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Grilling under Southern skies with the Deen brothers

Mike Sutter
Grill up sausage, shrimp, potatoes and corn in the Deen Bros. Grilled Low Country Boil.

UPDATE: Deen Bros. book signing at BookPeople Wednesday night has been canceled

Paula Deen can't keep her cooking, her opinions or her family to herself. Anybody who's watched "Paula's Home Cooking" on the Food Network knows Jamie and Bobby Deen, the sons who handled deliveries in the early days for the restaurant that would become Lady and Sons in Savannah, Ga.

Moving beyond their aw-shucks cameos with Mom, the Deen brothers have written cookbooks trading on their Southern roots and guy-next-door populist charisma, collaborating with New York Times and Food & Wine contributor Melissa Clark.

I talked with Jamie Deen about tailgating, gas grills and the Georgia Bulldogs. I also called my mom to see if she had any questions, because she'd get mad if I didn't. Because I'm a bit of a mama's boy, too.

American-Statesman: The book is packed with dishes like Shrimp and Scallops Wrapped in Prosciutto and Lamb Chops Stuffed with Feta and Lemon. Do I catch a sense of restlessness with what we think of as traditional Southern cooking?

Jamie Deen: This is grilling, so we're going to explore some different avenues. I love asparagus. We love to do it with prosciutto. I like to do it with Parmesan cheese when I roast it in the oven. It's not what you'd call chicken and biscuits, but there's plenty of that type of food in there. We are who we are. We come from the South, and we just want to celebrate this time of year. Nothing's really out of bounds for us.

I noticed in the pictures that even your grill tongs have a Georgia Bulldogs letter 'G' stamped into them. When you talk about tailgating at your Austin book-signing, you know to play down the Bulldogs thing, right? I mean, some people haven't forgotten how you guys crushed the Horns' championship dreams in the 1984 Cotton Bowl.

We're not going to come up in red and black and barking at anybody. We're like any other committed college fan. We love them through thick and thin. We flirted with excellence the last few seasons, but we don't have a whole bunch to crow about until we can beat the University of Florida.

The book's tailgating section celebrates the utility of the skewer, with chicken and peppers, with meat and potatoes, with pork and pineapple. My problem tailgating is getting the grill cooled down fast enough so I don't miss the kick-off. What should we do with that hot grill?

There's different levels to tailgating. As you get older, you get more into the intricacies of it. When I was younger, it didn't take much more than a cooler and a pimiento cheese sandwich to make me happy. If you have a cooker that's solely for the tailgate, like a Little Smokey or something, I just bring an extra gallon of water. And when I'm done grilling, I just soak the whole thing down with water, slide it under the back of the truck and go in and see the game. Then I put it in a trash bag and tie it up real good before I take it home, where I can properly clean it.

You guys use the grill for everything, even a shrimp boil. Were you the kind of kids who got in trouble for playing with matches?

I did. My mom and dad found out that I'd stolen a pack of matches. I was in the first grade, with two other buddies that were a little bit older than me. You always wonder what a fire would look like. Fortunately nothing big caught on fire, and I learned my lesson. My dad stayed outside on the grill, and constantly my mother would accuse him of ruining perfectly good meat because my daddy liked it a little bit more done, and mom likes hers a little bit less done. It's just something about being outside. We say that sunshine and fresh air are the secret ingredients in the food in this book.

I know that in the book, you say you're nonpartisan in the debate over charcoal versus gas grills. Care to take a stand now?

I have both at the house. It's all about timing for me. My wife and I are expecting another baby anytime now. It's our second son. If (my wife) Brooke will say, "I'd really like a hot dog," or (my son) Jack wants something done out on the grill — I do beer-can chicken all the time because we love rotisserie chicken and folks don't think to use the grill like that — then I'm going to turn the gas grill on. But if I have some friends over and it's a lazy time, then I'll do burgers on some charcoal. But if I've got to eat quick, it's hard to beat a grill that's going to be 600 degrees in 10 minutes.

