Barbecuing is a lifelong love

By Lucie Willsie

April 2, 2014

A long time ago Ronnie Williams, a retired teacher turned avant-garde potter/artist, became interested in the ins and outs and finer points of barbecuing.

It was so long ago, he really can’t remember for sure when — 30 year at least — maybe longer.

“Just by looking at me,” he quipped, “you can see I like to eat.”

In addition, he added another reason he loves to barbecue is because “it is one of the true, uniquely American dishes.”

However, Williams remembers his first time cooking had nothing to do with barbecue. The first dish he remembers making at the age of 12, he is now 71, was peanut butter fudge. And why did he make this dish?

“Kids love candy,” he said with a laugh, “and the recipe was on the side of the Hershey Cocoa box.”

Easy Peasy.

But, when he met his wife, Tamara Smith, also a retired teacher, he slowly but surely started taking over more and more of the cooking duties.

“I finally, now, do all the cooking,” he said.

And there’s a most definite method to his wife’s reasoning.

“I stopped cooking a long time ago when I realized how well he cooked,” she explained.

But Ronnie Williams does confess he is a messy cook.

(Aren’t all cooks messy?, he asked.)

And that’s when the Williams’ came to an arrangement. He would cook. She would clean up. And it works very well for these folks.

Over the years, regarding cooking, Williams’ has discovered the No. 1 talent that needs to be developed in order to be a good cook.

“You have to develop an intuitive palate to know how ingredients will work together,” he revealed.

For example, basil goes really well with tomatoes, and the taste of tomatoes and onions goes really well together. But, scalloped tomatoes (or what is called breaded tomatoes on many a farm) and onions do not go well together.

The unique feature of Williams’ favorite rub that is featured here is that it contains no salt — a fairly unique characteristic because most traditional rubs are salt-laden.

Another of Williams’ tried and true lessons learned concerns the kinds of “mop,” or the sauce a cook uses to baste the meat. His best, tastiest, and easiest “mop” is apple cider.

“I used to make all kinds of things,” he said, “and now I think that simple apple cider is the best … and, everybody seems to like it … it’s easy. Just buy it and put it in a spray bottle.”

His Lexington-Style Red Slaw is an authentic recipe from the Lexington area.

“It’s got some heat to it,” he said. “The heat is due to a right-good amount of black pepper.”

His baked beans are made with sorghum molasses.

Another piece of advice for barbecuing is not to use a BBQ charcoal that has petroleum binders in it. Williams uses the Stubs all-natural charcoal. He hasn’t always used all-natural charcoal, but became aware that this can be an issue, certainly with taste, a few years ago and has only used all-natural briquettes ever since.

Williams also has made his own barbecue sauce, but he uses it mainly as a dipping sauce, “just for variety,” he explained. He experimented for years, trying to get the taste just right, changing the recipe over and over again.

But he isn’t ready to divulge the recipe for this special sauce.

“I’ve worked on it for 15 years,” he said, “and I’m not ready to give it up yet.”





1/2 cup of sugar

3 Tablespoons of New Mexico chili powder, or other good-quality, pure chili powder — not a blend

1 Tablespoon of lemonade powder

1 Tablespoon of dried parsley

1 Tablespoon of garlic powder

1 Tablespoon of onion powder

2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon of celery seeds

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of dried sage

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of mustard powder

1 teaspoon of dried dill


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir or whisk to mix. Transfer this mixture to a jar, cover, and store away from the heat and light. The rub will keep for several months. Makes 1 cup. (Chef’s Note: Because this rub does not contain salt, meat can be rubbed up to a day ahead to maximize the flavor and yet not dry out the meat.)




1 (4-pound) whole chicken

2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons of salt

1 teaspoon of black pepper

3 Tablespoons of your favorite dry spice rub

1 can of beer


Remove the neck and the giblets from the chicken and throw them out. Rinse the chicken inside and out, patting dry with paper towels. Rub the chicken lightly with oil, then rub it inside and out with salt, pepper, and dry rub. Open the can of beer and empty it so it is only half full. Place the beer can on a solid surface and, by holding the two chicken legs in each hand, place the bird cavity over the beer can. Transfer the “bird-on-a-can” to your grill and place it in the center of the grate, balancing the bird on its two legs, with the can acting like a tripod. Cook the chicken over medium-high, indirect heat. (Chef’s Note: No coals or burners should be directly under the bird.) Put the grill cover on, cook for about 1 1/4 hours or until the internal temperature of the bird comes to 165-degrees Fahrenheit in the breast area of the bird and 180-degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh, or until the thigh juice runs clear when stabbed with a sharp knife. Remove from the grill.




1 (3 pound) whole chicken

1 pinch of salt

1/4 cup of butter, melted

1 Tablespoon of salt

1 Tablespoon of paprika

1/4 Tablespoon of ground black pepper


Season the inside of the chicken with a pinch of salt. Place the chicken onto a rotisseries and set the grill on high. Cook for 10 minutes. During that time, quickly mix together the butter, the rest of the salt, paprika and pepper. Turn the grill down to medium and baste the chicken with the butter mixture. Close the lid and cook for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours, basting occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 180-degrees Fahrenheit when taken in the thigh with a meat thermometer. Remove the bird from the rotisserie and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting it into pieces and serving.




1 pound (2 to 2 1/4 cups) of dry white beans, such as Navy beans or Great Northern Beans or even kidney beans

1/3 cup of sorghum molasses

1/3 cup of brown sugar

3 to 4 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves

3 cups of hot water

1/2 pound of salt pork (or can substitute with bacon), cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces

1 medium onion, (1 1/2 cups chopped)


Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Soak the beans overnight and drain. Alternatively, bring a pot with beans covered in two inches of water to a boil. Remove from the heat and let soak for an hour. Then drain. Mix the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and ground cloves with 3 cups of hot water. Line the bottom of a slow-cooker (or a Dutch oven, if you are cooking the beans in the oven) with half of the salt pork (picking the fattiest pieces). Layer over this mixture with half of the drained beans. Add all of the onions in a layer, then top with another layer of beans and the remaining salt pork. Pour the molasses water mixture over the beans to just cover the beans. Cover and cook in a slow-cooker on the low setting for 8 hours (or in a 250-degree Fahrenheit oven) until the beans are tender. Check the water level a few hours in, and, if the beans need more water, add some. Add additional sugar to taste, if needed. Chef’s Note: Fresher beans will cook faster than older beans.) Your beans may be ready in less than 8 hours, or they may take longer. This dish is best the next day. (Chef’s Note: Serve with Boston brown bread.)




2/3 cup of ketchup

1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup of sugar

2 teaspoons of mild hot sauce

2 teaspoons of Kosher salt

2 teaspoons of ground black pepper

1 medium head of cabbage, cored and finely chopped


In a large bowl, whisk together the ketchup, vinegar, sugar, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and toss to combine. Let this mixture sit, tossing occasionally, for 20 minutes. Chill.

Lucie R. Willsie can be reached at 719-1930 or on Twitter at LucieRWillsie.