Chicago Tribune

7 Questions with “Dr. BBQ” Ray Lampe

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

Spring is just around the corner so it’ll soon be time to fire up the grill.  Barbecue is one of those uniquely American dishes that vary from region to region. In the Carolinas BBQ means slow smoking a whole hog and sauce of made of vinegar and little else. In Memphis it’s about spare ribs with a dry rub – sauce is optional. Kansas City is famous for all cuts of meat and a sauce that is thick, sweet and sassy. Texas BBQ revolves around beef brisket and sauce of any kind is frowned upon. Most of the rest of the country enjoys some combination of these with the occasional local spin like the white BBQ sauce of Alabama, San Francisco’s SFQ Sauce with dark chocolate and coffee or New Orleans’ BBQ shrimp which are actually sautéed in butter having virtually nothing in common with what most folks call BBQ.

With so much diversity it would be nice if there was one “go to” resource for all things barbecue. Someone to whom the masses could rely on to help, enter Ray Lampe aka Dr. BBQ.  A native of Chicago, Lampe now makes his home in the Mecca of barbecue, the Deep South, specifically Lakeland, FL.

Dr. BBQ’s trademark snow colored goatee and flame covered bowling shirts have made him an icon of the nation’s barbecue aficionadi. After securing a reputation as a talented BBQ cook-off contestant, Ray has now established himself as well seasoned judge both on the national circuits and on televised spectacles for the Food Network.

Recently I spoke with Dr. BBQ and he was courteous enough to answer 7 Questions:

Where did the name “Dr. BBQ” originate?

Ray LampeI was living in Chicago and started cooking in BBQ contests.  It was starting to become an obsessive hobby and I’d bought a new van to carry my stuff around.  Illinois had started allowing us to have vanity plates about the time I got the new van so I figured I’d better get some kind of BBQ plate.  I listed three options to choose from and I honestly don’t even remember what they were.  They sent me the Dr. BBQ plate and I put it on my van.  I really didn’t know I was creating a brand.

When did you start doing the BBQ thing on a professional level?

Mike Royko, the old (Chicago) Tribune columnist for many years, decided to have this rib cook-off at Grant Park right there where the ball fields are.  We had a rib cook-off there in 1982.  It actually continued on through to 1990.  I knew I cooked pretty well but I wasn’t a BBQ cook really but a friend of mine signed us up for it just to go down there and party.  I decided if we were going to go I might as well learn how to cook some ribs.  That was the start of it all.

When did you hit the national circuit?

In 1991 I was looking around for something to replace it (Grant Park cook-off) and I saw a thing in the newspaper they were going to have the first Illinois State BBQ Championship in West Chicago.   It was going to be sanctioned by the KCBS – that was the first Kansas City Barbecue cook-off in Illinois.

If it weren’t for cooking what other career could you see yourself in?

Actually I had a successful family trucking business.  When my father passed away I took over.  By the year 2000 after 25 years trucking had changed and the whole climate had changed.  Things were changing and things weren’t going to be the same anymore.

What lead to the transition from the BBQ circuit to media?

In probably ’04 barbecue was becoming popular and I was one of the guys that had been around the cook-off circuit for a long time and I had the silly beard and the silly haircut and I could speak in public.  Frankly I was really the only guy trying to become a BBQ spokes model so it was kind of an open field.  AndI pushed my way into that and ended up with Big Green Egg.  I started writing an article for Fiery Foods Magazine, Dr. BBQ column.  Dave (DeWitt – Fiery Foods editor) connected me with a publisher and I wrote my first cookbook.  It’s really a story of breaks and doors that opened for me and I just walked right in.  These days I still work for Big Green Egg and I’m starting to write my sixth cookbook.

Of the various regional styles of barbecue do you prefer one over the others?

