The Man, the Meat, the Legend.
You’ve heard his memorable moniker before, but just who is Meathead? He’s a griller, journalist, and web pioneer behind Amazing Ribs dot com who’s been teaching the Internet how to BBQ right before Google was the end-all-be-all search engine.
At 71 years of age, Meathead Goldwyn is among the most-respected members of the barbecue and grilling community. For good reason.
Having penned books, busted myths, and studied grilling for decades as showcased on his legendary website www.AmazingRibs.com, Meathead’s digital legacy speaks for itself.
“With AmazingRibs.com I have not only found my niche, but I have found that I am having an impact on the world,” Meathead told Digital Hospitality podcast host Shawn Walchef on episode 40 of the Cali BBQ Media show.
“Every day we get a reader or a member of our Pitmaster Club who sends me a message saying, ‘You’ve changed my life, you’ve made my life better. I didn’t know how to cook until I met your website. When I come home from work, the kids say, Mom, can Dad cook tonight?’”
Meathead, birth name Craig Goldwyn, is a self-described “Barbecue Whisperer, Hedonism Evangelist, and Culinary Mythbuster.”
He and his team at www.AmazingRibs.com have created a engaged community who keep coming back to hang out in the online clubhouse. Visitors can enjoy tested recipes, product reviews, science-based cooking tips, audio and video content, and much more.
The BBQ Central Show host Greg Rempe, our friend and former Digital Hospitality podcast guest, has even hosted a “PitCast” podcast for the members of the AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Club.
Meathead released his second Deep Dive Guide e-book of 2020 in time for the July 4 holiday — a pork rib primer called “Amazing Ribs Made Easy,” coauthored by Meathead and AmazingRibs.com’s “Senior Vice President of Whatever” Clint Cantwell.
As AmazingRibs.com continues to grow in membership and readership, Meathead remains committed to the success of the website and its dedicated community.
“I want the website to live beyond me,” the proud website founder said on Digital Hospitality.
For the man who once wanted to run for President or win a Nobel Prize, Meathead found his chosen way to change the world through online community and BBQ.
So, how did Meathead become an authority of amazing barbecue and an online pioneer? It was a low and slow evolution.
Origin of Meathead
Growing up, before he became Meathead, the young Craig Goldwyn was a scholar in the classroom.
“When I was in high school and college, I got pretty good grades,” Meathead said about his younger years. “I was a journalism major in college, and I wanted to be a newspaperman. It was very highly respected profession once and I was well-trained.”
In college, Meathead would study down in Gainesville, Florida, becoming both an author and a Gator before finishing his formal education in the Midwest.
“Way back in the ‘70s when I was in college I was at the University of Florida,” recalls Meathead. “I was trained as a writer, but I also had a great deal of interest in photography. I got my Master’s in Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago which is a great art school.”
With all this education and smarts, his next move might be surprising.
“I went to work in a liquor store,” Meathead laughs looking back.
While working in a liquor store wasn’t a joke then, it became the springboard for his professional career just as much as college itself.
“One day a week, a guy would come in with a big old beer cooler full of ribs,” Meathead looks back at his days in the liquor store. “He would sell the ribs to the patrons. I thought this was the coolest thing.”
“I tasted these ribs and I’d never had anything like it. I was a 21-year-old college kid and these ribs just blew me away.”
That first taste of ribs would leave an impression on Meathead. As fate would have it, the man selling ribs out of a cooler in a liquor store was no rookie in the game.
“I found out that was Sonny from Sonnys BBQ,” Meathead says of the BBQ legend Floyd Tillman. “Sonny got started cooking ribs in his backyard, going bar to bar with beer coolers full of ribs and selling them. He was my introduction to real barbecue. I would buy a slab and bring them back to the fraternity house.”
The ribs proved a hit at Meathead’s frat house in Florida. However, for Meathead to become a BBQ guru, he’d have to learn his methods away from the lecture halls and dorm rooms that his classmates called home.
