Kelsey Barnard Clark showcases an unexpected Lit’l Smokies recipe, interview

Kelsey Barnard Clark for Lit'l Smokies, photo by Kelsey Barnard Clark, provided by Lit'l Smokies
Kelsey Barnard Clark for Lit'l Smokies, photo by Kelsey Barnard Clark, provided by Lit'l Smokies /

From a simple gathering to a boisterous holiday affair, Hillshire Farm Lit’l Smokies are a staple. Whether it is the love of a bite-sized food or the versatility that the ingredient offers, cooks and party hosts always have a package ready in the refrigerator. Recently, Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark partnered with the iconic food brand to share a new Lit’l Smokies recipe, some hosting tips, and a way for everyone to enjoy the versatile appetizer ingredient.

While many people love watching food television, recreating some of those epic dishes in the home kitchen might not be quite as easy. Even with a show, like Top Chef, employs some classic food ingredients, some home cooks prefer a simple to execute option.

Hillshire Farm Lit’l Smokies have been a staple in many people’s households. From that slow cooker which holds a package surrounded by a tangy sauce or those always popular pigs in a blanket, the ingredient is more than a bite of nostalgia. It is the familiar taste that delivers what people want, good tasting, approachable food.

Recently, Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark partnered with Lit’l Smokies to highlight the classic ingredient in new ways. In addition to her special recipes, the brand is hosting a contest where the winning original recipe will be featured alongside Clark’s at a special New York City pop-up event.

Since FoodSided is always hungry to discover new ways to enjoy favorite foods, we chatted with Chef Kelsey about this collaboration, some thoughtful hosting tips, and her thoughts on regional cuisine.

Cristine Struble/FoodSided: Lit’l Smokies in a crockpot with sauce is often a simple appetizer that everyone loves. Why do you think everyone just enjoys that classic food? Is it flavor, simplicity, or something else?

Kelsey Barnard Clark: The flavor of Lit’l Smokies cocktail links is very simple and satisfying, which is exactly what I look for when I’m at a party and grazing the appetizer table. What makes Lit’l Smokies so unique is that they are packed with protein and something that can satisfy cravings in a bite-sized format.

Lit'l Smokies recipe contest Hillshire Farm
Lit’l Smokies recipe contest winner will be featured alongside Kelsey Barnard Clark’s recipe at a special pop-up event, photo provided by Hillshire Farm /

CS: What are some of your go-to recipes that use Little Smokies?

KBC: For me, I love a mini hotdog – there are so many possibilities and endless toppings and sauces to dress them up. I’m a huge sauce fan and I think sauces are a simple way to show off your creativity, craftsmanship and personality as a chef. When I’m creating a menu or bringing a dish to a potluck, I’m always looking for new ways to showcase ingredients that are unexpected and new. Like for this campaign I developed Lit’l Smokies Frittata bites which are perfect for entertaining because they’re bite sized, shareable and packed with double protein from Lit’l Smokies and eggs.

CS: Since the taste and the ingredient are familiar, do you think that this Lit’l Smokies contest will show some ideas that are totally out of the box or will there still be something familiar?

KBC: I think that they are a familiar and likable product – in general speaking, people love salt, smoke and fat which is also something picky eaters have no problem with and Lit’l Smokies brings all that in one bite. The contest will highlight all the wonderful regional flavors from across the U.S. and showcase everyone’s unique twist on Lit’l Smokies recipes. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing fans’ regional dishes using Lit’l Smokies and other unexpected ways they’re incorporating them into recipes, I love seeing things like that.

CS: Can you tell us a bit about the contest?

KBC: The contest is simple! Come up with your own unique recipe featuring Lit’l Smokies cocktail links and post a photo of your dish using #LitlCocktailLounge and #HillshireFarmContest by October 29th. Three winning contestants will each receive $3,000 and have their recipe featured on the menu at the upcoming Lit’l Smokies Lit’l Cocktail Lounge in New York City.

The contest gives fans a chance to unleash their creativity and have their original recipe featured at a pop-up restaurant in NYC!

CS: Will the winners be at the pop-up lounge? Can you tell me more about that?

KBC: To honor the 40th anniversary of Lit’l Smokies cocktail links, the brand is hosting a pop-up tasting experience in NYC. The menu will feature my Lit’l Smokies frittata recipe and recipes from the contest winners. The Lit’l Smokies Lit’l Cocktail Lounge puts a twist on the classic lounge experience, serving a unique sampling menu of cocktail links instead of cocktail drinks. It will be a fun experience so check it out if you’re in New York City on November 8!

CS: Appetizers can sometimes turn into an entire meal. When creating an appetizer recipe, do you need to consider how the dish is being served and what else is being served with it?

KBC: Yes, for sure! That’s a big common mistake that people make when planning a menu for a party or potluck. You want variety on your appetizer table- you don’t want 10 dips, sliders and hotdogs. Always ask ahead of time what other people are bringing and from there, you can fill in what’s missing. Also think about what are some things that are lacking in the spread. Maybe it’s a fresh ingredient. Being aware what’s on the menu is always important and ensuring you have a balance of heavy and light options.

CS: Sometimes when serving appetizers, the host might need to consider eating ease? What are some of your go-to hosting tips that make it not only easy for the host but also enjoyable for the guests?

KBC: The most important thing as a host is to do what it takes to keep yourself calm for any event – that is a number 1 priority. The biggest mistake I see is choosing something that makes no sense for an event. What I mean by that is why serve chocolate souffle that you can’t make ahead of time as they immediately must be served. So, think what can I make for my menu that I can make in advance and not run around crazy prior or during an event. Something you can easily pop into the oven and have ready is great. Don’t tie yourself to a task in the kitchen. Enjoy the party!

Kelsey Barnard Clark shares a Lit’l Smokies recipe
Kelsey Barnard Clark for Lit’l Smokies, photo by Kelsey Barnard Clark, provided by Lit’l Smokies /

CS: During your winning Top Chef season, you showcased Southern food and cuisine. Do you think that Southern food has found a bigger appreciation for its nuance, story, and flavor beyond its regional roots?

KBC: It’s important to remember how Southern food came about and the different cultures in the South that have formed it. That is something that I look at. The cuisine’s roots started from a ton of different cultures and it’s very interesting to learn about. You know, Cajun food has Creole, French, Spanish, African influence, it’s quite a complex history of flavors. I like looking deeper at how cultures came into play for all these unique flavors and how we came to where we are by who came here first.

Whether people get a taste of these special recipes at the New York City pop-up event or cook up their own creations at home, there are plenty of reasons to have a bag of the Lit’l Smokies in the house. When flavor, convenience, and creativity combine, that dish will bring smiles all around.

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