Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Smoke Turkey for Thanksgiving

There's nothing better than spending time with friends, family, and... a 12-lb smoked turkey. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been looking forward to making smoked turkey for the first time. With leftovers neatly packed in tupperware, I can still smell the slight whiff of apple wood smoke. So was my first attempt at smoked turkey a success? How did it taste? What would I do differently?

Turkey brined for 12 hours
My 12-lb brined turkey getting ready to go under

I've read all the various ways of preparing a smoked turkey -- whether to wet-brine, dry-brine, no-brine, inject, etc. Since this was my first time, I decided to try a little bit of everything. I submerged the turkey into a brining solution with some:

- Apple juice
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Honey
- Oranges
- Peppercorns
- Garlic
- Bay leaves

Since I read that brining can cause the turkey to taste a bit "mushy," not to mention take away some of that meaty flavor, I decided to just brine the turkey for about 12-15 hours. I patted the turkey nice and dry, then gave it a good massage of olive oil and seasoning rubdown which included the following:

- Seasoned salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Paprika
- Cayenne

For good measure, I also injected the turkey with the star ingredient -- Corona beer!

- 1 bottle of Corona
- Melted butter
- Paprika
- Cayenne

After 3 hours of smoking in the WSM
I had about 3 plates!

After 3 hours of smoking the turkey in the WSM (with 2 fist-sized apple wood chunks), the turkey came out with a nice, mahogany colored skin crust. When I measured the temperature of the breast, it was around 170-175 degrees F. Since I was targeting the magic number of around 160-165, I was afraid the breast meat would be too dry. Next time, I will need to check the temperature a bit earlier (I got caught up finishing the side dishes!).

After letting the turkey rest for about a half hour, I sliced the turkey wide open. The breast was still reasonably moist. The slight hint of smoke was perfect -- not overpowering at all. The dark meat was full of flavor too. I used the pan drippings to make the gravy and it was the perfect compliment to the turkey. For my first time smoking turkey, I thought everything tasted great.

The one thing I noticed (and knew from the start) was that the skin wasn't as extra crispy (compared to an oven cooked turkey) --which was a result of the lower smoking temperature. From the start, I tried to maintain a temperature in the WSM of at least around 325-350 for all 3 hours, but it was a challenge. I would say the average temperature was more like around 300. Other than that, I thought my first time smoking a turkey was a success. I'll be smoking turkey more often in future years, and hope to get better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy (Smoked) Turkey Day!

Of course, you knew it was going to happen. This year, I'm going to smoke a turkey for the very first time. I've always eaten turkey the traditional way--cooked in a conventional oven. More often than not, the turkey came out dry and flavorless. I would always have to drench the turkey in gravy to make it taste better. Nowadays, it seems that fried turkey is all the rage. And no, I'm not going anywhere near a turducken. Of course, you can always get one of those monstrous, mutant-sized turkey legs from Disneyland all-year round. Did you know one of those turkey legs has about 1,000 calories?!

$9 for a turkey leg at Disneyland... please look away, don't judge!
"Pardoned" turkey at Disneyland... which means he's lucky.

Smoked turkey just seems healthier and easier--well, for me anyway. I've already got my beloved smoker, which has been used about 20 times since I bought it in May. The smoker is already properly seasoned, which means all the months of grease build-up within the smoker will help regulate the temperature and give it that added smoky flavor versus a brand new smoker out of the box. I've done some research online about smoking turkeys. Just Google "smoked turkey recipe" and you'll find plenty of results.

Some of my favorite recipes and articles about smoked turkey come from Serious Eats (one of my favorite food websites out there). Here are 3 variations:

Cajun Smoked Turkey

Apple-Brined and Smoked Turkey

Honey Brined and Smoked Turkey

Of course, the always reliable and informative Virtual Weber Bullet (aka, the bible of WSM smoking) has some very detailed step-by-step instructions for smoking a turkey:

Apple-Brined Turkey
Honey-Brined Turkey
Salt-Brined Turkey

My 12 lb turkey waiting to be injected, brined, and smoked.