“There was a barbecue joint in Gainesville in the black section of town where the college kids rarely went,” Meathead says. “It was owned by a guy named Y.T. Parker. I went in there frequently having gotten a taste of real barbecue.”
“YT had a pit in the 1970s and a bunch of his buddies would hang around the pit, smoking cigarettes, drinking beers and flipping the meat. Eventually, he built himself a concrete block pit and he would let me hang out there.”
Sonny introducing him to ribs met with YT’s mentorship would change Meathead’s life and path.
“He taught me how to cook barbecue,” Meathead says of Y.T. Parker’s Bar-B-Q. “I got a good schooling and I went to school for barbecue.”
Building BBQ Online
Coming into college, Meathead had high expectations for his smarts and writing skills.
“I got a little full of myself and I started to think I was a pretty smart guy,” Meathead reflects on entering college. “I was going to be President, I was going to change the world, I was going to be a Nobel Prize winner or something.”
After graduating from college, his perspective changed.
“When I got out, I realized I’m just an average Joe,” Meathead says. “I bounced from job to job and I worked at liquor stores. I got into wine, but I never really distinguished myself at first.”
Though the ‘70s may mark the era Meathead attended college and got his first taste of BBQ, it would be decades later that it all truly came together.
“Around 2004 and 2005, I started getting serious about barbecue and I built AmazingRibs.com,” recalls Meathead.
In 2020, building a website about food may sound like a standard concept. In the early 2000s, it was revolutionary.
Meathead was there for the first charge, and he’s still leading the pack today.
“When I started AmazingRibs.com, the whole idea was there’s no book about ribs,” says the author turned webmaster. “I was a Mac user and I really understood the concept of double clicking on an icon of user friendly. I met Steve Case, who at the time was building America Online, and I pitched him on letting me start the Food and Drink Network segment of AOL.”
Pitching an idea to America Online in the early 2000s is about as big as launching an app with the power of Google or Amazon in 2020.
The college kid with a taste for ribs in the ‘70s was quickly becoming a pioneer of the Internet in the early ‘00s.
“I ran the whole Food and Drink Network on AOL for nine years,” Meathead says with a smile. “That’s when AOL was as big as Facebook. People forget or don’t know, but at one time AOL ruled the world. AOL bought Time Warner.”
With AOL on top of the world and Meathead carving his own lane on the Internet, the game was new, and the rules were just getting written.
“We named it AmazingRibs.com because it starts with an ‘A,’” says Meathead on starting the site. “I wanted to be the first one in the alphabet.”
Over the years, Meathead had made good on his education in Gainesville as a writer. At the time of the launch of the site, however, his words were sharper than his recipes.
“It started with a rib recipe because I had a neighbor who was a butcher who was bragging on his ribs,” Meathead recalls. “We got into an over the fence barking match and it turned into, OK, wise guy, I’ll challenge you to a competition.”
With the web still in its infancy, Meathead searched printed literature for answers on how to make the best BBQ.
His findings? Limited.
“At that that time there’s no book about ribs,” Meathead says. “So, I thought, OK, we’ll start by building a website and kind of crowdsource it. I’ll put my recipe out there and we’ll see what people think about it. Then as the search engines grew, we were the first ones in the game. I started adding pulled pork and brisket and chicken and burgers.”
In the time since challenging his neighbor to a cookoff, AmazingRibs.com has amassed more than a few recipes.
The site has since evolved into a destination for all types of BBQ content.
“I rolled it out around 2005,” Meathead looks back. “It was an earlier iteration of what we have today with the recipe revolution. The free part of the website now has somewhere between three and four thousand pages. It’s divided into recipes, technique, science, myth busting and product reviews.”
Offering recipes, reviews and techniques are all commonplace in the cooking content game. Where Meathead’s educational background really sets apart AmazingRibs.com is the myth-busting portion.
“As a journalist, and also as a person with an interest in science, you are trained to ask, How do you know that to be true?” Meathead notes. “I mean, that’s the most important question.”
Since starting AmazingRibs.com in the mid-2000s, Meathead has busted dozens of myths and changed the game.
