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.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I'm Talkin' 'Bout Meatloaf

In case you're wondering where the title for this post comes from, check out this link from Phineas and Ferb.

I've recently become a fan of Meatloaf, so today I decided to smoke some.  I figured if it was good out of the oven, it should be even better out of the smoker.  I went with a traditional Meatloaf recipe to mix up the meatloaf.  Here it is:

1.5 lbs ground beef
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 TBSP Onion Powder
1 TBSP Garlic Powder
1 egg
1/2 TBSP Salt
1/2 TBSP Pepper
Additional Salt and Pepper to taste

1)  Mix all ingredients together and form into a loaf shape.
2)  Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
3)  Preheat smoker to 225 degrees
4)  Sprinkle the meatloaf with kosher salt and black pepper and place on the smoker in a foil pan.
5)  Once the meatloaf reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit, glaze the meatloaf with BBQ sauce.
6)  Continue to cook until the meatloaf reaches 165-170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove from the smoker and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.
7)  Slice and serve with BBQ sauce.

If you are a fan of Meatloaf, this is the way to cook it.  It stays very moist, and the smoke adds another layer of flavor.  I think I'll be making a lot of meatloaf in the future.  All total, this took about 2 and a half hours to make and was totally worth it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Turkey

Okay, it was a Turkey Breast, not a whole Turkey.  About a month ago, my local HyVee had Turkey Breast on sale for 99 cents per lb.  I picked up a 7 lb one and decided I would smoke it for Easter.

For smoked Turkey, I'm not necessarily looking for a BBQ flavor.  I've done BBQ turkey legs before, but for this turkey breast, I was looking for more of a traditional turkey flavor.  So that's what I went for, and I think it turned out very well.

The first step in all poultry in a brine.  If I could do a Public Service Announcement, it would be to let people know that they should always brine poultry.  It keeps the poultry moist and adds flavor.  And as an aside on a brine, I think simple is just fine.  A very simple brine is 1 gallon cold water, 1 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  Mix to dissolve the salt and sugar and you're done.  That's the brine I used for this Turkey Breast.  You can add all kinds of other seasonings to your brine, but I don't really see that you get the additional flavor for the hassle.  If you add other seasonings, you really have to heat the water to open up the flavor of the seasonings.  I've found this is really only valuable if you're making corned beef...otherwise I think a simple salt and sugar brine is plenty good.

Alright, so I've got the brine.  I took the turkey out and washed it off, and then submerged it in the brine overnight (about 12 hours).  In the morning, I took the turkey out of the brine and rinsed it off, then patted it dry.  You need to always rinse off a brine, or your exterior of your meat will be too salty.

The next step was to make the rub.  My rub was pretty simple and I recommend you use it, but any good poultry rub will do.  I'll share the rub recipe here though if you want to make your own.

1 TBSP Onion Powder
1/2 TBSP Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp White Pepper
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
1/4 tsp Ground Sage

I mixed that all together and then dusted the cavity of the turkey breast with the rub.  Then I rubbed the outside of the turkey with olive oil and sprinkled the rub on liberally.  Finally, I lifted the skin as best as I could and put some rub under the skin.  I also put some softened butter under the skin to aid in moisture.  Then I let the turkey rest for 3 hours.

After resting, I heated the GMG Pellet Smoker to 225 degrees and put the Turkey Breast on the heat, in a foil pan so I could capture the juices to make gravy.  My turkey breast took 5 and a half hours to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  I basted it with butter and it's own juices 3 or 4 times during the cook.

This Turkey was awesome!  It was so flavorful and moist.  The smoke adds a really nice, complimentary flavor, without overwhelming the meat.  I can't wait to have leftover turkey sandwiches this week.  The rest of the family really liked this turkey a lot too.  I served with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, dinner rolls and apple slices.  I'm quite full right now, but I'll be having pie for dessert later.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Smoked Country Style Ribs

One of the best things about cooking and especially BBQ is experimentation.  A few weeks ago, I was at my local grocery store and they had a sale on Country Style Pork Ribs.  I had seen Country Style Pork Ribs cooked on BBQ Pitmasters last season, so I decided to pick some up and try them out.

Country Style Pork Ribs are not really ribs.  I could try to explain what they are, but I found a great link that explains them, so go ahead and check this out if you're interested:  What Are Country Style Ribs?

