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BBQ 500 Club

Q&A with Robert & Alynne Douglass – Founders of the BBQ500 Club

Robert & Alynne Douglass

One thousand recipes! That’s a staggering number. Yet, my friends Aly and Robbie Douglass have achieved it. Yes, the founders of the Barbecue Bible 500 Club just cooked their 1000th Steven Raichlen recipe—a feat I find impressive and humbling. The former Californians moved to the south of Spain 5 years ago, and during the Covid lockdown, they embarked on a culinary adventure—to cook all 537 recipes in my book The Barbecue Bible. That inspired them to found the Barbecue Bible 500 Club —600+ members and going strong—for other grilling obsessed people who want to cook their way through The Barbecue Bible, winning prizes, fame, and fellowship with barbecue lovers around the world. Having cooked their way through The Barbecue Bible, the Douglasses started on Planet Barbecue and How to Grill Vegetables. So pop the cava (the Spanish equivalent of Champagne) and raise a glass to this expatriate couple who have done so much to further the world of barbecue.

Q&A with Robert & Alynne Douglass

Rock of Gibraltar

Help us envision where you are. You’re standing at your grill on your terrace. What do you see?

Robert: I have the most amazing view of the Mediterranean and the Rock of Gibraltar. And while we love the home itself, it was really the view that prompted us to buy it and move here…sight unseen! Yes, we know it was a crazy thing to do, but luckily it all worked out. On a clear day, we can see the entire coast of Africa. The Strait of Gibraltar is only 8 miles across at its narrowest point, making it an easy day trip to Tangier via the ferry. We get the most incredible sunsets you can imagine…there are times when it literally seems as if you are looking at some kind of surreal landscape painting.

What prompted you to move to Spain? What were some of the challenges?

SpainAlynne: We were living in Southern California when we started dating in 2015. We soon discovered that we both had a passion for travel and adventure, and Rob started talking about the idea of retiring outside the US to experience a whole different culture and lifestyle. I had always been interested in all things international and even considered moving to Rome at one point when I was single, so he had my attention immediately! We subscribed to International Living magazine and began making our list of the best destinations for living out our expat retirement dream. It wasn’t until our last night on a scouting trip to Portugal that we received an email about the exact home in Spain that we would soon decide to buy.

Robert: It seems crazier to us now than it did at the time. When we arrived that first moonlit night, having driven all the way from Madrid, along with our dog, as we came up the hill, I had the thought, could it all be a scam? Might we find an empty plot with a sign that said “Build Your Dream Home Here!”?

Fortunately, our home was there, but not exactly in the state we had hoped. We had no power and no hot water. Days later, when we finally got the hot water going, we excitedly ran it upstairs, celebrating the steam-filled room and dreaming of our first hot shower. But when we heard the sound of rushing water, we ran downstairs to find a deluge coming through the kitchen ceiling! The drain pipes were broken.

We had gracious offers of shower privileges from the neighbors, but when our drains were finally repaired weeks later, we had to manually hold up a shower curtain for each other, since the shower enclosures wouldn’t be completed for some time.

Robert & Alynne: Regardless of the many challenges – the overwhelming effort required to replant our lives in a foreign country, the magnitude of the unexpected home renovations, adjusting to Andalusian Spanish, and the trial of navigating the infamous Spanish bureaucracy, we would not have missed this experience for anything. It has been so worthwhile. We radically altered the landscape of our lives and wrote a whole new chapter.

Robert & Alynne

When did you first encounter Steven and the Barbecue Bible?

Robert: I bought a copy of The Barbecue! Bible about 25 years ago in Laguna Beach, California and had kept it all these years even though I had never done a single recipe. We had a significant library but when you think about an international move, lots of things have to go, including most of our books. But, The Barbecue! Bible made the cut, and we are incredibly happy it did!

What inspired you to start cooking your way through the Bible?

Alynne: When Covid hit, we realized that we had to make some decisions about what to do with our time at home. We had made a couple of recipes from the Bible the year before, but we decided that cooking (and exercising!) were a couple of prime opportunities. So, we started there and every recipe we did was so flavorful and amazing (plus the international component and the fun stories!) that we just kept going. One day, Robert said, “Hey! What if we did every recipe in the Bible??” And the rest is history…

What were some of the challenges of cooking from an American cookbook in Spain (ingredients, measurements, etc.)?

Alynne: There were definitely some challenges! One thing about this area is that you simply can’t get everything you need in one grocery, so it’s common to make multiple stops. And, the Asian recipes required locating ingredients from a number of alternate sources. It’s different from in the States. Here, you have lots of smaller, ethnic markets, and we had to get to know where we could find what we needed. Sometimes, we had to substitute but with perseverance, we succeeded!

Measurements always had to be converted, of course, which at times led to some funny results. Our normal division of labor is that I’m the chef and Rob is the grillman, but at one point I decided I was going to relieve him for grill duty for awhile. I think did a pretty fair job (not as good as Rob, of course!) except that one night, I was doing ribs and following Steven’s 3-2-1 plan…and I didn’t realize that the large temps on our grill were Celsius, and the recipe was Fahrenheit. So, the ribs were VERY well done by the time I finished! Tasty…but chewy!

Tell us how you kept track of all those recipes?

SteakRobert: From the very first, for some unknown reason, I started dating, rating, and adding notes directly in The Barbecue! Bible. Once we decided to do every recipe, Alynne got the idea to create a spreadsheet that would automatically tally what we had done. That was brilliant because it made it so easy to see what we had left to do without having to leaf through the book every time. Once she completed that first spreadsheet, she decided to do a spreadsheet for every Steven Raichlen grill book in our inventory, and that has been fantastic!

Tell us about your rating system?

