Veteran, BBQ Chef Jason Wilson of Meat Therapy’s Recipe for Healing
When preparing for our nation’s anniversary of freedom each 4th of July, there tend to be a few staples that come to mind: patriotic celebrations, pride in flying the American flag and, of course, gathering together with friends, family or neighbors around great food.
Jason Wilson is someone who knows quite a bit about all three – especially when it comes to barbecue. A Texas-raised U.S. Army veteran turned healthcare worker, Jason’s pursuits in barbecue as a form of personal therapy have led him to build a thriving business hosting interactive cooking classes, creating signature recipes and partnering with the likes of Traeger, TX Whiskey and Meat Church BBQ.
We chatted with Jason to learn more about his background in the military, what it means to lace up and to gather his favorite tried-and-true recipes for July 4th.
Tell us about why you joined the military and a little bit about your military career.
I joined the U.S. Army in 2005 when America’s Armed Forces were well into the war on terrorism. I grew up with a sense of pride, and giving back is who I am. I was a young, recently divorced father and joined the military more out of necessity because I needed to care for my two boys.
While deployed in Baghdad, I was attached to a field artillery unit where we became their personal security. We would often transport key diplomats to the area prisons. Regularly, we would visit a women’s prison where those incarcerated could have their children with them until the age of 5. It was life changing to see the conditions that those kids were living in. I reached out to a Florida church just to see if they could send a little aid. What I thought was a small ask quickly turned into a special mission because of the amount of kids’ clothes, diapers, stuffed animals – you name it – we received. It warmed my heart and became a highlight of my deployment to see patriots come together to serve others they didn’t know half a world away.
While that memory is something I will always cherish, there were also so many difficult moments overseas. When I returned home, I didn’t know how to downshift. Things got dark and who I was changed. It affected my relationships with those I love most – my boys.
Intrusive thoughts from my time in service of “why not me,” the emotional rollercoaster I had a permanent seat on and sometimes unexplainable fits of anger was not how I wanted to live. I’d always loved cooking and had fond memories of being around a grill with my brothers growing up so I reconnected with barbecue.
Why did you decide to name your BBQ business “Meat Therapy?”
When I got out of the military, I was not who I wanted to be. I was not who my boys deserved. Cooking was my drive and motivation to find “normalcy.” I continued to cook, and when I wanted to be around people, it was my way of connecting by serving them food. So quite literally barbecuing became a part of my therapy. On the weekends, I host Therapy Sessions which are really just BBQ classes. I named it that way for the participants, but it is also therapeutic for me.
You laced up your boots every day in service. Does that hold meaning for you and why?
YES! WOW! When you are young, at least when I was young, I was not sure of my place in life. Looking back now, service has been core to every joyful memory in my life, whether it was in the military serving my country, serving my family and caring for my brothers, doing what it took to care for my own boys and now, serving my community where I work full-time in healthcare as a respiratory therapist and manager of cardiopulmonary services. I know I’m not the only one who had challenges after service or in life in general, so if I can support others in their journey, I will. We owe it to each other to lift one another up.
Why is sharing your love of cooking with others so important to you?
Barbecue is the healthy self-medication that I needed. Barbecue releases a chemical dopamine dump for me when I watch the first bites of those tasting my food and see their smiles. Thinking big picture, I wasn’t a barbecue pro but needed something to focus my attention on. It could have totally sucked but I wasn’t afraid to try. I encourage everyone to try something new and see where it goes because it might actually just work and, in turn, help you and others.
Do you have a fun recipe everyone should cook as they celebrate our Independence Day?
Are you even American if you don’t have a good whiskey drink cocktail and smoked salsa recipe?
Ingredients: 2 parts TX Blended Whiskey, .5 parts Lime Juice, .5 parts Agave Nectar, Favorite BBQ rub
Instructions: Combine all ingredients over ice and shake. Rim fresh glass with BBQ rub and fill with fresh ice. Strain ingredients into new glass and enjoy!
Ingredients: 5 tomatoes, 3 jalapeños, ¼ cup red onion, 4 cloves garlic, Salt or season to taste (Meat Therapy preference: 1 Tbsp Meat Church Holy Voodoo), 1 cup cilantro chopped, Juice of 1 lime
Instructions: Smoke tomatoes, jalapeños, onion and garlic at 250 degrees with hickory or lighter smoking wood/pellets for 1.5 hours. Add all the smoked veggies and cilantro to a blender with the juice of one lime. Pulsate to the consistency you are looking for, grab a chip and dive in!
To learn more about Jason and his company Meat Therapy visit meattherapybbq.com or follow him on Instagram at @meat.therapy.