Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Adventure

Chimney Cartel Pillar Number One: Explore

You’ve heard me talk about how the Chimney Cartel got started as a joke. Just something because I didn’t want to bring my grill to a steak competition. Since then I’ve been astounded at the popularity of this little movement. There’s a Facebook page, t-shirts, stickers and even a contest with plans to have more, one even in Australia. I could not be any more excited about the direction and potential growth this is experiencing. As the Cartel has started to grow and become more of a movement in the culinary world I decided to come up with three essential pillars I think not only contributes to the growth, creates excitement but gives the Cartel a direction for this upward momentum. So starting today and for the next two, I am going to explore these three pillars beginning this week with Explore.

When I walked into the steak cookoff on July 4th, 2018 with only a starter chimney and grill grate it was a little weird. Everyone around me had name brand grills ready to take home the $1000 prize so you can imagine the looks I was receiving when I never produced one. People stopped by to look, laugh and casually talk as they wondered if I was seriously going to cook on only a chimney. Do you remember those county fairs with the “special” attractions like the half boy half snake or the world’s smallest, well, anything? This is kind what it felt like. I was the “special” attraction and come to think of it, I should’ve been charging a quarter a peek and made a little money. What I determined was people were curious about what I was exploring. Can you win a contest with just a chimney and a grill grate?

Exploring something new is always exciting and this wasn’t any different. I’m a natural explorer and have been my whole life but never really even recognized it until now. Growing up where I did we had woods behind our house and every summer I, along with my brother, would explore those woods, going a little deeper on each expedition. From careers to interests, I’ve had this undying need to learn something new which will help me grow. This is exactly what exploring is all about and why I believe people are digging the Chimney Cartel. It’s a place where we can be the culinary equivalents to Lewis & Clark, just primarily outdoor cooking.

Being willing to explore opens up new worlds never seen before. It allows for trial and error, for learning and growth. Take a look Lewis & Clark for instance, they had the courage to go into unchartered territory to open up this country of ours. Now they weren’t the first people to go but they were the first to map it out for the rest of us to see and as a result, we grew as a nation. Explorer after explorer had this in them to learn and grow, this sense of adventure carries over into the Chimney Cartel.

If we aren’t willing to explore the unknown, the uncharted then how will we ever expect ourselves to learn something new? Exploring a brand new territory is where we thrive!

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.

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.

Summer is a time for Adventure

Summer has…well what has it done? Spring has sprung. Autumn falls upon us. Winter blows in with its cool breeze. But what do we say about Summer? Well anyway, Summer has begun and with it life continues on its blaze of filled calendars. Trips are planned and shows are being booked all the time. I have something going on almost every month for the rest of the year. Then we try to discuss when to take a vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle. The Keys perhaps or the Mountains will be in our future.

But this time of year takes me back to a time with life was less chaotic and revolved around what fun I could get into today. Once the day was over thoughts of what to do tomorrow turned into dreams as I would drift off to sleep. Summer, for a child was what made life worth living long before we had to think about making a living. When asked by adults, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” was answered with well thought of responses. I’m going to be a cowboy, army man or maybe a pirate would be on the list depending on the day and what fun thing we were doing.

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, my brother and I would run the hills behind our house looking for whatever we could find. Somedays it was Bigfoot or a monster living in the woods but it didn’t matter because each day was a brand new adventure. We would joke, if someone escaped the nearby prison and chose to hide out in those woods, there wasn’t a person in the county who knew those paths better than us. Some were made by animals on their trek to find food while others were blazed by us searching for our daily quest.

Summer left us with no snow to shovel where we would earn a couple dollars shoveling snow off driveways. But never fear when found our money maker when we discovered several blackberry patches. If you’ve never gone to the woods and picked wild blackberries, then you really have had now adventures in your life. My brother and I would trek off with 5 gallon buckets in hand and fill them every time we went out. Well, we would have filled them every time except we ate a lot of them. Yes, without washing them. Then we put them in jars or containers to sell to the neighbors. No, we didn’t have permits but back in those days people encouraged kids to work. Summers would smell of blackberry cobbler in our neighborhood.

As summer is upon us I miss those adventures of youth. A time when kids played, explored and dreamed of adventure. I know I’m about 4 days into Summer but starting today, I think I’ll make Summer an Adventure again.

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