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Barbecue is his specialty

Just in time for your Fourth of July picnic, Hamilton’s Ron Neeley offers tips

In anticipation of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, we’re featuring a chef who specializes in preparing foods outdoors.

“My son-in-law is a great cook but his grilling and smoking recipes are exceptional,” writes Debbie Schellenbach about Ron Neeley of Hamilton.

You’ll find Neeley barbecuing from early March through Thanksgiving. When the weather permits, he even smokes his Christmas ham.

Neeley says the best tip he can offer is to know your grill.

“Make sure that whether you are cooking over gas or charcoal you feel for your ‘hot spots’ and pay special attention to those when you are cooking over them,” Neeley says.

He also has advice about grilling chicken with skin on it.

“Make sure that you don’t turn it too soon,” Neeley cautions. ” If you try to turn it and the skin is sticking to the grate, it’s not ready to be turned yet!”

Lastly, Neeley says, don’t use too much charcoal.

“If your fire is too hot, you’ll end up with a burned a crunchy burger on the outside that will be raw in the middle,” he warns.

We chatted with Neeley about his love for this type of cooking:

Q. What do you love about grilling and smoking?

A. I love to see the smile on the faces of my friends and family when they try my food. It’s also fun to try new things when creating a new flavor profile. Experimenting with new spice rubs and sauces always leads to new and wonderful things in the barbecue world.

Patience is the key word for making barbecue the right way. From the prep time to the plate, you could be looking at upwards of 12 hours to smoke a pork butt for pulling. When I barbecue or smoke a piece of meat for a meal, I always put a lot of time and attention into it.

Q. How did you become interested in this type of cooking?

A. My father gave me his old smoker. He originally bought it because he needed something with a large cooking surface for a graduation party he was hosting. After that party, he really didn’t have a use for it anymore, so about five years ago he asked me if I wanted it. I said that I would love to have it and he delivered it to my house.

The first thing I smoked on my pit was a Thanksgiving turkey. I quickly learned that this style of cooking is more of a science than any other type of cooking. You have to know which types of wood give off the right amount of smoke and heat for the type of meat you are cooking. The outside temperature affects how much fuel you have to use.

Even little things like knowing where your hot spots are in your pit can change the outcome. Since my first try, I have come to specialize in pork products including St. Louis style pork ribs and pork loin.

Q. What are your early memories of food and cooking?

A. My mother always made big meals for us when we were growing up. Every Sunday we would have some sort of great family dinner. It was a time for us to catch up and relax over a great meal.

Also, holiday meals were always big with my family. Mom would be up early in the morning getting the Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. I would help to peel the potatoes and get the baked beans prepared. By the time that the meal was finished, my relatives and I had been taste-testing the baked beans and picking at the turkey for so long, we almost weren’t hungry anymore!

Q. Who taught you how to grill?

A. I taught myself how to barbecue. I read a lot of books on different styles of barbecue, but ultimately, you have to try it out and see how it turns out. Sometimes it’s great, other times not so much. Every time you cook, you can learn something new or try something new. Just don’t be afraid to fail — a pizza is only a phone call away!

Q. How do you come up with the rubs and sauces you use?

A. Sauces and rubs are such an individual thing. That’s why there are so many different kinds available when you go to the grocery store. There are also great recipes online that you can use as a base to build upon.

Q. What would you like to do in terms of cooking that you haven’t done yet?

A. I haven’t barbecued much beef so I think this summer I am going to work on brisket and beef ribs.

Q. What’s the bottom line for you when it comes to cooking?

A. To me, a good meal and great food always mean a great time with good people.

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