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

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.

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

Smoked Harvest Stuffed Pork Loin

Smoked Harvest Stuffed Pork Loin

Ingredients:

1 ct 6 oz. STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Chicken
2 ct Small Apples, Chopped
3 Tbsp Dried Cranberries
1 cup PLANTERS Pecans, Chopped
1 Tbsp Dried Sage Leaves
1 ct Pork Loin (4 lb.), Butterflied
1 tbsp Jim Quessenberry’s Rub Beautiful

Directions:

Recommended: 1 serving sauce (Sauce Beautiful Original, Hot, White, or Gold)

1. Start off-set charcoal fire in Weber grill. Make sure coals are burning well. We like to add apple wood chips for an added sweet smokey flavor.

2. Prepare stuffing according to instructions on the box. Remove from stove top; stir in apples, cranberries, pecans and sage.

3. Lay butterflied loin flat with sliced side up. Spread layer of stuffing on top side of loin; Roll the loin up with the stuffing inside, placing the end seam down, on sheet of aluminum foil or aluminum pan covered in cooking spray. Use butcher twine to hold the loin together. Season with Rub Beautiful.

4. slow smoke until meat is (160ºF) approx. 45 min. Rest 10 min. before slicing.

Day 21: Our First Guest Blog Post

I’ve been hoping to capture some of the thoughts of my good friends and family and share them here.  You all may get tired of Lee and I writing all the time. 😛  I thought to myself.. why not get a few friends that love food and love to write about food to share their thoughts and ideas. The following is our first guest blog post by one of my longest friends, Brad Benefield.  Stay tuned for other guest blog posts as well. Some maybe about our dad in the prime of his career, and some may also be about food in general, all should be interesting and entertaining…

-Michael Quessenberry

Growing up with the Qs by Brad Benefield

Jim Quessenberry, or “Quess” as everyone called him, said the recipe for Sauce Beautiful came to him in a dream. Growing up around him, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Most of us as children begin with an almost infinite capacity for creativity and imagination. For whatever reason, that ability is often lost as we begin to age, with only a small ember still burning within us. It always appeared to me that Quess never stopped dreaming. If anything, his imagination and creativity seemed to become bigger with each year he was on earth. In my memories of Quess that is what stands out to me; He was always creating, joking, and dreaming. Creativity just seemed to flow from him. People loved to sit and talk with him because you never knew what to expect. Every day he had a new joke to tell, a new recipe to cook, or a new invention to build.

As a kid, I knew very little about BBQ beyond the idea of throwing meat over a fire. After becoming friends with Michael and meeting Jim, I quickly learned that it was much more than that. The work and nuance that Quess and the other great cooks put in to making truly great BBQ elevated it closer to an art form than just making a meal. Everything had to be just right: the quality of the meat, the type of wood in the smoker, the sauce, the rub, the temperature; it all culminated into some of the best food I had ever eaten. Also something about the way BBQ is prepared feels like an ancient thing that we forgot about somewhere along the way. There is something very peaceful in the practice gathering around a fire with friends, smoking a pig, and enjoying each other’s company.

Even as a kid, I knew Sauce Beautifulor as everyone in our hometown knew it “Quessenberry Sauce” was something special. It has been wonderful to see the sauce grow and change over the years. I know Jim would be happy to see how Michael and Lee have kept his dream alive and added their own creativity to their father’s legacy. The original Sauce Beautiful is still the same wonderful thing Quess dreamed up so many years ago, and Michael and Lee’s new white and gold sauces add a new spin to that give even more originality to an already unique product. I feel confident in saying wherever the story of Sauce Beautiful goes in the future, there will always be a new joke, a new story, and a new dream just around the corner.

Sauces

Day 8: 5 Ways To Improve Your Indirect Heat Cooking Skills On A Small Grill.

So, you wanna improve your skills on cooking indirectly, but you don’t have a fancy offset smoker, no worries. There are a couple of tools and tricks you can use to get the desired results of indirect heat.

#1: Charcoal Basket and Drip Pan:

I often use this method on my Weber kettle grill. The basic idea here is to partition your fire to one side of the kettle using a charcoal basket. Then place a foil pan or sheet fashioned into a pan on the charcoal grate at the other side of the kettle. This will not only catch the drippings of the meat above, but it will also shield direct heat from hitting the meat by providing a buffer between it and the burning charcoal. This method is great for slow cooking ribs without a true smoker. Water can be added to the pan to make the cook chamber atmosphere more humid to aid in keeping the meat moist while cooking.

#2 Build a Brick Wall:

Let’s say you don’t have a charcoal basket for your kettle grill, or you have a different type of grill. No worries the same idea can be applied by setting the coals up at one side of the grill, and building a wall up to the cooking grate with bricks. The wall will provide the buffer between the meat and fire that is desired, and also once the bricks are warm, they will provide consistent heat as it slowly permeates through.

