Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Dry-Brine Turkey in 3 Easy Steps

By Dru Chai

Everyone thinks smoking or deep frying a turkey will guarantee juicy and flavorful meat. That couldn't be further from the truth. The key is to brine the turkey, and to cook the turkey to the correct temperature. I started brining my turkey 4 years ago -- wish I did it sooner.

Now there are too types of brining -- wet and dry. With wet brining, you need to completely submerge the turkey in a container filled with salt solution. Then you need to find enough room in the fridge for that container. With dry brining, all you need to do is rub salt all over the turkey, and throw it in the fridge for a few days.

So is brining really that essential? YES. It's the difference between dry and moist turkey. With dry brining, the salt draws out the meat juices via osmosis. The salt dissolves into the juices, and is then reabsorbed into the meat and breaks down the the muscle proteins. The result is tender, succulent, seasoned turkey meat.

Here is what I do to dry brine turkey in three easy steps:

1. Pick a turkey that is not frozen, and not kosher -- which is already pre-salted. Take the turkey out of the package, remove all giblets and neck inside the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels. Set aside about a tablespoon of kosher salt per 5 pounds of turkey.

2. Carefully separate the skin on top of the turkey breast (don't be shy!) with your hands and liberally rub some of the salt underneath there. Then rub the rest of the salt all over the turkey, especially on the skin of the breast. You could even add some dry herbs or finely chopped fresh herbs to the salt mixture.

3. Put the turkey at the bottom of your fridge, with plenty of space and away from other food in the fridge. If you're uncomfortable with raw poultry sitting in your fridge, then you can cover with plastic wrap. I like to leave the turkey uncovered anywhere from 1-3 days, depending on how much time I have. That's it! The rest is up to you on cooking the turkey. Be sure to thoroughly rinse and pat dry before cooking the turkey.

TIP 1: If you plan on adding a dry rub or butter on top of the turkey, remember that you don't need any more salt (unless you like salty poultry).

TIP 2: Whatever method you choose to cook your turkey, just don't overcook it. 150 degrees F at the breast, and 165 degrees F at the thigh. Rest for about 15-30 minutes before cutting to let the juices redistribute.

Cheers to an awesome Thanksgiving dinner, and to never eating dry turkey meat again.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: Sunday Southern Brunch at Lillie's Q in Brea

By Dru Chai

If you're going to the all-you-can-eat Sunday southern brunch at Lillie's Q in Brea, you're going to need bring at least two of the following items: a huge appetite, stretchy pants, and a wheelbarrow to roll yourself out. Oh yeah, it's also a big plus if you love juicy, slow smoked, melt-in-your-mouth brisket.

During my initial visit to Lillie's Q, I was salivating at the thought of trying their brisket, which was not yet available. The prime brisket is now the crown jewel of the Sunday brunch offering. Listed at $33/lb on the menu, the brisket has all the makings of respectable Texas-style cow. The outside crust (bark) is heavy on the black pepper, and the peach smoke flavor is subtle yet aromatic.

Most of Lillie's Q regular menu is a la carte, and the check can quickly skyrocket if you're ordering multiple dishes. A relative bargain at $25 per person, the brunch is the best way to sample many of Lillie Q's popular dishes like the pork rinds with pimento cheese, Kool-Aid pickles, and creamy stone-ground grits.

Brunch item classics like bacon, pancakes, and potatoes are all there, but it's the Southern dishes that shine -- mac 'n cheese, baked beans, biscuits and gravy, cornmeal-crusted tilapia, collard greens, and green beans. That doesn't even include the chopped salad, potato salad, chicken salad, coleslaw, and watermelon.

The short order kitchen menu includes three different types of omelettes to go along with several chef specials. The chicken n' waffles and the Southern eggs benedict are highly recommended.

Brunch also includes mini versions from Lillie Q's dessert menu: banana pudding, cobbler, build-your-own peach shortcake, and even chocolate stout (yes, beer) brownies. There's even a chocolate fountain with assorted dippers. If your stretchy pants aren't already bursting at the seams at this point, you can wash it all down with endless champagne and mimosas.