After reading quite a few recipes, I'm going to use a little bit of everything for a "hybrid" smoked turkey--both using both methods of marinade injecting and brining. I know it may be overkill to do both, but why not? I don't want the typical turkey flavor--I want bold flavors with a little kick with every bite. I want a ultra-juicy turkey breast with extra crispy, golden brown skin. I know--for a first-time turkey smoker, I've got super high expectations. I'll let you know how it all turns out next week. In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Cook and Prepare Rib Tips

By Dru Chai

In my younger days of eating BBQ, I've always wondered what rib tips were. Did people just take a rib and chop the tips off? Why would they do that--wouldn't the entire rib taste much better? Or are they simply mini-versions of a rib? Well, it's none of the above, of course. They are the leftover "scraps" after trimming a rack of spare ribs, thereby transforming them into a uniform-shaped St. Louis Style ribs.

So what do you do with these rib tips? Some people just toss them away into the garbage. Feed them to the dogs. Dry them up to make pork jerky. Or maybe even collect enough of them to make a porky meat dress out of it (click here for inspiration). Hey, the possibilities are endless and only limited to your imagination.

Rib tips still have some cartilage and good amount of meat. Since I hate to see food go to waste--even if it is the bastard-child of the almighty bone-in pork rib--might as well do something with it. Once you've trimmed away all of the fat, you can throw the rib tips in a slow cooker. You could season it first, brown it on all sides on the skillet or pan, then add some vegetables later on.

Here's what I did--I took both rib tip flaps and a few trimmings, seasoned it liberally, then wrapped it up in heavy duty aluminum foil. You can even pour in some apple juice or marinate inside the foil before wrapping it up. That way, it will give some added moisture and the juices will steam the meat--making it nice and tender. Throw in in the oven for about 3-4 hours at 225-250 degrees (low and slow, you don't want to be making leather shoe strips here).

The result should be some fork-tender pork meat--the texture is a bit similar to pulled pork (shoulder), but it still has some of that meaty rib flavor. When the rib tips cooled down, I simply used my hands to pull apart all the chunks of meat, getting rid of any huge clusters of fat and cartilage. Take the meat and make a rib-tip sandwich, throw it on top of a salad, or simply dip with your favorite BBQ sauce.

As an added bonus, I also drained some of the natural meat juices ("meat juice," now there's a phrase of the day) into a separate bowl. Don't waste it--use it for just about anything to infuse some pork flavor. I used it as base for my homemade BBQ sauce. I'll have to save that for another post.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Make BBQ Pulled Pork

By Dru Chai

Pulled pork probably doesn't get as much love from its bony companion--the ribs. After all, ribs are eaten with your hands, it's messy, and you can get it all over your face. Plain and simple, it's just a good time to eat ribs, and it just epitomizes what BBQ is all about. But don't overlook pulled pork. It's incredibly versatile, cheaper in price, and can serve a lot of people.

Pulled pork is easy to make--commonly eaten as a sandwich, either on a soft bun or roll. You see variations of pulled pork in all different cultures--for example, Mexican carnitas, and Hawaiian kahlua pork. Most people simply make their pulled pork in a good slow cooker. Basically, set it and forget it. But there's nothing that substitutes good 'ol fashioned low-and-slow, smokey flavor over 8-12 hours. You just can't replicate that smokiness and the pieces of char on the outside.

One day, I hope to visit North Carolina for some authentic pulled pork, but for now, I'll just have to make my own backyard rendition at home. For the past several months (as documented on this BBQ blog), I've honed my BBQ smoking skills mainly on brisket and ribs. With a few parties and potlucks waiting in the wings, I decided it was time to try my luck at pulled pork. Here's the breakdown for my smoked pulled pork sliders with sweet and crisp coleslaw.

I went to my local Costco and found the smallest pork butt I could find--a little under 13 lbs overall, at $1.89/lb. With the name pork "butt," one might think it is from the buttocks of a pig. But it's only a name -- pork butt is actually pork shoulder.

The next step is injecting the pork butt with a good marinade injector. Not only does it help produce juicy and tender meat, but injecting just gives that added depth of flavor with every bite. Everyone has their own concoction of what should go in the marinade, and I'm sure BBQ competition teams closely guard their recipes. It all depends on the flavor profile--if you want sweet, salty, spicy, etc. One thing's for sure, you want a balanced marinade. I used something like this, which serves as a nice base.

- Apple juice
- Vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- Salt
- Sugar
- Hot sauce

Next up, the rub. Just like with the marinade, you have to balance out the salt and sugar, then incorporate spices depending on what you like. If you want flavorful pulled pork, it's best to let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours so that all the spices and marinade get to know each other. Or, you can always be lazy and buy a pre-made rub mix.