#3: Ring of Charcoal or The Snake Method:

This method is some what new to my bag of tricks, but i have found it to be very useful when I want to smoke a Boston Butt, but don’t want to break out the huge smoker or don’t wanna spend lots of money on tons of charcoal to smoke one butt on a larger smoker. If you have a small smoker you won’t need this method, but again if you have a Weber kettle grill or even a cheap burger and hotdog cooking tailgater, you can use this method and put some delicious slow smoke on a Boston butt or turkey or any thing that can fit in your small grill. So here is how you set it up. Take charcoal brickets and neatly stack them around the perimeter of the charcoal grate where it meets the side of the kettle. Leave space between the start and end of the ring so you don’t accidentally burn both ways at the same time. Start your fire on one end and it will slowly burn around the perimeter for many hours, at a nice low and slow pace. You can also sprinkle your favorite wood chips over the ring of charcoal to keep a steady regimen of smokey goodness cooking into the meat. I like to start my fire so that it burns clockwise, it helps indicate what hour of cooking I’m in. After you start your fire. place the cooking grate over it and place your meat in the center of the cooking surface. I like to place Boston Butts it in an aluminum pan, but leave the pan uncovered. It lets the Butt get the flavorful smoke, stay moist because it cooks in it’s own juices, and it acts as a buffer between the fire and the meat.

#4 The Stack Add-On:

There are a few different extensions you can add on to Weber kettles that move the cooking surface higher above the coals for a slower cook. In this type of situation the coals are still under the cooking surface, but not close enough to flame kiss a steak. If you are like me you like the idea of having the versatility of an add-on like that, but never think to buy one. I think it’s funner to create indirect heat using the methods mentioned above.

#5 Electric Smoker:

If you have access to electricity this is one of the easiest and consistent ways of smoking and using indirect heat. The heat is provided from a heating element much like an electric oven, and the smoke is typically created by feeding wood pellets or pucks via an auger or conveyor into the heating element creating smoke. These smokers are nice to have when cooking at home, but are generally not permitted in BBQ contests, as they make things way to easy and consistent. Taking the skill out of it.

I hope you enjoyed this article, as you can see the basic idea is to move the food away from direct heat to slow down your cooking process, and add that wonderful flavor we all love. Come back tomorrow for more BBQ tips, tricks, and stories!

-Michael Q

Day 3: Why We Love Smoked Pork (And You Should, Too!)

There are many delicious forms of barbecue, but our favorite is very obviously pork. There are a lot of good reasons for this and you will probably agree that they are all worthy of your attention.

Whole Hog

One of the most ambitious cooks you will ever try is the whole hog. It is a lesson in patience, skill, and technique that few have experienced, but it is worth every minute of experience. When you smoke a whole hog, you better set aside at least 2 days of going nowhere and staying on top of your assignment.

The whole hog is very rewarding and will feed dozens of people. The meat is very tender throughout the shoulders, ribs, and ham areas. When cooking a whole hog it is good to remember that you have time to get it done right. Always set aside 24 – 30 hours of time including prep and serving so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

The whole hog has a distinct and mouthwatering flavor that is unlike any portion of the hog that you might have otherwise cooked separately. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten a baby-back rib cut directly from the animal. It is absolutely the freshest, juiciest, and most flavorful way to eat baby-back ribs. Follow Michael’s instructions here for an experience that is like none other. Be sure to pick up a few bottles of sauce or rub beautiful to go with the hog.

As a child I remember seeing my first whole hog cook at a BBQ competition. To me it looked like something you would see a tribe cook on some island far away from Arkansas.

Michael Quessenberry
https://jimquessenberry.com/going-whole-hog/

Ribs

My favorite barbecue dish has to be baby-back ribs. Sure there are spare ribs and St. Louis style ribs, but my favorite are baby-back ribs hands down. Let’s break it down. Spare ribs are from the belly and are meatier, larger in size, and often times tougher than baby-back ribs which come from closer to the loin. Because of this, baby-back ribs are more tender and take less preparation and cooking to get a wonderful and flavorful entree. St. Louis ribs are basically just trimmed and squared spare ribs. They’re uniform in appearance and have less grissel on them, but don’t be fooled, they aren’t “back” ribs.

Some folks like “dry” ribs, which when done properly, I LOVE, and some folks like to get messy with saucy wet ribs. I like something a bit more in the middle. My ribs tend to have the chew of a dry rib with a glazy candy shell similar to my shoulders or butts. Using Rub Beautiful and Sauce Beautiful as a glaze, the ribs come off the smoker with a very thick and satisfying bark that will leave you wanting more even if you’re full.

For more information on how I prepare ribs, see Lock and Load Ribs.

Pulled Pork

Ah the classic pulled pork sandwich, an American staple. Although the best sandwiches are often a mix of pulled pork from a whole hog, the traditional pulled pork sandwich is made from the shoulder, butt, or picnic ham portion of the hog cooked on its own, pulled and/or chopped, and placed between two buns with a dollop of homemade coleslaw topped with a squirt of Sauce Beautiful to complete the perfect BBQ sandwich.

 

When cooking a butt or shoulder, I generally season and coat the meat with a very liberal amount of Rub Beautiful and place the meat with the fat side down (to prevent bitterness and greasy meat) on the grate with an indirect heat source. Then I smoke the meat about 4-5 hours to get a good smoke ring in the meat. I do this at about 225-250 degrees. After 4-5 hours, wrap the shoulder or butt in aluminum foil and finish it off to about 195 internally. The bone should wiggle free without hassle when the temp hits 195 to 200.

Pull the meat and/or chop it and serve on sandwiched. Your mouth and friends will thank you.