Continuing my summer of learning to cook new dishes, I decided to tackle steakhouse burgers. I’d already mastered diner burgers, so I wanted to work on these. I didn’t follow Meathead’s directions 100% in that I didn’t create ground beef out of a nice cut of meat. But I did follow his recipe for using 2 zone cooking to make good-tasting, thick burgers.
Now, it’s possible that it’s because I crowded my burgers (18″ kettle, not much of a choice), but it took WAY too long to come up to temp. After 20 minutes it was not anywhere near 155. Since it was getting late, I just moved them to the sear side to speed up the cooking.
So, in the end it was more of a char than a sear (which is what I was trying to avoid). I’d like to give it another chance, but it’s tough when everyone in the house prefers the diner burgers. I think even if I got the steakhouse burgers perfected, that would still be the case, but I still want to try. We’ll see when I get another shot.
Part of the fun of being into BBQ has been trying new things. As I’ve mentioned before, when I was growing up “BBQ” was what we called grilling and it MOSTLY consisted of burgers and hot dogs. Very occasionally it would be something else. Lots of lighter fluid and mediocre results. But now I know about low and slow and smoking and 2-zone grilling. And once I mastered ribs, chicken, and brisket it was time to experiment. So I tried Meathead’s recipe for Alabama Birds with White Sauce.
I threw the chicken on the smoker as he recommended. Then I using some direct grilling (I had some corn grilling on the Weber Kettle), I crisped up the skin.
Finally I added the sauce:
The sauce had a nice piquancy to it. It was milky and spicy – I’d say if you like to mix your cole slaw with your chicken while eating BBQ, you’ll likely enjoy this sauce. In fact, I had some leftover cabbage from another meal and I poured the leftover sauce from the chicken meal onto the cabbage for a makeshift coleslaw.
Also, surprisingly, my mother-in-law was really into the sauce and took the recipe home.
I’d never made bread before (not counting pizza dough), but I recently got a dutch oven on sale on Woot.com and was looking for some things to make in the device. Then I came across this recipe for No-Knead Dutch Oven Bread. It seemed really simple, so I figured it’d be a great activity to do with Scarlett. She did in fact love working on it.
Lessons learned – the crust looked fine after 45 minutes and I already cut the time with the lid off to 10 minutes. Next time I might just take it out after the 45 minutes if the crust looks good. Other than that, it’s very delicious and tastes amazing with butter.
In the past few years I’ve been moving away from seeing pizza as junk food towards seeing it as another food that is sometimes made with care, skill, and love and sometimes make in a hurry for a buck. I can’t remember the exact timeline and can’t be bothered to search for photo evidence, but the two restaurants that changed my mind on pizza were Two Amys in Maryland and Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. Two very different styles of pizza, but Grimaldi’s cooked in a fire-based pizza oven and authentic Neopolitan at Two Amys. So now there was a new measurement against which to measure all pizzas: the wood-fired pizza.
For my first outing I didn’t want to do my own dough in case it turned out badly. I didn’t want to have also wasted time making dough. So I bought a couple pounds of dough from Wegmans. Then I set up the coals in a rough U shape around where the pizza stone would go.
I left the dough out for the amount of time recommended on the package, but it was not fully defrosted. That made working with it very challenging.
Here’s how the first one came out:
Not the prettiest, but when it’s not a perfect circle we call it rustic. I got the comment that it wasn’t quick as cooked on the top of the dough as would be preferred. So I went from 10 minutes to 15 minutes – rotating every five minutes.
Better crust and better cheese distribution. By this time, though, the temp in the kettle was getting low. I started with one chimney of coals. So I added some more coals above the already lit coals. This was a huge mistake as it ended up WAAAAY too smokey:
For some reason, it seems that having unlit coals underneath (or in a snake or fuse method) doesn’t cause a noticeable amount of white, acrid smoke. But adding coals on top does have the smoke issue.
It was pretty delicious, but actually, I found them to be tastier the next day heated up in the toaster oven at work. But that’s generally the way I feel about pizza.
