Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hoover's 3rd Annual BBQ Competition

It's taken me a while to recover from last weekend. Hoover's Third Annual Barbecue Contest was another success. The number of entrants and people attending increased and the weather co-operated fantastically. There were something like 9 people up for Ribs and about as many for the "Anything But" category.

I packed up the Weber two coolers of beer, cokes, ribs, and melons and set up shop in the side yard late Saturday morning. Three guys who compete on the BBQ circuit were already cooking on some really impressive smokers. My cooking method was very much similar to the one I've tried in the past. This time the big change was that I added about 1/8 cup Cattleman's sauce to the cider and rub before placing the marinade on the grill to warm it up. This turned out pretty nicely. The taste of the ribs turned out quite well. The problem was the texture. My ribs were chewy. Eaten individually I think they would have stood up to the competition much better. However, the rules state that the ribs must be served in pairs. They were not easily separated.

My presentation was unique. I mentioned the melons earlier. I also used a bunch of cilantro to add some green. I don't believe that it survived transportation very well, nor was it as appetizing as I had hoped. I was really impressed by the presentations I saw from the guys on the circuit- pillowy billowing lettuce gently held the ribs in place. Really nice stuff.

The dogs have come out winners in all of this of course. They have been taking care of the bones. I still have four ribs left to finish off. I think those will be lunch tomorrow. I really am happy with the way they taste. Next year with a little more practice I should perform even better.

I learned that I placed second from last. A step up from last year when I turned in ribs that needed to finish cooking. Ew. I was relatively pleased with the outcome. The competition was more sophisticated and practiced. I am sure that next year will be even more difficult. I am looking forward to it.

Thanks Hoover- great job. You and your wife hosted a heck of a party.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Heat Transfer 101, Prepping for Hoover's Contest

Cooked that rack this evening. I came straight home instead of hitting the office for my expenses, mail, and Nomex uniform drop. I'll do that Tuesday when I stay in town that morning for my OSHA and Site Specific refresher CBT. I had ribs to cook!

I had a brilliant realization this afternoon. Last weekend when I poured the liquid into the foil packet the liquid was at ambient temperature. A lot of energy from the grill's heat had to go into warming up the liquid instead of further cooking the ribs. That is why it took so long to finish them off that way. This time 'round I warmed 7-Up and apple cider on the stove before adding it to the foil packet. I also tried dumping a fair bit of rub into the liquid. Perhaps that would help impart more flavor.

Here is the routine:

-Massaged rub into the ribs and let them sit and warm up for about an hour and a half.
-Placed the rack over the coals membrane side down (again I left the membrane on the ribs for expediency- more on this later) for 6 minutes. Smoke was applied at this point.
-Flipped the rack over and placed the meat side down for 6 minutes.
-I didn't feel like bothering with the rib rack for one rack of ribs so I moved the rack over the water bath to smoke. I only added hickory to the fire a few times during the next 2 and a half hours. Temperature started out high in the first steps 400 to 350 F.
-Maintained at least 250 F for the two and a half hours.
-Wrapped the ribs in the aforementioned foil packet and poured in the warmed braising fluid.
-Stoked the coals to 300 F and let them die down over the next half hour. I also opened the bottom vent to allow more air into the grill to keep the coals burning hotter.
-Temperature in the meat was high the few places I stabbed at it; about 179 F. Way past done.

The ribs had a little more flavor than before, seemed a little sweeter. The meat came more cleanly off the bone. A light brushing of bbq sauce would be plenty enough.

I don't believe I mentioned this earlier, these are baby back pork ribs - not beef.

I may leave the membrane on tomorrow for the competition. I didn't seem to be bothered by it when eating the last few times. Besides, it can be a real pain to remove. Sharp Chef's knife, slippery ribs, stretchy membrane... no fun.

I have to put a little thought into presentation. Leafy lettuce is a given. I'll skip the star fruit this time. I have this idea for using a honeydew. That could be interesting. Sliced honeydew does kinda look like a rib in it's cross-section. The honeydew is easily turned into a vessel for sauce. I may have something. We'll see.

