- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2020

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - When Chris Schemm fires up his Big Green Egg he’s cooking for his family - plus 10,000. His wife, two daughters and son feast on the food. His Instagram followers feast on the photos.

His @titletowngriller Instagram feed is stuffed with pictures and videos of classic grilled dishes. Steaks. Thick burgers engulfed by melty cheese. Spatchcock chicken. Charred peppers. Cheddar beer bread. Butter poached lobster tail. Pork miso ramen bowl.

An orthopedic trauma nurse practitioner by day, Schemm said grilling is a chance to leave the stresses of the day behind. Building an influencer-level of Instagram followers has never been the goal. Nor does he intend to quit his full-time job to make titletowngriller his vocation.

He said as much while standing between a pair of Big Green Eggs in his backyard just south of Green Bay, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. At the moment, the BGE is set up for indirect heat - using a pair of half-moon baking stones to force the heat to circulate around the meat rather than blasting it directly from beneath - to grill a pair of massive bone-in rib eye steaks.

Wisps of smoke carried by a gentle breeze deliver smoked meat scents from the ceramic, kamado grill. A two-tier patio with a fireplace, nearby raised beds of herbs and vegetables, landscaping near the house and a thin strip of trees along the back border create a peaceful vibe. The cedar-wood-framed gazebo with a brown steel rooftop and wired lights and speakers makes this a year-round sanctuary.

“It’s always been my therapy,” said Schemm, who grew up in Kaukauna. “With my schedule, it’s nice to have a place to go back and relax.”

He bought his first BGE (he now has three of the kamado grills and a Traeger grill) six years ago, about a year after his dad, Bob, got one and was entering barbecue competitions.

Schemm’s grilling appetite is much bigger than just brisket, chicken, pork and ribs.

“I like trying new things,” he said. “Part of the fun is making something on the grill that people don’t associate with making on the grill.”

He grills about four times a week. His daughters, ages 8 and 6, often help. They have their own box of disposable food safety gloves - blue because that’s the color they could agree on - and Schemm enjoys snapping photos of them plating and taking photos of the food.

“The biggest draw for this is it’s something I can do while making food for my family,” he said.

Building influence

“When I started (posting to Instagram) it was because they had cool filters,” Schemm says.

He isn’t talking about preset filters, but the editing functions that allow him to get the picture to look how it actually looks. All photos are shot and edited on his iPhone.

Early in June @titletowngriller surpassed 10,000 followers. Yet Schemm said, “I don’t pay enough attention to know exactly how Instagram works.”

He doesn’t have a set goal for weekly posts or a game plan of best foods, days or times to post. It’s just been a slow and steady approach. He works ahead to keep as many as 20 shoots on his phone that can be posted. Editing and prepping posts happens on rainy days and other down time between grilling sessions.

Still, he’s surprised by which photos get wildly viewed.

“You never know. Part of it, there’s Instagram algorithms that elevate some posts over other posts. You could have a full-time job trying to figure that out and still not do it.”

Putting that amount of time for posting would push grilling from hobby to job. While a living can be made as an influencer or brand ambassador, Schemm says that life doesn’t interest him.

“I don’t want to be paid for any of the stuff I do because I don’t want it to become a job. Because as soon as it becomes a job then it’s work. Then it’s no longer my therapy and I don’t want that hassle,” he said.

And, there are some experiences money can’t buy - like connecting with Green Bay Packers players.

Packers connection

The first connection was in 2017, when Brett Hundley commented on one of Schemm’s posts.

After another message, Hundley and Schemm began grilling together. However, barbecue sessions were put on the back burner after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and Hundley took over as the Packers’ starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

When Hundley returned for organized team activities, he made time for grilling at Schemm’s home and brought Lane Taylor. Soon after that, Schemm was over at Hundley’s house cooking with 12 other Packers players and watching the NBA Finals.

“That was really kind of cool,” Schemm said.

Since that time, Schemm said he and Taylor regularly swap texts about barbecuing and grilling.

“Lane is the real deal,” he said. “His ribs are better than anything else I can make.”

Though Hundley isn’t with the Packers anymore, he’s had a lasting impression on more than one member of the Schemm family.

At his oldest daughter’s first-grade parent teacher conference, Schemm learned she wrote a how-to book on grilled chicken wings and mussels.

Mussels is another family favorite, said Schemm, done in a cast-iron skillet with a lemon, white wine and garlic sauce.

