Smokestack Lightening Interview Tapes: Jim’s Theory on the Popularity of BBQ

Lolis Elie and Frank Stewart interview Jim Quessenberry on BBQ becoming popular. Jim cracks a joke or two to his best friend, and BBQ partner, Arthur McDaniel.

[00:00:00] Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:00] You want my theory on why barbecue is catching on?

Lolis Elie: [00:00:03] Yes, Please.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:04] Okay. Uh, several reasons… uh, one European market has fallen in love with it, and the Europeans, I’ll tell you why they jumped on it. Uh, they got to watching, Dallas, stuff like that on TV. And, uh, and it was sorta like the old cowboy shows. It was something interesting to them of going outside and having an outdoor sport that didn’t take any exertion, because anything in European’s are falling in love with, you have that backlash. And so, you know, it, it became, again, it had got a second look from Americans. Well, you know, your Cajun foods has been a big rage lately? Okay. It’s just naturally time for it to drift into barbecue. Plus… thank you my friend… uh… plus second tier… times are tough. What can we do to [00:01:00] entertain ourselves?
There’s only two things we can do. We can sit on our butts at home, or go out in the backyard. Right? So, what are the two things that are really taken off? Furniture and barbecue. You now, people can’t buy a new car anymore… they drive a car for 10 years. So what are they doing? They’re buying new furniture. Furniture business is booming. They can’t, they can’t take off go on vacation or anything, but it they can buy a dadgum, cheap, three foot deep, Sears swimming pool and a Hibachi… and vacation in their backyard. So, I mean, that’s my theory. I think hard times brought it on.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:34] Give me some sense of… how you know barbecue is more popular now. What are you, what are you saying?

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:40] How do I know it’s more popular?

Lolis Elie: [00:01:41] Yeah.
Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:42] Um…
y’all remember, Arthur?

Lolis Elie: [00:01:46] I’m afraid not, how you doing?

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:47] Arthur McDaniel. Frank Stewart. Lolis Eli.

Arthur MCDaniel: [00:01:52] I met y’all.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:54] Yeah. Now it’s coming back to me.

Arthur MCDaniel: [00:01:58] How’s it been going? Ya’ll have a long [00:02:00] trip?

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:00] You know, what’s wrong with them?

Lolis Elie: [00:02:01] It’s going…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:02] They’ve got good memories, but they’ve been in my Bloody Marys… That’d ruin anybody… haha… one sip took Lolis out.

Lolis Elie: [00:02:08] Yeah, that’s the truck that hit us.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:10] That’s it right there in a nutshell.

Lolis Elie: [00:02:13] You, you telling me about what… how you can tell barbecue is more popular? What… what’s different now? What are you seeing more of?

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:20] Uh, You see what… you know, you just see a lot more of it. Um, even your movies and TV shows, you know. Got them Webers, everywere, of course Weber’s people are doing an excellent job, subtly marketing there stuff.
Every movie, you see, you look, backyard shot, they’ll have a Weber in it.
But, uh, then your magazines, you know, your magazines are back on. You know, for awhile you couldn’t give a magazine away. Saturday Evening Post died, Life Magazine died. Yeah, Collier’s, a bunch of them. And now they’re back on. Well, all your magazines are into [00:03:00] food. You know, you’ve got all your gourmet TV shows, you know, for why you couldn’t get one of them away.
Galloping Gourmet liked to have starved to death. Now he’s even back on.

Lolis Elie: [00:03:09] Hmm…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:03:10] So, I just think a whole lot of it has to do with the economy. If you can’t afford doing anything else, you can always go buy something, meat you know, you gotta eat.

Lolis Elie: [00:03:19] You gotta buy something to eat anyway.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:03:21] Yeah.

Smokestack Lightning Interview Tapes: Jim Quessenberry on Arkansas BBQ and Sauces

Lolis Elie: [00:00:00] Any places in Arkansas, we got to check out ,any like great places in Arkansas? Uh, yeah. You been to Craigs in De Valls Bluff?

Quess: [00:00:16] Yeah, they’re good.

Lolis Elie: [00:00:18] They have this sort of a strange thing there, that sauce that they got.

Donna Quessenberry: [00:00:22] With apples in it.

Lolis Elie: [00:00:23] Oh, your’re talking about the coleslaw? I’m talking about the sauce has like cinnamon.

Quess: [00:00:29] Like cinnamon and Mustard. Yeah. I’m not real crazy about the sauce, but they’re doing real good with it… And um… their packaging… I…
They tied me for second place in packaging, in the national thing in a Kansas City? You know where you guys judged sauce?