I wrote a book called Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip! and I spent a lot of time eating in what are the big four regions of BBQ along with every place in between and what I found was it’s not quite like people think it is.  In Memphis I found that a lot of places serve ribs wet or dry because that’s what’s always written about.  But I did find in Memphis was that almost every BBQ restaurant in Memphis serves with BBQ spaghetti as a side and almost all of them serve smoked bologna topped with Cole slaw as a sandwich.  Now I thought Cole slaw on a sandwich was just a Carolina thing.  I found a lot of that stuff and I thought it was interesting.  Memphis BBQ, I like Memphis BBQ a lot.  I think they ar ahead of the curve using dry rubs.

What’s next for Dr. BBQ?

You know, I don’t try to plan it.  I just try to react and see what’s happening.  You know I really enjoyed doing Tailgate Warriors so maybe there’s a TV show in my future.

Taste of Chicago 2010

Official City of Chicago Press Releases:

Taste of Chicago Celebrates 30th Anniversary With Three Special Events

Taste of Chicago on WannabeTVchef.com1980 was a monumental year in Chicago’s culinary history; it was the year that Taste of Chicago was born. Now that number can mean monumental savings with Taste Restaurant Days, April 20-22, 2010.

“Taste is celebrating three decades so it seemed fitting to have three distinct preview events to whet the appetite for this summer’s festival,” said Megan McDonald, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. “First up is Taste Restaurant Days, April 20-22, which is not only a great way to tease that Taste is coming soon, but also a way to bring value to the consumer.”

Many of this year’s participating Taste food vendors will offer special prix fixe menus for $19.80. Others will mark the anniversary year with 30% off of special items, and some chose other creative ways to provide special deals in honor of Taste of Chicago’s 30th anniversary.

More than 30 of this year’s Taste of Chicago food vendors will participate in the three-day “preview” including many of the 11 new restaurants that will be at this year’s Taste.

The participating restaurants and their offers can be found on www.tasteofchicago.us. Merely print out the coupon or mention that you are requesting the Taste Restaurant Days offer on Tuesday-Thursday, April 20-22 and you will receive the discount that celebrates Taste’s 30th anniversary. You may go to as many locations as you wish within the three day promotion.

Coming in May to Prudential Plaza will be a public preview of Taste of Chicago, May 11 and 12. Participating Taste vendors will sell menu items that will be their offerings at this year’s Taste of Chicago. The lunch time crowds need not purchase food tickets as the booths will take cash. The Taste preview will be 11a.m. – 2p.m. while supplies last.

Lastly, those who enjoyed the Daley Plaza preview last year will have another opportunity to nosh on June 8 and 9, 11a.m.-2p.m. Again, cash will be collected for menu items.

The 30th Annual Taste of Chicago is June 25-July 4 in Grant Park. It is free admission but all food and beverage requires tickets. Tickets are sold in strips of 12 for $8.00. Beginning June 19, participating Dominick’s locations will sell the strips for $6, maximum of four strips.

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Taste of Chicago Fans Feast on Musical Cornucopia
10 days of free music at Petrillo Music Shell, June 25-July 4

From rappers to the joker, the 30th Taste of Chicago once again provides a buffet of musical talent as varied as the menu when the free concerts take the stage at the Petrillo Music Shell, June 25 – July 4 in Grant Park.

On opening night, June 25, attendees can enjoy a Rap Down Rewind presented by the City of Chicago and V103. The all star lineup of rappers includes Salt-n-Pepa as well as Bell Biv Devoe with showtime beginning at 5:30p.m.

Taste of Chicago on WannabeTVchef.comOnce three quarters of New Edition, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens and Ronnie DeVoe branched out on their own after lead singer Bobby Brown departed from the group. The group realized its own success with a number three hit, “Poison” and have recently released singles via iTunes.

Rap’s first all-female crew, Salt-n-Pepa, broke down more than the gender barrier when they crossed over into pop. Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton were working at a Sears store in Queens, New York, when their co-worker, and Salt’s then boyfriend, asked them to rap on a song, that became an underground hit and a new team was born. “Salt”, “Pepa” and “Spinderella” will be together for this free performance.

Rounding out the bill is Rob Base, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, the first human beatbox in the rap world. Fresh’s hip-hop classic “The Show/La Di Da Di,” was recorded with his Get Fresh Crew, including MC Ricky D (who later became Slick Rick.)

