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UC-style BBQ recipes just in time for Labor Day

by Deborah Rieselman
Labor Day 2013

If Labor Day means a chance to grill out, let Dean Larry Johnson share some of his special recipes, including his famous award-winning barbecue sauce. The dean of the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services has served annual barbecue lunches to UC students, faculty and staff for 14 years. He even kept up the tradition last year while he was interim provost.

His 15th cookout will be Sept. 13, 2013, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on the lawn next to the college. Of course, he never knows just how many guests to expect. In the past, Johnson's feasts have fed anywhere from a low of 1,500 people to a high of 3,000.

"It's a communal thing of breaking bread," says Johnson. "We do it to build community and spirit. Meals generate conversations, often conversations about our own families.

"The college is like a family, and families eat together. That allows us to see people as human beings. We say the barbecue is only for the college family, but then we explain that everyone is a member of our family that day."

Obviously, the size of the dean’s guest list requires an equally sizeable grocery list. Here is a partial shopping list from previous UC-sized barbecues.

  • 70 lbs. of marinated chicken to grill
  • 200 lbs. of ribs, pre-cooked in beer and spices before being barbecued
  • 500 hotdogs
  • 400 hamburger patties
  • 400 veggie burgers
  • 150 pounds of potatoes, cooked and peeled to make 25 gallons of potato salad
  • 120 hard-boiled eggs, with the yolks and whites carefully separated (add the whites to the potato salad and the yolks in the dressing)
  • 16 gallons of pasta salad
  • 10 gallons of marinated, homegrown vegetables to grill
  • 10 gallons of coleslaw
  • 10 gallons of baked beans

Fortunately, "immediate" family members from the college help the dean prepare the fall feast. "Everyone in the college helps out," he says appreciatively. "It's a real team-building thing. And we're proud to do it because it tangibly shows how much we care for the students.”

Because Johnson’s recipes feed very large crowds, he prepares the dishes in supersize portions. He did scale these recipes down for our readers, but most people will want to size them down some more. No matter what size you pick, however, you can count on the dish being full of flavor.



Recipes from Larry Johnson

Johnson says he makes everything in large quantities and usually does not follow strict recipes. He recorded these, however, especially for UC Magazine.

Preparing ribs for the BBQ
Cut ribs into three or four riblet sections depending on the size of the individual rib bones. Place riblets in a pot with the bone side down. For every two slabs of ribs in the pot, add a heaping tablespoon of a Cajun spice and a heaping teaspoon of chopped garlic. Cover the riblets with a 50/50 mixture of beer and water. Bring the pot to a boil, and let the riblets boil for 10 to 20 minutes. The more they boil, the more tender the meat; however, if you boil them too long, the meat will fall off the bone. Once riblets are done, they are put on a high grill and BBQ sauce is put on the meat side. Riblets are ready to serve once the sauce caramelizes.

BBQ sauce
University of Cincinnati Dean Larry Johnson's award-winning BBQ sauce

3 29-oz. cans of tomato sauce
2 16-oz. bags of dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups Louisiana hot sauce

Combine tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, hot sauce, chili powder and cumin in a large pot. Simmer on low for about one hour. After an hour, combine cornstarch in cold water and mix until the cornstarch is thoroughly mixed and all the lumps are gone. Bring the simmering sauce to a slow boil, constantly stirring. (The sauce will burn if you don't keep stirring.) Just before the sauce starts to boil, add the cornstarch and water mixture. Continue to stir for about two minutes, then remove from heat. Quantity: 3 qts. of sauce


Potato salad
12 medium russet potatoes
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup yellow mustard
5-6 large celery spines
1 small red onion
3 teaspoons dill
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons celery salt

Boil potatoes until they are easily pierced with a fork. Peel potatoes and cut them into bite-size chunks, then set them aside to cool. In a food processor, combine the yolks from the hard boiled eggs, mayonnaise, lemon juice, yellow mustard, celery salt and dill. Mix until all ingredients are smoothly combined. Chop celery, onions and egg whites and add them to the cooled chopped potatoes. Pour the sauce over the mixture and stir until everything is thoroughly coated. This is better if it is made the day before and allowed to steep in the refrigerator.


Cole slaw
1 head of green cabbage
1/2 head of red cabbage
6 large carrots
3/4 cup raspberry vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 tablespoons of Equal (you can substitute Sugar or Splenda)

Shred the carrots, chop cabbage and mix together in a large bowl. The raspberry vinegar can be made by adding a pint of raspberries (or bag of frozen raspberries) to a gallon of vinegar and letting it sit for two weeks. If you don't want to make the vinegar you can use apple cider vinegar. Mix all the ingredients together and add it to the cole slaw right before you serve it.