So lessons learned:
Pizza may need to cook for 15 minutes
Wegmans dough takes longer to defrost than it says on the bag
use a rolling pin if it’s cold or the dough will keep trying to bunch back up
Do not add more coals on top if the heat is getting low – have more coals already on the bottom or wait until the smoke clears again
Overall, it has a good pleasant taste
May need to use less cornmeal on the paddle or warn people about the “sandy texture”
To try next time:
Putting a mild wood like post oak or whatever they typically use in pizza ovens and see how that affects the flavor.
Do you know why a lot of people don’t BBQ that often? Because they always make the same thing and that’s boring. So I’ve been going through all the recipes in Meathead’s book (and other sources) to see if anything else is tasty to my palette. This time it was smoked chicken. I cut the chicken in half.
I took the skin off because Danielle was going to take off the skin anyway and since this was a rub-based recipe, that would remove all the flavor as well.
This time instead of Simon and Garfunkel rub, it was Meathead’s Memphis dust. I threw it on the smoker with the skin on the side to crisp it up, but I didn’t realize I was supposed to stretch it out, so I just ended up throwing it out after the smoke.
When it was done, I had a smoked chicken sandwhich. It was OK. Danielle definitely does not want this recipe again. She said it doesn’t break up the taste of the ribs and/or pork shoulder since it’s all the same rub. I do agree with her on that front. If I made this chicken, it wouldn’t be as part of a meal with Meathead’s Last Meal Ribs or a pork shoulder with his Memphis Dust.
I’d tackled all the major BBQ meats. It was time to try and make my own sauce. So I assembled all my ingredients and followed Meathead’s recipe. It’s supposed to be like KC Classic, which I’ve never had. I also went with the secret optional ingredient of Tamarind paste.
Then I finished cooking
And canned it while it was still hot:
So what was the verdict? Again, I’ve never had KC Classic. My favorite commercial BBQ sauce is Trader Joe’s Kansas City sauce and that’s nice and sweat. This sauce was very tangy. While it has grown on me over the past couple months, it’s definitely not my favorite and my wife doesn’t like it at all. I want to try one more time, this time tweaking it to be a sweeter sauce. Also, I want to see how it changes when caramelized, something I haven’t had a chance to do yet. Still, it was fun to make my own and add it to my other BBQ/smoke creations.
I had been wanting to do brisket for a very long time, but I couldn’t find anywhere convenient to buy a whole packer brisket. But right before I was convinced I was going to have to go to a butcher, Costco decided to carry them.
Yeah, it was 20 lbs, which is ridiculous for what was essentially going to be just 3 adults, but it was USDA Prime for only $3/lb! I had no choice. I put it in my shopping cart and resolved to deal with the consequences later.
After I got home I realized I had a problem, it was too long to fit in my 18″ Weber Smokey Mountain. So I had to cut off some of the flat. (I ended up using that to make some beef phở).
Then I had to trim the fat. There was a pretty good amount to take off.
I put on a Dalmatian rub and put it into the fridge to dry brine.
The next day I fired up the smoker and got to work on the Texas mop sauce.
Instead of vegetable oil, I rendered some of the brisket fat:
I should have cut it into smaller pieces to increase the rendered fat to fried fat ratio, but there’s a first time for everything. And here’s my completed mop sauce:
The taste reminded me a lot of my mom’s carne con papa sauce or a ragu. I think a bit over 20 hours later, the brisket was finally done smoking:
I used Kingsford coals with the minion method and some hickory as the wood. I always think it’s so funny the smoked food looks burnt until you cut into it and get that delicious food. But first I had to put it in the cooler for four hours.
and then finally was able to bring it inside:
then FIRST CUT!
Even the lean part was ridiculously moist. The whole thing was practically falling apart.
Here’s a look at the point where you can see muscle grains going in two different directions:
And here was my dinner that day:
A week later this is all that was left:
And after searching fo what else I could do with my brisket, I made brisket tacos!
So, what were my lessons learned from my first brisket? Basically, I was a little too focued on getting to 203 when I should have checked for probe tender at 195 and every few degrees after that. I ended up with an overcooked (although moist, not dry) brisket that just fell apart a little too much. Overall, it was good, but I also realized I’m just not that into brisket compared to other BBQ foods. I prefer ribs or chicken. I’ll make brisket again, but only if I’m cooking for a group so I don’t need to eat 10ish lbs of brisket over the course of a couple weeks.