Yesterday was the day to try to cook them.  I decided to treat these just like I would pulled pork.  I figured that was a great place to start.  So, about 2 hours before I put them on the smoker, I drizzled the ribs with olive oil and coated them with my homemade pork rub.  If you do these, use your favorite pork rub.  I still have to share my pork rub recipe on this blog at some point.  After rubbing them ribs, I let them rest, covered, in the fridge for 2 hours.

Next I fired up my GMG Daniel Boone Pellet Grill.  I am still using the Gold Blend of GMG pellet (70% oak, 20% hickory, 10% maple).  I set the smoker to 225 degrees and once it came up to temperature, I put the ribs on the smoker and left them alone for 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes, I spritzed them with a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water to add moisture and a little flavor, and then I left them alone for another 90 minutes before repeating the spritzing.  After another 30 minutes, we were hungry, so I pulled them off the smoker and served them with my homemade BBQ sauce.  You can use your favorite sauce, or mine once I get around to sharing my recipe.

I really liked this cut of pork.  I cooked it to an internal temperature of 165-170.  This left it with more of a good pork chop texture than a rib or pulled pork texture.  Treating it like pulled pork was a great way to go because the bark that developed was amazing.  Overall, I give this first Country Style Rib cook a B+.

Next time, I think I will cook these all the way to 190ish so they get more tender.  While I like pork chops, I think BBQ should be more tender, which a higher temperature will do.  I may try foiling them after 2 hours or so to get them to 190 quicker.  Lots of fun things to I just need another sale at the grocery store!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Smoked Buffalo Wings!

I needed to smoke something this weekend, but I just didn't have a ton of time to do so.  Enter, Buffalo Wings!

Traditional Buffalo Wings are fried, not smoked, but we don't always have to go with tradition.  I really enjoyed the smoked wings I had at Jethro's BBQ, so I didn't really have a choice in trying to make them.  With only a couple of hours, today was a great day to try some smoked Buffalo Wings.

I bought about 5 lbs. of wings, which ended up being 24 wings.  I rinsed them off, then seasoned them with Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder.  While I was doing this, I preheated the Green Mountain Grill to 250 degrees.  Just for cleanliness and to avoid over smoking, I placed the chicken on a cookie sheet that was covered with non-stick foil.  Once the smoker reached 250, I put the wings on for 2 and a half hours.  

After about 2 hours, I decided to make my buffalo wing sauce.  I really like making my own sauces because I can accentuate flavors I like, and I can avoid those pesky preservatives.

My Buffalo Wing Sauce Recipe is very traditional.  You can dial the heat up or down with more or less black pepper or cayenne pepper.  Here's how I make it:

1 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons Vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

1.  Melt butter and while still on the heat, add 1/2 tablespoon of flour.  Stir for 3 minutes to create a roux.  I do this because I like a little thicker wing sauce.
2.  Add Frank's Red Hot, Vinegar, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, Worcestershire Sauce and Cayenne Pepper and stir.
3.  Let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine.

After 2 and a half hours, I pulled the wings off the smoker.  I didn't measure any temperature, but from what I had read online, it seemed like they would be done, and they were.  

I then tossed the wings in the Buffalo Wing Sauce and enjoyed!  The skin does not get crispy like you would get from frying the wings.  But you get the added dimension of smoke flavor which adds complexity. 

Overall, I was really happy with these wings.  As you can see from the picture, they look amazing!  I am pretty happy with that food pic.  They were very moist, and even though the skin wasn't crispy, it didn't really detract from the flavor.  The added dimension of the smoke complimented the sauce and created a very tasty wing.  

So, do I prefer these wings over traditional fried buffalo wings?'s sort of a toss up.  I think it really depends on my mood of the day.  If I want a smokey flavor, then I'll cook 'em this way.  If not, I'd fry 'em.  In the future, I may try frying after smoking, or charring them on a hot grill to add crispiness to see what this does to the flavor.  Overall, this was a very successful cook and I can't wait for my next cook on the smoker. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The First Pulled Pork on the GMG

Yesterday was pulled pork day on the new smoker.  I'm gonna be honest, pulled pork is probably my least favorite traditional BBQ food.  I really like pulled pork, but when I go to BBQ restaurants, I rarely order pulled pork because I'd rather have brisket, ribs, chicken, sausage or turkey.  But, making pulled pork at home is great because we can feed a lot of people and we usually have leftovers to enjoy for the next several days.

