Leveling up on Grilling

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:

New York Strip Steak

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.

Grilled apples

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.

BBQ Ribs

Ever since I bought my house and got a BBQ/grill I’ve learned that most of what I thought of as BBQ growing up was actually grilling. The key difference is that you BBQ at a lower temperature (typically around 225 F) and that BBQ is cooked via indirect heat. Grilling is cooking directly over a fire and, typically, done at the highest heat your BBQ/grill can provide (at the very least starting around 350 F and higher). Although I’ve been cooking ribs successfully on the BBQ/Grill for the past 6ish years, I’ve never really been BBQing them. So I looked around on the web and I found the recipe for Last Meal Ribs.

Ribs and wood chips
Ribs and wood chips for smoking

I thought about the best ribs I’ve ever eaten and one of the aspects that adds a lot of the taste is smoking. So I bought some hickory wood chips. I’d usually done Danielle’s family ribs marinade, but this time I wanted to make it American Style. So I put together Meathead’s Dust rub to dry rub the ribs before I put them on the BBQ.

Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe
Ribs on the grill with the thermometer probe

When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone

One thing that was essential for BBQing that’s not really needed for grilling – a thermometer. BBQ built-in thermometers are just not accurate. Also, they’re measuring temperature up where the lid is, not by the meat. I couldn’t get a photo (with my phone) where both thermometer were in focus, but this one shows the BBQ in focus and the numbers on the external thermometer are large enough to read, even if it’s out of focus.

Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer
Inaccuracy of BBQ thermometer

Another reason you need the thermometer (even if you’re BBQing on a gas grill) is that weather and humidity affect the heat. For example, when I took these photos, this was the setting to maintain 225 F:

225 F setting in May
225 F setting in May

Only one of the burners on this setting with the others off. But when I BBQed yesterday, I had to turn the knob to the bottom setting.

Everything needed, including the sauce
Everything needed, including the sauce

So, having now done this twice, what are my lessons learned?

  1. I need a bigger BBQ if I’m going to feed more than just my immediate family. I can only make about 2 racks of babyback ribs on my BBQ.
  2. I need to work on getting the wood chips to smoulder/smoke better. I’ve gotten some flavor out of them, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Next time I’ll have to remove the grate and put it right on the fire to see if I can get a better amount of smoke.
  3. I always preheat the grill first – all high at 15 minutes. That’s supposed to help get the grates into a good state and help some of the fat or anything that remained on the grill melt off. I always wash them before use, but I can’t get everything off without risking ripping off some of the anti-rust coating of the grill.

Overall, I like the texture of the ribs better when I cook it this way. It tastes good when I cook it the old way where I was finishing in an hour, but it’s a bit tougher. When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone (which is overcooked and probably pre-boiled). Next up for me is to try a Brisket. I’m slightly intimidated by the 10ish hours of cooking time, but I’d definitely like to try it.

Waiting for the cooking to be done
Waiting for the cooking to be done

Is This Really Endemic? Restaurant No-Shows

On 30 April of this year I came across an article on Eater about how restaurants can deal with No-Shows.  I didn’t even know this was a big enough thing that restaurants have multiple strategies to deal with it. Every time I’ve made a reservation to a restaurant, I’ve gone. I set reservations because I (or I and my wife and whoever else is involved) have decided to go out to eat and want to be sure we’ll not have to wait too long to be seated.  Or, in the of exclusive restaurants, ensure we’ll actually get a table.  I could understand people not showing up because of a life event – someone gets sick or dies. But I don’t understand the mindset of making a reservation without an intention to attend. Additionally, the biggest reason I make reservations is, as stated above, to ensure I get a table in a reasonable amount of time. Nearly every place I’ve ever made reservations at has a line out the door and even with a reservation I sometimes have to wait 15-30 minutes for my table. That said, they wouldn’t write this whole article if there weren’t a bunch of people skipping out on reservations so I wanted to answer their suggestions.

The first one is to not take reservations. You know what this gets you? It means I don’t go to your restaurant. I value my time and I appreciate restaurants that value my time. The lobby area is usually not amenable to socializing or eating. So if I’m out with friends I want to get to our table so we can talk and have fun. If I’m with my family, I want to eat and GTFO so I can get back to having fun. And the larger my party is, the more I NEED  a restaurant that takes reservations because we require more empty tables to make up our eating area. So on the times that would have been most lucrative for the restaurant – parties of 10-15 people – I avoided them due to a lack of reservations. And the workers REALLY missed out because usually if it’s that many of us, it’s my in-laws. And they usually insist on paying. And they tend to tip 20-25%.  (They really value good service)

Overbooking is somewhat dangerous. My wife and I are fiercely loyal.  We’re also fiercely shunning.  There are restaurants we have completely sworn off because of a bad to horrible experience there. And one of our peeves is not being seated within a reasonable time with reservations. Now, we’re intelligent folks. We understand that managing restaurant flow is an art. You have no idea how long your customers are going to take. My mother, when out with only adults, might be at the table for 2-3 hours. My wife and I have closed two restaurants when eating out with her friends. My father-in-law insists on leaving the second the check is completed. And he’s asking for the check the second he’s done eating. So if I have a reservation for 2000, a busy time, I can tolerate being seated at 2015 or even 2020. But after 2030, I start wondering and commenting aloud on what the purpose of reservations are if I’m not seated at that time. After all, when I go out to eat I like to enjoy my food, so I often make sure not to eat any snacks. I want my stomach ready to receive as much food from your restaurant as possible. So I’m usually hungry as I stand there.

