Wednesday, January 22, 2014

You need to buy this stuff

Not BBQ related, but this is the best stuff on Earth for getting baked-on crud off pots and pans. It's sometimes hard to find. Try Wal-Mart. I just bought the last two bottles for $2.68 each.

BBQ Photos -- Summertime is coming!

Butch with new WSM 22.5

I know a cure for the summertime blues
Butch with Famous Dave!

Haven't blogged, but have been smokin!

It's been some time (almost a year!) since I posted, but that doesn't mean my grills have been quiet. No, in fact, in the interim, I've picked up a 22.5-inch Weber Smokey Mountain (called WSM for short) along with a variety of tools. (I also bought a handy little Aussie grill from Home Depot which is my go-to beach grill.)

Let's start with my most recent cook -- 48 lbs of pork shoulder (six butts) on the WSM, and two large pans of baked beans on the Char-Griller COS. Why so much? Every winter, our church opens its doors to host homeless folks in the community through a program run by the county. And for the past two years, my buddy Dave and I have volunteered to do a big cook to treat our guests to a special meal on their last night with us. That was Saturday. Saturday was also cold. And windy. I was getting low 20s on my ambient air thermometer and the wind was pushing between 10 and 20 mph, so I knew I'd have some issues keeping the COS hot without burning through my entire firewood pile. So I opted for the WSM for this cook.

 This WSM held all six butts, three on the top and three on the bottom, fat cap side up. Temp control was tough given the cold and wind. I tried to block the wind as much as possible, but wasn't very successful. I also put my new Pitmaster IQ110 into service for this cook. The IQ110 is a handy little tool which is basically a thermostatically controlled fan which attaches to your bottom vent (see the mental cone thing at the bottom of the second picture) and blows air across your charcoal when it needs to stoke the fire. I found the IQ110 very easy to use, but I think it was struggling in the temperatures I was facing. I think on a warmer day it would have been better. The instructions caution over and over that the smoker must be tight for it to work. Mine's tight, but I don't think it was enough to overcome the cold and wind. I ended up setting the temp around 240 to keep it at about 230, but it seemed to be struggling to keep the temps hot enough to cook. I blame that on the WSM and the outside temps more than the IQ110. I'll try again when it's a little warmer.

The pork took longer than expected and I eventually had to throw it in the oven to get it above the 175 mark, but it was supremely tasty. Here's some pics:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Quick tip on brining a turkey

I love turkey, smoked or fried doesn't matter. But I grew up with overcooked and dry birds and decided to change that paradigm and found the art of brining to keep turkey moist.

I use a cup of sugar and a cup of salt like every other recipe. I used to add spices but I haven't found those do much. But here's my trick: you should be brining overnight in a non-reactive container and I had been using clear plastic garbage bags like a leaf bag until I found out I'd been poisoning my family and friends for years with chemicals from the bags.

But I found a better and much safer and honestly more convenient way!



Ziploc makes a food safe bag big enough for two birds. I found mine at Target, so they're probably available widely. Here's a link: Costs a few cents more, but saves time and possibly later illness.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My biggest cook ever...

First off, I apologize for being off the blog for the last seven months. I smoked all summer long, up until Labor Day when I did a big smoke for about 30 people (brisket, pork, baby backs) on Saturday with the expectation that I'd be able to feed them on Monday. Alas, Hurricane Isaac had other plans for me and I was sent to Louisiana and Mississippi for a couple of weeks. My ever-supportive spouse decided that since I'd already made all the food and our friends had already been invited, she should go forward despite my absence and throw one hell of a party. They saved me about a baggie's worth. Thanks, guys.

Hurricane Sandy dealt us another blow and I spent six weeks in NJ for work there. I didn't find any good BBQ, unfortunately, but I did find absolutely the best hot dog I've ever eaten. If you're ever in Central New Jersey, along the shore, you absolutely cannot miss going to The Windmill. Hands down the best hot dog ever.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm becoming a much better cook in the past year since I bought my smoker.  I keep reading and keep following Twitter and keep learning new things, but I'm getting good at pork and pork ribs. So this weekend I'm trying one of my boldest experiments ever -- smoking for 50+. Each year our church hosts a hypothermia shelter for homeless folks in our area and my BBQ buddy Dave and I, along with a couple of others, volunteered to make pork for our guests on their final night with us. Originally, we thought we had more people coming and so we bought food for 80 or so. And then we were told some guests wouldn't like pork, can we make something in addition. So now we've got nearly 80 lbs of pork, and 30 pounds of turkey to deep fry. All tomorrow. Two smokers, two fryers, four guys, a lot of beer. I'll let you know how it goes.

