A love of grilling led Jason Janes to create a safe and effective BBQ scraper
by Darcy Rhyno
In 2016, doctors urged Canadians to throw away their metal bristle barbecue brushes. Individual bristles were breaking loose and people were accidentally ingesting them, causing serious health problems. In 2017, at least nine Canadians swallowed one of those metal bristles stuck to food prepared on a grill. The growing list of incidents have prompted Health Canada to begin developing national standards.
Around the time the danger of metal bristles was hitting the media, Jason Janes headed home to western Newfoundland to take a break from the tech startup work he’d been doing. Rest and relaxation for Janes included lots of grilling. He was always troubled by those metal brushes, but not because of the dangers posed by loose bristles.
“The gunk on the barbecue gets caught up in those brushes and bacteria grows,” says Janes. “I thought it was gross.” He headed to the hardware store in search of an alternative. “Everything had bristles.” That was only the beginning of the problems he saw with the available barbecue cleaners. “There was nothing natural. Everything had a plastic handle. I didn’t want to create more waste going into the landfill.”
He tried using a cedar shake, but it wasn’t quite strong enough. Remembering that “juniper” (as Newfoundlanders refer to the genus Larix, more correctly known as larch, tamarack or hackmatack) is more durable and burns longer in the woodstove—which he assumed was a sign of good heat resistance—he asked his father if he had any juniper lying around that he could use to clean his barbecue. His dad got a chuckle out of the request, but found him a piece.
“It has some interesting properties,” Janes says of juniper. “It’s not a softwood, nor a hardwood. It’s a coniferous deciduous tree. It has a beautiful wood grain, it’s durable and used for cutting boards and it’s known to neutralize bacteria.”
Janes fashioned a narrow paddle-like device from the wood. It worked well. Very well. By simply sliding the scraper over the grill, he could easily wear grooves into the wood that formed a custom fit for his grill. Over time, the grooves wore deeper, wrapping nearly around the individual grill bars. That’s because juniper wood is softer than oak or maple and more durable than cedar. Just for a lark, Janes posted his new grilling tool on social media, asking if anyone wanted him to make one for them. He was surprised by the huge response.
“All of a sudden, I had orders for hundreds,” says Janes. Curious, he looked into what might explain this flood of interest and discovered the dangers of metal bristles. “It’s not that I knew the trend was there as a health issue, but it happened at almost the same time.” The Juniper barbecue scraper was born.
Staying true to his environmental values, Janes says his scraper is a premium product made from Newfoundland forests that are certified sustainable. “We know that wood from when it was a tree to the product it becomes. This is truly a 100% natural product sourced sustainably.” The lumber is milled and kiln dried locally, cut into scraper-sized pieces, shaped, sanded and treated with a high grade cutting board oil, which is 100% food grade safe. On top of that, Janes uses no plastic in the making, nor in the packaging of the scrapers. He ties a thin suede loop to each scraper for display and storage.
In another social media-savvy move, Janes got his Juniper scraper in the hands of some well-known Newfoundland comedians like Rick Mercer, who immediately took to Twitter to show off his new, locally-made barbecue scraper. Word spread to other comedians with large social media followings. Sales went through the roof.
“Our product is currently available in 125 stores across Canada,” says Janes, adding that he’s just about to sign a deal with a major distributor that will place Juniper scrapers in another 500 stores nationwide. “We’re the second or third largest Canadian supplier of wooden barbecue scrapers,” says Janes. “We ship around the world to every continent except Antarctica.” Even that seemingly impossible milestone may be passed soon. Janes has a connection who has offered to get his scraper on an expedition to the seventh continent.
Janes says his scraper should last for several grilling seasons. “If you treat it like a fine wood cutting board, rinse it, let it dry, add some mineral oil, it can last a long time.” He’s already hearing from customers who are into their second season with the scraper.
Sales have led to expansion, although mostly within the family. His father, an uncle and a cousin now work in the business, and he’s about to hire a fifth person. As for his role in the company, Janes says, “I’m the founder, the creator, the owner. I call myself chief scraper maker.”
When those planned Health Canada standards finally come down on the grilling industry, Janes says his wooden, kiln dried scraper treated with food-grade oils is ready for them. “We’re pretty sure whether or not the new standards cover all barbecue cleaning tools, we will be in compliance with them.” Regardless, Newfoundland’s chief scraper maker is helping Canadians and grillers around the world avoid a painful and dangerous encounter with poorly designed and manufactured barbecue tools. While doing so, he’s created one of the most eco-friendly products to come out of Atlantic Canada.