Lolis Elie: [00:00:45] Yeah.

Quess: [00:00:46] I send mine every year, you probably tasted mine and didn’t even know it.

Lolis Elie: [00:00:50] Up at the American Royal? Yeah, we were in their office kind of just tasting some sauces… but uh…

Quess: [00:00:58] Craig’s and I tied for [00:01:00] second place in packaging… one year, and I thought that was unique, that we’re both from Arkansas, and not that far apart.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:07] Yeah.

Quess: [00:01:09] But um… other than them? Now there’s a place in Hot Springs called McClards… it’s supposed to be pretty good. In fact, there’s a couple that will either be here today or tomorrow you’ll see them… they know more about that than I do ’cause they live in Hot Springs. But uh… back in our formative years, as contestants… we used to get a gallon McClard’s barbecue sauce and take it with us to do contests, they have… they make a mean sauce, a good sauce.
Before we started making our own, we’d carry a gallon of theirs to serve with our… stuff.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:49] When you were growing up, did your folks make their own sauce?

Quess: [00:01:52] Yeah, my mother always made sauce. She, uh, made it, uh, kinda [00:02:00] on the Kraft barbecue sauce type mode, you know? And, um, yeah, there was always somebody making, you know, little homemade do doodads of sauce. There used to be a guy down here, local, he’s dead now, but he used to be, he got out here in Wynne that had his own sauce, he did quite well in the little local groceries.
His name was uh… Johnny Surgeoner. His sauce was um…kind of a mustard base, heavy on the mustard and molasses, but his recipe died with him I think.
But, uh, it was pretty decent, but there’s always been somebody around making sauce.
That really wasn’t my forte. I didn’t get into that at all until that night, I was cooking those briskets, had that dream. Donna woke up in the middle of night smelling all that stuff and thought [00:03:00] I had really jumped times.

Donna Quessenberry: [00:03:12]
… banging around in the kitchen… I got up, I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I had this dream and before I forget it, I got to make this sauce”

Quess: [00:03:12] It turned out fair.

Donna Quessenberry: [00:03:13] We were messing around with sauce anyways because we always made something to go to competitions. So I’d been kind of piddling around doing different things, and Jim had been piddling around doing different things. So it just came to him…

Quess: [00:03:26] Donna makes a good sauce called Whiskey-A-Go-Go… It’s got bourbon whiskey in it. Good stuff.

Lolis Elie: [00:03:32] Hmm.
Well, let me…

Donna Quessenberry: It’s got everything…its kinda kitchen sink, kitchen refrigerator… don’t ask. ,

Quess: Raid the ice box type deal

Lolis Elie: Tell you what, you got maybe that recipe, a recipe that… we need a couple recipes for the book.

Quess: We’ll fix you up, yeah will fix you up

Jim Quessenberry – BBQ of the Old Days – KWYN Yawn Patrol 1993

00:05 Interviewer
Jim, describe for me the old pure, unadulterated barbecue of the old days. Used to be a big event… now days people say “We’re gonna have barbecue” They come over for a few hours in the afternoon, and they slap something on possibly even the grill. But back in the old days. I’m assuming they stayed up all night it was a big event. They prepared for it and describe a real barbecue back in the old days for us.
00:34 Jim Quessenberry
Well when I was a little boy out there at Birdeye, every fourth of July, the local people, primarily black people, they were they would dig these pits in the ground. And they always had two or three goats they’d barbecue. a lot of people did hogs and all, but … at Birdeye they did goats on the fourth July, and they would make an all day all night ritual out of the dern thing they’d they would slaughter those goats and dress them and have them on the fire, you know, and and they built a side fire,
where they burn the wood, and they would render the hot coals. And then take a shovel and you know… sift the coals in under the meat. And they would stay up all night with that with those goats, and I remember, I was a little boy, and I used to be so upset when dad make me go home, you know go to bed.
I never was old enough to stay up with them, and I just really envied them, you know, and…
01:33 Interviewer
They would stay up all night long?
01:34 Jim Quessenberry
All night long, and eat the next day and they had enough to feed everybody, and somebody would take some home and everything… and those things I know went on all over this at least southern part of the country.
01:46 Interviwer
Now I’m not sure whether you had this at Birdeye, but were there for example music related to some of these? …like some of the barbecues would people bring their guitars and fiddles?

