Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

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A Concert of Flavor

Layering flavors on a turkey for a holiday

This is a fun time of year especially if you enjoy wrapping paper, crowded stores and countless cookies to bake. As you sit here reading this, thoughts of what you have yet to accomplish during this final Christmas week race through your mind. You have questions about everything from the dinner menu items to stocking stuffers to the amount of invisible tape you have left. In the midst of all of this there’s the last minute family drop-ins,Christmas parties you “just have to go to,” then add in the Christmas caroling and/or Christmas Concerts to attend, which I go to be present for tonight.

I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my time including everyone from George Jones to Marvin Hamlisch. But tonight’s 10-person choir was at the very least, impressive. The five men had a vocal range of high tenor all the way to bass and the bass singer was a Barber Shop Quartet winner. Then there were the five women singers with ranges of soprano to low alto which I didn’t even know was a thing. If you ever get a chance to hear the Voices of Liberty at Disney’s EPCOT don’t pass it up because they will knock your socks off with their talents.

If you’ve ever listened to a well-trained vocal group whether it is a choir like I heard tonight or a quartet, then you’re probably like me and impressed with how they layer their voices together. Each voice so different from a high soprano to deep bass with everything in between and they sing in a way one voice doesn’t stand out above the other. Just when you think you can hear the baritone its blended in with the others, yet not masking or overwhelming it but rather complimenting it. Apparently this is called harmony and what a great harmony this group had tonight which resulted in a well-deserved standing ovation.

As I sat there listening to what could only be described as remarkable, I began thinking about food, more specifically about how we season our food. With every meal there’s a teaspoon of this and a pinch of that along with a choir full of other great stand-alone spices which, when brought together, should be sweet music to the taste buds. Just like sitting there tonight listening, if I concentrate I can pick out the individual “flavor” but it isn’t long until the collective takes over again which is far more satisfying. This is exactly how layering flavors should be after all, a savory chorus of seasonings coming together for the perfect bite. My buddy, Eric Hodson, a World Champion Steak cook says it this way, “I don’t want my flavors to be offensive to your taste buds.” He works hard at blending the right amount of pepper with the right amount of salt with the right amount of his signature rub, White Lightening, to come up with just the right bite.

With the holidays upon us along with the myriad of cooking we’ll be doing, pay special attention to the seasonings, allow them to bring sweet flavorful music to your tongue. Blend your spices like a well-chosen choir about to perform their greatest concert, because this Christmas (which is only 8 days away, in case you hadn’t thought about it) you will have a spread only rivaled by the one you prepared a month ago for Thanksgiving. Then once the meal is complete and your guests have loosened their pants to take an after meal nap, if you should hear, “WOW, everything sure did taste great!” take your bows because you deserve them for you, my friend, were the director of this concert of flavors.

The Hotter, Longer and Cleaner Burn

My alligator presentation

Recently I was out cooking an alligator (I live in FL and it’s what I do) and decided I needed to do one of my Facebook Live Friday’s. I started off wanting to show everyone what I was up to with this cook while plugging some of the rubs I was using (check out the B&B Rubs as well as the rubs from fellow B&B Ambassadors). In the course of this theatrical masterpiece I recreate each Friday, I began to plug my go-to fuel for such a cook, B&B Charcoal Char-logs and kiln dried wood, when the tag-line hit me, as for the very first time (sounds like a line from a song). It wasn’t the actual first time I’d read it of course, as a matter of fact, I’d used this tag-line as a “selling”point to others when they ask why I use B&B.

Today I was about to load an alligator onto my smoker which was the very first time I’d cooked something like this and when you have such an undertaking you want something you know to be reliable in the fire box. To add more pressure on this first time cook, this meat was to be the main course for the dinner party I was having and it was going to take somewhere between 10-12 hours at a steady 225 to 250 degrees. This is when I understood the B&B Charcoal tag-line was more than just a promotional tool, it was the “why”I rely on this fuel for all my cooks.

