the most. He was fiercely loyal, and he stood up for me more times than I can count.
He lived his life out loud with purpose, and every time he entered the room, the atmosphere changed for the better. His smile and laugh were absolutely infectious. Always with an encouraging word and a “Heck yeah, do it bro.” He set the standard high in all categories, and there’s not another quite like him.
Jessie Miranda III
Knowing John has been a privilege and honor, not only as a barbecue pitmaster colleague, but as a friend, mentor, and brother. John has always been the type of person that if anyone needed anything, he would take the shirt off his own back to assist. When called, he replied with gratitude and was as humble as one can be. I personally felt special when he would ask me questions about how to do this or that. He would critique me, and I would accept it and change things. He had a positive and beaming attitude when he walked into the room, and he would change the atmosphere either at a cook-off, benefit, or restaurant. He was a great man, and I’m honored to call him my friend.
Chef and owner at Culture ETX, in Tyler
John Brotherton was my friend long before we ever even met. Social media is funny that way, I guess. I remember the first time we did meet, at Red Dirt BBQ Festival, in Tyler, which is held on the same square that our restaurant is on. John just walked right up to me and gave me a hug and beamed that big old smile of his. We were immediately “real” friends.
Since then, we’ve spent time together at festivals around the state. Thankfully, multiple barbecue festivals in Tyler bring my friends back around even more often, especially John. We eat together, laugh together, just hang out and watch the crowd go by. John was ever positive, ever encouraging, ever understanding, and ever insightful. John was always John, and we love him.
The last week has set me hunting for pics of John so I could join in with the online support, but every single picture that I have with us revolves around the inappropriate use of smoked sausages that was destined to be a part of the joke/fake online barbecue page we were gonna fire up one day, titled “Peen’s Barbecue.” Sorry, not sorry. That’s who he was. That has just been our thing, and we always tried to get as many of the other guys in on it as we could.
He is my friend. I don’t have many, but I’m so, so glad that he is one of mine.
Managing partner of Brett’s BBQ Shop, in Katy
On December 14, 2019, I received a call saying, “John Brotherton is in town and wants to come meet you guys.” I said “great” and asked what time. Upon hearing after 5:30 p.m., I knew we would be sold out and closed, since these were our shoebox-on-Mason-Road days. Also, being well aware of the legend of John Brotherton, I said “No problem” and put a ton of food aside in the warmer. They showed up as promised but had been eating all day. John still tried every single thing on the table. John, Darren Lafferty, John’s employee, and myself sat and talked in the shop for hours, alone, snacking on pork belly burnt ends and swapping stories. John drove back home that night after dark but never acted as if he had anywhere to go.
From that day forward, our relationship began, with this larger-than-life personality housed in a man who was seemingly an angel walking the earth. He seemed too good to be true. John has been a champion for the barbecue community as a whole, with each and every person being touched in some way and holding on to that special relationship with him. Personal experiences include when we needed a pit for our rodeo cook-off tent, and he was down to haul his thousand-gallon pit to Houston for us. In October, we hosted a burger throw down at our shop and I sent him a text on October 5: “Any chance you’ll be in the Houston area October 25?” He replied almost instantly. “I probably can be. What’s up?” John was in by the next text. He not only came but was the first to arrive, thirty minutes early. Many folks had never met him until that evening, including Nick Fine of Underbelly Hospitality. Nick and I spoke afterwards, remarking how we both have an empathic accuracy when it comes to people and John is pure salt of the earth.
Every festival and event we have been privileged to attend with John also in attendance, he has been a huge part of our experience. He always makes it a point to make some kind of impact, small or large, on your day, usually large. Texas Monthly Top 50 fest in November was the last time we were with John in person. I only wish we would have stayed longer.
I could list many examples of how John has lent an ear regarding anything under the sun or made himself available in some way. I have been left feeling many times that it is unfortunate that I never have anything to offer back. That is, until this past November. I was thrilled to hear from him, because he was in Boston. His little brother was graduating, and he wanted restaurant recommendations. “Nothing fancy,” he requested. My time had come, and I could do something for John, even if it was just a list of restaurants to hit. I couldn’t wait to deliver him a list of the absolute not-to-miss spots. My third text was, “Regina Pizza north end is a MUST.” He immediately responded to this with pictures of pizza with the Regina logo on a cup clearly visible. A “Haha. I’m here now” text accompanied the pictures. Of course he was there; he is JMFB.
