You can almost smell the smoke coming off grills across America as Father’s Day draws nearer. Dads all over the country will be grabbing their tongs and “Kiss the Cook” aprons in preparation for some barbecue on their special day.
But Brian Hollo has taken that gratitude for the grill to a whole other level recently, launching Red’s Rubs, his own line of barbecue rubs out of his home in Litchfield.
“Basically, I just like good food and I found out I can make it myself,” Hollo explained. “Something Mike Mills once told me was, ‘You know you have something good when other people want it.’”
And so far, people have seemed to want it. Since announcing the Red’s Rubs line on Facebook on May 26, Hollo sold more than 80 containers in the first ten days.
“It has been pretty successful. I think every day I’ve had at least one order and some days, I’ve had quite a few,” Hollo said. “I’ve not had anyone tell me they didn’t like it yet.”
In a way, Hollo has been training his whole life for this. After retiring from the Illinois State Police, he worked for a driver training company and traveled all over the country, stopping in at all kinds of restaurants along the way.
“I’d go to different parts of the country and eat something and think, ‘Man, that’s really good.’ If I could get a little bit of information out of them, I would.” Hollo said. “Just traveling, eating at good restaurants, bad restaurants and food trucks, I got a good idea of what I thought was good. I’d just bring it back and try to make it and just keep building.”
While his travels were his education of the culinary dos and don’ts, his master class came in Murphysboro, where Hollo served as chief of police from 2013 to 2016. That’s when he met Mills, the owner of world renowned 17th Street Barbecue and a three-time Grand World Champion at Memphis in May, the Super Bowl of barbecue competitions.
“He took me to the side a little bit and just talked to me,” Hollo said of Mills, affectionately known as “The Legend.” “I would go over to his place and judge rubs and sauces and things like that. He once told someone to make ‘whatever’s perfect for you,’ and that made perfect sense to me. So I decided that I was going to make rubs that I liked.”
Hollo started toying around with different spice blends on different meats, changing things up each time in terms of ingredients and amounts. Eventually, he developed what would become the original Red’s Rub, which is still Hollo’s go-to spice.
“If I’m not sure what I’m going to use, I’m going to use it,” Hollo said of the original blend.
From there, he added a mild version after a friend said the original was too hot. Bold came next, for those wanting a little extra kick, followed by a multi-purpose version that Hollo said works with everything from popcorn to pizza to potato chips.
“My daughter likes it on potato chips. They were traveling and she thought the chips tasted stale,” Hollo said. “She sprinkled a little on and ate the whole bag.”
The poultry and beef rubs were the ones that required the most work. Hollo wanted to make sure that the beef rub would give the brisket a good bark, while also producing a good flavor. For the poultry, he took out some of the spicier elements of the original and replaced them with herbs like sage, rosemary and oregano.
Before long, Hollo had a six rub combo that he was confident would work on virtually any type of meat.
“It kind of became a passion for me for a little while, just trying to figure stuff out,” Hollo said. “The best part is the trial and error. I make it, family and friends eat it and I get real, honest reviews from them, which really helps.”
When people started asking for the rub for their own kitchens, Hollo decided it was time to make his passion a business.
“I didn’t know anything about it, but with some help, I learned about buying the bottles and buying the spices in bulk to get the prices down. I found out really quickly how expensive prices are,” Hollo said.
One of the people to give him a hand is his neighbor Corinna Atkinson, who put together the Red’s Rub website.
“I wanted it to be him, so I just put the verbiage in after he wrote it,” Atkinson said of redsrubs.com, which also has an online store. “Brian’s a great self-taught chef. He loves food and he loves experimenting. It’s his attention to detail that has really made this special. Brian is so particular about the exact amount of everything.”
That attention to detail means that every container of Red’s Rub tastes the same as the others. Hollo mixes the blends in small batches, with each batch yielding 15 containers of that particular spice blend.
“One of the spices is a cup and a tablespoon in each of the batches. A heaping cup might be the same, but naw, it’s not the same,” Hollo said with a grin. “Every time they pick up a bottle, I want it to be exactly the same. You’re putting some money out and I want you to be satisfied with it.”
The rubs are $12.49 for a 12 ounce container on redsrubs.com, but Hollo tries to make sure that each bottle is worth the price.
“I tamp every bottle down, so you’re probably getting closer to 15 ounces,” Hollo said. “I want people to get their money’s worth.”
The website also features recipes and tips that he has learned from the masters over the years.
“Fry or air fry your wings until crisp, then toss in melted butter with your favorite Red’s Rubs mixed in. I use two tablespoons of Red’s Rub with every stick of butter,” reads one of Hollo’s suggestions. “ Try it and you will not go back to any other wing again.”
Originally, Hollo was hoping to take his rubs on the road to area festivals and hometown celebrations, where he planned to sell pulled pork sandwiches, with the rubs also for sale for those who wanted more. While those plans are on hold due to COVID-19 for now, Hollo is happy to have a product with his name on it that he can be proud of.
“I don’t have a goal of how much money I want to make or anything like that,” Hollo said. “It was a chance to go out and talk to people about food, and to share food.”
That mind set is what makes Red’s Rubs special according to Atkinson.
“He really cares about this and it’s really beautiful that he cares so much about it and about pleasing people.”
For more about Red’s Rubs, go to www.redsrubs.com.