May is Grilling Month at Food Republic, where we are offering pro tips from chefs and other well-known grilling gods.
Memphis chef Wally Joe was born in Hong Kong and raised in Cleveland, Mississippi and grew up in a household of locavores (though they most certainly didn’t call themselves that). He would help his mother and grandmother butcher and clean free-range chickens, duck, squab and pheasant for the family meals. The love of seasonal products was passed down and Joe would eventually become a professional chef, cooking at his family’s restaurant KC’s before breaking out on his own.
Today Joe has risen to becoming one of the top chefs in all of Tennessee — serving as chef, partner and general manager of Acre. As a longtime son of Dixie, backyard barbecuing/grilling courses through his veins. Which is why we asked him all about his setup.
Do you prefer working with wood, gas or charcoal?
I prefer charcoal or natural hardwood anytime over gas. Of course gas is much more convenient, but you can’t beat the flavors from charcoal and wood.
What is the biggest mistake the home griller can make?
One of the biggest mistakes that the home griller can make is not to get the fire hot enough. I’ve seen a lot of meats that was not cooked properly and without a nice char, which is most desirable.
What is your favorite cut of meat to grill?
My favorite cut of meat to grill and EAT is a well-marbled ribeye. To me, that is the most flavorful cut of beef. It the best ratio of fat to meat and the perfect mouthfeel.
What are the best vegetables on the grill?
I prefer to grill sturdier vegetables in the summer such as squash, zucchini and eggplant. [See our grilled vegetables power rankings.] You can’t beat the flavor of sweet summer corn hot off the grill slathered with butter and parmesan. Tomatoes are my absolute favorite thing to eat when they’re ripe and perfect, so grilled tomatoes are a treat too.
What’s the best way to cook vegetables on the grill?
The simpler the better. Just some fresh cracked pepper, sea salt and olive oil. Just don’t put vegetables directly over the flame. They cook best off to the side.
What do you like to drink with your grilled meat?
If it’s the ribeye, a gutsy, spicy Syrah is my first preference. I’m not against my favorite reds from Burgundy either though.
What bands are on your grilling soundtrack?
It’s going to be an eclectic mix of my favorite classic rock bands such as Eagles, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Steely Dan, with a little funk and disco thrown into the mix.
What is the worst food item you have seen thrown on the grill?
I haven’t seen it, but I heard someone talking about grilling a sushi roll once. I just shook my head.
Most useful piece of grilling gear you have purchased or used?
You don’t need much else except a good pair of tongs.
And your secret to the best backyard burger is…
Why mess up a good burger? Just don’t buy the lean stuff. You need the fat! Lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, garlic mayo and Benton’s Bacon. That’s ALL you need.