May 27, 2003

Experimental BBQ

The rainy weather finally let up in Northern California, and so I got my first chance in a long time to fire up my Bandera smoker for real. Gave it a good cleaning out first and coated the outside with a bit of oil -- you maintain a smoker like a cast iron skillet for the most part.

I tried a bunch of minor variations this time to get into the swing of things.

Instead of a whole packer-cut brisket I used a half or "point-off" one. These have the plus of going a bit quicker, but the minus of having less fat and therefore can dry out. They also tend toward the more expensive side. I smoked it as normal for four hours and then placed it in a quarter disposable hotel pan for the remaining time. So it was sort of smoked and then braised. Not true (tm) BBQ, but it did turn out quite well.

Instead of pork ribs, I did beef ribs. Smoked for four hours and then wrapped in foil (again, not something I do normally). I was mostly curious if doing this let me leave the ribs in the smoker while the brisket finished. It did, although the ribs were really well done. Next time, I'll probably also move them up away from the fire when doing this.

Both the brisket and the ribs had really major red smoke rings this time. I used a combination of black oak (which I don't care for, it's very dense and takes quite a bit of heat to get it to burn) and almond wood (which was great this time -- all rather smallish logs just perfect for the BBQ). Ran the smoker at between 240 and 270 for the whole time and it was fairly easy to keep it there. I think I'm improving at the entire fire management thing.

Another weird experiment was sticking the probe thermometers through potato halves to serve as a "base" for each one. It works out well, but I sort of wish I could come up with something a bit more reusable. Seems a shame to waste a perfectly good potato that way. Maybe balls of foil flattened out at the bottom. The world's first aluminum potato!

The final experiment was cooking pinto beans in the smoker. I've done beans lots of times before, but they are usually white beans. I'm happy to say that pintos also work out well. I put lots of cumin and coriander in the mix this time -- two flavors that I love and especially so with beans. The beans were in the smoker the entire time. About half of the time covered and half uncovered. They didn't overcook at all and could probably have even kept on cooking for even longer with no real downside to quality.

Total time for the "run" was just under eight hours.

Posted by dowdy at 07:10 AM

May 23, 2003

Beer Can Chicken

A popular method of cooking chicken in recent years at BBQ competitions has been the so-called "beer can chicken" or (as I often call it) "up-the-butt" chicken. Lots of folks in the more traditional BBQ area will claim this method as more of a "stunt" than real (tm) BBQ, but I think it's an interesting tool to have on one's workbench -- particularly when it comes to weeknight or shorter time cookery.

The basic method is simple. An opened (and generally half-emptied) can of beer is placed within the cavity of a whole chicken and the bird is set upright on it -- the beer can forming one "leg" of a tripod and the two legs of the bird the remaining sides. The chicken is thus placed on the grill and offset cooked until done.

I usually face the breast side of the chicken away from the fire and use a fairly hot offset smoker. Usually a 4-5 pound bird is done in something around 60 minutes.

The basic idea is that the steam from the boiling-off beer (and yes, it does get quite hot) helps to both flavor and tenderize the meat. People often place various spices or flavorings within the beer. Some brine the chicken before hand. Some baste or otherwise coat the bird during cooking. All of these are modifications of the basic approach.

Honestly, I haven't found that there is a huge difference between various modifications. Tonight (for no particular reason) I brined the bird for two hours with some Mexican-oriented spices and used a can of Tecate as the beer. I used my Weber kettle and some cherry wood chunks as the smoking agent. But, for all that, I'm not sure the resulting product was much different than an unbrined chicken with a can of Budwiser and perhaps no actual wood used for smoking. The differences are certainly matters of degrees.

In any case, if you haven't tried this method before, it's worth checking out. I think that it adds a level of foolproofedness to the process (most likely the result of the constant steam from the beer). If all else fails, you get to tell your guests that you are serving "chicken up the butt." And, hey, who doesn't want to be able to do that?

Posted by dowdy at 07:14 PM

May 18, 2003

Rolled Pork Loin

I've been trying for a while to figure out the trick to good pork loin. I've tried just about everything, brining, marinades, rubs. Short hot cooking, longer and slower. Just about no matter what I do it ends up drier than I wish it were. I'm beginning to resign myself to the fact that the modern hog just doesn't have a high enough fat content in the loin area.

In any case, the latest (moderately successful) attempt was to butterfly out the loin, smear it with pesto and then re-roll the entire thing back into the original shape. I did a quick oregano/pepper rub as well. Pulled it out of the oven at what the termometer said was 120, but I think it was way over that -- I swear next time I'm going to undercook by about 10 minutes -- it must have carried over to 170 or more because it was well and fully white on the inside.

Made some basic spaztle and fried them in butter. A simple brown sauce made of white wine, oxtail, chicken stock and some roux, which I then used to deglaze the pork cooking pan.

I sliced the pork fairly thin and used three of the spirally-looking slices on the plate. I prepared and ate this while watching CQ a movie that was both better and very different than I thought it would be.

Posted by dowdy at 05:15 AM

May 15, 2003

New Calvin Trillin!

Calvin Trillin has a new book out that's about food! Feeding a Yen: Savoring Local Specialties from Kansas City to Cuzco

I don't know if it's any good or not, but his past food writing made me laugh out loud multiple times. The Tummy Trilogy consists of three books originally published under the names : "American Fried", "Alice, Let's Eat", and "Third Helpings."