Stuff I've learned:

1) Buy a food bagger/sealer! I bought one off Craigslist that looks like this (mine's black, not camo): I got it for $40, almost brand new. Best investment ever. Now I can smoke, vacuum seal and throw it in the freezer and we've got smoked BBQ dinner for a busy Tuesday night a couple of weeks, or a couple of months from now.

2) You absolutely CAN make your own rub at home. I'm not sure how much I'm saving because the initial investment in spices is significant. The best part is that a $6 little bottle of cayenne pepper goes a long way. This is the recipe I used. It's actually a combination of a variety of different recipes. It's not cheap, but it's amazing. I call it:

SuburbSlicker's Sublime Pork Rub

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup Morton's kosher salt
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons rosemary powder
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne (2 if you like it hot)

3) If you've ever cursed your charcoal chimney, try this: Fill your chimney as you always would, then put it unlit on top of the side burner of your gas grill. Hit the gas and the igniter and you'll have hot coals in just a few minutes. No gathering newspaper or trying to determine which kid stole your lighter (and for what purpose) at 6 a.m. Just make sure that once your charcoal is fully lit, pull it from the gas burner to make sure those little sparks don't spark something bigger around your propane tank (mine's right under the burner, for example.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Smoking and freezing (and today's fixation on thermometers)

I know it's been a while since I posted anything, but I took some time off from smoking to:

1) Be a baseball dad
2) Do a modest amount of yard work
3) Travel for work
4) Be a baseball dad

Both of my young sons are big Little League players and two games a week plus a practice or two thrown in per week keep me running during the spring. So my grill adventures have been limited lately. Add to that a flooded house from an antiquated toilet supply line two weeks ago (that's a blog for another day) and I haven't touched my smoker in a couple of months except to wash it down a few weeks back.

But today was a different day. Today was a day of smoking destiny!

Well, almost. In our area periodically a butcher shop called Springfield Butcher has a Groupon and they'll sell you $26 of fresh meat for $13. Their meats are top-notch, but usually a little pricey for me unless I have a deal. So the last time the offer came out, I bought three and used two yesterday. So for about $130 I got four racks of babybacks and a large brisket. Having just been in Texas a week ago, and checking out prices on  meat there, I'm ready to move. No one said DC is cheap on anything. Regardless I happily plunked down the $70 or so bucks for my meat, my two Groupons and went on my way, ready to smoke today.

For the first time, I'm smoking without eating today because we're traveling in July to North Carolina with four families and I got the bright idea to pre-smoke enough meat for a bbq dinner at the beach house. I bought a used FoodSaver vacuum food sealer on CraigsList for $45 from a guy who'd only used it a couple of times and I was itching to try it out.

Meanwhile, over the spring, if I can't cook, I can at least buy things that make me think about cooking and I decided this spring that I needed thermometers. I'd bought a $15 smoker thermometer at Wal-Mart to replace the cheap one that came with my CharGriller and I had a variety of cheap-o meat thermometers in the drawer. So I made some investments. I first bought a ThermoWorks Thermapen RT600C from Amazon for about $20. I'd read a lot about ThermoWorks and knew I wanted theirs, even if their top-of-the line cooking thermometer was out of my price range at around $90. I also bought a Polder Digital In-Oven Thermometer/Timer, Graphite for $23, thinking I could use it to keep track of my grill temp. I was wrong as its actually a meat thermometer. But it looked cool, so I kept it. Finally I bought a $8.49 CDN High Heat Oven Thermometer which came highly rated. I also ordered a high-heat oven thermometer used in laboratories, but it's been on backorder for a while now and I'm ready to cancel that order.

Anyway, I put all three of my good temp checkers to the test today and found my $15 WM thermometer that I'd been using for months is actually about 50 degrees off. So all this time I'd been trying to cook at 175 degrees. No wonder everything was taking so long. So now, with the proper temp, I'm cranking along with my ribs and brisket and I try out my Polder as well as my Thermoworks (they were about a degree apart -- close enough).

I left my smoker to run #2 son to a baseball game and watch a little of son #1's game(baseball Dad again) . I got back an hour later, ready to check my temp, and found my new Thermoworks, which I'd shoved in my pocket, had slipped out. I raced back to the field, searched everywhere, but alas, my new toy was already gone on its first day in service.

Meanwhile, the Polder is a good little digital thermometer too and it kept my brisket temp reported and it cooked beautifully to 175 when I pulled it, wrapped it in foil to come up to 185 and rest.

The ribs also looked splendid and I vacuumed sealed the whole lot, and I pull it from the freezer in a couple of weeks and let you know how it works.
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