- Kosher salt, or seasoned salt
- White sugar, or brown sugar
- Granulated garlic or garlic powder
Optional: Chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, cumin

When ready, fire up the Weber Smoky Mountain using the Minion Method so that it's around 225-250 degrees. I like to use either hickory, oak, or apple wood. Depending on your taste buds, you can go heavy on any particular wood. You can't go wrong with hickory--about 4-5 fist-sized chunks will do. Close the lid, then go read a book, watch the Simpsons marathon, knit a sweater, or whatever it is that you like to do for the next 5-7 hours.

At this point, you deserve a peek. Open the lid and see how everything looks. You should get a nice bark forming on the outside--crusty, charred, and black. If you've been reading this BBQ blog, you know that I'm a huge proponent of a good bark on my BBQ. Depending on your preference, you can spray some water or apple juice. Close the lid, and return in another hour or two.

With a good thermometer, check if the internal temperature is 195 degrees. If so, it's ready to be pulled out from the smoker. Let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes, so that all the juices re-distribute inside, then the fun part begins. Take some regular forks, those "bear paw" looking forks, or a clean set of hands and go right at it. The pulled pork should be juicy, tender, and full of porky and smoky goodness. Accompany with a good, vinegar-based (a bit of sweet and tangy) BBQ sauce, and you're all set to go to hog heaven.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dirty Smoke & Party Rock Tebowing

In the spirit of Halloween, love for BBQ, and the latest Internet craze...

Updated: I made it on the "official" Tebowing website. LOL!

Yes, those are purple pants

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's a Minion Method?

By Dru Chai

Photo and stoic-faced minion courtesy of Universal Pictures

No, not that Minion (although those guys always crack me up in the movie).

If you're just starting out BBQ smoking, you might have heard of the term "Minion Method" once or twice. If you're already familiar with the term and have used the method, you know that it's far superior to what the manual tells you to do (if you're a Weber Smokey Mountain owner). If you're serious about smoking your own BBQ and you've read about it on this blog, you definitely know the Minion Method.

The Minion Method is basically a way of setting up the charcoal so that it burns longer, more steady, and more consistent. In general, you won't have to keep adding more fuel during the cooking process, so it's perfect for overnight cooking sessions. To top it all off, you can start cooking relatively quickly. If done correctly, it should last anywhere from 6-18 hours at around 225-275 degrees F--perfect for the low and slow meats like brisket and pulled pork. The Minion Method is not meant for smoking at temps of higher than 300 degrees F.

Basics of Setting Up the Minion Method:
  1. Fill the WSM charcoal chamber to the top with unlit charcoal briquettes
  2. Spread several fist-sized chunks of wood at the bottom (and/or the top) of the charcoal
  3. Fill the chimney starter about halfway with charcoal, light up
  4. When the burning charcoal starts to turn white ash, dump on top of the unlit charcoal
  5. Voila, there you have it. The Minion Method.
Now of course, as in the case of BBQ Philosophy (as I like to call it on this blog), everyone has their own ways of doing things. I like to put a few chunks of wood on top of the charcoal, because I feel that the wood flavor penetrates the meat a lot more at the beginning stages vs. towards the end of the smoking process. Since charcoal is relatively cheap, I much rather put more charcoal at first vs. having to end up re-filling down the line.

As he explained in his class, Harry Soo from Slap Yo Daddy BBQ likes to make a "crater" with this Minion Method. He piles as much charcoal on the sides, almost playing a little game of balance, while leaving a hole in the middle. Then he fills the hole with fully-lit, ash-colored charcoal. That way, the charcoal slowly burns from the inside out. At the second picture below, the charcoal chamber is pretty much max'd out--so there's plenty of cooking/smoking time with that bad boy.

There are also those with distinct taste buds, who say they don't like the idea of smoking with unlit charcoal because it gives off a weird taste. They also say that it's unhealthy because unlit charcoal briquettes has that chemical taste that needs to be initially burned off (thus turning into the ashy, grey-color). Personally, I've smoked BBQ in all different methods and I really can't tell the difference in taste. That's part of the fun about BBQ -- there is no right or wrong, whatever works for you, just go with it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Slap Yo Daddy BBQ Pitmaster Class

By Dru Chai

I felt like a giddy grade school kid, eagerly awaiting snack time of graham crackers and milk. Only this time, it was brisket, pulled pork, ribs, tri-tip, chicken... the list goes on. I had waited about 3 months just for Harry Soo's BBQ pitmaster class (and even wrote about it on this BBQ blog), so I sure as heck could wait another few minutes. But after 6 hours of talking BBQ nonstop, I was about to faint. My stomach had been eating itself up.