“It’s kind of an interactive meal. I put the pot on there and we pick out the shells and eat the mussels out of it and I like to do a grilled bread to dip in the sauce.”

When his daughter brought home her how-to book it included a dedication page - a dedication Schemm thought would be to him.

“I open it up and it says to Brett Hundley,” Schemm said with a chuckle. He opens the grill to check the temps of the ribeyes. “One of the times he was over here, he autographed it for her. So that was fun.”

Grilling expertise

EGGtoberfest, held each October (during non-pandemic years) in Georgia, is “a day dedicated to celebrating the EGGhead community and innovative EGGhead chefs.”

It’s also and opportunity for grill teams to compete. Schemm said being a member of the 2017 winning team helped grow his reputation and his skills - and got Big Green Egg’s attention. He’s one of 31 influencers, along with Taylor, on the #BGETeamGreen team listed on the company’s website.

“It’s not paid, but if they come out with a new accessory, they send it our way and ask for our feedback,” said Schemm.

He also met reps from Snake River Farms, the event’s beef partner, through the festival.

“They send me some meat and I get to try new things,” said Schemm. “I like that because I’m trying things I might not necessarily do if I have to go out and buy all this stuff. I’d be too afraid to ruin it. This is pushing me to try new things and get a little bit more creative, which is what I like doing the most.”

Grilling creatively includes finishing the Snake River Farms’ American Wagyu Tomahawk steaks by tossing them directly onto the bed of hot coals. Dubbed caveman style, the first time he tried this technique he was concerned about getting charcoal dust on the meat. After pulling ashless steaks from the flames on his first try, caveman style become one of his favorite techniques.

This evening’s steaks reached about 110 degrees cooking over indirect heat and rested on a cutting board for about 10 minutes as Schemm added more lump charcoal and stoked the fire.

After making a burning hot bed of coals that produce intermittently flickering flames, Schemm grabs the long bone handles sticking out of the rib eyes and tosses them into the belly of the BGE.

Flames erupt, fueled by fat drippings.

After searing the steaks he holds them up. Not a speck of ash clings to either steak.

This method isn’t exclusively for this rib eye cut. Steaks more than an inch-and-half thick are good candidates to be finished caveman style. He’s even done this with chicken breasts, though he put them in a basket before lowering them on the coals.

At the very least, sear steaks at the end of the cook, he advises.

The heat-then-sear method is a complete 180 for Schemm, who said he used to sear steaks before shifting them to indirect grilling to bring them to temperature.

A self-described “hands-on” griller, he gladly breaks the “only flip the burger once” rule. He’s also cooks competition cuts of meat like brisket and pulled pork at higher temperatures.

He says the BGE holds its temperature and locks in moisture better than traditional grills and smokers, allowing him to cook meat like a 16-pound brisket in less than five hours. The traditional low-and-slow brisket cook could run 14 hours.

The steaks are resting on a concave wood cutting board that can hold a cup of liquid, said Schemm, allowing the meat to rest in its own juices.

As the smell of smokey beef swirls around us, Schemm describes how he builds his nachos (another of his favorites) with layers of chips, cheese and grilled steak before finishing them on the grill. He knows they’re ready when edges of the chips turn a darker golden color.

Keep growing

For Schemm, the journey is the reward, or maybe more like a recurring tasty treat.

He would like to do more cooking over a fire pit with larger cuts of meat, possibly a whole bone-in lamb leg.

Seafood is also ripe for further grilling exploration.

“I like beef, but seafood is my second favorite. My girls would eat salmon every other night,” he said.

Seafood featured on his feed so far includes scallops, lobster, crab and ahi tuna. Octopus is near the top of his wish list.

Schemm continues to consume cookbooks, though not for the recipes.

“I have a problem following recipes word for word,” he said.

Instead, he extracts techniques, inspirations and methods to impart more flavor to food.

While Schemm says he lacks “traditional” artistic skills, he wants to get more into food styling.

“I like trying to get the best picture. It’s more of a competition you can have with yourself,” he said.

After allowing homemade chive butter to melt over the meat, Schemm begins carving by cutting away the bone, then cutting the c-cap into bite-sized pieces before slicing the steak.

The cap of the rib has slowly been infused with fat that in essence makes this concentrated beef flavor. Usually, those pieces don’t make it to the table, said Schemm. Slices of the main portion of the steaks seem to melt slightly before chewing commences.

All is quiet except for chewing and “mmm” sounds - music to any cook’s ears.

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