Taming the flames began as a hobby for Chris Groves. By day, He runs a social services agency for the developmentally disabled in Knoxville, Tennessee. By night, he’s all about the Grates. A self-proclaimed “geeky, nerdy griller,” he’s turned his hobby into a second job including a book, a blog, competitions, and gigs with charbroil. Plus, some tailgating every fall.
DID THE DRAW OF TAILGATING PROVE IRRESISTIBLE? For me, it’s more of an excuse to grill than being a huge fan of Tennessee. It’s usually 25 to 30 of my son’s friends. We’ve known a lot of them since they were in junior high, and it’s a fun way to get everybody back together. I just like cooking for groups of people. When the game starts, we pack up and go home.
HOW MANY GRILLS/SMOKERS DO YOU OWN? Right now, 14. Six are kamados, four are for competition and the rest are a mix of charcoal grills, smokers, gas grills, trailer-mounted grills…a little bit of everything.
WHAT DO YOU PREFER TO COOK FOR TAILGATES? I always do brisket or pork butt the night before and then do something quick on site, like wings or fajitas. I typically use the kamado at home. Friday I come home and get the big meat on and have them going until six or seven in the morning. Then I put them in my faux cambro.
YOUR WHAT? A cambro is equipment caterers use to transport food and keep it warm. You can make your own faux cambro and keep your barbecue warm for four to six hours. Wrap it in foil straight off the grill, put it in an empty cooler, cover it with warm towels (throw them in the dryer for about 20 minutes), and keep the cooler shut until you’re ready to shred/slice/serve it onsite.
ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A KAMADO GRILL AND BIG GREEN EGG? Nine out of ten people use the phrase “Big Green Egg.” It’s like saying “Xerox” for “copy.” They also say “Komodo,” but that’s a brand. Kamado is the general term for the ceramic grill.
WHAT’S THE DRAW TO CERAMIC GRILLS? The thing I like about the kamado, first of all, is the efficiency. On other pits, you have to tend them about every hour at least. So if you’re cooking a brisket for 16 hours, that’s 15 times you have to go out and mess with your grill. With a kamado, you can put in a load of coal, put a brisket on, and it can go 16 hours on one load of coal. I’ve had it go as far as 20 plus hours.
IS A KAMADO ANY GOOD FOR GRILLING THEN? It’s an excellent grill. I can get it up to searing temps of 700 degrees and, in addition, they act like a wood-fired oven too. But you use lump charcoal that’s natural wood burned in an oxygen deprived environment, so you’re basically cooking with wood already. Then you can add wood chips, chunks or splits for flavor.
FAVORITE CUT OF MEAT? For smoking, I’d go for brisket, because it’s new to me. I’ve only been doing it for 10 years, but I’ve been doing pork my whole life. For grilling, you know, it’s hard to beat a ribeye steak.
WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING YOU HAD TO LEARN ABOUT BARBECUING? Patience. People tend to start fiddling. You start chasing temps, adjusting temps. But there’s plenty of times you need to let it do its thing.
MOST IRRITATING THING YOU SEE AMATEUR GRILLERS DO? You never touch a man’s grill. You never tell another man how to grill.
SO NO SPECIFIC PET PEEVES? Lighter fluid. They say you can’t really taste it if it’s done right, but when you can smell your neighbor’s lighter fluid in your house, it’s not done right. That’s really frustrating to me—the over-use of lighter fluid. I just bite my tongue and shake my head.
IS THERE A BEST WAY OF BARBECUING? Grilling’s mostly about preferences. Usually if you follow a lot of forums, you will have people arguing over how to grill a steak. It’s not a matter of one of them being right, it’s just their preference.
SO HOW DO YOU PLEASE THE MULTITUDES? We let them choose. When we do pulled pork, we do a sauce bar and have about four different varieties. Someone from North Carolina’s going to like a vinegar-based sauce, from South Carolina a mustard-based sauce; people from Kansas City like more of a dark sweet sauce.
ANY ADVICE TO TAILGATERS? My biggest advice is don’t let the fun become work. If you can’t have fun, don’t do it, because it’s all about socializing. Don’t take it so seriously you can’t have fun.