Sipping Margaritas with Catherine Stiles of Barbecue Wife

Written by Tarica Navarro

Catherin Stiles BBQ Wife

There are few things we love more here at Kettle & Brine than celebrating other entrepreneurs—especially female ones. As a female entrepreneur and a working mom myself, I was intrigued and inspired when I learned the story of Catherine Stiles of Barbecue Wife.

In 2014, Stiles launched Barbecue Wife Bloody Mary Mix, a handmade, junk-free mix infused with the barbecue sauce and spices her husband uses at his barbecue restaurant, Stiles Switch. In just a few years, the working mom of two young daughters, 4 and 5, has gotten the mix into 200 stores, including Whole Foods Markets, and turned Barbecue Wife into a full-fledged lifestyle brand featuring T-shirts, hats and koozies. (And a portion of the proceeds from every bottle sold is donated to charity.)

Now, she's launching a brand-new product: Barbecue Wife Texas Smoked Honey Margarita Mix, which features local honey that has been smoked for 72 hours. We recently got together to talk about the importance of real food, the struggles of running a business, and how we attempt to keep some balance in our busy lives. And I also got to try her delicious new margarita mix—don't miss her special recipe for a spicy margarita at the end of the interview. 

Catherine Stiles and Tarica Navarro

Tell me the background of Barbecue Wife.
Barbecue Wife was born authentically out of the business we are involved in, which is barbecue. My husband owns Stiles Switch Barbecue on North Lamar. It's Central Texas–style, craft barbecue, which means there is no automation in the barbecue they cook. There is an actual pit master and a fire 24 hours a day, and I was really inspired by what they do. The bloody mary mix was the first mix I made because I’m a huge bloody mary fan. I had a recipe that I made for friends and family forever, and I decided it would be really neat if I could tap into this barbecue community. I didn’t want to just bottle their barbecue sauce—what is unique about that? But I thought what if we played around with their spices and things we do with Central Texas barbecue and marry that into my bloody mary recipe? 

How involved were you in that business?
Very. We opened Stiles Switch Barbecue five years ago, when I was 9 months pregnant with my first daughter. I'd been in PR and media for 10 years before that, so it was a natural for me to take over the PR and social media at Stiles Switch.

I know a lot of families like ours that started a business while pregnant or shortly after having a child. It’s a catalyst for making this kind of change. Even though it is hard, it’s living life on your terms.
It was definitely a flexible thing for me. I was part of a healthy food startup, My Fit Foods. I handled the PR and media for the company. We had at one time 100 different locations in three different time zones and five states, and I was managing all the PR and social media efforts for that. I got to a point that it was too much for me. After my second daughter was born, I resigned from that position and fully focused on building Stiles Switch. 

How was the transition from full-time job to entrepreneur?
When we started My Fit Foods, it was very scrappy, so I had a lot of that start-up nature in me. It was very grassroots, so I had that knowledge that I could bring to Stiles Switch on a much smaller scale. Then I had the idea for Barbecue Wife when I was up at 4:30 in the morning with one of my daughters. There are so many amazing women who I meet in barbecue, and most of them are in the background. They aren’t always the pit masters, but they can usually be found running the marketing or the operations. We usually don't see the women of the business as the personalities behind the business.

Because barbecue is very "grrr."
It’s predominately male, but I noticed you see so many women. They might be with their husbands or boyfriends, but once they get involved, they think it is neat how we cook the food. And there is a big family component. I really wanted to highlight that camaraderie, so that’s how I brainstormed Barbecue Wife. I wanted to celebrate these women's stories, so that is a big part of what we do. We post interviews with the women online, and then there are the products. Everything we do on the product line is inspired by Central Texas barbecue.

Barbecue Wife Drink Mixes

How many flavors of mixers do you have?
The Bloody Mary mix, which we launched two years old, was the only mixer we had up until right now. We are just now launching the margarita mix. And the reason why is that it takes us a while to get the recipes dialed in. Everything is made junk free, from scratch—I don’t use any additives or preservatives or the junky stuff that you usually find in bottled mixers.

