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Omaha Magazine

Where There's Smoke, There's Success: Blane Hunter of Porky Butts BBQ

Sep 29, 2022 04:24PM ● By Dave Zorko
blane hunter sprays sauce on pork sandwich

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

A low fire crackles to life through the application of ignition, oxygen, and plant-based fuel. That act, of almost complete combustion, produces smoke. Coaxed through the pitmaster’s chosen flue, the heat and smoke surround their target: protein. The preparation of that protein, as well as managing those hours of thermodynamic processes, are all elements that Blane Hunter of Porky Butts BBQ has mastered. While subdued temperatures and slow cooking are his fiery companion, Hunter is high speed. 

Hunter’s spark for barbecue might be traced to his time growing up in Texas where, like most children, he would camp outside in his sleeping bag next to his dad’s smoker, tending the fire through the wee hours of the night. While he uses hickory in the restaurant for its stronger presence, his time in Texas created a love of smoking with pecan. It’s this more subtle flavor that he utilizes for his multi-award-winning competition barbecue. 

The competition preceded the restaurant by six years, and the awards by three. Hunter started his competitive journey in 2013 at the prodding of friend and Porky Butts BBQ team originator, Rodney Nietfeldt. In that first outing, Hunter came in toward the bottom of the stack, and Nietfeldt wondered if Hunter’s defeat was too much of a discouragement to continue. According to Hunter, he asked, “‘You wanna do one ever again?’” Hunter simply quipped, “We’re doing one next weekend.” 

“I’m very competitive,” Hunter said, and whether that was during his time playing football in the ’90s in Highland, Texas, battling for achievements with his brother, or competing in eight barbecue challenges that first year, he keeps racking up more accolades. Barbecue competitor, and brain behind Urban Slicer Pizza Worx, Matt Frampton said of his friend, “Blane’s rise up the ranks of barbecue, as quickly as he did, has been one of the most impressive feats in competitive cooking I have ever seen.”

That first year launched an effort that landed Hunter in Pension, Iowa, in 2015 where he won his first Grand Champion at the Tri City BBQ Fest. From there, Hunter longed for more and set his eyes toward the top 25 in the country. That competitive spirit, along with advice from his wife to “cut back on the partying,” yielded results of $20,000 and guitar trophies from the 2016 National BBQ Cup and the title of 2016 Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) National Grand Champion Team of the Year. 

You don’t need a web search to know those awards are real because they’re on display at the home of Hunter’s smoker-to-table restaurant. The trophies, and even a cape, are testament to the investment and skill Hunter has applied to the pursuit of smoked meat success. But Hunter’s love of food and creative drive are not all about competitive barbecue. 

Years before, he was a hardened oyster shucker in high school, as well as a line cook at Stingaree Restaurant in Texas. From there he became a trained chef, having graduated from Wisconsin’s Fox Valley Tech. But Hunter felt that he benefitted more from his time at the Greenbay Country Club as revered restaurateur Curt Fowler’s sous chef in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. While Fowler may have passed on, the knowledge of menu writing, catering, and scheduling he shared with Hunter stuck. “‘Never give up the scheduling,’” Hunter recalled Fowler saying, “‘[because] then [they] can schedule me [to be] off.’”  

During his time at Werner Enterprises running the Corporate Hunting Lodge, Hunter learned how to lead with patience and manage human resources. He further expanded his repertoire by becoming the senior Werner’s private chef.

Opening Porky Butts, the restaurant, was an opportunity Hunter’s brother pushed him to jump on, and in 2019, it became a reality. Some things have changed since the early days, like the transition from one smoker located out in the back of the restaurant to the recently updated kitchen,which boasts two huge smokers with foot-operated doors, allowing the pitmaster to tend to the meaty parcels with ease. The improvements have allowed Hunter to keep up with his patron’s hunger as well.“The support we’ve had from the Omaha community has been just unreal,” Hunter relayed. 

Though he changed equipment and even suppliers early on, many of Hunter’s Porky Butts staff have been there since day one. He strives to involve his managers to foster company ownership and has forward-thinking ideas, like a survey for the staff to rate their shifts. Happy food and happy staff equal happy customers, he believes. “He has all the tools, drive, and personality…he is generous with his time and has always been helpful for other small business owners…including me,” Frampton said.

Hunter’s approach to his people and competitive nature, in addition to his pitmaster skills and chef know-how, keep him in the winner’s circle with those fortunate enough to take a bite. 

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This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    


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