The following article appeared in the Evansville Courier on 6/17/15.
EVANSVILLE – What is your dad grilling up this summer? Whether it healthy salmon, lean chicken breast or a big old Boston butt or slab of beef ribs, it can be enhanced with one of our locally-made sauces or marinades.
We visited with Cleon Michel — griller, smoker and maker of Bonus BBQ products — to talk about his new award-winning marinade and spicy sauce.
Michel has been marketing Bonus BBQ sauce since 2012, but his Bonus marinade only became available in February. Barely a month later, in March, he sent it on a lark to the National Barbecue Association Conference and Trade Show in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Rich (Bonenberger) at Farm Boy, where I have the sauce made, told me I should send the marinade in to the conference,” said Michel, “and it went and won sixth place in one of the marinade categories. So on the shelf in the stores you’ll see a ‘Winner 2015 Award of Excellence’ sign by it, and they have it out on the meat counter at Schnucks. It a real honor, especially for such a new product.”
Michel enjoys his marinade on steak, but he gets most excited about using it with lighter meats such as chicken breast, pork chops and especially salmon.
He notes that how long to marinate depends on the size and type of meat. Because Bonus marinade is soy sauce and Worcestershire based and does not contain enzymatic tenderizers such as pineapple or papaya, you don’t have to worry about the meat getting mushy, but small pieces can become salty if they soak too long.
Michel suggests marinating salmon filets or other fish only an hour before cooking. Chicken breast tenders can soak for six hours and larger breasts and thicker pork chops can stay in the marinade overnight.
“That how I like to do it,” he said. “Some people say they brush it on everything just an hour before cooking, and other people tell me they let stuff sit in there for two days. It depends on what you like. The marinade has other uses too. Some people use it as a stir fry sauce, and you can use it as a steak sauce too, especially if you cook it down a little. It really turned out to be a heck of a product.”
The newest Bonus product is a spicy barbecue sauce similar to the original recipe but with a distinct chili heat. It has hit store shelves only this month.
In both cases, taking homemade recipes and finding the right ingredients to make them work on a commercial scale was arduous.
“We had to go through a lot of Worcestershire sauce before we found one that tasted right in the marinade” said Michel. “There’s a lot of difference between brands of spices and other products. We had to try a lot of different chili powders before we found one that worked for the spicy barbecue sauce. We wanted a version that tasted like the regular sauce with some heat, but we didn’t want to use cayenne because it burns the tip of your tongue too much, and if the rest of your food is warm it just hurts, and you can’t enjoy it. We tried adding citrus and certain types of chilies and found that citrus was good alone, and chili was good alone, but if we put them both in there it didn’t taste like Bonus anymore. So we just went with one variety of chili for the spicy.”
In addition to making his own line of Bonus products, Michel is a prolific barbecue and grill cook. He cooks often for friends, for his Knights of Columbus group and for Good Shepherd church, and has been a barbecue cook-off judge.
For outdoor cooking, he prefers a Backwoods water smoker from Dixon, Louisiana, and a Weber charcoal grill.
“I don’t suggest using a marinade and a sauce on the same piece of meat,” he said. “You can get too far ahead of yourself and lose the taste of the meat.”
Michel suggests grilling smaller pieces of meat such as chicken breasts, fish filets or pork chops and using the smoker for larger pieces such as ribs, butts, whole or half birds or very large quantities of smaller cuts.
“I like smoking beef ribs,” he said. “I get them from Dewig’s; you can call them up and order them for a Friday. I like the ones with a thicker fat cap. Always cook beef ribs or brisket with the fat on because that makes for such a tender meat as it melts. You can cut away the big pieces of fat after it cooked if you want.”
When he is smoking lean baby back ribs, if he has pork butts in the smoker as well, he’ll put the baby backs underneath so the dripping fat from the butts can baste them.
When grilling or smoking dark meat chicken thighs (dark meat chicken works equally well on a grill or smoker because of the higher fat content), Michel likes to coat them lightly with mustard, then adds his favorite rub and permits the meat to sit overnight. Then he finishes with sauce during the last few minutes of cooking.
“When I grill smaller pieces of meat, I marinate or put rub on them overnight, then put a lot of charcoal in the center of the grill,” he said. “When it is really hot, I sear the meat over the coals, then move it to the side and close the lid to keep the heat in while the meat finishes cooking slowly. I cook steak that way too. If I’m putting sauce on the meat, I’ll wait until it is almost done and put on a coat, turn it until it is dry, then put on another coat. For fish, you want to keep the grill at a low, even heat the whole time.”
If you’d like to try some of Michel’s pork barbecue, stop by the Good Shepherd Summer Social at 2301 N. Stockwell Road June 25-27 after 4 p.m. He’ll be dishing up his pulled pork sandwiches at the Knights of Columbus hamburger booth. Michel also warns that Good Shepherd has some of the best fried chicken dinners around, so do come hungry.
Find Bonus products in Schnucks stores, the Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe on Stringtown Road, Dewig Meats in Haubstadt and Posey Supermarket in Boonville.
Michel’s next Bonus product will be a sweet vinegar slaw dressing, which is the process of being perfected.