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

Brunch is available on Sundays, 10am-2pm.
$24.99 for adults, $9.99 for children ages 3-10.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Wendy's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich & BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries

This post is brought to you by Wendy's. The content and opinions expressed below are that of The Dirty Smoke BBQ Blog.

By Dru Chai

Is it true that summer officially ended last week? Summer is always synonymous with BBQ -- the sunny weather, the backyard gatherings, and the road trips. So does that mean that everyone should stop eating BBQ because it's no longer summer? Of course not. In my eyes, every day is BBQ day.

I feel more passionate about BBQ than ever before. I've been fortunate enough to travel around the country judging BBQ competitions and trying local BBQ joints -- but my favorite aspect has been meeting all the different pitmasters along the way. People from all different cultures coming together for one common bond -- the love of BBQ.

So when I found out that Wendy's took the time to meet with local pitmasters in a road trip around the country to research for their new BBQ menu items, I was immediately intrigued and skeptical at the same time. How could a fast food chain sell quality BBQ?

After my first bite of the Wendy's BBQ pulled pork sandwich, it was evident that Wendy's placed a huge importance in the quality of the pork, which had a subtle hickory smoke flavor. The pork is also shredded -- not chopped or minced. This is a huge plus in my book. The pulled pork is also not overcooked or mushy, my pet peeve when eating BBQ.

I was given a choice of BBQ sauce -- sweet, smoky, or spicy. I chose smoky for the sandwich, and spicy for the pulled pork cheese fries. I thought that the sauce for each item was the right amount -- drizzled over the items and not slathered. There's nothing worse than eating BBQ that's drenched in overpowering sauce. The coleslaw was crisp, and provided a nice contrast to the richness of the pulled pork. I'm also a big fan of the toasted sweet brioche bun, which was perfect for holding up all of the ingredients within the sandwich.

Wendy's BBQ pulled pork cheese fries was strangely addicting. Although the flavor profile of the pulled pork was the same as the sandwich -- except for a slight kick of the spicy BBQ sauce -- it was the cheddar cheese sauce that stood out. I liked the red onions as a garnish, but others may find the taste of raw red onion slightly polarizing. After eating the layer with the pulled pork, I was left with a lonely batch of plain fries that begged to be topped with more meat. Yes, first world problems.

For a quick-service restaurant offering, both pulled pork menu items from Wendy's get a thumbs up. Between the two BBQ menu items, the sandwich was my favorite. After finishing both, I was beyond full and satisfied, without having to wait 12+ hours to slow-smoke pulled pork in my own backyard. These two BBQ items from Wendy's are offered for a limited time.


For more information visit Wendy’s website
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Aw Shit! Special Shit BBQ Seasoning Hits the Spot

By Dru Chai

Summer is slowly winding down, and I've been busy trying out a variety of BBQ products. There are countless types of BBQ sauces and rubs out in the market, and most -- if not all -- pretty much use the same ingredients. So how can a business stand out from the crowd? 

Recently I stumbled across BBQRubs.com, and the "Best Seller" section caught my eye. It was a line of MSG-free BBQ seasoning with a catchy product name. Shit! Why didn't I think of that?

My quick-take review for each, ordered from favorite to least favorite:

Special Shit -- Great all-purpose rub that compliments any meat. I tried it on beef, chicken, pork, popcorn, dog food (just seeing if you're paying attention). If you like seasoned salt, you would definitely love Special Shit.

Aw Shit -- Once you try this rub, you'll definitely yell "aw shit!" This rub has a nice kick, with plenty of cayenne pepper with a hint of ancho chili. Perfect for a strong cajun flavor to any recipe.

Good Shit -- This rub is on the sweeter side of things, and is great for ribs and pork shoulder. I used this for several racks of spare ribs and it was a nice compliment to the pork flavor.

Bull Shit -- I tried this on a few steaks, but it was still a bit too much on the sweet side for me, with plenty of brown sugar. I'm more of a straight-up salt and pepper guy on steaks.

