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updated: 11/19/2013 10:00 AM

Cook of the Week: Dad keeps grill, smoker going no matter the season

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  • A little snow doesn't keep Kevin Thomas from firing up the grill or his smoker. He plans to prepare smoked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

       A little snow doesn't keep Kevin Thomas from firing up the grill or his smoker. He plans to prepare smoked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Boston butt smokes for 12-plus hours before getting shredded for sandwiches.

      Boston butt smokes for 12-plus hours before getting shredded for sandwiches.
    Courtesy of Kevin Thomas

 
By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent

For his wife, Pat, and daughter, Olivia, Kevin Thomas will make his mouthwatering ribs.

Not one for messy food, Kevin prefers pulled pork or brisket, but he'll head out to his trusted smoker to please the ladies in his life.

Kevin says while Pat makes most meals inside their Palatine home, the outside is his territory where he uses his gas grill and more often, his smoker, to create mouthwatering (and far from healthy) meals for family and friends.

"It's a lot easier than people think it is to make really, really good barbecue, but it is an investment in time," Kevin says. A longtime grilling enthusiast, he "graduated" about a year ago and wanted to explore smoking.

"I wanted to get into smoking, the low and slow cooking," he said. "I built a small smoker and started doing ribs, Boston butt and found that I really enjoyed it and found I was turning out some pretty good food. That led me to go and buy a full-size smoker." Kevin mixes up a Memphis-style dry rub for his ribs and cooks them until they are tender. But when he hangs out with friends, he invites them to all make a rack their own way with different dry rubs and sauces.

"We take it out of the smoker and everyone has a good time," he says.

One smoked dish that has become a big hit with the neighborhood Bears fans is his Cajun Fatty. Kevin starts with a 2-pound slab of meat then adds red beans and rice and andouille sausage to the center then folds the patty over to conceal the filling. The meat log then gets covered with bacon and smoked for about 4 hours (get the recipe online at dailyherald.com'lifestyle/food).

"It is limitless to what you can do with it," Kevin said, adding that he's also tried one filled with colby and pepper jack cheeses, mac and cheese and jalapeņos.

His love of trying new foods has been influenced by travel. Kevin admits that not too long ago he disliked spicy food. Working as an insurance adjuster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina changed that. He discovered jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice and brought those flavors home.

"When I came home after four months in New Orleans, I turned up the heat on everything we made in the house," he said. "My wife to this day does not like spicy food." Knowing everyone has heat limits, he adjusts. He may make a mild batch of barbecue baked beans for Pat and Olivia, but kick it up with some habaneros for himself.

Whether cooking for family or a block party, Kevin said his love of sharing food began as a child. He remembers visiting his grandparents in southern Illinois and watching his grandma, Pimple Thomas, make homemade biscuits and gravy.

"You woke up and you were surrounded by people who loved you and you were surrounded by good food," he said.

Like those meals of yesteryear meals today are a chance to enjoy good company and good food. "A good meal will bring a family together or a group together or a neighborhood together ... we put away the cellphone, don't worry about work and just sit around and have a good meal and enjoy the company. That is what the food is about."

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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