Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

Let me start off my saying a big thanks to all the service men and women, the vets, and their families.

Next order of business- I'm thinking of changing the name of my blog. The Backyard Smoker was good to get things going but I think it's a little blah. So give me some suggestions in the comments section. Something Northeastern, to let people know who I am, where I am, and that I'm not inclined to let other regions corner the market on smoke. The smokey yankee? Give me some ideas.

So this was probably my most ambitious smoking day to date. Two each of rib racks and briskets, ne of each rubbed and one au naturale. and some smoked cheese grits that my mom made. THis was also the biggest gathering of friends and falimy I ever smoked for, about 12 people?

I rubbed one rack with the last of my turmeric rub you've hear me mention before, and left the other rack rubless, to help accomadate differing tastes and dietary limitations in our group. I picked up two thin-cut flat briskets at Corrado's, thinking if anywhere would have a good meat selection, it would be there. One was rubbed with this Texas-style rub from, the other was bare. I put the briskets on about an hour and a half earlier than the ribs, then let the whole thing go another four and a half hours, burning Trader Joe's natural briqettes, smoking with mesquite chunks and soaked chips. Here is a rundown of the action:

Here are some action shots of things as they transpired on the scene

Everything went pretty well. The Trader Joe's natural briqs appeared to give a nice even heat, but much like the Kingsford Competition they burned fairly quickly and produced a lot of ash that made me dump the ask pan at one point, letting air back in to my fire. Is that just the deal with 'natural charcoal'? Feel free to comment and let me know your own experiences.

The food came out great. The ribs were juicy, they had an acceptable level of doneness because the natives were getting restless, but my real preference is to leave them on longer, I never like using a knife to cut them apart, I prefer to pull them into pieces with the tongs, and even though they weren't falling apart to that extent they tasted great. The rub added some nice heat.

This was my second time ever making brisket, and while I'm not 100% positive they came out the way brisket is traditionally served I had no complaints. When I was trying to slice it it started coming apart much like pulled pork, and was a little oilyer  (is that a word?) than I expected. In any event they tasted great and everyone was asking for more.

The grits were the real surprise hit of the day. My mom made some real Louisiana  style cheese grits, we pit them in the smoker for the last hour and a half, they took on the mesquite flavor nicely, and while I think they boiled down a little bit, they came out thick, gooey, smokey, cheesey, and left an awesome burnt cheese crust in the pan that I gnawed on for about 10 minutes. We also had some great potato salad, brocolli-bacon salad, spinach dip, key-lime pie, cookies, and blackberry streusel pies that were a huge hit.

All- in all, good day out.
Here are some reaction videos. Please pardon my father who had some criticism of the services. He might have just been mad for having to wait 5 hours to eat. The other os my friend Ray, I'm not sure if he had the chance to read my previous posts but we had to remind him this was a family website:

For my next steps, while I figured out it's not hard to make a tasty brisket, I need to learn how to make one that will stay sliced. I'm still on the hunt for whatever will be my regular charcoal.


Here are some shots of the crowd including two lost vegetarians who found their way into my yard:

Friday, May 21, 2010

History of Barbecue in New Jersey

First of all let me just put this out there

So this weekend with my better half's work schedule I will be putting all my attention towards my 10 month old son and not smoking anything. In lieu of anything to document this weekend, I though it was important that I address some recent comments and highlight important developments and personalities in New Jersey's rich history in barbecuing.

A little known fact is that prominent New Jersey Resident Thomas Edison, in cooperation with Henry Ford, invented the charcoal briquette as we know it

Charcoal Briquette

There are some counterclaims that a guy named Zowyer held a competing patent but since he was not from NJ I will elect not to publish or promote his whole deal. Edison and Ford went on to sell their formula to Ford's brother-in-law, a certain Mr. Kingsford.

