Interview with Jennifer Duncan of Whiskey Ranch BBQ
Read our interview below with Jennifer Duncan about her appearance on the first episode of the special Chopped: Grill Masters series.
Amy: Were you surprised that you both and your husband were chosen to compete together on Chopped: Grill Masters, or do the two of you always go hand in hand?
Jennifer: I was surprised! When Tommy yelled for me to come look at an email and said that we made the show, I originally thought he said that he did and I was very happy for him. But he quickly corrected me and told me that we both made it. I was shocked and excited and nervous all at the same time. But the two of us usually do go hand in hand! We were the first husband and wife to compete against each other on Chopped.
Amy: Before the competition, did you have any fears of the ingredients you might find in your basket? What would have been the worst possible ingredient you could have been given?
Jennifer: Of course I had fears because we have watched the show and have seen some of the things that the chefs get in those baskets. The best thing that happened was that we were so busy leading to the show with our catering business, that I did not have time to think about it. The worst ingredient probably would have been some type of animal organ.
Amy: Was your Chopped experience anything like you had expected?
Jennifer: I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I can tell you that it was better than anything I could have expected and more! Everyone was absolutely wonderfully kind, helpful… all around nice.
Amy: Where did you get your pink smoker? I love it!
Jennifer: Well, my large black smoker with the pink sign and custom-painted pink flames that was featured in the show was custom-built in Texas. After I won the “Smokin’ in Mesquite” $40,000.00 cook-off in 2010, my husband ordered it. I had shown him a Jambo that one of the other competitors had at the cook-off that weekend and jokingly said that if I ever won an event like this that I wanted a one.
The pink pig smoker was given to me by one of our sponsors. It is a pellet smoker that everyone loves, especially the kids! I am well known for not only my custom Jambo pit, but also by the pig too. “Look Mommy, there is the lady with the pink pig!” I hear that a lot at cook-offs that I return to year after year.
Amy: During the appetizer round, what went through your mind when you first opened the basket?
Jennifer: Well, I can only remember bits and pieces because all I was concerned about was not freezing. That was my worst fear! But I can tell you this: when I saw the yak steak, all I could think was, “What the heck is that!?” and, “Thank goodness it isn’t animal organs!” and, “Peanut butter sandwich cookies, what the heck am I going to do with those for an appetizer!?” But when I ran for the pantry and saw the bacon, I knew what to do with them. The ones that were not burnt were awesome!
Amy: I love that you made ‘pig candy’. Is this something you make often?
Jennifer: It would have been even better if it hadn’t burned! The small cut pieces that went in the salad were good. But apparently, it is not something I make a lot because I had so many text messages, emails, Facebook posts and voice-mails asking what it was and why I hadn’t made it for them. A quote from my niece back in Vermont: “What is the candy bacon Aunt Jen?!?!? You have to make some for us, lol, I love watching you and Uncle Tom, it’s too funny!” Last year for one of my nieces birthdays I made ribs and shipped them overnight in dry ice along with pulled pork and some sauce. I was going back to visit in a couple of days with the kids and they wanted me to make some for them. Well, they had nothing for me to cook anything on so when I returned again this last summer I went out and bought them a propane grill. They love it and of course, my sister is cooking on it more than my brother-in-law!
Amy: What’s your favorite dish you offer through your BBQ business, Whiskey Ranch?
Jennifer: I would have to say the brisket. I am pretty well known for my brisket. I truly love to cook it and when it is time to slice into it and see how well it came out. It just makes me smile when you can cut into a tough piece of meat and see all the juice come pouring out of it.
Amy: Though the judges loved your kale salad, how did it feel having to leave the first round? Is there anything you would have done differently given a do-over?
Jennifer: It was very disappointing. But I knew when I turned around and saw that the bacon & cookies were burnt, I was in trouble and probably done for. I tried to cook more but was worried about burning them again so I put them on the propane grill’s top rack and the bacon just didn’t have time to cook through. I was worried that I was going to be the first one “Chopped” and I was! Of course there are things as I got done and was looking at my plate that I would have immediately changed or thought, “I wish I had done this, and I wish I had done that.” But in the end, you can’t regret; you have to look forward. I am very proud to have been selected to be on the show and was able to compete against some very fierce competitors, but nice guys! And to meet and cook for the judges, who were unbelievably nice and gave me wonderful tips and constructive criticism, and to meet Ted, the host,and the entire Food Network staff. I am a true believer that NO ONE knows everything and you can learn something from anyone as long as you are open to it. I learned so much from the judges and just by competing against the other “chefs” and seeing what they came up with using the same four major ingredients! And yes,that does include my husband. He teaches me something every day!
Amy: While you’re cooking, were you able to hear any of the judges’ commentary?
Jennifer: I really don’t remember hearing what they said. I heard them talking, but was very focused on what I was doing. I truly was just in the zone and kept looking at that clock. The only time I really heard them, was of course when they asked Tommy and I who was going to win out of the two of us. I didn’t know until I watched the show that they were so excited and looking forward to the pig candy. I never heard them say that!
Amy: Any favorite judges on your panel?
Jennifer: I respect and truly like each one. Again, they were all wonderful and gave my great advice on what I could have done differently!
Amy: Favorite item to throw on the grill?
Polska Kielbasa: sausage with onions, mushrooms, and peppers. I love that little bit of charred taste on the outside.
Amy: Any advice for a grilling novice?
Jennifer: Don’t over cook your chicken! NO, you should never eat undercooked chicken but it does not have to be overly done to be sure that it is cooked. As long as the thermometer reads 165, it is done! If you don’t have a thermometer, get one, but cut into the chicken and if there is no signs of pink in the middle then it is done. A hint, you can spray your chicken when it is on the grill. You can use many different things, but a simple one is just use water in a spray bottle. You can also use different kinds of fruit juices or even the spray butter that you can buy in the grocery store.
Amy: Are there any other ‘Grill Masters’ you’ll be rooting for on this special season of Chopped?
Jennifer: I wish them all the best and they have all proven themselves by just making it onto the show. But I will be giving a little extra cheer for the ladies out there. Grilling and smoking isn’t just for the boys anymore!
To learn more about Jennifer Duncan and Whiskey Ranch BBQ, visit whiskeyranchbbq.com.
Interview by Amy Martin, PhoenixBites Editor in Chief