Jason Kelce on Grilling, Tailgating, and Getting Extra-Famous Right Before Retiring

By the time Jason Kelce retired this spring, after a 13-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles, he had earned status as one of the NFL’s most famous people, owing to a combination of his elite play, his presence as one half of a highly marketable tandem of brothers, and his loving relationship with the fans in a crucible of a sports town.

This is not the sort of thing that happens to offensive linemen. But in Kelce’s last year and a half in the NFL, three things happened. Jason and his wife, Kylie, appeared with their children in a Prime Video documentary that tracked the family during a football season. Jason and brother Travis launched a podcast. And then Travis started dating the most famous woman in the world. When Jason retired in March, he found himself in the unusual position of being considerably more in-demand as a former player than he was as a cornerstone lineman for an NFC East franchise. It has all been an adjustment, albeit a happy one. “We’re just going with it one day at a time,” he says.

One of Kelce’s new hats will be as a Monday Night Countdown panelist for ESPN. Another is as a pitchman for Kingsford, the maker of grilling charcoal. In 2017, the company built one of the NFL ecosystem’s most viral marketing campaigns around former New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork wearing a set of grilling overalls (and nothing else). Now the company has crossed the line of scrimmage. Kelce, among his other gigs, will help sell the world on charcoal grilling.

Kelce talked with GQ this month about barbecuing, his memorable trip through the Buffalo tailgating scene last January, the state of his body as he stops playing, and how being himself in 2024 is different than it was from, say, 2011 to early 2023. The discussion is lightly edited for clarity and length.

Are you a charcoal griller by trade? Do you have thoughts on charcoal versus gas?

Yeah, I’m a charcoal griller by preference. I think I’ve used charcoal the most in my grilling experience. It’s what I learned on. And it’s what I prefer, partly because of nostalgia. That’s just what I remember doing with my dad. I remember activating the charcoal, getting them ready, getting them white and hot. And I think that it’s something that brings you back to the first time you did it. Like there’s a process with charcoal that gas doesn’t really have, right? And for me, there’s more flavor in it. There’s more of that process that really makes you feel like it’s an active cook rather than just like throwing something on a grill that’s more passive.

Will you use a charcoal grill as a smoker?

One thing I’m trying to get into, I know a lot of people use the offset smokers with charcoal, and then put wood blocks on it to get the smoke with it. I have not personally done that. But I am getting an offset smoker, and I’m looking forward to trying that out. Because I’ve just got the direct heat on the grill, and I know that in order to get the meat really tender, being able to have the offset and have that smoke and heat creep into it, you can cook it longer and render more of the fat and make it more tender. So I’m looking forward to giving that a go.

There are people who are very militant about their charcoal-versus-gas take. I mean, my parents use gas. I don’t hold it against them. It’s faster and they’ve got to move their day along. But some would say that’s not real grilling and that gas grillers are lesser preparers of food. Where do you stand on this topic?

Listen, I think everybody should grill however they want to grill. If I’m being honest, I think gas probably has a place if you’re trying to go quickly and whatever. But for me, if you’re looking for the best flavor, if you’re looking for the actual true barbecue atmosphere, feel, and taste, you can’t accomplish that with gas. You need the charcoal to be in there to get the true barbecue nature.

You know, there’s a time and a place for everything. But certainly my preference and certainly what I think of when I think of tailgating—when I think of an event with people around you, a community-driven thing—I think that always is better with the charcoal and the traditional barbecue style.

The Bills tailgate that everyone saw you at last year: Was that the first time you got to anything like that since, what, college?

I mean, I’d never done it in college. The only other time has been when the Eagles have been eliminated from games already, and I’ve been in Kansas City for a playoff game at Arrowhead. I’ve gotten to experience a little bit of tailgating out there. But the Bills one was definitely the most unique. Maybe the first time I was at Arrowhead, it was just as unique. Obviously, Kansas City has a huge barbecue culture, and there were tons of people out there barbecuing and tailgating in Kansas City.

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