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

Friday, August 6, 2010

Missing Videos from 'WSM Test Drive'

Now that my first string laptop is up and running again, and the J-V unit is back on the bench, here are the videos missing from two episodes ago. Watch a mysterious man named Ishmael hijack my blog and lots of great video reviews.

Beer Can Chicken, or Lumpy Lessons Learned......

I want to start off by saying I don't want to hear any wisecracks about my corny blog title. At the request of my wife I made one of my old favorites, the classic beer can chicken on the WSM. We took a large chicken, marinated it in a mixture of cilantro, cumin, a small amount of olive oil, and garlic. It came out great but I think I learned a lesson along the way that will greatly fine-tune future endeavors.

I went with the Royal Oak lump this time which had some pieces the size of my foot. More on that later.

Here we are about halfway through, so far so good. From here on things got a little hairy.

After some time, the temperature took a nosedive in the area of 200 degrees  with the vents wide open and the bird nowhere near done. I tried throwing in some hickory chunks to spike the temperature up to no avail, though it produced plenty of smoke. At that point I started up another chimney and added it lump by lump with tongs through the door 15 minutes later, only to have it dive down again after another hour! By then I was glad I had a few spare PBRs around. I eventually had an epiphany and added some straight from the bag to the fire chamber, in a crude but effective version of the Minion method (for information on that click here). The short explanation is I used a mixture of lit and unlit charcoal to extend the life of the fire and provide even heat than one lit batch would alone. I can only recommend this with lump or other charcoal advertised as 'natural' like Stubb's and Kingsford Competition, and not with traditional charcoal like Kingsford's standard variety, as it will send chemical vapors through your food.

After some time the natives were getting restless. In addition to my wife, I had her cousins over, and I found out the hard way you don't make two hungry Chinese pregnant girls wait for a meal. I caused some consternation by pulling the bird off the can at 170 in the dark meat which I saw on a recipe on, and found out that popular opinion dictates I should have waited until 180.

It may not be visible in this picture, but they also mistook the smoke ring for a bloody undercooked chicken. I could not catch a break. In any event I enjoyed a drumstick and added one more factoid to my arsenal- to always use the Minion method when cooking with lump.


Monday, August 2, 2010

WSM Test Drive

Hi all- we had a great day of smoking on the bran new Weber Smokey Mountain known from now on as the bullet.  I have to give a big shout-out to They have the best deal on the Internet for the WSM right now so if you're in the market right now you should go there first and last. You will notice how many times they get mentioned here and that is because they will literally give you store credit for posting pictures and video of you using their products, so get used to hearing me sing their praises. Special thanks to Mike W. for bringing over some Balashi cans straight from the shores of Aruba. The WSM  turned out to be as high-quality a thing as everyone made it out to be, including my buddy Chilebrown of, completely worth the full retail price even though I didn't pay that. Here is a quick breakdown of it:

Here is the bottom of the WSM. It has a grate for charcoal with a ring to keep it contained, and 3 adjustable vents below.

Inside the middle chamber there is this bowl to hold your liquid. I have heard of people using this for other things like filling it with sand to radiate even heat. My preference is still the skunky homebrew at least until it runs out. It is wrapped in foil for easier clean-up.
This is the middle section which contains the bowl and two grates to hold your food. It also has this nifty door to access the fire and to add wood.
This is it with the lid. I have to say, it had kind of an ominous presence. One of my other grills said it was giving them the stinkeye.

Here are the ribs, two slabs deep. If you get creative with racks you could get a serious amount of food into this thing.

I knew a guy in college who could blow smoke out his eyes. Here is a close up of smoke coming through the temperature gauge (another thing that made my other grills feel intimidated).

Forgive me but the screen went on my good laptop and I'm writing this on my old knockaround one, things don't always work correctly so you will see things like pictures of a quiche turned on their side and less videos than I would have liked. The ribs came out great, they had been bought earlier, frozen, and defrosted so my hopes were not high, but the bullet produced a nice even temperature without much charcoal or elbow grease for several hours. The design of the smoker kept direct heat off the ribs so my better half didn't get any of the burnt ends that resulted from the heat coming through the offset fire box opening of past offerings. Plenty of great pork flavor. To accompany the ribs we had a quiche which took on some hickory flavor in the smoker, as well as a corn/bean/cilantro salad. These two guys showed up hungry and left in a good mood.