Story and Photos by Dave DeWitt
The setting was perfect: Rancho de los Caballeros, a dude ranch and spa set on 20,000 Sonoran desert acres outside of Wickenberg, Arizona. The weather was perfect: 85 degrees during the day in late October, 56 at night. And the food? It couldn’t have been better, considering that four BBQ and grilling experts were cooking for the eighteen “students” at Kingsford University, sponsored, of course, by Kingsford Products Company, makers of the famous Kingsford charcoal.
–Rick Rodgers, grilling expert and the author of Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook.
–Corinne Trang, “the Asian Julia Child” and the author of The Asian Grill.
–Aaron Sanchez, Latin cooking expert and the author of La Comida del Barrio.
–Chris Lilly, pitmaster of Big Bob Gibson BBQ and ten-time world BBQ champion.
The class began with the “charcoal engineers” from Kingsford describing the process for making briquets from a mixture of hard and soft woods, with their new “Sure Fire Grooves” that make the charcoal read to cook on in about fifteen minutes. Kingsford has about 80 percent of the charcoal market in the U.S. and is always experimenting with new processes and techniques. One of their new products is Charwood, a fast-burning lump charcoal.
Next up was the entertaining Rick Rodgers, who treated us to The Easiest BBQ Ribs, Sweet, Sticky and Spicy Chicken Wings, and New York Strip Steaks with Steakhouse Rub, which he cooked both over charcoal and over gas flames so that we could taste the smoky flavor imparted by the charcoal. It was easy to see why Rick won the Bon Appetit Food and Entertaining Award for outstanding Cooking Teacher. He was very funny in front of the class despite our pestering him with questions. It should be pointed out that many of the students were not familiar with grilling or barbecue techniques. Since I have been grilling since I was eight years old, I ended up assisting the faculty on occasion by answering some of the questions.
Corinne Trang with Her Shrimp “Sausage”
Corinne Trang followed Rick, and she knows more about fish sauce than any other human on earth. Just kidding, but she is incredibly knowledgeable about Asian food. No wonder that she’s an adjunct associate professor in the Culinary Arts department at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Corinne prepared one of the best dishes we tasted, Grilled Shrimp Sausages served with a Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Fish Sauce and then switched to vegetarian with her Grilled Tofu with Ginger-Soy Dressing. I’m not a big tofu fan, but I have to admit that was probably the best-tasting tofu that I’ve ever eaten.
Aaron Sanchez with His Lobster
Next, Aaron Sanchez took the stage. I knew Aaron from the time he was a guest chef at the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show, so we had a great time catching up on culinary happenings. Aaron started off with seafood, namely a Yucatan-Style Grilled Lobster (incredibly good), transitioned to Banana Leaf-Wrapped Bass with Achiote Recado, and finished with Smoky Dry Mole-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin.
After the Kingsford crew treated us to a delicious BBQ lunch (like we needed it after tasting all those grilled goodies), Rick Rodgers returned to the head of our outdoor classroom on the patio for a lesson in “Old Favorites in New Ways” with dishes from the Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook. By the time he was finished, it was two in the afternoon, and I was off to one of the optional ranch activities. I didn’t play golf, ride horses, go swimming, shoot skeet, or get a massage, but rather opted for the desert Jeep tour. I love the Sonoran desert, and guide Glenn did a great job showing a small group of us the flora, fauna, and minerals in the shadows of Vulture Mine Peak.
Vulture Mine Peak
That evening, the students climbed aboard a flatbed trailer loaded with bales of hay and took a hayride out the middle of the desert. Next to a roaring fire was a bar, a dinner station (with barbecue, what else?), and a lot of friendly folks. An excellent guitarist and singer, Caroline, sang old western songs and folk songs like the Ian and Sylvia tune “Someday Soon,” and favorites from Judy Collins and James Taylor. It was a great party.
Chris Lilly Injects the Pork Butt
Saturday morning, we had our final lesson. Chris Lilly, who had cooked all night long, treated us to his Pulled Pork Butt (which is really part of the shoulder, not the pig’s butt), Sweet and Sticky Pineapple BBQ Ribs (some of the best ribs I’ve ever tasted), and the highly unusual but delicious Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Chicken with Alabama White Sauce. Chris, who knows as much about smoking food as anyone on the planet, was an excellent teacher and was particularly good about explaining how to used Kingsford charcoal during the smoking process.
