THE HICKORY CHICKS
What do you call someone with seven grills, an monthly meat bill and a cell phone that doesn't ring but clucks like a chicken? "Incredibly talented," says her sister Diane of Lee Ann Whippen, 41, better known as the leader of the Hickory Chicks. Together with daughters Britney, 13, and Samantha, 4, the ex-beauty queen takes her ribs and pulled pork to fairs and contests across the country and usually walks away with a cash prize. But the real magic happens in her Chesapeake, Va., backyard, where she often stays up all night perfecting her smoking techniques. "I cook at night," says Whippen, "because I don't want people calling fire trucks."
The New Jersey-raised daughter of barbecue champ Jim "Trim" Tabb, she sold her first ribs for a dollar each at a 1993 garage sale. For her first roasted pig, she put red polish on its toes to match the apple in its mouth. "This is our calling in life," says husband John. "To enlighten people to the true American barbecue." How about explaining how Whippen can eat her own barbecue 365 days a year and keep her 5'7", 125-lb. figure? Easy—she just picks. "You don't have to weigh 300 lbs.," she says, "to know how to cook."
RICK BROWNE'S BEER-BUTT CHICKEN
1 4-5 lbs chicken
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dry yellow mustard
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 can of beer, any brand
2 cups cider
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
Mix dry ingredients together and rub chicken inside and out. Open can of beer, pour half into a spray bottle and add cider, olive oil and vinegar. Insert can into cavity of chicken. With the chicken resting on the can, cook for about two hours over medium-hot grill (around 350 degrees) with grill cover on. Spritz chicken with the basting spray while cooking. When done, carefully lift bird off the grill and, with an oven mitt on, remove the can. Carve and serve.
ALL THAT JAZZ...AND BARBECUE
Jazz musician Kermit Ruffins has a way of making sure every one of his performances turns out smoking. Silver trumpet in one hand, black spatula in the other, Ruffins, 38, barbecues for himself and fans during his gigs. "Kermit wants to keep the room hopping," says music critic and fan Keith Spera. "His barbecue does just that—it keeps the party going."
Raised in the Big Easy and taught how to cook crab and crawfish as a child, Ruffins took up the trumpet at 11 and has since performed with the likes of Harry Connick Jr. For his regular Sunday-night set with his band the Barbecue Swingers at New Orleans' popular jazz spot Joe's Cozy Corner, Ruffins pulls up in his 1985 Chevy pickup, a custom-made grill in the truck bed. "I'll feature my trombone player for a whole song while I go outside and throw everything on the grill," he says. "By the time I come back, he's finished and I'm on."
Pork and beef are standards, but there are always plenty of surprises—like a few dozen turkey necks. "Kermit cooks like he blows his horn—he improvises," says Joe's owner Joseph Glasper, 62. And it's not only jazz buffs who benefit. "When I have a day off and some extra money," says Ruffins, "I feed the whole neighborhood."
KERMIT RUFFINS'S BOILED TURKEY NECKS
40 lbs of turkey necks
Water to cover the turkey necks at least one bag of Zatarain's Crab Boil Seasoning
a few heads of garlic
a few onions
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boll in 15-gallon pot over a propane burner. Boil for about an hour and 45 minutes. The result, says Ruffins: "The best turkey necks ever."
THE CRITTER COOKOUT
You think that T-bone you ate last week was chewy? Try grilled monkey. "Yeah, monkey is a bit on the stringy side," says Steve Hawk, 48. "But we had a stir-fried buffalo this year, which was outstanding."
Hawk is part of the U.S. Mountain Ranger Association, the Georgia group behind the annual Critter Cookout. Comprised of several dozen active and nonactive U.S. Rangers, the boys barbecue all manner of hapless wildlife, including squirrels, turtles, bears, snakes and, yes, the occasional simian. "If the game wardens I know get a roadkill and it's fresh, they call me," says head chef Doug Perry, 62. "If it's a young deer, we'll take it."
Deer is one thing, but moose stew? Snake pate? The Rangers came by their cast-iron stomachs the hard way. Most of them served in the military "during the time of C-rations, those little green cans that hold some very mysterious foods," says Hawk. "After that, everything is edible."
DOUG PERRY'S VENISON ROAST WITH MARINADE
1½ lbs venison roast
1 cup apple-cider vinegar
12 whole peppercorns
1 cup beef stock
1 cup apple juice
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 tbs sugar
Put all ingredients in a large Ziploc bag, seal and shake to blend. Refrigerate overnight. Cook roast on grill uncovered, basting with marinade for 60-90 minutes, insert meat thermometer to judge degree of doneness; 145 degrees for rare, 175 for well-done. Serves 4-6.
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