Woodstock & Smoke: Volkswagens Transformed into Smokers Create Great Barbecue Hit the Road In Southwest Michigan

        If you missed the 1960s, remember it fondly, and like great barbecue, Tim Carrigan, owner of Woodstock and Smoke, a food fleet of food trucks with a groovy vibe and his son, Max, have a treat for you. A few years back, they started with one old Volkswagen Beetle (also nicknamed in the 1960s as VW bugs), painted it green, removed the chassis, and inserted a large smoker. Oh, and they painted the exterior with flowers just like the Love Bugs of that era which were supposed to represent peace and, you guessed it, love. The term referred to cutely painted VW Beetles which were so popular that two movies were made centered around the concept—Disney’s 1968  “The Love Bug” a comedy about a Love Bug that comes to life starring Dean Jones and Michele Lee and a sequel titled “Herbie: Fully Loaded.”

        To complete the look of that era, the chefs often wear brightly colored tie-dye Woodstock and Smoke t-shirts.

        Garrison says it started off as one of those I’m bored type of things—though with working as a chef at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles in Southwest Michigan, catering, and teaching culinary classes at Buchanan Public Schools it’s hard to figure out how he had time to be bored—and decided to something with the smoker and VW he had.

        “I always loved Volkswagens,” he says. “I had a Volkswagen and a grill and so I drew one up and had someone do the fabrication. Then it sat out in a field  for a year. Someone saw it sitting there and asked if they could use it for a graduation party. It was a hit.”

        Now there are six with four more in the works. One of the existing ones is a pizza Love Bug that reaches temperatures of 600° and can bake a pizza in four minutes.

It’s not easy finding cheap Volkswagens but necessary to keep costs down. Carrigan has sourced them from as far away as Warsaw, Indiana, and Jackson and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then they fix them up. And some sure do need fixing. One, he says, had a tree growing through it, another’s roof was crushed by a falling tree.

        “We find them in sheds, barns, fields, wherever,” says Max who completed his culinary degree at Grand Valley State University; his father’s degree is from the culinary program at Grand Rapids Community College.

        The smokers, at five-feet tall and six-feet long, take up all but the hood and back of the VW. The  use apple and cherry wood to produce the heat needed for a day at a site like Watermark. They also have to pack enough wood to keep the smoker going all day long.

        On a busy Memorial Day weekend, the Love Bugs were busy smoking and grilling throughout Southwest Michigan. Watermark Brewing Company has them booked for every Saturday and Sunday and that’s where Max was when I stopped by to taste their smoked Brussel sprouts. I was disappointed to see that they were sold out of a lot of items including the sprouts.

        “I’m waiting for more food to arrive—we’ve been so busy I called for more,” Max told me.

        Fortunately they still had their slow roasted pork which is then shredded and piled high on a bun. Max made up a sandwich for me and then gave me a sampling of sauces so I could decide which one I wanted as a topping for the pork. I almost declined a sauce as the meat was so tender and tasty. Plus there were so many choices—including Blueberry Habanero (which they sell by itself because it’s so popular), a classic red barbeque sauce, Carolina Gold—apple cider vinegar, chili pepper flakes, and a tad of local honey, spicy strawberry, and a cherry barbecue sauce. It was hard to decide. My favorite was  a white sauce made with mayonnaise, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and fresh garlic.

        “It’s mayo based,” says Carrigan. “You can find it in some of the southern states but it’s rare.”

        I arrived earlier the next day so I wouldn’t miss out on the Brussel sprouts and was surprised to see so many people ordering them including Richard Russell who kindly allowed me to photograph his pulled pork with sprout. When I said I was surprised they were so popular (my husband thinks they’re akin to poison) he said he thought many people were served the overcooked mushy ones that didn’t have any flavor.

        “I was always in the kitchen growing up,” says Carrigan, who brought Max into the business when he was 14.

        “I learned to cook from my dad,” says Max, as he was loading up 250 pounds of meat for the following day. “In the summer we cook around 300 pounds.”

