Growing up in Houston, “I learned that it’s okay to have barbecue for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” says Jack Ingram, who views the all-American summer staple not just as a food but as a way of life. “In Texas when you say, ‘Hey, let’s have a barbecue,’ it’s not like other places where it’s hamburgers and hot dogs. It’s a real meal—full-on vegetables, high-quality brisket, ribs, sausages, pork, chicken, turkey. It’s outside, football on, music playing, people having a good time.”
These days he carries on that tradition with his wife, Amy, 39, and kids Ava, 5, Eli, 3, and Hudson, 1. “Because life is so hectic for me on the road, to start a fire in the morning and just have a full day planned around hanging out in the backyard with my family and friends, just letting the world catch up to me or me catch up to the world—that’s why I love it,” says the Austin-based singer, 37, who’s currently on tour with Martina McBride. “It’s a place to recharge and have nothing to do but make sure the fire is still lit.” His specialty? “I do some really good ribs and brisket. But a perfect brisket is kind of like finding happiness—it’s definitely a moving target. And it never comes out the same way.”
Among his barbecue necessities: a charcoal grill—”I use charcoal and mesquite or pecan wood chips”—and plenty of patience. “Keeping your temperature at 250° is pretty important and having a lot of time is important—it’s about the slowness of it,” he says. His Beer Butt Chicken recipe was passed on to him by a former manager when Ingram was just starting out in the barbecue world. “I like that it is pretty simple,” he says. As for his fondness for cooking with beer, “beer imparts flavor in the chicken in the same manner that wine imparts flavor in a stew,” he explains. “And you get to drink what you don’t use—you have to buy at least six and you only use one!” When he’s not doing his own cooking, Ingram is partial to the barbecue at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, and chain eatery Rudy’s, where he likes to pick up a secret ingredient. “Rudy’s makes a great rub that I buy,” he says ($6.49 for 12 oz., rudysbbq.com). “But I put it in a different container!” For the most part, though, he likes to be the guy behind the grill. “My wife could do it better than me; I’m positive of that,” he says with a laugh. “But she understands that it’s my deal.”
BEER BUTT CHICKEN
1 whole chicken (4-5 pounds)
1 can of beer (12 ounces)
1. Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Discard giblets.
2. Open a can of beer. Hold the chicken upright with its rear cavity facing downward and insert the can inside. Place the chicken on the grill, away from direct heat. Tip: “Stand” the chicken up on the grill by spreading its legs to form a rough tripod.
3. Cook the chicken for 4 hours over very low, indirect heat (250° to 300° F).
4. To remove the bird from the grill, use tongs and transfer the chicken to a nearby cutting board, holding a metal spatula underneath the beer can for support. Let the chicken stand 5 minutes before carving the meat. Toss—do not drink—the beer from the open can.
1 cup oil
6 teaspoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 package ramen chicken-flavored noodle soup
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup sunflower nuts
8 green onions, chopped
1 16-ounce bag of cabbage for coleslaw
1. Blend oil, vinegar, sugar, seasoning package from soup, salt and pepper. Refrigerate.
2. Mix almonds, sunflower nuts and crunched-up ramen noodles and store in a bag.
3. When time to serve, combine slaw mix with onions. Pour nut mixture over top, then add dressing.
1 big brisket (10-15 pounds)
Your favorite BBQ rub or a blend of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 six-pack of beer
1 liter of apple juice
1. Light a small pile of charcoal in the firebox or toward one end of your grill, depending on grill type. (The brisket will cook on the opposite end of the grill with indirect heat.)
2. Fill an aluminum tray with beer. Place the tray inside the grill, directly under the spot where the brisket will sit on the rack.
3. Coat brisket liberally with the rub, particularly the fatty side of the meat.
4. When the pit’s temperature settles between 250° to 300° F, place the brisket fatty side up on the grill.
5. During the cooking time, add soaked wood chips and dry charcoal to keep the fire going. Maintain the temperature around 250°.
6. Cook the brisket one hour for every pound of meat.
7. With two hours of cooking time remaining, remove the brisket and place it on a large piece of aluminum foil. Pull the aluminum foil around the sides of the meat and pour most of the bottle of apple juice over the brisket. Close the foil around the top of the brisket and place the wrapped meat back on the grill. Increase the heat to just above 300°.
8. When the brisket is done, open the foil and dispose of the juice by letting it spill into the fire.
9. Let the meat rest for 15 to 30 minutes before cutting. Slice across the grain of the meat.