Monday, February 27, 2012

Mmm...Smoking is for the birds too!

I admit it, I can be a real cheapskate when it comes to groceries and this past Thanksgiving was no exception. Since I'm a more frugal shopper than my wife, and since we're trying to spend less and save more, I do the majority of the grocery buying in the house. So I was pleased when the Wal-Mart around the corner underwent an extreme makeover and added on a large supermarket section.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I was in that section and noted that the cheap frozen turkeys were on sale for 38 cents a pound (as opposed to the major grocery chains selling the same cheap frozen turkey for 99 cents a pound). As I elbowed my way to the freezer, I noticed that frozen butterballs were a nickel more at 43 cents a pound and I bought two. The first one (big boy at around 18 lbs) went into the deep fryer on that Thursday and the other one (little brother at about 11 pounds) went into the freezer.

This past weekend, I decided to throw it on the smoker to see how it would do. Here's what happened:

1) I removed bird from freezer on Thursday to let it thaw. Turkeys need to thaw before you cook them and it always takes forever, so start early, but keep it refrigerated or cold to keep the micro-bugs from growing and sending you on an express trip to the Emergency Room.

2) Beginning Saturday, I cooked up a nice brine to soak bird in. I started brining my turkeys a few years back (instead of injecting with butter) and I think it makes for a much juicier cooked bird. There are any number of recipes out there, but basically you need some liquid and some salt. What else you throw in (and at what quantity) is up to you and will subtly flavor your meat. You can tell below that my recipe is not too precise. This time I used:
  • water, 
  • a little less than a cupful of table salt (you can use kosher or sea salt if you like, but I went with what I had in the cupboard), 
  • about three cups of peach/apple juice from Trader Joes,
  • a cup of sugar,
  • a few good shakes of Lawry's seasoned salt,
  • about a cup of some kind of salt-free organic all-purpose seasoning blend from Costco,
  • few tablespoons of fresh-ground black pepper. 
I boiled it all together so the salt and sugar were mixed in and cooled it with ice cubes. I lined a five-gallon bucket with a plastic liner, put my bird in (after washing and removing the neck and little bag full of nasty turky guts), covered with the brine and filled it up with cold water. Then back into the fridge overnight.

3) Sunday morning, I pulled out the bird and rinsed it thoroughly, making sure to get the brine off and patted it dry with a paper towel. Then I worked my fingers under the top layer of skin and separated it from the meat. I didn't want to pull it all off, just work it off enough to be able to get my fingers between the skin and the meat since a rub won't penetrate the skin to actually flavor the meat which is what you're rubbing for.

4) I added rub to the skin, but between the skin to the meat itself. I used a poultry rub from Ashman Manufacturing called Virginia Coastal that I found in the grocery store ( I did my best to get it under the skin while leaving the skin on. I also added a few shakes inside the chest cavity.

5) I put the rubbed bird back into the fridge for a few hours while I went to church to allow it to all settle together. I read this is called "The Curing Rest" (here:

6) I put the bird in a foil pan, rubbed a little more rub and onto the smoke it went. 

7) 30-40 minutes per pound is the estimated cooking time at 225. I think mine took longer because it was cold and windy outside. I used lump charcoal, hickory and oak, being careful not to over-smoke it. Turkey is definitely more tender than pork or beef and it needs a little extra TLC.

8) After about three hours, I pulled it from the smoker and moved it over to my gas grill for about 90 minutes on low (offset -- meaning I turned the burner opposite where I put the turkey on to "low" and left the one right under the bird full off). I did this to reduce the smoke and because I needed room on my smoker.

9) Pulled it off at the end of about 4.5 hours and the internal temp was still lower than I wanted so I put it in the oven at 300 until it came right up to 160. Then I let it sit for about 30 minutes letting the bird firm up and the juices to move around a little.

10) DELICIOUS! That's all I can say. Even my father who is a pretty timid eater when it comes to smoke and spice said it was delectable. Everyone at the table said it was the best they'd had in a long time (which puts my standard fried turkey to shame, I guess).

11) Only thing worthy of note, the skin cooks very differently on a smoked turkey. It's not the crispy treat it usually is on a fried or roasted bird. I found it chewy, and less than tasty. Try it yourself first before you serve it to guests. I ended up just tearing off the skin and chucking it in the Dispos-All before sending the platter to the table.

Good luck!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: VA BBQ Manassas

Well, I wanted it to be good.

We entered a little after 7 p.m. and were told it was almost closing time. But the gentleman at the counter was very friendly explaining the menu and helping us all. I ordered the 1/2 ribs with 4 ounces of pulled beef brisket (I wish I'd read it was pulled, I was expecting sliced, but my fault). I got two sides and ordered baked beans and hush puppies. My sons both had pulled pork sandwiches, my daughter had chicken strips and my wife ordered the ribs/beef combo with potato salad and mac & cheese.

