Sunday, July 6, 2014


As long as I've had a smoker, ribs have been my white whale.  I just haven't been able to get them right.  Initially they were too tough, then too mushy, then too spicy, then too sweet, then back to too mushy.  It's been a 4 year battle to get ribs with the correct doneness and flavor.  Today, I think I nailed it!

Today I was cooking St. Louis Style Spare Ribs.  I like Spare Ribs more than Baby Backs, or Loin Backs.  I think the Spares are meatier, more flavorful and more forgiving.  They are harder to eat than Back ribs, but I think that's okay.

The first thing you need to do with any ribs is rinse them off, and then remove the membrane on the back of the ribs.  There are lots of good videos on how to remove the membrane, so google those.  Youtube has entire channels devoted BBQ, and that's where I learn a lot of my tricks.  Simply put, you just need to get your finger under the membrane and pull.  Use a paper towel to get a better grip if needed.

Once the membrane is off, I always try to trim off any really big pieces of fat.  The fat won't render if it's too thick.  This will be a 5-6 hour cook, so not a ton of time to render really thick fat.

The next step is to rub the ribs.  The rub can be applied any time from 1 hour before cooking to as long as 24 hours before cooking.  I recommend my rub, but you can use whatever you want.  I always rub my ribs with olive oil before applying the rub.  Some people use yellow mustard, so it really doesn't matter.  You really just want something moist for the rub to stick to.  Apply the rub liberally, but not too thick, or the smoke won't penetrate the meat.  Cover the ribs and let them rest until you are ready to cook.

When you're ready to cook, preheat your smoker to 225 degrees.  I have the GMG pellet grill.  I used the GMG golden blend (hickory, maple and oak) for my wood.  If you aren't using a GMG pellet grill, then I recommend using hickory or cherry wood chunks for this.  I think those two woods have the best flavor.

When the smoker is preheated, put the ribs on and close the lid.  Let the ribs go, untouched for two hours.  Seriously...leave 'em alone!!!

After two hours, I start spritzing with a 50-50 blend of apple cider vinegar and water.  I spritz every hour until they are done.  This adds moisture to the ribs and to the cooking chamber, helping to keep the ribs moist.

After 3-4 hours, you will want to do the "bend test."  This is where you pick up the ribs with tongs and see if they bend.  You will want them to bend almost 90 degrees, but not break.  If they do this, they are done.  At 225, I expect the ribs to take 5-6 hours, but you want to check in case you get a scrawny rack with less meat.

Also at 3-4 hours, you have a decision to make.  To foil, or not to foil?  That is the question.  Many rib cooks swear by the 3-2-1 method.  Essentially, this method means that after 3 hours, you pull the ribs off the smoker, wrap them in foil, and return them to the smoker for another 2 hours.  Many cooks include brown sugar, honey, butter or all 3 in the foil wrap.  After 2 hours in foil, the ribs are unwrapped and cooked for 1 hour longer to firm up.  I am not a fan of the 3-2-1 method, as it gets the ribs too mushy for me.  I've worked to adapt it, but I haven't had much success.

For today's cook, I chose not to wrap at all.  I just continued to spritz with my cider vinegar and water mix.  I think this made for great ribs, easily the best I've done.  You'll have to get to know your smoker and decide if you want to wrap or not.  With a pellet smoker, I really don't see the point.  If you have a stick burner or charcoal smoker, you may want to wrap just to keep your ribs from getting over smoked and bitter.  But be careful...two hours in foil will get them really tender.

If you like wet ribs, you will want to glaze them in the last hour.  Some people baste with BBQ sauce, others use honey, or some combination of the two.  If you like dry ribs, no glaze necessary.  I like wet ribs, so I mixed up a rib glaze.  My glaze is pretty simple.  It's 1/3 cup of my BBQ sauce, 1/3 cup of cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  I bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat and just keep it warm.  I apply the glaze with 15 minutes left in the cook to let it "set in."  This glaze is sweet and tangy.

After your ribs are done, normally in 5-6 hours, you want to let them rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing.  Slice them up in 1 or 2 bone segments, and serve with your favorite BBQ sauce.  For my ribs tonight, I didn't use any sauce.  The glaze, the rub and the smoke gave me all the flavor I wanted.  I got sweet and tangy from the glaze, along with the sweet, salty and peppery bite of my rub and the light smoky flavor from the wood pellets.  This combination made for a delicious, tender, juicy rib.

Just a note about cooking time.  Today I did a 5 hour cook.  This left a rib that was tender, but it did have some "tug" to it.  It definitely was not "fall off the bone," which I don't really like.  If you want "fall off the bone" ribs, you will need to cook closer to 6 hours, or foil.

Another note is to learn your pit.  Today I learned that the back of my cooking chamber is slightly warmer than the front of my cooking chamber.  So the rack in the back was slightly more tender than the rack in the front.  For my next rib cook, I will rotate the racks around half way through to ensure consistency.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Famous Chili Dogs!