“I’m kind of running out of myths, right?” Meathead laughs. “There were about 50 or 60 of them that we that we attacked.”
The most notable myth? Perhaps the science behind beer can chicken or rather the science that keeps it from being a good idea.
Since graduating from Florida in the 1970s, Meathead’s ability to deliver journalistic content to a modern audience has set him and his site apart.
“We’re in the 2000s,” notes Meathead. “This is a technological era.”
Business of Barbecue
From a monetary standpoint, the 2000s have been good to Meathead and AmazingRibs.com.
“It started making money fairly early,” Meathead says of the site. “I’m not aware of many people who publish on the Internet who can make a living at it full-time in cooking, but we have at least three people on our team who are full-time who make a living at it. Then there’s a half a dozen or more who are half-time or better with us. We treat it as a profession.”
Because of this, not only is Meathead making a living doing what he loves, his employees are, too.
“By 2010, I was doing the site full-time,” Meathead tells us. “We average around three million pageviews a month. That puts us in the top 25 of all culinary websites in the country.”
All that traffic plays a major part in paying the bills.
“We started taking ads,” Meathead says on the early days of the site becoming a business. “We discovered if you recommended books that were on Amazon, Amazon would pay you a finder’s fee. Then as Amazon expanded beyond books, you know, tongs, spatulas, we started testing products like that.”
Opening more doors for revenue has played well for Meathead and AmazingRibs.com. With that said, their code of ethics and responsibility to their readers is at the heart of both their business and content.
“We don’t accept commissions to write a recipe,” Meathead tells us. “We don’t endorse a product, any product. We have no sponsors. We work for the consumer and the consumers pay our bills.”
The consumers pay the bills in some fashion by visiting the site and creating traffic for ad sales.
As alluded to, it’s much more than ads that pay the bills in 2020.
“You cannot make a living on advertising only out there anymore,” shares Meathead. “So, we have the Pitmaster Club and it’s strictly an interactive forum. It’s not like the free part of the website with all the ratings and the reviews and the articles. It’s where the members run it and they talk to each other.”
Membership, as expected, has its perks.
“We have a lot of features, a lot of benefits,” Meathead says about the AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Club. “You get the Barbecue News Magazine for free. But one of the cool things is that if you pay $24 a year, we’ll block advertising for you. So, we are like PBS. We’re user supported.”
This community creates a site that is sticky, which is not a pun on BBQ sauce.
“The holy grail of every website is to make your website what they call sticky,” Meathead notes. “To make people keep coming back. The way you do that is you build a community. You get people who are into the site who not only communicate with you, but with each other.”
Evolution of AmazingRibs.com
While Meathead has taught many people how to cook and feed their families and friends, he’s still trying to break down stigmas in the BBQ community.
“My biggest challenge right now is that we’re like 80 percent male,” Meathead notes on the demographics of the Pitmaster Club. “We need more women in there, and we need to get there.”
Meathead is still writing, creating content and evolving with the times. As his readership grows in skill, so does Meathead in gratitude.
“When you teach people how to cook, you teach them something really intimate,” Meathead said. “Feeding someone is perhaps the second most intimate thing you can do with another person. It’s a very gracious, generous act that people really appreciate.”
“Sitting around a table together, eating and conversing is just such a powerful thing in life. To be able to help many people do that, I think is my life’s accomplishment.”
The kid who first tried ribs out of a cooler at his liquor store job in Florida sure has accomplished a lot in life. Whether typing or cooking, Meathead is a lifer.
“I’ll keel over at the grill or the keyboard,” Meathead smiles. “I would like my legacy to be AmazingRibs.com. I’d like that legacy to go on beyond me.”
– Article by Cali BBQ Media content producer Ian Stonebrook.
Visit www.AmazingRibs.com for recipes, reviews, and more about the science and fun of outdoor cooking. Don’t forget to download a copy of the AmazingRibs.com e-book Amazing Ribs Made Easy.
Up your barbecue and grilling game by joining the AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Club. Sign up for 30 days free.
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