Friday, October 14, 2011

Welcoming Another WSM to the Family

Hey y'all. I am pleased to report that I finally acquired one of my dream smokers. No, I'm not talking about the totally amazing Pit-Boss from American Barbecue Systems. That bad boy would set me back at least $4K (but one of these days I'm gonna own one). What I'm referring to is the monstrous but affordable 22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker that I picked up from Amazon for less than $350.  (see assembly photos)

This big beast is truly impressive. I like not only its gargantuan capacity – it can hold a couple of full-size packer cut briskets without any difficulty – but also its temperature control and fuel efficiency. The jumbo WSM will run rock steady at 225-250°F for 13-14 hours (or longer) on just one load of charcoal (using the Minion Method) and with minimal vent adjustment.

My new smoker is actually the second 22.5" WSM that we've brought into the team. Some of you regular readers may recall that Luke bought one in May 2011, and we used it on the competition circuit this past year. Having had previous experience with the unit, the first cook with my own unit was flawless.

I broke in this enormous beauty with 2 racks of spare ribs (cut St. Louis style), 1 whole chicken, 10 chicken thighs, and 1 eye of round roast. That's a lot of meat to cook at once, but it's no big deal with the 22.5" WSM. This unit can accommodate a couple of  racks of ribs without any difficulty. I could have gotten 3 on the top rack if I curled them a little.

     

The thing about ribs is that they are delicious but they take up a lot of space in an inefficient manner. Some people use rib racks, but I prefer to cook ribs flat rather than at an angle. In the months ahead I'm going to maximize vertical space by using an additional grate that I either buy or build. But none of this really mattered at the time of the inaugural run, because the bottom line is that these were the best ribs I ever cooked. Seriously... they were that good.

The whole chicken was done in the beer can style, and the thighs were prepared just like we do for competitions. The resulting product was flavorful and juicy, just like one would expect from a WSM running at the perfect temperature.

     

So, what's next for the team now that we have another WSM? For the upcoming competition season we will run with my 22.5" WSM, Luke's 22.5" WSM, and Eric's 18.5" WSM. We'll also bring along a 22.5" Weber One-Touch for keeping food warm and/or setting sauces.
Our all-Weber line-up is poised for success in 2012!!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

COFaQue 2011

The team recently participated in its 4th consecutive COFaQue event in Aldie, Virginia. One part BBQ competition, one part music fest, and one part bacchanalia, COFaQue is fun on a stick, and we do whatever we can to engineer our summer schedules around this incredible event.

Although we didn't pick up any hardware this time around (slight disappointment), this year's competition was very special because it marked the first time that all six members of the team were together at the same time. This was made possible because Tim arrived home from Afghanistan the morning of the event so that he could begin a three-week break stateside.

It was a delight having Tim back in the mix, especially given that it was the first time in months that he was able to prep some killer 'que.  We screwed up, however, by being so busy within our cook site as to forget that we should have taken a picture of us all together (bummer).

Speaking of busy, we had some turn-ins that were absolutely insane. Although COFaQue has 60 minutes between turn-ins vs. the 30 minutes between categories at at KCBS event, we competed in eight categories spread across three turn-in times, which meant that there were some simultaneous turn-ins:

  • Appetizers – Mini Donut Bacon Burger Bites (3:00pm)
  • Other Grilled (non-meat) – Roasted Veggie Mélange (3:00pm)
  • Non-Grilled Sides – Sweet and Tangy Red Slaw (3:00pm)
  • Chicken – Amazin' Chicken (3:00pm)
  • Beef (except brisket) – Cosmic Flank Steak (4:00pm)
  • Beef Brisket – All-American Brisket (5:00pm)
  • Pork (except ribs) – Bitchin' Pork Butt (5:00pm)
  • Dessert – Cantaloupe Pie (5:00pm)

Mise en place for the Roasted Veggie Mélange
The most hectic turn-in was the one at 3:00pm because we had four separate things going on. Luke was in charge of a very colorful veggie dish, Eric stepped in to help dish up the cole slaw, and Dwayne assisted Kirk with the final saucing of the chicken. Michael took on his usual assignment of prepping some gorgeous boxes, and just about everybody helped get the appetizers ready.

The Mini Bacon Donut Burger Bites were decadently delicious. They were a lot of work, but well worth the effort as the fourth item for the 3pm turn-in. We started by making little bacon weaves which we fried up on the camp stove griddle. The Krispy Kreme donuts (which took the place of the buns) were then sliced, and the original idea was to butter them before toasting them on the grill, but we decided to use bacon grease instead (yum!).

Bacon Donut Burger - The 8th Deadly Sin
We hand-formed some 7-oz. patties of 85/15 ground beef, grilled them to perfection, and then melted on some high-quality American cheese. We turned these burgers into appetizers by inserting skewers and dividing them into quarters.

After being toasted the donuts took on a cotton candy-like flavor, which when paired with the bacon, cheese, and chargrilled burger created a sumptuous mouthfeel and a glorious taste. They were outrageous!

The team would like to give a special shout out to Leigh Anne, a good friend of Smoke Dreams BBQ. Not only did she bring the cantaloupe pie for the dessert entry, but also she fetched us ice and expertly filled in with some impromptu sous chef duties when the rest of us had our hands full. What's more, she didn't mind one bit when the ol' Goofus barked orders like a drill sergeant as we all scrambled to get everything finished up to meet our 3:00pm turn-in time. Thanks a ton, Leigh Anne... you are a helluva trooper!!