My mother wanted me to ask you a question. She's a city girl raised by country parents, and she can slip between the two worlds with relative ease. Here's her question: 'I notice when you're on a cooking show with your mom, the good ol' boy in you really seems to come out. Are your accents as deeply Southern as your mom's?'

I think it all depends on whom I'm speaking to. You can take me out of the South, and I fit in fairly well up here — we're in New York City today — and nobody's going to laugh and point at me. But there's 51 percent of me that's always going to be a boy with a runny nose and barefooted in Dougherty County where I grew up in southwest Georgia.

We all feel like we know your mother. She's as wide open as that big smile of hers. When she tells her stories, she can't help but tell part of yours, too. Do you ever wish you had more control over your own narrative?

I think we're all comfortable with where our life has gone to, as long as we use it for good. We started late in our lives with very little, and we're all true to ourselves. We're a really good example of what stick-to-it-iveness and hard work and trying to do the right thing for not only ourselves but our family and our guests and our friends can lead to. People still find negative things to say about us. In our heart, we're truly grateful and feel blessed. It's good that there's a good story out there, so I'm perfectly OK with that.

Looking at photos of you guys in khaki shorts and pastel shirts and flip-flops, the South I think about is way south, like Key West. You include a Cucumber Sangria recipe, for God's sake. What's your geographic sweet spot?

All of us came out of southwest Georgia about 25 years ago. We've been living on the coast, and we're all fortunate enough that we live on waterways. Mom's on a river, I'm on a creek and Bobby's got the ocean outside of a little marsh behind his house. ... I think that whole relaxed state of being near the coast has really permeated us. Everybody says, "You move so slow down in the South." And that's true, but if you get on the coast, you move even a little bit slower, and I think that's right in all of our wheelhouses.

Speaking of drinks, is there a more perfect vessel for drinking anything outdoors than a Mason jar?

No, sir. You come up here to these fancy hotels like the one I'm sitting in right now, and you walk in the lobby and they've got these big water things and they're full of cucumbers and fresh melons and everything. That's a little highfalutin for us, so we put it in a Mason jar and kind of leveled the playing field a little bit.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902

The Deen Bros. Grilled Low Country Boil

3/4 lb. small new potatoes

1 large garlic clove, minced

Pinch of salt

6 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing

11/2 Tbsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 lb. extra-large shrimp, shells intact

3 ears corn on the cob, husked and cut in half crosswise

3/4 lb. andouille sausage, cut crosswise into thirds

Place potatoes in a pot filled with salted water to cover. Boil over medium-high heat until tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain well. Transfer to a large bowl and cover to keep warm.

Use the flat side of a chef's knife to mash the garlic with the salt to form a paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil and Old Bay.

Place the shrimp in a bowl and pour in one-quarter of the oil mixture. Toss to coat. Brush the remaining oil mixture over the corn.

Preheat the grill to high and brush the grate with oil or nonstick cooking spray.

Arrange the shrimp in a single layer in a grill basket. Transfer the basket to the grill. Place the corn and sausage on the grill next to the basket. Close the cover and cook, flipping the shrimp halfway through and turning the sausage and corn occasionally, until the shrimp are just opaque and the corn and sausage are golden, about 3 minutes per side.

Add the shrimp, corn and sausage to the bowl of potatoes and toss well. Turn the food out onto a few sheets of newspaper. Serves 4.

Cucumber Sangria

750 milliliter bottle of dry white wine

1/2 cup brandy

1 cup green grapes, washed and halved

1 English cucumber, rinsed and thinly sliced

1 green apple, cored seeded and thinly sliced

1 cup seltzer

In a large punch bowl or Mason jar, combine the white wine, brandy, grapes, cucumber and apple. Stir the mixture well, pressing the fruit to the bottom. Just before serving in cups with ice, add the seltzer. Serves 6.

— From "The Deen Bros. Get Fired Up"