By World Famous, I mean famous in my son and I love these Chili Dogs!  I think this is probably the best Chili Dog I've ever had, but my son tells me that he thinks Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington D.C. has better Chili Dogs.  My recommendation is to make this recipe, then go to D.C. and try Ben's.  After that, you can make up your own mind.

The key to a great Chili Dog is the Chili, or Chili Sauce.  I don't make a traditional chili for my chili dogs.  Instead, I make a chili sauce.  I've been playing with this recipe for at least a year, and I think it's now ready for posting.  You really need the Hot Dog with this as the chili isn't fantastic on it's own.  It's very good chili on it's own, but better on a hot dog.

Here's the recipe for my chili sauce:

1 lb ground beef
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 Cup Ketchup
1/2 Cup Beef Stock
1 TBSP Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1.  Brown the ground beef.
2.  Once browned, drain off the fat, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 20 minutes.  Serve with a premium all beef hot dog, such as Nathan's Famous.

I love this chili sauce and the resulting Chili Dogs.  The sauce makes for a pretty complex flavor.  It's tangy with a little spiciness and a deep chili flavor.  When paired with a top quality hot dog, it's magic.

On my chili dogs, I like to add cheddar cheese and some type of onion, either a raw yellow onion or a french friend onion.  I've also tried jalapenos and bacon...that's right...bacon.  Give this a shot.  I think you'll really like it!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Best BBQ Sauce...In my opinion anyway

One more recipe today.  This is my go to BBQ sauce.  I based this off the Neely's recipe from Food Network.  I've tweaked it some to get it to taste like I want it to.  This is a sweet sauce, with a peppery bite.  It's similar to Famous Dave's Rich and Sassy.

2 Cups Ketchup (I prefer Hunt's Natural)
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
5 TBSP Brown Sugar
5 TBSP White Sugar
1/2 TBSP Black Pepper
1/2 TBSP Onion Powder
1/2 TBSP Garlic Powder
1/2 TBSP Ground Mustard
1 TBSP Lemon Juice
1 TBSP Worcestershire
1/2 TBSP Hickory Liquid Smoke

1.  Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan.
2.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

This is a great sauce.  I prefer it to any other sauce I've tried.  I've also modified it in the past to create a spicier sauce.  One quick modification to get a spicier sauce is to leave the white sugar out, add at least a TBSP of Chili Powder and double the Black Pepper.

As with my pork rub, I recommend you use this as a base for a sauce and then tweak the ingredients and quantities to get a sauce that you like.  I think you'll find you can do better than any store bought sauce.

My Pork Rub Recipe

A friend asked me to share my pork rub recipe, and I've also promised to do so in prior posts.  So here it is...this is a sweet rub with a little heat at the back end.  It produces a great bark and seems to be good on any pork product you want to put out there.

1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Paprika
1 TBSP Black Pepper
1 TBSP Salt
1 TBSP Chili Powder
1 TBSP Onion Powder
1 TBSP Garlic Powder
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Cinnamon

1.  Place all ingredients in a food processor.
2.  Blend for 15-20 seconds to break up the brown sugar.
3.  Sprinkle over pork butt, ribs, loin, etc.

I love this rub on pork.  I may try adding some ginger to it in the future, just to play around with different flavors.  I recommend you use this as a base rub and then play with the ingredients and quantities until you find a flavor you like.

Monday, May 26, 2014


My youngest son was having a birthday.  One of his favorite foods is Beef Jerky...seriously, who doesn't love beef jerky . With the GMG pellet cooker, I can run really low cooking temperatures, so as a birthday present, I made him some beef jerky.  I thought it turned out pretty well.  Here's what I did:

First, I had to select the beef.  From everything I've read, the leaner the beef the better.  So I bought about 2.5 lbs of sirloin.  Sirloin is a pretty lean cut and, right now, it's relatively inexpensive compared with other beef prices.

When I got the sirloin home,  I stuck it in the freezer to make it easier to slice.  Slightly frozen meat is much easier to slice than refrigerated meat.  I got to slicing after the meat had solidified a little bit.  I cut the sirloin with the grain to a 1/8" thickness.  In retrospect, I might have gone thicker...up to 1/4" thickness should be okay, it will just affect cooking time.

Now for the marinade.  I did a lot of research into different marinades, and most had a couple of things in common:  Soy Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce.  Knowing that my son doesn't like spicy, but does like salty and sweet, I went with the following marinade:

1 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
1 TBSP Onion Powder
1 TBSP Garlic Powder

I poured this over the meat and let it marinade for 20ish hours.  I've found the best way to marinade is to put the meat in a 1-2 gallon ziploc bag, then pour the marinade in.  As I'm sealing up the bag, I make sure to get all the air out.  This seems to do the best job marinading while using the minimal amount of marinade.