The Portuguese community of the greater Newark area  produces some kick- ass barbecue. While 'm not completely sure if it's actually smoked or just grilled, whatever they do comes out great. Much of it is minimally spiced and there is no sauce except on the side if you ask for it, but it is VERY good stuff. They have a ton of variety in their repertoire and I strongly recommend checking it out if you have not yet.

I would also like to congratulate the 2009 New Jersey State Barbecue Champion, Fat Angel

I'm sure he will be competing again at the 2010 New Jersey State Barbecue Championship, taking place this July in Wildwood.

Feel free to tune in  next week when I actually smoke something. In closing here is a photo montage of many notable members of the NJ hall of fame. If you don't believe, look it up. I'll start with the famous recording artist and kung-fu master Shaquille O'neal Costello statue.

Monday, May 10, 2010

All's Well that Ends Well on Mother's Day

So even though it was going to be a busy weekend and it was Mother's day, my better half had to work and I knew she'd rather stay in to eat than go out. We had a rack of ribs in the fridge with her name on it. As you will read on, today's story is full of unexpected twists and turns and probably should not have turned out an edible food product, but it actually turned out some nice ribs. My wife and my mom are usually the biggest critics of my backyard shenanigans including barbecue, but neither of them had any complaints.

One running theme in my short lived blog is that I'm experimenting with different charcoals and that I havn' found anything I liked. I've been thinking lately about lump and after the reviews I saw of Cowboy at HD and the cost, I picked up some Argentinean lump, 20 pounds for ten bux. More on that later.

A close up of the lump

For those of you familiar with the Char-Griller brand, I had to do some last minute MacGyvering on my charcoal tray, because the end rail- the one with the indentation for the hook to attach- broke loose. I drilled a hole and attached it to the next one using some bare wire I had around. Stuff like this makes me want to learn to weld.

Last year's homebrew- not fit for human consumption but fit for vapor-basting my ribs.

These ribs were rubbed with what I call my turmeric rub. Go to, find their recipe for 'best odds rib rub' I think it's called, and substitute turmeric for mustard. The first rub I ever made- I found it, wanted to make it, and made do with what I had around the house. Gives nice flavor and a nice bark. Some rainy weekend I'll elaborate on it.

Here's where my problems started.. After taking forever (40 mins) to get ready in the chimney, moved it to the Side Fire Box. The temperature reading on the grill level (not stock) thermometer would not go above 150- After a while I added a 2nd chimney of the lump with the same result. Pissed me off. I eventually dumped my coal box inside the main smoker chamber to one side and separated it from the meat with my home made heat shield. I supplemented that with the rest of the Kingsford Competition Ive been bitching about which got my heat where it needed to be and higher.

This was all taking so long I was starving. I took advantage of having a hot side of the grill and threw on some frozen puck burgers for my parents who were over and I. These things were so frozen I had to grill them for a minute or two to separate them. Even then if took some elbow grease and the WMD I use as a spatula.

On top of everything else my thermometer was dodgy. The plug the probe goes into recently pushed itself into the housing of the device, so I took it apart, found the plug part, and superglued it in place. A couple of other bits and pieces fell out but who's counting? Now the thing turns on and off at will and the temp it reads varies by a range of about 30 degrees. What you see below is after about 2 hours of cooking- 191- highly unlikely.

All in all a thin area at the end was crispy but the rest turned out to be a good rack of ribs for Mother's day.

Turned out good. The end.

Lessons learned:
-The lump charcoal was a good deal price wise, and made some nice burgers, but does not produce enough indirect heat at least for my smoker. Does anyone else have experience? Please comment away-
-The Kford Comp I was complaining about saved the day. 

-Even when things zig when you think they will zag, you can still get a decent meal out of it.

