The old saying, “If you love what you do you will not work a day in your life” has never been truer than when it comes to the world of BBQ and especially the business of BBQ. This passion has contributed to making BBQ one of the fastest growing cuisines in the United States. BBQ in its purest form, has been at the center of civilizations since the beginning of time and in this world of “retro cool” may be one of the reasons many are drawn to this cuisine. Although, in the earliest of days, cooking with fire was a necessity, it was this passion which turned these early cooks into the first pitmasters. This sense of community around food cooked over or adjacent to a live fire continues to draw people together and this is great for the business of BBQ.
Another buzz word today is “fusion” which is a fancy way of bringing two or more distinct entities together into one new item. One of those unique business of BBQ “fusions” is right in New York and the exploding New York BBQ movement. Self-educated pitmasters and restaurateurs have filled the Big Apple with smoked kissed meat with what has traditionally been viewed as a southern cuisine. This “fusion” has made such an impact in New York, they hold the yearly “Big Apple Block Party” celebrating this business of bbq and drawing such big name pitmasters as Chris Lilly and Mike Mills. At the core of this fusion is not just the bringing together of regions but of flavors. The willingness pitmasters, such as Billy Durney, have in bringing BBQ to the land of the “best pizza” displays the risks these cooks are willing to take.
This snapshot of the business of BBQ teaches us three essential lessons for success, the first of which is simply, passion. BBQ can require long hours manning the fires to obtain the right level of smoke and this doesn’t happen if there is no passion for a great end product. Secondly is educating yourself to be a master of your craft. Every pitmaster worth his or her salt takes time to educate themselves on how they can do what they do better, embracing the concept of “knowledge is power.” But success never comes without risk, which is the lesson we learn most from those New York pitmasters. The city that never sleeps was virtually barren wasteland when it came to BBQ but a few brave pitmasters took the risk which has paid off in a big way.
These three pillars are what not only holds up the successful business of bbq but what also holds up every successful business.
Today is Christmas Eve and before the house is engulfed with all the smells that accompany this day, I’m here writing my blog reminiscing about the years gone by. There’s been 50 of these holidays, so the flood of memories is many. The Christmas Eve’s with the entire family at my Aunts, the adults in the kitchen laughing, the teenagers in the basement doing what they did and the rest of us noisily running everywhere else. As the years have merrily lumbered by, the holiday traditions of old being replaced by new ones as we move and began our own families. But as I look back on our holiday fun the more I realize these new ones aren’t really all that different.
The Sights of Christmas
Growing up we, like everyone else, we had a Christmas tree complete with stings of multi-colored lights along with a few manger scenes scattered about. However, one of our highlights as a kid was when Mom & Dad would take us down Skyline Drive where there was a house decorated up with so many lights and decorations, Clark Griswold would be envious. Nothing has much changed as I’ve gotten older. Our family tree still has multi-colored lights although they are controlled by our phones and we still make the journey to a Griswold style house. However, living in central Florida, we may not have snow or cold weather, but the parks brighten the night skies with Christmas decorations. One of our favorites is SeaWorld’s Sea of Christmas Trees.
The Sounds of Christmas
I remember getting on the old school bus our church owned making our way from house to house of the shut-ins and seniors for Christmas caroling year after year. A couple years Mom even gathered a few of our neighborhood buddies and got us to go neighbor to neighbor to sing, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. In addition to the holiday songs were the laughter of us kids as we romped and played at my grandparents, perhaps we were even a little too rambunctious on occasion. Now days Christmas caroling has been replaced by my iPod as it plays A Rat Pack Christmas, On Demand Christmas channels on TV and the trek to Epcot at Disney World for the Candlelight Processional. This year the sounds of Christmas will harken back to the Christmases of 1995 and 1999 when there were baby sounds around the tree, which is really the best sounds of all this time of year.
The Smells of Christmas
Aromas have a way of inviting people into a home (it’s the holidays so let’s just focus on the inviting aromas, if we can please) or awakening the kids as they waft through the house. The sweetness of pumpkin pies or carrot cakes. The roasting smell of the turkey as it mingles with the season filled stuffing whetting the appetite as we wait for Mom to call us to the table. Although Mom has gone, her memory is still here with the desserts, at least some of them, being prepared by her protégé, my daughter, Rebecca. These various smells of Christmas still permeate each corner of the house as the whole family pitches in to compliment the old aromas with new smells which will soon fall into the lore of Christmas’ gone by.
The sights, sounds and smells of Christmas are what make this season extra special. It brings back the memories of those who’ve gone on to see the King of kings and allows us to retell those stories as we create new traditions. So this Christmas season, spend a moment to take in all the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Christmas.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.