01:49 Jim Quessenberry

Oh yeah, I’m sure they did. I don’t remember that being a part of it there at Birdeye, but I’m sure… but now I tell you what… but they may very well have done that at Birdeye.
Because I’ve heard lots of stories about ole BB King, who back in those days, BB King hung around over there at Cold Water and Twist all the time. And a lot of the old plantation owners and all tried to keep him run off because he’d be on somebody’s front porch playing that guitar and they couldn’t get people back in the fields because he’s pulling them and drawing them, you know.

Kansas City Barbeque Society Releases Statement on the KCUR Article


Earlier this week, KCUR released an article that seemed to be all doom and gloom for our beloved KCBS organization. While the article seems to be painting a portrait of F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), one thing that is apparent is that the article was released regardless of commentary from the organization itself.

While Emily Detwiler, CEO of KCBS, didn’t return emails or calls, it wasn’t from a place of defiance. The KCBS organization has since released an official statement explaining the inaccuracies of the initial story while taking on the issues directly with anecdotal positions for each scenario.

KCBS Responds to KCUR Article

Judging from the initial paragraph of the response, it seems that a plot to undermine the KCBS was derived from disgruntled former members posing as “anonymous” sources.

The response takes on the F.U.D. with reason and an objective stance to the hearsay coming from disgruntled former members and outsiders.

Jim Quessenberry BBQ and KCBS

Jim Quessenberry BBQ proudly stands behind the current board of directors and the KCBS organization. We are proud members, including our Jonesboro resident contest judge, Michael Quessenberry, who had this to say about the story.

“I find it hard to believe that Carolyn Wells is stepping away from the organization. When we met with her at the American Royal 40th Anniversary World Series of Barbecue, she was extremely excited to see us there and couldn’t wait to tell us about the exciting future of the KCBS.”

Michael Quessenberry

Carolyn mentioned to us both that she had been delegating some of her responsibilities in the organization to others while taking on new roles; hardly a departure. If anyone in the organization knows the opportune time to step up and make an impact for the good of the KCBS, its Carolyn. She doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

When the Jonesboro, AR contest rolls around in the fall of 2020, I will be attending the judge training course myself.

Staying Connected with the KCBS

We encourage anyone with questions regarding the KCBS to go straight to the source. The KCBS keeps an open line of communication with the public and its members.

The Smokestack Lightning Interview Tapes: Cleveland Rib Mafia

Here we have another segment from the Smokestack Lightning interview tapes. Jim Quessenberry tells his story of locking horns in Cleveland over ribs, and how his ribs went missing like Jimmy Hoffa.

The Smokestack Lightning Interview Tapes: Jim Quessenberry’s BBQ Origins

I have recently come across some amazing recordings that I believed were lost to time. But, I did a little research and uncovered these amazing treasures. I reached out to author Lolis Elie, and he directed me to the Southern Foodways Alliance. He had donated all of the cassettes to them. There is more to come… Listen below as dad tells Lolis Elie and Frank Stewart a little about his beginnings in BBQ. -Michael Quessenberry

Interview with Jim Quessenberry by Lolis Elie and Frank Stewart

Lolis Elie: [00:00:01] Well, how did you get into this barbecue business? And, you can go back before the sauces themselves… the sauce and rub…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:10] Um… It’s been basically a hobby all my life, and…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:16] Actually, BBQ has been a big part of… uh…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:21] Most of our family… uh… celebrations… be it Easter,

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:28] Fourth of July, all your three day weekends, like your labor day, and Memorial Day, and that type of thing, you know?

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:37] Um… Even Christmas.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:39] Somebody’s always barbecue and something, you know, my brother-in-law over here. He always prided himself and doing a wild goose. I think it’s wild… maybe domestic… he always does a goose for Christmas and you know, I’m always doing something Christmas a big fresh ham or something, but…

Lolis Elie: [00:00:56] You say fresh ham, you mean green or like…

Jim Quessenberry: [00:00:59] Yeah Green ham. Yeah. I didn’t know you knew what a green ham was man.. Where you been learning all this shit?

Lolis Elie: [00:01:04] I used to read Green Eggs and Ham, man.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:04] *laughs*

Frank Stewart: [00:01:05] He’s a smart boy.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:06] Yeah he is.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:13] You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what a green… what green meat is.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:17] Oh no, I, We… The people at Craig’s and Duvall’s Bluff.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:21] Yeah.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:21] I was trying to figure out if they were doing green or slightly smoked, so I got the terminology. But I can tell you where I got it from. The guy at Cozy Corner, Ray Robinson… When you go talk to him, tell him, Uh.. you know, tell him you know us. In fact, we told him we come here to see you.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:34] Yeah.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:34] We told him about you.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:36] Yeah, I want to meet him.

