On a sunny July afternoon, Jennifer Luckhart talked to Griller’s Gold about her family’s award-winning BBQ team, Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co., and the business that’s sprung from it. (Bradney Luckhart cheerily answered the call but handed the phone to his wife so he could climb down into the pit to fix a smoker problem.)
Jennifer says, “We have been cooking on a competition level
about 10 years. Most teams consist of a group of guys who are friends. We are one
of a few husband-and-wife teams.” Today, the Luckharts cook with their two
daughters, who are aged 10 and 11. “Since they were old enough – 4 or 5 –
they’ve been watching, then helping as they got older. We just dragged them
around with us everywhere!” The Luckhart girls cook competitively with the
family team, and also on their own at the kids’ level. “It’s a lot of family
time together, giving the kids something constructive to do. “
The people on the competition scene matter. “We have found
that the BBQ world
is very friendly. A majority of people are really nice and helpful. As a team
that’s been around for a bit, we pass (knowledge) on to new teams. We all know
it’s an art and it’s nice to talk to someone who understands.”
Nuthatch Hill has opted for a more local competition circuit
in recent years. “We used to travel all over Illinois and surrounding states –
Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kentucky. Now we do favorite
competitions to keep accolades coming in and see our friends that we’ve made
along the way. Competitions become a little vacation now,” says Jennifer.
Practice, practice, practice
Even when they’re barbecuing for fun, the Luckharts are
thinking about the next competitive event. “At home, we practice for BBQ competition. It’s all down
to timing.” The family uses a checklist to manage four meats – just like in
competition – each of which requires different timing and attention on the smoker.
Jennifer says, “We’re always looking for new flavor profiles and different ways
of turning the meat in. We don’t want to get stale; we tweak a little and add
something new.” Who eats all this bounty? “We like to practice on Sunday and a lot of
visitors stop by to hang out. We live out in the country on a dead-end road, so
they have to have a purpose to come down here. It’s the famous ‘oh I just
popped by!’ ‘Oh you have some chicken for me to try!’“ On a typical Sunday, 10
to 15 friends drop in on the Luckharts. They’re always made welcome.
What they look for in wood pellets
Great BBQ is a big picture, and wood pellets are a vital
element in the process. “It’s really an art,” Jennifer says. “Your art changes
with each smoker you use, your type of wood, the piece of meat.”
In the second post of this 2-part series, learn how the Nuthatch Hill family took their competition experience and built a business in sauces, seasonings and catering.
Griller’s Gold is proud to sponsor the Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. team.
In the first post of this 2-part series, read more about the Luckharts’ feelings on competing and on enjoying winning BBQ at home. Griller’s Gold is proud to sponsor the Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. team.
Smoke flavor requires a deft touch. Jennifer Luckhart, of the Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. team, says, “Balance the meat, what it absorbs, with the wood. Chicken is on for a shorter amount of time since it’s a lighter meat that absorbs faster. Pork has to get a bark built on it” (a crust that results from a combination of caramelization and smoke, not too thin but not too tough and charred, either). “Each meat is different in how it absorbs smoke and how the smoke ring appears.”
In competition, smoke flavor gets judged, as does the look of the smoked meat.
“Smoke rings are very important in competition – judges like the appearance, but not intense smoke flavor that overpowers the meat. You don’t want it to taste like you’re chewing a piece of wood!”
While smoke flavor is unmistakable and irresistible, subtlety counts. ”We kind of became BBQ snobs and didn’t go out to eat for BBQ because we find much of it over-smoked.” (Jennifer notes that excess smoke flavor takes meat to a bitter place.)
Jennifer says that her husband-and-wife team appreciates distinct
flavors from different blends. They like the range of flavors of the Griller’s
Gold Premium BBQ Pellets line, and particularly appreciate the blends of wood types. “Fruitwoods
are mixed and give nice color to the smoke
ring. You don’t have to dedicate your flavoring just one type of wood.”
“Wood pellets make the process easier. We look for a pellet that’s a clean, long-lasting burn,” Jennifer says
Jennifer says, “We’ve had some wins and accolades that helped us open our business. We made our own BBQ sauce and seasonings because we couldn’t find exactly what we wanted. We turned it into a legit business rather than a hobby. We also do catering, and have a food truck, and sell sauces and seasonings at grocery stores.” (The Nuthatch Hill team has a stand at the 2019 Illinois State Fair, running August 8-18.)
As a competitive team, the Luckharts have placed in a number of KCBS-sanctioned competitions. Their product line evolved from their competition experience. “Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. sauce is our competition sauce. It caramelizes nicely, it’s good for multi-meats, it mixes in well with pulled pork, or on top, it sticks nicely to ribs.“ Just in 2019, Nuthatch Hill products have won recognition in both National BBQ Assoc. (NBBQA) and National BBQ News rankings.
But the biggest win is within the Luckhart family, with two
daughters, aged 10 and 11. Jennifer says, “I’m excited that our girls have
embraced our hobby, and the business side, at a young age. They’ve learned
cooking skills and business skills. They’ve used Nuthatch Hill BBQ Co. in 4H
projects. They’re little entrepreneurs in their own right.”
When you’re throwing a barbecue, it’s about more than just food. It’s a vibe. And a time to dine under the stars. And a shared energy. Barbecue is a story that needs a great soundtrack. Here’s some music that has just the right attitude for barbecue. We’ll start with geography that links food and music.
