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Idaho's Food Scene

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Left: Getting up in Bear’s Grill   Right: Rod Rushton flips a full rack at his uptown station.
Photographs Sara Sheehy



Hailey’s dueling grill masters

When the summer dust swirls on Main Street in Hailey, Idaho, two self-styled cowboys stand on opposite ends of town. Each is armed with skewers and tongs, top-secret ingredients, heaps of raw meat and scorching-hot machines that snort smoke and glow red and angry, like balls-cinched rodeo bulls. Both men sweat as they tame their iron beasts with coal and wood chips. They also keep a close eye on the goods: chicken, ribs, sausage and tri-tip, trout, pork, elk and big fat mushrooms.

At the risk of stereotyping the men who guard these flames, one cowboy is just as I expected. He is big and bald and works in a sleeveless tee. He seems kinda mean. He doesn’t want to be my friend; he wants to feed me. His name is Bear, and I instantly love him.

Bear has been grilling for fourteen years and is a proud Hailey local. You can find him in front of L.L. Green’s Hardware store on Thursdays and Fridays, stationed behind his huge double-decker grill. The medieval-looking machine can hold more food than I could eat in a month (and, y’all, I am Southern, and I can eat). It has a rotisserie spit that can pierce a whole hog. Holy-love-it. Fat drips onto a bed of coals, and the steady drip-drip-sizzle is like the sweet sounds of angels in my ears.

The medieval-looking machine can hold more food
than I could eat in a month.

Bear will chat about his choice cuts, his massive double-decker grill and even some of his methods. But his dry rub is another matter. It’s a top-secret concoction and, no, he isn’t going to share.

Meanwhile, just a football field or two uptown, Rod Rushton is “The Barbecue Guy” at the Hailey Farmers’ Market, and his grill is a handcrafted labor of love, complete with steel knobs, wheels, meat spikes and chain-link pulleys. He runs the business with Chance, the shaggy dog who greets every customer. Rushton sports a graying beard, a quick smile and a strong handshake. He knows what his patrons like, such as his smoke-beans—or “crack beans,” as a loyal customer dubbed them when, after three servings, he said he “couldn’t get enough of these beans. They are like crack!” Ergo, crack beans.

Rushton is from Filer, Idaho, and has been grilling around Hailey for three years. When asked if his grill had a name, The Barbecue Guy chuckled at my childishness and said he had not yet christened his masterpiece. Then he thought for a minute and decided on the “Good Chance Grill,” an homage to his greeter, and a man’s best friend, indeed.

Each man has his own unique style and his own fervent fans. But they have a common mission—feed the masses what they crave. When the day is done and another duel comes to an end, each puts away his tools, saddles up his beast and heads home into the sunset.

-Lillie Lancaster




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