I cut the pork shoulder into roughly equal halves. I had three things I wanted to experiment with:
Would it cook faster?
Would it be nice to have twice as much bark?
I wanted to try a Mexican-ish rub on one to have pulled pork tacos.
In my opinion, for a long Weber Kettle cook you can’t beat a snake. If it’s going to go VERY long, it can be a pain as you have to move the water pan to continue the snake. But for medium-long cooks, it’s a nice, perfect way to have a consistent temperature throughout the cook.
This time around I went with Apple wood chunks to see if I could taste the difference from Hickory. Well, without them side-by-side I couldn’t really tell the difference.
Used the Weber Spirit as a safe place to light the first ten coals.
We were expecting rain, so I also setup my umbrella.
With the fire going, I set about to putting the rub on the pork shoulders while waiting for the kettle to get to 225 F.
It was quite windy and I ended up keeping the lower vents mostly open for most of the smoke.
And here’s a shot partway through the cook.
Two shoulders was just a bit too much side-by-side on the Kettle if you’re leaving enough space between them and keeping them away from getting direct heat from the snake/fuse. Here’s the graph of the smoke:
The fajita rub was off the fire first:
About an hour later, the Meathead rub shoulder was done:
First I created a pulled pork fajita:
It was quite delicious! Then it was time for a pulled pork sandwich:
I was reading through Meathead’s sauce page on AmazingRibs.com and saw that Shealy’s was the best South Carolina Mustard BBQ sauce. I ordered some from Shealy’s and …. I did not like it. It just tasted like mustard to me. However, as time passed and I tried the sauce with other pork dishes, I came to taste the subtle difference between this sauce (which is mustard, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce) and regular yellow mustard and I like it quite a bit now.
Finally, my wife had some pulled pork nachos:
This time the bark was perfect and my wife loved it. Not sure what’s different. The main difference is that it’s spring now and not winter and Meathead does say that humidity can affect cooks. It’s also possible I overcooked it last time. I’m not 100% sure. Either way, it was a resounding success and I had fun trying all sorts of different dishes with the pulled pork. Also pretty awesome (but I didn’t get a photo) was my pulled pork breakfast burrito.
We were debating what to eat. There are a lot of dishes we like, but it’s easy to forget all of them when you’re constantly thinking of the half dozen foods your toddlers eat and the dozen or so foods your preschooler eats. Lamb was on sale at Costco, so I told the wife we should have lamb and I would cook it outside and we’d have gyros. Well, modified gyros because we used naan for the bread instead of pita. The image above is Danielle’s wet brine for the meat. Based on the size of the chunks Danielle chopped up, I decided to do a reverse sear.
In the middle of the charcoal there is a chunk of hickory. I wanted to just give the lamb a little something extra as an experiment. I didn’t try to make it 225 or 325 or anything special. I just threw a bunch a probes in the chunks and waited for it to get to about 120 F. Then I put it on direct heat until it got to about 135ish.
Then my wife sliced it nice and thin:
The wife put together a tzatziki sauce sauce and we created our delicious gyros:
My boss, who happens to be Greek (and not from generations ago) said it was among the best lamb she’d ever eaten. She loved the hickory flavor as it was different than the usual way she’d eaten it before. I shared the marinade recipe with my grill/BBQ buddy at work. He said it was great and his entire family loved it.
I’ve been perfecting my diner style hamburgers (aka quarterpounders) thanks to the tips from Amazingribs.com. But there’s a guy at work I talk to about grilling, BBQ, and smoking. He was telling me about his bacon cheeseburgers. I thought about how I tend not to like bacon cheeseburgers in restaurants. Usually either the bacon or the cheese is substandard and I end up just preferring a hamburger. But then I thought about one key thing – when I make the burgers I decide all the ingredients.
My wife likes Kraft singles for her cheese, but I prefer melting some grated cheddar cheese. If I was going to be making dinner, I didn’t want to make more work for myself or the wife by cooking the bacon indoors. So I put those on the cast iron skillet first:
I use good quality bacon and I can cook it to my desired crunchiness level. It’s bummer I can only fit 2 burger patties at a time if I’m making diner burgers.
