Elite Spotlight: CJ Volkmann (@cookingwithCJ)
Growing up in a single-parent household, pitmaster CJ Volkmann’s love of cooking began out of necessity with his first pan of scrambled eggs. Since then it’s become a life-long passion, fueled by a desire to share his creations with family and friends — which he proudly displays on his Instagram account @cookingwithCJ. He sat down with us at Dalstrong to talk about his Cali spin on BBQ, his penchant for Dos Equis, and why his mom is the one person he wants to cook for.
Tell me about your background.
Growing up it was me and my mom, she worked all the time. I had to fend for myself. She taught me the basics of cooking. Ever since I made my first scrambled egg, I’ve been in love with it. It’s a stress relief for me, love cooking for family and friends. Consumed my life recently.
What’s @cookingwithCJ all about?
I have two YouTube channels: Cooking with CJ, which is home cooking, and Cj’s Que (BBQ focus). I’m big with Ninja Foodi Grill, they became a partner of mine. I spend a lot of time developing recipes for that, a big part of my channel. The reason I started CJ’s Que, I wanted to just do BBQ, it gave me a chance to take what I’ve learned and applied it to BBQ. Just a dedicated BBQ channel, it’s going pretty well. People are territorial, BBQ people are opinionated. I try not to get too crazy. I’m in southern Cali, I do my Cali spin on it. To me, I’m not going to regional BBQ because there are just so many people doing that, so specific.
What are the tools you can’t live without?
I have three Dalstrong Shadow Black knives, and three Quantum 1. And I also have a Shogun cleaver. I used that at Thanksgiving for spatchcock chickens. Love the look of Shadow Black, sharp as hell. Went to the ER over one! I was just washing it, sliced through my thumb. The boning one. We’ve spent a ton of money on other knives, Dalstrong is the best. They’re so sharp, solid, balanced well. I seriously tell everyone to use them.
I buy them for people. I’ve actually done giveaways where I’ve bought them myself. I’m a real guy. I don’t put up anything I don’t use. Having those knives is important for great cooking. I have a huge wooden cutting board that stays on my counter, I use it for cutting and also pictures for a background. Nice wood grain. Also a great cast iron pan, well seasoned. Loved to death. They’re so valuable, I’ll pass them on to my kids. You can’t beat the quality of one.
Who are your cooking heroes?
I was interviewed on a podcast last night and was telling them about my mom. She taught me the basics, but I can’t remember one great dish she made. I grew up with the Food Network, watching Emeril back in the day. His personality and cooking real food, a live show. I’m a big fan of Bourdain, not so much for how he cooked but the mindset of not giving a shit. I love Guy Fieri, I’ve been watching him from the jump. I know some people hate him.
What’s one of your go-to recipes?
Braised short ribs I could do in my sleep. It’s a family favorite. I love getting outside and grilling and BBQing and all that. I have a full-time gig for a mortgage company, so I’m cooped up inside a lot. To get some sun on my face, a beer or two in my hand is like heaven. I force myself to get off the computer, to get some fresh air, and then fill it with BBQ smoke.
Can you share a favorite new recipe discovery?
I’ve been trying to incorporate cast iron on the grill, smoked brisket mac n’ cheese and smoked queso dip — those are two things that are outstanding. Not a big baker, too much precision. But I want to try a baked apple pie on the grill. If you treat it like an oven you can do whatever. I have a pellet grill. You don’t have to have a ton of smoke.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
I’d love to cook a meal for my mom. She passed away eight years ago, and I’d love for her to see me now. I was very quiet as a kid, not an introvert, but I mumbled a bit. And I struggle with that now. Just to have her see me cooking, being an influencer, doing the YouTube stuff. I’d just love for her to see me getting in front of the camera.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
Cheeseburgers or chicken. People just don’t cook to temp. People always want to know how long things take, but you can’t factor in humidity, weather, altitude. People are also scared of chicken, so they ruin it. Cheeseburger is a smash burger, no condiments or grilled onions if I’m feeling groggy. Don’t do too much, keep it simple.
What would be your last meal?
Ribeye medium rare, biggest possible, Scalloped potatoes, grilled asparagus. Cold beer to wash it down. I drink Dos Equis the most. Totally influenced by the advertising. I want to be “f-ing interesting”!
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Written by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.