Meet Jess Pryles, a full-fledged Hardcore Carnivore.
She’s a cook, writer, and TV personality specialising in red meat, with a passion for grilling and Southern food. She’s also a respected authority on Texas & competition style barbecue. Jess is a co-founder of the Australasian Barbecue Alliance, and creator of the internationally-acclaimed Carnivores Ball, the current brand ambassador for McCormick Grill Mates (Aus), Heat Bead® guru and celebrity judge on Aussie Barbecue Heroes. MiNDFOOD sat down with the Grill Queen to talk about inspiration, motivation and of course, what makes the best barbecue.
What was your inspiration for turning a passion for cooking and meat into a sustainable career?
It was as simple as having such a genuine driving passion, that it was the only logical option. I wasn’t exactly sure it would be sustainable, luckily there were enough likeminded people out there to like what I was doing!
What is it you love most about what you do?
I love being able to experiment with new cuts, new recipe ideas. They don’t always work out, but when they do there’s definitely a great sense of accomplishment! I won’t lie, I still occasionally overcook things. But rarely. (get it? Rare?!)
A recipe for Chewy Chocolate Bacon Smores Cookies features on your website. How do you come up with unique recipes that you can’t find anywhere else on the Internet or in magazines?
I really just think about the flavours I’m into and the foods I would want to eat, and sometimes they come together in some epic gastonomical-frankenstein way in my mind, which then gets translated to the plate. Obviously, living in Texas has a strong influence on me too, and I take inspiration from Tex Mex, Southern and traditional American recipes.
How does your work defy traditional expectations of the male-dominated meat industry?
There are definitely some people who are surprised by what I do, but for the most part I get nothing but positive and supportive feedback. I’ve not come across any “you can’t do this, this is a man’s domain” attitudes, most guys think it’s pretty cool that a chick is into meat. Most recently at a huge festival in Sydney, Meatstock, we saw a young female butcher, Diana Edwards, take out the Butcher Wars title, and in fact an all-female team won the barbecue competition, too! So, women are definitely asserting themselves in this field.
You co-founded the international event, Carnivores Ball to highlight exceptional meat produce and accomplished chefs. What was involved in bringing this unique idea to fruition?
It started as a simple notion to want to share my Texan experiences with folks back in Australia. Serve them the incredible food in a really cool setting, with some great drinks for good measure. Basically, throw a huge party for 400 of my closest friends. Hehe. That then morphed into a more refined menu, where local chefs allowed their own individual talents to shine during each course. It’s a pretty special event.
The consumption of lean meat in the diet can be traced back to our evolutionary ancestors. What is your perspective on the rising interesting in vegetarianism, veganism and meat-free diets?
I just finished watching this great series called Cooked, based on a book by Michael Pollan. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, he has a professor explain how human beings are the only species evolved to actually cook their food, and to me that clearly extends to barbecue! I don’t have an opinion on veganism et al, it’s not something I spend my time concerned with. I respect their right to make their own choices, I just ask them to have the same respect for meat eaters.
Are there any aspects of Texan-style cooking you would like to bring to Australia?
The really cook thing is that so many aspects of Texas barbecue have made their way to Australia already! There’s been a huge explosion in popularity of Southern-style low’n’slow cooking over the last few years and most of the major capital cities now have some pretty great barbecue joints. If I could bring one more thing over, it would probably be queso – this ridiculously trashy melted cheese dip that is just too good.
Economically speaking, what is one tip to get the most out of the cuts of meat we buy?
Really, the best thing you can do is use quality ingredients all around. As they say, you can’t turn s*^t into strawberry jam! Haha. Spend a little more on nice marbled meat, use good quality barbecue fuels like Heat Beads® (coals taste so much better than gas!), and remember to season everything well for best results. You don’t have to have expensive ingredients like truffles or rubs as long as you get the basics right.
And now for some fun… One surprising food you can BBQ that tastes great?
Take a couple stalks of asparagus, wrap in prosciutto, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then grill a few minutes either side. Sensational.
Name three people, living or passed, who you would invite over for a BBQ?
The menu would be a huge tomahawk ribeye accompanied by a bourbon on the rocks, and the guests would be Frank Sinatra, Anthony Bourdain and Matthew McConaughey. Mainly because I think that would make for one hell of a conversation.
A flavour combination you couldn’t live without?
I am having a real love affair with Ancho chile and coffee used as a rub for beef at the moment (there’s a recipe on my site), but there’s no better compliment for your food than salt. It’s that simple!
Finish this statement; a lamb burger wouldn’t be complete without….
Chips on the side! I mean c’mon, any burger is lost without fries.
The most common BBQ mistake is?
Timing. Forgetfulness leads to accidental overcooked, while impatience means the low’n’slow cooking will be underdone.