Cheater BBQ

Sat, May 30 • 0

I picked up a new cookbook last week, and I’ve been trying some of the recipes in it, with varying success. The cookbook is called Cheater BBQ: Barbecue Anytime, Anywhere, in Any Weather, by Mindy Merrell and R. B. Quinn. The basic premise of the book is that you can bypass hours of slow roasting over a fire, using wood to create smoke and flavor, all by using a bottle of liquid smoke.

(If you are a bbq purist, I’ll wait for you to finish screaming now.)

Ok. Here’s the deal. I don’t think the premise is completely true. I think that long, slow roasting over a flame with natural wood smoke produces really great results that you really can’t replicate in any way. That being said, if you live in an apartment building, or just don’t have the time or inclination to wait around for 16 hours while your hunk of meat gets from raw to succulence, then this book just might be something that might interest you.

My first foray into the world of bbq bogosity
Keep reading…

Southern Restaurants

Mon, May 4 • 0

On a recent trip down south, my (other) brother, his son, and I managed to hit a couple of fine and famous eateries on a road trip to Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, ending up in Huntsville, Alabama. Although we only went to each place once, we tried to go for variety in what we ordered.

We all agreed that the Loveless Cafe in Nashville was, hands down, the best meal we had. Down-home-style food, friendly waiter, and an endless supply of homemade buscuits. I had the country ham plate, with a side of collards and carrots. My brother, Tom, had their pit-smoked turkey breast with cranberry barbecue sauce. My nephew, TJ had the fried chicken. (TJ, 16, born in Richmond, but raised on Cape Cod, claimed it was the best fried chicken and the best biscuits he’d ever eaten in his life.) I have a feeling, if I were a local, I’d be a fixture at this place. So, so very good, and definitely worth revisiting. (Open 7 AM – 9 PM, 7 days a week. 8400 Hwy 100, Nashville, Tenn. 615-646-9700.)  Review @ / Loveless Cafe Menu

I’d intended to make this trip all about southern barbeque, but neglected to confirm this with my traveling companions, who only had a very limited appetite for the delicacy. Internet searches claimed that the best bbq in Nashville was in the touristy part of town. Called Jack’s, the ribs were pretty smokey, almost too smokey for my taste, and they were served dry, though there were several options of sauce to choose from. Tom had a pulled pork sandwich, and my nephew had the pulled chicken. They both thought it was pretty good.

The other bbq restaurant we tried was called Interstate, in Memphis, the city of bbq. I’d gotten several recommendations about this being the best place in the best city for bbq. I ordered the combination platter, so I could try everything they had to offer. It came with a couple beef and pork ribs, some pulled pork, and pulled beef, and some smoked sausage. It was all covered in a thin bbq sauce, so the plate looked bloody. The spicy sausage was the best, I think, while the pork ribs and the pulled beef were close runners up. It also came with a side order of bbq’d spaghetti, which I was told to specifically look out for. I wasn’t too impressed, unfortunately. Regular spaghetti coated in more of the sauce and bits of pulled pork, I think. I guess I was hoping for a transcendental experience, being in the best of the best bbq restaurants, so maybe I was expecting too much. I almost think I’ve had better bbq here in Virginia than the stuff I got that day. I’ve since read that some locals think the place has gone downhill in recent years.

I really should have sampled more places while I had the chance. The other places we ate were unmentionable — chosen for convenience rather than quality food — a necessity on a road trip. I do hope to get back to the Loveless Cafe again, though.

Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill

Fri, Jul 25 • 0

Not half as good as a real gas or charcoal grill, but considering most apartment complexes won’t allow those on high-rise balconies, this is the best you’re gonna get.

I mentioned before that I got an electric patio grill for my birthday earlier this month, and based on some reviews on Amazon, I deviated slightly from the assembly instructions that came with it. Specifically, I added a little mass. Reviewers on Amazon mentioned that the grill just doesn’t get up to any real temperature. So, underneath the heating element, I added a round wire rack and a layer of lava rocks designed to be used with a gas grill. The real payoff with this mod is that the more I use the grill, and the more food juices fall and stick to the lava rocks, the more smoke. And smoke is what gives flavor.

I’ve been pretty happy with this, even though it’s just a glorified electric broiler element in an enameled steel encasement. It gets plenty hot — easily climbing to 500° — and it does it pretty quickly. It did blow the electric circuit when I tried plugging it in on one of the more heavily used circuits in my apartment.