The Hotter Burn

Did you know you could cook a top 10 steak on a just a starter chimney and Grill Grates? You can when you have about 25 B&B Charcoal Briquettes in your chimney (this may vary depending on the weather) and yes I’ve counted them. I’ve gotten my cooking surface up to about 700 degrees doing this, which is a great cooking temperature for a perfect steak. Whether it’shot and fast for a steak or low and slow for my alligator, a pitmaster knows it’s about fire control. This requires a hot set of coals which will form the base,especially for a long cook, which brings us to the next part of the tag-line.

The Longer Burn

I remember standing around a couple years ago at the NBBQA celebrity steak cook-off when we marveled at how long the B&B Charcoal was burning.If memory serves correctly, four different cooks used the same set of coals and they were still hot after the awards ceremony. This alligator was going to need a charcoal that would stay hotter longer so B&B is the obvious choice. Having a longer burn tends to help on the attention given to the fire. Although a pitmaster knows to pay attention to the fire, having a coal with a longer burn allows for less feeding of the fire to keep the same temperature and with proper management, it saves money.

The Cleaner Burn

For most outdoor cooks the fire they use is more than just a cooking fuel, it’s another layer of flavor and the choice of what to use is crucial for success. Is it for color or sweetness or just a mild smoky flavor?Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t over power the meat (or veggies) on the cooker and this is where B&B comes in with the all-natural wood. This is a relief because as ever live fire cook knows, whatever is in your fuel makes its way into your food. What this means for you is, your food will taste better, be healthier because there’s no foreign substances and its good for the environment.

The next time you pick up a bag of B&B Charcoal and you read the tag-line hopefully you’ll read it again as more than just a promotional tool, but as a promise. A promise that your cook will have a hotter, longer and cleaner burn. Oh, but how it tastes will be up to you but I’m sure it will be terrific.

The Chimney Cartel – A place of purpose

Like many school age kids, I hated school. At least this is what I told people when the subject came up. But in reality, I enjoyed many aspects of school. I enjoyed going to school although I didn’t appreciate the time I had to get up to get there. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and the fun we had, I even enjoyed some of my teachers along with the classes they taught. I enjoyed English class even when we had to diagram sentences or read a literature piece in front of class. I enjoyed my shop class, small engine repair and auto mechanics classes, where I got my hands on something to work with. I even like the reading assignments where I had to read McBeth, not to mention being introduced to Poe and Hemingway.

However, in school I learned so much more than just the “Three R’s.” I learned to get goals accomplished it begins by rising early. I learned how to interact with my peers as well as my superiors (my teachers). Looking back I can see the course of my career was being laid out early on because what I enjoyed is still what I do today, like writing (thus this blog), reading and speaking. As I’ve gotten order I’ve taken a side road here and there on my life’s journey but it I always find my way back to writing, teaching, and speaking. Which brings me to the Chimney Cartel.

A Place to Teach

I’ve been fortunate learn cooking from the school of Mom’s kitchen as well as hang out with world champion Pitmasters. They have taken me in teaching me tricks and tips elevating my skills to a whole different level. This has allowed me to win more contests (finishing Top 10 at the World Food Championships) and more food fans in my neighborhood when I have a dinner party. So when I began the Chimney Cartel as a joke, I soon began to realize this could be a place where cooks can me a mentor to others. So now days, I take the time to teach others how they can be a better cook in their sphere of influence.

A Place to Learn

A great teacher never knows it all but always seeks to try. What this quote is alluding to is in order to be a better teacher, you never stop being a student. I was watching a buddy of mine the other day teach a class on prepping ribs and just when I thought I was doing ok wit this piece of meat, Eric taught me something new. Sometimes what you learn is small or it can be life changing. Another aspect I decided would be a part of the Chimney Cartel would be learning. Not only are tips and tricks shared but questions can also be asked without feeling stupid. In my years of teaching this is the one constant, students are afraid of asking a stupid question. In the Chimney Cartel, when it comes to wanting to learn, there are no stupid questions.