Now I just have to begin organizing coolers, tents, chairs, and the rest of it for tomorrow morning. That will be interesting too. I've got to get up early to get an inspection sticker for the truck and take two cats to the vet for a booster vaccine before going to Hoover's for the contest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Genesis 2.21 through 24 Basted and Smoked

It's rib time. For the last 2 years now I've participated in a friend's rib cook off. Each year the field becomes more difficult and the contest more sophisticated. Last year I bowled over the judges with my presentation- nice leafy greens, sauce in a green pepper in the center of the take-out container, and slices of star fruit. However, I turned in ribs that weren't quite done yet. No dice there. Eww. I am working on reducing the cook time so that I can be more certain that the ribs will be thoroughly cooked when presented for judging.

Sunday afternoon I gave two cooking methods a shot. The first was to "brine" the a rack of ribs in 7-Up with a small quantity of salt prior to application of my rub. The second was a plain method- just rub. I did not remove the membrane on the backside of either rack of ribs. I skipped this just to keep it simple for the trial run.

My grill set up is pretty simple and hasn't changed at all for bbq cooking. I cook with a 22" Weber kettle. No "El Cheapo Brinkman", no fabo 55 Gallon drum set up. I use an aluminum roasting pan to hold steaming fluid for the meat, to catch drippings, and help regulate heat. The pan sits under the meat and takes up about 2/3rds of the coal grate. I had used foil or part of another roasting pan to help hold coals in place on the other 1/3rd of the coal grate. There are fancy methods to do this including the BBQ Baffle (not an endorsement from me- a nice site and interesting product that I cannot vouch for). The "How it Works" link on the site has a fairly accurate depiction of my standard set up. I clip a candy thermometer in the vent on the cover, leaving the vent completely open. I hold the vent at the bottom of the grill just barely open to regulate air flow into the grill. I'll have to take some photos the next time I do this.

I had been placing the racks in a rib holder with the membrane side facing the coals for a long time, several hours. I'd spritz cider vinegar and apple cider on the ribs every so often to "baste" them. Flip places of the racks and flop them 180 so that the membrane faced away from the coals and continue to spritz. Last year I used this method until the last hour of cooking when I'd wrap each rack in aluminum foil (from now on I'm using element symbols instead of full names) and place a cup of beer in each packet of foil. I believe my mistake is that so much of the heat that hits the packet goes into warming the cup of fluid that none really went into cooking the ribs. That is how I ended up blowing so much time and came out with undercooked meat.

This time around I placed each rack directly over the coals for about 10 minutes a side before placing them in the rack. Only when the ribs were placed in the rack did I place Hickory on the fire for smoke. The last hour or so of cooking I went to the foil packet method. I used more 7-Up with O.J. (I didn't have cider on hand at the time) and some cider vinegar as the steaming fluid. (I only just came to the conclusion that the packet method wasted time and energy). I had to leave the rib on longer than I anticipated to bring them to 160F.

Each rack turned out quite nicely. The meat had chew to it, not fall of the bone, some work had to be done to get to the protein. I like that. It can be impressive when the meat just slides off the rib, but I like texture, something in my mouth that feels like meat. I do not believe there was enough of a smoke ring on either rack. I will have to place the Hickory on the fire earlier. So there is more work to be done.

Next time my goal is to have the Hickory on on the fire as I "sear" off each rack and then to work towards a better smoke ring. I will warm the steaming fluid in grill prior to placing the racks into packets, and will further evaluate the whole 7-Up vs. Cider Vinegar idea. I may also try two fires- the first for smoking and the second without the Al roasting pan and more coals in the center of the grill to improve the braising? step.

7-Up vs. Cider Vinegar:
Cider vinegar is acidic, acetic acid, which helps to break down the protein. This is the same thing that goes on in a ceviche. If left too long the acid will "cook" the meat. I was also hoping that it would help impart an apple cider flavor to the meat. 7-Up is also acidic and has a lot of sugar to help sweeten up the meat. Somehow I have in my mind that because it is carbonated that it would better penetrate the meat. I've not looked this up or tried to prove or disprove that it works. I had heard about boiling ribs in 7-Up before grilling, for many of the same reasons.

I have another rack in the fridge and was hoping to have tried this earlier this evening, but other duties called. I had to mow the front yard. We'll try Friday as the cook off is Saturday. Cutting it close!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chipotle Chicken

Knocked out a simple chicken breast for dinner that can't be beat for simplicity.

