Savannah's barbecue general, Wiley McCrary, spills his secrets in cookbook

eshaw@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2014 

Wiley and Janet McCrary with their barbecue competition trophies.

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  • Wiley McCrary's Basic Barbecue Sauce

    Makes 6 1/2 cups

    5 cups prepared ketchup

    1 cup light brown sugar

    2/3 cup dark amber maple syrup

    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

    1 tablespoon molasses

    1 tablespoon granulated garlic

    1 tablespoon chili powder

    1 tablespoon dry mustard

    1 tablespoon hot sauce

    1 scant teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

    1/2 teaspoon celery salt



    Combine all the ingredients in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally as it simmers for at least 20 minutes.

    Set aside to cool to room temperature. You may use it immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three months.

    For a sweeter sauce, substitute honey for molasses in the recipe. For a sauce that packs more tingle, throw in some crushed red pepper flakes. For a smokier sauce, add ground ancho chili powder.

Savannah's resident barbecue general Wiley McCrary has a number of secrets for producing award-winning barbecue. After years of managing his own catering business, competing in barbecue competitions and running a restaurant, McCrary has decided to share his knowledge with the everyday backyard barbecuer.

In his cookbook, "Wiley's Championship BBQ: Secrets That Old Men Take to the Grave," McCrary reveals many of the recipes he and his wife, Janet, have perfected for their restaurant off Highway 80 on Whitemarsh Island.

The purpose of the cookbook is to teach everyone they're capable of making good barbecue on their own, McCrary said. And to help him remember his own recipes.

"I use it all the time," he said. "I can't remember things, so when I need to look up a recipe I say, 'Gimme my book.' "

McCrary wanted to produce a cookbook for years, but is admittedly not a writer. It wasn't until the associate editor of Savannah magazine, Amy Paige Condon, took one of his "BBQ 101" classes at the restaurant last year that things started to fall into place.

"It started as a conversation that turned into a year of conversations," Condon said.

At the time, Condon was getting her master's of fine arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. The cookbook became her thesis, which then became a book proposal, which was picked up by publisher Gibbes Smith.

"I wanted to tell Wiley's story, Janet's story and their story as a couple," Condon said. "I wanted to tell their wonderful biography of opening a restaurant in their retirement and a biography of a food culture."

In "Wiley's Championship BBQ," Condon and the McCrarys cover everything you'd need to barbecue: essential barbecue tools and equipment, fire building, the best methods to cook different cuts of meat and more.

"The biggest thing we talk about in the book is internal temperature," Janet McCrary said.

"Temperature is the holy grail here," Wiley McCrary added.

Time is irrelevant in smoking meat, McCrary stresses in the book. "The key to great barbecue is consistency, and the key to consistency is simple: Internal temperature always prevails over time."

Besides barbecue, the book covers beef, lamb, fish and poultry, sauces and rubs, vegetables and side dishes, and desserts and drinks.

There's a recipe for the restaurant's Honky Tonk Sandwich, an alternative to a Reuben with pickled jalapeno peppers and spinach; a recipe for Janet's favorite Redneck Nachos with pulled pork and fried potato chips; a chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie recipe and instructions for a boozy concoction called Firewater Punch.

The 215 pages of recipes, tips and explanations stay within the barbecue wheelhouse because that's where the McCrary's have proven their excellence -- just look at the glittering awards and trophies lining their restaurant's walls.

"I can't go to my grave keeping this stuff," McCrary said. "If you've got something that good, you need to share it with the universe."

Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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