Then toast the bread and add the condiments:
One thing Meathead suggested that has made eating hamburgers easier for me to eat is to have the condiments on bottom with the thumbs and all the rest up with your eight fingers. It makes it a lot less slippery to keep everything in. It also allows the meat juice to mix with the condiments.
For a long time we’d been avoiding New York Strip Steak. I’d tried to grill some a long time ago and it just couldn’t hold a candle to a Ribeye. But recently my father-in-law bought a bunch and gave us some so I gave it another shot. I took all I’d learned in the past year or so from Meathead and used my thermometer to get a prefer medium steak. Here’s where I ended up:
With only direct grilling, I got a perfect end-to-end pink and a great bit of taste from the Maillard Reaction. I also decided to experiment with some apples on the grill after reading about others doing so on reddit.
While I am not a huge apple person, I did think it had a nice taste – similar to an apple pie. I simply grilled and then sprinkled sugar. The recipe I was following was something like 3 minutes per side and I think I ended up doing about 2 minutes per side to prevent it from burning or overcooking.
As a manger, I’m often thinking of ways to show my employees how much I appreciate their hard work. Recently, while watching a Meathead video, I saw his quote at the end that cooking for someone is an act of love. And love is not far off from appreciation so I figured I’d ask my employees if they’d like it if I made them some smoked baby back ribs for the cost of raw materials. We settled on a half rack per person, salad, and bread for $6. So then I just had to pick a date to make the food. Thanks to my mom getting me the Weber Kettle for my birthday this year, I had enough room to smoke to the ribs across both my BBQs as long as I used rib racks. So I used the Weber 6605 rib racks (which you saw in the featured image and will see again below)
I was already a pro with Meathead’s recipe for baby back ribs, having done it about 3 or 4 times now. But it was my first time using both the gas and charcoal grill to make 6 racks at once. I offered people the option of less smokey taste and more smokey taste. On the charcoal grill I used what I’d learned with the pulled pork to do a snake method with the charcoal.
I wanted to offer an option for anyone who couldn’t eat pork. So I offered Simon and Garfunkel Chicken and one guy took me up. He got 4 thighs. And he loved it because he loves the herbs used in the rub.
After about 3 hours the ribs were ready (a process that began at 0600 with lighting the coals) and I sauced them so I could carmelize the sauce on the BBQ. It’s easiest to ramp up the temp on the gas grill, so they were all carmelized on the Spirit.
Then it was time to roll it in pink butcher paper and put it in the cooler to keep it warm until I got to work.
It was a big success. Someone said it was the best baby back ribs they’d ever had. Others didn’t go that far, but enjoyed it it well enough. The question is – what do I make next time?
Long-time readers of my blog will know that while I’ve been working at mastering my grills for a few years now, it was in 2016 that I decided I would take my BBQ to the next level. Back in June I smoked baby back ribs for the first time. Then I realized that I wanted to step up my smoking game I’d need a Weber Kettle. Mom got me one for my birthday and at that time I started pining for a chance to take on one of the two kings of BBQ: Pulled Pork or Brisket. The local area made up my mind for me. Apparently it’s next to impossible to get full packer brisket in Maryland. So pulled pork it would be.
I’d already been spending a lot of time in Reddit’s BBQ Subreddit, but to master a winter smoke, I turned to the Smoking subreddit. A special thanks to the two users who helped me here. (As of now going by the handles: HolySchnikeys and golfzerodelta) There will be room in the future to experiment with other recipes, but for now I’m mostly following Meathead Goldwin’s recipes. This time it was this one for pulled pork. I recommend reading the website once to get Meathead’s very wordy tips. Then use his cookbook to do the actual cook as the realities of printing costs mean he has to be more economical with his works. Meathead recommends trimming the fat (because most people aren’t going to eat it and they’ll end up throwing away your bark – where most of the flavor is) and salting it 12-24 hours ahead of time. I ended up being able to salt it 18 hours-ish ahead of time:
Meathead warns that a 5 pound pork shoulder could take 8-12 hours depending on conditions and this was nearly an 11 pound shoulder. I had a feeling it wasn’t linear (meaning it wouldn’t take twice as long), but I had no idea how long it’d take. So I planned to get it on the Weber Kettle by 0600. I didn’t want to be running around the house while everyone was asleep, so I got everything ready ahead of time:
I got up at 0515, brushed my teeth, and got ready to go outside.