Harry Soo's love for BBQ is infectious. You can feel it by the way he talks about BBQ and his techniques--the way he demonstrates how to properly trim the excess fat from a brisket, the way he shows you how to properly check if the bark has hardened using a fingernail, or the way to properly load up the charcoals using the Minion method. There's a reason why he uses a particular ingredient, and it's through his own research and blind taste tests over the years. In person, he's exactly the way I've seen him on television--humble and willing help anyone out.

Within just a few years, Harry's Slap Yo Daddy BBQ competition team has racked up awards all over the country. I wondered, just how does he do it? For Harry, BBQ is the ultimate stress reliever from the real stress of his day time job. I couldn't agree more--it's just you and your thoughts, the meat, and the smoker. Only this guy travels thousands of miles around the country and enters BBQ competitions to compete against some of the best pitmasters in the world... and wins.

As a BBQ enthusiast and writer of a BBQ blog, I learned a few tips, hints, and tricks. Sometimes, it's the little things that make a big difference. For the BBQ newbie who's just starting out, Harry covers a lot of material in just a short amount of time -- it could be overwhelming, but Harry is easy going and down-to-earth. There are no dumb questions in his class. For those who have had prior experience, the class focuses on techniques for someone who's interested in entering a real BBQ competition. Harry said that many of students go on to enter competitions and end up beating him. Now that's the ultimate compliment.

Ready to spread BBQ joy

Harry really loves his BBQ
Harry showing us how to properly trim the fat off a brisket
Harry's family of WSM's

Harry explaining how to light up his smoker
The Minion method
Using lots of foil is good
Ready to eat what we made - finally!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When The Urge Hits: Overnight Smoking

Note: Check out my review on Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill at Irvine Spectrum.

You know you're a certified BBQ smokin' enthusiast when you suddenly find yourself standing in front of the meat section (freezing, by the way) looking at all the different Cryovac-packaged briskets around 8pm on a weekday, thinking about a possible overnight smoke-out. On one hand, you think -- it's going to be some work to apply the rub on the brisket, and get the charcoals lighted up.

But then, you think of the juicy, mouth-watering slices of brisket at the end of 12 hours of low-and-slow smoking and you're sold -- the heck with it, let's just do it. Back at Costco, there was actually a really good selection of briskets. I eventually picked a really good one at around $16.

Back at home, I started applying the usual rub. This serves as the base of all my rubs, and I think it works pretty well. Here's a tidbit -- I go pretty heavy on the black pepper, as I think it just goes really well with brisket.

- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Paprika
- Cayenne pepper
- Brown sugar

After applying the rub and getting the charcoals properly lighted up in the chimney starter, I used the Minion method and called it a day, err, night. This time, I made sure to fill up the water pan to keep the temperature low and slow throughout the night at around 200-225 degrees. Right before I went to bed, I checked the temperature and it was a steady 225. That night, I plopped on my pillow with visions of BBQ brisket dancing in my head.

Gotta love that ultra-black meteor look = good bark

The next morning, I didn't even check on the brisket -- the temperature was around 200 degrees. I went straight to work but then returned home for an early lunch (benefit of a 10 minute commute). When I opened the lid, it was pure joy -- the deep, dark, and black colored bark was exactly what I was looking for. When I sliced it against the grain, the smoke ring was beautiful.

Not overflowing with juices, but nice smoke ring and flavor

If I had a chance to do things differently, I would have wrapped the brisket in aluminum foil when I woke up in the morning. I think the last several hours dried up the brisket just a little bit. I want juices to be overflowing when I slice into a brisket. But after putting on some Phil's BBQ sauce, I was in brisket heaven.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Product Review: Trader Joe's BBQ Baked Beans

BBQ beans is a must. When done right, it should be smoky, full of robust flavor, and be soul satisfying. When done right, it should be the ultimate comfort food sidekick for any BBQ meat dish -- whether it's ribs, brisket, or pulled pork. When done right, well... you and your closest friends and family WILL know that you ate, ahem, beans.