It costs about $200 with shipping (though Amazon will ship it for free if you’re willing to wait a couple extra days), and it’s fairly easy to assemble with a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. Although I can’t say if it will last many, many seasons. If it lasts two or three, I’ll be satisfied.

Amazon : Char-Broil Patio Caddie Electric Grill, $159.

Butterflied BBQ Chicken

Thu, Jul 24 • 0

This method cuts the normal cooking time for a chicken in half.

I got an electric patio grill for my birthday a few weeks ago, and with a few modifications, it’s able to get really very hot. So now I can grill food, legally, on my high-rise balcony with no worries about setting off the smoke alarm. And tonight I made butterflied BBQ’d chicken and it turned out really well. But if you don’t have an electric grill, it will work fine under the broiler of your oven, and even better if you have access to a gas or charcoal grill (though you’ll probably have to fidget with the cooking times).

You’ll need a chicken, no more than 4 pounds, preferably 3. Cut the back bone out, and cut off the wing tips, and splay it out on the cutting board, legs akimbo, skin side up. Take a kebab skewer and press it into one of the shoulders, and run it diagonally through the breast, and aim the tip to come out the end of the opposite drumstick. Take another skewer and make an X, starting in the other shoulder. This will keep the bird from curling up over the heat. Now you can flavor the chicken with whatever spice combination you want. I chose a mixture of bbq seasoning, salt, garlic powder, and pepper.  I mixed a little of this spice combination with some softened butter and crushed fresh garlic, and inserted it under the skin over the breast and down to the thighs and leg. Then I covered the bird, front and back with the dry seasoning.

Cooking it can’t be easier. Once the thermometer on my grill was up over 425°, I sprayed the grill with a little canola spray, and put the bird, skin-side down, onto the grill and put on the cover, and cooked it that way for 15 minutes. I kept my eye on the thermometer and regulated the heat so it stayed roughly around 400°. Then I turned it over, and cooked it, skin side up, for 25 minutes, rubbing bottled bbq sauce on the chicken in the last 5 minutes. You want the chicken’s internal temperature to be 165° at the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear when you cut into the bird on the platter.

Normally a 3 pound bird would take an hour and a half in my countertop rotisserie. Total cooking time this way, 40 minutes. (I’ve also tried this recipe with two cornish game hens, treated exactly the same… the only difference is the cooking time. You can get by with only 10 minutes on the skin side, and 15-20 minutes on the other.)

Pulled Pork Butt

Sat, May 24 • 0

This recipe will make your house smell wonderful, and you’ll be salivating for the hours it takes to cook.

Preheat oven to 325. Mix in a food processor :

6 cloves of garlic
2 california dried chilis, bloomed over an open flame, the stem and seeds removed
2 chunks of peeled fresh ginger
1 T smoked paprika
1 T mixed dried green herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary)
2 t salt
1 t pepper

Score the fat on a boston butt roast, and rub the above mixture all over the roast, especially into the fat.

Slice a white onion, thick, and layer the bottom of a cooking vessel with high sides. Put the roast on top, along with any left over rub. In a small bowl, mix equal amounts of ketchup and yellow mustard, along with half that quantity of molasses. Pour the wet mixture over the pork roast. Cover tightly with a lid, or with a layer of parchment under a layer of foil (tomato and aluminum foil don’t mix). Put it in the oven, and cook for 4 to 8 hours, or until the meat is literally falling off the bone. Once you get close, remove the cover 30 minutes before the end, and let the crust brown.

Remove the roast to rest. Shred with a pair of forks, and serve in the cooking liquid with the onions, and perhaps some good cole slaw, on hamburger buns/kaiser rolls.

Meatloaf, Attempt 1

Thu, Apr 17 • 2

I tried making a meatloaf last night, and I think it ended up turning out pretty good. My wife said she thought it tasted a little too “porky.”

I started off with a quarter pound each of ground beef (85/15), pork, and veal. I put a carrot and a 6″ length of leek through the food processor, along with 4 slices of applewood smoked bacon, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, and made a fine paste. I mixed that into the meats, plus one egg, some salt and pepper, and some bottled bbq sauce, and then I turned it all out onto a parchment lined sheet pan and formed a loaf shape. I covered the whole thing over with a little more bbq sauce. I cooked it in a 375° oven for about an hour, and then let it rest for 10 minutes.

As I said, I thought the flavor was really very good, though the texture was a bit off. It fell apart easily when I tried slicing it. I think next time, I’ll add something that will bind it together a little better… maybe milk soaked bread.

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