GrillNation’s James Brown fondly remembers the frequent occasions his family would spend around the grill when he was growing up. The Cincinnati native recalls his dad grilling up hot dogs, chicken and burgers, meals that didn’t require a lot of preparation but were always favorites among him and his two older brothers.
“I always connect to those memories,” the 34-year-old says. “We were all around the grill spending time together, bonding as a family.”
He noticed the camaraderie around the grill continued when he enlisted in the Navy at age 24. For the four years he was in the service, James saw how barbecues with his fellow sailors brought them together between deployments. It was an occasion that everyone showed up for, always and without fail.
James didn’t know at the time, but the memories he made around the grill with friends and family were a launching point for his career. Today, the founder of GrillNation has more than 1.5 million people following his barbecue tutorials and how-to grilling recipes on Instagram and TikTok, and his presence is only growing.
“I work with brands I love and believe in,” James says. “I try to make my content relatable and approachable to the average consumer, and what’s more relatable and community-oriented than barbecue. It’s really just about trying to educate people and have some fun.”
Before starting GrillNation on Instagram, James started with a Facebook community group called Grill Out Nation where people could chat about their barbecue experiences. Communicating with others in the group inspired James and got him more into grilling, but he wanted a more visual experience. His friend suggested Instagram, so James created an account and started sharing his adventures on the grill.
“I just blew up out of nowhere,” he says. It was a bit intimidating at first, but James started teaching himself the best ways to season, prep and smoke them through various online tutorials.
“I got my hands messy, and I learned. Over time, I groomed myself into being a better backyard barbecuer,” he says. “I gained the confidence and my video shooting improved.”
Today, he gets to work from the comfort of his backyard, while looking after his three daughters, Moriah, Savannah and Charlotte and his soon-to-be son Noah, who James hopes will one day be a mini GrillNation.
Although doing this full time is a dream come true for James, it’s not all easy going. “It’s a competitive atmosphere that’s always evolving,” he says. “And because of that, you can never settle. You have to constantly be learning and growing.”
James first came across Bear Mountain last year at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo. He chatted with Bear Mountain’s product manager Ben Madden for nearly an hour and quickly realized the Bear Mountain and GrillNation brands aligned well. Shortly after the expo, a partnership formed.
“I love Bear Mountain pellets because each flavor is totally unique, but all of them have a real clean, smooth burn.”