Seven years ago, Chicago resident Jesse Valenciana was losing his friends to marriage and the suburbs. In order to keep in touch with them, he picked one day each month where everyone would get together to eat, talk, and drink beer. Valenciana didn’t know it at the time, but what he and fellow barbecue enthusiast John Carruthers started on the rooftop of his apartment that first night would eventually become ManBQue, a “men’s grilling and lifestyle community” with chapters around the world.
At each get-together, members bring food to grill, but at that first “meating” (as they’re known), the offerings weren’t necessarily top shelf. “It was a joke the first time,” said Valenciana. “I burned some bad hamburger patties.” As word spread, more people began to attend, and the food started getting better. “Now these guys are making their own sausages and grinding their own meat for burgers,” he said. “It’s grown into a testing ground for recipes. What better place to try new things than at ManBQue? Because we’ll be honest. Never insulting, but honest so that the food gets better.”
The organization has expanded over the years, with more than 1,000 members in Chicago alone, and satellite communities in Los Angeles, Seattle, Florida, Costa Rica, and even Germany. The expansion isn’t only about size, but also scope. In keeping with a kind of “pay it forward” philosophy, ManBQue hosts two to three fundraisers a year to help local charities and small businesses. “When we started getting more publicity, being on the Today Show and getting written up by the local press, we said to ourselves, ‘What do we do with all of this publicity?’ ” said Valenciana. “So we decided to use it for something good. We join up with local charities and businesses and see what we can do to help out.”
Valenciana and Carruthers can now share the ManBQue philosophy with an even wider audience, as Running Press has just published their first book, ManBQue!: Meat. Beer. Rock and Roll. The cookbook introduces the organization while aiming to make grilling accessible to any level of cook, with instructions and advice that don’t lack for attitude (“You can’t make the perfect burger just by lighting the grill, but you can sure as hell screw it up that way. Proper fire management is the cornerstone of anything delicious that you end up doing on a charcoal grill”). Chapters cover burgers, tacos, steak, and more, with many recipes coming directly from ManBQue members; an overview of beer types, sauce recipes, and rock and roll playlists are also in the mix.
The duo will promote the book at several upcoming events in Chicago, including speaking engagements at an Apple store and a local public library on May 13 and 17; a beer pairing dinner and brewing contest with Middle Brow Beer on May 24; and a book signing at The Book Cellar on June 14. They will also travel to Nashville on June 6 for a book release party at Fat Bottom Brewing, with special ManBQue beer on tap.
The social aspect of the “meatings” is what created ManBQue in the first place, and Valenciana is proud to say that they are still social and a great way to network. “At a typical ManBQue gathering,” he said, “you’ll have a pre-med guy talking to a lawyer talking to a television producer talking to someone’s who’s unemployed. The great thing is that they all talk about food, beer, but also about life.”