And, of course, there was a graduation ceremony and I now have my fourth diploma (after high school, college, and graduate school)–from Kingsford University. And I had a whole bunch of fun!
Sweet, Sticky, and Spicy Chicken Wings
Rick Rodgers says that these wings sport at least four layers of flavor–the chicken itself, a zesty spice run, a fruity-savory glaze, and the smokiness from the grill.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (or more to taste)
3 1/2 pounds (about 17 pieces) chicken wings, cut between the joints and wing tips discarded
1 9-ounce jar mango chutney, such as Major Gray’s
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Combine the salt, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne powder in a jar and sprinkle it over the wing parts. Cover and refrigerate while building the fire.
Build a charcoal briquet fire in an outdoor grill for indirect high grilling and let it burn until the briquets are covered with white ash.
Meanwhile, pulse the chutney and vinegar in a food processor until smooth, and transfer to a bowl.
Lightly oil the grill grate. Place the wings on the cooler part of the grill and cover. Grill for 15 minutes, turning the wings until they are browned, for a total cooking time of 35 minutes. During the last few minutes, brush the wings with half of the chutney mixture. Move the wings to the hotter part area, directly over the coals, and brush with the remaining chutney mixture. Transfer to a platter and serve hot.
Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium
Grilled Shrimp Sausages with Nuoc Cham
Corinne Trang notes that this recipe is based on the classic Vietnamese specialty, fresh shrimp pasted molded around sugarcane and grilled. She adds a small amount of baking soda to give the shrimp a spongy texture.
For the Shrimp Sausages:
2 pounds headless tiger shrimp, shelled, deveined, and minced
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup toasted rice flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
4 scallions, trimmed and minced (both white and green parts)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Nuoc Cham:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 small red Thai chiles, minced (or more, to taste)
To make the shrimp, combine the shrimp, 3 tablespoons of the oil, the sugar, 1/3 cup of the rice flour, the baking soda, scallions, and pepper and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Put the remaining 2/3 cup toasted rice flour on a plate. Divide the shrimp mixture into 32 equal portions and shape them into 2-inch long sausages. Coat each lightly and evenly with the rice flour.
Prepare a medium-hot grill with charcoal for direct grilling. Brush the sausages with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and grill, turning them often, until crisp, golden, and cooked through, about 3 minutes total. Serve with the Nuoc Cham for dipping.
To make the Nuoc Cham, whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chiles and let stand 30 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings of sausages
Heat Scale: Mild to medium
Yucatan-Style Grilled Lobster
This incredibly simple lobster dish from Aaron Sanchez is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. And it cooks up quickly.
1/2 habanero chile, seeded
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup sour orange juice, or 1/4 cup orange juice mixed with 1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 1 1/4-pound lobster
In a blender, combine the chile, garlic, sour orange juice, lime juice, honey, and olive oil and puree until smooth. In a cast iron skillet, toast the spices until they start to smoke, and then grind them in a spice grinder. Add the ground spices to the habanero mixture and mix well.
Preheat the grill until the coals are ashy. Distribute the coals evenly in the bottom of the grill.
Split the lobster in half lengthwise, removing the roe if necessary. Spread the spice mixture over the tail portion of each side of the lobster.
Place the lobster halves on the hot grill and cook for 7 minutes per side. Remove and serve.
Yield: 2 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Chicken with Alabama White Sauce
The key to this chicken’s flavor is the Alabama White Sauce, and Chris Lilly notes: “People raised in Decatur know that barbecue sauces are supposed to be white.” Big Bob Gibson bottles this sauce, which is sold in 2000 stores in the South.
1 whole chicken
Coarsely ground black pepper
The Alabama White Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider
Make a cut through the chicken parallel to and next to the backbone. This will enable your to butterfly the chicken. Once the chicken is opened, pop the keel bone or breast bone (the dark bone separating the two breasts) out of the chicken.
Lightly coat each side of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Prepare a grill or smoker for indirect cooking.
Place the chicken skin side up and cook for 1 hour, 45 minutes at 300 degrees F. Flip the chicken over and cook for an additional hour and 45 minutes at 300 degrees F.
Remove the chicken and coat with the Alabama White Sauce.
To make the Alabama White Sauce, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Mild
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