A Place to Have Fun

The one thing I remember about school is the fun I had being there. Don’t get me wrong, some of the classes where soooo boring and when I would get in trouble, this wasn’t much fun. But overall, I had a blast at school. I enjoyed some of my classes but most of all I enjoyed hanging out with my friends telling stories, skipping an occasional class and the football games. This is the what I am hoping the Chimney Cartel becomes as well. A place where it’s fun when we hang out not only at competitions but even here in the cyber world. If anyone knows anything about me is, if I’m not having fun doing something, I don’t want to do it. This is not the case with the Chimney Cartel, this is the place we all can joke and enjoy our common ground, cooking especially over a live fire.

This once a joke of a title will now have purpose as we seek to teach and learn from one another all while having a blast doing it.

THANKSGIVING

My grandson, Caspian, trying on the medal from WFC

It’s the time of year when the holiday season gets in full swing. It kinda began with Halloween but now Thanksgiving is here. Black Friday sales have begun, in some cases, they started last week (can they really be called Black Friday Sales when they begin a week before Black Friday?) But people will go get those items and I really can’t blame them because a sale is a sale afterall. Just stop calling them Black Friday sales is all I’m saying. The only major shopping that should be done prior to Thanksgiving is for the big family feast taking place this week.

This week for me will be a little different than Thanksgivings in the past in that my family won’t be together. Now we’ve done our own Thanksgivings before in that we have moved from home years ago. But I’ll never forget those times growing up. For my early years it was one of those times I looked forward to. We would travel to my grandparents in Ohio which was only a few hours away but for a kid seemed like it took forever. When we got there and the rest of the family began to arrive it was the traditional Thanksgiving picture you’ve seen in the movies or on television. Big turkey in the middle of the long table surrounded by every side dish you could imagine. Green beans, potato salad, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes (if you didn’t get your starches it wasn’t for the lack of opportunity), rolls and then the desserts. Mom’s carrot cake was always a hit and of course there was always a pumpkin pie which I still use as just a vehicle for my whipped topping. Oh and to make the picture complete, that was the adults table. We kids were all gathered around the little table in the kitchen, affectionately known that time of year as, “the Kid’s Table.”

As the years passed by we have all grown up, moved away and began our own family traditions all the while holding those memories dear to us. I’ve shared a story or two with my kids through the years hoping to give them a glimpse into my youth and the importance of being with family. Thankful for the memories, which in many cases is all we have left of our grandparents, aunts, uncles and some cousins. My mom loved this time of year because in her list of loves, cooking ranked right up there (behind the Lord and family). If we were sick there was soup. If we were depressed, cake. If we were happy, pot-roast (that was also Sunday after church). But Thanksgiving, well now, it was time to really get the cooking done. Early to rise anyway, she found it easy to toss the turkey in then begin the rest of the menu. WOW, I miss those days and I miss her but I’m Thankful for what I have left, many of her recipes and those memories.

Which brings me to this week, which two paragraphs ago I introduced. Many of you know I have two daughters which truly are my pride and joy. My oldest just gave birth to my first grandchild (some of you may or may not know that part) which I think the Sun rises and sets on him. He is my little buddy already and I can’t wait to teach him all my redneck ways. However, this week his parents are up north (with him) to visit my wife’s parents, which is to the delight of the great-grandparents. So Marcia, my wife, has decided she needs to fly up to Kentucky to be with the grandson on this Thanksgiving Day, leaving me and Rebecca, my youngest daughter, home alone. See, I told you this year it was different. Don’t mistake this as me being upset or sorry because I’m missing out for this could not be further from the reality. I’m actually thankful for this.