        Not only do they grill meats and Brussel sprouts,  big pans in the smoker are filled with the family recipe for baked beans and other fishes such their deluxe macaroni, a cholesterol-defying dish, is made with three types of cheese and meat such as their smoked pork put on the top. The meat comes from various local butchers including Lowry’s Meat & Groceries on River Street in Buchanan, a place that’s been in business for more than 50 years. There’s also teriyaki, smoked corn beef, grilled local asparagus when in season, and Max is serving Korean pork and barbecue at Watermark.

        You can find one of the VWs at the Bridgeman Farmer’s Market on Sunday, downtown New Buffalo on Thursday night, Green Stem in Niles and the South Haven Farmer’s Market on Wednesday. They also recently rented a family restaurant on the southeast corner of U.S. 12 and Red Arrow Highway in New Buffalo and though they’re not serving food there (or at least not yet), that’s where they do their food prep and load up the Volkswagens.

        “We also do car shows, food festivals, concerts for the St. Joseph Symphony Orchestra, wineries like Lemon Creek Winery, and parties,” says Garrison. To check out where they’ll be, visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WoodStockandGrill

        “I’ve always been fascinated by all aspects of cooking,” says Carrigan, who with his team create recipes. It was Steve Gargis, who has been with Carrigan’s catering company for seven years and is now also doing Woodstock and Smoke who came up with the Blueberry Habanero Sauces and also has a jalapeno sweet corn that’s very popular. They also make desserts such as brownies, fruit buckle,

Others involved in the business include Melanie  Hutchinson who coordinates events and has been with Carrigan’s JML Catering for 13 years.  JML represents the first initials of his three children. Carrigan married his high school sweetheart Kaylene who works as a nurse though she helps out when things get really busy. Like Max, the other two children grew up in the business. Jayla, the oldest daughter became a nurse but helps out as does his youngest, Lexi, who is studying to be an audiologist at Grand Valley State University. Son-in-law Dough Zundel helps train new hires on how to use the smokers.

Carrigan describes himself as liking to keep things simple (though we don’t really believe that) and notes that he still lives in the same house he grew up in.

Like I mentioned earlier, Love Bugs used to be about Peace and Love, now we can add barbecue as well.

Sidebar: Alabama White Barbecue Sauce     

Tim Carrigan said white barbecue sauce was unique to the south and hard to find even there.  A Google search showed that white barbecue sauce originated in Alabama around 1925 at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ located in Decatur, Alabama. Gibson’s now bottles the sauce and people use it not only on barbecued meats but also as a dip, on pizza, and anything else you want. It can be ordered from the restaurant’s website, bigbobgibson.com or, of course, Amazon.

There’s even a “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Legends from a Legendary Barbecue Joint: A Cookbook by Chris Lilly,” the great-grandson-in-law of Big Bob and executive chef at Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ.

Big Bob’s White Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
  • ½ half teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

The following recipes are courtesy of Woodstock and Smoke

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

  • 3 pounds Brussel Sprouts
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Toss the sprouts with the oil and add in additional seasoning. Place in the smoker for 30-35 minutes or till done.

Pork Butt Rub

  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • ½ cup granulated garlic
  • ¼ cup pepper
  • ¼ cup granulated onion
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup dry mustard

Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container until ready to use. Rub on the pork butts and let them rest in the refrigerator a few hours before putting them into the smoker. Cook until fork tender and meat shreds easily.

The South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection

Several years ago I talked to Matt Moore about his cookbook, The South’s Best Butts:
Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection
. Moore, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, hit the
road, chronicling how barbecue differs in the 12 southern states he calls the Barbecue Belt.

