This New Orleans Jazz Musician Is Also a King of BBQ

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Tara Donne)

“We partyin’!” is jazz musician Kermit Ruffins’ signature exclamation, often from the stage of jazz clubs throughout New Orleans where he is known and loved.

What you might not know is that the trumpeter is also famous (at least locally) for putting on another sort of party — one where he is king of the grill. Walk by his bar on any given afternoon and you’re likely to find Kermit holding court outside rather than inside, and with his tongs instead of his trumpet.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

Listen to Kermit Ruffins’ #imsoneworleans

A Visit with Kermit Ruffins at Mother-in-Law Lounge

Kermit Ruffins’ contributions to the New Orleans music tradition are significant: He helped found ReBirth Brass Band in 1983 while he was still in high school, then went on to form the Barbecue Swingers, a jazz quintet that performed at Vaughan’s Lounge in the Bywater for nearly 20 years. The group recently ended their residency, but you can still hear Kermit and his band play on Saturday nights at the Little Gem Saloon and Sundays at his Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Before it was Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge, it was just Mother-in-Law Lounge. Originally owned by R&B singer Ernie K-Doe and named after his 1961 hit, the bar shuttered in 2010. Kermit took over the lease in 2011 and re-opened it in 2014. He lives upstairs, too, and (presumably) has a kitchen there, but more often than not he’s cooking up some chicken (or steak or alligator) on his double-wide grill — which is where we found him on a Friday afternoon.

His cookout starts slow. He fires up the grill (with charcoal and lighter fluid) sometime in the late afternoon. While he waits for it to get hot, he cracks open a beer. Or maybe it’s his second? It’s nice out and he’s not counting.

Friends drive by and shout out through rolled-down windows — or pull over for a chat. “We partying?” Kermit asks. For some, the answer is yes.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

A group of teenaged boys (they’re sons of Kermit’s friends) take selfies (for their album cover, they explain) in front of the elaborate and vibrant network of murals, which were painted (and then repainted after Hurricane Katrina flooded the lounge with five feet of water) by artist Daniel Fuselier.

The grill won’t be rushed, so there’s time for another beer and more catching up — and a few questions from inquiring journalists.

What’s your favorite thing to grill?

I make everything. I grill chicken. I grill pork. I grill steak. I grill alligator.

What’s your smartest grilling trick?

I rub an onion on the grill. I get the grill hot and then I cut an onion in half and rub it on the grates. It gets it clean and adds seasoning.

To marinate or not to marinate?

If I’m making a bunch of meat for the neighborhood, I put everything in an ice chest — meat, olive oil, seasoning, and garlic powder — and shake it up. Sometimes I don’t have time and then I just throw the seasoning and granulated garlic on top. You can never have too much seasoning.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)

What kind of seasoning do you use?

I use Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning and granulated garlic.

If you’re not cooking, where do you like to eat?

The Joint in the Bywater has good barbecue.

How about for drinking and dancing?

Anywhere on Frenchman Street: Snug Harbor, Blue Nile, the Spotted Cat, Cafe Negril.

Where are you going tonight?

It’s an early night. I’ll start with Topsy Chapman at 5:30 p.m., then go see Jeremy Davenport at the Ritz-Carlton and Jesse McBride at Prime Example.

Thanks for letting us visit, Kermit! Check out his latest album, #imsoneworleans on Spotify.

(Image credit: Tara Donne)