Chicken Shit -- This is an interesting rub, and my least favorite. It is really strong on herbs, with parsley, basil, and oregano as the dominant flavors. Use sparingly.

You can buy the Special Shit line of BBQ seasoning from BBQRubs.com, which sells over 100 different rubs in stock and over 1,900 of college branded BBQ products.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who Cut the Cheese? Be Super Cheesy This BBQ Season

By Dru Chai

Most BBQ enthusiasts don't immediately think of cheese when smoking meats. But when it comes to grilling, there's nothing better than slapping on a slice of cheese on a burger patty and watching it melt and ooze away. Recently, I had the chance to try out some swiss and gruyere cheese from Emmi USA.

Both cheeses are similar in that both have a very distinct "nutty" (hold the chuckle) flavor, especially with the swiss cheese. Gruyere also has that nutty flavor, but more on the sweet and salty side. Both cheeses are the perfect compliment for beef burgers because the cheese cuts the fatty beef flavor -- hopefully you're using 80/20 ground beef (80% beef, 20% fat).

Over the weekend, I threw some homemade beef patties on the grill and assembled a monster cheeseburger with all of the classic ingredients like lettuce, tomato, and pickles. I added a fried egg in there too, just for good measure. For my burger, I went with gruyere and could taste the cheese with every bite of the burger.

Swiss and gruyere are cheeses with bold flavors that can stand up to burgers that pack a punch with strong ingredients like bacon, caramelized onions, or chopped jalapeƱos. So if you're ready to ditch the boring American cheese for some cheese that'll elevate your burger or sandwich game, check out some of these Emmi USA sandwich and burger recipes.

Buy Emmi USA cheese products from Amazon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Curl Up to Next to the Smoker with a Good BBQ Cookbook

By Dru Chai

I love curling up next the grill/smoker to read a good BBQ cookbook. Okay, maybe not literally curl up to the smoker. A lawn chair will do just fine. Here are a few books that I recently checked out for this year's BBQ season.

Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ
Excellent, all-around BBQ book that includes 200+ recipes with plenty of photos. The first half of the book provides step-by-step directions on prepping meat like baby back ribs, beef short ribs, pork butt, brisket, and smoked chicken. The second half is all about recipes with a southern twist.
[Dirty Smoke BBQ rating: 4/5 stars]

Secrets to Smoking on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
Good BBQ cookbook with a variety of recipes and vibrant photos, but lacking in detailed techniques and how-to directions for the main meats like brisket, ribs, and pork. Although the book specifically mentions techniques for the WSM, the tips are good for any backyard smoker. Love the unique recipes like pizza-wrapped burger and "chicken bombs."
[Dirty Smoke BBQ rating: 3/5 stars]

Grilled Pizza the Right Way
I'm a big fan of grilled pizza. When done the right way, there's no need for any fancy, expensive pizza ovens. Not only does this book have some great recipes with gorgeous photos, but also dedicated chapters for grilling techniques. Looking forward to trying more grilled pizza recipes from this book.
[Dirty Smoke BBQ rating: 4/5 stars]

Grilling With House of Q
This BBQ cookbook doesn't really distinguish itself from the competition. The recipes are very standard, and there are no detailed step-by-step directions with accompanying photos. I wasn't a fan of the sections in which the author was explaining the backstory behind their BBQ rub and sauces -- it just felt like a blatant attempt to sell more product.
[Dirty Smoke BBQ rating: 2/5 stars]

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Product Review: JayD's Louisiana Barbecue Sauce

By Dru Chai

In the ultra competitive world of BBQ sauces, there's no doubt that marketing and branding play a huge role. Safe to say, a celebrity-chef backed BBQ sauce would more than likely entice a fan to pick up the sauce off the shelf without even tasting it. Other no-name brand sauces need to go the extra mile, like provide taste tests or demos in the market.

I met food blogger Jay Ducote during last year's World Food Championships in Las Vegas, and we immediately struck up a conversation about New Orleans (although he was quick to point out that he's from Baton Rouge) and BBQ. He launched JayD's Louisiana Barbecue Sauce and has been competing on Food Network shows ever since.