We were thrilled to have so many friends come out to cheer us on, including some who camped out for the weekend.  Unlike prior years, we only stayed over on Friday night, preferring to pack up our gear and head outta Dodge on Saturday night in advance of some looming storms.  All in all we had a great time, cooked a lot of awesome food, hung out with some really fun folks, slaked our thirst on a sufficient supply of ice cold cereal malt beverages, took a few pictures, and enjoyed the camaraderie that has become the hallmark of the Smoke Dreams BBQ team.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

First KCBS Competition Is In The Books

The members of Smoke Dreams BBQ endured some hot and humid weather on July 29 and 30 to successfully survive their first KCBS competition. The event was the 1st Annual Bluemont BBQ Bash held at Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Virginia.

Before we even got to Bluemont, the team enjoyed some nice publicity from an article in Leesburg Today, one of our local papers. The ol' Goofus gave a nice interview to a cub reporter about the upcoming event, and lo and behold almost half of the story was about us. This was pretty good publicity!!

hog-nosed pitmaster preps spare ribs
Once we arrived at Great Country Farms we moved into a spacious 24'x24' cook site, the largest the team has ever enjoyed. This gave us plenty of room to spread out our cookers, tables, coolers, and other gear that we need to operate a productive and efficient outdoor kitchen. We didn't have to worry about stepping over each other or any of our stuff.

We loaded in, set up, and prepped on Friday, and the temperatures peaked at about 103°F. We chased every beer that we drank with a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of water. I couldn't believe how much fluid we consumed just to stay hydrated. We went through a lot of ice, but thankfully the competition organizers had some on site so we could restock for $2/bag whenever the contents of our coolers started to get a little watered down.

Sweltering in the heat and humidity, we trimmed up all the meats and got everything ready to go for a long night of cooking. Thinking that we were going to have electricity, we brought some lights and other gear that required juice – like fans to keep us cool. However, once we got there, we discovered that the organizers were providing water but not electricity. Thankfully, Eric had a buddy in the area who owned a generator, so he was able to borrow it, thereby providing electricity without too much trouble.

Big Daddy loaded with meat
We started our fires at about 10pm, using Kirk's trusty turkey fryer burner to effortlessly ignite our charcoal chimneys. With Dwayne as the team's official pyromaniac, we got Luke's 22.5" WSM going first (brisket) and then at around 2am we fired up the Big Daddy Smoker (pork butts and ribs).  Kirk's little Brinkmann smoker didn't get lit off until Saturday morning because the chicken doesn't take that long, plus it was the first turn-in at noon.

Timing is always a challenge at a BBQ competition, but with this being our initial KCBS outing, our turn-ins were only 30 minutes apart versus the hour that we had enjoyed at previous non-sanctioned events. The period from 11:30am until 1:30pm was the most hectic yet exhilarating experience of our lives, but we got through it and turned in everything on time.

delicious pork is shredded, sliced, and boxed
Our meats were pretty tasty, but knowing that one-seventh of our score was to be based on appearance, we made sure that our boxes looked nice. For that we have Michael to thank because his box preparations were professional and meticulous. We used Bibb lettuce for the first time and inserted some parsley as an accent. The variegated look of the Bibb lettuce was awesome, and it's a technique that we will continue to refine for subsequent competitions.

tessellated blackberry goodness
There were couple of optional categories that we entered. The first was where local V.I.P.s (e.g., politicians, civic leaders) judged a box that was turned in at 2:30pm. We had a second batch of chicken ready to go, so we served that up for them. There was also a blackberry-themed dessert category, and we were fortunate to have Luke's friend, Leigh Anne, prepare a delectable and creamy number that had blackberries in it and on it. Yum!!

So, what about the results? Here's how Smoke Dreams fared against the 25 other teams:

  • Chicken (153.1432) - 21st place
  • Pork Ribs (157.7146) - 10th place
  • Pork (160.0000) - 10th place
  • Brisket (134.2856) - 24th place
  • Overall (605.1434) - 17th place

The V.I.P. entry came in near the bottom, but that's okay because our aim was to impress the Certified Barbeque Judges in the KCBS categories not the inexperienced palates of the local celebrities. The dessert came in 8th out of 14.

All in all we were very delighted by our performance, especially because in specific categories and/or the overall rankings we came out ahead of caterers, restaurateurs, teams that sell BBQ-related products, and teams with big smokers and years of experience under their belts. Not bad for our KCBS debut, eh?

Want to see more? Check out the pictures.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bring On The Competition!

The team is ready to go for two upcoming competitions: Bluemont BBQ Bash (July 29-30) and COFaQue (August 12-14).

We've got a thorough but concise checklist for the gear that we'll be taking and a definitive shopping list for the food and other supplies that we'll need to pick up beforehand. We may not be the most seasoned BBQ team on the circuit, but we are certainly among the best organized.

Speaking of seasoning, I've made up large batches of all three proprietary rubs and six homemade sauces in advance of the competitions. Additionally, our cooking methods have been finalized, although I'm still working on our precise timings for this our first KCBS event.

We will have a sprawling 20'x25' cook site, the largest space we've ever had. It will be nice to have plenty of room not just for our smokers, but also for a food prep area, washing station, buffet table, and snooze center. I created a scale drawing of all of our cookers, tables, etc. so that when we load in there won't be any confusion about what goes where. Are we efficient or what?

Thinking about attending one or both of these events? Hit the Contact Us page and drop us a line so that we know to expect you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fueling the Fuel Debate

I detest partisan politics. I feel that those who hold either purely Democratic opinions or exclusively Republican views are typically unable to look at any particular issue holistically. I suppose that's why I'm an independent thinker with opinions that crisscross party lines.

