The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
By day, Adam McKenzie is an elementary school teacher. By night, he’s an Internet-famous barbecue pit master with hundreds of thousands of fans all over the world.
McKenzie, better known by his Instagram handle and blog titled This Jew Can Cue, may be leading a double life of sorts, but for the last four years, he’s managed to successfully balance his two jobs—and they have more in common than you might think. McKenzie’s approach to barbecue is all about demystifying this delicious craft and helping beginners feel more comfortable with smoking and grilling. “It’s that inner teacher in me coming out and trying to teach more and more people,” says McKenzie, who is 38.
Now, he’s taking that pit-master-as-teacher mentality one step further with his first book, which comes out May 11. Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills explores grilling and smoking as everyday cooking methods, rather than hobbies relegated to the weekend. Alongside classics like ribs and brisket, the book includes recipes for sandwiches, lamb chops, burgers, tacos, seafood, side dishes, desserts, and more.
“People buy a Traeger or a smoker and really, at first, it’s for one or two dishes,” says McKenzie, who teaches K-5 STEM classes at Antelope Ridge Elementary, part of the Cherry Creek School District. “They think, ‘I’m going to buy it for ribs, brisket, those longer cooks.’ And this is really to show people that you can cook every day on it. You can cook any type of food on it. You have this tool that you can cook so much food with and really impress your family and friends.”
McKenzie, a seventh-generation Coloradan, got his first wood pellet grill after he and his wife, Isabel, moved into their Centennial house five years ago. They started with some of the barbecue basics—dishes like ribs and brisket—before experimenting with other types of foods, including steaks and pasta. Initially, the Instagram account was a little joke between husband and wife. “My wife was tired of me showing pictures that I took of all the food,” McKenzie says.
But eventually, the account took on a life of its own—as it turns out, people were hungry (pun intended) for barbecue content. In May 2017, McKenzie posted a steak-slicing video that went viral and quickly racked up more than 25,000 views. His follower count grew from less than 1,000 to more than 10,000 by August 2017 and has been growing steadily ever since. Today, McKenzie has more than 212,000 Instagram followers.
McKenzie still tries to post a steak-slicing video every Saturday but, food porn aside, much of his content centers around making barbecue more approachable. “I’m not a trained chef. I’m a normal person,” he says. “You can really just cook great food at home. When I was growing up, we didn’t eat at home a lot—we went out to eat a lot. And I didn’t even make a lot of food at home until about 10 years ago or so, so it’s fun to be able to show people all this great food that you can cook with a grill at home.”
McKenzie’s followers have long been asking him to write a cookbook, but he usually just shrugged off their requests. Then, out of the blue, Massachusetts-based Page Street Publishing Co. reached out to see if McKenzie wanted to collaborate on a cookbook. Despite his busy schedule, McKenzie decided to go for it, writing and testing more than 60 recipes for the book. In October, Page Street sent a photographer to McKenzie’s house for an intensive weeklong photoshoot that involved cooking and staging every recipe. His friends and family members came over to help out and make some of the dishes. “We cooked from about 8 in the morning to about 8 at night, which was really fun and really crazy at the same time,” he says. “Definitely cooking for the holidays is easy after that adventure.”
Along with sending the cookbook out into the world, McKenzie and his wife are excited to welcome twins soon, which means there might be more kid-friendly recipes popping up on his Instagram feed, too.
Inspired to try smoking and grilling yourself? Aside from a pellet grill or smoker, McKenzie recommends investing in a good meat thermometer—and staying patient during your cooks. “People really want to know a specific time with cooking, but when it comes to meat, you really want to go off the temperature,” he says. “Every piece of meat is different. Just because one brisket takes eight hours doesn’t mean the next brisket is going to take eight hours. We joke that the food’s done when the food’s done.”
Pre-order McKenzie’s book from online booksellers or pick it up at select local retail stores specializing in home barbecue equipment after May 11. If you can’t wait, check out the recipe he shared with 5280 below for a sneak peak:
Smoked Pork Ribs
Serves 4 to 6
People often cook spareribs and baby backs on the Traeger with the 3-2-1 method—smoke for three hours, wrap for two hours and sauce and smoke for one hour—for a total of about six hours of cook time. McKenzie prefers this quicker version, which produces equally amazing results in a little less time. There are lots of ways to cook ribs, but this technique has been the clear winner at his dinner table. Other than trimming and squaring the spareribs, the procedure for cooking both types of ribs is the same (about 4.5 hours), but baby backs will cook about 30 minutes faster.
2 racks of ribs (baby backs weigh about 2 lbs. per rack, while spareribs weigh closer to 4 lbs. per rack)
1⁄2 cup hot sauce
1 cup pork rub, such as Double Smoke by Spiceology
1⁄2 cup apple juice
1⁄2 cup agave syrup
1⁄2 cup raw sugar
8 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 cup barbecue sauce, such as Head Country’s Original
Cherry wood pellets
Boning knife (for spareribs)
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Digital probe thermometer
- If you’re cooking spareribs, use a sharp boning knife to trim each rack of spareribs to a more uniform shape. Trim the end bones off to leave 10 bones remaining and square the meat on the long sides to be straighter and more even.
- Preheat your Traeger grill to 225 degrees and turn on the Super Smoke feature if your grill has it.
- For both types of ribs, pull the silver skin membrane off the back of each rack. Use a small piece of paper towel to help you grip the skin on one edge and pull it off toward you. Then generously coat the ribs on both sides with hot sauce. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the rub all over and allow them to sweat on the counter for about 15 minutes as your grill heats up.
- Place the seasoned ribs on the grill, meat side up, and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. This should take about 2.5 hours. During the cook, pour the apple juice into a spray bottle. When checking the internal temperature, check how the ribs look too. If they appear dry during this part of the cook, use the spray bottle to spritz them with some apple juice.
- Prepare a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil to wrap each rack of the ribs in. On each double layer of foil, drizzle one quarter of the agave, sprinkle with one quarter of the sugar, and arrange one quarter of the butter pats. Once the ribs reach the first benchmark temperature, remove them from the grill and place them on the prepared foil, meat side down on the agave, sugar, and butter. Top each rack of ribs with another quarter of the agave, sugar, and butter pats, then wrap tightly in the foil. Keep the ribs meat side down in the foil wrap and then return the ribs to the grill to continue cooking. Increase the grill temperature to 275 degrees and cook for about 1.5 hours until the ribs reach an internal temperature of 204 degrees.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and allow them to rest for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil, and slice them into individual ribs. Serve with the barbecue sauce on the side.
Fast Hack: You can sauce your ribs before serving (rather than serving the sauce on the side) by glazing them when the internal temperature reaches about 195 degrees. If opting for sauced ribs, open the foil, carefully turn the ribs meat side up (leaving them nestled in the foil) and glaze with a 50/50 combination of your favorite barbecue sauce and a grilling glaze such as Grill Candy by BurntOut BBQ. Return the foil packages to the grill, with the aluminum foil open, for about 15 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 204 degrees. The resulting shiny coating on the ribs adds another dimension of flavor.