Robert: We started with a 1-5 star scale and we would each decide independently what rating to give. We recorded all our ratings in the book and then Aly transferred them to the spreadsheet from time to time. Almost inevitably, I would rate every recipe at least half a point higher than she did. I just thought everything was so amazing that it was hard NOT to give it a 5! Then, I started pushing the envelope by insisting that I needed to award a 5 ½ rating one night, then 6 another night, etc. Aly finally put her foot down when I said I wanted to award a recipe 7 stars!

What did you do with all that food?

Alynne: Well, of course, we cut down the quantities to start. If a recipe was to serve 6, we would cut it in half, for example. However, in our house, leftovers are never in danger of not being eaten, so we rarely miss a single morsel! I have an organizing principle that says, “We waste nothing!” I’ve become pretty good at throwing bits of leftovers into other dishes over the next day or two, and the layering of flavors is incredible. When we do let something go a bit past its prime, our two dogs are happy to do their part or it goes to the compost bin! We’re hoping to have an amazing garden this year.

Douglass and friends

Do you ever repeat recipes?

Very rarely, which is not because they are not worth repeating, but simply because the adventure of what we might try next is just too great to pass up!

Do you invite friends to your table? (We realize the project began during Covid.)

Alynne: We love to entertain, so we absolutely do. Our friends are our guinea pigs…I always do a new recipe when we have guests…it’s an adventure. We love the conviviality and camaraderie that comes from sharing life and food!!

What are your top 5 / 10 favorite recipes?

This might be the very toughest question to answer! It’s a bit like asking, “Which one of your kids is your favorite?” Just to give you an idea, out of over 1,000 recipes we have done, we gave 600 of them 5 stars or better. And we awarded another 250 of them between 4-5 stars, so choosing top favorites is daunting. Just for fun, though, we tried to

  • Shrimp Mousse on Sugarcane – Vietnam
  • Grilled Corn Chowder – USA
  • Honey and Soy Spit-Roasted Chicken Wings – Malaysia
  • Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches with Basil Aioli – USA
  • Texas-Style Barbecued Brisket – USA
  • Italian Spit-Roasted Beef Tenderloin – Italy
  • Bani Marine Street Beef Kebabs – Morocco
  • Montividean-Style Sweetbreads – Uruguay
  • Memphis-Style Ribs with Mop Sauce – USA
  • Exotic Yogurt & Saffron Marinated Lamb Chops – Iran
  • Peanut-Crusted Lamb Kebabs in the Style of Burkina Faso
  • Lamb in Lavash – Azerbaijan
  • Sea Captain’s Chicken Tikka – Pakistan
  • Fennel-Grilled Bass Flambéed with Pernod – France
  • Grilled Fish Gurney Drive with Spice Paste – Malaysia

Is sourcing food problematic? Do you shop at local markets or order online?

Alynne: A few challenges are that the cuts of meat in Spain are different from the US, so you have to learn to adapt. We definitely shop at local markets and there are lots of great veg markets and stands, which we like to support and where you learn what you can find. One fun example is that we’ve found a source recently for free range eggs from a farm in the “campo” about 20 minutes from us. My book club recently organized a buying consortium, and someone goes to collect the egg orders direct from the farmer every couple of weeks. We don’t order online.

Spain Market

Were there any recipes you didn’t care for?

Alynne: Those examples are few and far between but I’ll give you a few. The Afghan and Persian Yogurt Drinks were non-starters for us. The Grilled Mussels evaporated on the grill, and Rob still needs to figure out what went wrong! I had high hopes for the Four-Pepper Chicken Kebabs but I over-processed the chicken and turned it into mush that wouldn’t stay on the skewers, so we need a mulligan on that one

How and why did you start the 500 Club?


Robert:
We just loved Steven’s recipes! We wanted others to know how great they are and to share how you can have peak dining experiences by making multi-course SR recipe-packed meals – all the time! We were so enthusiastic about grilling our way through the Bible that we were literally talking about it all the time to our friends. We wanted to tell as many people as possible about our great experience. Once we contacted Steven, he supported the idea of the 500 Club all the way!

How many members now? Tell us about some of the bronze and silver members.

Robert: Membership currently stands at 639 and we have some GREAT members! One thing that I think makes our club unique is that we are singularly focused on Steven Raichlen recipes. There are some other great BBQ clubs out there, but we love the fact that ours is all about Steven. We hope to give back just a little bit of what Steven has given us. Also, our Club has become very personally connected, and we now consider many of our members friends. Here are a couple of special quotes that we received:

“I wanted to say how wonderful this site is due to the work you and Robert have done to create this great community that celebrates Steven’s wonderful food!”

“Discovering Project Fire a few years ago was nothing less than providence. It is not an overstatement to say that the course of our lives have changed for the better. Then; I could barely grill hamburgers; now I’m grilling or smoking pretty much everything. Cooking is no longer just about feeding the family. Thank you, Steven, for the inspiration, techniques, and recipes that have transformed our family. I will never tire of hearing my kids say – before they take their first bite – “Let’s see how we did!”

What’s next on your agenda?

Robert & Alynne DouglassRobert & Alynne: Well, we have no intention of hanging up our BBQ tongs! We do need a new grill. The one we have is actually modest but has turned out some amazing eating in the past four years. We’re due for a new one but this one has become a bit sentimental for us, just like our Raichlen books that have now completely fallen apart.

We love to travel and we’ve done a lot of that in the past four years (25 trips!), Covid notwithstanding. We have a very cool travel map on our wall and we keep adding pins to that all the time. We’ve been told that maybe we should write a book about our experiences, so…perhaps that’s in the cards! We’ll see! We hope to be grilling with Steven for a long time to come.


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