I’m Thankful my daughter can show her husband and son where her parents grew up. Although he is only 2months old (the grandson not the son in law), the family will all still be together even if it is just the connection of them being in the hills I love so much. I’m Thankful my wife and I can afford to just buy a plane ticket so she can hold her grandson on Thanksgiving Day. I’m Thankful my youngest daughter is excited to cook our Thanksgiving feast, although our turkey is coming from the deli and will be in the form of sandwiches, there will still be pumpkin pie. I am Thankful both my daughters have found good, God-fearing boys (I think I’m spending Thanksgiving with the youngest one’s boyfriend). I’m Thankful we, my wife and I, have a place where the kids can call home and return to anytime they need. I’m Thankful for all the memories I have of my family, those I see all the time, those I don’t and especially those memories of those who are gone. My list of Thankfulness could go on and on but you’re getting the idea. Although this Thanksgiving is going to be a bit different, it doesn’t lessen my list of Thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Day Dreamer

Ralph Phillips holding up a submarine in his day dream

Growing up, as most kids, I loved cartoons. Bugs Bunny was and still is my favorite but there was another series of cartoons I always enjoyed staring a character named, Ralph Phillips. Are you familiar with him? Perhaps you aren’t by name but if you’re my age and looking him up on YouTube then you’ll surely remember. He was the “Day Dreamer.” Through each of his day dreams, even while in math class, his dreams focused Ralph being a heroic adventurer. Ralph dreamed of being a boxer, a sailor and a pilot who captures aliens wishing to take over the world. He even saved his parents from cannibals. Indiana Jones wishes he was Ralph Phillips.

Many people identify with Ralph in the day dreaming aspect. They sit in math class and dream of sword fighting the number 5 (this isn’t one of your dreams?). Perhaps you sit around dreaming about what you would do with the millions you would get if you won the lottery. Maybe you look at the person or people you admire and dream about being as successful as them. In Ralph’s dreams, they seemed so real, they were real, to him at least. How many of you husbands have awaken next to your wife who was because of something you did in her dream? Dreams are so amazing because they seem so real, authentic and you can be anyone you want to be in your dreams.

I like to think Ralph grew up and became a great adventurer in Toon Town but this is when dreams meet reality. This is often when the dreams stop however and punching the proverbial clock enters the picture. Your dreams have produced great ideas which often have you excited when you awake but then you shower drive to the job you hate and once again the dream is lost. A lot of factors go into this lost world and I believe once we discover what those areas are then changes, positive changes, can be made and dreams can become a reality.

Passion is a big part of turning a day dream into a day job. This is how I feel about communication and cooking. These days I get to combine the two passions into one big dream. I’ve been speaking, teaching and writing for years but now I add in the cooking aspect, specifically outdoor cooking. However, if you lack passion then your dream will surely stay just that, a dream.

Preparation is the first step in bringing any dream from the subconscious world into the real world.  When I was in college all I could think about was standing in front of an audience to impart knowledge and motivation. But I don’t give any speech without studying the subject, the company and making a list of everything I may need for any given presentation. This, however, takes effort and if you’re not willing to put in the time then your dream will stay on the pillow.

Patience is one of the most important aspects of taking your dream from the fantasy to the fantastic. This is also the most frustrating part of moving forward with this great idea you’ve got. I’ll be honest with you, this is my least favorite but I’ve come to learn this is when the I begin to see the big picture of my dreams. This is hard for some people because many just want the success now or faster. If you don’t learn to pace your dreams with patience, then they will be doomed to the dreamland of your mind.

I hope our star, Ralph Phillips, learned these three prongs of turning a dream to reality because I would just hate to think he left those adventures for someone else to have. The same is what I hope for you, make your dreams come true and live your adventure.

Chasing the Lion – Part 1

The other week while sitting in church our preacher quoted a verse of Scripture which intrigued me quite a bit. It was a story, within a larger story, but not a lot of detail was given. I guess it was more of a character story to impress upon the reader what kind of guy Benaiah was as he was listed among King David’s Mighty Men. Here is the verse I’m talking about – Benaiah chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it (2 Samuel 23:20 -21). See what I mean? Did it capture your attention like it did mine? Let me help you with why I was caught by this.

