Madison Ruckel was destined to be king. Barbecue King, that is. His story began when he left his small hometown of Destin, Florida and followed his family history to Charleston, South Carolina. There, he studied culinary arts at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University.
In 2006, he became part of Home Team BBQ in Charleston, where he mentored under Chef Aaron Seigel and became a proper Pitmaster. He then went on to build his skills and reputation even further by serving as the featured chef at several international events.
In 2014, he appeared at Meatopia in London, England. In 2015, he appeared at Churrascada in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2016, it was back to London for the Rib Festival at The Blues Kitchen. Then it was the Big Grill Festival in Dublin, Ireland for 2017, and Jam Cruise in 2018.
Madison Ruckle is a meat man who is always looking for old world methods of fermentation that will accentuate and provide balance to his hand-crafted meats.
He tells us that people who are master-class artisans with BBQ are often referred to as BBQ Kings in their respective territories. Having already received many honors and opportunities along his chosen path, he of course wanted to become the next BBQ King. Unfortunately, the market in Charleston and outlying areas was already saturated with some of the biggest names in the business.
Roanoke, Virginia made sense for two reasons. His wife’s family was there, and Roanoke – though there were already a few BBQ restaurants – did not yet have a master-class, BBQ King!
Though Madison wants to open his own restaurant, he didn’t want to wait the year it would take to arrange a brick-and-mortar location. To wade in immediately and begin building a reputation, he purchased a fully-equipped food truck (which used to be a prop for Hollywood movies!) and got down to business in December of 2018. Three days per week, Madison and his crew do nothing but prepare the delicious meats and sides that are available at Mama Jean’s BBQ.
On Wednesday nights, you can find Mama Jean’s delectable menu at Olde Salem Brewing on Main Street in Salem. On Fridays and Saturdays, however, you can find Madison, Mama Jean’s, and an incredible menu in the parking lot of Hometown Bank; 2820 Brambleton Avenue in Roanoke. The crew gets started at noon, but you’re not going to want to waste time getting there. Madison tells us that they sell out of their made-from-scratch meats and sides almost every day!
Though the menu changes constantly as Madison continues to experiment, here is what you’ll likely find in rotation: pulled pork, smoked brisket, chicken wings, ribs, and homemade sausages. Sometimes, however, you may find homemade salami, and even kimchi!
To accompany all the mouthwatering meats, Madison also offers a fantastic selection of from-scratch sides! Mac ‘n’ cheese, coleslaw, pinto beans, baby limas, hash and rice, smoked brisket chili, Brunswick Stew, and Mama Jean’s unique smoked potato salad! But the surprise hit of the sides has to be the fried Brussels! Deep fried and tossed in fresh garlic, lemon juice, and grated Grana Padano cheese, Madison tells us his Brussel sprouts are by far the side-item fan favorite!
Looking forward, Madison Ruckel still has his eye on a full-sized restaurant where he can expand his menu and really get creative. Starting with the food truck, however, is allowing him the time and opportunity to approach that project with more care and deliberation. Until then, Mama Jean's – named after Madison’s mother – will continue with the basics that are anything but basic!
For more information, you can visit Madison on Instagram, or on Facebook at mamajeansbbq.