Lolis Elie: [00:01:37] Also, he has a totally different style from everybody else… If we even talk about food… half… shoot… At this point, half the time it’s not about barbecue. It’s one of our stop off points. If we finish, you know, doing Memphis in May, We will crash there for a minute.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:01:51] Yeah, I’m gonna check him out, but I need me a new place to stop.

Frank Stewart: [00:01:54] Oh Yeah. He’s efficient. He closes at 7.

Jim Quessenberry [00:01:54] Oh really?

Lolis Elie: [00:02:02] Yeah.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:02] Independent type dude… That’s what I like.

Frank Stewart: [00:02:03] Opens promptly at 10, and closes promptly at 7.

Jim Quessenberry: [00:02:03] That’s great!

Frank Stewart: [00:02:03] He is not open on Sunday and Monday.

Lolis Elie: [00:02:03] Right.

Jim Quessenberry’s Prime Rib

Jim and his Arkansas Trav’lers cooking team took the grand prize and first place for his prime rib recipe at the Irish Cup Invitational Barbecue Festival in Ireland in 1985. Timing is important on this one; practice makes perfect!

1 5-pound standing rib roast,
nicely marbled

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 bottle of Sauce Beautiful – White

1/4 cup olive oil

Freshly cracked black peppercorns

1 small bottle of prepared horseradish

With a boning knife, carefully separate the rib bones from the roast, keeping them in one piece. Then remove the lip, or fat, layer in one piece. This will leave you with three pieces of meat: the ribs, the lip, and the ribeye.

Sprinkle the ribeye with garlic powder, then reassemble the three pieces and tie them tightly with butcher’s string, binding each rib. Brush the roast generously with olive oil, then cover the entire surface with cracked pepper. Insert a meat thermometer in the center of the roast.

Cook in a closed barbecue unit (Jim preferred his Weber kettle) over medium (250°F) indirect heat. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, checking frequently after 2 hours, to an internal temperature of 140°F for medium rare. Then wrap the roast tightly in foil and head for the kitchen; it’s carving time. (The foil wrap is important, as it allows the roast a little extra steaming time.) Carve into slices at least 1/2-inch thick There should be a slice to fit everyone’s preference, from the well-done outside tot he rare center. Serve with Sauce Beautiful – White (add prepared horseradish to taste).

Serves 10

Pioneering Days of BBQ

In the early days of competition BBQ, the rules were just being written. It was like the “wild west” days of BBQ. Many techniques were not mainstream, and even some at the time were considered cheating, such as injection. In this audio clip from 1987, Jim Quessenberry gives Ardie Davis a tour of his whole hog smoker, which at one time had a propane burner in it. The main source of heat was the propane, but it was indirect, and allowed for using logs for the smoke flavor. The thing was as big as a camper trailer and cook easily 4 or more hogs at the same time. Listen below…

Jim Quessenberry and Ardie Davis talk smokers and whole hog.

Jim Q: 00:00
Alright, when I built this thing, I built it to take to Cleveland to a rib championship, but cost efficiency is the main thing there, You know? I have this burner here… This 500,000 Btu burner, It came out of one of these green house furnaces. Alright, that burner, See I use instead of a wood box under there… And then I put me a little log in there for the smoke. You dig? All right, see you draw your heat underneath your water jacket, back up, and back across and it pulls that little hickory smoke over and back. Okay… The Memphians and all, had a little problem with the rules. They didn’t want a propane man out here. So… I built that firebox. It does a wonderful job. It’s just a little slower than propane. Hey my man… (talking to a passer by)

Ardie D: 00:53
I didn’t taste any…

Jim Q: 00:54
Alright! Alright! How you doing? I’m Jim Quessenberry. Good to see ya. (talking to a passer by)

Ardie D: 00:57
I didn’t taste any whole hogs worth a smoke that was as good as yours.

Jim Q: 01:00
Thanks… now, part of that is the wood I use.

Jim Q: 01:04
What we do… We cut that hickory…

Ardie D: 01:06
You can see that red ring on it.

Jim Q: 01:08
That’s Sandy… That’s my girlfriend.

Ardie D: 01:09
You got it hands down… or there’s something wrong.

Jim Q: 01:21
Man I appreciate that, but I’m so damn anxious, I don’t wanna know. I don’t wanna disappoint myself if I don’t make it.

Ardie D: 01:21
You can’t. That’s the thing. I mean uh… in a contest like… You can come in last…

Jim Q: 01:26
Well sure…

Ardie D: 01:27
I don’t know… I don’t know what it is. He makes the best that I’ve tasted here. I mean, it is good stuff.