The first thing was, he chased a lion! WOW! This is impressive, but why? Why would he chase a lion? Growing up in Kentucky I would spend all summer playing in the woods behind my house. On one of those summer days I remember climbing a tree and noticed a snake climbing the limbs just beyond me (probably dropped by a bird is my thought). Being who I am, I climbed the tree faster chasing that snake to catch it. Just as I reached for it, the snake lost its grip and fell to the ground. I know why I was chasing it but a little snake is a far cry from a lion. But why was Benaiah chasing this beast? We don’t know but I’m sure it wasn’t because he was just playing in the woods with nothing better to do. However, if one is going to chase a lion they should have a purpose for it.

You don’t face a challenge like a lion with no purpose for it. We all have some lion in our lives and for this article, this lion of ours is our dreams, passions and what we want to be when we grow up.  Perhaps this lion was eating travelers or was preventing the advancement of a plan but regardless of the why, he found his purpose in this moment and was able take the steps necessary to accomplish what he set out to do. Look at your situation and discover your purpose in this moment. Some purposes are temporary while others are long term but both are life changing.

Did you notice he chased the lion? Yep, that’s a weird one, unless your Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but something tells me the lion in our story wasn’t of the cowardly and singing type. Once Benaiah found the purpose, he chased after it. He didn’t wait for it to come to him or for someone to lead him to it. He chased after it and did not let up until he caught it. If you are looking to accomplish anything, large or small, then you must chase after it regardless of the obstacles in your way (which we’ll discuss in our next blog). Whether you want to be a caterer, writer or comedian (your purpose) you have to decide if you have the gumption to chase that purpose. But lest you think it’s easy, there where obstacles, which brings us to next week’s blog. Work on your purpose for this week and make your preparations to chase it.

IMPACT the Pond You’re In

Lake Toho in Kissimmee, FL

Growing up where I did my brother and I did a lot of fishing. We loved it so much we’d get fishing gear for our birthdays and Christmas. We even had a plan to hit the pro fishing circuit. However, there were many a Summer afternoon when the fish weren’t biting and we would be bored. One of the ways I’d entertain myself on those lazy days was to wait until my brother was daydreaming then I’d toss a rock in just out of his line of vision. I’d ask, “Did you see that fish jump?” Of course, he wouldn’t be fooled so we just would just start skipping rocks and count the number of impacts each rock made as it sailed across the top of the water.

If you’ve ever done this then you know exactly what I’m talking about and how much fun it is. One of the most intriguing things, to me, is the ripples each impact makes on the pond, like little waves washing ashore. It has since dawned on me, with every impact, no matter the size, there is always a ripple effect. This ripple continues moving long after the initial impact has faded but because of the ripples the impact isn’t forgotten. This has got me thinking about the IMPACT one makes in his or her respective ponds.

You’ve undoubtedly have heard a variation of the phrase, “I’m just a little fish in a big pond” or “He’s a big fish in a small pond.” What each of these phrase reference is the IMPACT one makes regardless of the body of water they find themselves swimming. Too many rely on the pond to determine their impact and the size of the one made. But this simply isn’t the case. Everyone makes an impact, it’s the ripples which give the lasting effects. So here are a few tips on how you can IMPACT the Pond You’re In.