My nonpartisan views extend into the realm of outdoor cooking as well. When it comes to the endless debate about charcoal vs. propane, my view is that both do well at different tasks and in different situations. I personally own 5 charcoal units (2 grills and 3 smokers) and 4 propane devices (2 grills, 1 camp stove, and 1 high-output burner), so there's no way I can be branded as either a "charcoalist" or a "propaner". That I have such a diversity of outdoor cooking gear gives me the right to comment on charcoal and propane in a completely unbiased manner.


I don't have much patience for anyone who espouses a one-sided view on fuels used for outdoor cooking, so when a high-falootin' food writer named Josh Ozersky published an article entitled "Barbecuers, Unite! Why Gas Grills Are Evil", I really got torked off. In this piece – which can only be described as a fanciful, one-sided rant against propane – Mr. Ozersky demonstrates partisanship at its finest (or worst, depending on your point of view).

I have nary a clue about what caused Mr. Ozersky to hate gas grills so much. It could have been some horribly traumatic event that befell him as a child. Maybe it's just that no one has ever demonstrated for him the proper combination of a high-performance gas grill and an exceptional technique. Regardless of the rationale for his views, this guy's blistering screed got my blood a-boilin' mainly because he crossed the line when he went from merely criticizing gas grills to seemingly denigrating the people who use them.

Despite his being a James Beard Award-winning food journalist, Mr. Ozersky allowed some inaccuracies and misconceptions to get tangled up in his overworked and cloying prose:

1.) He says that propane users give up flavor. What? Are you kidding? The gas grills I use can sear a steak, grill a burger, or roast a chicken as good as any charcoal grill. Throw some wood chips in the smoker box, and you'll be infusing hickory, oak, or some other flavor just like you would if you were scattering them atop a charcoal fire. Based on the equipment I use, there is no difference between gas or charcoal when grilling. (Smoking, on the other hand, is a different story... keep reading.)

2.) Mr. Ozersky writes: "Gas is grossly artificial, abstract, a formula for the feeding of indifferent crowds. There are no flare-ups, and no ash to throw away, but there is also no crust, no fire, no woodsy taste or sizzling, succulent fat." No flare-ups? I've had plenty of them on gas grills over the years, typically at times when the succulent fat (which is dependent on the meat not the grilling method) sizzled just a little bit too much. No fire? The last time I checked, there were actual flames (a.k.a. fire) coming out of the burners. No crust or woodsy taste? At the risk of sounding like Hank Hill, come to my house, Mr. Ozersky, and I will show you what propane can do to put a nice crust on a steak and infuse some good smoke flavor.


3.) He also states that "as a free and mobile people, we should be able to grill wherever we want: on roofs, on beaches, in parks, in arena parking lots. But all of these are places your gas grill can't go." Dude, I don't know about you, but I think just about every municipal, county, and state fire safety code in the nation prohibits the rooftop use of a charcoal grill. And regarding not being able to take one's gas grill to the beach, to a park, or to some tailgating event, I'm confused as to why Mr. Ozersky has never heard of an innovation called a portable gas grill. They exist. You can buy them. The Weber Q series is one of the more popular alternatives in a market that offers a plethora of options.

4.) What really confounds me is how the author asserts that "gas grilling is actually much more complicated and laborious than real grilling". Say what? When I want a really quick burger I can light a gas grill and cook a batch of patties quicker and with much less effort than on charcoal. Mr. Ozersky's basis for contending that propane is more of a chore is "the drive, inevitably at the last minute, to refill your propane tanks because you forgot to close the valve, or because, being dead, blank, enormous metal spheres without any kind of fuel gauge, they impart no information to their owner." My good man, forgetting to close a valve is called being a dumbass. By the way, if you want a pretty good idea of whether a tank is almost empty, just pick it up to see how heavy it is ... it's not that difficult. Or you could simply buy a gauge. And for goodness sake, it's a well-known best practice to keep a second tank (a full one) ready to go as a back-up.

I don't want today's post to turn into a bashing of Mr. Ozersky and, by extension, charcoal. To set the record straight, I am not disrespecting charcoal at all. I have simply highlighted the fallacies of the author's position on propane. Furthermore, if Mr. Ozersky had done a better job of making the distinction between the methods used for slow-smoking BBQ and the techniques more closely associated with grilling – between which he indiscriminately switched in his companion article entitled "Five Things Americans Need to Know About Barbecue" – then I might not be putting up such a fuss. So, let me further clarify my position.

Grilling (high direct heat) is different than smoking (low indirect heat). For example, when my team prepares BBQ at a competition, the only heat that touches the meat is that which emanates from charcoal and wood. In fact, the KCBS rules prohibit me from using propane. And even if I could use propane I wouldn't do so because the end product wouldn't turn out the same. This is because when cooking for hours (instead of just minutes), the cumulative taste effect produced by charcoal is measurably better and different than propane.

Am I saying that I couldn't smoke a pork butt on a gas grill? No, not at all. If given a full tank and a decent gas grill with good burner control (e.g., my late-90s model Weber Genesis), I could definitely do it, and it would be damn tasty, too. It's just that I could make a better pork butt on a charcoal grill or smoker.

I suggest that if you're in no rush to eat and have the time to light off a chimney full of charcoal to grill up a juicy flank steak or nice piece of fish, by all means do so. But if you're pressed for time with hungry family members demanding grilled chicken ASAP, or if you're planning on grilling some sausages when it's 28°F with falling snow, a gas grill is the unit of choice. That's why I recommend that every grilling or smoking enthusiast should have at least one of each asset type, and 1 in 5 actually do. Versatility is the key!

But the 'fuel wars' aren't limited to just charcoal vs. propane. There is a great divide within the charcoal camp about the use of briquettes vs. lump charcoal. Once again, I am decidedly neutral on the matter. There are occasions when I use Kingsford briquettes instead of Royal Oak lump and vice versa. Heck, there are even situations where I use both to simultaneously enjoy the virtues of each.


