If you tend to think all champion barbecuers play it close to the vest, then, sadly, you never knew Karen Putman.
Before the ERA of barbecue made women equal in the eyes of the flame, Putman mentored the original all-female ’Que Queens. The team was known for its tiaras and beauty queen waves. The catalyst for their girly name and grilling getups? A a seriously deluded radio deejay who claimed women weren’t as good at the art of turning out slow-smoked meats as the menfolk.
With those fighting words, Putman steered a team of top Kansas City barbecue women, including Carolyn Wells (Kansas City Barbeque Society), Judith Fertig (national award-winning cookbook author), Karen Adler (cookbook publisher) and Lou Jane Temple (restaurant icon and food personality) through what was billed as an all-out battle of the sexes.
You could call it a draw: the men won once and the women won once, but Putman remained a fixture on the competitive barbecue circuit with her own cooking team, Flower of the Flames, and a barbecue sauce company of the same name. She won national and international championships, all the while mentoring others, including chef Russ Muehlberger of Jon Russell’s BBQ, a smokehouse in Leawood that pays tribute to Putman with several menu items. The ribs are very good but don’t miss variations on her pioneering sweet-heat barbecue sauces.
Putman died in 2011 from complications of breast cancer, but “Championship BBQ” is a lovely tribute to her huge talent. The second edition offers 300 recipes for such lip smackers as her grand champion rack of lamb, cold-smoked vegetables and salmon with white wine and pesto.Grand Champion Rack of Lamb Makes 8 servings 1 cup olive oil 1/4 cup each packed fresh thyme, basil and mint leaves 3 tablespoons seasoned salt 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles 2 tablespoons minced garlic 1 tablespoon minced shallots 4 racks of lamb, fat removed and bones frenched (with a sharp knife scrape bits of fat and flesh off the ends) 1/2 cup prepared mustard 1/4 cup amber liquid honey
Prepare the paste: In a food processor, combine oil, thyme, basil, mint, seasoned salt, rosemary, garlic and shallots for 1 minute, or until the mixture becomes a loose paste.
Place lamb in a large sealable plastic bag and pour in paste. Seal bag, toss to coat and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Remove lamb from past and pat dry. Discard paste.
In a small bowl, combine mustard and honey; brush onto lamb. Set aside.
Prepare a fire in your smoker.
Place lamb directly on the smoker rack, add wood to coals and close the lid. Smoke at 225 degrees for about 1 1 /2 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of a rack reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium-rare, or desired doneness.Jill Silva is The Star’s James Beard Award-winning food editor and restaurant critic. She has won more than 25 national writing awards and been included in the “Best Food Writing” anthologies of 2008 and 2011. She is the author of The Star’s “Eating for Life” cookbook and the past president of The Association of Food Journalists. She also makes a mean flan.