Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hot Tamales!

See amateurish video evidence of an East coast tourist eating tamales in Balboa Park, San Diego.

Fast forward to the 3:00 mark of this one:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Restaraunt Review: Phil's Barbeque of San Diego!

When I travel, I only take the best in rental cars.
So recently having had the pleasure of visiting beautiful San Diego, I thought I would check out Phil's Barbecue, which every website in town said was the best around. I was dead set on it, even though my local expert Frank D. tried to steer me elsewhere. More on that later. 

For those of you who are Seinfeld fans, Phil's has a kind of organizational structure reminiscent of New York's infamous Soup Nazi (more on him here), though the staff was much more cordial. There were two lines. Take-out on the left, dine in on the right. The right line led to a counter where you would order fast food style and then get whisked away with a number for servers to bring you your food. I have to admit this place was quite the hit with the locals. They had to stagger the right line so that seating space could keep up with people coming in. By the time we left there was literally a line snaking around the building, so they must be doing something right.   

Word to the wise: next time you visit Phil's, go in through the take-out line, hang a left to the bar, and some lovely bartenders will take your order which gets you out of the dine-in line, which could literally save you a couple of hours and reward yourself with a drink or two in the process.

Thus was the spread for our party: baby backs, beef ribs, 'boneless ribs' whatever they are, awesome onion rings,  slaw, beans, fries.

Now to get the critical piece out of the way. Frank D. had this 'I told you so' look when I discovered this. I dug into a sizable slab of baby back ribs doused in sauce. The picture you see above is the bottom half rack with less sauce. Your eyes do not deceive you - you see evidence of direct grilling on these baby back ribs, which leads to all kinds of questions. Were the boiled? <> Any way you slice it I cannot give Phil's high marks for these ribs. Though they had no natural pork flavor, they were tasty and filling and good for a solid meal, though they lacked that barbecue magic that makes me bother typing blogs at midnight in the first place. I am by no means a purist or barbecue snob, and I do like sauce, but if these ribs ever made it to my back yard I would have a hard time deciding whether I should slingshot them onto the Garden State Parkway on one side or the cemetery on the other. Should have listened to Frank. All is not lost though, keep reading.
Frank's full dish of lovely beef ribs
The sides were nothing spectacular. The beans were tasty but probably from a can. Slaw was fresh and fluffy but otherwise unremarkable. See a picture above for some great 'real onion rings' as my dad would say.
And now moving forward. The beef rib has been the elusive white rhino of my barbecue adventures. Below you see one beef rib which they serve a la carte, which I think is a great menu idea. These things were GOOD. It figures that after all my inquiries at supermarkets, meat markets, restaurants, that I can't get my hands on real beef ribs without having to place special orders weeks in advance for something frozen, only to come to California to find an abundance of luscious beef ribs falling from the sky.

These things were great and definitely absolved Phil of all his sins. Of course while I was experimenting with a little bit of this and a little of that, Frank went straight for a full order of about 6 beef ribs, about a pound each. While I tasted charcoal I did not taste a whole lot of wood flavor so I cannot say they were smoked to perfection, though they were definitely cooked indirectly. Why the difference from the charred pork ribs? Were the beef ribs less delicate? Different chefs? If so, the Jedi master on the beef pit has a lot to teach his young apprentice on the other side of the kitchen.
These ribs were very good. They had great texture, great beef flavor, were not greasy at all, and were HUGE. Any Flintstones fan would drool at one of these.
So now I am home. I am in the dead of winter and I am thinking about snow blowers a lot more than any of my grills, which by the way are under a foot of snow. When the weather breaks, I will go back to finding a source of beef ribs in Northern New Jersey. Maybe I will go to places like the Iron Bound and Market Street in downtown Paterson, or maybe I will find some holes in the wall and review them like my friend the Mad Meat Genius. In any event, I will find some beef ribs by the summer. In closing, Phil's was a good, casual eatery with a ton of local support and I'd go back in a heartbeat. More updates from the SD trip on the way! 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can't Make a Bad Rib, Trust Me I Tried This Time.

