Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Cooking

Why Cook?

It’s Been Awhile

Teaching presentation skills at the NBBQA

I miss this blog...the writing of it…the evolution of it. But I’ve been so busy I’ve just not had the time to devote to it. Time is so finite. 60 seconds in every minute, 60 minutes in every hour, 24 hours in each day, and 168 hours in a week but yet there still seems like there’s not enough. It’s not like I haven’t been busy, just the opposite is true. I’ve been busy writing, traveling, speaking and slinging jokes. The writing I’ve been doing has been fantastic and has opened tons of doors however this, my favorite, has been neglected.

As many of you know I love to write and this won’t change. I’ve been doing it for 30 plus years but off and on I’ve neglected it. Perhaps if I had stayed focused I would have been published more and even written one of those books which are still in the thesis mode. Shoot, maybe I would have been paid more for it but who thinks of this at the time. This is all about to change as I close in on the half way mark of 2019. I am beginning to get more contracts for my writing and starting to shift back to speaking, humorously of course. This all goes hand in hand with the goals I have for my career.

It’s been a while since I have been in control of my own career and honestly, I’ve missed it. So I am feeling pretty good about my upcoming schedule as I shift everything towards my strengths. All of my degrees (yes, I have more than one) are in the communication area from writing to speaking to teaching so I’m going back to my communication roots.

Cooking in the Culinary Fight Club

I am shifting it to some degree to the food industry. I always said there is room in the food world for everyone and I’m going to take my own advice, using my skills in this industry.

I am still going to travel, which I have loved since I started driving and I’m still going to sling some jokes but I am shifting the emphasis of how I do it. If you are having trouble with your presentations, I will be your man. If you need content for your blog, then I will be your writer. If you need a speaker who is funny, then I will be the humorous keynote you’ve been looking for. The Chimney Cartel will continue to grow as I continue to cook, learn, teach and most of all have fun.

So it has been a while….but I am back and back to stay.

It’s All About Having Fun

Mom teaching Rebecca in the kitchen

“If you enjoy what you do then you won’t work a day in your life.” We’ve all heard this old philosophical statement before in some way or another. It won’t matter the long hours, sleepless nights or even the sweat you put into the task at hand if you enjoy what you’re doing. Everything from woodworking to laying wire to sales, if it’s fun for you then it isn’t work. This is why there is so much emphasis placed on doing something you love which will result in loving the alarm clock rather than dreading it.

I once had a job where I would wake up dreading the drive in. Every morning I had to deliver reasons to myself as to why I couldn’t quit this day. This is what I wanted my kids to avoid as well, but they fought me on this. One of my daughters is a great photographer and graphic designer. You know, she’s the creative, artsy type. I encouraged her to pursue this but her excuse, “If it’s my job, I won’t love it like I do.” So she went after an engineering degree then switched to business all because her artsy self kept calling. So now she runs her own business doing what I told her she should pursue to begin with. While she and her husband are going to be missionaries, this is still something she can rely on and have fun doing it.

My second daughter loves to cook, bake mainly but cook in general. She’s been like this her whole life but it didn’t dawn on her until she was a freshman in college. Just like her sister, I kept telling her what she should do with her life. Now before you get carried away, I was basing my suggestions on where their passions were not on my dreams for them. As any parent would, however, my dream for my girls has always been they do what makes them happy to get up in the morning. Too many people in this world lack “permission” (some just lack gumption) to follow their passions and dreams therefore drive to work wishing, dreaming of a different life. I didn’t want this for my girls, so suggest and steer them I did, the best way I could anyway. But you know teenagers, if your parent suggests it then a different road they will travel only to realize years later what they should’ve been doing all along (there are those exceptions where they find a new calling, better even).

Although my oldest tried engineering her freshman year, she quickly realized it wasn’t for her and knew then graphics and photography was for her. My youngest decided to be a teacher and has a heart for autistic kids but after a particularly difficult day she came home announcing, “I’ve had a rough day and I just need to bake something!” The light-bulb went off in her head along with talks with her mom, baking is the way for her to find joy in her career (neither girls wanted to admit Dad was right, but I’m ok with it). She is now the sous chef at a local university and happy she made the choice she did.

This is the final pillar for the Chimney Cartel, just have fun with what you are doing, especially when it comes to food. Turn your passion into more than just a hobby and perhaps you can wake up every morning with a spring in your step because you get to go do something you love.

I did a baking/comedy presentation at the Tasting Village

Bucket Lists

A few years ago there was a popular movie about a man who chased his bucket list and then found a friend who shared his passion for the challenging. The two endeavored to build their friendship while planning the ultimate bucket list quest, climb Mt. Everest. This movie struck a chord with a lot of people so much so, everyone started creating their lists and pursuing them with great passion. I even heard of an eight-year-old boy whose bucket list consists of visiting every Gordon Ramsey restaurant. But have you ever considered having outdoor cooking bucket list? What would you like to cook but haven’t tried yet? How about the grill or smoker you’ve heard about and itching to give it a try? Maybe, you’ve even thought about something totally off the cooking wall to attempt. Bucket lists come from this desire or passion to try something new, different and challenging. Regardless of what it is, there are a few things you must do to ensure success.

Research   

An outdoor cook recently posed this question while admitting having never cooked a prime rib roast, which to some was elementary but to others led to a great conversation. When undertaking your outdoor cooking bucket list, research must be at the very beginning of this process. One doesn’t just wake up one morning and start climbing Mt. Everest but realizes their journey begins first with research. This must also be true when choosing to undertake the challenge of cooking something you’ve never tackled before. This is where you will learn from the trial and errors of others, standing on their shoulders leading to your successful cook. What flavors to use to enhance the cut. Which B&B charcoal or wood would give you the best results? This is only a couple reasons why research is so paramount to your outdoor cooking success.

 Prepare  

As important as research is before you undertake your bucket list cook, preparation is key. Going back to our Mt. Everest analogy, a climber prepares for every aspect of the climb, ropes, boots, spikes and tons of other items. The check list is reviewed more than once to ensure everything needed is available. Because there are no climbing stores on the side of the mountain. The same holds true with the outdoor cook. Who wants to begin a cook of this magnitude then have to run to the store because a needed item isn’t on the prep table? You need a clean cooker, knives, gloves, foil and most imperative will be choosing the right seasonings. B&B Charcoal has a variety of award winning rubs which when used alone or combined together will deliver unbelievable results to make every cook great but your bucket list cook memorable.

Execute

Once you’ve completed your research and done your preparation work it’s the exciting time to execute your bucket list. Back to Everest we go for some inspiration especially for the climber. He or she won’t tackle this mountain alone but will have a support team making the trek alongside them. I remember cooking my very first alligator and everything was ready complete with the butterflies. I had completed my research and each item on my preparation check list was checked off with nothing left to do but execute this bucket list cook. However, I was still anxious until I realized the support, although informal, from the B&B Ambassador Team. There were a couple who proactively reached out to make sure I was ready and then there were a couple who checked on me as the cook was progressing. Knowing there’s such a great B&B Charcoal support team made it so much easier to succeed than going it alone.

On your next cook whether it’s from your bucket list or just wanting to step up your tailgating game, remember these three items. Research, Prepare and Execute without fear knowing B&B is there in some fashion every step of the way.

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.

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.

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.

© 2019 Vic Clevenger

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