Chef’s Corner: Keith and Susan Whitehead a great team in the kitchen and with backyard smoker

9:29 am | July 16, 2012

Keith and Susan Whitehead make quite a team.

Photo by Danny Davis
Susan Whitehead holds up an Ice Box Pie, which she described as a delicious and light dessert for summer occasions.

The Whiteheads enjoy getting creative in the kitchen as well as in the backyard using a grill and smoker.

Photo by Danny Davis
Keith Whitehead added some smoky flavor to these meatloaves using apple wood chunks in his Weber Bullet Smoker.

The couple will celebrate their 28th anniversary on Oct. 26.

They share their home with a shih tzu named Laci. The couple said that Laci pretty much acts as boss of the home.

They are the parents of a daughter and son-in-law, John and Cheri Clavier, and a son and daughter-in-law, Benji and Missy Whitehead.

They have two grandchildren, Jackson and Charlie Clavier. The couple noted that spending time with their grandsons ranks as one of their greatest joys.

Keith is the smoking/grilling connoisseur, but noted that his son, Benji, got him into smoking meat.

“He has been doing it for years, and he got me interested,” Keith said.

Susan’s love of cooking embraces a wider variety of foods. “I just like to cook,” she said.

Susan said her grandmother, Julia Potter, taught her to cook on a wood stove.

“My grandmother made great homemade cornbread in an iron skillet,” Susan said.

Keith retired this past May after working for 33 years as the human resources manager at Snap-on Tools.

“Retirement gives me time to golf and spend time with the grandkids,” he said.

Retirement has also allowed him to spend more time smoking a variety of meats using his Weber Bullet Smoker.

“I use charcoal and wood chunks from oak, hickory, cherry, apple and pecan,” he explained.

Keith doesn’t have to buy his wood. Whenever a friend or neighbor has a tree or branch down, they give him a call. He retrieves the wood and cuts it into chunks about two to three inches in size.

He keeps his wood chunks labeled in different boxes in his storage shed.

He uses different woods for particular meats.

For instance, he used apple wood to smoke the meatloaf for which he is providing a recipe in this week’s column. For a Boston butt pork roast, he uses hickory.

“Fruit woods tend to give a different flavor,” Keith explained.

Smoking meat can also impart some valuable lessons.

“When you smoke meat, it teaches you patience,” Keith said. “It involves low temperatures and a slow-cooking process.”

He might spend as much as 10 to 12 hours smoking a pork roast.

“Planning ahead is key,” he noted.

Susan worked at the Johnson City Snap-On for 30 years until that facility closed. She is currently working for four days a week at Send the Light Distribution, a Christian-oriented book distributor based in Elizabethton.

Over the years, she has collected many recipe books. She has also compiled a few of her own, such as one containing recipes of her late mother, Ruby Potter.

“I organized all my mother’s recipes into a book,” she said.

Keith is the son of John and Betty Jo Whitehead and the late Grace Whitehead.

Susan has also put together a book called “Just Smokin’” that is exclusively devoted to the couple’s favorite recipes for smoking meats and other foods.

She and Keith also work on recipes together, thinking of ways to adapt or enhance the recipes to better suit their own needs.

She also prepares the side dishes to serve with his smoked meats.

“I have a really good recipe for barbecue baked beans to go with his pork roast,” she noted.

The sides may vary, depending on the meat he has smoked. With a pork barbecue, she likes to provide such traditional sides as baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad.

Now that her husband is retired, they usually work as a team to clean up after preparing a meal.

They both attend Southside Christian Church.

So far, Keith’s biggest smoking project has involved his church.

“We had about 28 people from our Sunday School Class to a dinner,” he said.

For the occasion, Keith smoked 25 pounds of Boston butt pork roast.

He said he also likes to smoke such meats as babyback ribs, chicken and pork chops.

In addition to cooking, the couple enjoys camping out.

Of course, they also manage to do some cooking during their camping trips. In fact, they noted they rarely eat out while camping.

One of their favorite camping destinations is River Plantation RV Park in Pigeon Forge.

For an extended stay, they may take along the smoker and smoke some meat at their camp site. The couple joked that when the smell of smoking meat begins to waft to nearby camp sites, they suddenly make a lot of new friends.

Otherwise, they grill such traditional favorites as hamburgers and hot dogs.

“Our grandsons say that papaw makes the best hamburgers,” Keith noted with pride.

For this week’s recipes, the Whiteheads are providing recipes for a smoked meatloaf and a light, refreshing summer pie.


Smoked Mexican “Fiesta” Meatloaves 

Prepare smoker as if you were going to smoke any type of meat:

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 package Stove Top Stuffing for Chicken

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Mexican-style diced tomatoes, undrained

1-1/2 cups Mexican-Style Shredded Four Cheese with a Touch of Philadelphia, divided

1 cup Taco Bell Home Originals Thick ‘N’ Chunky Salsa, divided

2 eggs

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Mix meat, stuffing mix, tomatoes, 1-1/4 cups cheese, 3/4 cup salsa, eggs and garlic until well blended. Place into two heat-resistant loaf pans.

Smoke approximately 3 hours at a temperature of 250°. Using a meat thermometer, internal meatloaf temperature should reach 160°F when done.

Meanwhile, mix remaining salsa and sugar. After meatloaf temperature reaches 160°, spread salsa mixture over meatloaves; top with remaining cheese. Smoke an additional 10- 15 minutes.

To bake in oven: Heat oven to 375°F and bake the 2 meatloaves for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and spread salsa mixture over meatloaves, top with remaining cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until meatloaves are done (160°).

Enjoy one meatloaf tonight. Then cool remaining meatloaf, wrap tightly and freeze to serve as part of a second meal another night.

Note: The Whiteheads said that mustard greens and mashed potatoes are good side dishes to accompany this meatloaf.


Ice Box Pie 

1 cup pineapple juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 package Lime Jell-O

Using beaters, mix these ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring this to a boiling point, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Cool. Stir several times.

Remove lid from 1 can Carnation milk and chill in freezer until some ice crystals form.

Whip until stiff.

Add above mixture (small stream), beating all the time.

Pour into Graham Cracker or Vanilla Wafer Crust.


Makes 2 pies.

Note: This pie makes a delicious light summer-time dessert.



This week’s column was written by Bryan Stevens, assistant editor of the Elizabethton STAR.


To submit your own recipes or suggest a person for “Chef’s Corner,” email or call 297-9077.

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