Now luckily, in a time when going out to dinner means firing up the grill, Matt’s been busy
driving and flying (he owns a small airplane) again. Covering 10,000 miles in three months, he’s gathered
special recipes and tips from the eateries of Southern grillmasters and restaurants owned by such well-known chefs as Michael Solomonov, owner of Zahav in Philadelphia and Ashley Christensen’s Death &
Taxes in Raleigh
, North Carolina. He’s put all this together in his latest book, Serial Griller: Grillmaster
Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection.

Matt Moore, on his way to check out more barbecue places throughout the South.

“It’s an All-American guide to grilling,” Moore tells me. “I think we’re really fortunate to live in a
country where people come from someplace else and we can pull from all those different countries. I
wanted to make sure the recipes were diverse.”

Indeed the multi-ethnicity of grilling comes out with recipes like Athenian Chicken and Sweet
Potatoes Rescoldo, which he describes as melding Louisiana and South America flavors. Al rescoldo is a
popular South American technique where foods like potatoes are cooked in the dying brasas, or embers
of a fire.

Moore also wanted to make sure Serial Griller was instructive and easy to use, no matter what
type of grill or foods you use.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the different meats, vegetables, even fruit as well as
fuels,” he says. “We give instructions for using both gas and charcoal instructions for each of the

Moore had to use persuasion to get some to reveal their secret recipes.

“There’s a little more secrecy in barbecue, there ae recipes they don’t want to give out,” says

He also includes his own includes his own, like one for Grilled Watermelon.

“The concentrated sweetness and hint of smoke that juicy melon gets from a brief rest on a hot
grill adds surprising pizzazz to a refreshing dessert that is big on flavor and short on hassle,” he writes in
the recipe’s introduction. “Sweeten things up, in a healthy way, by adding a rich, creamy dollop of
vanilla Greek yogurt. The best desserts are all about sensory balance—here, hot meets cold, and creamy
and juicy counter crunchy and chewy.”

The following recipes excerpted from Serial Griller © 2020 by Matt Moore. Photography © by Andrea
Behrends and Helen Dujardin. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Sweet Potatoes Al Rescoldo
HANDS-ON:25 minutes
TOTAL:1 hour 35 minutes

4 sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup roughly chopped pecans
1 teaspoon Mexican cinnamon (canela)
½ teaspoon guajillo chile powder
Finely chopped fresh parsley

Prepare a fire of live red oak coals or two chimneys full of charcoal. If you do not have two chimneys,
work in batches to produce enough coals. After the coals have gone from glowing red-hot to gray, pour
the coals onto a grilling surface and use tongs to carefully submerge the sweet potatoes completely
beneath the coals.

Allow the potatoes to sit in the coals until completely cooked, about 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from
the coals and let cool to the touch. Brush clean and cut in half.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat on the stovetop or over direct heat
on the grill. Add the sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and chile powder and mix until thoroughly combined.
Generously spoon the butter on top of the cut potatoes. Place the potatoes, cut-side up, back on the
grill over direct heat (500°F), cover, and cook for 5 minutes to allow the potatoes to firm. (You can also
place the potatoes under a broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to set.)

Athenian Chicken
HANDS-ON: 50 minutes
TOTAL: 26 hours, including 24 hours marinating

1 (3- to 4-pound) whole chicken
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Honey-Lemon Sauce:

⅓ cup lemon juice
¼ cup yellow mustard
¼ cup honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Minced fresh parsley

For the chicken: Remove and discard the giblets from the chicken. Wash the chicken thoroughly and pat dry. In a small bowl, mix the oregano, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper together. Using your hands, rub
the spice mixture all over the bird, including inside the cavity. Place the chicken in a shallow dish, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours or overnight.
Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill, and then push to one side of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 300° to 350°F. Coat the top grate with oil, place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high [300° to 350°F] on one side.)
Place the chicken, preferably on a rotisserie or rack, over indirect heat and cook, grill covered, for about 1 hour, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. The chicken can be served whole, or you can remove the backbone and serve in halves or quarter it by removing the thighs from the breasts.
For the sauce: Mix together all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Generously drizzle the sauce over the cooked chicken and garnish with parsley.