Requiring credit cards is OK. As I said, I always make my reservations with the intention of fulfilling them. But you better have a rational way for me to cancel without penalty. If I get the flu a few days ahead and call you, I better be able to get all my money back. And, ideally, you’d combine this with the next suggestion of tracking cancelers. Because I believe everyone should get one freebie. If I get sick on that day or get in a car crash or my mom dies or something and you charge me for not showing up like some kind of jerk – you can be your food I will never show up at your restaurant again. And I may be a lowly blogger, but for something like that, I’d do my best to make sure it gets out there – because that’s a jerk move. And by tracking, you’d be able to know that it’s not like I’m on my third mother dying, if you catch my drift.

The pre-paid ticket system COULD be weird. I’m not completely against it, unless it ends up becoming something where the tickets are sold on the second-hand market at a premium. Like if one guy can buy most of the tickets and then sell them for more – I don’t care how awesome your food is supposed to be.  It could literally be orgasm-inducing and I wouldn’t go. I know damn-well that my wife wouldn’t let me spend more for food than the food actually costs – which is what the ticket system would represent – buying a ticket to a fixed price menu.

Public shaming would only work together with tracking. Again, don’t be a jerk if you don’t know all the details. If I’m already depressed because my mom died, I’m not going to feel a whole lot better because some jerk called me out on twitter or Facebook. That’s the kind of stuff that could lead to the mentally unbalanced taking revenge.  Don’t do it.  It’s tacky.

Again, I’m not in the restaurant business so maybe this is a HUGE problem. I’ve never seen any evidence of that in any of the restaurants I’ve been to that range from medium class to high class. They always seem to be packed and have tons of people trying to get in. But if you do feel that you need to take these steps – beware. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there you might be shunning from your restaurant. And, really, your goal as a businessman (or woman) is to make as much money as possible so you shouldn’t be turning people away.

A Daily Photo

Rather than pile up my daily photos whenever I forget to post them, I’ll just post them one at a time and build up a stream of photos.  I haven’t been in much a textual blogging mood recently.  Perhaps that’ll return eventually.

Ramen Ezogiku

Whenever I’m in Oahu, I love eating at this ramen joint.  If your only experience of ramen is cup o’ noodles, you haven’t had real ramen.  Check it out next time you’re in a heavy Japanese neighborhood.  This place has good price and service and the food is pretty filling – especially if you get the rice and dumplings.

Safety and health are here…at a price

I’ve recently begun to notice a disturbing trend: anything that’s good for you will cost you more. The most serious infraction comes from the food supply. When I go to buy ground beef, cheapest of the beef products, there are three tiers of product available for me to purchase. The cheapest product is ground beef with the default amount of fat. Since ground beef is already among the scrap left from a cow, this fat content can be pretty high. Since I eat ground beef fairly regularly, about once every two weeks or less, this is unacceptable. So I can choose 95% lean ground beef or 97% lean ground beef. However, these products are more expensive. In other words, economics would tell me to eat the meat that was worse for my body. However, I am a rational human being who is not a slave to any theorems of economics; I choose to buy the expensive 97% lean ground beef. Of course, if I really want to get a leaner beef product, I can go from ground beef (where $5 will feed me many times) to filet mignion (where $16 will feed me twice – max). Not only will it contain more vitamins and less fat, but the tenderness of the meat is also healthier for my digestive system, and, to a trivial degree, my teeth.

Ok, what about other foods? Consistently throughout the market anything that is good for me costs more money. For a week’s worth of tomatoes I usually spend about $15 on a cheap week. By contrast, a week or two’s worth of potatoe chips is $3 when it’s not on sale. Even among fruits, those laden with pesticides and (potentially, though not yet proven) harmfull pesticides are cheaper than the organic, locally grown fuits and veggetables. It IS a proven fact that the closer to the original source of the food you are, the less preservatives in it, meaining the food is more valuable to your system as usable fuel. This is why microwaveable food is crap and really not worth eating because it’s just processed stuff that the body just throws out, while a home cooked meal will result in a healthier body.

Moving to automobiles, what examples of this behavior do we have? It is the higher end vehicles which have more airbags to protect the passengers in the event of an accident. Even beyond that, I recently saw a Lexus commercial touting that the new filters on their cars don’t let pollen or other pollutants into the car. So are we saying that it’s ok for people who can’t afford a Lexus to breathe in pollution while those who have them enjoy healthier lungs?

This is all amounting a a very subtle form of class discrimination. If tomorrow someone was to say that the cure for cancer had been discovered, but only rich people could use it, there would be public outcry. In fact, riots or even revolutions would occur. Why are we allowing the same things to happen in other realms? For example, the current grocery prices force poor people to eat unhealthy foods. If they have to decide between having a place to live or eating healthy, they will certainly select to have a place to live. I am not a communist, I believe that those who have worked hard deserve to have their perks. However, there is a difference between perks and health. I don’t think it’s unfair if a poor person has to watch tv in a smaller tv than a rich person. Tv is an extra. Being healthy is not an extra it is a fundamental right of all humanity. Especially in the United States, the most modernized of all countries in the world, we should not be tolerating this.

Is there an easy solution? Yes there is an easy solution. Currently the government pays farmers subsidies in order for them to purposely plant less crops. Due to supply and demand principles, this artificially inflates the prices of produce. You may be thinking to yourself, “no don’t do that to the poor farmers!” But in reality, ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, there has been a steady decline in the independent farmer. Currently a VERY large percentage (I think 80% or more, but don’t have solid figures) of farming is done by HUGE companies that own most of the land and pay their workers minimum wage. In fact, there aren’t even too many workers now that most of it is mechanized. With the cars, there are two solutions. 1) mandate that all features relating to health must be included in all cars without significantly raising their price 2) subsidize the cheaper cars (eg ford focus) so that poor people can afford to breathe without Asthma.

Be certain that if I ever make it to Congress, these items will be on my agenda.