  1. Identify your strengths and talents. Have you heard those people, perhaps you’re one of those people, who says they have no talent or can’t do anything? This simply isn’t the case, everyone has a talent and many have more than one. You simply have to identify yours and if you can’t figure it out ask someone you trust.
  2. Mentor those around you (and be a mentee). Being someone another person can trust to help them grow is a great honor as many of you already know. Why do you know it? Because you recognize you are a mentor to someone but more likely than not, you have been mentored by someone you greatly respect.
  3. Passion will move forward. I kept telling my youngest daughter she should be a pastry chef, it’s where her talents lie but she just wasn’t having any of my “wisdom.” Well, not until she came home after having a horrible experience and simply said to her mother, “I’m so upset I just need to bake something.” Its then it dawned on her this was her passion.
  4. Action is necessary. It isn’t enough to just say, “Something should be done” when you have the ability to accomplish it.
  5. Communication is the key to any success. From relationships to businesses, their success rises or collapses with good proper communication.
  6. Time is your friend because helps bring a lot of clarity and teaches patience. There’s a lot of emphasis place on one’s impact but the real success of it is the ripples seen over time. It allows you to focus on big picture thinking and not just the immediate splash.

If you’re sitting here reading this wondering about your pond and how you can make an IMPACT in it, here are six simple ideas to help. You may not see immediate ripples to your IMPACT but they are there. However, the real first step in making an IMPACT is ask yourself if you really want to.

The Essentials

When I was in high school I did two years of auto mechanics class where I learned how to tear down motors then put them back together. It was an amazing feeling, especially when they sounded better than when we started. In order to do the job right we had a “tool room” with every tool needed to complete the job, any job. At home the mechanic jobs didn’t require a room full of tools but I did need a tool box of essential tools to do all I needed at the time. This got me thinking about cooking and all the “tools” I not only have in the room formerly known as my garage but also in my back yard. Just about every tool to get the job, any job, done. But, just as in high school, it all began with a tool box full of essentials.

  1. Sharp Knife

This is as essential in a cooking tool box as a hammer is in your home improvement kit. When a chef walks into a kitchen they have their personal knife roll full of knives they need for every task. When you set out to choose knives to begin your culinary journey then I would recommend a chef’s knife, boning knife and a paring knife. Each has its own purpose, but there is little that can’t be accomplished with these three. But don’t just run down to the local big box store to get them, research to get some quality knives. Ones with a good feel for your hand, nice balance and that will hold a sharp edge.  However, learn how to sharpen your knives when needed.

  1. Thermometer

Growing up my first introduction to cooking was watching my mom and grandmother cook everything. If it was something I especially liked, I couldn’t hardly stand the wait, but they always seemed to know when it was done and a lot of times it was perfect. But I did notice they would set a timer so when it rang they would check on it but they didn’t trust it. If it was a cake they would stick a knife or toothpick in it. If it were meat, then the thermometer would come out. You know the one, with the arrow on top and you had to have a magnifying class to read it. However, today is the day of the instant read digital thermometer (with big numbers you can actually see). Spend the money to get a proper thermometer so you will never serve under or over done food again. To get the proper read, only go in your meat half way.

  1. Tongs

Burning your fingers is never fun but if you haven’t done it then you’ve probably not cooked very much. Our mom’s warned all of us to not touch the stove because it was hot but we still had to and we still do. How many of you have a burn scar on your arm or hand? Enter the super hero cook tool, the tongs. Why call it a superhero? Because superheroes are supposed to save the citizens from getting hurt. Tongs are a simple (mild mannered, if you will) tool in the cooking tool box designed to save us from getting burned. I have several with varying lengths depending on the task but a nice spring loaded pair will do just fine to start.

  1. Wooden Spoon

For many, our first introduction to this small piece of lumber was when it was applied as a correctional tool upon our backsides, but it has so many other uses. Rarely a day goes by when I’m not using my wooden spoon as a stirrer or scoop. In an era of all things modern, a good wooden carries with it a bit of nostalgia. A time when I would watch my grandmother stir up a dough or cake.

  1. Measuring Spoons/cups

Mary Poppins said it best with her proverbial and iconic words, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” What many don’t catch is, she was giving us a measurement (as well as a trick) to aid in the recipe of medicine taking. Many recipes, from rubs to cakes, require an exact measurement in order to reproduce a favorite dish.

  1. Strainer

Essential because of the versatile uses it brings to the tool box. A good strainer can be used for its intended uses like straining out unwanted leftovers such as a vanilla bean pod or impurities from an au jus. You can also use it as a sifter for brown sugar over your ribs or some powdered sugar over some fried apple pies.

