Down Home with the Neelys with Pat and Gina Neely
Neely's BBQ Sauce
Memphis-Style Hickory-Smoked Beef and Pork Ribs
Sweet and Spicy Coleslaw
Strawberry Shortcut Cake
I admit that before the FN started promo-ing the daylights out of the Neelys new show, I had never heard of this apparently famous barbecue place in Memphis and now Nashville. The show is hosted by Pat and Gina Neely.
Pat opened a barbecue restaurant, Neelys, with his brother Tony, 10 years ago. Their other 2 brothers also came onboard. A second Memphis location was opened 4 years later and one in Nashville in 2001. Gina has been an important part of the business running the catering division and in charge of Neely products – including barbecue sauces and spices.
On their first show, they’re preparing Sunday dinner for the family. Gina seems warm and a bit wild. Pat seems more serious…except when he’s drumming on her bum…He starts with, what else?, the ribs. They prepare the pork and beef ribs by pulling off the membrane, because it blocks the seasoning from getting into the meat. Gina makes their signature barbecue rub - 1½ cups paprika, ¾ cup sugar and 3¾ tablespoons onion powder.
Pat prepares the ribs St Louis style, which he says means trimming the skirt. Gina sprinkles the rub over the ribs and Pat rubs it in. “Gimme some more, honey.” “Flip it over, rub it down,” he says. Gina replies, “Are we still talking about the meat? Because I’m about to get on the table.” The ribs get covered with plastic and put in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours.
Gina starts the cole slaw dressing. She stirs together ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup mustard, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar and 1 cup(!!!) sugar. She adds 1 teaspoon black pepper and ½ teaspoon cayenne. Pat grinds (actually grates) cabbage, carrots and onions in a food processor and adds it to the bowl. He says grating it fresh is much better than using the stuff in a bag. Gina mixes it up and he tells her it looks good. “Thanks honey,” she says, “Nothing like teamwork.” It goes into the fridge for 2 hours.
Gina starts dessert, with a recipe from her mother-in-law. It took Gina 2 years… and a Gucci purse to get Mama Neely to share the recipe. (I have a feeling that what Gina wants, Gina gets.) But Pat says HE’LL never part with his barbecue recipe to any future sons-in-law.
Gina starts with a strawberry cake made from A MIX. (Okay, I’m only the messenger and this recipe did get 5 star reviews. I admit I don’t really know what strawberry cake mix is, but I presume it exists.) She cuts strawberries and mixes them with ¼ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons cognac. She stirs that and lets it sit to get syrupy.
Then Gina takes strawberry jello out of the fridge, which hasn’t set all the way. (I would think that would be a bit tricky.) She punches holes in the cake with a straw. (Yeah, PUNCHES, there’s nothing delicate about this.) Gina pours the gelatin all over the cake. She also says you can do different flavors – vanilla cake and kiwi gelatin, for example. Pat goes off to help Tony with the ribs, begging a kiss from Gina. "He’s always taking my sugar.”
Brother Tony gets into the act by preparing charcoal with hickory in a smoker box connected to the grill. This way he can cook the ribs using indirect heat, i.e. not directly over the coals. The pork ribs get placed closer to the heat source than the beef ones.
Tony puts them on the grill, curled side up, and tells us they get turned halfway through cooking. Tony’s special tip is that two-thirds through the cooking time, he wraps the ribs in foil, which lets them create their own juices. It makes them super moist.
Tony says, “Even before Gina, we were cooking together. It was tough for Gina at first to get with the family.” The two brothers move on to the barbecued spaghetti, which they say has been in the family for 20 years. Pat tells us that barbecue sauces from Memphis have a tomato base.
Pat mixes 2 cups ketchup, water, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 5 tablespoons white sugar, 5 tablespoons brown sugar, ½ tablespoon black pepper, ½ tablespoon onion powder, ½ tablespoon dried mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. It gets brought to the boil and simmered for 2 hours.
Tony chops up onion and green pepper and sautés it in some olive oil with garlic salt. He cooks the mixture just until the onion begins to brown around the edges. Pat adds barbecue sauce and Tony stirs in some pulled pork. (In Nashville, they pull their pork, Memphis chops theirs, we learn from Tony.) They cook 1 lb. pasta for 7 to 8 minutes.
Gina finishes up dessert by whipping together 2 cups cream, ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla. She drains a little of the juice off from the strawberries and spoons them on top of the cake. Then she covers the entire top of the cake with the whipped cream. Gina cuts a strawberry into a fan shape and garnishes the top.
The men mix the barbecue sauce into the spaghetti. “We make Gina look good.” Tony slices the ribs into 2 bone servings. They serve that to the family with the barbecued spaghetti and ribs and then the cake.
Mama says “It’s good.” Gina is happy.
Pat and Gina Neely are definitely worth staying tuned in for. I wonder, though, if they'd have the same exuberance with a more “figure friendly” menu.
Will I make any of these recipes? Honestly, probably not, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate this energetic pair’s obvious chemistry and humor. We all know that food is something that brings a family together, but the Neelys seem to have taken this to a new level.
Gina may not have known what she was getting into when she married into the Neely family, but we know we’re getting plenty of food and family fun with this new show.