Jim Q: 01:35
Boy, I appreciate that… Grab you a little nibble off that shoulder over there. That’ll give you a little sample right there.

Jim Quessenberry Remembered

The big young man in denim overalls, baby blue polo, curly red hair from head to chin, and baby blue eyes sat there in his team booth at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi. I happened by on that sunny day in 1987 as he was holding court. He beckoned me to “Come on in!”

We had instant rapport. His Southern drawl; the mischievous twinkle in his eye, and his knack for telling stories that were believable and full of chuckles bonded us as friends for life right there and then.

As Jim told me about his hog—how it was nurtured by Mennonite pig farmers with the best of diets and tender loving care—not even allowed to wallow in mud—he handed me a cold beer and shared a few racy hearsay anecdotes about Arkansas Governor Clinton, along with some Elvis jokes. When I thanked him for his hospitality and said I needed to move on, he said, “You come back tomorrow afternoon and help us eat the rest of this hog when the judges are done with it. I guarantee it’s best tasting hog you or any of the judges have ever eaten.” I did return the next afternoon, and I swear to this day I have never tasted a more tender, flavorful, seasoned-to-perfection barbecued hog in my lifetime. That hog should have won Jim the Grand Championship. I’ll never understand why it didn’t.

From then on we were brothers in smoke for eternity. Memphis, Des Moines, Kansas City—we cooked, partied, philosophized, drank, smoked, and had fun—year after year, and kept in touch with phone calls between times. We worked on a Barbecue Whole Earth Catalog that never saw publisher’s ink, but we had fun working on it and dreaming about what a success it would be.

Ardie Davis and Michael Quessenberry catching up at Memphis in May 2019.

Jim Quessenberry is an American Original. Jim and Arthur, his right hand man, plus Donna, his wife, and Lee and Michael, his sons—they know barbecue, and I am elated that Jim’s legacy lives on from father to sons. Today Jim smokes heavenly hogs while Lee and Michael smoke hogs and other meats here on Planet Earth. Kudos to them for picking up Jim’s tongs, firing up his pits, making and marketing his fantastic Arkansas Trav’ler sauces and rub, and giving Jim’s many fans a double dose of red-haired Quessenberry magic! Blessed are they who knew Ques. Long live his legacy!

Dear Dad, We did it. We’re successful and growing every day.

Every so often I like to take a moment to pause and look around. I like to reflect on the successes and lessons learned during this journey. I often think to myself and wonder what my Dad would be thinking if he saw what we’re up to. I can’t help but wonder what he’d think of the time, organization, and production we’ve so meticulously developed through repetition, trial, and error.

Would he have better ideas on processes we use? What would his thoughts be on the new recipes we’ve developed on our own? I don’t doubt that he’d embrace and like everything we’ve done, but I would wonder what his first impression would be.

As I wonder all of this I begin to think to myself about the successes our team has had and the growth we’ve had that are beyond anything Dad ever produced and I smile. Moreover I think to myself how we couldn’t have done it without help from our partners, vendors, facilities, and more importantly, our fans.

Over the past 4 years we’ve had our ups and downs, but year after year we build upon the last. We’ve launched six products, three of which are original to the new generation of Jim Q. We’ve expanded our reach both online and in regional stores. We’ve made lasting connections with great people and we’ve added flavor and happiness to thousands of people.

To each and everyone who has and continues to support us, we thank you.

What’s New?

For starters, we have an all new set of products with maximum flavor. We have a Georgia gold style sauce with just the right amount of mustard tangy punch, a mix of spice, and finished off with a smooth sweet slather of brown sugar. It’s one of our new favorites and is featured in this month’s Grill Masters Club.

Sauce Beautiful Gold.

When you take the inspiration we’ve had over the years combined with the experience that was inherited from generations of recipes handed down from our family members, things get exciting in the kitchen. The last few years have brought two newer recipes to our collection that are sure to please those of you looking for a more savory flavor profile without a ton of sweet overpowering your palette. We learned from our good friends over at Big Bob Gibson’s that Alabama style white BBQ sauce is great for fish, chicken, and beef. It’s a tangy lemon, horseradish, mayonnaise blend with lots of zing.

Sauce Beautiful – White

The other savory option we have for you is our hickory seasoned Steak Beautiful , an Arkansas favorite featuring one of our favorite smoke flavors, Hickory wood smoke. This rub is absolutely made for steaks, brisket, beef ribs, or burgers. We’ll give any Texan a run for their money with real trees not bushes, because “God gave the Texans Mesquite. He knew their soil was too poor to grow Hickory.” ~Jim Quessenberry