Archive for January, 2010

Grilled Pizza

How to Grill a Pizza

Nothing purchased at the butcher.

A couple of my vegetarian friends asked if I planned on posting any barbecue recipes that didn’t involve pigs, chickens or cows.  I admit, at first, my brain didn’t really grasp the concept.  “You mean, like, side dishes?”  But after overcoming the shock of it all, I remembered, yeah ok, I do cook a couple of things that qualify.

At the top of the list has to be grilled pizza.  I can’t take a lick of credit for this approach to grilling pizza. Some friends had the family over for dinner, served us really good pizza off the grill, and I’ve done absolutely nothing to alter the technique since then. It works.

But be warned…

  1. A grilled pizza doesn’t taste like a normal pizza (especially when cooked over lump charcoal, it has a fantastic, smoky flavor)… and
  2. It’s hard to keep the blasted things round like normal pizza. They get all square, or peanut shaped, or ya know, sort of shaped like France … which means
  3. My kids won’t touch it. Seriously. They push the plate away, and wonder what they did to deserve this kind of treatment.

So, if your kids are anything like mine, I suggest brewing up some mac-a-noodles as a back-up plan. Or, don’t call it pizza. Call it fancy bread or something.


  • Pizza Crust
  • Pizza Sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Cheese
  • Your favorite toppings
  • (duh!)


Big flat spatch (one of the few nerdy bbq extras I totally recommend)

About the crust

I’d probably have more luck fixing a broken submarine than fixing edible bread. Based on what I’ve seen, bread has something to do with asking where the yeast went, spilling flour on the floor, and putting a bowl with a towel on it on top of the radiator and reminding the kids not to touch it. So, two options here… either 1) Go to Trader Joe’s and buy their pizza dough, or 2) follow my wife’s recipe which I promise to post later.

About the sauce

I make my own sauce, adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for pizza.  I do like their original recipe, so if you have Best Recipe, go for it. But my personal preference is for more garlic and herbs than they recommend.

  • One 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • Three big spoonfuls of minced garlic
  • Two tablespoons of olive oil
  • Then salt, pepper and oregano to taste.

Just mix.  There’s no cooking involved.

The process

Cooking your pizza is 95% prep, 5% cook.  Get everything ready, and prepare for the grilling equivalent of a ‘lighting round.’

  1. Get the grill good and hot, 450 degrees or more…and make sure it’s scraped and clean. I don’t advise wood chips or anything else you’d use to drive a smoky flavor. You’ll get plenty enough smoke from the lump charcoal.
  2. Prep all your topping in advance (e.g. shred your cheese).
  3. Three topping tips:  First, there are certain things I like to cook in advance that need extra time.  For example, I’ll sauté mushrooms, peppers, onions or garlic while the coals are heating up because they won’t be on the grill long enough to really get cooked.  Second, beware toppings that produce a lot of moisture, like cherry tomatoes or raw mozzarella cheese.  I’m not saying don’t use them, but just keep in mind that nobody likes a wet pizza. Cherry tomatoes or peperoncini can also be cooked on the stovetop in advance to get rid of a lot of moisture.  Third, if you’re NOT a vegetarian and have toppings like sliced pepperoni or prosciutto that are stuck together like bacon, peel them apart in advance. You’re not going to have time to be peeling back slivers of meat when the time comes.
  4. Make sure the toppings are very handy and near the grill. You’ll want to avoid taking any more laps into the kitchen than you have to. Tonight, I mixed my toppings together, almost like a salad, beforehand so all I needed to do was dump it on the pizza in one big drop.
  5. Roll your crust, and liberally brush on olive oil
  6. Drop the crust (with nothing on it) right onto the grill. I do this by putting the crust on a cookie sheet or cutting board, and doing the old flip-a-roo.  Let me know if you figure out a better way.
  7. Close the lid….. but the goal is to cook one side of the crust without burning it, so keep a close eye on it, by lifting the crust now and then. Brown good, black bad.
  8. Now the lighting round: Using your big flat spatch, flip the crust over. Get your sauce, then your toppings, then your cheese on as fast as possible.  The faster you can do this the better, because your bread is starting to cook. You want your toppings on and cooking (and the lid closed again) as soon as possible.
  9. Close the lid and cook until the cheese is fully melted, at which point the other side of the crust should be done, too.
  10. If the bottom of the crust starts to look done before your toppings are cooked or melted as much as you want, cut off the oxygen – close the damper and the vent, and get the fire as tame as possible, and keep the lid closed.
  11. That’s it! Pull it off the grill using your big flat spatch, serve it to your children, and watch them recoil.

 Tonight, our grilled pizza had garlic, sautéed mushrooms, fresh basil and both fresh and traditional mozzarella cheese. (Some pepperoni may have accidentally landed on a few slices, but they were easily avoided by any hovering vegetarians.)

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Just Plain Steak

There’s not a lot to say about grilling a steak. Unless you’re a barbecue nerd, which I am.  So, why settle on something as simple as “get the grill hot, season your steak and cook it,” when you can pointlessly dwell on EXACTLY the right way to cook it?

A few years back, my brother-in-law gave the family a box of meat as a gift.  Nice! Included were some were some thick round cuts of filet mignon, which I had never cooked on the Kamado.  So, I did what any self-respecting bbq nerd would do, and exchanged notes with even bigger nerds on bbq forums to see how to cook them properly.