That is the last time I spoke with John. I hoped and prayed it would not be the last. I never did hear the details of that trip that would have made me yearn for home in a way only he could have described it.
Pitmaster at Loro in Houston
My bond with John extended beyond barbecue friendship. He felt more like a brother to me. The times spent together at camps and events that he graciously invited me to allowed me to share my deepest struggles and demons that I was dealing with. He never judged me but instead stood by me, offering unwavering support whenever I needed a friend just to talk to. His impact on my and countless lives is undeniable, and personally, he was an angel among men. He’s influenced me in ways I never imagined, especially when it comes to barbecue. I’m honored to have called him a friend, and I will never forget the impact he played in my life as someone who helped me become who I am today.
Formerly of Flores Barbecue, in Whitney
There are so many things that can and will be said about John Brotherton, but one thing that will be said for sure is that he was one of the good ones. John had such an impact on so many and was always ready to lend a helping hand. He supported others any chance he got and was a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy. When someone in the industry was going through a tough time and wasn’t employed, he would offer them a job. If you needed help getting the word out for a pop-up, he was the man who would help you build a line. He was successful not only in the barbecue industry but in life, helping countless peers reach their goals and dreams just as he did. He was a shining example of what someone can become after an addiction.
One thing about John is that he never forgot a deed you did for him. Once, I got a Facebook message from John explaining that he and his wife, Brenda, were making their way to Whitney to eat at my restaurant and get their Texas Monthly Top 50 sticker, but they wouldn’t make it in time for our 3 p.m. closing. I told him, “No worries, let me know what you want, and I’ll save y’all some.” They arrived, ate, and enjoyed their meal as we cleaned up the restaurant, getting ready for another day of service. Once they finished, he thanked me and gave me some praise for the quality of the meal. I remember thinking, “This guy eats barbecue all over and he enjoyed mine; that’s a win.”
From that point forward, he treated me with so much respect and admiration, boasting about me to anyone who was around who would hear it. I had meals that he prepared, and he would never let me pay. When I needed walk-in space to store a few Yetis full of meat the night before TM BBQ Fest, he made room for them and met me the next morning at 3:30 a.m. so I could pick them up. When I needed sausage for my son’s birthday party, he loaded me up and once again refused to let me pay. “I remember a guy that stayed open so I could have a meal at his restaurant,” he said. “You’re good.” He also said, “I would give you some of these Boerne Mac sausages for your son’s birthday, but I don’t know which ones Bill infused.” We shared a laugh. That was one of my last interactions with him, and I will always appreciate it. That’s who he was, an overly generous human being who took care of those around him and the people he cared about. I wasn’t as close with John as some in the industry, but he was someone I strive to be like. He was someone we should all strive to be like.
Owner of Nomad Barbecue, in Cypress
I met John first in 2018 at Snow’s BBQ with Michael Michna. We met up with a few other people in barbecue and had a blast chewing the fat and discussing the industry. John carried a sense of humility and realness, a true sort of genuineness you don’t come across all that often anymore. One thing about John, he showed up no matter what, for both the big guys and the little guys. He wanted everyone to succeed. He somehow managed to keep climbing the mountain of this industry all while making sure everyone else had a voice. It was important to him to see cohesion. It’s important for us to carry that on.
Owner of JQ’s Tex Mex BBQ, in Houston
It isn’t an exaggeration to say without John Brotherton, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.
We didn’t even know each other before John sent me a friend request on Facebook in 2017. I had just started doing small pop-ups, and probably thanks to [pitmaster] Patrick Feges, John sniffed me out. He was always on the hunt that way. Anyways, as soon as we became FB official, John started impacting my life. Not only did he and Brenda Brotherton go out of their way on their way to Alaska to make a visit, he started tagging local Houston media, food critics, food reviewers, HouBBQ, and so forth on my post, saying that they need to come try us out. And it was literally on our next pop-up that we started getting those visits. Within a few months, my name was in Bon Appétit magazine.
Fast forward all these years later, John and I became true friends and brothers. John brought me up to both his restaurants, Black Iron and Liberty, and graciously allowed me to pop-up at both places, lending me his kitchens and staff and making sure they were completely filled with the right people. He strategically expanded my brand, and then probably paid me too much on top of that. Anytime I had an event in or around Austin, John made sure I had everything I needed and then always came to lend a hand. He did more for everyone than anyone else ever will.