Here's to "Le Maison de La Casa House"!

Posted by dowdy at 09:59 AM

Five Ways to Sunday

I had the kids and Carol over last night for some weeknight BBQ. Since a six to eight hour smoke was out of the question, I used baby-back ribs. I've been working on a recipe for them that I'm calling "Five Ways to Sunday Ribs." Thus:

1) brined the ribs in a salt and Tapatio (a Mexican brand hot sauce) mixture
2) rubbed the ribs with a basic rub that contains a fair amount of ancho chilli powder in it
3) Smoked the ribs using Tabasco barrel chips
4) Glazed at the end with a Honey Habenero finishing sauce
5) Served with a Jalapeno-Cillantro-Lime sauce at the table

A salad, some sourdough bread, and corn on the cob completed the meal. The ribs were spicy, but not overly so -- I think I've got the recipe just about where I want it to be.

The kids demolished a rack and a half between them, so that's a good sign!

Posted by dowdy at 09:10 AM

May 12, 2003

Tangerine-Oregano Chicken

I came home early today to work on some code that required uninterupted time. While I was working I let a chicken brine (and then smoke) for dinner.

Brinning is the current technique-du-jour for the home chef, and while I've never thought that it elevated meats from normal to amazing (perhaps I've just been careful how I cooked meats always) I will admit that it helps. And it also gives you a margin of error with the cooking. And, for smoked meats that margin is handy. So, on to the chicken...

- 2 qts water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- juice of 8 tangerines (can you tell I have a tree that's making too many?)
- 6 stalks of fresh oregano (can you tell I just trimmed the herb garden?)
- 2 shots hot sauce
Spatchcock (I'm sure I'll explain that later, or google for it if you must) and brine one chicken for about 1.5-2 hours.

Prepare a BBQ with coals to the side. Add wood chunks of your choice (hickory in my case) and offset-roast (with the dark meat nearer to the fire) for a total of 1 hour 15 minutes or until done. Add wood and/or charcoal as required during this time (I did this twice, with 3-4 more chunks of wood per addition).

Serve with couscous and pine nuts.

Oh heck. I'm trying to be coy. Who am I kidding? It was freakin' amazing. The skin was a dark brown from the smoke. The meat was tender but moist, yet the skin was also crispy. There were red smoke rings in the meat, but you could taste the tagnerines and spices and oh-crap it was good!

Can you tell? It is spring in California and a young man's (yeah, right!) thoughts turn to BBQ! I'm thinkin' of havin' Carol and the kids over later this week for another run of the Recipe for 5-ways to Heck Baby Back Ribs that I'm working on. There is just about nothing I like better than to sit quietly and watch the smoke rise from the kettle and/or smoker -- knowing that in just a while I (and my honored guests) will be feasting on things most of the country can only dream about (and yeah, if you live in the BBQ-belt and get God Fearing Brisket from out-back of the local 7-11 you can just shut yo mouth :-) ).

The kids are quite the BBQ experts now, pointing out the smoke rings in the product and noting "that's not barbeque, that's grilling" at kid-inappropriate times. Heah. I've infected another generation.

Posted by dowdy at 06:22 PM

May 04, 2003

Cherry Smoked Lamb

The rains have finally tapered off here in California and so I prepared a "Spring Menu" for Carol. And (as so rarely happens) the dish turned out almost exactly as I had imagined it.

The main course was: Cherry Smoked Rack of Lamb with Mixed Vegetables, Morels, and Asparagas over a Red Wine Oxtail Reduction Sauce.

I frenched the rack of lamb down to a no-fat state and gave it a rub of salt, pepper, and marjoram. For the Vegetables I used a small melon baller to make balls from Yukon Gold potatoes and Carrots and I also had some local English Peas from Half Moon Bay. The Morels had also been gathered locally and I used only the top inch of the Asparagas.

The rest of the prep simply involved boiling the potatoes and carrots in salted water until mostly cooked and then shocking them in ice water.

The sauce was made with the scraps from the lamb cooked down with two cups of oxtail stock and about half a cup of red wine. After 30 minutes, I strained the result and continued to reduce until it was a light sauce/broth.

Cooking was easy at that point. I lit the Weber and made a good hot fire to one side. Once very hot, I added four large chunks of cherry wood and placed the lamb off to the side and covered the grill. I smoked the lamb for about 25 minutes (I think I overshot by just a few, actually). Pulled it off and let it rest while I finished the rest of the dish. It came out a great red-ish wood color from the smoke.

The Potatoes and Carrots I sauteed in a very hot pan with clarified butter, and then added the peas at the end. Just salt and pepper to flavor.

The Morels and Asparagas got a similar sautee, but with the addition of some fresh thyme from the garden.

For plating, I used very large white chunky plates. The vegetables went to one side (all globe-shaped), and the Morels and Asparagas (all pointy) to the other. The rack of lamb was cut into two sections (about 4 ribs each) and set to the third side. Into the Benz-logo shaped center area I spooned the sauce.

I served a 1991 Stag's Leap Cabernet with the lamb.

For desert, local strawberries in Chambord and a dollop of whipped heavy cream flavored with vanilla.

Posted by dowdy at 09:41 AM