Grilling with the Zac Brown Band

July 28, 2011

zac brown band trailer

Recently blog partner hit the road with the two-time Grammy® award winning Zac Brown Band.  Below is a rundown of their experience and be sure to check here for details on how you can enter to win your own chance to get up close and personal with the band!!


During the 4th of July weekend, we traveled down to Charlotte, NC to meet up with Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin and the Zac Brown Band during their 2011 tour. The Zac Brown Band has partnered with the makers of Kingsford® charcoal to spotlight ZBB’s favorite Southern recipes, prepared by Southern Ground Executive Chef, Rusty Hamlin, and using only the freshest local ingredients.

Chef Rusty was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1974. His first introduction to the kitchen came from his mother, who would place four year old Rusty on the counter, provide him with a spoonful of homemade goodness fresh off the stove, and offer him a dime for each ingredient he could pick out. Eventually his pay was reduced to a nickel as he got better and better at identifying the various components of his family’s cuisine.

Having officially caught the “cooking bug,” Chef Rusty went on to earn degrees in Culinary Arts and Gourmet Nutrition from the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana. Two and half years later in 1996, Chef Rusty moved to Atlanta, GA where a co-worker, Wyatt Durrette, invited him to hear an up-and-coming guitar player named Zac Brown. As Chef Rusty puts it “anyone who heard or saw [Zac] perform knew that he had instant star power.”

Fast forward to 2009 when Zac asked Rusty to come on tour with the band and help introduce the Eat & Greets. The idea was simple: to provide Zac Brown fans not only with a great concert, but also with a real southern hospitality experience. During the Eat and Greets fans interact with the band in a casual setting and talk with them about their passion for barbecue and music, while Chef Rusty provides the food experience.


Following a very long drive from Washington D.C. I was able to experience the Eat & Greet first hand and was blown away by coconut marinade pork loin, beef loin tips, mozzarella tomato salad with vinaigrette, bourbon-glazed barbecued asparagus, parsnip puree (for people who aren’t sure what parsnip is – it is a root vegetable related to the carrot), Zac Brown’s own “pocket knife slaw” (a personal recipe from when he was a boy out camping with his dad), and a homemade chocolate cheesecake brownie to finish the meal.

A staple of the Eat and Greets is the use of local ingredients. As soon as they arrive in each city, Chef Rusty ventures off to the local farmers market to create the evening’s menu. Sounds easy right? Not always… Some of the challenges that Rusty encounters during his journeys include: What happens if he can’t find what he is looking for? Or if there is not enough to feed 350 fans? I told him that I call this “Iron Chef style barbecue cooking.”

Another staple of the Eat and Greets is keeping in “mind what you are putting in your body and being responsible and understanding where your food is coming from.” Chef Rusty offered me some tips on how to create a healthy BBQ meal but without losing the unique flavors of BBQ: (1) keep your grill grates clean; (2) use the grill for steaming food by using indirect heat and also using smoke to add some additional flavoring. Lastly you can always “skewer” your protein and add some healthy vegetables to the skewer. Even the skewer can be made interesting by using bamboo or sugar cane.

It has become his goal in life to spread the gospel of the importance of local food not only because healthy eating is important but because he is so dedicated to supporting America’s famers.

While talking about barbecue and his passion for it, one of his fondest childhood memories was always having a bag of Kingsford charcoals outside next to his granddad and his father while they were barbecuing. So it was a “match” made in heaven when Kingsford and the Zac Brown Band and Rusty decided to work together on this year’s Eat and Greets. As hard as life on the road is — from brushing your teeth with bottled water to sleeping on the bus with 9 of your closest friends — he wouldn’t trade it for the world. Cooking and barbecue are his passions and most important to him is the “Zamily” that he has created with his closest friend Zac and the 84 other people who travel with the band from city to city.

To Chef Rusty, barbecue is more than just creating a dish, it is an art form. Just as “a painter draws on a canvas to tell a story or capture a scene, barbecue is also putting together a picture to tell a story through food which you get to actually experience,” and it is important art because “it goes into your body.”

Barbecue is also an art form because you are telling the story of yourself, the people and places that inspire you, and friends and family who share the finished product that you put on the plate. As Zac Brown (and Rusty) would say: ”…it’s funny how it’s the simple things in life that mean the most. Not where you live, what you drive, or the price tag on your clothes. There’s no dollar sign on a peace of mind this I’ve come to know. So if you agree have a drink with me. Raise your glasses for a toast. To a little bit of chicken fried…” or BARBECUED!

Related Topics: Chef Rusty Hamlin | Eat & Greet | Grilling With Rich | Kingsford | Zac Brown Band

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