I'm a big fan of cajun and creole cuisine -- though not an authority, I know it's all about bold, strong flavors. After visiting New Orleans for the first time a couple of years ago, I've been wanting to return ever since. I could easily gain 10 pounds after a few days of eating there.

I got a hold of JayD's BBQ sauce and it's easily one of the best designed and branded BBQ sauces I've ever seen. From the distinct bottle shape to the clean label to the sealed sticker with Jay's signature and date -- everything is nice touch, down to the last "small batch."

Looks great, but how does it taste? Good, but the sauce needs more kick. For something that's labeled Louisiana BBQ sauce, I expected some powerful cajun spices, more cayenne, more heat. However, there is a strong Worcestershire sauce flavor in the sauce, which would be a perfect secret ingredient for making chili, stew, and gumbo.

Dirty Smoke rating (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Recommended... if you like Worcestershire sauce.

Product Review: Rattler BBQ Sauce from Chris Santos

By Dru Chai

Plenty of products flood the multi-billion BBQ industry all year around, but there's something different about May, which is National BBQ Month. The weather is starting to get warmer, so dust off those grills and smokers!

I always find myself looking at BBQ sauces when I'm grocery shopping, just to see what's new. Recently I got around to trying out Rattler BBQ sauce, from celebrity chef and Food Network's Chopped judge Chris Santos.

Whenever I'm reviewing BBQ sauces, I like to read the description on the label to see if it matches up with what I'm actually tasting. Here's an excerpt from Rattler BBQ:

Rattler Barbeque Sauce features spicy Cascabel chilis, which, like the rattlesnake, are known for their distinctive bite – the name Cascabel actually translates to rattle.

The intrinsic smokiness of this complex pepper is paired with vine-ripened tomatoes, rich molasses, robust coffee, and touch of soy as well as organic honey and raisins for sweetness.

Upon first glance at the label, one would think that this BBQ sauce is spicy, and would really "bite" you in the ass. Unfortunately, I didn't taste much of a kick at all. The whole rattlesnake theme made for a nice label and marketing pitch, but it just didn't fit with the overall taste of the sauce.

I've never heard of the Cascabel chili, and I suspect not many people have either -- it didn't provide much of a distinctive or unique flavor. There was a hint of smokiness, but the tomato-based sauce is on the sweet side. For my tastebuds, I did taste plenty of raisins and not much else. Overall, the BBQ sauce was very underwhelming. I expected bigger, bolder, spicier flavors -- and not raisin-flavored BBQ sauce.

Dirty Smoke BBQ Rating (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Recommended... if you like raisins.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Product Review: Char-Broil Kettleman 22.5-in Charcoal Grill

This post is brought to you by Char-Broil. The content and opinions expressed below are that of The Dirty Smoke BBQ Blog.

By Dru Chai

It's about that time! Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner, which means it's the unofficial, "official" start to BBQ season. Whether it's smelling grilled or smoked meat wafting in the air, or relaxing with friends and family, there's not a better activity in the summer season than a good 'ol American outdoor cookout.

Recently, I had the chance to check out the new Char-Broil Kettleman Grill. It's a 22.5" kettle-style grill with a variety of features that focus around control -- temperature, flare-up control, stability, just to name a few. I put these features to the test in a backyard grilling session.

Instead of grilling the standard BBQ meat like burgers and hot dogs, I decided to grill some seafood -- specifically shrimp and salmon. I soaked some wooden skewers in water for about a half hour and quickly built my seafood kabobs. I also made some fruit kabobs with strawberries, grapes, and mangoes.

After firing up around 50 charcoal briquettes, I distributed the coals around the outer edge of the charcoal grate for indirect cooking -- which is ideal of cooking delicate food like fish. After placing on the cooking grate, I closed the lid for a few minutes to allow the entire grill to preheat at around 300-350 degrees F for medium heat.

