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Tailgating with Traeger chef Curtis Nations: Exclusive interview and recipes for football weekends

Chef Nations gave us a tutorial on how to cook for a crowd and make great tailgating meals

Full disclosure: Monsters & Critics received free samples of the products mentioned in this article for review. However, the opinions expressed are independent and our own.

The Traeger Shop Class rolled into Boise last week and Monsters and Critics was invited to a special master class in grilling, just in time for the big Boise State University and UCONN game happening Saturday.Traeger Shop Class is a nationwide tour, as the pit bosses meet up with the road crew as they teach people how to get the most from their grill-game and turn out meals for a crowd or smaller portions.

Utah native Chef Curtis F. Nations was the lead Traeger pitmaster as he showed us hands-on simple cooking tips for a tailgating feast and even gave us an exclusive interview sharing holiday meal insider tips for your coming big feasts – you can literally cook a whole Thanksgiving main meal on a wood pellet burning Traeger grill.

BBQ done right needs quality meats and good equipment. Traeger is a wood pellet cooking system that plugs in and is able to be controlled by an app as well as accommodate six cooking functions, from baking, roasting to smoking and more. Not just a grill maker, Traeger has a huge line of rubs, sauces and even cocktail mixers and simple syrups to accompany your menu.

Nations was detailed in his interactive instruction and allowed us to sample the items he made directly on the grill. Tips and tricks of the trade, Nations was a wealth of information and got us ready for the tailgate season.

We spoke to him at the D&B Supply in Boise suburb of Meridian where he had a standing room only crowd of grill heads:

Monsters and Critics: How long have you worked for Traeger?

Curtis Nations: Three years as a Pitmaster.

M&C: What is your favorite Traeger grill to work on?

CN: I like the Timberlines. The new guys. They hold heat, they cook really evenly.

M&C: One of your crew people tells me you can cook a turkey…walk me through a Thanksgiving meal cooked entirely on a Traeger Timberline.

CN: Okay. So, you’re going to start with the turkey. The timing’s everything. So your turkey’s obviously going to take the longest. So you’re going to throw that on first. And then I adjust my time of everything else I’m cooking to that 350-degree temperature.

So if I’ve got some yams or something that’s usually cooked at 400, I’ll add 20 minutes to their cook time just to make sure that everything’s done at the same time.

M&C: And what’s the largest turkey that the Traeger can accommodate?

CN: In the Timberline, you can get a 20, 30 pounds, as big as you want, you can get on here. It’s got this domed shape. It’s much taller than the other grills, so you can get any size bird on here, plus have enough space for two or three more sides next to it.

M&C: How do you position the turkey on a grill if you’re cooking it on a grill for the first time?

CN: Breast up, just like you would do in a stove. I tell everybody, “I cook on here just like I would in my oven.”

M&C: Now you can bake in this?

CN: Yes. So we can do rolls. You can do anything. It’s a small convection oven, with a fan in that circulates the heat. It’s just a small convection oven. We do cookies, we do various bread recipes.

M&C: How do these things not absorb the flavors of the smoke?

CN: Okay, so once your above 275 degrees, you’re past that smoking process. It’s dropping these pellets onto a fire that’s 350, 375 degrees. You have an instant ignite so it’s not creating that smoke.

As you watch your grill run at 375, you won’t see any smoke coming out of here. It just burns clean and efficient. You don’t get a whole lot of the smoke flavor like you would on a low and slower cook, say 275, 250.

M&C: We’re in tailgate season. What is the perfect, easy menu that you would recommend to someone if they’re tailgating?

CN: Wings are always a big hit. They’re easy. They’re a fast cook, 15 to 20 minutes per batch. I can probably fit 100 wings on here.
heat on at 350, 375-degrees. A higher heat. If you go too low on chicken, the meat, the skin turns really rubbery. It’s got a lot of fat under that skin. You’ve got to render that out.

M&C: What’s your favorite thing to cook?

CN: Brisket, always. For briskets, I start low, 225 degrees. I trim a little bit of the fat off. I put the rubs on. I like the Traeger Beef, and the Traeger Coffee Rub combined- rubbed onto a brisket.

I throw it on the grill at 225. Six hours later I wrap it in a double layer of foil. Turn the grill up to 250 and I start checking for an internal temp after that, about three hours. So you’re going to be between a 9 and 11-hour cook.

It’s finished at 204 to 206 degrees, internal temp. It takes a lot higher temp to finish that brisket off.

Like if you have a two pound … Like what’s the ratio of pounds per …Every piece of meat’s different. So, I can finish some briskets in eight hours. The same exact process, some of them might take 11 to 12. It’s really …there’s not a time per pound on most cuts.