Yes, it's true that lump charcoal is free from fillers, burns hotter, and imparts a slightly superior taste on meat. But lump is also of irregular size, meaning that it doesn't pack well to minimize airflow for really long cooks, and it typically burns out quicker. An insightful analysis offers a more detailed comparison. Different strokes for different folks, right?

Here are some interesting stats to consider:

  • Of Americans at least 21 years of age, 71% own at least one outdoor grill and/or smoker. Of this population, 67% own a gas grill while 46% own a charcoal grill. (source: Weber)
     
  • 1985 was the first year that the number of gas grills sold in North America exceeded charcoal grills. Gas has led the way ever since, and in 2010 over 8.5 million gas-fueled units were sold compared to 6.2 million charcoal units. (source: HBPA)
     
  • There were more than 826 thousand tons of charcoal sold in North America in 1993, and at that time 97.9% was in the form of briquettes and only 2.1% was lump. In 2010 the total amount of charcoal sold was 1.04 million tons, but the proportion of lump had risen to 11.0%. (source: HBPA)

So, here's the bottom line, people: just get outside and cook! I don't care if you're grilling or smoking, using charcoal or propane, or firing up briquettes or lump. The main thing is to get out there and do it. And don't think of cooking outdoors as just something that's done in warm months. There is no such thing as an outdoor cooking season. It's a 365-day-per-year opportunity that with the right equipment, techniques, and attitude you can seize whenever you want. Own it!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vegan Ribs Part 2

photo credit:
Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian
Some of you probably recall my April 23 posting on vegan ribs. There's no disputing the fact that the topic of meatless ribs was a little unusual for this blog, but the story had legs. It caught the attention of Grant Butler, a food journalist friend (and one of my high school buddies from Kansas City), who earlier today published a wonderfully written follow-up piece on the web site for The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper.

I had a wonderful time reconnecting with my old friend for this story, and it proved that a kitchen collaboration between a vegan and an omnivore was not only possible but also an absolute delight!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nice Showing at Falls Church Competition

The boys from Smoke Dreams BBQ participated in the Tinner Hill Barbecue Competition in Falls Church, Virginia, on June 11, 2011. This was our first competition of the year, and one that netted us 1st place in Chicken and 2nd place in Pork Ribs. This was a pretty respectable performance for our first outing of the season.

This level of success almost wasn't possible. In fact, the whole event was put in jeopardy when the 2000 Chevy Venture driven by Goofus died on the highway. Specifically, the serpentine belt on the BBQ Wagon snapped right in the middle of rush hour traffic in Interstate 66 just a few miles from Falls Church.

Thankfully, the car was able to limp along to the competition site. The team unloaded the gear and then the Goofus arranged for a tow with barely a hiccup in the plan. (Special thanks to Mrs. Goofus for bring the repaired vehicle back the following day.)

We were big winners in the Chicken and Pork categories. Our BBQ chicken thighs were moist, not overcooked, and perfectly sauced - 1st place! We made 4 racks of delicious spare ribs that were tender yet not cooked so much that they fell off the bone. A good balance of flavor and tenderness scored us 2nd place.

     

We cooked one 15½-lb. brisket and another than came in at 12½ lbs. We used Luke's 22.5" WSM for the job, and that thing ran for more than 15 hours on one load of Kingsford.  It was still going strong when we had to pack up our cook site, so we were obligated to shut it down by dumping the hot coals in an ash can.

Anyway, the whole brisket was on for about 12 hours and then the point was removed, re-seasoned, and smoked for an additional 2 hours. The team smoked up three 8-lb. pork butts on our Big Daddy Smoker for about 9 hours. The meat was tender and had some really tasty bark.  Sadly, neither of these meats cracked the top 3 in their respective categories.

    

We had a great time at the event (as evidenced by the photos). There was good music, plenty of cold beer, and – best of all – remarkable camaraderie among the team. It was the classic "work hard, play hard" approach, and it yielded many dividends... including a super cool trophy and nifty medal.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer is Heating Up

Over the past couple of weeks the ol' Goofus has been busy getting ready for a big season of BBQ.

Preparations have included producing 5 lbs. (¾ gallon) of pork rub and preparing more than 3 gallons of sauce spanning 4 varieties. An additional gallon of sauce covering the remaining 2 varieties will soon be concocted so that the full complement will be in stock for everything that we've got going on:

  • The Tinner Hill Barbecue Competition will be the team's first of the season, and it's coming up fairly quickly: June 10-11 in Falls Church, Virginia.
  • On Saturday, June 25, three members of the team will be pulling beer taps instead of gripping tongs. That's because we will serve as volunteer pourers at the Northern Virgina Summer Brewfest in Leesburg, Virginia. We've done this for many years and can confirm that's always a good time, rain or shine.
  • We've submitted our application for the 1st Annual Bluemont BBQ Bash July 29-30 in Bluemont, Virginia. This will be our first KCBS-certifed competition, and we can't wait to wow the judges with some tasty 'que.
  • No summertime list would be complete without COF-A-Que, the event that started our competition BBQ careers back in 2008. Details aren't available yet, but this massive annual gathering will start at 6pm on Friday, August 12, and close down on Sunday, August 14, at around 4pm.
  • We've been invited by a local brew club to provide BBQ for them at MASHOUT, an enormous beer-themed retreat in Rocky Gap, Maryland. The event is one week after COF-A-Que, so needless to say we'll have to rally strong to handle back-to-back parties.
  • As if competitions weren't keeping us busy enough, the Goofus has had a couple of catering gigs where hungry patrons have paid him to smoke meat. Not bad, eh?

