Chris Apple can still remember the first time he tried BBQ. He was in his mid-twenties. His friend had inherited an offset smoker at his new house and decided to cook a brisket.
“I was not impressed,” the Philadelphia native says. “It looked like a rock or a door stop, but then I tried a bite. It was the greatest thing I’d ever tasted.” Apple bought his own smoker the next day for a deal on Craigslist, and his love affair with BBQ began.
Today, Apple is the owner of White Bulls BBQ, a lifestyle brand that sells signature BBQ rubs and shares recipes and tips via social media. With hundreds of thousands of followers, Apple is making a big splash in BBQ, but his business went through several iterations to get to where it is today.
Before Apple was even old enough to work, he was an audio engineer. He thought that would be his career, but his first daughter was born when he was 19, and he knew he needed a steadier career. He worked at two manufacturing companies throughout his early and mid-twenties, having his second daughter when he was 26.
One day, he was given a $500 bonus at work. He bought a pair of Jordan 11 Retro Space Jam shoes and sold them online for more than the retail price. Then he did it again … and again. In less than eight weeks, he’d made $40,000 on shoes and was able to quit his job. He knew, at that point, he had to come up with a plan for success.
“Coming from the hood in Philly, I knew I was going to waste this money if I didn’t figure out a way to turn it into something viable,” Apple says. So, in 2019, he started BBQing more, came up with a company name and logo, and launched an Instagram page.
Apple turned White Bulls BBQ into a restaurant, eventually partnering with a bar named Bull Tavern. He was known for his tri-tip cheesesteak – an ode to the Philly-born sandwich and the California cut of steak, smoked in a Texas BBQ style. Business was going well for six months. Then the pandemic hit, and Apple had to shut down his whole operation.
“It was the biggest shock of my life,” he says. “I had no backup plan whatsoever.”
Stuck at home, Apple had a lot of time to think about what he would do next. He’d created many of his own rubs for his BBQ dishes, so he decided to sell them. He sent samples to friends and acquaintances in the BBQ community on Instagram to get some hype going. Then he setup a PayPal account and started selling.
“I knew the potential right then. I just had to keep my foot on the gas,” he says.
Apple started going to California to cook at swap meets and private parties. He experienced firsthand the vibrance of the California BBQ scene, very unlike Philadelphia.
“Philly isn’t a BBQ place,” Apple says. “I felt like I hit my peak there and was ready for a change.”
In October 2021, he moved to Auburn, California. He’s now got five White Bulls BBQ rubs with a sixth coming soon, and he works with 27 retailers, and counting. He also has a team of ambassadors repping his products.
Although he misses his daughters, which he flies back to Philadelphia to see often, he says they’re the main reason for his work.
“I want to leave my kids something special, to give them a better head start than I had,” he says. “Knowing they’re proud gives me the motivation to keep going.”
Apple first came across Bear Mountain in 2020 when he was shopping at a store in Philadelphia. He’d heard about the pellets before and decided to give them a try – buying a couple bags of Cherry. He loved them right away.
“I’ve had issues with other pellets but not with Bear Mountain. These pellets have never let me down. I gave them a try and never looked back,” he says.
At 31, Apple knows he’s just getting started and that he has a lot to offer the BBQ world with his rubs, content, and more. A goal close to his heart is to start after school BBQ programs in the inner cities to help those with a similar upbringing to him find a passion.
“If I didn’t find BBQ, I don’t know what I would have done. BBQ was one of the only things that gave me clarity, it changed my perspective and gave me a way to be a better person,” he says. “I think this could help other inner-city kids find their way.”
Apple hopes programs like these can help change some of the optics around BBQ, showing it’s for everyone, no matter where they come from. That’s one of the reasons Apple still reps his Jordan 11 Retro Space Jam shoes.
“It’s okay to be who you are and still have a place in BBQ,” he says. “I want the world to know that a Philly boy from the hood can be one of the most influential people in BBQ.”