After brushing the kabobs with vegetable oil and adding salt and pepper, it was time to start grilling. Seafood cooks very, very fast on a charcoal grill -- that's why I only placed the kabobs at the center of the grill and not directly over any hot coals. The shrimp and salmon only required a few minutes on each side. I even lightly brushed each kabob with soy sauce for some added flavor.

My favorite fruits to grill would have to be pineapple, mango, or peach. Not only can these fruits stand up to the flames, but they have a natural sweetness that intensifies when caramelized on a grill. For this grilling session, I decided to test the grill with smaller and more delicate fruits like strawberries and grapes.

A couple of things about Char-Broil Kettleman Grill stood out for me. The super-sized vent on top of the lid made it easier to control the temperature of the grill -- which can be monitored with the included temperature gauge. The hinged lid is an underrated feature, as it's just quick and convenient, without having to worry about where to place a hot lid.

I really like the heavy-duty, porcelain-enameled cooking grate. It's definitely not a flimsy, thin cooking grate. It seems to really retain and evenly distribute the heat -- making some nice grill marks. Overall, the entire grill just feels very solid and stable. I can tell Char-Broil put some thought into the design -- especially around all the control features that make charcoal grilling fun and hassle-free.

Dirty Smoke Rating (4.0 out of 5 stars)
Price: $129
Where to buy: Lowe's or online at www.charbroil.com
Learn more about the Char-Broil Kettleman grill

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Quick Take: Franklin Barbecue, A Meat-Smoking Manifesto

By Dru Chai

The fact that Franklin BBQ has been showered with so many accolades has many old-school pitmasters grumbling. Is Franklin BBQ really the best BBQ in the country? Is it worth waiting in that long line? Everyone has their own opinion, and until you try it for yourself, you just can't judge. Here's my take on Franklin BBQ.

One thing's for sure -- Aaron Franklin's rise to BBQ stardom couldn't have happened to a better human being. In my opinion, Franklin BBQ's formula of success goes something like this:

- 10% Media
- 10% Brisket
- 80% Aaron Franklin

Yes, I think Aaron has that much of an impact. He's a huge driving force in the success of his BBQ restaurant and the Franklin BBQ empire because he's just such a darn nice guy. Not only is he down-to-earth, but you can relate to him. After just a couple of minutes talking with him, it already feels like he's a long-time friend or neighbor.

Franklin Barbecue, A Meat-Smoking Manifesto was released last week and it's already my favorite BBQ book. Most of what he covers in the book is a more detailed version from his excellent series of instructional videos on YouTube (there will be a series on PBS coming soon). Although the book is great for both BBQ novices and those who have a couple of years of meat-smoking experience, there are several longer chapters that delve into the details -- content that most BBQ enthusiasts will truly appreciate.

The book isn't heavy on BBQ recipes or glossy food porn (although there are some glorious shots of brisket porn). There is no secret to his BBQ. He's just really, really passionate about what he does. He's a great storyteller, and explains his techniques with ease and precision. It's almost as if you're hanging out with him by the pit, beer in hand, bonded by the love of smoked meat.

Dirty Smoke rating (5.0 out of 5 stars)
Highly recommended! Purchase the hardcover on Amazon.com for $17.99.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Eating Out: Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Atlanta, GA

By Dru Chai

What exactly is "real and authentic" BBQ? If you ask 100 different people, you'll more than likely receive 100 different responses. Where do you find the best BBQ? Same thing.

Every state in America has its own hybrid of BBQ restaurants -- from national chains to regional restaurants to the mom and pops. Take Atlanta, for instance. At first glance, you would think that the BBQ is influenced by Southern cuisine. It is, to a certain extent. But just like the rest of America, there's a little bit of something for everyone.

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to check out Fat Matt's Rib Shack, located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia. Anthony Bourdain stopped by for a visit on The Layover, and it's one of the more popular restaurants on Yelp. 

Fat Matt's is probably one of the nicest hole-in-a-wall BBQ restaurants that I've ever been to. The neon sign welcomed me with open arms, the words "RIBS" painted on the windows was steaming and mouth-watering, and the staff was super friendly.

