Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Tom Ryder Gets Grilled

To say that Tom Ryder takes barbecue seriously is an understatement. Our first conversation on the topic began with him cautioning me against tossing the terms “grilling” and “barbecuing” about indiscriminately when they are actually two very different things. Grilling, explains the former chairman of Reader’s Digest Association, “is cooking directly over a hot fire for a brief period of time; while barbecuing involves cooking over indirect heat for a long period of time by using smoke as both a cooking and flavoring agent.”

He would know. This is a man who once spent a good chunk of a holiday weekend rigging up a contraption capable of slow-cooking an Easter ham at 150 degrees overnight. He has sampled barbecue in China and trekked through Texas in search of the state’s best BBQ (his firsthand report is posted on If those chops alone don’t qualify him as a grill-and-BBQ guru, other creds in the culinary circuit include serving as a judge at the famous Memphis in May barbecue competition and as chief food critic for The Cookhouse, a chain of four Connecticut restaurants owned and operated by Ryder’s wife and son.

My plan was to draw upon this formidable BBQ background to provide would-be summer chefs a guide to the best gear for backyard cooking. That idea went up in smoke the very moment I attempted to grill Ryder about high-end grills featuring infrared technology. There was dead silence. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said finally. “To me, the most important gear is intelligence.”

Bad backyard cooking, it turns out, has more to do with mental missteps than inadequate equipment-which brings us back to the difference between grilling and barbecuing. “The most common mistake in cooking over a fire is cooking over direct heat when you should not,” says Ryder. “It burns the meat on the outside and leaves the inside raw.”

Meat size and thickness are the determining factors in the direct vs. indirect question. Thick hamburgers, steaks, pork chops or even chicken should be placed away from the fire to cook, then browned over flames at the very end of the cooking period. “Some chefs prefer to brown on each side at the beginning,” notes Ryder. “But that may seal in the juice and seal out the smoke, so I do it at the end.”

Another bad move novices make is slathering the meat with sauce before slapping it on the grill-a surefire path to charred meat that’s raw inside. “It’s okay to cook a little bit in the sauce, but only if you brush it on at the very end and watch it closely,” says Ryder, who says adding wet hickory chips to the fire, putting the meat off to the side away from the fire, and closing the grill for 10 or 15 minutes is a better bet for adding flavor. “Then grill it quickly the way you normally would because the meat will not have cooked very much.”

The Ryder clan forgoes charcoal altogether and cooks over wood logs-hickory and oak-in a simple, non-gas grill, which is the set-up Tom Ryder heartily recommends. But for those of us who have already invested in gas grills, he suggests a workaround. “You can create some smoke in a gas grill by taking a double thickness of aluminum foil, putting some wet hickory chips in it, and placing that over the fire,” he says.

“They will begin to smolder and create smoke in your gas grill so that you can achieve part of the effect of cooking over wood.” And, of course, you would cook over indirect heat by lighting only one burner of a two-burner grill and placing the meat on the unlit burner.

Better yet, you can dispense with your chef’s apron altogether and head for The Cookhouse, where pork shoulders are smoked over oak and hickory for 14 hours until “they’re transformed into something truly magical.” Now that’s advice even this novice can handle.                          


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.