Meet Kelsey Heidkamp
"For all the interest and accolades that anyone has for me, I owe 100% to the women who raised me: my mom, my grandmother, and my Aunt Jenn. Thanks to them, today I’m the proud owner of Philips Barbecue Co., runner-up for Netflix’s American BBQ Showdown, and host of the Entro Podcast — where I showcase the real stories of hard-working, upcoming entrepreneurs.”
Recipes From Kelsey Heidkamp
Master Grillabilities ® From Kelsey Heidkamp
Born to Grill™ With Kelsey Heidkamp
Hey, everyone! I’m Kelsey Heidkamp, official Weber Grill Master.
Everyone should be confident enough to give brisket a go in their own backyard. When you’re not there yet… Well, that’s where I come in. Whether I was showing reps, internal employees, or consumers the ropes at their own Weber Kettle, teaching classes and writing the curriculum at Weber’s Grill Academy, or helping launch training programs at new Grill Academies worldwide, I’ve always prided myself on authenticity and approachability. Building grilling confidence in each and every person I spend time with is a win to me, both professionally and personally.
Becoming a certified Weber Grill Master took putting in thousands of hours on Weber grills just to start my professional journey. After managing Weber’s Global Grill Academy in Palatine, Illinois, for several years, I handed off the reins and became the culinary expert behind many of Weber's digital properties and global campaigns... I've led everything from video shoots for our new App launches to photo shoots for our new Grill launches; content spanning 40-plus countries. Nowadays, I’m leading culinary development and content for Weber Connect. That’s me pulling straight from years of hands-on experience.
It’s been an honor to align so closely with this company that upholds my personal values and provides such a rich, reliable product. Having the opportunity and the experience to meaningfully touch so many lives is beyond fulfilling. I’m extremely proud of the hard work I’ve put into Weber, and I’m looking forward to many more years spent teaching everyone out there how beautiful it is to make your own memories behind the grill.
Q & A With Kelsey Heidkamp
Let’s cover the obvious question first: you’re clearly an accomplished and driven woman with a sincere love of the BBQ lifestyle. How was Weber lucky enough to land you?
Oh, we were lucky to find each other! [Laughs.] But I grew up in their backyard. My hometown is Palatine, Illinois — where you’ll find their corporate offices. Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s funny that I’ve been working for the brand for the last decade when I essentially grew up around Weber grills my whole life. Not only did my mom and dad cook on Weber products at home, but their first factory was just 10 minutes up the road from us!
So, I first got into this gig after a history in restaurants: Chinese takeout, little mom-and-pop shops, sandwich shops, high-end dining… you name it, I probably did it. Now, I’d just graduated college and moved back home from Iowa when I first heard about this “Grill Academy” opportunity. That involved training on new products, bringing external retail partners in, and so on — so I went in, because of a passion of creating great meals and teaching people how to cook, then was handed training responsibilities and the curriculum. The rest is history.
You’ve done plenty of world traveling with Weber, too. What can you tell us about that? Where’s the most exotic place it took you?
Oh sure! I spent five years running Grill Academy HQ, which now have satellite Grill Academies around the globe: we’re in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Asia, and India. That involved traveling around to some of these places, teaching colleagues the Weber way of basic grill mastery and Weber classes… As for the second part of that question, I’d have to probably say Hong Kong.
When I’m flying, I rep the Weber brand wherever I go, so it’s funny to look back on some of the interactions I’ve had sitting next to strangers on a plane. The one that comes to mind now is this guy who turned over and said, “Hey, so my grandma back in ’87 had a Kettle and loved to smoke turkey on it every Thanksgiving…” Everyone knows Weber. You wear that logo, and you’d be surprised at the stories you hear. Each and every one puts a smile on my face.
So, how did you become an official Weber Grill Master? What’s that process look like?
Oh, I’m definitely happy to talk about that. I’m actually the first official female Weber Grill Master on the globe! To get there, I started as a Grill Ambassador and went through this 3-year program of increasing education and responsibilities. So it went: Ambassador, Specialist, Expert, Master.
Essentially, the whole thing from beginning to end — you have to log a certain number of hours on certain grill types. I know now, almost a decade into the company, I’ve got well over 5,000 hours booked. We’re talking years ago, so you’d have to literally log these into an Excel spreadsheet! [Laughs.] And you’d describe your experiences that day. “Oh, today, I’m doing a brine and some pork tenderloin.” This meant talking about what kind of grill you were working on, how the environment played a factor, how the rub and brine affected the meat at the grill, what was the flavor profile, and what were the overall learnings from it.
Going up in levels meant checking off these increasing boxes. You log certain hours on grill type, then it came down to food type, and so on — and you present your learnings to our senior leadership team and our board of directors. You had to teach a certain amount of classes, and develop your own hands-on grilling classes. There was this whole curriculum around this, involving media training, running classes, developing recipes… but mainly, logging many, many hours of grilling. At the end of the day, when someone says “Grill Master,” Weber wants to know that person understands the product and has the most diverse palette of food groups imaginable.
