There’s more than one way to slice Burnt Finger BBQ’s signature sausage log, Megan Day said. For the Bacon Explosion Pizza, that’s julienned — with barbecue sauce and pickles.
“The taste that comes through from the Bacon Explosion is the star of that pizza,” added Mike Burr, general manager for Minsky’s Pizza, which has partnered with Day’s Burnt Finger BBQ to produce the limited edition gourmet pies through February.
“It’s the smoke!” Day said, beaming.
Fresh off appearances this fall on Food Network’s “Chopped” and NBC’s “Today”, Day quickly has become the celebrity face of the married Burnt Finger team. A “DocQmentary” called “Smoke and Ribbons” debuted on Amazon Prime in December, showcasing the couple’s teamwork on the competition barbecue circuit.
The Bacon Explosion — a trellised bacon and sausage log first popularized in early 2009 by Jason Day’s viral recipe — is the key ingredient in Burnt Finger’s unfolding success story, Megan Day said. Partnering with Minsky’s to develop a food service version of the product has opened the door to scaling the Bacon Explosion to even more innovative heights, she said.
“We know how solid the Bacon Explosion is, and have been shipping it direct to consumers for years and years. We’ve been serving it at Bacon Fest as a slider. And caterers and restaurants now are contacting us, and asking us, ‘Well, how could we use it?’” Day said. “We’ve never before had a reason to have those conversations. Now we get to innovate, and that’s exactly what we want.”
Traditionally, the product has been shipped on dry ice to online customers, though in recent months the Bacon Explosion debuted as a heat-and-serve option in the freezer section at McGonigle’s Market. The showpiece version also is available on the charcuterie plate at Brew Lab in Overland Park, with Day teasing even more partnerships ahead.
“We’ve always just run to the noise, but now we ask ourselves, ‘How can we make the noise ourselves?'” she said.
An explosive flavor, business model
Minsky’s typically gives its premium cheese the spotlight, Burr said. But when the 42-year-old Kansas City family pizza company considered how to present the Bacon Explosion, its culinary team chose another route, he said.
“Our grated cheese has the highest concentration of butterfat the seller can produce, so our cheese is always the star. But what we did differently with the Bacon Explosion was we put the cheese on the bottom and the meat on the top,” Burr said, referencing one of the hallmarks of owner Gregg Johnson’s gourmet pizza chain, which spans 17 metro locations.
That attention-grabbing switch is a testament to the flavor profile of Burnt Finger’s product, Day said, as well as its potential for even further adaptability.
“Minsky’s is really taking a risk on us,” she said. “But we have that chance — and that’s all you can ask for as a small business. To team up with someone who appreciates quality and has a platform is amazing.”
Day is familiar with risk. She left her job in philanthropic cause marketing and public relations through Children’s Mercy in March 2016 to help take the family business to the next level, she said.
“I heard a quote: ‘To change your outcome, you have to change your investment.’ And I knew there was more outcome we need to invest more time and energy in this,” Day said. “If nothing else, we needed to answer some questions. Is it a great product that should continue the way it is? Or is there something more? If we scratch that itch, what does all this look like?”
For the past two years, the Days have been answering those questions, building their distribution capabilities and refining high-volume production processes that maintain the integrity of the Bacon Explosion, she said.
National exposure for Megan Day and their business arrived just as the pieces have begun to come together, she said.
“It’s like we planned all of this,” Day said. “Everything hits just as our brand is on the rise.”
Her husband is her biggest cheerleader, she said, as well a creative force behind Burnt Finger’s ongoing growth.
“He’s a visionary and really understands the quality behind what we’re building,” she said. “The Bacon Explosion was his baby, and now I’m the one holding it and telling its story. We always liked to say, ‘He’s the talent and I’m the hustle.’ But now we’re both hustling. We’re both the talent. And that’s been completely unexpected.”
A peek under the lid
Sandwiched between the “Chopped” episodes airing and Megan Day’s appearance on “Today” in September, the Burnt Finger family went back to its roots — competing in the American Royal BBQ.
Their team took ninth out of 400 in the open competition, Day said. She also had the opportunity to serve as mentor on a two-person celebrity barbecue team with former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Art Still, earning first place.
It’s the kind of competitive excellence that caught the eye of the filmmaker behind “Smoke and Ribbons.” Director Craig Remsburg’s documentary focuses on the Days and another team at the 2015 and 2016 American Royal, she said.
“For two consecutive years, a film crew followed our preparation, cooking, results and what it’s like to be a competitor,” Day said. “It really highlights the sport that we love.”
Remsburg’s film also provides a rare opportunity for “shigging” among barbecue competitors, she said. The term applies to teams peeking inside others’ operations to spy ingredients and procedures for a competitive advantage, Day said.
“You might be having a casual conversation, but really you’re taking an inventory of what you see,” she said.
At the time filming began, the Days had a 7-week-old baby, she added.
“We were taking the kids with us, and it was a way of life as we competed almost on a weekly basis,” she said. “We’re fortunate because we’ll always have the footage of that time in our lives.”
Day characterized the other team featured in the documentary as a more party-oriented social group of competitors, noting the contrast provides meaningful moments in the film.
“It’s comedic in showing the difference between the two teams, what the taste of victory looks like and how it might change attitudes,” she said.
The Days are eager to share their story and expertise through the documentary, as well as with in-person barbecue education, she said.
A partnership with Metropolitan Community College-Longview is expected to feature a “Brisket Boot Camp” class Feb. 24, followed by a “Hands-On Rib Class” April 28.
No shigging required.
“When you get a chance to stand out among your peers, people take notice,” Day said. “We’ve tried to be very selective with who we’re working with, and where we’re putting our focus for this overnight success that only took 10 years.”