Hi all, I have to start by apologising for my long hiatus from smoking and blogging, though I would prefer to think of it as more of a siesta, as my friends in Sarasota would put it. It has been a busy late summer/early fall.  Aplogies nonwithstanding, for a while I was thinking I should try to smke something with the worst possible ingredients and components, to find out if it was truly possible for something bad to come off of my smoker. For those of you that have been regular readers, you know that I have been experimenting with various brands of lump charcoal and higher-quality natural or competition grade briquettes. I got the perfect first piece of material to test my theory when my brother gave me something well below where I have recently been in the charcoal-quality department, a free 18 lb bag of regular Kingsford charcoal, and if that in and of itself wasn't bad (or good) enough, this stuff has been sitting in his trunk for two years! Nothing better to test my theory than a two year old bag of Kingsford briqs with all their standard chemichal binders and who knows what else to give me some funky pork. I started with two chimneys puored into the remnants of the last lump I used in the WSM as yo can see below.

Now for the preparation of the meat. In keeping with the theme of making something that should be barely edible, I decided to make a crappy rub. This by the way happened a day prior. I went into my wife's spice shelf and put whatever we had around into a bowl. I think this consisted of some of the normal stuff like sea salt, pepper, cumin, parsely, garlic and onion powder, etc. Whenever I read about Texas BBQ, I always hear about people putting coffee in their rubs. Maybe it's something that goes back to the cowboy days, when it was all they had out on the open range at the camp fire. I threw in a handful of coffee and a little brown sugar for good measure.

I always hear about the Kansas City Cut and things like that. I didn't have time to research hopw to do that, so I was pretty fast and loose when trimming my meat. I trimmed the flap, some crap off the top and bottom of the rack. I think I'll call this The Bloomfield Cut.

The trimmings and ends made it in as well.

Everything went well. For those of you who have been reading, you know that in the past I had a stash of failed homebrew that I usually use in my waterpan. This time to go along with my theme, I was thinking about going to the liquor store and seeing what malt liquor was in fashion. The waterpan today is filled with none other that Old English. These ribs are going to stink up the place.
 This stuff rubbed up nicely. More on that later.

A few hours in, so far, so good. Cheap Home Depot Mesquite chunks on my ribs (yes, mesquite on my pork. I already threw coffee grounds on these things so I thought 'what the hey').

A quick mop. I think I used cider vinegar that had been in the house since we moved in.

A quick refresher.

Though this was not going to be my best creation ever, I packed it up in the cooler to rest and brought it to my mother's of all places to get her back from her hippy days feeding me bean sprouts and who knows what else.

Close up of a burnt end.

Hmm... this is a close up of a piece of the nice cut. Does not look too bad if I do say so myself...

Please don't make fun of my sideways pictures.

Ok folks, the verdict is in. Despite my best efforts to produce some terrible Que, this was not my best but still pretty decent. There was no acrid flavor, no 'oversmoked' flavor, no evidence of a malt liquor taint, or anything all that negative. The pork flavor was still there and stayed with me into the next day. The biggest complaint I think was that the coffee grounds gave it a weird, gravelly sensation and made it more weird texturally than in a flavoring effect. In my view, these ribs were a 6.25 out of 10, with my usual being an 8.5 and restaraunt ribs being a 4 at best, at least here in New Jersey.   I have to say that pieces of the nice, large, trimmed slab came out perfectly cooked and moist. I can't pat myself on the back too much for that one.

For those of you who read this far (if any), I have decided to take requests. Does anyone have anything they want me to put in the smoker? Give me some fresh ideas in my 'comments' and we'll make it happen.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Smoking on a Rainy Day. Baby Backs and Fatties all around.

Welcome to another episode of the Backyard Smoker. Today we have my first attempt at baby back ribs, as well as the concoction known in barbecue circles as a 'fatty'. Here are a few pics of the day's preparation.

First of all I have to get something off my chest. I can't take myself seriously saying 'fatty' over and over again. If you read message boards and recipes you will see a lot of variety in how these things are prepared. For mine, I took about two and a half pounds of ground pork, flattened it out, and laid down layers of cheddar cheese, asiago cheese, green onion, and fresh chopped mushrooms. This gets rolled into a log, rubbed, and smoked.

