Down Home With The Neelys For A 4th Of July BBQ

Food Network stars Pat and Gina Neely first met at the age of 15. It was a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back 10 years later kind of story. But the fairy tale didn't end there. Host Michel Martin gets the secrets behind the Neelys' famous barbeque dishes, popular books and cooking show, and their passion-filled marriage.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's the 4th of July, a day most of us celebrate with sparklers, fireworks and what else? Barbecue. Well, if anybody knows anything about barbecue, it's the Neelys.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GINA NEELY: We're Gina and Pat Neely. Memphis barbecue is our family business and, when we met, honey, it was love at first bite.

MARTIN: That's Gina Neely, co-host of the Food Network show, "Down Home With the Neelys." Along with her co-host and husband of almost 20 years, Pat Neely. The duo made history on the Food Network. The show premiered as the highest-rated show in the history of the network's Saturday morning lineup and it continues to be one of the Food Network's highest-rated shows.

To top it off, Pat and Gina Neely have written two cookbooks, they own two restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee and recently expanded their empire to the Big Apple with the opening of Neely's Barbecue Parlor in the heart of New York City.

So, on this 4th of July, when we figure just about everybody's out there grilling or wish they were or going to somebody's barbecue, who better to talk to then Pat and Gina Neely? And they are with us now.

Welcome. Thank you both so much for joining us.

NEELY: Thank you, Michel.

PATRICK NEELY: Thank you. Happy 4th.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, you know, we have to start with your story. It's one of those boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back 10 years later stories. So who wants to tell the story first? Gina, do you want to start?

NEELY: Why don't the boy tell her?

MARTIN: Oh, OK.

NEELY: Oh, so now, why don't we let the boy tell it since he's the one who gained and lost.

MARTIN: OK. All right.

NEELY: If I tell it, I have a little bit of a different memory.

NEELY: Uh-huh. Yeah. Oh, he's - yeah. He's going to remix it, as we say on the show. He's going to remix that story.

NEELY: It's pretty incredible, though. I mean, Gina and I met when we were both 15 and, as I tell my daughters now that are 23 and 17, I said, when - you know, I first met your mom, our parents knew each other and we were at open house the first day of school and my mother and Gina's mom - they met and they hugged and they kissed and Gina was just - she was just mesmerized by me. I mean, I was a football player and she...

NEELY: Oh, the fireworks are beginning already. Did you see that sparkle? OK.

NEELY: But, after we met and we walked away, I asked my mother - I said, who was that? And she said, oh, that was Jane. We went to school together 40 years ago. I said, I'm not talking about that old lady over there. I'm talking about the little thing that was beside her. And, of course, we dated through high school and, you know, I always tell people we ended up breaking up our senior year. We never even went to the prom together.

MARTIN: You know, I have to ask Gina. Now, what did he do? Because I know he did something. No bias here.

NEELY: You know what? No, I know.

MARTIN: What did he do?

NEELY: You know, I have to say that I think when - of course, when Pat and I met, we were - like he said, we were both 15 and I was kind of this young, vibrant, wild - wanted to sow my oats - crazy chick. Poop, poop, you know, just being me and he was like just kind of calm and very responsible, very, very responsible, very - just on point, knew everything, what his passion was, his goal was. And I was still kind of finding myself, so I think that was really the initial thing that sort of kind of sent us in different directions.

But it's so funny because, actually, when Pat and I got back together - our 10 year reunion - we used to have reunion meetings at the restaurant that he owned and - I don't know. I just looked at him one day and he didn't quite look the same.

MARTIN: So, Gina, how about the idea of - though - joining an existing family business? Was that a hard sell for you?

NEELY: Watch it.

(LAUGHTER)

NEELY: I know. You know what, Michel? It was a hard sell because I was in corporate America and I'm a person that's sort of used to kind of structure and things working a certain way and the wheel just kind of churning and going with the flow. But it ended up working out like a really good balance because where Pat was more operational, I guess I was more customer service oriented. You know, I could really kind of take the front end of the store and kind of implement ways to bring more dollars into it, putting a female touch on it because it was all guys, so it never had that female touch. It needed that woman's touch or a woman's work right in there. So it ended up blending really well. It was a great, great balance for both of us.

MARTIN: Let me just play a short clip from the show, "Down Home With the Neelys," so we can...

NEELY: Uh-oh.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We can get a sense of what that blend is like. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DOWN HOME WITH THE NEELYS")

NEELY: She wants a few more marshmallows.

NEELY: Just - to me, they look a little skimpy.

NEELY: So there's a half a cup or a little more than...

NEELY: OK.

NEELY: ...a half a cup.

NEELY: So you just kind of toss this all around together.

NEELY: Oh, yeah.

NEELY: This is going to be so great on top of that souffle.

NEELY: You get the saltiness from the cashews, the sweetness from the coconuts and the squeeziness from the marshmallows.

(LAUGHTER)

NEELY: Yeah. I turned him into a crazy man. See how that balance came right - that balance came right into it?