Wondering now what my next fuel source experiment should be. I'm going in on a cord of firewood with some guys, all hardwood supposedly. I'll have to get my boy scout field guide and try to identify some hickory or mesquite in it, maybe cherry would be more likely here in NJ. Maybe I should forget about charcoal and go caveman style with the logs.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Off topic- grilling post= GRILLED BEEF TACOS

A bit off topic but here is a post on some grilling I did. I had some errands to run today and knew my schedule wouldn't be conducive to smoking, so I did something different. My better half picked up some tortillas and queso fresca hoping I would make her some enchiladas, but it's backyard cooking season and I wasn't into that. I set the Char-Griller up for direct grilling, filled a large chimney with some of the remaining K-ford Comp, and threw a london broil on and seared it with the coals at the highest position. The thick iron grates put some great marks and char on the meat. I did that for a few minutes each side, lowered them to medium heat, left it for a few more minutes, and it came out rare and gorgeous (see the pics below). From there I let the meat rest and then it got sliced.

Following that, I used the remaining heat in the coals (which was waining by that time, again thanks to the 'competition' briquettes) to heat up some tortillas, just a few seconds each side. I would throw one on, flip it, throw on a few slices of beef, a little gucamole my wife made (she's big on avocados), some pico de gallo (fresh onin, tomato, cilantro, and lime juice), some of the aforementioned queso shredded, and would squeeze a lime over the whole thing. I should brag I only had a few seconds to do all that because of how sensitive the tortillas were and I pulled it off it was AWESOME.     From there some quick work with the tongs flipped it closed, a couple more seconds each side, then you had to start eating straight away. This is the kind of stuff that makes me a little cocky about my backyard cooking.

As a segue to my next episode, I picked up a bag of Argentinean(sp?) natural lump charcoal at Corrados in Clifton. Does anyone have experience with this stuff? If its good this will become my regular stuff as I hear great things about lump charcoal and it was dirt cheap. We'll find out soon enough-

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ribs and Mac n Cheese

So we had a gorgeous day today, I had big plans for some ribs that were in the fridge rubbed, and had been sitting in ACV (apple cider vinegar) 24 hours prior to that. After 4 hours of smoking they came out pretty good, more on that later. When I did the shopping, I went to the store late and the pickins were slim, so you can see from the pictures that these cuts were a little smaller than what I usually do.

I used my usual rub, the tumeric rub (you can find the recipe on the tracker once I figure out how to upload it). I used soaked hickory chips in boxes on the briqs. Had my stinky homebrewed beer from last summer in drip pans under it to self based, did it all on my modded CG which I will detail on a later episode. Brushed with SBR (Sweet Baby Ray's) about a half hour before coming off the grates, rested about a half hour before eating.

I used Kingsford competition briqs which my wife bought on sale at Costco. I had high hopes for them because they were supposed to have less binders, crap wood etc and I expected a higher level of performance than from regular K-ford. These briqs were OK and doable for my application but not great. They had a higher cooking temp, but burned through pretty fast. I learned soon that I absolutely HAD to use the minion method if I wanted my temperature not to dip below 200, they just burned out too fast to get another chimney lit and going. They produced so much ash that I had to dump it at one point to keep air flow going and I almost started a garbage fire.

Overall the ribs came out pretty good as I said before. The 24 hour ACV soak turned out to be too much, and the pork flavor never got past the vinegar left in the meat. Mike and Mike loved them and had no complaints, my wife picked on them and I think noticed the vinegar. Other than the vinegar the results were good. They were moist, tender, had the right amount of bark, were not burned in any place thanks to the new heat shield.

Another experiment that came out great, I saw somewhere someone smoking macaroni and cheese. I thought this sounded good so just to try, I took one of those store-bought macaroni and cheese boxes, I think from whole foods, made it, shredded and mixed in a healthy amount of real cheddar, and put it in the smoker for like the last 40 minutes. This stuff came out GREAT!! The smoke flavor in the cheddar was good, next time I'll use a good mac n cheese recipe and leave it in longer, maybe with mesquite.

All in all a decent day out. Lessons learned:
  1. Kingsford Competition is probably great for grilling but not great for smoking.
  2. A 24 hour soak in ACV is too much.
  3. The theory that anything tastes better coming out of a few hours in the smoker has been supported this week by MAC N CHEESE.