The Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Vinton welcomed Master Sergeant BBQ and its owners Leonard and Rhoda Murray to the town in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on January 17.
Master Sergeant BBQ is not a new business; it is not even new to Vinton. The mobile food trailer is a familiar sight at many local festivals and events, including Twin Creeks’ Creekfest, the Chamber of Commerce Mingle at the Market concerts, the Vinton Fourth of July celebration, the Vinton Food Truck Festival, Fall Festival, and many others, in addition to valley-wide events such as Olde Salem Days, Wingfest, and the Henry Street Heritage Festival.
The business now has a permanent “brick and mortar” location at 111 East Virginia Avenue— a main thoroughfare in Vinton.
The cooking is still done in the food trailer, but patrons now have the option of taking their food inside to eat.
It’s easy to spot the custom-designed food truck (his design), with its billowing smoke and tempting aromas. In fact, that has been their slogan for several years— “Follow the Smoke”— as Murray “cooks on the move,” smoking the meats as they drive along the highways to events.
The mobile unit has a smoker for pork and beef, a chicken cooker, and a commercial refrigerator. He is able to cook as they drive because the smoking is done with indirect heat.
Master Sergeant BBQ is “veteran-owned” by retired Master Sergeant Leonard Murray and his wife Dr. Rhoda Murray, who is the Nursing Department Chair at the Jefferson College of Health Sciences.
Murray says that as a soldier “grilling has always been a part of our lives. Throughout our travels with the military we would often host soldiers and friends to backyard BBQs.” Cooking and eating with other soldiers, he became the primary cook.
Cooking is not a family legacy but something he mastered over the years— Murray says his mom often calls him for advice on cooking.
“After years of experimenting with BBQ, we thought we knew about good BBQ and had a dream of starting a BBQ business.” He chose the name “Master Sergeant BBQ” long ago when he was just contemplating his retirement.
Murray served for 31 years in the United States Army and upon retirement in October 2016 decided to pursue his dream of starting a mobile BBQ business by bringing his southern South Carolina-style BBQ skills to Southwest Virginia.
That dream started off with a “pick-up truck, a little trailer, and a tent” and “just took off,” quickly turning into a highly successful mobile food truck business– beyond their expectations.
Murray joined the Army in 1985, first stationed at Fort Dix, followed by numerous other assignments stateside and in Germany along with deployments to Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, and Egypt. He started out in maintenance and then transportation and communication and received the Meritorious Service Medal upon his retirement.
His wife served in the Army Reserves for eight years and was also deployed during Desert Storm.
Both South Carolina natives, the couple met in Orangeburg and were married six months later some 25 years ago.
Murray says the new location on highly traveled Virginia Avenue in Vinton came about rather unexpectedly about a year and a half ago. He was looking for a spot to park their mobile food trailer away from their Vinton home— not really looking for a building, but “everything just fell into place.”
He began leasing the spot and cooking there in August. The dining area opened with the ribbon-cutting on January 17. Now they have plans to get another mobile truck to travel to special events.
Murray says that the South Carolina BBQ he favors and grew up with uses a mustard-based sauce. In comparison, North Carolina BBQ has a vinegar-based sauce while the typical Memphis/Kansas City BBQ is tomato-based. He says he can cook it all; he just prefers the South Carolina version.
Their menu includes pulled pork BBQ, ribs, chicken, and now beef brisket that Murray says “is flying out the window.” Pork butts and briskets are smoked “low and slow” for 10-15 hours “until the meat falls off the bones.” BBQ can be bought by the pound as well.
Sides include cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, baked beans, and cornmeal bits.
One of their most popular dishes has been pulled pork nachos, which they demonstrated on a broadcast on Daytime Blue Ridge TV. Tortilla chips are topped with pulled pork, cole slaw, chopped onions and peppers, cheese, and lots of BBQ sauce.
Murray says he is considering adding fried chicken and fish to the Friday night menu, and he has some ideas for new entrees including “hash and rice” which features chopped meat and BBQ sauce on a bed of rice.
Hours of operation currently are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with eat-in or take-out.
Murray says the other days are spent prepping and cleaning because “there is so much work before you can get the food out.”
Master Sergeant will also “come to you” and cater special events such as parties, office lunches, corporate events, sporting events, and more; they can create special holiday orders of turkey and ham upon request– all arranged through their website at www.msgbbq.com, on their Facebook page, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also accommodate preorders online with the first order discounted $3.
Murray says you can “order and pick up your plate at the BBQ trailer outside, take it with you, or come on in and sit a spell.” The dining area seats 22 patrons.
Murray says his interests in motorcycles and camping have fallen by the wayside in the past couple of years as their business got under way and then took off. He hopes to get back to them now that they have settled down in a permanent location.
In addition to operating Master Sergeant BBQ, Murray also does the landscaping every other week in warmer months at five government facilities in Bedford, Culpeper, Galax, Delaware, and West Virginia.
At the ribbon-cutting, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, Vice Mayor Keith Liles, Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce President Justin Davison and Executive Director Angie Chewning welcomed the Murrays to Vinton.
“I am happy they have their dining area open now,” said Davison “Master Sergeant provides not only great barbeque, but I find myself hearing about stories of the sergeant’s time in the military and past that just makes the experience that much better.
“If you are looking for topnotch BBQ, look no further,” Davison added. “I look forward to their success at the home location and out at all the Chamber events.”
“Thank you, Angie Bell Chewning, Justin Davison, Keith Liles, Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, and all of Vinton for your support and patronage,” was the Murrays response.