This ‘Wrestlemania’ Legend Is Also Known for His Sauces, Rubs, and Jerky
As the only WWE Hall of Famer to have a New York Times best-selling cookbook, Jim Ross is one of the more interesting people in wrestling. The Oklahoma native not only found success as a broadcaster, but also a talent relations executive. Ross has signed and/or developed for WWE were The Rock, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Batista, and Chris Jericho.
Beyond the wrestling business, the man known as “Good Ol’ J.R.” has also made an impact within the food world. The J.R.'s Family Bar-B-Q company is responsible for a variety of acclaimed barbecue sauces, seasonings, and jerky, all prepared, packed and shipped from the Sooner State. The J.R.’s Family Bar-B-Q brand traces its roots to Ross family recipes.
While visiting Oklahoma, I had the pleasure of dining with Ross – who can be heard on Friday nights on AXS TV, calling the action of New Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Josh Barnett – at Charleston’s, one of his favorite restaurants in his hometown of Norman.
The Daily Meal: How did you get your start with your sauces and jerky?
Jim Ross: Well, the idea to do the sauce has been in my head since I was a young man. My mother was my inspiration. She used to make barbecue sauce. Because our house was small, four rooms, no air conditioning, we cooked a lot outside. I’d be out tending to the smoker as a young man, smelling the aroma of my mother’s barbecue sauce.
We found most of the ingredients written in our family Bible, and we worked with a manufacturer in Oklahoma City to make J.R.’s Original Bar-B-Que Sauce, which is our top seller. I added some heat to make it a little hotter, for those who like heat. Then we wanted to do a different kind of ketchup, so we made Chipotle Ketchup, which is sweet and smoky. Then we made our Main Event Mustard, a high-grade honey mustard with jalapeno mash. It’s got one gram of sugar, loads of flavor.
My buddy Stan [Brooks] in Yukon, Oklahoma, was visiting me – no kidding, he’s in the Smoked Meat Hall Of Fame. Stan won all these major barbecue cook-offs in the ’60s and ’70s. He was doing it before it was cool. He gave me some jerky that he does for his store. He let me private label his dry rub, which is a national award winner and had been dormant. I found a diamond in the rough. He makes it out of the eye-round; it’s real high-quality stuff made with natural hickory smoke. He makes it by the order, so it’s not warehoused for a year.
Everything we make is tasty and good and gluten-free, all kinds of nice things. But until you get on enough grocery store shelves, you just might be outmanned. We’re trying to get over that outmanned phase and get into grocery stores. That’s our goal for 2018. Then it becomes a fair fight. If you like it, you’ll buy it again. If you don’t like it, you won’t. You may give it one opportunity because Good Ol’ JR, you’ve known him since you were a kid. But if you don’t like it, you won’t buy it again no matter how much you like my wrestling announcing.
I’m a foodie, I grew up in that environment. I don’t have a degree in Culinary Arts. But I’ve eaten around the world, just take a look at me and you’ll know I like to eat. [laughs] Why would anyone trust a skinny food person?
Beyond your barbecue products, do you cook regularly?
Yeah, I’ve been married three times, so there’s been interruptions in service a few times in my life [laughs], where you have to fend for yourself. I found out that one of the great lines in my between-marriage dating career was, “Let’s go to my place, I’ll cook you breakfast in the morning.” That sounds really cool, like you’re James Bond or somebody, I guess. Or not. However, if you can’t cook breakfast, you’re S.O.L. And I can cook breakfast.
I’ve always liked cooking; it’s therapeutic to me. I’ve had two cookbooks, one a New York Times best seller. One of them is all my mother’s recipes, called JR’s Cookbook, properly named. I’ve always said if I had career choices all over, I would be doing something with football or food.
Have you found there to be other people in the football world that are aspiring chefs?
I know that most people I know who have played the game – or are playing – are great eaters. They’re a lot more discretionary than one would think. When you get a lot of money, those guys, they order filets, they don’t order the top sirloin. They’re eating high on the hog, so to speak, they have challenging taste. They spoil themselves with the finer things in life.
But I think the thing they have in common is that they have robust appetites. I enjoy that synergy, that atmosphere of people who actually enjoy a meal without having to look at their phone between bites. The food is that good, the company is that good, the time is right, they have a meal, not between text messages remembering to chew.
Back to your sauces, are any of them your favorite or your go-to?
JR’s Original is my favorite because it was my mother’s fundamental creation. We refined it and did the things that were needed to make it legal and healthy and all that fun stuff. That’s our inspiration. That’s my sentimental favorite, that’s our No. 1 seller.
But we think we can compete in the ketchup market. We certainly can compete in the mustard market. I believe that our mustard is better than what you may used to. It’s healthy and it’s got flavor. It’s great on sandwiches. I squirt mustard on my salmon on the grill at the end. I let it cook in, it’s amazing. The honey works great with the fish, as does the mustard, then the jalapeno mash gives it a little bit of personality you’ll want to know better.
What would it take for you to enter the restaurant business again, as opposed to just making sauces and jerky?
Well, I’ve been that road and enjoyed it. I probably would be more interested in sharing my recipes and my philosophies and my vision for a restaurant. The only thing I have, that is irreplaceable, I have some of the most iconic memorabilia in pop culture, including wrestling. The restaurant, if it were to come about, would be like a museum, one of a kind. The ability to use social media as a promotional tool is also fascinating. I think my best route would be to find someone who’s really good at it, who wants to do it, and I would license my name as a front-person and I would have a hand in what we serve and how it’s cooked.
It’s a delicate business. Some of the greatest businesspeople in America are those that have been in a restaurant for decades, the long haul. There’s a little place here in Norman called Sooner Dairy Lunch. They’ve been selling hamburgers in the same spot – you pull up like a Sonic– since 1954. So they must make pretty damn good money. You can’t have that many years of business and be a failure, right?
But my point, some of the greatest businesspeople, promoters, marketers, they made their restaurants everlasting in their community. I like that feeling. I’m sitting in the same place I sit in about three nights a week and have my dinner or lunch. I sit in the same spot, they know what I like to drink, to give my hot sauce, Tabasco, whatever. So I enjoy that hospitality feeling of “You’re invited. You’re part of the family.” That’s what I think everyone within the restaurant business should try to do. Not only is the food good, but the people make me feel better. You can do that if you just plan for that for kind of success.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Celebrities have often tried their hands in the food world – with varying degrees of success.