Thunderbird Chicken Scratch

Last time I was in Florida my mom took me to a specialty BBQ store, Just Grillin, off of Dale Mabry in Carrollwood. I didn’t know such places existed. I thought everyone just bought their grills at a hardware store, Amazon, or direct from the company. It was a pretty great to be able to see and touch Yoders, Weber Summits, and other high-end BBQs. They also came by with some chicken they’d cooked in the back using a variety of rubs they sell. Oh yeah, the entire wall behind the register was full to the brim with rubs and sauces – most (if not all) of them local or competition group rubs. Any rub you wanted to try would be poured into a tasting cup. Sure, it’s not the same as having the rub on some food, but it’s certainly better than the blind buying we have to do with supermarket rubs. As a gift, mom said she’d get me any rub I wanted to try, so I picked up Thunderbird Chicken Scratch. Then a bunch of travel meant I had to keep waiting impatiently until I could finally try it. Last night I finally got my chance.

I asked the wife to get me some boneless, skinless thighs and legs from Costco. Boneless for faster cooking and skinless because no one in the house but me eats the skin. I checked the rub ingredients and it already had salt, so I would dry brine the thighs and legs with the rub. A couple hours before I was planning to grill, I patted the parts dry and I placed them onto a baking sheet. There I generously seasoned them – as in put rub over the entire surface by shaking it over the food. I wasn’t looking for pork shoulder-level coverage, but I wanted to make sure every bite had rub on it. Then I put the chicken into the fridge uncovered. I had been planning to cook them on the gas grill for a faster start, but the rub’s label stated it was developed to be eaten with smoked meat, specifically pecan. So half an hour before I wanted to start cooking, I fired up the kettle and placed a couple small chunks of pecan on the coals. I wanted a medium heat, so I spread a chimney evenly over the grill, leaving only a small area for flare control, even though I wasn’t expecting it to be an issue.

Pecan wood in the charcoal
Pecan wood in the charcoal

I grabbed the chicken from the fridge and used a silicone brush to paint some canola oil onto both sides of the chicken. Five minutes later, the grates were hot and I was ready to go. After throwing the chicken on, I left the bottom vents completely open and closed the top vent halfway. This measured 350ish on the dome thermometer which I know is inaccurate, but I note for consistency. I don’t usually bother with accurate measurements when I’m grilling chicken, only when I’m cooking indirectly. After 7.5 minutes, I flipped the chicken – it was looking quite beautiful.

Chicken on the grill
Chicken on the grill

After closing the lid again, I noticed the temp had dropped to 300 (one of the pitfalls of closing the lid with the coals spread everywhere is that it reduces flow from the bottom vent). So I reopened the top vent and it bounced back to 350 and stayed there. After another 7.5 minutes the chicken was at 165 or more on all but 2 pieces. So I left those on the grill with the lid open while I went to the kitchen to get a loaf of bread to throw on the grill. By the time I came back, the chicken was measuring a safe temp and so it joined its brethren in the cassarole dish loosely tented while I raked the coals to one side to create a smokey “oven” for the bread. Ten minutes later food was ready.

The chicken had a nice, seasoned taste with a little bit of a kick. I’m in love with with spicy – I eat Indian spicy, Korean spicy, and only Honolulu Thai spicy was a bit much for me. The inredients list has three types of hot peppers, but they’re in a ratio that provides a heat that doesn’t linger. It says, “hey there, tongue!” and then is gone in the next bite of salad or bread. The chicken was incredibly juicy (I wasn’t sure how it would be – I usually brine in a soy sauce concoction that my wife has adapted with various herbs to suit fajitas, lamb, chicken, and ribs) and I loved sopping up the chicken juices and bits of rub from my plate. I’m not sure how easy it is to get this rub outside of this store in central Florida, but I highly recommend it if you’re bored of your usual chicken taste. (Also endorsed by: my wife, my mother-in-law, and the guy at work that I talk to BBQ about and had a bite of the chicken)

Chicken is Done
Chicken is Done

Steakhouse Burgers

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.

Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat
Steakhouse burgers on indirect heat (with some on direct heat)

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.

Finishing up the steakhouse burgers
Finishing up the steakhouse burgers

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.

Alabama Birds with White Sauce

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.

smoking the chicken quarters
smoking the chicken quarters

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.

Finished chicken
Finished chicken

Finally I added the sauce:

smoked white sauce chicken
smoked white sauce chicken

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.

Pizza on the Weber Kettle

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.

