Matt Lokay wasn’t always comfortable around fire. But when his dad traveled for work, as he often did, Matt took on the task of running the grill at home.

Back then, he just hoped he wouldn’t blow up anything.

“The ignitor didn’t work, so my mom and I would cross our fingers as we threw the match into the grill to light the propane,” he said.

The aspiring cook — who said he’s always been a “foodie” and shadowed his mother and grandmother in the kitchen — got his first taste of barbecuing at just age 9.

Little Matt wouldn’t have guessed how hot his hobby would get.

Winging it

The Territory 1 Home Sales Director and longtime Best Buy employee continued to dabble with open-flame cooking over the years, which he says provided both an outlet for his creative energy and a way to unplug in his free time.

“My favorite cooks are process intensive,” he said. “Ribs, pork shoulders and brisket are a ton of fun.”

He has also amassed a collection of 13 grills — several of the standard designs fueled by charcoal, pellet or propane, of course — as well as one dating to 1948 and one that’s a full-size hibachi grill he acquired from a restaurant.

“It weighs 650 pounds!” Matt said excitedly, sharing that his three sons love when he makes smashed burgers on the massive cooktop. Hot wings are another of the boys’ favorites.

You can find Matt at any one of these setups (or sometimes at more than one!) several nights a week. During the pandemic, he racked up 60 days in a row of grilling, and this year he’s on track for 200 cookouts.

His 13-year-old son can often be found by his side, learning the ropes like Matt did as a child.

Blue Shirt BBQ

Another place you can find Matt is at team gatherings, where he enjoys putting his culinary chops to work in appreciation for those he works with.

“My local stores are amazing, and I’ve been lucky enough to cook out for them as well as for the local market’s team events,” he said. “I’ve also cooked for my teams when they’ve been in SoCal for trainings and even was able to cook for my peer group and corporate partners when they were in town for an event.”

Matt recalls one time where things got a little frantic in San Francisco.

“I lost a side bet with a leader at Store 187 and was able to cook at the store,” he said. “But we grossly underestimated the amount of food we needed. Luckily, they had a grocery store across the street so we could get more!”

Well done

As he learned more tricks of the trade, Matt started putting his skills to the test. He’s participated in steak competitions when his busy work and family schedules allows — earning some impressive Top 10 finishes — and he’s been known to fire things up to show appreciation for his colleagues.  

Although it’s just a side gig, Matt’s racked up quite a following on his Instagram account, @CaliforniaGrillin, where he’s become a source for recipe ideas, drool-worthy photography and advice. He even launched his own seasoning blends at the prompting of family and friends.

“I’d been using my own recipes for years and, when the pandemic started, my wife encouraged me to have a batch made because our friends and family wanted to use the lineup as they were grilling more,” he said. “Each bottle has a California theme, along with California history, and we are in a few different local stores now.”

Of all the places and purposes for his cookouts, perhaps the most important one is on the horizon. Matt is in the planning stages of a special event in July to remember his team’s late colleague, Chris D’Amato.

“Chris was an incredible GM and loved to cook out for his store and I felt honored to be included by our GM, Sandy Pilanthnakorn, and DM, Bob Sokol, to help with the event,” Matt said. “Definitely going to do it big, as I know firsthand how much Chris loved his team.”