First the Q, since that's why I wanted to go. Ribs were well cooked, tender, juicy, but slathered in a non-descript sauce, cold and there was no detectable smoke. The super-salty beef came in a little foam cup and tasted fresh from the microwave. It was swirling around in some juice, but no smoke either. There's an Arby's in the parking lot and  I think the beef there would've been much better.

The beans were super hot which told me they were fresh from the microwave as well, but the hush puppies were good. My oldest son said he saw frost on his pork sandwich along with a hair which he neglected to report to us until after we left. My daughter said her chicken and onion rings were pretty flavorless and my wife ate only part of her meal before searching around for some Tums.

The restaurant is in a strip center amongst a sea of strip centers. Inside, it's very casual and you order at the counter (very friendly staff, btw). The soda machine's ice maker was broken on our visit and the sodas all tasted flat. The sauce bottles were covered on the outside with sauce making a sticky mess and I spotted an ant crawling across a condiments table.

Aside from the friendly staff, I wouldn't recommend. That's a shame because it's relatively close to my house and there are a couple of other very weak bbq restaurants in the area, but it turns out those are better than VA BBQ.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How I Killed My First Brisket

Ok, so this one didn't go as well, if the blog name gives you any indication. A few weeks ago, I purchased an Angus brisket -- about $4/lb at Sam's Club. It was small, about 4.5lbs, so I assume it was actually a half brisket. Not sure if it was the point or the flat, but I think, given the fat cap, it was the point.

It was frozen from Sam's, so I threw it in the freezer at home. Apparently I should buy fresh and use immediately. I prepped in the usual way I've prepped anything else -- thawed completely, coated in yellow mustard and applied the McCormick Grill Mates "Cowboy Rub" as I wanted something with a little kick and there's not much to choose from here in the Mid-Atlantic this time of year. I need to start doing more mail order rubs. I'd also nearly run out of my Kansas City rubs that I picked up out there before Christmas.

So I prep and inject with low-sodium beef broth (not sure if that was worth it or not, but I read it somewhere and it seemed like a good idea). I also read that you could spice up the broth by grinding some rub in a coffee grinder until it's powdery and mixing it with the broth before you inject. I found that to mess up not only my wife's coffee grinder (thank goodness she's lazy and only uses the Keurig now) and it clogged my injector. I don't think it was worth the effort. It sat in the fridge overnight.

Early Sunday morning, threw it on the smoker using mostly hickory to start with some oak later in the day as the lump charcoal ran out and I still needed some heat. Checked it hourly and applied a spray of half apple juice and half apple-cider vinegar. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Now theoretically, I should've reached a good temp at around the 7 hour mark. I pulled the brisket around hour 5, double-wrapped in foil to keep it moist, and put it back in the smoker.

And I waited. And I waited. And I waited.

For the life of me, I couldn't get the thermometer to budge off 120 degrees. I tried heating up the smoker to around 300 or so, and waited. I moved the brisket over to the fire and unwrapped, and waited....

Finally we had to get going to party, so I wrapped it in foil and threw into the cooler (thank goodness for a cheap pork butt which was delicious) and off we went. When we arrived, I threw brisket in oven for another hour at about 400. Thermometer is now reading about 135 -- still well short of 190. I had to punt as it was nearly halftime and my brisket still wasn't on the table. As I sliced, I could see that it was fully cooked, but as I tasted, I knew I'd screwed up someplace. It wasn't quite shoe leather, but it wasn't nearly as moist and tender as I'd wanted. The flavor was outstanding, but the overdoneness killed it.

Thinking it's time for a new thermometer.

Smoked Bacon Mac & Cheese!!

I knew when I read the recipe on Gary House's blogsite,, that this was going to be good. (I also learned that Gary House is a heckuva nice guy).

I didn't change much, except to double his recipe. Here's his original recipe and I'll add some thoughts at the end:

Smoked Bacon Mac n Cheese recipe
Recipe type: Side dish
Author: Gary House
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
Serves: 6 – 8
  • 16 oz large elbow macaroni, cooked
  • 6 slices of smoked bacon, cut in 1″ pieces
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups mexican blend (cheddar/colby) cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz 3 cheese blend (parmesan/asiago/romano) cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 2 tbs pepper
  • 1 cup crushed corn flakes
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 3/4 stick butter, about 9 – 1/4″ pats
  • cooking spray
  1. Prepare elbow macaroni according to package instructions.
  2. Mix elbow macaroni, bacon, cheddar cheese, mexican blend cheese, 3 blend cheese and cream cheese together.
  3. Mix heavy cream, milk, salt and pepper together.
  4. Add milk mixture to macaroni mix and blend together.
  5. Pour Mac n Cheese into cooking container.
  6. Combine crushed corn flakes and bread crumbs together.
  7. Spray all sides and bottom of a 8 x 8 x 4 inch container.
  8. Pour Mac n Cheese into container.
  9. Spread bread crumb mixture over top of Mac n Cheese to cover.
  10. Place pats of butter on top of crumb mixture.
  11. Smoke at 225 degrees F for one hour.
Container size can vary, just cook till cheese melts and top browns!