The sauce can be made in advance and kept for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, covered. Bring to room temperature and shake vigorously prior to serving.

Grilled Watermelon

HANDS-ON: 10 minutes
TOTAL: 10 minutes

8 (1-inch-thick) seedless watermelon wedges with rinds
½ cup vanilla whole-milk Greek yogurt
¼ cup roasted salted pistachios, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped
½ teaspoon grated orange zest (from 1 orange)
Freshly ground black pepper

Open the bottom and top vents of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled halfway with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450° to 500°F. Coat the top grate with oil, place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [450° to 500°F].)

Place the watermelon wedges on the oiled grates; grill, uncovered, until grill marks appear, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Place a grilled watermelon wedge on each of eight serving plates. Top the wedges evenly with the yogurt, pistachios, ginger, and orange zest. Garnish with pepper.

Faith, Family & the Feast: Recipes to Feed Your Crew from the Grill, Garden, and Iron Skillet

“My mother always told me to put your heart into whatever you do,” Kent Rollins tells me over the phone. And for Rollins that came to mean cooking on the range using cast iron cookware, utensils, food and his 35-year-old, 385-pound cast iron wood stove nicknamed Bertha all carted around in an 1876 Studebaker chuck wagon sometimes pulled by horses.

“Studebaker was the Cadillac of wagons,” continues Rollins. “It was made in Indiana, President Lincoln requested one. Studebaker was the only one of the wagon makers that made the successful transfer to automobiles. You could order from their catalogue book; they were one of the few companies that had chuck wagons rather than buying a wagon and having it customized.”

I didn’t know any of that and Studebaker’s headquarters was just across the state line in South Bend. I was talking to Rollins, who with his wife Shannon, have millions of  viewers on their YouTube cooking show and have just released their latest cookbook Faith, Family & the Feast: Recipes to Feed Your Crew from the Grill, Garden, and Iron Skillet (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2020; $30). They were scheduled to be in Chicago for a demonstration and book signing but because of the coronavirus the event was canceled. But I still wanted to write about them because having grown up watching Westerns on television, chuck wagon cooking has always fascinated me. Rollins has been doing just that since 1991 and I ask what’s it like.

 “It is hard work,” he says, noting that they spent 292 days on the road in one of their busiest years but have cut back to ten weeks or so annually.  “But it has great benefits–the places we get to see and the great people we meet.”

Rollins is a folksy-style storyteller and his anecdotes are part of the fun of the book. Writing about his prize winning chili recipe he says that it is has won prizes, but they haven’t.  

“However, we’ve gotten a ton of emails from folks who tell us they used this recipe at their local chili cook-off and won,” he writes in the introduction to the recipe in the cookbook and then offers cooking suggestions. “You can use any type of meat, whether it’s ground beef or even wild game. A perfect blend of chili powder, cumin, and oregano gives it a classic chili flavor, and the chipotle chiles take it to blue ribbon status. Beans or no beans is always the question. I do love a bean, and we add kidney beans for more heartiness, but that’s you call.”

Coming up with the recipes for the cookbook wasn’t a problem, Rollins has plenty of them from decades of cooking. Quantifying them is a different story.

“I learned to cook from trial and error because there wasn’t a recipe,” he says. “I still don’t measure. When people say how much is that, I say just enough.”

Not to worry, there are measurements for all the recipes in the cookbook.

When Shannon Rollins, who did the book’s photos, suggested they include her family recipe for banana pudding, Rollins worried it wouldn’t be up to Southern standards. After all, she’s from Elko, a town in northern Nevada.

“I said, well, hold on honey, that’s a southern  dish so it has to be perfect, when I tasted it, I told her you’re a southern lady now,” he says, adding that a standard potato masher is the perfect kitchen utensil to use to make this as well as refried beans and other recipes in the book.

I’m not sure I’ll be going out on the Chisolm Trail like Shannon and Kent Rollins but if that ever happens, I’ll know what to cook.

