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Barbecue Hall of Fame pitmaster shares a few tips

Pitmaster Chris Lilly has tips for perfect barbecue

Pitmaster Chris Lilly from Big Bob's Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala., demonstrates how to make perfect steaks and chicken at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
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Pitmaster Chris Lilly from Big Bob's Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala., demonstrates how to make perfect steaks and chicken at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue.

Pitmaster Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala., is known for his artistry of low and slow barbecue, but for the typical backyard barbecue, he switches to a hot and fast fire.

For instance, he cooks chicken drumsticks at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and a 1-inch steak or pork chop at 500 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

“The bigger (the cut of) meat, the higher the temperature,” Lilly said as he fired up for a Kingsford Charcoal demo at the American Royal Barbecue Contest on Friday afternoon. “No matter what I’m cooking, I’ll have a two-zone fire.”

For the two-zone indirect grilling method, the cook positions the coals on one side of the grill for high-heat cooking and searing but leaves the other side empty so there is a low-temperature zone to move lower-temp or finished items.

Lilly is also a fan of planning instead of winging it.

“When I fire my grill up, I work beforehand to plan out the meal because I want to be able to spend more time with my friends and family,” he said as friends hollered howdies as they passed by the tent.

Lilly has been cooking at the grill since he could barely see over one. In college he met his wife, great-granddaughter of Big Bob Gibson, a former railroad worker who dug a pit in his backyard and started selling barbecue that drew crowds. The restaurant is now fourth-generation, and Lilly’s two sons are expected to join the business to add a fifth.

Big Bob Gibson’s is known for its white, mayo-based sauce for chicken. Today you can find white sauces from New York to California, but it is believed Gibson’s — invented in 1925 — was the first of its kind. Lilly doesn’t use the white sauce in competition, though, because “judges don’t know what it is,” he said.

This year marks Lilly’s 18th outing at the American Royal. No one has won more pork barbecue titles at the Memphis in May competition (he has won seven). He was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

That’s part of why he’s a spokesman for Kingsford, a company set to release in January a new charcoal that burns 25 percent longer. Kingsford announced the innovation, which should be available early next year, at the American Royal.

“It’s my life and what I do,” Lilly said of the addictive nature of barbecue. Still, he wants time to enjoy a backyard barbecue as much as the next person.

To read The Kansas City Star’s latest barbecue headlines and our “We the Pitmasters” series, click here.

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Kansas City Star’s award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and blog curator. Reach her at @kcstarfood and @chowtownkc on Twitter and @chowtownkc on Instagram.

Grilled Pork Chops and Apple-Cranberry Glaze

Makes 6 servings, 15 minutes prep time


1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups apple cider

2 cups water

6 allspice berries

1/2 bay leaf

1/2 tablespoon dry thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon dry minced garlic


6 (1-inch thick) bone-in pork chops or boneless loin chops


1/16 teaspoon red pepper

2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup cranberry sauce

1/2 cup maple syrup

Mix brine ingredients and stir well. Place chops in brine and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

In a small pan, add sauce ingredients and mix well. Heat until mixture is warm. Reserve  1/2 cup of sauce for plating.

Build a charcoal fire for direct grilling. Grill chops directly over coals (approximately 450 degrees) for 8 minutes on each side. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, baste both sides of the chops well with sauce. Internal temperature of chops should reach 150-155 degrees prior to removing from grill.

Drizzle reserve sauce over chops when serving, or serve warm on the side.

Recipe created by world champion pitmaster Chris Lilly on behalf of Kingsford Charcoal.

Caramelized Chicken Drumsticks With Peach Molasses Glaze

Makes 6 servings, 16 minutes prep

Dry rub:

1 1/4 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons garlic salt

4 teaspoons black pepper


10-12 chicken drumsticks

Yellow mustard


1 cup peach preserves

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon soy sauce

4 teaspoons molasses

In a small bowl, add the dry rub ingredients and mix well. Paint each chicken drumstick with a light coat of yellow mustard. Season each drumstick with the dry rub mix (about 1 teaspoon per drumstick).

Build a charcoal fire for indirect cooking by situating the coals on only one side of the grill, leaving the other side void. When the temperature inside the grill has reached approximately 300 degrees, place the chicken drumsticks on the grill over the side void of charcoal. Close the grill lid and cook the chicken for 40 minutes with indirect heat, or until the internal temperature reaches 175-180 degrees.

While the chicken is cooking, combine the peach molasses glaze ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend the glaze until smooth and pour into a shallow bowl.

Remove the chicken from the grill, submerge each drumstick into the glaze, and place them back on the covered grill over indirect heat for 8 minutes or until the sauce caramelizes. Remove from the grill and serve.

Credit: Chris Lilly and Kingsford