The American South embraced and elevated barbecue – and gave rise to blues. Traditional blues draws from the work songs and spirituals of African Americans in the rural South, especially Texas, Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta. It was typically played by “roaming solo musicians on acoustic guitar, piano or harmonica at weekend parties, picnics and juke joints….”
Early 20th century dance band leader W.C. Handy
helped a national audience discover the Southern music, and migrations north
between the World Wars spread the sound to Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and beyond.
“Muddy Waters, who had lived and worked on a Mississippi plantation before
riding the rails to Chicago in 1943, swapped acoustic guitars for electric ones
and filled out their sound with drums, harmonica, and standup bass. This gave
rise to an electrified blues sound with a stirring beat that drove people onto
the dance floor and pointed the way to rhythm and blues and rock and roll.” Major
rock bands hit the charts with blues covers and adaptations, led by the likes
of the iconic Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Jamaican jerk is a great form of barbecue. Reggae, the musical voice of Jamaica, suits summer nights and outdoor festivities just fine. Here’s good reading about reggae great Bob Marley, who helped this Caribbean sound go global and changed pop music forever. And listen to some reggae while enjoying this classic jerk chicken recipe for your wood pellet grill. Ya, mon!
While other musical genres might not be directly tied to barbecue’s roots, they play well all summer long and complement your cooking. Use these cues to build your playlist with some new choices on top of your old favorites, or check out what Spotify and Pandora have to offer.
a big BBQ? Give yourself time to work through all the necessary steps. A
systematic approach will free you up to enjoy good food, drink, and company on
the day of the event.
Checklist items fall into two buckets: Food and drink. And everything else.
FOOD & DRINK
Pick your menu. And go! You’re going to need ingredients,
and a schedule for putting it all together and serving it up right.
Meats, mains and sides—So you’re making a favorite recipe that serves 6 to 8. And your invitation list may be several times as many hungry guests. For big BBQ menu planning, calculate the number of servings needed and multiply every ingredient in the recipe accordingly.
Put specific quantities on your shopping list for every. Single. Item.
Condiments and buns for hamburgers and hot dogs—The bigger the event, the more likely you’re going to opt for burgers and sausages to serve the crowd.
The essentials: Ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles, salsa, chopped or sliced onions
Buns! Go for uniformity or offer both whole wheat and white buns
Sauces—If homemade BBQ sauce is your thing, prepare several days in advance.
Rubs—Have correct quantity available and time for rub to make its magic.
Dessert—Serve up sweets that won’t melt or go bad in the heat.
Cakes and pies hold up well on the outdoor dining table
Goodies with chocolate need to be placed in their container on a platter of ice to avoid casualties
Beverages—Stock up on adult beverages and non-alcoholic quenchers.
Beer, cider, and wine are the basics
Non-alcoholic beverages can range from sparkling water to homemade lemonade to artisan root beers
And there’s always a thirst for the old-school soda standards in either big 2-liter bottles (cost-effective) or cases (convenient)
Grill gear—Check your gear the weekend before the event to make sure all the essentials are in good shape.
Tongs, fork, spatula, meat claws, a bristle brush for basting, a grill/oven mitt, apron, instant-read meat thermometer, a wire brush for cleaning the grill grate
Coolers and ice—You want your drinks cold to wash down all that hot grilled goodness.
Distribute coolers around the space, with a focus on the bar station
Table settings—Make sure you’ve got quantity to spare. Even for a big crowd, nice reusables can be a cost-effective choice.
Cups for the variety of beverages you’re serving
Plates for dining, plus forks, knives and spoons
Napkins in quantities that allow every guest to use several during the course of the party
Serving pieces—Pull the big party-sized pieces out of the cabinet and give them a quick rinse.
Platters, bowls and trays all come in handy at a big BBQ
Get the family out into the fresh air and bond over BBQ this Father’s Day—and all grilling season long. While you might just intuitively say ‘Yes!’ to the idea, let’s have fun and look at all the reasons this is a great plan for the family.
Cooking is a hands-on creative outlet for all ages
It’s healthy to eat home-cooked meals and preparing them together is even better
Education—from measuring to fractions to cooking times (Get a cool education about the science of grilling here)
It’s an alternative to screen time—tho recruiting the kids to research recipes online is completely legit
Just plain togetherness
Let’s get cooking!
Grilling safety for kids
Grilling involves a whole array of hot and sharp objects. Gauge the maturity level of your crowd and assign them age-appropriate activities. Assignments for the younger kids can include mixing and marinating, laying out trays of uncooked meat to bring to the grill, measuring and assembling ingredients, and tossing salads. Knife handling and cooking on the hot grill belong in the domain of older children.
Food safety around the grill is part of kitchen sanitation—a good habit to start young. Since grilling involves handling raw meat, proper handwashing practices rank high in importance. Remember to also provide instruction about washing cutting boards, trays, tabletops and any other surfaces that might carry raw meat juices. Finally, refer to expert references (in this case, the US government’s food safety site) for grilled meat temperatures that meet the safety standard. This highly-rated, well-priced, long-probe digital meat thermometer might be the perfect new grilling gadget for the occasion (and a Father’s Day gift idea if anyone is looking for hints). Here’s a Father’s Day grilling gift guide, coming to you directly from the dads at Griller’s Gold.
Father’s Day grilling favorites
Everything’s better when it’s grilled. Kids happen to agree with that statement. So put vegetables on the Father’s Day menu; grill portabello mushroom caps or multi-colored veggie skewers. Enjoy fancy sausage, nice steaks, shrimp, or the always-fun drumsticks on the grill.