The following recipes are excerpted from Faith, Family & the Feast: Recipes to Feed Your Crew from the Grill, Garden, and Iron Skillet © 2020 by Kent and Shannon Rollins. Photography © 2020 by Shannon Rollins.

Prize-Winning Cowboy Chili

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

1 pounds ground beef or chuck, cut into bite-sized chunks

Salt and black pepper

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 (10-ounce) cans Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (16-ounce) can kidney beans, drained

3 or 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped

⅓ cup chili powder

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons paprika or smoked paprika

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped green onions for serving

In a large pot or 12-inch Dutch oven, brown the meat over medium-high heat, breaking up the chopped beef or turning the cubes of chuck, 8 to 10 minutes. As the meat begins to brown, season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the onion and continue cooking until the meat has fully browned and the onion is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the excess grease.

Stir in the Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles, 1 Ro-Tel can of water, the tomato sauce, kidney beans, and chipotle chiles to taste. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and the remaining seasonings.

Cover and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, to let the flavors blend. Serve warm, topped with cheese, sour cream, and green onions, if desired.

Cast-Iron Tip

Acidic foods, such as tomatoes or barbecue sauces, are harsh on cast iron, but you can cook them in it. Just be sure to clean it well and preseasons it after every use.

Cowboy-Style Philly Cheesesteaks

Makes 6 servings

“Don’t hitch the wagon up and drive all the way to Philadelphia for this one, ’cause we’re doing this cowboy style,” says Rollins.” I use skirt or flank steak because they have great flavor and typically cost less than the rib eye. I let the steak marinate for at least four hours. My favorite part of this dish is the cheese sauce. We use provolone, which has a light, natural smoke flavor, with a little horseradish for some zest.”

Lime juice

2½ to 3 pounds skirt or flank steak

2 tablespoons meat tenderizer

Salt and black pepper

2 bell peppers (1 green, 1 red)

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for the rolls

6 hoagie rolls

Cheese Sauce (see recipe below)

Rub lime juice on one side of the steak. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the meat tenderizer and rub it in, followed by salt and pepper. Flip and repeat on the other side. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours; remove 30 minutes before grilling.

Meanwhile, clean, oil, and preheat the grill to medium-high. Cut the bell peppers into large pieces remove the seeds and veins. Cut the onion into large slices.

Grill the veggies and steak until the steak is medium rare to medium and the vegetables are tender and slightly charred, 2 minutes per side for the steak and 2 to 3 minutes for the veggies. Press the veggies down slightly while grilling for more even cooking. Remove from the heat and let cool enough to handle.

Chop the veggies and place them in a large cast-iron skillet with the butter. Chop the steak and stir it in with the veggies. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Butter the inside of the hoagie rolls and grill them butter side down over medium heat until toasted.

Spoon the meat and veggies into the hoagies, top with cheese sauce, and serve.

Cheese Sauce

Makes about 2 1⁄3 cups

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups milk, plus more if needed

8 ounces provolone cheese

1½ to 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour until smooth.

Stir in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened to a creamy consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Tear the provolone into pieces or cut into chunks, slowly add it to the mixture, and cook, stirring, until smooth and melted, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the horseradish to taste. If needed, slowly add more milk, about a tablespoon at a time, just until the cheese sauce is pourable. Pour over the cheesesteaks.

Loaded Tater Bombs

Makes 8 potato balls

“Don’t ever wonder what you’re going to do with those leftover mashed potatoes anymore, though it’s worth making them just so you can have them for this dish,” writes Rollins. “These fellers are packed with layers of flavor. They’re mixed with green onions, bacon bits, cheddar cheese, and sour cream and then deep-fried. Panko breadcrumbs give the perfect outer crust for a crunch.”