M&C: Excellent. What would you say to people who are maybe reticent about trying to take the kitchen out of the kitchen? And experiment?

CN: You know, it’s fun. In the summer, you don’t have to turn on an oven. You can do everything out on the grill. It’s just a lot of fun to be outside, to enjoy the weather, to enjoy family, just a great time. Even when the temperatures drop, cooking the proteins and long cooking items outside can free up the kitchen if you have a big menu to prep.

Chef Nation’s Ribeye and Chimichurri

This Chimichurri recipe will be a staple if you try it just once!
This Chimichurri recipe will be a staple if you try it just once!

Prep time is 35 minutes – Cook time is 70 minutes and serves 4-6 people
Use a hardwood hickory wood pellet made by Traeger

This is Chef Curtis Nations’ recipe for a tender, reverse seared tri-tip topped with a chimichurri sauce that will become a staple meal once you try it.

INGREDIENTS

Grilled Tri-tip:

You need:

  • 1 Tri-Tip about 4-5 pounds, trimmed
    *He recommends the Traeger Beef Rub as the seasoning

Chimichurri Sauce:

  • 2 Cups packed fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 4 tsp Dried oregano or 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled smashed
  • 1 cup EVO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

PREPARATION

Place all ingredients for chimichurri in blender and pulse until it reaches a chopped like consistency.

Season tri-tip liberally with Traeger Beef Rub. Allow to sit at room temp for 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, start the Traeger according to grill instructions. Set the temperature to 225 degrees F (set to Super Smoke if using a WiFIRE-enabled grill) and preheat, lid closed, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cook at 225 degrees F for 1 to 1.5 hours or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers 125 degrees F.

Remove meat from grill and turn the grill temperature up to 450 degrees F (500 degrees F if using a WiFIRE-enabled grill). Allow meat to rest while grill preheats, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Place tri-tip back on grill and sear for 5 minutes per side. Remove from grill and slice.

Serve with chimichurri on the side, or spoon over the top of sliced meat.

Nations’ Smoked Wings

Wings are easy to do according to chef Nations
Wings are easy to do according to chef Nations

INGREDIENTS

  • 24 wings (sectioned)
  • 12 oz. Italian dressing
  • 3 oz. Traeger Chicken Rub
  • 8 oz. Traeger Chili Barbecue Sauce

PREPARATION

Wash all wings and place into resealable bag.  Add Italian Dressing to the resealable bag containing the wings. Place in refrigerator and allow to marinate for 6-12 hours.

When ready to prepare, remove wings from the resealable bag. Season all sides of the wings with Traeger Chicken Rub.When ready to cook, start your Traeger on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes).  Set the temperature to 225 degrees F and preheat, lid closed (10-15 minutes).

15 minutes after applying the seasoning, put wings on the Traeger.  Cook wings to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Remove the wings and toss in Chili Barbecue Sauce.  Move the Traeger temperature up to 375 degrees.

Once at temperature, place the wings on the Traeger and sear both sides.  Remove the wings from the smoker and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serve with your favorite side wing dressing or sauce.

Drunken Peach Pie

Dessert from Chef Nations is easy- make a peach Pie on the grill.
The pastry is piled high with fresh peaches, brown sugar, and liquored up with a shot of Bourbon Whiskey.

Chef Nations says use any bourbon you like for this great baked pie
Chef Nations says use any bourbon you like for this great baked pie

INGREDIENTS
Pie filling:

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Corn Starch
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 Tbsp. Butter
  • 6 Large peaches, pitted and sliced

Crust:

  • 1/8 Cup Bourbon whiskey
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Sticks of butter, chilled
  • 4 Tbsp. Vegetable oil

FILLING:

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon

Add sugar mixture to peaches and cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat, add the Bourbon. Stir and let cool.

DOUGH:

Combine all the dry ingredients. Add the butter and shortening and mix until it resembles a coarse meal. Add cold water and mix gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

After it has chilled, divide the dough in two, one part being slightly larger than the other.

Roll out the bigger piece into an 11-inch diameter circle. Move it to an 8-inch cast iron skillet. Leave enough dough around the edges for a slight overhang

Roll out the remaining dough into a large rectangle, cut into 1-inch thick ribbons.

Pour the peach mixture into the bottom dough.  One strip at a time, create a lattice top crust. Roll up the overhanging bottom crust, and pinch to seal. Brush the top with milk.

When ready to grill, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes). Set the temperature to 350°f, close the lid, and preheat for 10-15 minutes. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the peaches are bubbly and crust is golden brown.


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