By Dana Sleger //
Renny and Linda Sherman are one of those couples you just want to hang out with on a regular basis. Their down-to-earth approach to life and fun-loving relationship with each other offers a magnetic appeal that has earned them quite a reputation among their circle of friends as the hotspot to be for a wonderful evening of entertainment.
When dining at their home in Gulfport, you can bet there will be loads of laughter and exceptional cooking, especially if Renny’s beloved 14-year-old Big Green Egg is fired up on the back porch. About once a week, you can find Renny behind the grill whipping up a feast worthy to be served to royalty. Yep, it’s that good.
Although he’s humble about his culinary skills and claims he’s “just a guy that likes to eat,” Linda likes to brag on her partner of 33 years.
“Renny makes up his own recipes for the grill, and the way he grills is something that no one has done,” she says. “He has an unbelievable knack for being able to tell what will taste well together.”
In the world of barbecue, there are hundreds of different grills that suit individual tastes, but it was the Big Green Egg that got Renny hooked on further honing his love for good ‘cue. After building a wine cellar for his son-in-law, he was gifted the dome-shaped ceramic grill that is modeled after old clay cooking vessels to evenly distribute and regulate heat for low-and-slow indirect cooking.
So, what are some of Renny’s signature recipes? When his three children visit from Oregon, Connecticut and Georgia, they all have specific requests for certain items to be made, but pulled pork is at the top of the list, and it’s a favorite for a number of reasons.
“A pulled pork sandwich is wonderful, but what do you do with all that meat afterward?” Renny asks. “Do you keep eating pulled pork sandwiches or do you get creative? One of my favorites is smoked pork chili and it’s one-of-a-kind. Anyone that has ever had it loves it — it’s evil it’s so good.”
“It’s the best,” Linda echoes. “Our son could eat his way through some smoked pork chili!”
And if that’s not enough, Renny adds a dollop of his own sauce made with sour cream, cream cheese, cilantro and cucumber, and then crowns the chili with homemade cheese straws. Salivating yet?
Unfortunately, don’t even think about asking him for the recipe. Lucky for us, his smoked chicken wings is another popular request and he’s happy to share that recipe. Just add celery and blue cheese dressing, and you have a party hit!
Watching Renny at the grill over the years has taught Linda some tricks of her own. One staple item in the Sherman household was a result of an accidental grilling delight. Renny was on his way back from Nashville and Linda wanted to get the grill started to cook some chicken breasts.
While prepping the chicken, the usual go-to Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning was almost out, so she opted to mix it with Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. That marriage turned into unforgettable smoky savoriness, and it’s now the formula used for many of their favorite recipes: chicken quesadillas, chicken quiche, chicken salad, and a chicken dish with olives, peppers and feta cheese.
“It’s nice that you can grill 10 to 12 chicken breasts, use a food saver to seal them up, put them in the freezer, and then have a meal as soon as they thaw out,” Renny says. “It’s all about repurposing the leftovers. If the dish calls for meat, it will be better with grilled or smoked meat.”
The Shermans moved to the Gulf Coast in 2002. Linda worked at WLOX for 11 years as the general sales manager before retiring in 2013, and Renny has operated his own freelance website development company for 17 years.
After moving, they also quickly became active participants in serving their community through a number of organizations. A particularly special one to them is the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, where Linda served as president for two years, and where Renny would happily compete in Barbecue Under the Oaks, which is the symphony’s annual fundraiser.
For 26 years, Don and Peggy Sprabery hosted the event at their home in Pass Christian until it was relocated this year to Centennial Plaza in Gulfport. They have been dear friends with the Shermans for a long time, and given Renny’s penchant for superb food, a lot of meals and “treasured memories” have been shared.
“Aside from them being so fabulously fun to be with, Renny puts a lot of love into what he cooks,” Peggy says. “He plans, he researches, he has a passion for it. Renny has heart the way he lives his life and it flows right over to his cooking. He loves people and he loves to cook for people.”
When engaging Renny in a conversation about barbecue, his excitement is refreshingly childlike. Talking about mastering a perfectly grilled beef tenderloin with distribution of seared sections from rare to well-done evokes a kid-at-Christmas joy. Add discussion about his homemade bourbon blue cheese sauce and ancho chile sauce served with the tenderloin and it’s like discovering the hidden present under the tree that was forgotten.
“As far as grilling goes, once you get the basics down such as timing and controlling the temperature, controlling your seasonings and controlling moisture, those are the keys to remember,” Renny says. “It’s fun! It really is a great hobby I enjoy very much.”
SMOKED CHICKEN WINGS
3 1/2 pounds fresh chicken wings cut into flats and pegs
12-ounce bottle of Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce or Frank’s RedHot Original Sauce for hotter wings
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons sea salt (fine)
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/3 cup Roasted Garlic & Red Bell Pepper Spice Blend from The Gourmet Collection (dangoldinc.com)
Place wings in a one-gallon plastic bag. Mix all ingredients and pour in the marinade sauce mixture. Seal the bag removing most of the air and kneed the bag to evenly distribute the sauce and spices. Marinate from four to six hours.
Light the grill and bring the temperature up to 325 degrees. Add hickory chips to generate smoke during the first part of the grilling process. Cook the wings under indirect heat* for 60 minutes turning occasionally to prevent burning. Sprinkle a little additional seasoning on wings during cooking.
Serve with Marzetti Ultimate Blue Cheese Dressing and celery sticks.
*Indirect heat: Many grills offer a deflector of some type to prevent flare ups. The Big Green Egg offers a Plate Setter that can be used under the grates to prevent flames from burning the wings. Do not wrap the grate in foil. The wings will stick and could result in a serious burn for the griller.