3½ cups mashed potatoes

1⁄3 cup bacon bits (store-bought or fresh-cooked)

1⁄3 cup diced green onion

Salt and black pepper

½ to ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

About ¼ cup sour cream

1⁄3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 large egg, beaten

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

Peanut or canola oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir the potatoes until smooth. Stir in the bacon bits and green onion; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in enough flour so the potatoes hold together and aren’t sticky. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the potatoes for coating the potato balls later. Flour your hands and roll the remaining mashed potatoes into 8 balls.

Form a deep well in the middle of each of the balls with your finger. Layer in a heaping teaspoon of the sour cream, followed by 1 to 2 teaspoons of the cheddar cheese.

Bring the outside edges of the potato balls together to seal at the top. Add some of the reserved 1/3 cup of potatoes to the top to seal, if needed.

Brush the balls with the egg and generously coat with the breadcrumbs.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 3 to 4 inches of oil to 350ºF. Add a few of the potato balls at a time and deep-fry, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve hot.

‘Naner Pudding

Makes about 8 servings

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1 cup milk

1 (5-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

6 or 7 large ripe bananas

1 (11-ounce) box vanilla wafers

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream and sugar until stiff. Cover and refrigerate.

In a large bowl, beat the milk, pudding mix, and condensed milk until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, mash 1 banana with a fork until smooth. Beat into the pudding mixture. Cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until it reaches a thick pudding consistency.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the remaining bananas.

Arrange half the vanilla wafers in an even layer in the bottom of a 9-x-13-inch baking pan.

Fold half the whipped cream into the pudding mixture. Evenly spoon the pudding mixture over the wafers, then layer with the sliced bananas and remaining whipped cream. Crush the remaining wafers and sprinkle them on top. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until you are ready to serve.

It’s That Time of the Year: Get Set! Go Grill!

             These last few days of warm weather, sunshine and blue skies is all the incentive that outdoor cooking enthusiast Patti Kenworthy needed to fire up the grill.   Kenworthy of Stevensville, located in Southwest Michigan, who is the Instructional Manager of Culinary Arts and Catering Management at the Van Buren Technology Center in Lawrence, Michigan has spent a lot of time teaching her students how to grill and has streamlined many of her cooking techniques and recipes to make outdoor cookery as easy as possible.

              Worried about burned meat when the sugars from sauces and fats from the meat fuel flare-ups?

              Ever dashed in the house after putting meat on the grill to come back outside and see smoke and flames turn chicken or beef into hunks of burnt meat. Kenworthy says there’s an easy fix for that.

              If you have a three or four burner grill, after reaching the right temperature and the meat is seared, turn off the middle two and continue cooking until the food reaches the correct temperature. If you have a two flame grill, again, heat to the right temperature, sear the meat and then turn off one side and move the meat to the unlit side. This type of indirect heat cooks the meat without turning the protein into something that resembles charcoal.

              “I also often put an aluminum foil pan underneath the grate as well to catch the drippings,” says Kenworthy, “which help keep the flames down.

              And when it comes to rubs—combinations of dry herbs and seasonings—Kenworthy doesn’t recommend actually rubbing the mixtures on meat with your fingers, no matter what the name implies.

“You get more of the blend on your hands then you do on the meat,” she says, suggesting instead that starting at a height of about 10 to 12   inches high, sprinkle a very light dusting evenly over the meat. “By sprinkling the rub from that height ensures that the meat is evenly covered.”

“When I make ribs, I use my rub and special sauce but no barbecue sauce, you don’t need it. What happens is the vinegar and the Worcestershire sauce caramelize with the heat and makes the meat tender and flavorful.”

Indeed, Kenworthy is so sure of her grill skills that when she received a call from her daughter, Chelsie, a week before Thanks giving a couple of years ago saying she wanted to move up her wedding from nine months or so out to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she said okay.

“She wanted to make sure Pete, her father who was very ill would be able to walk her down the aisle,” says Kenworthy who went into overdrive to make sure she would be able to feed the 160 people on the guest list.

