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!