I had some improved performance with my set up today and am really getting the hang of the WSM. I started two chimneys of Royal Oaks lump, emptied the two 40's below into the water pan (next time maybe we'll try something along the lines of Old English), and got some apple chips soaking.
I put the two fully lit chimneys in with one unlit full chimney. The minion method worked well for me today, and when I was done I actually had enough coals left unlit that it may be enough for our next minion method cook.

I threw together a quick simple rub  made mostly of paprika with some salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powder, cumin, and a small amount of cayenne pepper. I mopped about halfway through with cider vinegar.
While all this was going on my better half wrapped up what I believe was some beets and a squash and put them on the bottom rack of the smoker

OK, enough with the veggies. The main courses came out beautifully. After about three and a half hours the fatty (ugh) was up above 190 degrees, while the ribs were around 165. I took the loaf off and let it rest in a cooler while I gave the ribs another half hour after being quickly brushed with a little sauce. 

While I don't want to use the word 'dry', the fatty was great with lots of different intermingling flavors. Though it held together well, it could have been maybe a little more moist. I think the move next time will be to add it halfway through whatever else I am cooking. The mushrooms were the star of the show. They went in fresh and dry and came out moist and flavorful. It also had a great smoke ring, perfect to make an amateur meat photographer look like a seasoned pro.

The ribs were good. They were very dense and more moist than my usual spare ribs. They were great though not completely falling off the bone. I might let them stay on until 180 for future menus. Last pic below is the scraps.

One interesting thing was when I took the fatty off and left the ribs on,, the temperature flew up through the roof and I had a hard time keeping it under 300, while I was smoking in the 250 range. I guess that's just from the difference in heat-absorbing mass in the smoker pre and post-fatty? Maybe a 1 to 1 lit to unlit ratio is in order.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Restaraunt Review! Ruthie's Bar-B-Q in Montclair NJ

So my better half and I finally made it to Ruthie's as we have been meaning to for a while. For those of you familiar with Montclair NJ, Ruthie's is a little bit off the beaten path, bout five blocks off of Bloomfield Avenue on the artsy side of town, though still somehow walking distance from more than one if my old apartments, yet I've never made it there?

Walking in to Ruthie's I was immediately comfortable. The music went back and forth from blues selections that the management obviously cherry picked, to a a blues/jazz/roots program on Newark's own WBGO, and back again. Between that, the 50's style furniture, the deep wood-grained surfaces, and the wall hangings, mostly record covers, autographs, and concert posters from yesteryear, this is a place I could definitely hang out.

We ordered the brisket and pulled pork platters. When I say this stuff was good I mean it. The pork tasted like just that. Maybe this is different in other states, but here in New Jersey it is not often that in a commercial environment I taste something advertised as barbecued pork that has the actual pork flavor that I can produce in my backyard. I didn't notice much bark mixed in but it is possible that I was so busy taking everything in that I may have missed it. The brisket was great too. Served, it looked pulled rather than sliced, and while I realize it is hard to know if that was intentional or not it tasted great. It was salty to the right extent that the juices mingled while complementing the sauce. The meat was sauced appropriately, enough to sweeten the deal but not so much to upstage the real stars of the show.

Both were served on metal trays with butcher paper, piled on grilled hard rolls with lots of large seasoned fries which were a delight on their own. In addition to that, they were also accompanied by some slaw. This was no stale diner paper shot-cup mayo-intensive slaw, but a gorgeous red cabbage, vinegar and onion concoction that I don't really know how to explain. It could be a regional style from somewhere my shadow hasn't darkened yet, but it was fresh with crisp veggies and a sharp, tangy flavor that offset the sweet sauce. That and a pickle rounded out each of our plates.

For our next time out at Ruthie's, we will take a look at their ribs and maybe some sides like mac and cheese and greens, or maybe something else as they have a long list. We will also shoot for a day when they have some live music on their back patio. This is a BYOB place where I could definitely call a few friends and stay for a while. By the way, they also serve thin-crust pizza which I may review if I ever start a thin-crust pizza blog, which between this place and the Star Tavern I may be thinking about now. If I gave stars i would give this place eleven and a half out fo ten.


64-1-2 Chestnut Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
(973) 509-1134