Chicken Boobs
Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
Citrus Juice (orange, lime...)
Olive Oil

Slather on the Tabasco to coat. You'll have to be the judge of how much juice to spritz the chicken with. I use a fair amount, sometimes say, a 1/3 of a cup of O.J. for each breast, when using lime I'll use a lot less. Oil to coat.

Allow the chicken to marinate. I don't allow more than a half hour. More time means the acid in the juice will turn more of your chicken into bird ceviche. Grill on medium heat, pan fry or any other method that meets your fancy.

Tabasco has the inspiration for this on their web page- 1-step Chipolte Grilled Chicken

I plan on getting my rib game back on again this weekend. We'll see how that turns out. I need the practice. The last 2 Labor Day Weekend's a buddy of mine has had a rib cook-off at his house. He does the whole thing top to bottom- blind judging, take out containers for service... Judged on taste, sauce, presentation and so on. Last year I knocked presentation out of the park with a half a green pepper used as a sort of ramekin for the sauce and star fruit for garnish. I'll work on that again this year, but more importantly I need to get the ribs right. Practice makes perfect. Now- don't think I'll give my secrets away here... you'll have to bribe me with a few beers before I spill on my rub.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Burritos As Big As Seth Rogen's Head

Tacos are wonderful food. Burritos are even better. Wrapped properly they are one of the most perfect ways to eat anything. Made burritos for dinner last night.

It was impossible to come up with an inkling of an idea for dinner. I needed inspiration so I made two stops on the way home. First I dropped off at the new little neighborhood market across the street from the subdivision. This was the first time since the place re-opened that I'd been in. The store has a ton of space. They turned it into a little grocery store- amazing. The aisles were filled with small quantities of all the normal grocery store items. My amazement requires some explanation. In it's two previous lives this store front was more of a South Louisiana specialty meats store with beer and a lunch/dinner counter that had really good steak (they would put signs out on the road a few nights a week- Steak Nite or Crawfish Thursday. These poster board and Crayola signs. Not much effort went into the signs, but the food was pretty darned good) and another store like that but not as well executed. I used to drop in the last place to pickup really great deer, pork, or beef "hot sticks" (slim jims with identifiable meat pieces) or jerky to bring to the plant as goodies for the engineers and millwrights. That is typical salesman stuff here, boudin balls, headcheese and crackers, biscuits, boudin links, doughnuts, ice cream. You pharma reps know exactly what I'm talking about- pens, calendars, post-it pads, and Starbucks for the docs. I do hats, calendars, pocket protectors, and 6" scales or rulers- hot items those are. This store in the oldest version I'm aware of was also directly associated with an industrial sized ice maker and distributor behind the place. Those folks were incredibly generous prior to Katrina as they stayed open the night before landfall to make sure that people had ice. I'll never forget the insane rush for ice and propane that night. The second stop on the way home was at the grocery store a little further down the road. The place I mentioned earlier that had the shallots. Nothing extra-ordinary there, except that the cashier, a girl who appeared to be in high school, told me that I look like Seth Rogen (after some discussion on the topic her exact words were "Seth Rogen on fire". I'm a redhead) I do have the Jew-fro, wear glasses, I've packed on a few pounds, and my face is roundy... so sure, why not. She'd seen the Thursday midnight showing of Pineapple Express.

Back to burritos. I love burritos. I love La Bamba's burritos. I miss them terribly. We used to make fanatical late night runs to the nearest La Bambas. When I was at Bradley my fraternity brothers would drive an hour to Bloomington Normal for a fix. When I was going to Cincinnati I'd drag my friends and roommates to Oxford to the restaurant at Miami of Ohio. La Bambas is good drunk food. I was first introduced to La Bambas while visiting colleges my senior year of high school. My father and I visited Illinois at Urbana Champaign (which turns out to be the first storefront) and Purdue (which happens to be the second) and ate at both. We were amazed by the burritos as big as our heads. There is a substitute here called Izzo's that is quite good. They wrap the burrito in foil the exact same way. One must hold the burrito on it's end and unwrap the foil as one munches his way down. Otherwise you'll end up with burrito on your shirt and in your lap. I saw the tortillas and ground beef and thought of the typical toppings that I knew we had in the fridge. I was set. beware- cheesey site with 64K synth music

Monday, August 4, 2008

Leftovers- 1 of a never ending series

Leftovers are always a challenge. What to do? What to do?

