Steve and Tracy Huff

After spending the weekend in the kitchen, Steve and Tracy Huff were loading up their vehicle for the ultimate “foodie” road trip.

The Yankton couple love working side by side to create large quantities of food. They open up their home to share the warmth and good smells of their tasty treats.

But on this Super Bowl Sunday, the Huffs were hitting the road and taking their meal to another location.

“We like donating meals for a local charity or organization, and this meal was auctioned off for 10-12 people as a fundraiser for the Heartland Humane Society,” Steve said. “We advertised it as a Super Bowl party, and we asked the high bidders what kind of meal they wanted. They left it up to us, so we went with something that had Mexican or barbecue flair.”

Why were the Huffs hitting the road with this meal?

“Our guests tend to like coming here (to our house) because they don’t have to clean up, but this guy has new rooms that he wants to show off,” Steve said. “Once we get there, we may leave shortly after we set up or we may stay until the end of the game. It depends on what they want us to do.”

No matter what’s on the menu, the Huffs work well as a team. On this Sunday, they cranked their operation into high gear. They were not only preparing food on deadline — they were also packing items and making early runs to the hosts’ house.

Watching the Huffs in action provided two good lessons: making large quantities for special occasions while also figuring out how to easily pack and transport it to another site.

The Huffs have served crowds ranging in size from a more intimate gathering with 10-12 guests to a large bash with 40 people.

Seeing them at work, it offers a scene that could just as easily fit a St. Patrick’s Day party, a March Madness college basketball gathering, Easter brunch or a graduation reception.

“This is such a great time of year for everything,” Tracy said. “There’s so much reason to celebrate.”

Finding The Right Flavor

This particular Super Bowl meal offered a carnivore’s dream.

“We’re making a taco, nacho and enchilada bar,” Steve said. “We smoked a six-pound brisket, four racks of ribs, three chickens — maybe the best I have done — and about six pounds of ground beef.”

What makes these chickens so special?

“I would say I like the rub a lot more than I liked others in the past. I used Mexican oregano that’s a little wilder,” Steve said. “I had dry ingredients with a lot of heat, and the heat just poured through. I was able to put the three chickens in a big roasting pan, and it just worked out well.”

A key lies in getting everything in place ahead of time, Tracy said.

“We did a lot of our preparation work yesterday,” she said. “Actually, we did the three chickens in the smoker, and then we did the ribs and the brisket.”

Tracy noted the smoker isn’t just for meat. She enjoys using it for a variety of foods, and this time she used it for dessert.

“I’m making cookies, carrot cake, and brownies in the smoker,” she said. “I had (the ingredients) put together, so all we had to do was make them and get them ready to go.”

Tracy draws raves from co-workers about her cookies that come right out of the smoker.

“I put the cookies in the smoker at the same temperature that you would in an oven. People like the smoky flavor with the sweet,” she said. “Today, I left it in the smoker a bit longer and it baked differently. I really liked it.”

Mixing It Up

Whether it’s food or drink, many people like unusual flavors or combinations they wouldn’t normally consider, Tracy said. It’s all about teasing the palate.

“We usually try to balance different flavors. Today, we have both meats and sweets, so you get different tastes at the same meal,” she said. “That’s really the key. We combined what we think would pair nice with what we are serving.”

The previous week played havoc with their schedule. Yankton was hit not only with snow but also bitter temperatures. A polar vortex sent the wind chill into the deep freeze at -50 to -60 degrees.

When it came to preparing for the meal, the weather made it not only dangerous to go shopping, the bitter blast also threw a wrench into using the smoker for any preparations.

“When it’s a lot colder, it affects the way the smoker runs,” Tracy

said. “We would have liked to have done more work during the week, but we were planning to do a lot of the prep work this weekend, anyway.”

It’s all about going with the flow, Tracy said.

“The best way to make a lot of food without going crazy is to be organized,” she said. “Steve and I are wired that way. We’re always thinking ahead and planning for what would make a great meal. We like to shake things up. And we’ve been doing this for so long that we know how to help each other out and make things work.”

Steve agreed, with this particular afternoon showing their ability to keep things moving. They made efficient use of the kitchen work space, oven, grill and smoker with little or no down time. The entire operation ran like precision clockwork.

“It really takes a lot of teamwork,” he said.

Sometimes, it’s OK to take shortcuts when the time or ingredients demand it, Tracy said.

