Meet Barbecue Heiress Amy Mills, Guest Judge on Chopped Grill Masters

Chopped Grill Masters guest judge Amy Mills chat with FN Dish about the upcoming competition.
Show: Chopped

Photo by: David Lang ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

David Lang, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

During this season of Chopped Grill Masters, premiering Tuesday, July 14 at 10|9c, two new guests join the panel of regular judges at the chopping block: Amy Mills and Tim Love. Known as the heiress of barbecue, Amy is the daughter of famed barbecuer Mike Mills, and she is a top-notch barbecuer and restaurant consultant. With many years of experience, she knows what competitive barbecue is all about, so there's no one more well-suited to judge two of the tournament's preliminary rounds. FN Dish caught up with Amy on the set of the show to chat about grilling, barbecue and the difficulties the competitors face in this tournament.

FN Dish: Do you have any theory or mantra on grilling?

Amy Mills: My principle grilling mantra is fire management. It really all comes down to that, knowing how to build and maintain a fire (a consistent fire) throughout the process so that it doesn't get too hot — it doesn't cool down too much — and that you have the consistent heat level to properly cook your food. Whether it's a protein or a vegetable, a fruit — whatever that may be.

What are some of your favorite things to grill?

AM: I love to grill everything. Obviously I like to grill all kinds of meat and we are very pork-centric in southern Illinois, where I'm from. But I also like to grill vegetables and I love to grill fruit. I think there's a whole wide-open world of grilled fruit-based drinks and cocktails that we are just starting to explore. I really think everything, even ... putting some light char and smoke on romaine lettuce makes everything just a little bit better.

How would you describe to our viewers the difference between grilling and barbecue? I think the two terms are often misunderstood.

AM: "Grilling" and "barbecue" are terms often used interchangeably, and purists will often argue for the difference between the two. I think it's important to understand the difference, but I don't get too hung up on the semantics. Grilling is over a direct flame — food cooked over a flame, traditionally at a higher temperature — where barbecue is a food cooked indirectly, so it's away from the heat source, and it's taking advantage of the smoke and the heat that that fire is putting off.

What's a good way to get the smoky barbecue flavor at home when you don't have a charcoal grill or a smoker?

AM: A great way to get some barbecue or smoke flavor at home is by using wood chips and aluminum foil. You can soak those chips, put them in a little packet that you make out of aluminum foil, and poke some holes in that and lay that in the bottom of your grill. You can do that in the oven. There's a great product called the Camerons Stovetop Smoker that you can use on the stovetop or in your oven, and that will impart some smoke to your food.

Now in this competition, what are you hoping to get from the competitors? What do you expect to see from them?

AM: In the Chopped Grill Masters competition, what I'm hoping to see is some great fire management and a real understanding of meat and vegetables and fruits. How fire and smoke can contribute or how fire and smoke can enhance the flavors of those items and, really, how the competitors choose the ways in which they cook. They have three different opportunities to add a layer of smoke and fire. They can use a charcoal grill, a gas grill or a smoker. So it will be very interesting to see how they choose to add those layers of flavor.

What's the biggest mistake any of them could make on a dish?

AM: The biggest mistake a competitor could make is really not taking care with the protein. Obviously all of the ingredients in the basket are important, but when I think of grilling, I think of proteins first, and so I'm really thinking of mastery in meat.

You touched on this earlier when you mentioned grilling fruit and making cocktails using grilled items, things people don't necessarily think of when they think "grilled." What would you like to see in the dessert round from these competitors?

AM: In the dessert round, what I'm really hoping to see is people taking the [basket ingredients, whether it's a] fruit and any kind of biscuit or cake product and using the grill for those items along with the pantry ingredients, and maybe some spices and herbs to really enhance the flavor of those products.

How are you enjoying your time here on the show?

AM: I'm really excited to be here. I'm very honored to be included. It's especially fun for me because I do know some of these competitors, I know what they are capable of and I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing the level of skill and expertise that all of the competitors are exhibiting.

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