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 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.


Breathe Deeply – It's Bacon!!

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 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.