1. How long have you been barbecuing and how did you get started?
I took over Harlan's Barbecue in 1984. The original owner wanted to retire and was looking for someone to replace him. I helped him out for a week and he asked me if I wanted to take over, and I said, ‘Why not.' I worked with him for one week and I had to learn the hard way. After two days, he said I knew what I was doing.
2. How much chicken do you have on the grill now?
Right now we have 825 halves. In a week's time we do as little as 1,000 all the way up to 12,000 a week. In a year's time, we probably go through 250,000 halves to 350,000 halves. We do this all year round. If it's 85 degrees, we're out here. If there are 18 inches of snow on the ground, we're out here doing it. It just makes it a little harder that's all.
3. What is the trick to cooking chicken?
The trick is cooking for two hours and having the right height between the charcoal and the chicken. They turn it up high and want it done in 20 minutes. They burn the outside and the inside is raw. You have to really pay attention to the fire and move the chicken around. And make sure the chicken doesn't catch on fire, because that is a problem.
4. Do you eat the chicken?
I might eat the skin off of it, but that's about as far as it goes. I can't stand it any more.
5. How hot is the grill and how do you handle the smoke and the heat?
Right now, that's probably around 550 degrees. For me personally, I'm used to it. For younger guys, you just have to get used to it. You cry sometimes, your eyes water up real bad, you choke a little bit sometimes, but you just have to keep doing it.
6. Do you grill at home?
I don't grill at home any more. Hot dogs and hamburgers are about as far as I go any more. When you have to cook for maybe 15,000 people every day when we are busy in the summertime, you've seen enough food and you're tired of it. Takeout sounds real good.
7. Charcoal or gas?
People like gas, but with charcoal, you get the aroma and taste of the charcoal coming through into the chicken. That's the main thing. We use probably two semi[trailer] loads of charcoal every year. Gas would maybe save us a little bit of money in the long run with the price of charcoal being up, but there is no reason to mess with success. Charcoal is the best flavor. You just can't beat it.
8. What advice do you have for the backyard griller?
Plan ahead. Don't come home at 4 p.m. and expect to eat at 4:30 p.m. You need to allow at least a good hour to cook your chicken on the grill, slow temperature and make sure you bring it up above 160 degrees. No one has time any more. Everybody wants it done in five minutes. The best advice I have is make sure you wash your hands and your serving platter. Once you've taken the chicken off, get a new platter. Don't sit down, drink a beer, cook your chicken and then put it back on there. Then bacteria gets on the chicken and your family gets sick.