My most cherished memories are not just the countless meals, taco runs, barbecue runs, trips to Mexico, festivals, or concerts, but just sitting there shooting the s— and learning from the best.
Founder of Troubadour Festival
John Brotherton is the best example of a human being I could point to in my life. He has shown me unwavering kindness, friendship, and loyalty in the decade we’ve known each other, and I could only hope to be half the man John was. Best I can remember, John attended or participated in every festival I’ve produced, from the very first Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival to Troubadour Festival, except for one. Like everyone else he knew, John supported me no matter how high the peaks or how low the valleys. He was the first person I’d contact to make a connection with a restaurant owner to invite them to Troubadour Festival. He was always my “letter of recommendation.” No matter what I needed, no matter what I asked of him, his answer was always yes. My business, my ambition, and my life have been made better because of John Brotherton.
Owner of Harp Barbecue, in Raytown, Missouri
John Brotherton invited my father and me to work with his team at Red Dirt BBQ Festival one year in Tyler, where he was set up next to Roegels. We left that festival with more than one mentor thanks to J.B. He’s a person I would bounce ideas off of in regards to getting our brick-and-mortar open. I always knew John would shoot straight and had the barbecue perspective of business as well as being someone whose opinion I valued and trusted.
Once during COVID, we were in a huge bind for some reason I can’t recall and needed pastrami in 36 hours. We didn’t have briskets yet. I called J.B., who told me how to brine the briskets in 24 hours and get great pastrami. It’s still to this day one of the best pastramis I’ve ever made, and the photos from that pastrami are a marketing tool we still use.
J.B. showed me and everyone what it is to support the barbecue community.
Co-owner of LaVaca BBQ, in Port Lavaca and Victoria
We had always heard how Texas barbecue restaurants, especially of Top 50 quality, are supportive and open with each other. It’s a brotherhood with mutual respect for each other’s talents and achievements. We first experienced this with a visit from John and Brenda at our Port Lavaca location. Brenda’s parents live in Tivoli, a few miles away. It was a visit welcoming us into this new barbecue world we had just walked into.
John was the first Texas Monthly–recognized barbecue joint owner to visit us. Instantly, you felt his love for barbecue and kindheartedness. This visit explained to us not only the openness of this brotherhood, but also how to share our own experiences with others. Throughout the years we have had opportunities to visit (and see him in shorts and funky socks) at festivals and at his own restaurant a couple of times. Our last visit, Christine, Kelli, and I were shown hospitality like that of family. We were given what seemed like everything on the menu, and a full tour was a requirement. This included the same respect and hospitality from his team. This outpouring of support for John is for good reason. His kindness and willingness to help others has not gone unnoticed.
Formerly of Fairchild Barbecue, in Round Rock
Every so often, God puts someone in the world to encourage people, inspire greatness, and just make the world a better place without asking for anything in return. The barbecue community has been blessed beyond imagination by just such a man: John Brotherton. His loyalty to the craft, culture, and community of barbecue has truly made the barbecue world a better place.
Before I ever met John in person, I contacted him via Facebook and started picking his brain. I had approached others in the same fashion, but they had very little advice to offer, if any. But John told me everything about how and where to buy meat, how to price cuts of meat, which sides to add when first starting off, who to go to for insurance, and tons more. The short time our barbecue trailer was open saw us have great success. And it would have been a miserable experience without the help of John Brotherton.
Years later, when I started on my health and well-being journey, John invited me to join the Facebook page he put together for folks in barbecue who were trying to get healthy. He called it Fit At The Pit. In his words, it was “a group for BBQ and restaurant professionals who are crushing the stereotype of being overweight in the food biz.” I found great encouragement and inspiration from John and the other members in that group. That group, and the folks in it, was a huge factor in my getting physically fit (losing two hundred pounds in the process), getting mentally stronger, and strengthening my spiritual walk.
Whether he encouraged you to keep trying to cook a better brisket or inspired you to hold tight to your health and nutrition goals, he was a great man with great passion who has helped a multitude of people greatly. He would literally give the shirt off of his back for you. I’m a helluva better barbecue cook because of John, and my life is a helluva lot better for knowing him.