The Art Of Living: Great American Grilling

The Ultimate Backyard Barbecue & Tailgating Cookbook

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Recipes and
Photography courtesy of Great American Publishers.

Summer, Father’s Day and grilling go hand in hand. I had the pleasure of visiting Kent Whitaker, whose tagline is “thedeckchef.” He will grill just about anything—from Porterhouse steaks to pineapple to pimiento cheese sandwiches to pizza to pound cake.

Kent is the author of a book entitled “Great American Grilling: The Ultimate Backyard Barbecue & Tailgating Cookbook.” The recipes in his cookbook are simple and easy to prepare.

He has an impressive biography. He has taken his down-home, Southern-style cooking to an art form. “I like to do a bit more than burgers and dogs on the grill,” he admitted.

He has appeared on the Food Network and other network television stations and is a winner of the Emeril Live/Food Network barbecue contest. He frequently hosts cooking classes throughout the South as well as numerous book signings and chef demos. He hosts a short format-cooking radio show which is heard on more than 60 affiliates nationwide, and he writes monthly articles for “The National Barbecue News” and other publications.

Kent is also a sports writer regularly covering NASCAR, ARCA Racing, INDYCAR racing, and occasionally the NFL, all of which include…you guessed it, grilling and tailgating.

He is co-editor of the “State Hometown Cookbook Series” (Great American Publishers). He is also the author of “Smoke in the Mountains” and “Checkered Flag Cooking” (Quail Ridge Press), and he has written and illustrated two children’s books “Why are the Mountains Smoky?” (Overmountain Press) and “Big Mo’s Tennis Ball Hunt” (Great American Publishers.) He has also written three history books—“The USS Alabama” (Arcadia Publishing), “Taladega Superspeedway” (Arcadia Publishing) and “Bullets and Bread: Feeding the Troops in World War Two” (History Publishing Company).

Kent and his wife, Ally, live in East Ridge in the shadow of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. They are the proud ARMY Strong parents of Macee Whitaker as well as members of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. Their grilling sessions include family, friends, a Golden Retriever named Moses, a Presa-Canario named King, and a Shitzu named Lucy.

There are many books on grilling. I asked Kent what sets his books apart from the rest. “History and fun,” he quickly replied. “I’m a big believer in not doing cookbooks that are just recipes after recipes. When I think of cooking, I think of my grandparents and my parents grilling out. Even today if you’re grilling out or tailgating, people sit around and talk about the greatest game or the Super Bowl or NASCAR’S greatest drivers. They talk about history while cooking. I love to tie in history with grilling.”

For me grilling is a chore, so if I really want grilled food, I get out my small electric grill that I purchased in Dallas years ago.

Do more men grill than women, I asked Kent? He responded that it is statistically true that more men than women grill. If you look at the stats from Hearth & Patio information, 90 percent of households in the United States has some type of outdoor grill or smoker. Grilling becomes a family activity.

Of all the many grills on the market today, what type of grill does Kent prefer? “I prefer charcoal and hickory chips, but I often use gas grills for tailgates,” he said. “You can cut off the gas and store the grill.”


Tips For Purchasing A Grill And Other Grilling Questions

“If you value taste over convenience, some say there’s little question that we should go for charcoal,” said Kent. “Gas has its advantages, too, but nothing beats the smoky taste that briquettes or natural wood charcoal can provide.”

Kent told me that many times people buy grills that are too small for their first grill. “I look for quality and a grill that is big enough for what I am going to handle. Our family grill has four burners. A lot of times, though, your choice goes back to budget. Look for a grill that is of good quality and fits your budget. I try to avoid some of the dollar store grills that may fall apart in a year. A good grill is worth the investment.”

“I don’t feel strongly about gas vs. charcoal, but personally I’m going with charcoal if I have time,” said Kent. “But gas is pretty darned amazing! There is something to be said about turning the burners off and having it cool down and still having the ability to use wood chips. A lot of gas grills have a wood chip holder to get that flavor.”

What about the popular Big Green Eggs, I asked Kent? The Webber Original 22” Kettle Grill Big Green Egg is an increasingly popular Kadmo-style grill that originated in Japan and offers a degree of versatility not found in your average grill, he told me. It may also be used to smoke, roast and bake food just like a regular oven. But it is expensive, which puts the Big Green Egg out of the reach of most casual pit masters.

“A neighbor at a lake I frequent is a distributor for the Big Green Egg,” Kent told me. “I’ve never eaten bad food prepared on a Big Green Egg. My neighbor even has a camper version for his mobile home. It is a miniature Green Egg tailgate size grill.”

Kent’s daily grill is a Vermont Casting Grill. They are available to larger retailers like Hearth and Patio stores and gas appliance stores.

I asked Kent if he thinks more people in the South grill than elsewhere. Years ago I lived on a manmade island near Madison, Wisconsin. One sub-zero night my neighbors were casually grilling outside (probably bratwurst).  I could not believe it!

 “I think that Southerners grill out more often,” Kent told me. “Some weeks my wife and I grill out 5 nights a week. That’s our go-to thing. I’m a big time grilled burger fan. I love grilled pizzas and grilled pound cake.”

Tips For Keeping A Grill Clean & Grill Accessories

Kent recommends purchasing good brushes to knock off the dust of grills. At the beginning of the year clean the grill and get rid of the grease. Check grease traps and the drip pan. All contribute to the taste of the grilled food.

Basic spatulas, tongs and hand towels are always on hand near Kent’s grill. “I also have handi wipes by my side at all times,” he said.


Emeril LaGasse TV Appearances

Kent is a past winner of the Emeril Live BBQ Recipe Contest. I asked him how he prepared for this contest. “In 2006 Emeril held a barbeque recipe contest on his TV show in New York,” said Kent. “I went with my gut instinct of doing something different. I figured the contest would get 1000 rib recipes and 1000 sauce recipes. I prepared a barbeque cornbread! The judges said it was so different and it tasted so good. It had sugar, cheese and cornbread in it. I call it Kent’s Barbeque Cornbread. Later I did a follow-up and was on Emeril’s show again after co-writing a book called “Smoke in the Mountains: The Art of Appalachian Barbeque” (Quail Ridge Press).


Who Invented The Charcoal Briquette?

Many people think Henry Ford invented the charcoal briquette when wood scraps from his car production were combined with coal and binders in 1920. In fact, Ellsworth B.A. Zwoyer of Pennsylvania patented a charcoal briquette design years prior in 1897. Following World War One, Zwoyer’s Company, aptly named Zwoyer Fuel Company, built plants in Buffalo, New York and Fall River, Massachusetts.


Some Tips For Grilling The Best Beef Burgers

  1. Grill your burgers over high heat to sear the outside.
  2. Avoid using your spatula to press down on your burgers while cooking.
  3. Flip your burgers only one time. Cook about three minutes on each side for medium rare plus.
  4. If you get a flare up, cover the grill.
  5. Allow your burgers to rest for a few minutes before serving.