I started out this pulled pork on Friday night with a Pork Butt (or Shoulder, but it's more fun to say Pork Butt).  This particular piece of meat was about 8 lbs and looked pretty good.  I decided to trim off quite a bit of the exterior fat so that I could get more bark with the rub.  What I was left with is pictured to the right.

The next step was to rub it down.  I used my homemade rub, which I will share at some point.  First off I applied a thin coat of olive oil so the rub would have something to adhere to, and then I liberally applied my rub to all the surfaces of the meat.  This is critical because the rub is going to create the bark, which is the best part of pulled pork, in my opinion.  I put the rubbed pork butt into the fridge to rest over night.

Bright and early the next morning (it was still dark), I preheated the smoker to 225 degrees using my Green Mountain Gold Blend pellets (oak, hickory and maple).  Before I put the pork butt on the smoker, I snapped a quick pic.  The rub had become part of the meat, which is what I was looking for with resting over night.  

I decided to try putting the fat cap, or what was left of it, down on the smoker rather than up.  This worked so well for brisket I thought I'd experiment.  Also, because of activities yesterday morning, I was forced to experiment with leaving the meat alone for a long time (7 hours).  Usually after 3 or 4 hours on a pork butt, I start mopping with a cider vinegar/water mix to keep it moist.  But from what I'd read online, leaving it alone for 7 hours really shouldn't affect things too much.

After 7 hours, I started mopping.  The picture to the right is what it looked like when I opened the smoker for the first time.  I love the color that developed.  I then started mopping every hour.

This is where I really deviated from my normal approach.  Normally I foil when the pork reaches about 160 degrees internal temperature to preserve moisture and speed up the cooking process. Since I had the time and I really wanted a good bark, I didn't foil, I just stuck the pork butt in a foil pan to capture it's juices.  I like to have the juices so I can pull the pork in them for more flavor.

After 10 and a half hours, the internal temperature was 187.  The pork butt had achieved the color I wanted, so I covered the foil pan and let it finish on the smoker.  The picture to the left is what it looked like when it was time to foil.

At the twelve hour mark, the internal temperature had risen to 197 degrees, which is in that sweet spot of 195-205 degrees, so I took the meat off the smoker and let it rest for 45 minutes before pulling.  I was pretty happy with the look of the meat, but I was concerned that I hadn't captured much of the juices.

When I started pulling, I was happy with how easy the meat pulled and how tender it was.  There was a great smoke ring and the bark was amazingly crisp and tasty.  I was also surprised by how little fat was left. Usually when I pull the pork, there is quite a bit of fat to still remove.  I'm left to think that by letting it go longer before pulling, more of the fat melted into the meat.  I'm not sure if that's right or not, but it's the best I got.

I thought this pork butt turned out pretty good.  As I said above, I was thrilled with the bark and the overall tenderness of the meat.  But the lack of juices to pull the pork in was a bit of a downer.  I don't think the internal meat was as flavorful as I've managed to get on past pork butts with the old smoker.  Don't get me wrong, I got rave reviews, but I'm thinking next time I may have to try injecting or brining just to see if I can kick it up a notch (to quote Emeril).

So, overall it was a great cook.  I turned out a really good meal, and I learned some new things that I liked and have some things I want to try next time.  That's what I love about BBQ, you can always tweak things and play around to make it taste just how you want.  There are hundreds of ways to turn out great food, it's just a matter of finding the method you like best.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It's the Little Things...

One of the biggest things I've discovered as I've learned more and more about cooking's the little things.  What do I mean by this?  Well, it's pretty simple...little things that you do will make your food taste better!

A couple of quick examples come to mind.  Whenever I do sandwiches like French Dips or Philly Cheesesteaks, I always butter and toast the buns.  It's not much of an extra step, but it certainly makes those sandwiches taste even better.

Another little thing I do has to do with chicken.  I often precook chicken that I'm then going to dice up to use in a wrap, on a pizza or in a soup or chili.  When I do this, it's usually just a little salt and pepper and then into the oven at 375 for 35 minutes or so.  It's always been pretty good, so I've not worried too much about it.