When it came time for the smoking, I set the smoker to 170 degrees, and laid down a non-stick frog mat.  I laid out the meat and let it cook for 5 hours.  The result was a sweet, salty and smokey bit of beef jerky perfection!  The texture is perfect for me...I like my beef jerky to have some chew.  Cooking longer will make a crispier beef jerky, but I'm not a big fan of super crispy beef jerky.

My family's feedback is that they would like a little less soy sauce next time.  I'm going to play around with a bunch of different recipes.  I'll post the results on this blog.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jerk Chicken - My First Attempt

So last week we were away celebrating my parents anniversary.  We had a condo for 3 days, and our condo had a grill.  One night, I grilled chicken that I marinated in Lawry's Jamaican Jerk Marinade.  I've had Jerk chicken and Jerk pork a few times and I always like it.  Last weekend was no exception.

As I was planning meals for the upcoming week, I decided to try Jerk Chicken, but I wanted to make my own marinade, rather than a store bought marinade.  I also wanted to cook it on my GMG Pellet Cooker using my new Grill Grates.  With all this in mind, I set about finding a Jerk Chicken marinade recipe, and I found one at allrecipes.  Here is the recipe I started from.

Reading this, and reading the reviews, I decided four things, 1) There is too much soy sauce in this recipe, 2) There needs to be citrus in this recipe, 3) I don't think I need green onions and 4) Where's the garlic?  That must be added.  Here is what I ended up doing for the marinade:

1 Onion - chopped
1 Jalapeno - seeded and chopped
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp dried chives
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 Chicken Breast Halves

Note:  I had a lot of dried spices, so that's what I went with.

1 - Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for 15 seconds.
2 - Pour over chicken breasts and marinate for at least 4 hours. (I did 7 hours)
3 - Preheat Grill to medium heat.  Grill for 15-30 minutes until done.

Ok, here is something I always do with chicken breasts that I think is a must.  I pound them to a uniform thickness, generally 1/2 inch thick.  This promotes even cooking, and tenderizes the meat.  I also usually cut each breast in half to give a more manageable portion size.

To cook these, I preheated my GMG to 300 degrees with the grill grates in place.  Reading about the grill grates, I thought they would get hot, but it was obvious 300 degrees was not enough.  So I kicked the grill up to 400 degrees to finish cooking.  I didn't get the sear marks that I wanted so I will need to experiment with the grill grates to see how hot I need to grill to get good sear marks.

These chicken breast turned out really well.  The flavor was not spicy, so probably not a true Jerk flavor, but it ends up being a very complex flavor.  The lime juice comes through and the soy sauce isn't overpowering, so I consider that a win.  Also, the combination of the marinade and the wonderful cooking of the GMG Daniel Boone Pellet Cooker created a very moist chicken breast.  If I were serving this for people who like heat, I would add a 2nd jalapeno, or even consider a Habanero.  My wife is not a fan of spicy, so this was perfect for her.  She really liked it.

I am calling this recipe a winner and looking forward to making it again.  I served it with rice pilaf
and sliced apples for the kids.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wood Fired Pizza...sort of

Yesterday, it was down to just 3 of us, as our oldest son was on a band trip.  Our youngest loves pizza!  So, I decided I'd try making pizza on the pellet grill.

I used a pretty standard dough recipe.  It's 1 cup of warm water with a little sugar.  Add a packet of yeast and let it sit for 10 minutes while the yeast activates.  Then add that to the kitchen-aid mixer, along with 2 and 1/2 cups of AP Flour, 1 TBSP of olive oil and 1 tsp of salt.  Let it knead for about 6 minutes, and then let it rest for 25 minutes.

While the dough was rising, I turned on the cooker and set it to 450 degrees.  I placed a baking stone right in the middle of the cooker.  I wanted to get the stone good and hot before I put the first pizza on it.  Next, I got all the ingredients ready for topping the pizzas (yes, I know the counter is a little messy).

Once the dough was ready, I divided it into 3 balls and started rolling out the pizzas.  I can't toss dough like some, so I used a rolling pin.  I'm also terrible at making perfect circles.  But, my wife says the odd shape helps to show that it's homemade.

I made a personal pizza for each member of the family that was eating, so we could each have the toppings we wanted.  Once each pizza was topped, it went onto the cooker for about 12 minutes, and then I just rotated through 3 pizzas.  This was a bit awkward since we all ended up eating at different times, so next time I may have to figure out how to put 2 stones on the cooker.

Everybody really liked the pizza.  I can't say that it tasted exactly like a wood fired pizza, but it did have more depth of flavor using the pellet grill rather than the oven.  The crust turned out great.  It was fairly thin with good chew.  The picture to the left is the finished product of my boring old pepperoni pizza.  I think it looks pretty delicious and I know it was delicious because I ate the entire thing!

All four of us did get to sample the pizza as our oldest had the left overs when he got home.  He really liked it too!  I guess we'll be making this again sometime soon.