Some things in life just go together. Fancy watches and nice cars, for example, or slip ons and no-show socks. Whiskey and grilling is high up on that list as well—in terms of both something to sip on while the grilling happens and mixing spirits into the recipe itself.
This is something six-time World Barbecue champion and Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee Tuffy Stone knows well. Stone recently partnered with Flaviar for a Grilled & Distilled Tasting Box, which brings the two together in one convenient package. It includes Stone’s book Cool Smoke, an original barbecue sauce, two spice rubs, an engraved Flaviar rocks glass, and 50 milliliter samples of premium whiskeys that go perfectly with barbecue—10 whiskeys, to be exact. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys the finer, smoked meat, spirited side of life (including yourself, if you fall into that category, though if you order before May 25 it will arrive before Father’s Day).
Not enough? The box comes with a 12-month base membership to Flaviar that opens up access to free shipping, early-bird access, and preferential pricing on select products to keep the spirits flowing.
I caught up with Stone over a Zoom call and some whiskey samples to learn more about this marriage of the minds. On the call, he took the time to share a little bit more about what makes whiskey and barbecue go so well together, a few tips anyone can use to up their grilling prowess, and anecdotes about why a batch of samples like these is the perfect way to learn more about America’s favorite brown spirit with some meat on the grill.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Cool Material: So how did this project come about?
Tuffy Stone: I’ve got so many friends all over the world that I’ve met through grilling and smoking, and there seems to be this common thread among many of us that not only do we like to cook with fire, but we also enjoy our spirits. And so when I started talking with Flaviar and what this project was gonna be about, it seemed very comfortable for me. It started with some conversations, and then we decided to put this box together.
How do you prefer to drink your spirits?
I tend to like neat and on the rocks for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good cocktail when I’m going out to eat. But typically speaking, my pour will be neat in a nice glass, but it depends on my mood a lot too. Like last night, I poured a little bit over ice and I like the change sometimes with whiskeys on ice. As the ice starts to melt a little bit, it changes the character and it makes the drinking experience change a little bit through the process. But then sometimes I just want it straight up and really want to taste it for what it is. So generally speaking it’s either ice or neat.
What’s your background in cooking? Have spirits always played a role?
I’m a little different in the world of barbecue. I started off in a French kitchen a long time ago and focused on high-end food, and we would incorporate spirits into cooking back then.
Eventually I kind of went off the barbecue deep end and became really focused on learning how to get better with fire, and I do bring spirits in still. But sometimes ideas can be more clever than they are good, and you see that happen sometimes with food.
One of the places that I find bringing in spirits is really great is with pairings. When it comes to some of the foods that I like to make with whiskey, sauces are a perfect place. Sometimes I’ll treat a whiskey a little bit like you might treat a vinegar—it just brings in a little pop. Sometimes I’ll burn the alcohol off. Sometimes I’ll go straight into it. Part of it also depends on who I’m feeding. If I’ve got a mixed crowd, I might just want a whisper, if you will, of that spirit—a very subtle background that’s not too strong.
Where do you think whiskey fits in best with cooking: sweet or savory?
I tend to cook foods that agree with the weather. So something like bread pudding, I would probably do that in a chilly weather month and bring in some whiskey. They just partner really well together. Or I make a glaze and bring him some whiskey there, with some maple syrup or brown sugar. So it’s a great place to bring it into sweets. It kind of goes back to my background in French cooking, where it usually would be either red wine and sugar or vinegar and sugar.
You’ve got that assertive bite of the whiskey, and then you can tame it a little bit with something sweet. And, you know, you can take that to ribs. Or you can do a grilled pork chop and make a whiskey maple glaze.
What about with savory foods on the grill?
Sauces are a really easy way in for savory food. In the box, it includes my original barbecue sauce. This could be a really interesting opportunity for anybody who gets the box—they could take one of the whiskeys and a quarter cup of that sauce and add some whiskey in.
Sauces might be a little bit more intimidating for someone who’s more just like a weekend barbecuer to approach making their own. But there’s a lot of sauce recipes in the book, and I don’t think they’re very complicated. If you spend a lot of time cooking, what you’ll eventually find is that sauces are very fixable.
What can the weekend barbecuer do to take their normal cooking to the next level?
When I was writing the book, I really wanted to share the journey of how I didn’t know I was going to be a cook. I came to Richmond to go to college and I liked cooking. I started off just thinking it was gonna be a domestic hobby.
I think anybody who gets this box, they’re gonna get turned on to a bunch of whiskey, but also learn more about the cooking process.
In the book I share recipes on how to make rubs. But more importantly, I teach the reader how to use a rub. I do the same thing with sauces. For example a lot of people can probably relate to having chicken that was undercooked on the grill. You don’t know until you get into it to eat it, but all the barbecue sauce was burned because a lot of barbecue sauces have sugars in ’em. And if we put ’em over the fire and get ’em too hot, we burn ’em. So I teach very simple things like sauce at the end: cook your meat to the doneness that you want, then bring in your sauce.
Any last tips on getting into barbecue and whiskey that a person can learn from this box?
I used to say that I like good wine and cheap beer, and I used to like spirits when I was younger. Then I was dove hunting one day and a buddy of mine asked me if I wanted a whiskey. He poured me some whiskey out there in the dove field and I was like, man, this is really good.
So it’s really a matter of getting to try something new?
That chance to try things sure got me interested in whiskeys again.