So naturally, when I saw that Trader Joe's put out their own version of classic BBQ Baked Beans, I was intrigued and wanted to give it a try. The label mentioned that it was flavored with bacon, and slow cooked with Kansas City BBQ sauce. As soon as I saw the word "bacon," I was sold. Plus, at $2.99 for a 16 oz portion, it wasn't too shabby of a deal. So, was it any good?

Sadly, no. The beans were bland. It needed more seasoning -- a kick in the pants. Anything. I could hardly taste any bacon nor smoky flavors. I'm not even sure why they mentioned Kansas City BBQ, because their Kansas City BBQ sauce is actually very good for the price. I actually had to pour some of that BBQ sauce into these beans to make it taste better!

I think Bush's baked beans even tasted better than these beans. I'm not kidding. But it's okay. Not every Trader Joe's item is a hit. I'm happy that they constantly put out new products on the shelves -- it's part of what makes Trader Joe's so fun to shop at. But your darn beans, sitting untouched in my fridge at this very moment. So I ask you Trader Joe's -- who spilled the beans?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

OC Foodie Fest '11 & The Food Truck Craze

Who knows how long the food truck craze will last, but it looks like it's here to stay for the time being. I can still remember the 'ol days ('09) when there were whisperings of some food truck named Kogi roaming around the streets of downtown LA. What were they selling? Korean-Mexican fusion? What does that even taste like? Little did we know, it would set off a food truck firestorm.

Hey, I admit it, I was curious just like everyone else. So as soon as I heard the Kogi truck (via Twitter, nobody back then even used it) would be anywhere near Orange County, I drove about 30 minutes just to wait in line and try their food. Call me a fan. Out of the dozens of food trucks I've tried over the years, Kogi is still my favorite food truck. Any good BBQ food trucks, you ask? Hah, do pigs fly? Oh wait, there is a food truck by that name...

There are lines... endless lines for... food trucks.

In all fairness, it would be awfully tough to sell legit, low-n-slow, smoked BBQ from a food truck. Obviously you have tons of "fusion" BBQ, but not very many traditional American BBQ trucks. Most of the BBQ trucks I've seen simply sell pulled pork sandwiches or brisket sliders. I've tried a few, and nothing knocked my socks off.

Flash forward 2 years, and we've got food truck festivals and gatherings up the wazoo. Of course, there's even a TV show dedicated to food trucks. If it's one thing the food trucks learned quickly, it's that unless they have a well-established legion of fans like Kogi, they better huddle together like the cool kids in school. More trucks = more people = more business.

Not just for foodies, but for everyone

The OC Foodie Fest '11 is an awfully large food truck festival coming up this Saturday, August 27th. There's quite a loooong list of food trucks participating, and it's sure to be another packed house. I think the organizers learned a lot from the initial event last year, and they're ready to give it another go this year. The question is, how much food truck grub can you really fit in your belly?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What are Spare Ribs vs. St Louis Style Ribs?

By Dru Chai

There's something ultra-carnivorous about eating ribs. You pick it up with your hands, tear into the meat, and let out a primal scream (or grunt) of approval. It's lip smacking, finger-licking, downright delicious to finish off an entire rack of ribs. By far, ribs is my favorite type of BBQ -- whether it's baby back ribs, spare ribs, or those dinosaur-sized beef ribs.

"Boil rice, not ribs"

However, I've eaten some bad ribs during my time, and vow never to go through that experience ever again. If you've never had bad ribs before, consider yourself lucky. Bad ribs are either mushy in texture, non-smoked, dry and flavorless, or drenched with too much generic-tasting BBQ sauce. Bad ribs are simply boiled in water, or thrown into the oven. Words to live by:

"Boil rice, not ribs."

What is the difference between baby back ribs vs. spare ribs?

It wasn't long ago, that I had no idea what the difference was between baby back and spare ribs. It all depends on the location where they come from on the pig. Baby back ribs are from the back loin. The bones are smaller in width and length, and meat is more lean and tender. So they're more popular, plus don't forget those annoying commercials.

On the other hand, I think of spare ribs as the bigger brother of the smaller baby back ribs. They are taken from the belly side of the rib cage, so spare ribs are bigger and tougher, with more meat on the bones. It is for these reasons, that I think spare ribs are perfect for cooking low and slow on the Weber Smokey Mountain. "I want my SPARE back, SPARE back, SPARE back..." just doesn't have the same ring to it though.