As for the actual food -- well, let's just say I had low expectations and Fat Matt's passed with flying colors. I ordered a half rack of the ribs, along with a side of Brunswick Stew and mac 'n cheese. When I sat down with my plate of ribs, I immediately knew that thee ribs were obliterated to the point of no return. They were so overcooked, that the meat immediately disintegrated as soon as I chewed it a couple of times. 

The ribs had zero smoke flavor, zero bark, and zero soul. It did, however, come with some BBQ sauce that was pretty decent. It is an absolute must to douse the ribs with the sauce, otherwise there would be no flavor at all. The stale white bread didn't help matters, either. The one saving grace was the Brunswick stew -- the southern version of "everything-but-the-sink" stew.

Like Bourdain said, is it real BBQ? Hell no. Does it matter if you're enjoying an icy cold beer with good company, while enjoying some music in the late hour? You can be the judge of that. I checked my BBQ judging hat at the door.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack
1811 Piedmont Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30324

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: Lillie's Q, Southern Food, and Kool-Aid Pickles

By Dru Chai

As I mentioned in a previous post, the BBQ restaurant biz is a tough nut to crack. But according to the latest culinary trends report from the National Restaurant Association, BBQ is consistently on the top of food categories for a reason. America loves BBQ.

Lillie's Q is the latest entry into the BBQ scene in Southern California, more specifically Orange County. White napkins, a la carte menu, an expansive drink menu, are just a few indicators to let you know that this is an upscale BBQ joint.

One item that might raise some eyebrows is the Kool-Aid pickles. As weird as it may sound, it's the perfect compliment to the richness of smoked meat. Cool and crisp, it's on the sweeter side vs. the sour tartness of traditional pickles. The beer battered fried pickles are a delicate balance of salty and sweet, while the pork rinds dusted with pimiento cheese powder is as addictive as they come.

The smoked chicken wings could've used more smoke flavor, and it has more to do with the chef's philosophy more than anything else. Chef McKenna isn't a big believer of smoke overpowering the food, and it shows with his choice of strictly using peach wood for his commercial J&R smoker.

Lillie's Q offers three smoked meats -- baby back ribs, pulled pork, and tri-tip. The tri-tip is sliced on the thick side, and is a bit chewy when not sliced against the grain. Unlike brisket, it's a very lean cut of meat without a lot of fat and flavor. It's the perfect meat to go with BBQ sauce -- and Lillie's Q definitely has no shortage of sauces.

The Carolina Gold and the (Hot) Smoky are BBQ sauces tailor made for both the tri-tip and pulled pork at Lillie's Q. The pulled pork is excellent, especially when smoked with the delicate and mild flavored peach wood. The baby back ribs are very good, and smoked just enough so that the meat pulls off the bone without being overcooked -- which is how is should be. "Fall off the bone" = overcooked.

As a fan of spare ribs -- which are larger, meatier, and juicier than baby backs -- I was a bit disappointed that they weren't offered at Lillie's Q. Spare ribs are a little more forgiving during the smoking process, and are less likely to dry out. However, Lillie Q's baby back ribs were on point, with a flavorful bark on the outside.

Lillie's Q has a variety of southern influenced sides to go along with their BBQ. Brunswick stew, collard greens, mac & cheese, green beans, just to name a few. The sides are generally on the salty side, and perhaps that's by design. There is a never-ending menu of alcoholic beverages to quench your thirst -- anything from craft beers to moonshine based cocktails.

For those not in the mood for 'Q, the shrimp and grits is Chef McKenna's favorite on the menu. It's definitely not for the light-hearted. The velvety consistency of the grits combined with the juicy, plump gulf shrimp will have you wondering just how many sticks of butter went into the dish.

Judging by the early Yelp reviews, the challenge has begun to educate the masses on what "real" BBQ is supposed to be like. There will be people who will confuse tri-tip with brisket (which will be on the menu in the future), say that the ribs aren't "fall off the bone," or say point out the pink meat in smoked chicken as undercooked. Chef McKenna has accepted the challenge -- Kool-Aid pickles in hand.

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