And so, I graduated and got my black coat, became an official Weber Grill Master while managing the Grill Academy. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments, this journey that I and these four other guys went through. It’s funny. I mean, I get it. Lots of people consider themselves grill masters. My dad calls himself a grill master. But when it comes to Weber, if you start a culinary path to become that… it’s not a generic phrase. It’s a certification. And it takes years.
That’s an incredible amount of hard work! Now, while we’re on the topic of Weber grills, how would you define their story? And what is it about Weber’s story and its reputation that resonates with you?
I think what’s cool about it was, George was just a family guy, right? But he had twelve kids to feed. When you get down to the science of it, he took the three basic elements of cooking — conductive heat, convectional heat, radiating heat — and he was, you know, probably pretty angry at the products he had at the time in the ‘50s. We’re talking the old days, before closed cooking contraptions, but he came up with an idea and he just went for it. I think Weber’s story is a true example of someone just passionate about cooking with a big family, who loved being outside, and who saw a way to make things better. And they built something that’s touched so many lives with it.
Now, my goal is always to empower people, and be approachable to people — and from the inside looking out, I’ve seen for myself that Weber really embraces that ethos. We want to teach people how to be comfortable behind the grill. We just happen to be doing it with a product that hasn’t gone through all these crazy evolutions. Do something well, do it consistently, and be inventive. Isn’t that what cooking’s all about? And when you do see success, really understand what made it work so well… Don’t betray that. In my eyes, that’s how you take something great and you make it really iconic.
You’re pretty involved in the digital side of Weber these days. Do you mind telling us about your recent work?
Of course, so I work on the grill cook programs which are found through the Weber Connect App. We launched the original Weber Connect Hub, which was the start of our smart grilling journey, if I could call it that. Now we have integrated this technology into our family line of products. Taking this direction is how we’re falling in line with the rest of the world; it’s becoming so much more of a tech-crazy world out there. So, we’re trying to figure out how to bring that aspect to grilling in your backyard.
Lately, my primary role is working on the cook programs and the recipes. The cook programs include all your popular proteins, with step-by-step instruction, from prep work in the kitchen, to how to grill, and even any serving steps too. It’s like having a Weber Grill Master in your pocket. Say, if someone wants to grill a full packer cut brisket, it’s going to be everything from how to trim it, how to season it, how to probe it, where to place it on the grill, when to take it off, how to wrap it… very much the same sort of work I’ll be doing with you for my Master Grillabilities® episodes, actually.
That’s an interesting way to pivot the brand, especially given the timeless design of the classic kettle grill.
Right? When you look back at that original design, it’s crazy how similar it really is to the way the standard 22” kettle looks today. Sure, the lid’s a little higher, maybe the exact dimensions are a little different. But it really hasn’t changed much.
It’s so funny. My mom — growing up, she’s always been the griller in my family — will tell me, “I just want to grill! Like, can you all stop it with that nonsense?” [Laughs.] So, you have those people, but then you have people like my younger sister and friends, who are all-in on it. It keeps proving to be this generational thing, where we’re evolving as humans, and a society. Our needs and our wants can be so different.
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. How does Weber plan to bridge that gap?
Oh, I definitely appreciate both sides of it. I love getting hands-on with a grill without the technology there: just me and the grill, the art of creating what I’m creating with heat and smoke. Then, while testing the tech, I see all our work come together with this data-driven, more methodical, maybe more scientific result.
But here at Weber, we really value both experiences. We want to make great products for both consumers. We’re not in the business of leaving anyone behind. Whether you want the app connected and tech version through your grilling journey or the traditional style, where your know-how and your skill define your results, we’re in this business to make you comfortable.
Let’s end with a classic: what’s your earliest culinary memory?
I have two that just came to mind: first is my mom, she — we’re Irish — every year, she makes a huge Irish feast around St. Paddy’s Day. She goes all out, and even bakes her own Irish soda bread. I’m talking the whole 9 yards: the cabbage, the carrots, the potatoes, you know, all boiled. To this day, I’ve pickled and I’ve smoked and I’ve boiled… I can make a great corned beef, but there’s something about coming home for St. Paddy’s Day for her whole meal and that homemade Irish soda bread… I’ll sacrifice gluten for those days!
That’s one of my earliest memories with her. Then with my dad, he’s a golf pro with about 40 years at a country club. At the end of the 15th hole, they would always do this massive whole hog roast, you know, crackling over live coal. As kids, I just remember going up to it and taking a huge chunk off the pig and eating it! [Laughs.] Food has constantly brought my family together. The world is crazy sometimes, and that’s really the beautiful thing about what we do. It brings people together, you know, at the table, or in the backyard. And I think that ties into why I love what I do. I’m passionate about it because food creates a sense of community — and through it, we’re constantly coming together.