Buying a 10-pound New York strip roast from Roger’s Foodland for practice, she used her own rub blend and marinade and cooked it for her family and future son-in-law, Jack Nitz and his parents, Lori and Brian Nitz.

“It was perfect,” she says, noting that you can use her beef recipe for both expensive cuts of meat and those that are more economical. “When we sliced it, it was as tender as prime rib.  And they only cost $1.99 a pound instead of what prime rib would have cost. So, I went out and bought ten more while they were on sale to use for the wedding.”

Kenworthy, who once worked in the restaurant business and now overseas the culinary arts students at Van Buren Tech Center, said that on nights when LMC is hosting the Economic Club, she takes her students to help the Lake Michigan College kitchen staff there prepare the dinners for the large crowd the club attracts.  When LMC chefs Alice Archer Snow and Christine Henderson heard she was throwing a wedding in little over a week, they volunteered to cook—their wedding present to the couple.

“The wedding turned out great, the grilled food was delicious and best of all, Chelsie’s dad got to walk her down the aisle,” says Kenworthy. “If we’d waited until the wedding was originally scheduled, he wouldn’t have been there.”

The following recipes are courtesy of Patti Kenworthy.

Special Sauce

½ cup water

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup dark Balsamic vinegar

½ cup Worcestershire

Mix together. Cover and set aside until needed.

Patty’s Basic Seasoning Mix

2 tablespoons Lawry’s Seasoning Salt

1 teaspoon or more (to taste) cumin

Touch of cayenne

1 teaspoon or less (to taste) chili powder

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Baby Back Ribs

Basic Seasoning Mix plus the following

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

A rack of baby back ribs

Patty’s Marinade

Baby Back Ribs

Mix the seasonings together; set aside. Spray ribs with the special sauce using enough so they soak in.

Then starting about 10 to 12   inches high and sprinkle a light dusting of the seasoning mix over both sides of the meat.

Heat the grill to 350°.  

Oil the hot grill—use one of the grill sprays available at the grocery store to oil the grates or fill a spray container with oil and use that.

Place ribs meat side down on the grill to sear and color the ribs, when color is right flip them over. Leave the burners on around the ribs but not directly beneath the ribs.  If using a grill with only two separate flame areas, once the grill is heated to the right temperature, turn off one section and put the ribs on that side.

Spray the ribs with the special sauce every 15 minutes or so until done about 90 minutes depending the on the size of the ribs and the grill.  There is no need for barbecue sauce with these ribs.

Eye of Round Roast

2 to 3 pound eye of round roast or another inexpensive cut

Special sauce with the following extra ingredients added:

1 tablespoon of kosher salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pierce the roast with a sharp object (I use a meat thermometer) all around the roast so that the marinade will seep into the roast.  Refrigerate overnight, turning bag every few hours to insure marinade covers entire roast.

Pre-heat grill to 350°.  Oil the grill after it is hot.  Place roast on the grill.  Sear the roast all the way around.  The remove the roast from being directly above the flame.  Allow it to continue to cook until it reaches am internal temperature of 135° about an hour or hour and half.  Serve with Balsamic Cabernet reduction (recipe below).

Balsamic Cabernet reduction.

Place a heavy bottom pot on the grill.  Add 1 cup Cabernet wine, 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons of agave syrup or to desired sweetness.  Allow to simmer until reduced to about half.  You will know when it is done because it will coat the back of a spoon.  When done pour over the roast.

Asian Chicken


½ cup water

½ cup rice wine vinegar

½ cup tamari (gluten free soy sauce)

½ cup mirin

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tsp white pepper

½ teaspoon sake

2 to 21/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs,

Marinate over night or for several hours in the refrigerator.

Pre heat grill 325°, and oil place chicken thighs, placing them on the grill skin side down.  Sear for 10- 15 minutes on the grill and then turn.  Make sure the thighs are not directly over the flame after they have been seared to finish cooking. 

Tent with foil and it will continue to cook.  Serve when the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°.

