It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I’m a bit of a sauce and rub junkie. I’m always on the lookout for something new and tasty, and I’ll try pretty much anything once. That said, only the best products become pantry staples for me, and only the best of the pantry staples make it to the featured ingredient blog; Code 3 definitely deserves a spot here.
What gives a product that extra nudge into my regular rotation? Outstanding flavor built from high quality ingredients is always a good start. But when a brand manages to combine taste and competition-level performance with integrity and a mission I believe in, that’s a winning combination every time.
Code 3 Spices got my attention with their bold sauces and rubs built on the founders’ experience in competition barbecue. I found Code 3 on Instagram some time ago and started by purchasing a bottle of their Patriot Sauce (yes, I purchased; this wasn’t sent to me as a sample) and I immediately loved it as it was the perfect balance of sweet up front with a mild tanginess on the back end of the taste. That led to me buying their rubs which all have their place along the flavor profile. My personal favorite is the Backdraft Rub as I prefer a little heat but if you’re looking for something a bit sweeter, check out the Rescue Rub. Eventually I tried the Spicy BBQ sauce and it has quickly climbed the charts amongst my sauce favorites. Again, I like the heat and this sauce fits the bill, no questions asked. Not obnoxiously hot, but appropriately enough so to grab your attention. Try it in some smoked Mac n Cheese and you won’t regret it.
Once I learned more about their tireless work to support first-responders and veterans, I knew this company was special.
Read on to learn more about Code 3’s story and mission from co-founder, Mike Radosevich.
Grillseeker: Tell us a bit about Code 3. How did the company get its start?
Mike Radosevich: I was working as a police officer in a small suburb outside of St. Louis. A lot of officers go through burnout phases, but I was going through a pretty rough one and needed a hobby. You go on hundreds of calls a year and most of those just aren’t pleasant experiences. It’s somebody’s worst day every time you go on a call, and eventually that catches up with you. I was involved in a series of incidents that affected me mentally, physically, and emotionally. That’s when I really started concentrating on backyard cooking and rekindling the love I had for it.
I have been cooking my whole life, but it was time to get more serious about it. My partner Chris [Bohnemeier, co-founder of Code 3] and I decided to start a backyard barbecue team about five years ago. We started off pretty hot and that’s when we came out with our first three rubs: Backdraft, Rescue, and 5-0. They were very well received in the barbecue community. That made it a pretty easy decision for us to try and bring the products to market, even though we knew this was a highly competitive food category.
Finally, we wanted to distinguish ourselves in this crowded category and that was also an easy decision. Chris comes from a law enforcement family, and my family has a long history of service in the military and law enforcement. It was clear to us that the right move was to make our brand bigger than just the products by giving back to those who serve our communities through every sale. That’s something that we started five years ago and it’s still a big part of our brand today.
GS: You mention your beginnings in competition barbecue. These recipes were developed and tested in the field, right?
Mike: Correct. That was another challenge for us, to differentiate ourselves from everyone else throwing a rub together and trying to get up on a shelf. We didn’t just toss a bunch of stuff in a bottle, throw a pretty label on it, and say, “Okay, come buy it!”
Chris is the head pit master for our team, and he designed these recipes. I was just privileged enough to taste and tell him if they were good or not! A lot of testing went into each product, but he made a conscious choice to work with higher-end ingredients: turbinado sugar, Cambodian pepper, sea salt. What we ultimately did was take a competition-ready product and make it available to you on a shelf at the grocery store. But we also took the exact same products to competitions and won with them.
GS: Tell us a bit about the growth of Code 3 since you started. Where can readers buy your products now? Any plans to expand your retail presence?
Mike: We began by selling our products online. We didn’t have much of a social media presence, but started to build one immediately after we incorporated our business.
Our growth since then has been pretty astonishing. At first, we were only in mom and pop shops in our local community and then were fortunate enough to get into three larger grocery chains in the St. Louis community. We’ve built on that brand awareness since. Our online business continues to grow too. We’re shipping all over the United States and to several other countries each day, which is really exciting for us.
We are picking up some grocery chains outside of the Midwest and just landed a massive opportunity with Ace Hardware. So, we’ll be in hundreds and hundreds of stores and the sky’s the limit with that partnership. Ace has thousands of locations and we want our products to be in each one.
Our ultimate goal is to be in every grocery chain in the country. We want to expand our presence and product line and, ultimately, expand our ability to give back to those who serve.
GS: You mention giving back; tell us about the organizations you work with and why those relationships are so important to you as a company.
Mike: I’ll start with the why. I was diagnosed with PTSD in late 2013. The symptoms of PTS are often pushed aside in our society because nobody wants to talk about it. But as a former police officer, I’ve had friends who’ve been killed in the line of duty and others who’ve taken their own lives. It wears on you. It doesn’t need to be this way; there needs to be more support for the men and women who do the jobs that others can’t or won’t do.
Based on my personal experience with PTSD, it was very easy to identify the kinds groups we wanted to work with and support. The first one was Safe Call Now. They are a national suicide prevention hotline and an unbelievable organization. They were one of the earliest relationships we built, and we’ve been with them ever since.
Recently, we began working with The BackStoppers. Whenever there’s a first responder killed in the line of duty, they’ll take care of any of the family’s needs—from sending kids to college to helping pay the electric bill. Most people will never experience losing a loved one in the line of duty and, for these families, it feels like a piece of your heart was ripped from your chest. I think often people fail to realize how the loss of a first responder affects an entire community. So, working with BackStoppers was an obvious partnership for us.
In the last year and a half, we’ve started partnering with the United States Veterans Foundation. They’re a national organization that provides resources for veterans who need immediate attention for PTSD. The goal is that the support provided will make things better for everyone—not just for the service member but for the family members who also bear the burden of PTSD.
Those are the three main organizations that we donate to with a portion of our sales. We also participate in and support fundraisers locally in the St. Louis area. We feel very strongly that what we do is bigger than ourselves.
[Note: $0.25 of every bottle sold by Code 3 goes to support their partner charities.]
GS: Thank you for sharing your story and your mission with us! Finally, when you’re not busy working and you get to hang out with family and friends… what’s your favorite thing to cook?
Mike: We are St. Louis boys. There is more barbecue sauce sold in St. Louis (per capita) than any other city in America. Pork steaks are a St. Louis tradition and that’s what you’ll see here, especially when we’re cooking for friends and family. We’ll get a 2” cut pork steak, smoke it low and slow, do a reverse-sear, and get our sauce on it. That’s a St. Louis delicacy; you’re not gonna find many pork steaks outside of St. Louis. If we’re not cooking pork steaks though, you’ll find us cooking ribs.
Outside of the Midwest, you can find Code 3 Spices online. Or, if there’s an Ace Hardware in your community, let them know you’d like them to contact their warehouse about stocking Code 3!