By Bailey Wright
MERIDEN — Propelled by a barbecue sauce recipe that was invented by his grandfather in 1932, Gary McNeff has used his love of cooking to create a business of naturally-made sauces, seasonings, and dry rubs.
He and wife Gina Juliano’s business – “Grandpa’s Best” – now has dozen of sauces and dry rubs for sale in the area, including at the Chuck Wagon restaurant in Wallingford.
The Meriden-based couple started the business, formerly called Mac Brothers Gourmet Foods, with McNeff’s brother Larry and his wife back in 2014. Larry McNeff decided to leave the business in 2018 to spend more time with their grandchildren.
The product line has 15 sauces, and a variety of dry rubs, seasonings and spices. Last year, they sold around 5,000 units – their best year yet.
McNeff has been running a blog for years – A Real Dad Makes Real Food – which he uses to post recipes that use his sauces and seasonings. He hopes to change the perception in New England that barbecue is a summer food.
“I'm from Kansas. Barbecue is an all the time thing there,” he said.
The black garlic sauce is their top seller.
The majority of Grandpa’s Best labels commemorate McNeff’s grandfather, E.W. Stevinson, but also feature other family members.
There’s the “Made for Peach Other” grilling sauce with a photo of McNeff’s mother and stepfather putting on wedding rings. A new release this spring features McNeff’s other brother Jerry and is called Uncle Jerry’s Just Jerkin' Jamaican Jerk Rub.
McNeff, who works on the business full time, says they are also starting a garlic ranch seasoning this spring.
Grandpa’s Best can be found at Gnazzo Food Center in Plainville and is used exclusively at Chuck Wagon.
Chuck Wagon co-owner Chris Nakis said the couple came by to eat one day and mentioned their sauces. He agreed to try one and was impressed, he said.
“This stuff is just mind-blowing, it made me a believer immediately,” Nakis said.
Chuck Wagon currently uses the original Sweet & Mild, the Warm & Spicy, the Vampire Repellent, the Honey Whiskey, and the Cranberry Maple. McNeff is creating a new super-hot sauce for the restaurant.
The sauces are used for a variety of menu items, including wings, pulled pork and burgers. Nakis said people also like to dip their hand-cut fries in it.
Soon, he’ll have the sauce available for retail sale.
Nakis likes that Grandpa’s Best uses all-natural ingredients and no preservatives.
“It's just great stuff, I can’t stay enough about it,” he said.