Fire up the grill this summer with these tips from contestant Christie Vanover on BBQ Brawl on Food Network. Vanover has earned titles within the barbecue competition niche, including BBQ State Champion of Nevada, California and Utah and Arizona BBQ Reserve Grand Champion and Nevada BBQ Team of the Year. Grill hot and fast or slow and low with this expert's insight.
Q: Is there a universal tip that you have that applies to all things grilled and all things bar-b-qued like hotdogs, hamburgers, ribs, steak etc.?
A: Understand the importance of two-zone cooking. You can cook your food more evenly if you set up your grill with direct [and indirect heat zones]. The direct zone gets a quick sear at either the beginning or end of the cook. And the indirect heat zone is used to bring your food to the proper internal temperature more slowly so you don’t burn it.
Q: What are your 4th of July plans? Are you grilling?
A: We like to stay home on the 4th of July, grill up a feast and hike up the hill to enjoy the fireworks across the Vegas Valley. I’m planning to grill a Snake River Farms American Wagyu tomahawk ribeye. This steak weighs nearly four pounds, so I like using the reverse sear method.
I’ll season it liberally with kosher salt and coarse-ground black pepper. Then, I’ll smoke it over indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of around 110F. I’ll finish it over direct heat to form a great crust and bring it to medium-rare.
Q: What is your favorite thing to cook or grill?
A: My barbecue specialty is definitely brisket. I love the process of cooking it and how it tastes. But it does take several hours. When I want to grill up something fast, I cook kalalbi ribs.
Q: What is your number one tip for grilled barbecue ribs?
A: After your ribs absorb smoke and develop a nice bark and color, wrap them in foil to finish cooking them. This braises the meat, locks in juiciness and ensures they’ll be fall-off-the-bone tender.
Q: What was the most challenging part of your BBQ Brawl experience?
A: The most challenging part of BBQ Brawl was thinking on my toes. We were thrown into interesting challenges where we had to come up with recipe ideas quickly.
Then, we had to hope the ingredients we wanted for that recipe were in the pantry. When I compete on the barbecue circuit, everything is planned out ahead of time, so this was a definite shift from my usual style.
Q: How was working alongside Bobby Flay?
A: It was fantastic working alongside Bobby Flay. Even though it was a competition, he was very supportive of all the chefs, no matter what team they were on.
He paid attention to the dishes everyone was making and would share words of approval when a dish impressed him. The production team he surrounds himself with is extremely professional and passionate about food.
Q: What was the best advice you received on BBQ Brawl?
A: I’m used to grilling in the backyard or cooking at barbecue competitions. Whereas, several of my competitors are professional restaurant and private chefs with resounding accolades.
[At one point,] I was questioning my abilities as a chef, and two of my teammates reminded me that I earned my place to cook alongside them. They told me to cook from my heart, [which] boosted my confidence and was exactly what I needed to hear.
Q: Did you imagine that you would be on Food Network? Did you expect this, or are you surprised to have this opportunity?
A: When I started my [barbecue] career, I set a few bucket list goals, and I have worked hard to accomplish them. One was to win a grand championship in a [barbecue] contest. I’ve now done that several times.
One was to compete at the world championships. I did that in 2022, and my brisket was ranked 5th in the world.
Another goal was to be on the Food Network. I can now say that box is checked too. My remaining goals are to publish a cookbook and to win a world championship.
Photography by: Zach Hilty/BFA.com; Courtesy of Food Network