Costco spare ribs, $2.99 per lb
St Louis cut ribs -- remove skirt flap, trim the rib tips

Recently, I just felt like smoking some ribs, so I made a trip to Costco and bought $24 worth of spare ribs. At $2.99 per pound, I got 2 full racks of spare ribs, with each rack weighing a little over 4 pounds. It may seem like a lot of meat, but remember it will shrink down after hours of smoking. Spare ribs are usually trimmed St. Louis style before hitting the smoker.

What are St. Louis style ribs?

St. Louis style ribs are just spare ribs cut and trimmed into a rectangular shape, so that it resembles baby back ribs in appearance. The rib tips and skirt flaps are removed. You can have your butcher do it for you, or sometimes you can buy it St. Louis style already. But if not, it's easy to do it yourself. There are plenty of how-to videos online, but here's a good one. For the one I bought from Costco, I simply used a sharp knife and trimmed it myself.

I made my own rub for the ribs. It's simple and straightforward with the following ingredients:

- Seasoned salt
- Ground black pepper
- Brown sugar
- White sugar
- Garlic powder
- Paprika
- Other secret spices

The end result was some pretty darn good ribs. I love how the spare ribs are so meaty, and it was tender, smoky, and juicy at the same time. The meat came clean off the bone. Though if I were a BBQ competition judge, I would want a better bark on the outside of the ribs. Practice makes perfect, right? But for now, these ribs were better than any chain restaurant could ever produce.

Also check out this great read: Smoked Ribs: The Ultimate Guide for Ribs

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Smoking Salt With The WSM

Shopping at Trader Joe's is a bit like shopping at Costco, except you're not buying mass quantities of everything. There are constantly new items being stocked on the shelves, and I think that's a big reason why there are so many TJ die-hard fans and loyalists. Several weeks ago while shopping at TJ's, I came across "Naturally Smoked Sea Salt" with Umami flavor for $1.99. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I didn't buy it at the time, but it got me thinking about smoking my own salt at home.

During my relatively short journey of BBQ smoking at home, about 80% of the time, there is plenty of hot charcoal leftover in the WSM -- up to an hour left. I always look around my fridge to see what else I can smoke. There's nothing really. The meat is all gone. If there's fish, I'm not going to smoke that. I don't want a fishy smell to taint my illustrious meaty coating I've built up within the WSM.

So what's left to smoke? Salt. Simply lay some sea salt (or kosher salt, just none of that crappy Morton iodized salt) on a flat aluminum pan and place it on the grill for about 1 hour. Depending on how much charcoal and wood is leftover in your WSM, you may need to put a little more -- just enough to impart flavor onto the salt. The temperature depends -- I usually smoke the salt around 250-300 degrees F. The longer you smoke the salt, the stronger the smoke flavor.

When done, just let the salt cool off before putting it a container. The result is pretty satisfying. I've used the smoked salt on my brisket, ribs, and chicken. It gives it that extra little hint of smoke in the background. Since I only have apple wood chips, that's what I've been using. But in the future, I'll definitely try out other types of wood like alderwood or hickery. The best part is you won't have to spend any additional money from any of those fancy smoked salt brands.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

BBQ Updates: Mustard, Bonanza, and Volt

Mustard Rub Update
A few weeks ago, I mentioned in a post that I had never slathered on mustard before applying the dry rub on the meat. I wanted to know if there was going to be any difference in taste or texture. Well, the simple and expected answer is no. Honestly, the outside of the brisket tasted exactly the same versus the time I did not use a mustard rub. Safe to say, after so many hours of smoking, any flavors of the mustard just "vaporized" away. Next time, I'm going to try a more potent rub. How about a Siracha hot sauce rub...

OC BBQ Bonanza
BBQ meat sweats is apparently sweeping the entire county of Orange. Well, one festival at a time, at least. Most likely taking a cue from the surprisingly successful (12k attendees, they say) OC BBQ Festival, there is now going to be a OC BBQ Bonanza event which will take place August 18-21 in Fountain Valley, CA.

The format is familiar -- you pay admission to get in, then you buy tickets to sample different BBQ from various cooking teams. Admission is $5 (includes $2 rib coupon), compared to $10 for admission alone at the OC BBQ Festival. For $100, you can stuff yourself silly with all-you-can-eat ribs and drinks. You definitely need to eat a lot to get your money's worth.