We hope to see y'all on the BBQ trail!

Friday, May 27, 2011

BBQ on TV Goes Bigtime with Major Network Telecast

I love watching BBQ-themed programs on TV. BBQ programming is going to hit a major network this Memorial Day weekend when CBS airs the one-hour special, The Ultimate BBQ Showdown. The network feed will be at 2pm Eastern on Saturday, May 28, but check your local listings.

If you've watched some of the other BBQ shows – Food Network's Best in Smoke or TLC's BBQ Pitmasters – then you'll definitely recognize some familiar faces. Many of the competitors on The Ultimate BBQ Showdown were featured on BBQ Pitmasters, which is no surprise given that both shows were developed by the same producers.

Myron Mixon of Jack's Old South BBQ was a judge for Season 2 of BBQ Pitmasters, but this time he's a competitor. Going the other direction is Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, who was a competitor on Best in Smoke now taking on judging duties for The Ultimate BBQ Showdown.

Check out the trailer:


Watch live or set your DVRs, people!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Montreal Grillfest

The people of Canada are extremely hospitable. They really like to roll out the red carpet for their guests, and that includes plenty of good food and excellent drink.

A Canadian will do anything to make someone feel right at home, even if that means allowing one of their guests to commandeer their backyard and convert it into a sprawling grilling pavilion.

When my boss (who is based in Montreal) asked me to orchestrate a couple of team-building cook-outs to add some fun to our multi-day strategy session, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately started thinking about menu items. After I shared my plans with my boss, he was so intrigued that he bought a new grill for the occasion.

Since I would be driving on this trip rather than flying, I told my boss that I would bring my pop-up canopy to shield us from the non-stop rain that was in forecast. In addition to my suitcase for the hotel and my laptop for business, I also packed my portable work table, an assortment of grilling tools, and other cook-out essentials.

My boss (shown with me in this picture) hosted the meetings at his house, which was super convenient for planning a cook-out. I arrived early on the first day so that we could set up the canopy and get our outdoor kitchen fully configured.

On the first night I made something basic to break in the new grill and become familiar with its cooking characteristics. To keep things simple we grilled up some fat, juicy burgers that I formed by hand only moments before throwing them on the grill. I applied just salt, pepper, and a kiss of Italian seasoning. They were so good that each of us ate two. Super delicious!

The following night's menu was a little more elaborate because we expected some more guests. I thought we should start things off with some stuffed jalapeños. My Canadian colleagues had never heard of this spicy item, so I knew they would be in for a treat. I decided to make a buffalo chicken-style filling because it's the best for first-timers.

    

I prepped and stuffed two dozen peppers and grilled them over medium-high indirect heat for about 50 minutes. Every single one of the guys was blown away by the taste, and they all agreed that these Mexican jalapeños paired quite well with Canadian beer. That's NAFTA in action!

We had a two-meat main course: marinated flank steak and Caribbean-style chicken.

The recipe for the incredibly awesome flank steak marinade was provided courtesy of my team member, Dwayne. It has ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, and a very special ingredient: just a touch of Galliano liqueur. The key element of the Caribbean chicken is a wet jerk seasoning that I smuggled over the border. I cooked up about 2.5kg of flank steak and 9 chicken breasts. Oh, man... these meats were delicious!!

I chargrilled some red bell peppers and red onions to accompany the flank steak and chicken, and we served up all the deliciousness on little ciabatta buns from Costco. (BTW, the Costco in Montreal was just like any Costco in the States, except that everything was in French.) I also prepared roasted potatoes with yellow onions and green peppers as a side dish (foil packets in the picture above).

The bottom line is that everyone was delighted by the food, and we had a grand time socializing in the backyard, drinking beers, and eating stuff right as it came off the grill. It's the way all parties should be.

Now I need to convince my boss to buy a smoker so that we can do some real BBQ the next time I visit. I would like to make some pulled pork – or porc effiloché – for my Canadian friends. Sounds like a good idea, eh?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saucin' it Up Western North Carolina Style

I prepare all the sauces used by our team in competition, and I produce varieties that cover an array of regional styles: Kansas City (my signature sauce), Texas, Georgia, etc.  One of my favorite styles is from Western North Carolina. I call it "Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice".

Many of you BBQ junkies out there probably equate North Carolina with a style of sauce that is essentially pure vinegar. What you're thinking of is the Eastern North Carolina variety, and it is another one of the sauces in my repertoire.

The Eastern North Carolina sauce – which I also make and have dubbed "Carolina Pork Pucker" – is essentially apple cider vinegar, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a touch of brown sugar.  On the other hand, the sauce typically found in Western North Carolina has these same ingredients plus ketchup, worcetershire, hot pepper sauce, and some other spices.

The Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice is one of my favorite sauces to douse on meat, especially on pulled pork. It's also my hands down favorite to make, mainly because like a fine wine, it needs a little time to age (more about that in a moment).

I have a couple of special ingredients that I put into the sauce. The first secret weapon is a fair amount of red pepper flakes. What makes them special is that they are the dried seeds from kung pao peppers, but what makes them truly unique is that they come from my sister's garden.

Let me tell you one thing about these peppers: they are very hot. I like to use 'em on pizza and in chili, and they are about 2 to 3 times as hot as your run-of-the-mill red pepper flakes. I also pulverize these peppers in a spice grinder when creating my proprietary BBQ rub, and when I take the lid off the airborne particles tend to go right up into my nostrils to create the most exquisite pain-pleasure sensation possible. That's the kind of kick that goes into this sauce.

