SUMMERTIME IS HERE—don’t miss it, break out the brisket! Jokes aside, there’s no denying that summer is prime time for BBQ chefs and appreciators alike. While you can grab delicious barbecue from restaurants all around the North Sound, these warmer months are the best opportunity for home cooks to get out in the yard and try their hand at using fire and smoke to sizzle up some tasty, home-cooked meals.

We got together with Gary Vander Giessen, BBQ judge and cook with decades of experience under his belt, to chat about BBQ, the tools of the trade, and the keys to a good cookout.

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about
your business?

Okay, my name is Gary Vander Giessen. I own and operate
Gary’s BBQ Supplies, which used to be in Lynden, but I
have a shop in Ferndale now. It’s a warehouse, I’m open by
appointment, and I sell Yoder Smokers exclusively, as well
as rubs and sauces, smoking pellets, and other tools.

Why did you choose Yoder Smokers?

Yoder Smokers are manufactured in Hutchinson, Kansas.
All of the parts are manufactured in the United States,
including the electronics, which is extremely rare. Yoders
were named the Best Pellet Grill of the Year by People
Magazine just recently, and they’re extremely robust.
I really like [that every part is manufactured in the U.S.],
because I try to support U.S. businesses with everything I
carry. My pellets are made by Cookinpellets, and are 100%
species wood, so if it says black cherry it’s 100% black
cherry, et cetera.

We saw that you’re a barbecue judge! What, in your opinion, makes a great barbecue dish?

Well, judging is done with taste, texture, and appearance;
there’s those three points. Scoring in the PNWBA
[Pacific Northwest BBQ Association] is done on a scale
of 1–9. They call me Mr. 8! So, 6 is a bad score, 1 is a
disqualification, and 9 would be perfect.
Texture, different things like ribs have different things
that they look for. People say they like fall-off-the-bone
ribs, and that is not acceptable in the PNWBA, because ribs
that fall off the bones are technically overdone.
Flavor, of course, that’s always subjective. Some people
like a little bit more salt or a little sweeter, so that’s a bit more difficult to judge. And appearance — it’s like art, one person likes a little bit more pink, some people like brown.

What does a beginner barbecue chef need to get started?

Well, really, you don’t need the best of the best to get great results. I can make great smoked salmon in a cardboard box! Use what you have and what you can afford, and study. The best way to get started is to gain experience through doing it. And talk to people! You can join the PNWBA, and … they are a wonderful group of people, they do a lot for charity, and they love to share their wealth of knowledge with others. I’d recommend a Yoder Smoker, of course. But I used a Brickmann, which is a very inexpensive cooker, for 20 years! It was a pain in the butt, because you have to constantly tend the fire. Every 15 minutes, you want to be checking your temperatures, and with a less expensive smoker like that, you have trouble keeping your temperatures even. The key to good barbecue really is being able to control your temperatures. You’re trying to keep it at one constant temperature the whole time. And a light amount of smoke! You want what they call the “thin blue line,” and that would be just a thin blue wisp of smoke. You don’t want clouds of white or black smoke, all that means is that you don’t have the correct fuel-air mixture.

What would be a good dish for a first timer to make?

I would say pork butts, although it depends on how much time you have. If you want to do ribs, you can do ribs; that’s about a four hour cook. But the most forgiving would be an eight hour minimum cook, and that would be pork butts. [Find the recipe for Vander Giessen’s Smoked Sangria Pork Butt on his website!]

What makes BBQ such a great summertime activity?

You know, when you barbecue typically, you have your family there, right? So, when you have your family over and you’re cooking for them … you’re gathering outside around the fire or near the BBQ, and it creates that atmosphere. The smell, the smoke, the anticipation of the food, preparing the meat, that can all be a community and family event.