Saturday, March 29, 2008

INTERVIEW: Chef Michael Stines

Chef Michael Stines (Ph.B) is the author of ‘Mastering Barbecue’ and acts as the Barbecue Editor for Mike lives in Cape Cod, far from the fabled meccas of BBQ. He is a Certified BBQ Judge and has judged at some of the most prestigious events in the nation.

We appreciate Chef Stines' taking the time from his busy schedule to answer our questions.

Q. Can you give us an overview of your BBQ'ing history (including your
prestigious Ph. B)?

I began barbecuing in the 1980s when I was working on a cookbook that I never published. I found barbecue to be a uniquely American phenomenon and wanted to highlight what I though should be our national food.

I traveled to the barbecue Meccas – North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas City and Texas – researching various regional cuisines. I joined the Kansas City Barbeque Society and became a Certified Barbeque Judge and a Certified Table Captain.

I’ve been very fortunate to judge some of the best barbecue contests in the world – the American Royal Open and Invitational (twice), the Jack Daniel’s (twice), the Best of the Best in Douglas, GA, the World Barbecue Association International Competition in Parmesans, Germany and the BarbeQlossal in Des Moines, among others. Four of us from “Fiery Foods & BBQ” magazine – Dave DeWitt, Gwyneth Doland, Ray Lampe and I – competed at the 2007 BarbeQlossal. Although we didn’t finish anywhere near the top of the pack, we had a lot of fun at the competition.

My Doctorate in Barbecue Philosophy (Ph.B.) from the KCBS’ Greasehouse University is quite an honor. My book was accepted as my Master’s Thesis and I had to submit a “doctoral” dissertation to a review panel of Ph.B.s and then undergo an oral examination. That was at the Jack Daniel’s a few years ago… Ardie Davis, Tana Shupe, Caroline Wells, Jim Taub and a few others were on the panel that did the oral exam.

I’m humbled they found me worthy to be one of 26 people in the world to hold the degree.

Q. Can you describe the journey from deciding to write a cook-book to it's

Writing a book, any book, is an adventure and a lot of work. I have a lot of respect for authors that have multiple titles to their credit.

“Mastering Barbecue” was a dream of mine when I started collecting barbecue recipes from around the country. I compiled a lot of “original” recipes and actually cooked each recipe making modifications that I thought improved the recipe. The book took more than five years to research and complete.

Originally, the book was self-published under the title “Mastering The BBQ” with a business partner – Tennessee Gourmet – out of Nashville. The next year I stopped at the Fiery Foods and BBQ Show in Albuquerque, N.M., on my way back from a three-week trip to Hawaii. It was there I met Dennis Hayes from Ten Speed Press. Candy Weaver of BBQr’s Delight had some copies of my book so I gave one to Dennis and I pitched the book to him. He liked it so he presented it to his acquisitions board and they accepted the concept.

Over the next few months, some modifications were made to the book and it was published in the Spring of 2005. Since then, “Mastering Barbecue” has received rave reviews from numerous reviewers and I have been featured on several radio food shows and print articles.

Q. What are you most proud of regarding 'Mastering Barbecue'?

That an unknown author from New England was accepted by a major publisher and distributed across the country. And that all the reviewers have found the book to be a definitive guide to barbecue.

Q. If you had the opportunity to prepare some BBQ and enjoy it with three
people, live or dead, fictional or real, who would they be and what would be

There are a lot of BBQ greats out there that I would love to share a meal with and “talk the talk”… Arthur Bryant and Ollie Gates would be great guests at my table. I have a lot of respect for scores of people on the circuit and would welcome them to break bread with me… Paul Kirk, Ardie Davis, Mike Mills, Caroline Wells, Johnny Trigg, Myron Mixon, Dave Kloss… the list is almost endless.

If I had to limit my guest list to three, I would chose Ardie Davis, Mike Mills and Paul Kirk.

I’d hate to serve barbecue to that group as they are all world-class barbecuers! But if that was the only menu I could offer, I’d do some Carolina-style pulled pork along with slaw and baby backs.

Q. BBQ means different things to different people. Some people are in it
just for the cuisine, others enjoy the social aspects of cooking around a
fire with friends and still others enjoy the traditions and cultural
heritage. What does BBQ mean to you?

It’s all of that and more. I think the social aspect is the high point of barbecue. Whether it’s at a competition with other teams or in your backyard, the camaraderie among BBQers is unlike any other sport. There’s nothing better than cooking barbecue in your backyard with a bunch of friends. And, of course, it’s a guy thing with fire and all that!

Q. Where did you first develop an interest in cooking?

When I was in high school I had a summer job at a seasonal quick-food restaurant on the Cape. This was long before McDonald’s or Burger King came on the scene. I learned the fry station and the grill station.

From there I didn’t do much in food service until after my career in newspapers except cooking for my daughters at home as they were growing up. I was semi-retired and looking for something to do so I started experimenting with creating recipes and cooking.

That led to real jobs in real restaurants where I learned there is a big difference from home cooking to restaurant cooking. Although most of my cooking skills are self-taught, I had a few mentors along the way. After a few positions in different restaurants I became the executive chef at “Cape Cod Grille,” a restaurant featuring grilled and smoked foods.

Q. What do you think is the biggest misconception about BBQ?

Most people – even the Food TV network – equate barbecue with grilling. Of course, it’s two entirely different cooking methods.

Q. Of standard BBQ fare, what do you think is the easiest for a novice to
mess up and what advice would you give him?

Of all the barbecue meats, I think chicken is the most difficult to master. A lot of competition teams have good tasting chicken but the skin is rubbery. Others have a crisp skin but over-cooked meat.

I don’t have the secret to great chicken. All I could suggest is try a bunch of different methods and see what works for you.

Pork butt is pretty forgiving; it’s hard to have bad pulled pork. Brisket and ribs are not so forgiving… they are often over-cooked.

Another thing is it seems a lot of cooks rely on sauce to make barbecue. Barbecued meats should have flavor on their own, without a sauce. A sauce should complement the meat, not hide its flavor.

Q. If your neighbor saw how much you enjoyed BBQ'ing and decided to 'get in
the game', what advice would you give him on starting out?

Keep good notes on what you’ve done. That way you can repeat something that worked and not repeat something that didn’t.

Q. How would you describe BBQ to someone that was completely foreign to our

It’s smoky, tender, flavorful, slightly spicy, slightly sweet… Barbecue is almost as complex as a fine wine, there are a myriad of terms that could be used to describe the flavor that is unlike anything else.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you and your BBQ related efforts?

I have two web sites: and I’m also the barbecue editor for “Fiery Foods & BBQ” magazine, the only full-color national magazine covering barbecue in the country. I write articles on various aspects of barbecue in every issue and the articles are also posted on the magazine’s web site:

I also produce an occasional e-mail called “Mike’s Gourmet E-Meals” that is an eclectic mix of recipes from high-end cooking to comfort foods. I send those out to free subscribers as they are created (sometimes it’s a couple of times a week, sometimes once a month depending on what I’m cooking). Subscribing information is on my web sites if anyone would like to receive the E-Meals.


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george- watg? said...

Eric, Great interview! Very informative.