MARTIN: Well, it sounds like you're both enjoying. We're talking with Pat and Gina Neely, co-hosts of the Food Network show, "Down Home With the Neelys." OK.

So now let's talk barbecue. Who started with the - Pat, I guess you were the first in the restaurant business, so you started it off. Was barbecue kind of the core of the restaurant when you first got started? It was always going to be barbecue?

NEELY: Always, always. And it's because of a couple of reasons. One, coming from Memphis, Memphis is always considered the barbecue capital of the world. I mean, you have some of the famous best barbecue that you're going to ever get anywhere in this country right here in Memphis, Tennessee. And what I like most about it - I have to say real quickly - is that you take meat from a very, very raw state and you season it with a spice that you've put together and then you are going to cook it over an open flame and infuse it with smoke, whether it's hickory or apple or mesquite and, when you combine those types of ingredients and that technique of cooking, it's pretty incredible.

I don't think that there's no other culinary cooking skill out there quite as unique as barbecue and smoking and grilling meat in an open flame.

MARTIN: I need to ask, though - Pat, though, are you going to give us one or two secrets? Are you one of those guys that leaves out some crucial thing so yours will mess up - so you will mess up and somebody's got to come to the rescue?

(LAUGHTER)

NEELY: You know what's sad? "Down Home With the Neelys Cookbook," our first cookbook, was a New York Times best-seller and our second cookbook, "The Neelys Celebration Cookbook," has got all my secrets. I've given them all away.

NEELY: Yeah.

MARTIN: You've given them all away?

NEELY: They're all in there, so you just have to pick them up.

MARTIN: All in there.

NEELY: And, when we were writing the book, I said, I can't believe I'm actually giving these secrets away. And Gina said, give it to them.

MARTIN: Can you give us just one thing for people? Because people who are hearing this will probably be in their kitchen, padding around in the kitchen and going crazy.

NEELY: A great Neely's barbecue rub would be a tablespoon of paprika, smoked paprika, a tablespoon of sugar and maybe a teaspoon of onion powder. Now, this is a great rub for your smoked meat that you're going to put on the grill, your brisket, your ribs or your pork butts. Then, if you're going to smoke some chicken, I would add maybe a teaspoon of salt to that rub, as well, because you want to flavor up the chicken just a little bit.

MARTIN: All right. Well, queen, what you going to add there? I know the - typically, the ladies are in charge of the sides.

NEELY: I'm going to add some sides.

MARTIN: All right. Break it down.

NEELY: I'm going to add some sides. Honey, let's see. Now, with barbecue, you've got to have baked beans, spicy coleslaw, potato salad. My mom makes the absolute best potato salad. That's also in the cookbook called Mama Jane's Potato Salad. I don't care how many potato salads we do. Hers tops it.

MARTIN: So we've got the barbecue going. We've got the brisket, I assume.

NEELY: Well, we've got to have some pork ribs and then I have to do some turkey or some chicken, and now I've even gotten a little fancy with our chicken, as opposed to just a barbecue chicken. I'll do a beer in the can chicken, which is a great recipe.

MARTIN: Oh, excuse me. Excuse me.

NEELY: I take a whole chicken...

NEELY: Oh, my God, it's so good.

NEELY: And, you know, I drink half of the beer in the can.

NEELY: I was going to say, did you say how you got rid of the beer to put in the...

(LAUGHTER)

NEELY: The other half - and the chicken has been marinated in a great dressing and a great seasoning and then we smoke it on the grill because what you want to have is something for everyone. I mean, Spencer, our oldest daughter - her friend is even - she's a vegetarian, so we might even do some portabella mushrooms on the grill and some bell peppers and things of that nature and then Gina just goes crazy with the side items, and we're pretty much good to go.

MARTIN: OK. Good to go. Well, we've been talking with the king and queen of barbecue, the Neelys, Pat and Gina Neely, restaurateurs, authors, co-hosts of the Food Network show, "Down Home With the Neelys," and they were kind enough to take a short break from their 4th of July preparations to join us in Memphis, Tennessee.

Pat and Gina Neely, thank you so much for joining us and Happy 4th to you.

NEELY: Thank you, Michel. Happy 4th of July, you guys. Enjoy.

NEELY: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very much.

NEELY: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Just ahead, on this day when we celebrate the nation's birthday, we all know this is a nation of immigrants, but can't forget that, for many people, that journey has been bittersweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: She's talking about missing home so much. She's saying I came from far away searching for a blue sky following predicaments, memories of my childhood sometimes break my soul. I never forget my Guatemala. I always take her with me.

MARTIN: Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras, co-hosts of NPR's Alt.Latino music program, talk about new songs that capture the immigrant experience. That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Morgan Freeman has gone from acting in kids' shows to Oscar-winning star. Along the way, he's played everyone from Nelson Mandela to God. His secrets for success, persistance.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Very often, you stop walking because you say, well, I'm tired of climbing this hill. I'm never going to get to the top. And you're only two steps from the top.

MARTIN: Morgan Freeman on his career and his latest film, "The Magic of Belle Isle," next time on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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