Jackson isn’t known for topping many national lists, but when it comes to seared meat, the Capital City ranks No. 1 in charcoal grilling.
Through a recent study by the makers of Kingsford Charcoal, Jackson won out over the most recognizable areas of the country to claim the title of “America’s Biggest Grilling City.”
One major Jackson griller and restaurateur, Jimmy Morton, said he’s not surprised the results found the city to be a grilling mecca.
“Here, grilling fits right in to the culture. We’re outdoors more often, we enjoy visiting with our neighbors and are blessed with a moderate climate year round,” said the owner of Chimneyville Smokehouse on High Street.
St. Louis, Dallas and Kansas City couldn’t hold a flame to Jackson in Kingsford’s study, which was based on number of grills; annual sales of charcoal, barbecue sauce and picnic ware; tailgating; and the passion level for grilling. The exuberance for this social pastime reaches even beyond the South, according to Kingsford Charcoal’s Kelly Burke, who said that 37% of Americans, regardless of location, fire up the coals year-round.
“And, the majority of these grillers — 60% — dust off the grill in the early spring, even if it’s so chilly they can still see their breath,” Burke said.
There’s no denying, though, that the sunny Southeast gets a higher reading on the grilling thermometer.
And, with Jackson’s big win, Morton was recently invited by Kingsford to New York City where he and other top grillers cooked for food editors of well-known national magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day. Cooks from St. Louis, Memphis and Raleigh/Greensboro represented the second through fourth place winners.
“When I told the Kingsford representatives that I grilled regularly for the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, they said, ‘If you’ve done repeat business for cattlemen, then you must be good,’” Morton explained, adding that the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau had recommended him to the company.
Morton literally reached the heights of charcoal cooking on the roof New York’s Penthouse 15, where he conjured up an original ribeye steak recipe using a special rub.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Kingsford’s entire purpose of their ‘Get Grilling America’ campaign has been to expand people’s minds about grilling — to get them to try new things — dry rubs, marinades and seasonings.”
The best flavor
Morton’s personal wisdom for outdoor cooks includes using an all-natural wood charcoal like Kingsford.
“It brings out the best flavors in the meat that you can’t get from gas or lower brands of charcoal that have by-products,” he advised. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and try a variety until you find something you love. Be sure, however, to write down your seasoning combinations, so you’ll be sure to remember the ones you like the best.”
Morton also recommended that grillers begin with the best cut of meat possible.
He said, “No seasoning or marinade can make a bad piece of meat taste good. Find a store that sells good meat and try different kinds until you discover what you like.”
Changes in the works
In business for 16 years, Morton said he’s excited that Jackson has received this distinction from Kingsford, and that he hopes it will help make the city and Chimneyville a destination for not only residents, but out-of-towners as well.
With plans in the works for the Farmers Market to move across from his restaurant, Morton hopes visitors will see this area of the city as a place to “have a real Mississippi experience.”
With an abundance of fresh vegetables soon to be within eyeshot, Morton has decided to update the name of his establishment to Chimneyville Smokehouse and Farmers Market Restaurant, with newly-picked produce becoming an important part of his menu.
“We’ll also be adding a farmer’s country-style breakfast and will add Saturday back to our operating hours, serving both breakfast and lunch,” he said.
But changing his menu won’t include messing around with his award-winning ribeye and well-known barbeque, even though his entrepreneurial spirit likes to try new things.
“I can recognize when I’ve already got something that works,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet S. Vickers at email@example.com.