Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Outdoor cooking

Three Essentials to a Successful Business

Teaching presentation skills at the NBBQA

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.

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

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.

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