The salmon refuses to go away. We've not eaten very much at all. I needed to use it.

Pasta sauce to the rescue.

3/4 lbs of salmon, cooked
1/2 avg. green pepper
1/3 commercially available roasted red pepper
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
1 tomato
1 glass of white wine
1 good sized pat of butter (not a knob)
Olive Oil
Parmesan, Romano, your favorite Italian hard cheese (Pecorino Romano is what I had on hand from that same Whole Foods run last week.)

Skillet on medium heat. Olive oil to coat. Shallot and garlic cooked till clear. Drop in the rest of the veg and get the juices going. The water from the peppers and tomato will start the sauce. Break the salmon apart and put into the pan. Drop in the glass of wine, reduce by 1/3rd. Drop in the butter, salt and pepper.

Plate pasta, drop on the sauce and grate cheese to your liking. Other veggies might be great additions like squash or zucchini especially to add some color. Cherry tomatoes would be nice too.

Pick out the bones. Jeez, those pin bones are a pain. I thought I had them all and found a few in my portion. Twig helped to clean my plate. He's always good for that.

Ba Ba Burger

Off to a real start now. Uploaded a new photo of the grill and today's Lamb Burgers to lie behind the title. Walking through Whole Foods the other day I picked up a pound and a half of ground lamb. It was something like 40 cents more a pound than the ground sirloin.

Dried Oregano
Zest of 1 Lemon
1/3 Onion finely diced
1.5 lbs ground lamb
Other seasonings per your taste
Olive Oil to coat the burgers

I used some of my favorite commercial steak rub. Mint and a pinch of cinnamon might be a great addition to this if you skip the oregano.

Cooked the burgers over direct high heat for about 5 minutes a side. Toasted the buns. More like blackened a few buns. I was distracted while taking photos. Either way they turned out pretty well. Tried my burger press for the first time today too. It worked, of course, but the burgers blew up a little bit, not nearly as badly as when I hand shape them. You know how it can be- Softballs. I have tried dimpling one side as so many grilling cookbooks advise without luck. We each ate one and have three in reserve for later in the week. The salmon is still in the fridge too. I'll have to find a way to get that somewhere other than the cat's stomachs. I treated Stumpy to a bite as her was served dinner a lot later than usual.

I have to admit that my grilling technique could use some improvement. I have to find a thick enough steak to really try to make it red and cool in the center. Most of the steaks I've purchased are so stinking thin that it takes no time for them to cook through. Or, I suppose I could be a little faster with the tongs.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What am I, chicken?

When my brother was in high school he had a job at a local sub shop that fashioned itself after sub shops in New Jersey. This was not a place to get grinders or regionally generic footlong sandwiches assembled by "artists" (Jamie Kennedy, Trey Pearce-holla) or sandwiches toasted on conveyor belts. I have nothing against those stores, some of my friends have worked with pride in them, hell, I eat at them. A New Jersey submarine sandwich is first and foremost put together on a french baguette like bread that has a wonderfully hard crust. This is the kind of crust your orthodontist warned you about. We're talking no chipotle mayonnaise or garlic pesto sauces, no lo fat lo cal, no wheat bread, no sissy salads. Just submarine sandwiches. Great submarine sandwiches that brought me back to the old neighborhood in Jersey lo those many years ago.

While he worked there he learned how to make an incredible tuna salad. He shared the secret of the salad with me- black pepper, plenty of black pepper. So when I make a tuna or chicken salad as I did yesterday I make sure to lay on a good layer of pepper. I mean a good thick layer, what almost looks like too much on the salad. Sometimes I've been known to add mustard for a little tang as well. A good crunch is a nice addition to tuna or chicken salad- celery is a classic of course, but grapes are an interesting option. I think I'd leave the mustard out when trying grapes. I'll have to give that a shot some time. I also tend to mix mayo and salad spread- Miracle Whip. I grew up with the spread and my wife grew up with mayo. So I compromise. Again, I enjoy the tang from the spread.

I've been thinking about recipes lately and how I'll handle listing amounts of ingredients in the blog. I hate to say it but I never measure anything. I season by taste and by eye. Perhaps that is why I have no interest in baking. So unless I'm talking about a rub chances are slim that I'll have measurements. We'll see how that works.