Matt Williams has always enjoyed grilling and BBQ, but he found a particular appreciation for the cooking method when he unexpectedly lost his sister in the fall of 2019. In his grief, BBQ became a form of therapy, a refuge where he could relieve stress, go deep in thought, and focus on something he enjoys.
“I really needed it, just to be able to have an outlet,” Williams says. “Having a place to relax, think, and be outside helped me heal. Next to my faith, sports, and family, grilling has been such an important asset to my life.”
In August of 2019, his family and friends decided to launch an Instagram account for his grilling creations, aptly named Grill_Chill_Repeat. The 40-year-old’s following has grown steadily since then.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Williams watched his dad and uncle cook up meals on charcoal grills, which they preferred over propane grills because they were more reasonably priced. In his twenties, he would find old propane grills left on the curb, gut them, and turn them into charcoal grills.
“I’ve always been a frugal person, and I enjoy working on cost-saving experiments,” he says.
After a few years grilling on refurbished charcoal grills, he lost interest and moved to the kitchen to make most of his culinary creations. That is, until he moved to Simi Valley, where his wife grew up. With the beautiful Southern California weather, Williams’ in-laws enjoyed outdoor cooking and were fully supportive of him diving back into grilling. For his birthday three years ago, they got him his first smoker.
“My in-laws would go shopping for tri-tips, racks of ribs, all kinds of meats, and then I would grill them,” he says. From his in-laws to his wife and four kids, Williams has always had an enthusiastic tasting team ready to try his creations. “I started doing my research and improving my methods. I learned the ins and outs and how to make everything taste better.”
Williams started working as an ambassador with J. Christopher Co. Spices and BBQ Headquarters, a local BBQ store in his town, when he first launched his Instagram page. Today, he also works with Hey Grill Hey, Oakland Dust, Neil Sarap BBQ, and (of course) Bear Mountain BBQ. He feels like he’s learned so much from the BBQ community and developed great relationships with people in person and virtually
“I’ve found a real community through BBQ and have gained an amazing group of core friends,” he says.
At the start of the pandemic last March, one of Williams’ friends Smokey Cue launched a group called Pitmasters Chat. Each Thursday, enthusiasts of all experience levels get together to learn from each other and discuss technique. Williams started collaborating with Smokey Cue and Bluesmokeblaire a few months later to grow the group and bring in guest speakers to talk about different topics related to BBQ. They also created “The PitMasters Cookbook,” complete with recipes from several of the group’s participants. The group is open to everyone, and the link to join can be found on Williams' Instagram stories every Thursday.
Williams first came across Bear Mountain on Instagram when a fellow pitmaster was posting about it. He decided to give the pellets a try and loved them immediately.
“Some pellets I’ve used before create big puffs of smoke during the initial start, but with Bear Mountain it’s a much smoother smoke,” he says. “The burn quality is great, they’re less smoky than other brands, they smell a lot better, and I can really tell the flavor is coming through on the meat.”
With a full-time job at JetBlue, Williams gets to work on his BBQ two to three days per week. He says he would consider a more full-time grilling job in the future if one presents itself. But, for now, he’s happy to have BBQ in his life, for the good tastes, the community, and the relaxation.
To keep an eye on Williams’ tasty creations, make sure to follow his Instagram. To try one yourself, check out his popular beef jerky recipe.