Volt Likes ALL BBQ
Michael Voltaggio of Top Chef fame will be doing a cooking demo today at 1:30 pm at the OC Fair. In this interview, he said that he tried a fried peanut butter sandwich somewhere in Studio City. Okay, that sounds pretty delicious. I'm always a fan when peanut butter is added to the equation. Someone needs to put that on the menu for next year's OC Fair... I'm talking to you, the makers of the fried kool-aid!

Several months ago, he and his brother Bryan did a BBQ tour for William Sonoma, visiting legendary BBQ restaurants from each of the 4 regions. Some day, I hope to check out each city and do the same:

Texas -- Smitty's
Kansas City -- Danny Edwards BLVD
Memphis -- Rendezvous
North Carolina -- Wilber's

When I tweeted Voltaggio and asked him which was his favorite BBQ spot, he took the high road:

"I can't answer that, favorite things about each spot!"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Bludso's BBQ in Compton, CA

"A Lil Taste of Texas."

The words hand painted on the wall within Bludso's BBQ says so little, yet says so much. Other than a few hours of layover at DFW, I had never visited Texas in the truest BBQ sense of the word. As if the aroma of BBQ smoke wafting through the air wasn't enough, it made me feel at ease. In my eyes, this was going to be some legit Texas-style BBQ.

A Lil Taste of Texas

A half hour drive away was all it took to be transported to the city of Compton and onto the front steps of Bludso's. The location isn't exactly "Straight Outta Compton" by Ice Cube, but more like hey, it's a quick getaway to the freeway part of Compton. This was no hole in the wall. This was a shack, a "B-B-Q Shack" to be exact. If only all shacks smelled this good.

For a mere $28.50, the Texas Sampler includes a bit of everything on the menu -- brisket, pulled pork, rib tips, ribs, chicken, and two different types of sausage. I went with the hot BBQ sauce on the side, and picked the potato salad and the mac 'n cheese. Bludso's even throws in slices of white bread, for good measure. The styrofoam box was literally bursting at the wrap seams, and I felt like a plastic surgeon unwrapping a patient's face after reconstructive surgery.

Plastic wrapped, handle with care

Yeah, we happy

With the box finally opened, it was straight out of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent opens up the suitcase for the first time, and a bright gold shine illuminates through. Vincent just stands there for a few moments, admires what he sees, and takes a long drag of his cigarette before Jules interrupts his thoughts and says "we happy?" Yeah, we happy.

As fellow blogger Foodoofus and I tore through everything like a rabid, 2-man wolf pack, my favorites began to shine through -- the brisket and the spare ribs. The much talked about brisket lived up to its reputation. In my early career smoking BBQ meats, I've had the most experience with brisket, and I'm always looking to smoke a more tender, juicier brisket. Bludso's version was thinly sliced and was bursting with juices. The ribs had a nice bark, and the meat had just enough of that addictive smoky favor. The meat was tender, but none of that overcooked, mushy mess that plague many BBQ joints. The meat still clung onto the bone, letting your teeth rip off all the porky goodness.

For the sides, my favorite was the potato salad. Bludso's version of the potato salad had more of a creamy consistency, which was a perfect contrast to the hot BBQ sauce. The sauce had a nice, spicy kick, but was neither vinegary or sugary. The slices of white bread might throw off some people -- but do as do in Texas, a la Smitty's Market. It's the perfect vehicle to sop up the meat juices and the BBQ sauce. My quest for great BBQ in the LA/OC area is taking a turn for the better, and Bludso's BBQ is surely leading the pack.

BBQ plate of goodness
Mac 'n cheese, potato salad
Use that white bread to your advantage

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Burnt Ends: It's Like Beef Bacon

Several years ago when I first started learning about BBQ, I had no idea what burnt ends were. Was it the stuff that you throw away, because it was no longer edible? Was it lumps of charcoal? To my knowledge, I don't know of any BBQ restaurants around LA/OC that serves burnt ends (or it's not advertised on the menu). Eventually I learned about burnt ends from watching television and, of course, on the Internet.

So when I started BBQ smoking, I originally thought burnt ends were strictly the 4 corners of the brisket (hold the laughter, please). I cut the pieces off, started chewing, and thought... this was it? While bursting with smoky flavor, it was terribly dry and chewy. Obviously, there was more to burnt ends, and it was right under my nose. I just had to take the additional steps.