Earlier this week, we were having chicken wraps, and I decided to put a little more effort into the chicken.  So rather than just baking, I seasoned the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder.  While I was seasoning the chicken, I had about 2 tablespoons of olive oil heating in my cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  I tossed the chicken in and let it cook for 5 minutes per side.  What I ended up with was juicy, flavorful chicken that resulted in the best wraps I've ever made.

So slow down next time you cook something that you make all the time.  Think about something different you can try to make it even better!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Jethro's BBQ

Ever since I saw Man vs. Food at Jethro's BBQ in Des Moines, Iowa, I've wanted to go.  There just aren't that many good BBQ restaurants around the Midwest, outside of Kansas City.  Well, today was the day.  The kids are on spring break, and I took the day off from work.  We set out for Des Moines, and after spending a couple of hours at the Science Museum of Iowa, we went to Jethro's for a light lunch. :-)

The original Jethro's is located in the Drake College neighborhood of Des Moines.  They have since opened multiple additional locations around the Des Moines metro, but I wanted to visit the original.  It was not hard to find at all.

Once inside, you immediately see the picture of Man vs. Food star Adam Richman on the wall.  Adam visited Des Moines specifically to take on the Adam Emmenecker Challenge at Jethro's.  It's a 4 lb sandwich featuring pretty much every meat they have at Jethro's, drenched in a cheese sauce and accompanied by 1 lb of Waffle Fries.  On that day, food won as Adam was not able to finish the entire Adam Emmenecker (named for a former Drake University Basketball player).  The rules of the challenge are pretty simple, finish the entire sandwich and all the waffle fries in 15 minutes.  There were probably 10 pictures on the wall of people who have succeeded and about 200 of people who have not.

On to our meal.  We got to sit right down since we missed the lunch rush.  The menu has all the traditional BBQ fare, plus other items like Wings, Pork Tenderloin, a Catfish Po Boy and even some salads.  According to some information I saw online, Jethro's was voted as having the best wings in Des Moines.  The atmosphere is very BBQ sports bar.  There were about a dozen TV's showing sports, and the entire restaurant smelled like hickory and BBQ sauce.

I ordered a 2 meat plate, with brisket and sausage.  I got fried pickles and waffle fries as my sides.  My oldest son went with a half rack of baby back ribs and 5 buffalo wings.  My wife ordered the Catfish Po Boy with Cole Slaw and my youngest son ordered the kids chicken strips meal.

It didn't take long for our food to come out, and as you can see, the portions were huge.  The plate to the right is my meal.  It was all I could handle, but I still managed to save room to eat one Buffalo Wing that my son couldn't finish.  I almost cleaned my plate.

The Brisket was cooked perfectly, but not overly flavorful.  Once I started using Jethro's house BBQ sauce, I really liked the Brisket, though I've had better.  The smoked sausage was really good.  At some point in the cooking process, they split it down the middle for more smoke penetration and deeper flavor.  The sausage was spicy and delicious.  One of the better smoked sausages I've had.  I'm going to totally rip off the splitting of the sausage next time I do smoked sausages.

David really liked the ribs with the spicy BBQ sauce and he loved the wings.  My wife liked her Po Boy a lot too. So, everybody else liked their meal, with the exception of our youngest son.  The chicken strips were mostly breading, and that was quite disappointing.  When I make chicken strips at home, I do a really light breading, so that is what we're used to.  We'll get him something different next time.

I should mention the BBQ sauces.  Jethro's has 5 choices.  Their house sauce is really quite good.  It's sweet with some tang and just a small amount of bite.  They also have a spicy BBQ sauce, a Carolina Sauce, a Georgia Mustard Sauce and an Alabama White (Mayo) Sauce.

My favorite bite of the day was the wing that I ate.  Jethro's smokes and then fries their wings and tosses them in one of their signature sauces.  My son picked Buffalo Sauce.  On it's own, it would have been a great wing with great sauce, but adding in the hint of smokiness put it over the top.  Next time I go I may just order a platter of wings.  I'm also going to try to duplicate that flavor at home.
Overall, it was a really fun trip and a great meal.  I highly recommend Jethro's if you're in the Des Moines area.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brisket Basics

To me, Brisket is the ultimate BBQ food.  I didn't always feel this way though.  In fact, I never liked brisket until I had the opportunity to try brisket cooked correctly.  It was amazing!  Ever since that day, Brisket is the first thing I look for on BBQ restaurant menus, and my favorite meat to smoke.

