When you drive up to Larry and Jo Ann Laney's house just west of Phenix City, about the first thing you notice is the grills.
On the side porch and at various other locations around the yard, there are a couple of smokers, a couple of deep-fat fryers, and six grills. It's such an impressive collection of outdoor cooking equipment, you'd declare one of them must work at a grill factory.
And one of them does. Jo Ann has been with Char-Broil in Columbus, Ga., for 20 years.
She works 8 to 5, Georgia time, as sales support supervisor for the grill manufacturer. Char-Broil makes gas, electric and charcoal grills, and the Laneys' grill collection features some of all. If you pinned them down, Jo Ann and Larry probably would admit they prefer the gas version, but they'll tell you flat out that, whatever the kind of grill, it beats an oven any day.
"We do a lot of grilling, because we enjoy it and because you can't beat the flavor of something cooked on the grill," JoAnn says. "Wintertime, summertime--we grill year-round." Larry works in Columbus, too--not at Char-Broil but at a challenging job as a high school assistant principal--and when they get home in the evenings, it usually isn't long before one of them is outside firing up one of their grills. The Laneys have cattle on their farm, and they do love the taste of thick, juicy Char-Broiled steaks, but they grill more pork and chicken than anything. "We get into cooking," Larry says. Over the past five years or so, the Laneys have gotten into the competitive grilling scene, too. They are part of a team, sponsored by Char-Broil, that has won quite a few honors in various competitions. Last spring, their five-member team won grand champion honors at a big barbecue cookoff in Columbus, earning top prizes in the whole-hog, shoulder and ribs divisions. In those competitions, the Laneys each have a job to do. "He does the cooking, and I do the supervising," Jo Ann says. It takes a lot of experience and a great deal of trial and error to become a masterful backyard chef, but Larry says there are a couple of basics that will all but guarantee success. "On a charcoal grill, the secret is to cook things long and slow," he says. "On a gas grill, the key is controlling the flame." The Laneys have two sons in college, one majoring in pre-med and the other in pre-vet.
As for Jo Ann and Larry, they probably qualify for a couple of doctorates in grilling out. Here are some of their favorite recipes, on and off the grill.