  1. Whisk

French Toast is one of my favorite breakfast foods, so much so I’ll even have it for supper. Partly because it brings back childhood memories of my mom whisking the egg and milk together with a fork (you thought I was going to say a whisk didn’t ya?). It wasn’t till I was older, I discovered a whisk for this job is so much better than a fork and not only for this job but for many others like marinades, sauces and glazes.

  1. Salt & Pepper

This is more than just a music group from the 90’s, it’s the foundation of most every great rub and recipe. Although very different seasonings, they are forever married together just like peanut butter and jelly. If I have no other seasonings, I’ll always have salt and pepper. This classic combination was even a key component of Eric Hodson’s 2017 Steak World Championship win. According to YouTube, Aaron Franklin only uses this when seasoning his briskets in his famous restaurant and people stand in line for hours. When all other seasonings fail, legends, like salt & pepper, never die.

This list of essentials isn’t exhaustive by any means but would be a great place to begin as you start down this culinary journey or if you’re looking for a list to give some students at your next BBQ class. Building a tool box can be overwhelming at first but with this list, a good cooker and great meat, you’ll have the neighborhood lined up to eat what you are cooking.

The Core of Cooking

Performing while cooking

It wasn’t until Joey and Michele Rusek sent me a pic of Michele cooking a dessert ancillary on her chimney with the caption, “inspired by Vic” and I responded to with #ChimneyCartel and a “LOL” (I would’ve put a laughing emoji but I’m still learning this young hipster stuff). However, this got me to thinking about cooking and the fun one can have doing it. Honestly speaking, this is why I started because it was supposed to be fun, the way it was as kid when I’d stand on a chair to help my mom. So in this spirit the Chimney Cartel was born. So, I’ve come up with three core values which, for me, has become my cooking and comedy mantra and is at the heart of the Chimney Cartel and really, cooking in general.

  1. Cooking should be experimental. Have you ever had a cook make a beeline to you with a fork and a dish as they holler, “Here, try this.” Almost before you have time to swallow they ask, “Whatta think?!” With all the times I’ve had this happen it’s a wonder I’m not the size of a house, good thing I go to the gym (it’s in the same lot as the pizza joint). Experimentation should be what cooking is all about. It’s with these experiments of trial and error you learn to put spices together, expand your skill set and overcome any fears or apprehensions you may have. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but a day without learning is a wasted day. It’s exciting to walk into the mysterious then come out with something amazing. The great example of this is when Thomas Edison was confronted with all the times his lightbulb experiments failed to which he responded, he hadn’t failed, he just learned a bunch of ways it wouldn’t work. Become a student of cooking.
  2. Cooking should be a teaching opportunity. I’m a teacher at heart but not a fan of the traditional classroom which is I never really enjoyed being a college professor. When I’m performing, I enjoy helping the younger new comics with a joke, their stage presence or with some frustrations which come with the business, it’s just what I do. When I’m at a competition or teaching a BBQ class I look at it as an opportunity to instill passion in others then cultivate it to the point the students become the teachers. For this I harken back to the days when I was just a kid, when many of us were just kids, learning from our parents and grandparents. Licking the beater (especially when mom turned it off) was a reward for all of our hard work in baking a cake or making a pie. What was really happening is, Mom was instilling in me and my brother a love for cooking like she had. I watched her encourage my daughter who is now a pastry chef. This occurred because she wasn’t too busy to be a teacher.
  3. Cooking should be fun. This one phrase is at the root of not only the Chimney Cartel but should encompass any cooking endeavor we undertake. You’ve seen them at competitions, haven’t you? Taking it so serious, they alienate themselves from other competitors and fans. It’s my contention that cooking can be done to perfection while having fun doing it. The great thing I’ve learned about fun is, it’s contagious, which can provide for you the opportunities to be a mentor and drive experimentation. When passersby watch you having fun with food, then maybe they’ll give this cooking thing a try. My mantra for the most part is, “If it ain’t fun, then why do it?”

