By Samantha Smith
As a member of the S&S Pit Crew barbecue team, San Marcos resident Robert Sierra knows his way around the grill.
But Sierra, 47, didn’t grow up barbecuing. He began truck driving right out of high school, and after 11 years of it, decided he needed a change of pace.
Through the medium of barbecue, Sierra has become a celebrity as the barbecue sauce he uses is now bottled by the Heinz sauce company and sold as the “Texas Bold and Spicy” sauce.
Sierra’s foray into the barbecue world began in 2003 when he and a friend, Aaron Green, discovered their shared passion for it. They soon started cooking together and entering competitions as the S&S Pit Crew.
Sierra recalled the first barbecue competition the team entered, which was in Kyle in October 2003.
His pit crew placed second in chicken, fourth in brisket, and fifth in ribs in their first go-round.
It was a feat Sierra said meant, “The barbecue gods smiled on them.”
Soon after, Sierra and S&S began to take their competitive barbecue show on the road. Over the next 13 years, Sierra’s team competed and won multiple awards in the barbecued meats categories in multiple states, as well as winning two state titles in Texas.
Through it all, the team used their own special barbecue sauce, which they created specifically for competitions.
The team’s success equated to a large following via social media through sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Heinz bottling company took notice and approached Sierra in 2015 about partnering with them for a new line of sauces.
Their new line features five “pit masters” that helped create regionally specific sauces for retail. Other pit masters include competitive barbecue masters from Kansas City, Memphis and the Carolinas.
Sierra was flown to Pittsburgh to the Heinz facility to talk about his recipe. While he and his pit crew are protective over their barbecue sauce recipe, Sierra said they trusted it to Heinz because of the company’s reputable history.
The sauce they created with Sierra’s recipe was branded as “Texas Bold and Spicy.”
The sauce is now available on a large scale, with high profile retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target selling the product he helped create.
National attention followed, as Sierra was part of a television ad campaign. He also got a spot on the late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on April 15, where he taught Kimmel about the different barbecue regions around the country.
A love of barbecue also runs in Sierra’s family.
Sierra’s 6-year-old daughter, Savannah Sky, loves to help her dad season the meat that goes on the smoker. Sierra said she wants to start helping more in other areas of barbecue, which may even lead to the kids competition in barbecue someday.
Sierra eventually wants to open his own barbecue restaurant, which he said could happen within the next year.
But for now, he is still hitting the competitive circuit while enjoying the spotlight from his signature sauce.