You might recognize him, too. He looks a little like KFC’s Colonel Sanders, with a long white goatee, heavy black glasses and spiky white hair.
Lampe is a Barbecue Hall of Famer who has competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped.” He revamped Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality restaurant, and he is working on his own barbecue restaurant in Tampa, Fla., which will feature a mango barbecue sauce and a citrus-flavored dessert.
A cookbook author and long-time “spokeschef” for Big Green Egg, Lampe was in Kansas City last week to promo his most recent release, “Ray Lampe’s Big Green Egg Cookbook” published by Andrews McMeel. I asked him to grab lunch at Slap’s BBQ, where we happened to catch up with co-owner Mike Pearce.
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Over a sampler platter of ribs, burnt ends, turkey and two types of sausage (including Slap’s new cheesy jalapeno made by Krizman’s House of Sausage) we talked about the kamado-style cooker that has spawned a cult following.
“The versatility to me is the real thing,” Lampe says. “I can grill a steak blazing hot, burn-the-hair-off-your-arms hot, but I can calm it down and cook chicken straight over the fire because I can control the air so well. And then we’ve got the deflector plate we put in there, which turns it into a slow cooker.”
Big Green Egg is sold in over 40 countries and comes in seven sizes capable of cooking a single steak to 20 steaks at a time. The ceramic, egg-shaped cooker uses lump charcoal, so there is little ash. There are also airflow vents that allow for more control than many other cookers on the market.
Lampe says he can slow-cook brisket at 250 degrees or sear steak at 900 degrees — all with wood-fired smoke flavor — on a Big Green Egg.
Lampe, who grew up in Chicago, is also eager to show EGGHeads (yes, a bit like Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads, with a forum, festivals, podcasts and more) how to make excellent grilled pizza: thin or thick crust.
The book includes recipes for Ginny and Kim’s Thin-Crust Pizza Dough, Deep-Dish Tourist Pizza, Thin-Crust Real Chicago Pizza (“the kind of pizza that people who live in Chicago eat most of the time”), Fully Loaded Calzone, Homemade Garlic Knots and dessert pizza.
“I have this real chip on my shoulder about Chicago pizza because Chicagoans do not eat big, deep-dish pizza. Once a year maybe, like as a special occasion,” he says. “Friday night we order thin crust pizza like everybody else and cut it into squares, the way it should be.”
Lampe has competed on the barbecue circuit with as many as four Big Green Egg cookers at a time. In 2003, he won a major competition cooking on the kamado cooker.
Brothers Mike and Joe Pearce, co-owners of Slap’s BBQ, still compete nearly 30 weekends a year.
“You know what’s winning the (heck) out of things right now is the cans,” says Mike Pearce, Lampe’s beard twin. “I mean nonstop. You can’t even compete in St. Louis right now without a can because they win.”
The “cans” Pearce refers to are 55-gallon upright drum cookers designed to cook hot and fast. Ribs can be hung in the cooker. Many, such as those produced by Gateway Drum Smokers, include customized paint jobs. The cookers typically cost under $1,000.
“Well, guys like ’em because they’re cheap,” Lampe says. “Meanwhile, the guy’s got a $200,000 mobile home and he’s bragging about how cheap his smoker is.”
Both men laugh at the irony of their culinary sport, but it makes an investment in a Big Green Egg — which retail on Amazon between a couple hundred dollars and a couple thousand — something worth considering.
Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor. She also curates the Chow Town blog. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or on Twitter @kcstarfood and Instagram @jillwsilva.
Chorizo and Shrimp Fundido
Makes 10 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped, dried (cured) chorizo
1 pound (26-30 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined and coarsely chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
3 green onions, white and firm green parts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
Paprika, for dusting
Tortilla chips, for serving
Prepare the Egg to cook indirect with a drip pan at 375 degrees with applewood added for smoke flavor. Place a cast-iron Dutch oven in the Egg to preheat for 10 minutes.
Add the oil to the Dutch oven and heat for 3 minutes. Add the chorizo, stir and cook for 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, stir and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp begin to turn opaque.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, chile and all but a small spoonful of the green parts of the green onions. Mix well and cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the top, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, until the flour is fully incorporated and everything is hot. Add the milk, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and begins to thicken. Add the cheese, stir to mix and cook for 3 minutes. Stir again to blend the cheese into the sauce, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir once again until mixed well, sprinkle the top with a light dusting of paprika and cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Garnish with the reserved green onions and serve with tortilla chips.
“Ray Lampe’s Big Green Egg Cookbook”