Roasted White Potatoes

Pick several round white potatoes that are uniform in size.  Rub them with oil and garlic salt, place directly on the grill with the ribs or the roast.  Move around frequently so they don’t burn.  They are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork.

Vegetable Medley

For this dish Kenworthy uses whatever veggies are in her refrigerator such as zucchini, broccoli, onion, red, green, or yellow peppers, onions, celery or mushrooms. Fill a large bowl with ice and a little bit of water. Cut vegetables into small chunks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add to vegetables to the water. Quickly remove from heat and immerse the vegetables in the bowl of ice and water. Remove quickly, place them in a perforated oiled pan and roast on the grill, adding seasoning blend.

The following recipe is reprinted from Now & Again by Julia Turshen with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018.

Grilled Beef + Zucchini Meatballs with Tahini Dressing

Serves 6.

Dietary notes: This recipe has no bread crumbs or other carb binders, which is great if you have type 1 diabetes and it is also gluten free.

Author note: If you don’t have a grill, you can broil the meatballs (using roughly the same timing) or you can roast them on a parchment paper–lined sheet pan in a 425°F oven until they’re firm to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. If you weren’t serving these with a tomato salad, you could absolutely finish them in a tomato sauce. Throw an extra pinch of ground cumin and a cinnamon stick into the sauce.

2 zucchini, ends trimmed and coarsely grated

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 small red onion, coarsely grated or finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon nigella seeds (optional)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons ground beef

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup boiling water, or as needed

A small handful of chopped fresh soft herbs (cilantro, parsley, dill, and/or chives all work well)

Get your outdoor grill going (gas or charcoal) with high heat and make sure the grate is super clean.

Place the grated zucchini in the center of a kitchen towel and gather the towel around it to form a tight bundle. Wring out the zucchini over the sink, really squeezing it as tightly as you can to release all of its excess water. Transfer the zucchini to a large bowl and add the garlic, onion, egg, cumin, nigella seeds (if using), coriander, and 1 Tbsp salt.

Mix everything together well, then add the beef and mix until well combined (your hands are the best tools for this job). Form the mixture into golf ball–size meatballs (it will make about 30 meatballs; feel free to make them whatever size you want, really, keeping in mind they will shrink a little as they cook). The mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to a sheet pan or something else that will hold them in a single layer and then carry them out to your grill.

If your grill needs it, brush the grate with some neutral oil (I like to fold up a paper towel and drizzle it with oil and then use tongs to rub it on the grate). If your grill grate has particularly wide bars, you can put a wire baking rack, a mesh grill topper, or a sheet of aluminum foil on the grate, so you don’t lose any meatballs through the bars. Grill the meatballs, turning them a few times as they cook, until browned all over and just firm to the touch, about 10 minutes all together.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, and boiling water. The mixture should run off of your spoon. If it doesn’t, add a splash more boiling water (the amount you need will depend on how thick your tahini is). Season the mixture to taste with salt.

When the meatballs are ready, transfer them to a serving platter and drizzle them with the tahini mixture. Sprinkle with the herbs and serve immediately.

The following recipe is reprinted from Ruffage by Abra Berens with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019

Grilled Corn on the Cob with Parmesan Butter

½ cup neutral oil

½ teaspoon chili flakes

4 ounces butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

2 ounces Parmesan, grated

½ bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped

6 ears corn, shucked

Heat the neutral oil in a frying pan until it begins to smoke. Add the chili flakes and remove from the heat. Let steep in the oil for 10 minutes.

In a stand mixer or a bowl, combine the butter, salt, chili oil, Parmesan, and parsley. Paddle until well combined. Taste and add salt as needed.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment on the counter and spoon on the butter in a strip. Gently roll into a round log, tightening with each pass, and chill until firm (this butter can be frozen for later use).

When you’re ready to grill, heat a grill at medium to high heat.

Cut the butter into coins.

Grill the corn until the kernels are golden brown and slightly charred. Top with the butter rounds and serve immediately.