The distinctive vocals of Gavin Rossdale in his new solo career, highlights the Saturday June 26 concert. Formerly a part of bands such as Bush and Institute, Rossdale’s first-ever solo album, Wanderlust included hits such as “Love Remains the Same” and “Forever May You Run.” The concert begins at 5:30p.m. with an opening act to be announced.

On Sunday afternoon, June 27, the young people take over with a show presented by the City of Chicago and Radio Disney. Most might know Emily Osment from her work as Lilly Truscott on “Hannah Montana” but the latest chapter in her life is all about music. Osment’s All the Right Wrongs displays fully her abilities as a singer and songwriter.

The excitement will begin at 3p.m. when Allstar Weekend takes the stage opening for Osment.
Cameron, Zach, Michael and Nathan may still be teenagers, but they write and perform pop songs like musical veterans.

Partnering once again with Taste of Chicago is Broadway in Chicago. This Monday night tradition will offer a Taste of Broadway in Chicago headlined by the cast of Chicago’s own BILLY ELLIOT, as well as SHREK, WICKED, ROCK OF AGES, TRACES, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and others. The Broadway In Chicago Concert at Taste of Chicago begins at 6p.m.

This year at Taste, it’s two for Tuesday….or rather Dos for Tuesday, June 29. Co-headliners Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos may have entered the music scene a generation apart but they share a musical style that displays their multiple influences including rock and their respective heritages. Show starts at 5:30p.m.

In just four short years, Wednesday’s performer Mat Kearney has gone from opening act to headliner at Taste. Kearney’s latest album, City of Black & White, is reflective of that time when Oregon born and Nashville based singer was on the road in support of his break-through recording. Opening for Kearney is singer songwriter Brett Dennen whose songs have already been featured on shows such as House and Grey’s Anatomy. Music begins at 5:30p.m.

Grammy® nominated for Best Male R&B performance, the Thursday, July 1 headliner Trey Songz is enjoying tremendous success with his latest album, Ready. Already the record has yielded four top 10 hits on Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop singles chart and he sure to perform them at his free concert at Taste. Opening for Songz at 5:30p.m. is singer/songwriter, Teairra Mari in an evening presented by the City of Chicago and WGCI.

Taste’s final weekend kicks off with one of the most accomplished singer/songwriters of the last decade, Rob Thomas. From his work as lead singer for Matchbox Twenty to his various collaborations with artists such as Santana, plus his solo work including newest release cradlesong, Thomas brings his creativity to Taste for a free concert on Friday, July 2, that begins at 5:30p.m. presented by the City of Chicago and Bud Light.

Fresh on the heels of the band’s first studio album in 17 years, Bingo, the Steve Miller Band takes over the bandshell on Saturday, July 3 at 3p.m. Harkening back to the band’s roots in blues music, the return to Chicago and its premier summer event is the perfect setting for Miller. But sure to be included is the band’s collection of greatest hits such as “Take the Money and Run,” “Jet Airliner,” “The Joker” and “Fly Like An Eagle”…the space cowboy will not disappoint.

Taste of Chicago will wrap its free concert series on Sunday, July 4 with a triple bill presented by the City of Chicago and 93XRT beginning at 1p.m. Concert details to be announced.

For more information on Taste of Chicago, visit www.tasteofchicago.us or call the event hotline, 312.744.3370 or TTY: 312.744.4964. For more information on Chicago, including help planning your trip, visit www.explorechicago.org.
For more information and complete line ups of the free entertainment areas at Taste, visit www.tasteofchicago.us.

Taste of Chicago is presented by the City of Chicago, produced by the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and sponsored by American InterContinental University, Best Buy, Bud Light, Chicago Brick Oven, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Tribune, CLTV-ChicagoLand’s Television, Communications Direct, Dominick’s, Eli’s Cheesecake Company, Essex Inn Chicago, Gallo Family Vineyards, Hinckley Springs, Humana, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Illinois Lottery, LaGrou Distribution System, Pepsi-Cola, Shoreline Sightseeing, United Airlines, V-103, 93XRT, WGCI FM, WGN-Television, Zagat Survey.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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