That was the reason we wanted to feature you! I want the convenience, but not at the expense of quality.
That was what I always looked for in a bottled mixer. I’m a read-the-label kind of girl. And I try to educate people on that. They say, “Whoa! Why is your mix $15 a bottle and this other one is $4?” And I say, "Just turn the label around and read it, and that will tell you why." The bloody mary mix is actually four separate recipes that we combine into one. We make our own Worchester sauce, we make everything gluten free. Things that go into the mixer take a lot of time and effort to do it right. 

With two entrepreneurs in your household, is balance even in your vocabulary?
Yes and no. I think we just know crazy for the most part, and that’s normal for us. If there are not 100 things going on at the same time, we are like something is wrong. We are not good at sitting still. But I cut off at 5 o’clock. We definitely have to have a balance between the two roles that we play. I always say, being a mom is my first job. It’s very rare that I do an event after 5 p.m. And I can’t do something work-related every weekend. I do one or two events a month. Just because my kids are so little, and you never get the time back. My growth may be slower, but I won’t go out of the state of Texas to do bigger events because I know my boundaries right now.

Do you have a typical day?
There is no such thing. A typical day is I’m up at 6 a.m. getting the kids ready and dropped off at school. I usually start my job at 9 o’clock when my second gets dropped off. I have a short period of time to work every day, so by 9 I'm checking email and seeing what I have to do that day. And then I’m off doing things for the Barbecue Wife accounts that I still handle directly, or I’m up at the restaurant taking care of stuff there. It’s a balance. Every day is totally different. I always tell people, and I’m sure you can relate, that especially being a mom, you have to have a sense of humor. Every day, something will be thrown off. You just have to laugh. You have to have a sense of humor to just keep moving.  

What is the future goal for Barbecue Wife?
You know, I try not to look to the future too much because I get these big ideas that I have to rein in. For me, it’s extending that product line. So this margarita mix is really fun that we are about to roll out. It’s three ingredients: real lime juice, local honey—we smoke it for 72 hours so it turns into a really mellow sweetener almost like an agave—and filtered water. We also sell rib rub rimming salt at Stiles Switch and online only, and we may bottle our smoked honey for the holidays. 

What keeps you sane throughout the day? Do you have any rituals that get you centered again when you are flying at 500 miles per hour?
I think it’s checking out. At 5 p.m., I get off my phone completely and don’t even check social media. I really try to check in with family and friends when I can, I try to work out when I can and live a healthy lifestyle. I try to make time for things that matter.

Barbecue Wife Texas Smoked Honey Margarita Mix


Barbecue Wife Texas Smoked Honey Margarita with a Kick

Ingredients

4 ounces Barbecue Wife Texas Smoked Honey Margarita Mix
1 to 1 1/2 ounces Serrano Pepper–Infused Premium Tequila 

Serrano Pepper Tequila

You'll Need:

clear 48-ounce glass container with an airtight lid
750-ML (a standard size bottle) premium tequila
3 to 6 fresh Serrano peppers (jalapeños also work)
cutting board
rubber gloves
small strainer

Directions

  1. Prepare the peppers: Put on rubber gloves and use a sharp knife to cut each pepper in half. Then remove the pepper seeds, which contain most of the pepper's heat, along with the ribs, and discard them. 
  2. Add the chopped peppers to your container: Pour the tequila from its original bottle into the infusion container. Save the original tequila bottle.
  3. Seal your infusion container, and set it on your kitchen counter, allowing it to steep. It will take between 2 and 5 days to infuse tequila with peppers.
  4. Check the mixture after 48 hours, and then check it daily until you’re satisfied with the strength of the pepper flavor.
  5. If it becomes too spicy, just add more tequila to the mixture to bring the heat down.
  6. Store your pepper-infused tequila: Use a small strainer or colander to strain the tequila, separating out the peppers. You can discard them or store them in a container in the refrigerator for garnish.
  7. Place your pepper-infused tequila in the refrigerator: Chilling the liquid will preserve the flavors for a longer period of time.

Pro tip: If you have a smoker handy, or can highjack your favorite local pit master for help, throw the Serrano peppers on the smoker for 30 mins to 1 hour for an added smokey pop.

Margarita

  1. Combine margarita mix and pepper-infused tequila in a shaker with ice.
  2. Shake together and pour into a margarita glass over ice.
  3. Garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy!
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photos by Megan Leihgeber. 
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