Alden Boon

SGBrisketKitchen Founder Jayce Ho on the Joys and Pains of Smoking Meats and Entrepreneurship


Jayce Ho is a multihyphenate: she is a full-time business development manager, a passionate owner of Polish chickens, and she also runs a side business selling diatomaceous earth. The newest feather in her cap? SGBrisketKitchen, an online business where she purveys mainstays such as Texas-style smoked briskets and pulled pork. What’s impressive is that she’s an autodidact, learning the art of smoking meats just by watching online videos. By many customers’ testimonials, her meats can hold a candle to those prepared by bona fide pit masters.

Jayce, tell us about your first brush with entrepreneurship.

I had previously won a Star Wars toy through a magazine contest. I was eleven — this was the pre-Internet banking days. I decided to list it on eBay, and within an hour I was able to close the transaction. I started looking around my room for things that I could sell, and I found stuff like Gameboy cartridges. Later in life, my girlfriends and I were hooked on a popular Taiwanese variety show, and I had a thought: ‘Why not import the beauty products that the hosts were recommending?’ So, I began procuring products from Taiwan, as well as Japan, as I was fluent in Japanese. I listed these products on eBay as well.

What did you learn from these early ventures?

The skill to set up a website. It’s a far cry from the options you have today where you can construct a website using pre-made templates. Back in those days, I had to build a website from scratch, and I had to learn HTML coding. And then there’re the product shots. I bought basic light equipment, a diffuser and set up the shots myself. And then came the editing of the photos, such as removing the background. It was laborious, but it was worth it when I saw the finished product, and that all the links worked.

Were there any experiences during your formative years that planted the seed of grilling and cooking?

During my Girl Guides days, I was exposed to outdoor survival skills and outdoor cooking. My mates and I participated in quite a few competitions and we strove for the President’s Guide Award. It was a really fun time. We had many camps over at the Sarimbun Scout Camp site. We had to dig our own pits in the ground and start fires, which were needed for boiling water. These were the things we were not taught in the classroom. Even when it’s raining, and we were soaked from head to toe, even when our shoes were muddy and we smelt, we still had to get the work done. If we didn’t pitch the tents in time, we wouldn’t have any shelter. These experiences toughened me up.

It was during this time that I learnt the art of solar cooking. We would take cardboards, wrap them with aluminium foil, and position them under the hot sun. Then, we would place a pot of food in the middle and with that, we got to cooking. Sometimes, we’d prepare and affix a chicken to a clothes hanger, wrap it with aluminium foil to prevent the heat from radiating. It would take us over six hours to cook the meat over embers.

We would be so thankful for the sun, because that meant we could cook our food. It made us appreciate nature, and to respect it. We always had to do contingency planning as well: when it rained, we’d switch to using the burner and cook on the mass tin. This in a way has prepared me for real life. When it comes to work, we always have to be prepared for what is to come and what can go wrong. Girl Guides trained me to be prepared; it’s one of our mottos.

Jayce Ho SGBrisketKitchen Main

And what sparked your interest in smoking meats? Was it perhaps a delicious meal that you had?

No, in fact, I’ve never had smoked meat prior to my business. I was always the designated chef at my family’s and friends’ barbecue sessions, in charge of grilling prawns, satay and the like. Eventually, I got kind of bored of this direct cooking method, and I searched the Internet to see what else I could do. My interest was piqued when I read about this low and slow cooking method over a grill — initially I was shocked that it would take up to twenty hours. It was circa 2019 that I started to watch online videos and then dabble in it. During my first few experimentations, my parents funnily asked: ‘Are you going to set the house on fire?’

Take us through the first few times that you smoked the meat.

I failed so many times that I had to take a break from it. The meats are not cheap; all told I think I spent about a thousand dollars on just the ingredients. I tried offerings from different countries — I personally find that Argentina, Australian and Brazilian beef tend to have a gamier smell. After numerous tests, I also decided to go with grain-fed beef instead of grass-fed ones.

With each failed batch, I tried to salvage as much as I could, but sometimes, it’s just burnt. It kind of pained me when I had to throw some of the meats away. It’s always disappointing when things didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it. I’ll always remember the first time I succeeded — it was a rush of emotions, and I had that ‘whoa’ moment. Even today, I still get that joy when I slice into the meat. I think that’s important; if the joy is gone I probably won’t do it anymore.

What contributed to the early failures?

Temperature control. The cut of the meat, being too small, coupled with an overly hot temperature, caused the meat to burn. The texture was hard. My taste testers were quite encouraging and supportive in that they still finished everything off the plate.

What are the ingredients you use to marinate the meat?

That’s the beauty of it — just salt and pepper. And the Maillard reaction that happens over a span of sixteen to twenty hours. And I use only high-quality cuts; I’ll never skimp on that. I’ve tried cheaper cuts during the experimentation phase but the taste was subpar.

How many times did it take you to achieve your first successful one?

Ten times, thereabout. And then a few more times thereafter to ensure I could achieve consistency. My family got sick of eating meat, so I roped in my friends for taste testing. Between each experimentation, there would be a slight improvement. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could I improve the texture, the juiciness? It was only when my family and friends unanimously agreed that the meats were good that I became confident enough to start selling. I went to register my domain name and set up my company. And I bought a second-hand eighteen-inch grill off an online platform.

Was there anything that took you a long time to get right?

The salt level. My father found the meat overly salty while others said it could be saltier. I had thought that the older folks would want a heavier flavour, but no, it’s a mix of old and young. Trying to find a middle ground drove me crazy. I consulted some chefs in the F&B industry, asking them how they determined the salt level, and how to balance the differing views. They advised that it was ultimately up to me. They told me to stick to the level of saltiness I was comfortable with. They told me I couldn’t please everybody.

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.