Barbeque is more than a meal to Matt Pittman – it’s a fellowship. That’s why he named his barbeque business Meat Church.

Although Meat Church has been in business for five years, Pittman has been live-fire cooking long before that. Pittman has spent the better part of two decades mastering his craft and developing unique seasonings that have caught the tastebuds of residents around Ellis County and abroad.

The barbecue connoisseur has held classes in several countries around the world, competed on reality television and even become a social media sensation with over 210,000 followers on Instagram alone.

And he did it all, largely, from his own backyard.

In a few months, Pittman will open his first brick-and-mortar location on the downtown square at 205 South College Street in Waxahachie.

“I accidentally turned my hobby into a business,” Pittman said. “And not just a business, but a big business.”

Born in Tennessee, Pittman said he grew up in Alabama and was raised on the flavor of sweet pork. He moved to Texas when he was 13, and his first exposure to Texas barbeque took his cravings to a whole new level.

“You take one bite of central Texas BBQ — it’s very different from what I grew up on,” Pittman said. “I took a bite of a beef rib at Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas, and my head popped back like ‘Wow.’ I want to do that.”

“After having that experience, I wanted to emulate that,” Pittman explained. “My wife went out and bought me a smoker – real ugly pit on a trailer. A manager at Spring Creek emailed me, ‘What’s your plans for that smoker?’ I wrote back, ‘To make delicious barbeque.”

The hobby eventually led Pittman to the opportunity to compete on the “BBQ Pitmasters” in 2014, a TLC reality series where contestants compete in barbeque cooking competitions for cash and prizes.

“I only had three weeks notice,” Pittman said. “I was going to shoot in Tampa, Florida. I had had to make two BBQ rubs by hand, and one of the ingredients was honey powder. It’s not something that you can get at HEB.”

Pittman traveled to a store in Fort Worth which sold honey powder. It was there where Pittman got the idea for his next business venture.

“While the guy was getting my order, I noticed some labels on his counter – barbeque products that I recognized,” Pittman recalled. “I asked ‘Do you make these?’ He said ‘Yeah, they’re co-packer. You give me your recipe, I sign an NDA and I create your rub for you.’”

After he consulted with his brother, Pittman made a deal with the vendor and created his first spices — Holy Cow and Honey Hog. Meat Church has since added 11 other spices to its repertoire.

When the show aired in April, Pittman launched meatchuch.com, his two seasonings and a hat and shirt. He said it was then that the business took off.

“We launched on our website on July 1, and by 9 p.m. we had sold 30,000 of this thing online,” he chuckled. “I told my wife I could put garbage in a bottle and it’d have an amazing first day.”

Pittman also teaches classes outside of his business. He’s taught the finer point of barbecuing from his backyard in Waxahachie to Utah to Tennessee to Sweden and even Australia. Next weekend, he said he’ll be in a ranch at Kansas cooking for country singers Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, as well as a group of retired football players – for the third time this year.

“I have people from all over the world come to Waxahachie to learn from me,” he remarked. “We’ve never had a class with less than a couple people from other states. Most classes, there’s like five other states. In my backyard earlier year, this lady said she drove from Winnipeg. Another guy said he had flown from Finland. I’m like wait, you guys came all the way here just to see this?”

Pittman said he never expected the business to take off as much as it did.

“We’ve got the largest Instagram in BBQ,” he said. “Our seasoning is sold in over 400 stores, including Buc-ee's. I partner with huge household name brands. I’m a sponsored partner with Traeger, Yeti, Miller Lite, huge brands. I’m about to be on a Miller Lite billboard. It’s crazy how this thing has caught fire. It’s insane.”

One reason why Pittman thinks his business might have succeeded as much as it did was how personal he'd made his approach to barbequing. He said most of the people he competes against market toward the competition barbeque crowd, while Pittman aims to help out the everyday barbecue cook.

“Even if you compete at the highest level of barbeque, you make it in your backyard,” he explained. “We’re all backyard barbeque guys at the end of the day. I’m just a normal guy making good food in my backyard. I think people relate to that. It’s not fake or contrived or anything like that. I think that’s why we’ve done so well.”

Pittman said traveling around as often as he does is sometimes difficult for his home life. He has four kids with his wife, Tracie, and he noted dividing his time between work and family is occasionally stretched pretty thin.

“She’s a saint to put up with all of this,” he said. “She has to maintain the house and the kids and the crazy lifestyle that we have because I drag us around doing all of this stuff. She’ll have to get the kids ready for school, pick them up from school, do all the homework while I’m out living my dream. It definitely gets very hard.”

He said that’s one of the reasons he’s excited about this new location – so his kids and his business can be closer together.

“To be a mile from Wilemon [Elementary] and be able to go to lunch with them is going to be awesome,” he expressed. “I’ve never been out there and been able to do stuff like that.”

Pittman said one of his favorite things about barbequing is how it brings people together. In an age where people argue about everything, the one thing that never fails to unite people is food.

“Barbeque is the great uniter,” Pittman said. “Getting people around a meal, having a good time. No one argues about barbeque.”

Pittman said he would like to make Meat Church a one-stop-shop for all grilling needs. He said he plans to add sauces to their lineup and make his new location a hotspot for barbeque recipes, advice and instruction.

“We’re going to be like barbeque corner over there,” Pittman remarked, noting his store is located next door to The Vault Smokehouse.

Meat Church is expected to open in downtown Waxahachie in the spring of 2019.