“I’ve made sugar cookies where I used the box or package. And I’ve used shredded cheese out of a package,” she said. “There are times when it’s fine to cheat. It’s not a sin. If you want, you can go back to doing it the other way when there’s more time, like on the weekends.”

When planning the menu, the Huffs took into account both the event and the setting.

“It’s important to make sure you’re not fixing something that’s not appropriate for the occasion,” he said. “This is an NFL football game, so you’re going to fix something that works more as an appetizer or barbecue rather than a sit-down meal of meat and potatoes.”

The guests needed the freedom to eat and roam at the same time, Steve said.

“We’re giving people a lot of the basics with beef, pork and chicken. It has to be something tasty and easy,” he said. “And the meal has to be very portable, that you can take from room to room for chit-chat.”

In this case, the Huffs allowed the hosts and guests to show their own culinary creativity. They could build

their own tacos, fajitas and enchiladas. Or they could load up nachos with cheese and other toppings, then throw it in the oven for warm, gooey goodness.

Setting The Mood

The Huffs set the mood before the party even started. They used a football-shaped cookie container, and they sported football jerseys — Steve for his Pittsburgh Steelers and Tracy with the Chicago Bears.

Tracy admitted her jersey was a tribute to her mother, a huge fan of Bears icon Walter Payton.

“My mom would sit in her chair with a shrine dedicated to Walter Payton, watching the game with her Wheaties cereal box that had Walter’s picture on it. She would yell ‘Come on, Sweetness!’” Tracy said, referring with a laugh to Payton’s nickname.

Back to business, Tracy noted large events can pose a challenge not only in estimating the amount of food but also the pace of serving it. In this case, the Huffs communicated with the hosts on the availability of ovens for bringing food ahead of time and keeping it warm.

“I think, for some of these parties, we have more of what I call ‘free range’ or ‘grazing.’ People come and go from the table, eating over the course of several hours,” Tracy said. “Some people put all the food out at once, but we do it in phases. We keep the food hot or cold, whatever it is, in the kitchen and then bring it out as needed. We make sure that we keep the bowls full and the food at the right temperature.”

When it comes to good times, many parties call not only for good food but also good drinks.

“We usually provide beer and wine,” Tracy said. “For this party, they also like whiskey, so Steve is bringing Scotch, bourbon and rye so he can make mixed drinks.”

The Huffs looked around their kitchen one last time before hitting the road. The plan called for them to arrive with the food by 3 p.m. for guests who arrived before the 6 p.m. kickoff.

“Well, it’s getting close to show time,” Tracy said as they packed the last coolers, trays and bowls into their vehicle.

Sharing A Love Of Food

The Huffs have found the tips and tricks they use for social gatherings also work well at home. They prepare the dough and toppings ahead of time for making their own pizzas, giving them the freedom to create meals at the last minute.

And it’s always good to have some basic ingredients on hand for those sudden cravings or guests who drop by the house. The Huffs are also cultivating a love of food in their teenagers, Nathan and Abby.

“We let them have friends overnight and asked what they wanted to eat. They wanted a taco bar, so we chopped up the veggies and prepared the meat. We worked with things that were fun,” Tracy said.

“It also helps us get to know their friends. We want their friends to come over and have a great time. We may also expose them to different food. Their friends might say, ‘We’ve never thought about doing this with food’ and take the idea home to their families. We enjoy seeing young adults getting engaged and more passionate about things.”

The Huffs don’t worry about making too much food at one time.

“We prepare big and usually spread the food over several meals,” Tracy said. “Or we’ll donate it to family and friends. We’ll say, ‘Hey, have you got anything going tonight?’ and then share things like our chicken, ribs and brisket. We have a lot of fun with food.”

The Huffs take the same approach when it comes to making food part of a larger experience.

“Food plays such an important role in the whole social aspect of things. When Steve and I started we wanted the food to be good. But we also wanted people to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves,” Tracy said.

“We’ve hosted a wide range of groups. If you want people to have a good experience, you want food there. And when it comes to food, we like to spice it up and change things around.”

When it comes to preparing food for social gatherings, the Huffs recommend starting small, if needed.

“We believe, the more, the merrier. We like to watch people eat our food. And making meals is a great stress reliever for us,” Tracy said.

“Everybody is wired differently. It’s a matter of finding your comfort zone, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new.