116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Everyone loves the person behind the barbecue grill. That lesson has stuck with Dan Hamilton since his childhood on the southside of Chicago.
Every two or three days, his mom would fire up the barbecue grill in some capacity, Hamilton said. When Hamilton was 11 or 12, an aunt married and his new uncle took over.
'I learned pretty quickly the person behind the barbecue is held in high regard,” Hamilton said.
He's found that to be true as BBQ Master DHam - the name he's known by in Cedar Rapids. He's a caterer, sometimes restaurant cook and occasional pop-up purveyor of jerk-seasoned meats.
Jerk seasoning is Jamaican. Is Hamilton?
'No, ma'am. Where I grew up in Chicago, you could throw a stone and find a jerk restaurant. They would jerk water if they could,” Hamilton said.
Jerk spice traditionally includes hot peppers, allspice and thyme. Hamilton blends his own, starting with undisclosed 'store-bought stuff” and 'all of those seasonings” plus ginger. Meats are dry-rubbed with the mixture rather than sauced.
Hamilton is best known for his rib and chicken dishes, made spicy with his signature seasoning, then infused with pimento wood's smokey flavor. Authentic jerk is cooked right on top of the wood. It's expensive and difficult to source but is essential, he said.
When he's cooking, you can count on ribs and rib tips. For sides, there will be baked beans and macaroni. He serves bacon mac and cheese and a crumbled mac and cheese with a crispy breadcrumb topping for variety.
And then there are jerk nachos and jerk salad. Jerk nacho orders start with the customer's choice of tortilla chips or flavored Doritos. Chips get topped with nacho cheese, jerk sauce, cilantro, sour cream and jerk chicken. Jerk salad starts with the same chicken plus lettuce, spinach, hard-boiled egg, cheese, ranch dressing and jerk sauce.
'That's one thing I could eat every day,” Hamilton said of his signature salad.
He has his own techniques, some learned from other cooks, then made his own.
'I've messed up more food than the average person would barbecue in their lifetime,” Hamilton said.
He said he has been working on a new dish: jerk chicken Alfredo. 'My wife loves it. I want to add it to the menu, but I want to perfect the jerk Alfredo sauce. I do make the Alfredo sauce from scratch,” Hamilton said.
It wasn't his cooking that won over his wife - he said he wasn't cooking anything back then. Now he and June cook together in their certified home kitchen.
'We divide and conquer,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton started barbecuing weekly about 10 years ago after following his twin sister from Chicago to Cedar Rapids.
'I found it was a way to get my friends over and have a nice time,” Hamilton said.
Word spread that he was a good cook. Soon co-workers at a former job, Infinity, asked him to bring food to work. Friday afternoons, they'd often find Hamilton set up in the parking lot, the smoker going since 6 a.m. to have ribs ready for lunch. He'd take preorders and serve meals with a side of baked beans - pork-based or vegan - and macaroni.
Between word-of-mouth and social media, his circle of fans grew. When Hamilton was ready to start catering and serving food on weekends at various sites, he had ready customers.
When he sees people out and about or at Walmart, they ask him when he's going to cook again. For a few months, he worked out of the kitchen at the now-defunct Southside Steakhouse. Facebook became, and still is, the best place to find and follow @bbqmasterdham to learn when, where and what he'd be serving.
'We sell out pretty much every time we cook. We've seen an increase in the business every year since 2017,” Hamilton said. 'Every year, I'd say it's doubled.”
His preference is catering because he likes seeing many people eating his food at the same time. That also helps to build his brand. Plus, that helps him plan his time. He's still working a full-time sales job at TLC Associates and raising three kids with his wife, June. He also does the occasional YouTube cooking demo or podcast.
Hamilton gets in the zone when he's cooking. He turns on his favorite music and gets to work.
'The only thing I think about is how to make it good so that when people eat it that they're happy, they're satisfied,” he said. 'If I could do this for the rest of my life and not work for anyone else, I would love to do so.”
The goal for 2021 is to buy a food truck.
'By the summertime, we should be up and about,” he said.
BBQ Master DHam
' Details: Search for BBQ Master DHam on Facebook (@bbqmasterdham) and follow his page to learn when and where he's serving jerk meats and sides. Call (319) 310-2018 or email email@example.com to discuss catering.