The winter gear is pretty self-explanatory – it was 29 out there when I first went out. The headlamp was so that I would be able to see even if my body was blocking the porch light.
The guys on the smoking subreddit recommended the snake or fuse method to keep a nice, consistent flow of heat because a lot of it was going to be radiating out of the Weber Kettle due to how cold it was outside.
I set up a snake of 2 coals topped with 2 coals going around as you see above. Here’s a closer shot:
I used hickory wood chunks as I like the hickory flavor – it’s the one I associate most with BBQ. (Although I’ll be experimenting in the future) Meathead usually has one weigh wood so the pitmaster can be consistent in the future. I didn’t have time the prior day so I tried to approximate about 1 lb of wood.
I put 10 coals into the Weber chimney and about 7 were fully lit when I placed them onto the right side of the snake fuse. I filled the water pan with 208 degrees F water from our instant hot water tea maker. I used the entire capacity and ended up filling the pan somewhere between 75% and 80% full. Then I closed the lid with both the top and bottom vents fully open. It was 0609. So I was a bit behind. I went and grabbed the butt (yuck yuck) to put the seasoning on it while I waited for the BBQ to come up to temp.
Then I added the temp probe:
The pork ended up on at 0645. The grill wasn’t up to temp yet, but I figured I’d start the cooking rather than waiting for the perfect temp. Things went well and the snake kept things relatively sane. I only had to adjust the vents a little here and there (probably when a wood chunk would ignite). Here are some shots of the kettle and settings at 1113:
A little after 1400 I noticed my temps starting to drop precipitously. I’d been checking the snake every time I adjusted the vents, but given how cold it was outside I didn’t want to do that too much and leak more heat out than the Kettle was already leaking. Turns out my snake was about to die. So I removed the cooking grate, moved the water pan, cleaned out the ash, continued the snake onwards, and watch the temps. They were taking too long to climb back up, so I took 1 chacoal lump, and the newly created charcoal (the hickory wood from before) and lit that in the chimney. I then added that to the snake. Temperatures began to climb back up. This was also around the time I had a stall. Was the stall because I’d reached stall temp or because the meat was cooled by being taken out in winter (I think in the summer the effect would be negligible)? Anyway, here’s how the pork shoulder looked at that point:
Before I get to the finished product, here’s a chart of various temps throughout the cook. The least accurate is the ambient temp as that was from my phone which probably updated on the half hour.
Near the end there as it started to get cold again and the coals were starting to run out on my second snake, I had to clean out the ash a lot to maintain my temps.
It was getting late and I pulled it at 196 rather than wait for 203. It was super tender and a bit actually stuck to the grate and I had to remove it with a spatula (that’s the part on the right of that photo). The bark tasted amazing on average. However, there were some parts (especially on the edges (as opposed to top and bottom)) that were actually burnt rather than just looking burnt. That was regrettable because it was bark and flavor no one wanted to eat. I might end up cutting it up so that it’s smaller and easier to eat while still giving flavor.
My wife shredded the pork as I had no experience with that whatsoever. Then we took her homemade coleslaw (buttermilk instead of mayo and 2 kinds of cabbage!) and made sandwiches:
I never had to crutch so my bark was somewhere between simply tough and crunchy. I liked it, but my wife did not. Perhaps in the future I will crutch it or rest it with foil to soften the bark a bit for her? Another lesson learned is that since it really does have nearly all the flavor in the bark (like 90%), I’d do better to have 2 five pound shoulders instead of one ten pound shoulder to increase the bark to inner meat ratio.
Overall it feels great to have conquered my first long cook. My wife liked it (and she does NOT mince words with me when it comes to food taste – she will not hesitate to tell me when food flat out sucks) and I took some to work the next day and the guy with whom I usually talk BBQ shop loved it. People did not want to stop eating and share with others. So that’s a good sign. In fact, I actually found that it tasted a bit better to me the second day. Aforementioned BBQ expert agreed with me, but your mileage may vary. Next….time to find some whole packer brisket!