First time making burnt ends

So if you're familiar with the cut of brisket, there are two sections of the brisket -- the flat and the point. As I mentioned in a previous post, the flat is what most people know, the larger part that is sliced and served. On the other hand, the point is a section of the brisket that has considerably more fat content, and is usually removed from the flat before serving. Well, what do you do with that point? Chop it up into cubes, season it even more (optional), and throw it back into the smoker or oven for another few hours.

The result is BBQ gold, a "delicacy" if you will, made famous by Kansas City. All that extra fat has been rendered off and will have a good, smoky charred bark on the outside, that's a bit crispy and crunchy in texture. On the inside, it should be tender and juicy. Then you can dip or slather the burnt ends with your favorite BBQ sauce. Simply delicious. Why is it so good? Well, I think it's the beef equivalent of bacon. I thought my first time making burnt ends was a mild success. Since I like spicy foods, I mixed in some Siracha sauce to give it a little kick. Burnt ends, I wish I knew ya earlier.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Use Mustard Before Dry Rub?

By Dru Chai

The other day, I was thinking about something. Why do some people slather a coat of mustard on their meats before applying the dry rub? Is it simply a method of improving the way the dry rub sticks to the meat, or does the mustard itself impart some type of flavor? Why not use something else, like olive oil, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, or heck, how about some maple syrup?

I did some research online, reading forums and articles, and the opinions are widely varied. Some are firm believers of the mustard coat, because it improves the hardening of the bark after such a long period of smoking the meat. The general consensus is that most people use mustard so that the rub adheres to the meat (which I've never had a problem with before). Mostly everyone said that you can't even taste the mustard when the meat is done.

Mustard rubbed brisket
Well there's only one way to settle things, and it's to see for myself. Many people I've seen on television only use mustard for pork butt/shoulder and spare/baby back ribs. Since all I have is a brisket, I decided to use that as my guinea pig (or cow, har har). I just took some plain organic yellow mustard that I had in the fridge and slathered it all over on both sides.

Then, I used a slight variation of my Dirty Smoke dry rub:

- Grounded black pepper (heavy)
- Seasoned salt
- Granulated garlic
- Paprika
- Cayenne pepper (very little)
- Cumin (very little)
- White granulated sugar
- Brown sugar

I put the dry rub on the top of the mustard-covered brisket, and honestly couldn't tell much of a difference if there was no mustard. The seasonings stuck onto the meat just fine. I wrapped it up in foil and it's in the fridge for now, waiting to be smoked. To be continued...

So what happened? Click here to read my update.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

OC Fair: Deep Fried Paradise, Bad BBQ

There's always a core group of Orange County, CA residents who love going to the OC Fair when mid-July rolls around, smack dab in the middle of the hot and sweaty summer. This year is no different. Yesterday was opening day, so I decided to check it out since the first hour was free admission. Every year, there's a different theme and this year, appropriately enough, it's "Let's Eat."

Live, eat, and grow... FATTER after eating at the fair

The OC Fair has its fair share of decent attractions and overpriced carnival games, but it is first and foremost a foodie's paradise -- chock full of deep fried concoctions that will make your arteries contract at the mere sight. There's always something new being introduced, and this year the hot item is Deep Fried Kool-Aid. 5 pc for $6.75. I tried them, and they are actually not bad at all. They taste like kool-aid (or strawberry, cherry, etc) flavored donut holes or mini round cakes, and they aren't terribly sweet or greasy. It could use a little dipping sauce on the side -- Kool-aid glaze or reduction, anyone?

Deep fried kool-aid (fluffy and moist on inside, not bad at all)

The evil provider of fried kool-aid

As you might expect, the BBQ scene at the fair is weak. Everything is essentially mass produced on large grills, like from this company, so you'll find yourself eating soul-less, dry pieces of meat -- whether it's chicken, burgers, or turkey legs. Sure, you can find more traditional BBQ items like pulled pork or brisket sandwiches, but I've tried most of them and they are all bland and dry, not to mention expensive. And if you're searching for legit ribs, fuggedaboutit.

But the OC Fair is all about having a good time, so the majority of people there don't care whether they're plunking down their hard earned cash for terrible BBQ. It's not a BBQ competition, and for these vendors, and it's all about cranking out as much food as possible while making a hefty profit. One thing's for sure, it seems like everyone always has a good time at the fair.