The other key ingredient might sound a little offbeat: butter. More specifically, I use clarified butter, which has had the milk solids skimmed off. The use of clarified butter in Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice doesn't affect the flavor all that much, but it certainly does improve the texture and mouthfeel. And while that sounds like a bunch of pretentious foodie vernacular, I can tell you that using the butter does, in fact, make a big difference.

The recipe that I developed is for a very large batch that produces just over a gallon... 4½ quarts to be exact. After I simmer the sauce for about 45 minutes, I'll let it cool overnight and then put it into tightly sealed storage containers that I won't touch for anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. The bottles will be kept at room temperature in the darkest recesses of my basement pantry so that the peppers and other ingredients can steep in the vinegar and other liquids to metamorphose into sauce that is delightfully pungent, slightly sweet, and 100% flavorful.

     

The first thing I do after the resting period has concluded is open the lid on a jug and take a big whiff. The head rush is quite intense and overwhelming in a pleasant sort of way. After I've indulged myself with a few minutes of huffing the fumes, I pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to filter out the particulate matter.

     

At this point, the red pepper flakes have done their job, so they can be discarded. The grains of black pepper, however, are small enough to make it through the sieve, which is important because they constitute a much-needed component of the final sauce.

The reward that awaits me at the end of this process is a whole lot of kickass sauce that works great on pork and chicken. I've even been known to buy bag of slaw mix, add in some of this sauce, and let it sit overnight for a wonderfully tangy rendition of red cole slaw.

But do you want to know one of the best ways to try this sauce? Just pour equal amounts of Pig 'n' Chicken Pickin' Juice and vodka into a shot glass and toss it back. It's one hell of a BBQ bracer!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Weber Added to the Family

We are pleased to announce that Luke, the newest member of our team, recently got his majestic 22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain cooker up and running. According to Luke, one of the neighbor's children referred to it as "a thing of beauty"... the kid is definitely right about that.

This massive unit is much larger than the original 18.5" WSM and boasts of 726 sq. in. of cooking surface (comparison: specs | photo). After gobbling up an entire 20-lb. bag of charcoal, this baby will go for 12 to 14 hours without refueling, which is pretty important for those long cooks.

Luke's inaugural meal in his new 22.5" WSM included a couple of chickens and a rack of ribs, which was enough to fuel this man's ravenous weekend hunger. As evidenced by the pictures below, the results were nothing short of magnificent.

   

Congrats to Luke on this new addition to his outdoor BBQ pavilion! We also look forward to his bringing it along on the competition trail!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

'Best in Smoke' Debuts May 8 on Food Network

Well, it looks like another BBQ show will soon hit the airwaves. Best in Smoke is a limited-run series that will premiere on Sunday, May 8, at 10pm EDT. There will be only four installments, and episodes 2, 3, and 4 will air at 9pm EDT, so set your DVRs accordingly.

From what I've been able to read, this show seems like it will be interesting, and it will feature some entertaining characters, including Dave Anderson, the founder of Famous Dave's BBQ. Did you know that Famous Dave is a Native American? That's right. Not only is he part Choctaw and Ojibwe, but also he was the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs from 2004 to 2005.

Now back to this upcoming BBQ show...

I've got my fingers crossed that overzealous producers haven't created a monster. That is, it would really bum me out if the show were to go over the top with hyper-unrealistic competitions. You could say that I'm not a big fan of any format that preposterously tests the real talent of the competitors by forcing them to perform ridiculous stunts. It's happened before, namely with TLC's BBQ Pitmasters.

I couldn't get enough of Season 1 of BBQ Pitmasters because it followed real teams as they worked their way around the competition circuit. I really liked peeking behind the scenes of the competitions and into the lives of the featured teams. But the format underwent significant changes in Season 2, and that sucked on toast for a couple of reasons.

The Season 2 host irritated me more than a foot fungus, and the format of the competition introduced too many elements that were either totally contrived or just plain silly. Oh, and one other complaint... they included Warren Sapp as a judge, which turned out to be a terrible idea because his food evaluation rationale was often way off base by BBQ standards.

I wish I could share a link to more official information about the show, but the Food Network web site doesn't have anything about this program except the following 30-second promo:


So, will I tune? Hell, yes! But even if I end up hating the show, there should be at least a few good BBQ moments to make it worth my time, especially if I can pick up a couple of cool tips and techniques. Keep the fires lit, y'all!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Smoke Dreams BBQ Welcomes its Newest Team Member

I am pleased to welcome Luke Darnell to the team.

Here's what I can tell you about the guy:
  1. He knows more than a thing or two about making great-tasting BBQ.
  2. Even though he has never been on a team, he is very eager to learn the ropes of competition BBQ.
  3. He is a food safety expert who will ensure that all team members keep foodborne pathogens at bay.
  4. He owns the amazingly kick-ass 22.5" the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.
  5. He has a rollicking sense of humor that will lighten the mood during hectic competition weekends.
There's one more important thing to know about Luke, but first I must share an interesting story.

Whenever I mingle among the denizens of Wal-Mart, I like to amuse myself by playing a little game where I try to see who's got the strangest combination of items in their cart. Not that any sane person would do this, but it is entirely possible to purchase an eclectic mishmash of stuff when one shops at Wal-Mart, such as a jar of gherkins, a collection of bow hunting gear, and a hemorrhoid cushion.

I was once behind a guy in line who was checking out with nothing more than three bottles of imitation maple syrup and a trailer hitch. That was the weirdest thing I ever saw, and quite frankly I don't want to know what kind of depraved activity he was planning for inside his double-wide later that evening.

Even if Luke had failed to impress me with the qualities enumerated at the top of this post, he surely would have made the team based solely on the fact that he once filled his shopping cart at Wal-Mart with only two essential items: a new toilet seat and a 16-lb. packer's cut brisket. Now that's called having your priorities straight, people.