But, Brisket can be daunting.  In fact, a friend of mine doesn't make brisket because he's worried he'll screw it up.  I understand this line of thinking.  When compared to a pork shoulder or chicken, brisket is quite expensive.  And, based on what you get at some BBQ places, brisket is easy to mess up.

Here is my brisket method.  I think this is pretty fool proof if you monitor temperature and foil at the right time.  This will deliver a brisket that is moist and delicious with just the right amount of smoke.

Start off by getting the meat.  Unless you are cooking for a horde of people, I recommend getting a brisket flat.  You want to find one that is in the 4-8 lb. range.  Here's the before picture of the one I cooked yesterday (it's 5 lbs).

The next step is to start trimming.  You want the fat cap to be there, but it should be fairly thin.  At most, about a quarter inch.  You also want to trim off any "hard fat" as this won't cook down like you want it too.  As you can see from the brisket I cooked, there's a big piece of hard fat on the bottom left.  So I removed that, along with a few other sections of fat. Then next pic shows the brisket after I finished trimming.

The next step is to rub the brisket with your favorite rub.  My favorite rub is Oklahoma Joe's.  I'm not sure if it's commercially available, but you can easily mix your own.

Back to the rub process.  I usually do this the day before, but you don't have to do that.  I think you can apply the rub just a couple of hours before cooking and it will be okay.  The first step is to rub down your brisket with a binder, such as mustard or some type of cooking oil.  For my most recent cook, I used olive oil.  I think it's important to have a binder so the rub has something to stick to.  I've used mustard before and it works well without leaving a mustardy taste.  But I really like the results yesterday using olive oil, so I'll probably go with that for a while.  Once you got the binder applied, liberally apply your rub to the brisket, covering all surfaces.  The picture to the left is the finished rubbed brisket.  I then wrapped it and put in in the fridge for the night.

Now it's time to smoke your brisket. If you've had it in the fridge, take it out about 30 minutes before you cook it to allow the temperature to rise a bit.  This will shorten the cooking process.

Next, preheat your smoker to 225 degrees.  I like to run everything at 225.  You can go lower if you want.  I've also done hotter and if you do this, just really watch your meat temperature to ensure you don't get it overdone.  Once your smoker reaches 225 (or whatever temperature you picked), place the brisket on the smoker, fat cap down.  You'll read other sources that suggest fat cap up.  I think either is probably fine, but I've had more success with fat cap down.  It seems to provide a little shielding from any direct heat.  Insert a meat probe and close the lid.

I baste my brisket every hour during the cooking process to keep it moist, and to add more moisture to the smoker.  I use either apple juice, or a 50-50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water.  I'm just looking for moisture here.  You want to let the brisket cook until the internal temperature of the brisket reaches about 160 degrees.  Yesterday I pulled my brisket at 162 degrees.  This took 4 hours and 45 minutes at 225.

When your brisket reaches 160ish degrees, it's time to wrap it in aluminum foil, or place it in an aluminum pan then cover with foil.  At this point, there is plenty of smoke in the brisket and we need to make sure it stays moist.  I always add some type of liquid to the foil to help with moistness.  Yesterday I used beef broth, but I've also used apple juice in the past.  Both seem to work really well.

Now, we wait.  Continue to cook the brisket until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 to 200 degrees.  At this point, it's not necessary to keep it in a smoker.  This part can be done in your oven.  It was only 35 degrees yesterday, so once I wrapped, I moved the smoker into my oven to finish so that I could save on pellets for the smoker.

Once the brisket reaches 190-200 degrees, pull it and let it rest for 45 minutes before slicing.  This is critical to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.  I know it's hard to wait, but you have to!

When it's time to slice, cut the meat across the grain in thin slides (no thicker than  1/4 of an inch).  It should look something like the pictures to the right.  There will be a nice smoke ring and plenty of moisture left in the brisket.  If you want extra moisture, drizzle with the juices from the foil.  Serve as soon as you are done slicing with your favorite BBQ sauce.  I know you will love this!

Yesterday's brisket was hands down, the best I've ever made.  The temperature control that I have with the new pellet smoker makes all the difference.  The flavor was smokey, beefy, salty and spicy.

I really hope this clears up any concerns you have about brisket.  Please let me know how your next brisket cook turns out.