Back to me now, I doubled the recipe because we had 20 or so expected for a Super Bowl party. That made for an extremely heavy foil pan (9x13x4) that I picked up at the Dollar Tree. Get your foil pans there if you can. For a buck, they're a good deal, as opposed to $3 for the same thing at Wal-Mart or Target. 

I probably could've gotten away with a smaller quantity. Doubling it made A LOT of mac and cheese. 

Couple of observations, I pre-cooked the bacon in a skillet (tried smoking it in the smoker and that was taking too long) and mixed it in. It gets very heavy when mixing all of the ingredients. It's worth it, but bring a strong wrist. We also only were able to get in about 2/3 of the milk cream mixture without overloading the pan. My wife thought that made the dish a little dry. I thought it was fine. 

Also, the flavors of the cheese were amazing, but I didn't get much taste of smoke (it was on for about 3 hours) and I think the cheese drowned out the taste of the bacon a little. Gary's recipe calls for six pieces, I think I did about 14, chopped into thumb-sized pieces. It wouldn't have hurt any to add more. A guy at my office suggested mixing in a little of the bacon grease for flavor. That might be an idea, not sure. But if you're questioning if you should try this, by all means, do it!  

Bacon Explosion!!

I know I'm late in getting this up, but I had a bunch of other pressing priorities that, frankly, came before writing this down for a the few folks that read it, and mainly my own amusement.

I'm writing in three parts today: Bacon Explosion, Smoked Bacon Mac & Cheese and Crappy Brisket. So you can decide which of the three (or all, or none) you want to experiment with yourself.

Bacon explosion sounds like a cardiologist's fantasy come true -- and it probably is. But it's oh so yummy and depending on the serving size, you can control how much you're clogging your arteries at any one time. I started out using the base recipe from the BBQ Addicts ( They'll even ship you one if you don't want to hassle with making it yourself. I tweaked their recipe a little to make mine a little sweeter. My wife complains that I spice things up too much, so I erred on the side of sweet this time.

I followed their recipe:

2 lbs of thick sliced bacon
2 pounds bulk mild Italian sausage
and I added maple syrup and some cinnamon/sugar.

I also used a sweeter rub (McCormick's Grill Masters Sweet and Smoky which is all I could find in the rather limited selection at the supermarket -- it had brown sugar as an ingredient listed) and I used some cheap "Jack Daniels" Sweet Hickory sauce. (The only relation to Jack Daniels seems to be that the Heinz Ketchup folks licensed the name and logo for their bottle of very routine sauce). Go with whatever is sweet and cheap.

I laid out my bacon lattice on wax paper to make it easy to roll up. That worked wonders. I used 7 pieces on each side of the lattice. The BBQ Addicts page shows a 5x5 lattice. I thought that would be too small, so I bumped it up by two. I think you can pretty much do what you like as long as it's sort of squarish.

From there I sprinkled a pretty good dab of rub on what will become the inside top layer. I also sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on the bacon at this point to bring up the sweetness. Same kind you'd use if you were making cinnamon toast.

Then I added a layer of Johnsonville bulk mild Italian sausage. I might try some other kind of sausage next time -- maybe just some standard bulk breakfast sausage from Jimmy Dean or someone. I thought the Italian flavor conflicted a little, but that was me. No one else seemed to mind. Maybe because I'd intended a sweeter explosion...

I used two pounds and that was perfect. Made a nice two-inch layer. Make sure it's flat and well spaced so you don't end up overcooking one spot or undercooking another.

Then I added about 12 slices of cooked bacon. The recipe isn't specific, but my wife told me that six pieces looked skimpy. So I bumped to 12 and then added a drizzle (rather a bunch of blobs) of the pseudo-Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. I also added a drizzle of maple syrup over the top. In hindsight, I might've used more syrup and less sauce.

So here's what it looked like, and here's what it looks like rolled up. The wax paper here made it really easy to roll up and pull away. I just wrapped it tight and pressed it together, sealing the ends. I was wondering if I needed toothpicks or anything to hold it together. Nope. It'll hold by itself as long as you don't play football with it. I did grill it with the open side down and it sealed itself.

I left mine on the smoker about three hours, flipping once, maybe twice, and added a layer of the faux-Jack Daniels sauce for the last 30 minutes.

This is how it looked finished.

Taste: Delicious!!

And if you slice it in about 1/2 inch slices, I think you'll end up with about two slices of bacon and maybe 4 to 6 ounces of sausage. All-in-all, not as bad as you might think. But certainly outstanding from a taste perspective.


All you need to know about barbecue
This site is a member of The Smoke Ring
Next BBQ Site - Next 5 BBQ Sites - Prev BBQ Site - Random BBQ Site
Join the BBQ ring or browse a complete list of The Smoke Ring BBQ member sites
The Smoke Ring - All you need to know about Barbecue
A service of netRelief Consulting