Naturally, when I found out that a wood-fired pizza oven could be approximated on a Weber Kettle, I was intrigued. As usual, Meathead was my first stop for anything grilled or BBQ’d. I got myself a pizza paddle and a pizza stone.

pizza paddle
pizza paddle
pizza stone
pizza stone

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.

coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle
coal setup for pizza on Weber Kettle

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.

First pizza for the Weber Kettle
First pizza for the Weber Kettle

Here’s how the first one came out:

First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle
First pizza cooked on Weber Kettle

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.

Second Pizza from Weber Kettle
Second Pizza from Weber Kettle

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.

Final Weber Kettle Pizza

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.

Breaded Steak Success

Breaded steak was probably my favorite Cuban food growing up. More than pork shoulder sandwiches and other things my mother made. I often helped her prepare it at home, but never got a chance to cook it as a kid. I’ve tried it a few times since growing up, but it’s hard to get the right thickness. Butchers here don’t know what it is, so they have a hard time helping me. But this time I got through to a butcher at Wegmans – who let me in on the secret – using a mallet to squish the meat skinnier than it can be cut on a steak slicer. The only thing that sucks is that my example of thinness was some Korean meat so he thought I wanted it cut into little strips. Still, I finally was successful at making a very tasty breaded steak:

Cooking

Cooking
Cooking

Back in May I came across an article on Boing Boing Titled “You Don’t Have a Moral Obligation to Cook“:

I have found myself frustrated with Michael Pollan lately. In the course of promoting his new book about cooking, he’s taken to spouting some opinions that I’ll frankly call claptrap. He’s mocked women who felt trapped by the kitchen drudgery that they got stuck with simply because they owned a vagina. He’s implied that it’s easy (if you’re not lazy) for everyone to make every meal an ideologically sound slow-food meal. In general, he’s disparaged the very idea that some people don’t like to cook.

And I say that as somebody who loves to cook. The key, though, is that cooking every meal is not something I alone am solely responsible for, no matter how I’m feeling or what day it is. It’s not something that takes up a large portion of my life. And it is something that I just happen to find relaxing and fun. If any of those facts weren’t true, my thoughts on cooking might be very different. And it’s silly to expect otherwise.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have found myself, from time to time, being a cooking snob. I don’t take it to the extremes that some of my coworkers do – berating those who go to the cafeteria (or fast food) every day to eat, but I have found myself being disgusted with people who are constantly eating out. The reality is that lots of people have to eat out – both parents work and there isn’t time to cook. (My parents eat out more than they used to now that they are both business owners) Or they don’t know how or a million other reasons. But the reality is that you don’t need a reason. People can just hate cooking. I enjoy cooking because I love creation. I love putting time into something and getting a reaction out of someone. It’s why I blog, why I do photography, etc But not everyone enjoys it – even a little.

I think that our shaming of those who don’t cook comes from our current obsession with obesity in the USA. We’re constantly told that people who are obese are at higher right for disease and that it will cost us more money as a society. Hospitals will charge us more (because statistically the fattest among us are the least able to pay for ER visit) and insurance premiums go up and so on and so forth. So we find ourselves mad at people who are (usually) fully-functional adults – capable of deciding for themselves whether they want to be fat or thin. Of course, that is a landmine of its own – perhaps they have diseases, hormonal issues, mental issues, or genetics keeping them from losing weight and yet they have our constant judging. If only so-and-so would just cook for himself instead of going to McDonald’s every day.

What this article makes me ultimately realize is that we shouldn’t be shaming those who don’t cook – we should be shaming restaurants for giving us such crappy food. Yes, I know they are businesses and they will do whatever it takes to make the most money – that means serving us what we crave – sugar, fat, salt, and fried food. Perhaps we should be demanding some sort of social contract – you, corporation who is apparently also a person (Thanks, Romney), have a responsibility to us. Or maybe we just need to change the free market incentives. Shift the cost of this obesity from taxpayers as citizens to food corporations and make them fiscally responsible for keeping us healthy. I know that’s next to impossible (even ignoring the money in politics it’d be hard to structure it so as not to create perverse incentives), but we have to do SOMETHING. Just because Danielle and I busted out butts to cook 80% of the week when we were both working doesn’t make it morally right or mean everyone should do it. People need to be able to eat in a healthy manner even if they can’t or DON’T WANT TO cook.

Also, to everyone who knows me in person (and possibly blog readers where that Venn Diagram doesn’t overlap) I’d like to apologize in advance – even having written this post I’m sure from time to time I’ll fall back on my old ways. After all, just like the breast feeding debate, cooking IS OFTEN the best thing you can do for your health. But that doesn’t give me the right to preach to others. Let me know what you think in the comments – I’ll be especially interested in those of my dietician sister-in-law if she cares to provide some comments.