Thursday, December 18, 2014

How To Make Herb Crusted Smoked Prime Rib

By Dru Chai

There's something about serving and eating prime rib that just screams special occasion. Yes, it's expensive, so of course that has a lot to do with it. But it's also the appearance. A steak comes to the table looking like an blackened and burnt meteor rock. But a piece of prime rib looks luxurious, velvety, and even sensual. Pink, juicy, and just begging to be eaten.

Having used my Weber smoker for over 3 years, it never occurred to me to smoke prime rib. Until now. With an early holiday family dinner scheduled, I told everyone that I was in charge of the main course. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to serve the juiciest, most flavorful, and tender prime rib ever. EVER. Okay, maybe that's stretching it. But it was gonna be damn good.

I started shopping right away to look for beef ribeye roasts and how much they would cost. Costco doesn't have the cheapest prices out there, but I didn't want to drive around all day comparison shopping. Once I decided that Costco was going to be it, I had to decide if I was going to buy USDA Prime or Choice. Since prime is the creme de la creme, it was $18/lb. Choice came in at $11/lb.

On a 7-lb boneless beef ribeye roast, we're talking about a $50 difference between Prime vs. Choice. I inspected several meats and I decided that it just wasn't worth the extra money for Prime. I did some side-by-side direct comparisons, and there is a subtle difference in the marbling. I chose the best looking Choice rib roast with the most amount of fat. Choice is still an excellent cut of meat for prime rib, at a reasonable budget. It's technically not quite Prime, prime rib -- but pretty darn close.

I decided to do a semi-herb crust on the prime rib. I say "semi" because it's not quite the thick and heavy paste that you see in many other recipes. After an olive oil rubdown, I covered the meat with a generous portion of Kosher salt, cracked black pepper, minced garlic, garlic powder, and chopped sage (or whatever herb, like rosemary and/or thyme). I left the prime rib in the fridge for a couple days, uncovered, giving it a little bit of a dry-brine and dry-aging effect.

The next morning, I gave the prime rib a nice sear on all sides -- a good 2-3 minutes on every side. I was going to use my trusty cast iron skillet, but the prime rib didn't fit. Nonetheless, a standard indoor grill pan did the job. The smell was just intoxicating, and filled my entire house. The sizzling sound was over the top. I was practically drooling at this point.

After searing, it was time to fire up the smoker. I decided to add a mix of hickory and pecan wood chunks -- but not too much, since I didn't want the meat to be overpowered by smoke. I kept the smoker at a consistent 250 degrees F. With the help of an internal probe thermometer, the prime rib was done in about 3 hours, reaching an internal temperature of 130 degrees F -- perfect for medium rare. If you want even more rare, then 120-125 will do. If you want well done, shame on you.

I wrapped the prime rib in foil and let it rest for about 30 minutes. The temperature will also slightly rise up to 5 degrees at this point. Do not, under any circumstances, cut, slice, or poke the prime rib during this resting period. If you do, all of those precious meat juices will come pouring out.

When it was finally time to slice up the prime rib, it was like slicing through butter with a hot knife. The prime rib was a perfect medium rare and extremely tender. I took the drippings and added some broth to create the au jus. What really differentiated this homemade prime rib from the rest was the smoke flavor. It was just subtle enough and took a back seat to the real star of the show -- the beef.

So if you ever having second thoughts about cooking or smoking prime rib, don't worry. The most important thing you have to do is watch the temperature and make sure you do not overcook. That's it. People will think you slaved all day cooking the prime rib. Slice up the meat and serve the slices to your guests like a boss. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy your work.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Quick Take: Lillie's Q in Downtown Brea

By Dru Chai

The BBQ restaurant business is no joke. With the rising costs of beef and meat products, those already slim margins are shrinking down even further. Aside from raising prices, BBQ restaurants are forced to make money in other ways by adding a myriad of appetizers and side dishes to their menu. Alcohol will always be the gold standard as the top money maker, but for many BBQ restaurants and proprietors it's all about selling their line of BBQ sauces.

Lillie's Q has a half dozen of their BBQ sauces perfectly lined up at every table. There are sauces that are vinegar based, tomato based, or even mayo based. Smoky, spicy, thick sauce, thin sauce, sweet, or tangy. There are even limited edition BBQ sauces that quickly sell out -- playing the old Jedi-mind marketing trick. Good BBQ doesn't require sauce, but good BBQ sauce does require an occasional taste test -- at least in my book.

Chef and co-owner Charlie McKenna is one of many trained chefs with a passion for BBQ. It's a growing trend -- "upscale" BBQ restaurants with a regional influence are sprouting nationwide in major cities. Joe Manzella is banking on it. The TAPS Fish House & Brewery owner/restaurateur quickly partnered up with Lillie's after a visit to their flagship restaurant in Chicago.

With Memphis in May competition experience, there's no doubt that Chef Charlie McKenna knows his BBQ, with a southern twist. Whether that translates into a long-term, profitable BBQ restaurant in Southern California remains to be seen. Los Angeles has its fair share of good BBQ joints and even pop-ups, but the dearth of quality 'Q in Orange County is troublesome. Will Lillie's Q break the mold?

To be continued in a future post, where we discuss the food at Lillie's Q.

Lillie's Q
240 S. Brea Blvd
Brea, CA 92821