Before you hop on Facebook to join the Chimney Cartel (like all the other cool kids) turn those three pillars in questions to ask yourself. Are you willing to be experimental (learn stuff) when it comes to cooking? Are you willing to be a teacher (mentor) to all those who come to you for knowledge? Are you having loads of fun cooking? If you can answer yes to each of these, then you’re not only ready to become a member of the Chimney Cartel but more importantly, ready to be a great pitmaster, grill master and cook.

Speaking about communication

BBQ Equals Pals

Pals #ThinVic and steak World Champion, Eric Hodson of Boars Night Out BBQ Team

I love westerns. Everything about them and what they represent – good guys always win, being outside, and loyalty. One of my favorite (non John Wayne movies of course) is the classic, Young Guns. This movie has it all, gun fights, adventure and pals. Billy the Kid, in the movie, used this word “pals” a lot to describe his band of Regulators, especially those closest to him. At the end of the movie (spoiler alert) someone carves pals on his headstone. In real life, however, Pals is carved right into the marble and there’s actually a cool story behind it but I’ll leave that to you to research.

Who needs pants when you are taming the west?

While watching this movie again for the countless time, I began to notice some similarities with this and the BBQ life especially when it comes to pals. They came from different backgrounds and regions but yet these band of brothers were linked by a common goal and mutual desires. As I look around at the pals I’ve made in BBQ, we’re the same. Classically trained chef’s alongside backyard cooks all discussing the best way to smoke a perfect brisket or grill a pineapple upside down cake. The best part of this is these “pals” treat each other as equals because they know they each can help the other become a better cook.

Out on the BBQ circuit we make a lot of casual friends and acquaintances but pals ratchets up friends another notch or two. These casual friends/acquaintances are all over our social media friends list and when we’re at the latest cook-off we’re cordial, even inviting them in to our site for a drink. But “pals” are those whom you can call when you’re stuck in the mud or just want to hang out. Most immediate example of this is the Mini Pot Mafia started by fellow Team B & B Ambassadors Mark Lambert, Eric Hodson, Allen Smith, & Malcolm Reed. There’s no trophies on the line, no major cash prize just a bunch of pals who’ve invited a bunch of other pals to hang out and cook in a 1-quart pot.  Why? I think there’s two reasons for this. First, they just enjoy hanging out with each other. They’re “pals” who can call on each other when the chips are down but more than just that, they genuinely like one another.

The second reason and another attribute of being a pal is they aren’t afraid to learn something from some each other. Hanging around with these guys I’ve heard on more than one occasion, “What do you think if we tried this? You think it’d work?” What impresses me the most is these World Champion Competitors aren’t afraid to try new things and teach it to their pals. I sat listening to Mark at Memphis in May talk about doing some sort of Argentinian style of cooking and the next thing I know, at the American Royal he is setting up this contraption to try a new way. I say this all the time (and this won’t be the last time you read this from me), “A day without learning something is a wasted day.” Successful people know this and it’s displayed in how they live.

Pals love seeing their pals succeed and aren’t intimidated by it. When I was in Memphis in May this year, the team I was cooking with, Boars Night Out, got a top three call. In a nutshell, this means the top three in each category must give one more presentation for the judges. This can be nerve racking because the judges judge everything not just the food. They look at your site, the presentation (eat with your eyes remember) and the actual verbal presentation long before they take a bite of your food offering. When this happened for BNO, teams from everywhere came to see if there was anything we needed. In front of our site was a mud pit (it’s called Memphis in Mud for a reason) but while we were concentrating on the table side presentation, someone brought all of their sod to cover the mud. I still don’t know which team it was, but this is just what pals do.

This is what BBQ means to me, relationships, friends, partners, or just pals. Better still, to me BBQ is family.

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