And it's not only that Luke purchased a toilet seat and a brisket together that makes him right for our team, but also that he had the presence of mind to snap a photo of the odd pairing.


Thanks for your willingness to join the team, Luke. We're gonna produce some killer 'que and have some good times, dude.

Friday, April 29, 2011

NEWSFLASH: Pulled Pork Not Served at Buckingham Palace

Today was a very special day. I tried out one of my new homemade competition rubs on a pork butt in honor of the royal wedding in the U.K. and the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. The wedding came off without a hitch, but unfortunately the Space Shuttle launch got scrubbed. The pork butt was a huge success, however, so I guess today we were 2 for 3.

There are a lot of great commercially produced rubs on the market, but I believe quite strongly that pitmasters should develop their own signature rubs. That's why I create all of the rubs that the team uses in competition. My super-secret Rub "P" is the latest iteration of a savory blend that I've been refining for the past five years or so.


Some may wonder why I call this Rub "P". No, the "P" does not stand for prince or princess. It stands for pork, y'all. Also in my line-up of homemade rubs are the following: Rub "B" for brisket and Rub "RC" for ribs and chicken. These simple codes make it easy for us to differentiate between varieties so that we don't do something stupid in the heat of battle like put brisket rub on chicken (a total dumbass move).

There were no mistakes today, because Rub "P" on an 8-lb. pork butt was absolute perfection. I smoked it between 225°F and 250°F for about 9½ hours using regular Kingsford Original briquets and hickory chunks. It turned out like this:


I shredded and chopped the butt and made a couple of sandwiches, each with a different variety of homemade sauce. The first was slathered with Western North Carolina-style sauce and another got doused in Eastern North Carolina-style sauce (which is essentially apple cider vinegar and a few spices). For the second sandwich I even followed the North Carolina tradition of putting cole slaw directly on the sandwich. I don't cotton to this combination because (a) it doesn't taste good and (b) as a Midwesterner this practice is anathema to me.

I uploaded a Flickr photoset of this food pr0n to cause all you fine readers to wish you were in my kitchen today. Trust me, this pork was quite yummy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Handy Dandy Brisket Terminology and Trimming Tips

Out in the Midwest – my native land – it is quite easy to get one's hands on a cryovac-sealed "whole brisket", sometimes called the "packer's cut". This marvelous hunk of beef is also referenced by reputable butchers as IMPS/NAMP No. 118.

Despite this cut's ready availability in the heartland, it is very difficult to find it where I live on the East Coast. The brisket typically sold out here is just the "flat" section minus the "point". It is not uncommon for this subset of the whole brisket to have a sticker that says (incorrectly) "whole brisket".

Unless it looks like the picture shown below, it's not a true whole brisket.


I once asked a butcher at Safeway if he could obtain the packer's cut, and he said, "Aw, you don't want that... it's just too big of a piece of meat with way too much fat." Are you kidding me? I was completely flummoxed by this alleged meat expert whose inability to extol the virtues of a whole brisket was equaled only by the absolute conviction in which he attempted to dissuade me from its purchase. It was a total outrage.

I finally found a store out here that has whole briskets on a regular basis: Wal-Mart. What's strange is that there is a Sam's Club right next door, and you'd figure a wholesale club would sell whole briskets, but they don't... only the flats. Costco doesn't sell 'em either. Weird, eh? So, for the time being, I'll be investing my brisket dollars at Wal-Mart.

Anyway, working with a big cut like a whole brisket can be a little intimidating. Thankfully, the Virtual Brisket will help you eliminate the guesswork involved with trimming the brisket prior to seasoning it just right and smoking it to perfection.

With the Virtual Brisket, you can view this popular cut of beef thirty-two (count 'em, 32) different ways. You can easily flip between overhead view or side view, fat side up or down, and – here's the most important attribute – trimmed or untrimmed. Heck, you can even rotate the brisket to simulate whatever vantage point you want, generating still more pictorial permutations. Click and trim, y'all!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Other White Meat Is... Well, It's Not Even Meat

KCBS events typically don't permit sampling, but a few years ago I participated at a non-KCBS competition where we were allowed – in fact, encouraged – to hand out samples.

At one point this really drunk chick in a cowboy hat came up to our cook site and inquired about my beans by asking if they had any meat in them.  I politely responded that they included chunks of brisket, and I reminded her in a very courteous manner that she was standing among 1200 flesh-eaters whose sole purpose was to devour mass quantities of meat.

Her mind corrupted by intoxicants, she tried to give me a guilt trip by replying, "Well, ya really oughta think about having some meatless stuff cuz some of the people here are vegetarian." I mumbled an insincere apology with a clenched jaw, and then she stumbled off, presumably to darken some other team's cook site with her super-annoying personality.

Before one becomes a BBQ team captain, it's a good idea to affirm one's love for eating meat. It just goes with the territory, right? That being said, the ol' Goofus has a deep respect for those who have chosen to eat a plant-based diet. In fact, one of my long-time friends is a vegan. He is also journalist who recently reported on a major brouhaha over at a leading vegan publication.

What happened is that the staff at VegNews were caught doctoring up pictures of meat in an attempt to pass them off as being meatless. They even used Photoshop to remove the bones from a stock photo of BBQ ribs. How appalling!

This story got me thinking (which is dangerous) about how I could twist the knife in the bellies of the lazy editors at VegNews without taking an indiscriminate jab at my vegan friends. The answer was quite simple. I set out to create some vegan-approved BBQ ribs of my own. If I could go meatless, then why couldn't the folks at VegNews comply?

I found a vegan ribs recipe to use as a guideline, but I tweaked it so that I could prepare the faux ribs outside on the grill (with real hickory smoke) rather than in the oven (with liquid smoke). This new version featured one of my many homemade sauces (K.C. Red, of course), and I even used some oversized skewers that I picked up at the local international market to replicate the 'food handle' function of the otherwise vegan-unfriendly bones (no Photoshop required). I'll admit that inserting a skewer makes the final product look like a satay, but you can't tell me that omitting the skewer improves the resemblance to real ribs. Using the skewers just makes for better finger food.


Although I had never purchased nutritional yeast or tahini in my life, they were among the ingredients that made these meatless ribs possible. This experiment was very successful considering it was the first time that I had ever tried this recipe. Oh, sure, the bottom sides got a little more done that I would have preferred, but that did not diminish their savory BBQ flavor.

Will I prepare them again? Yes, absolutely... and I even have a few ideas about how to make them better the next time around. But for now I will take some measure of pride in proving that I can please a vegan palate with my 'que. There's a new Flickr photo set to highlight the results, so take that, VegNews! I may not have given your slacker editors any bones to suck, but they can suck it nonetheless.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of Gas Grills

I'm a frequent visitor to Home Depot, so I tend to remain quite current on their selection of grills, smokers, and BBQ accessories. On my trip today there was a new product on the floor that really caught my eye: the STŌK Quattro.

I had never heard of STŌK (pronounced 'stoke'), but I was smitten with the innovative design of this grill. It features a pair of holes in the main grate that support various inserts: griddle, veggie basket, and pizza stone – all of which are included with the base model (i.e., no pricey upcharge). The unit also includes two regular grate inserts so that you can dedicate the rather large cooking surface to standard grilling.

Weber recently launched a similar concept for its charcoal grills called the Original Gourmet BBQ System. Despite my being a long-standing Weber devotee (I own four models), I don't like the design of this new product because Weber's center placement doesn't leave enough space around the periphery for cooking anything else. Even though I think Weber's new product sucks, a lot of people must like it, because today Weber's online store displayed the following message: "Due to high demand, the Gourmet BBQ System is not available for purchase through our ecommerce site. Please check back soon." (Seriously, who is buying this dog turd?)

Anyway, getting back to the STŌK Quattro, the engineering appeared to be first-rate, and the display unit I saw was of solid construction. The introductory price of $349 (which is less than the $400 MSRP mentioned in the recent About.com review) makes this unit a very attractive buy, especially when you consider that the inserts offer lots of versatility. What's more, the package includes a useful handle that allows you to swap inserts on the fly – even over a hot grill.

Although I don't own one of these beauties, I think the STŌK Quattro is worth checking out if you're in the market for a new gas grill.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Breaker 1-9: We Need Some Sauce On Hwy. 97

One of my Facebook friends tipped me to a story about a fiery collision between a truck full of frozen beef and a cow. That sounds like some sort of twisted of bovine-related reverse karma thing, doesn't it?

Anyway, before y'all get your panties in a bunch thinking that I'm being insensitive by blogging about some terrible human tragedy, just relax. Neither the driver nor any human bystanders suffered injuries, but according to the news report the truck and its cargo "received some fire damage." Fire damage? Fire + beef = delicious (not damaged).

I don't know about you, but if I were one of the firefighters working the scene, I would have gone through the wreckage with a fork.

Oregon,truck,crash,beef

Breathe Deeply – It's Bacon!!

BaconAir
After reading about the availability of bacon-flavored oxygen, I had to ask myself this question: "Has the bacon meme finally gone too far?" Bacon enthusiasts will surely say "no," because now they can huff the essence of their favorite meat right out of a pressurized oxygen cannister.

This innovation comes in the form of BaconAir which recently sprung from the minds of the insanely creative food scientists at J&D's – the purveyors of popular products such as BaconSalt and Baconnaise. This $8.99 can of bacon-flavored oxygen is in such huge demand that it's now out of stock with a long waiting list, so take a number, folks.

I've exhaled bacon breath after eating a particularly meaty BLT, but thanks to BaconAir I can finally inhale bacon as well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Churrascaria in a Briefcase

This innovative rotisserie unit from Carson Rotisseries might not be TSA-approved as a carry-on, but it will allow you to conveniently create a Brazilian steakhouse experience in your backyard. Recipient of the About.com Barbecue & Grilling 2011 Readers' Choice Award for Charcoal Grill, the new Carson Portable Rotisserie Grill will transform you into a meat sword-wielding gaucho chef.

At only $599 you can easily build a business case for investing in this device by reasoning that you'll save about 20 trips to your local churrascaria. Of course, you'll still need to find a knowledgeable butcher who can hook you up with a nice piece of rump cover steak (also known as 'picanha') if you want to grill up an authentic Brazilian meal. Bom apetite!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Occupational Hazard

I'm damn lucky that this nugget of charcoal was only hot enough to melt the sole of my shoe, otherwise I would have a hole in my sock, too. Anyway, I like how it permanently embedded itself.

Team Members Earn KCBS CBJ Status

On April 8, 2011, Smoke Dreams BBQ team members Kirk Vespestad and Tim Butka attended a Certified Barbeque Judge class delivered by Carolyn Wells, Executive Director of the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The training was held in New Holland, PA, at Meadow Creek BBQ, manufacturers of a broad range of high quality grills and smokers.

Not only are Kirk and Tim certified on how to judge BBQ entries on appearance, tenderness/texture, and taste, but also they will apply this knowledge to events where they are competing rather than judging. Congrats on achieving CBJ status!

Inaugural Post

Hello, everyone. Smoke Dreams BBQ has its first online presence. Check back often for team info and BBQ news from around the world.