I was really surprised, and a lot disbelieving, when I read that I could cook a filet mignon in 6 minutes.  Really? Six minutes?  I can’t even make a salad in 6 minutes! But not only can you cook a steak quickly, the top techniques that deliver the best flavor insist upon it.

Plus, there’s an art to cooking steak. And by that I mean, you want it to look pretty. Ya know, those endearing little cross-hatch marks that you see on the Outback commercials?  Points for style count for nothing, but they’re still good points!

A filet is actually not my favorite cut of steak. I’m not a huge fan of the ultra-rare servings you get. I’m a T-bone fan, always have been, and I like my steaks more “medium” than “rare.”  But no matter the cut, or your preference, the technique is basically the same:  Intensely sear the steak on both sides on an open grill, then seal up the grill and cook to your desired done-ness without drying out your steaks.  (Dear SPOGG, I need a better word for “done-ness”).

A quick note for any beginners

As I type this, there is a mountain-sized cable installation guy in my house. Moments ago he asked me “are ya really barbecuein’, or are ya just grillin’?” This is just a passive-aggressive way of asking, “do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”  Folks, don’t get suckered into this.  Fire plus food means “who cares what you call it.”  But in case you’re wondering, generally when you’re cooking with the lid up, searing your food over direct heat, and/or basically just getting food hot, that’s considered grilling.   Whereas the slow cooks, with the lid down, over indirect heat typically refers to a barbecue.  If you’re thinking WHATEVER, good for you! But here’s more if you’re interested.

FYI: That plate has a picture of a cow on it.


  • Trim your steaks of fat. If you’re insane!!  I don’t know why people do this. Honestly!!
  • Rub your steaks on both sides with olive oil or sesame oil.
  • Seasoning is a personal matter, but I just like to liberally salt and pepper. You can use more than you think.
  • Get your grill surface-of-the-sun hot.  Aka: 600 degrees or more if you can. Getting a grill that hot can actually be tough sometimes. When in doubt, use a bigger pile of charcoal than usual.
  • Drop your steak on the grill for 60 seconds, keeping the lid open.
  • Turn the meat 90-degrees and grill for 60 more seconds
  • Flip the steak and repeat.
  • Cut off the oxygen: Close the lid, close the vent, close the damper. 
  • NOTE: Please be extremely careful of backdraft when you open the lid from this point forward. Open the lid very slowly, or risk losing your eyebrows.
  • Cook your steak with the lid closed anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes per side, depending on your preferences, and how thick the cut is.   Today I cooked two 1-inch thick T-bones, at 650 degrees, and they required an 90 seconds per side after closing the lid.

That should do it. Serve with something that grew in the ground.  And when your 5 year old asks for ketchup, just remember you were a kid once, too.

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Big ‘ol Spatch

Big Spatula.

I am not all that into barbecue accessories.  I think there are few essentials, but find it kind of silly when I see those collections of various tools, irons, scrapers and brushes, as if they were the dental equipment required for a giant troll.

I have a decent pair of tongs, a good meat thermometer, and today’s recommendation: A big long spatula (aka: a flipper, or a turner).

This is one of those things I didn’t think I needed until I had one.  But it’s incredibly useful to have that big, long flat slab of metal when you’re trying to flip fish, or flip burgers without them falling apart, or vegetables that you don’t want to slide through your grill grate. 

This is the one I have. Note, it’s the metal part that’s long, not the handle.  I wanted to put this out there because I have a few recipes headed your way that would be just a tad easier with a big ol spatch.

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Ribs as easy as 3, 2, 1 …

Every time I decide it’s a good day for a barbecue, I have to first talk myself out of making ribs again. So, if you ever see me mumbling to myself, now you know the subject of conversation.


Pork ribs are my favorite thing to cook and my favorite thing to eat, period. Check out the “About” page for the whole sad story of how trying to cook ribs got me into barbecue in the first place.  But if there’s anything to learn from that story, it’s that great ribs are a wee bit harder to cook than you might think. But if you follow these instructions, you’re going to make amazing ribs every time for now on, I promise.


The Recipe


This is good for 6 to 8 people, depending on how hungry people are.  Plan on 6 hours to cook the ribs, and an optional 2 to 6 hours for letting the ribs marinate in advance.


  • 4 whole slabs of pork ribs  (Not sure what kind? Here’s a quick overview.)
  • Adam’s Barbecue Rub
  • Apple cider (or a natural juice if you can’t find any)
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil.  (Regular foil is too flimsy, make sure to get the thick stuff)
  • Rib rack
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce, or even better, my favorite barbecue sauce.


These instructions roughly, but not exactly, follow a popular technique called 3-2-1 method.  Those numbers refer to cooking the ribs go 3 hours on the grill, 2 hours in foil, and then 1 more hour on the grill.
 I’ve done it exactly that way, and I found it a bit flawed, so I don’t follow those rules exactly.
  1. Prepare your rub, and set aside. (Remember, people who like spicier ribs will want to add more chili powder, but I like my ribs sweet and smoky.)
  2. I’m usually too lazy to do this, but I feel obligated to tell you that you’re supposed to remove the membrane from the fat side of the slabs. It’s not that hard, here’s how. So I suggest you do as I say, not as I do.
  3. Cut each of the 4 slabs in half, so that you have 8 pieces.
  4. Over a cookie sheet or tray, liberally rub the ribs on all sides.
  5. Optional: Dump the ribs in locking plastic bags, or in an airtight container, or even just use plastic wrap right over the tray, and stow away in the refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours.  (I don’t recommend overnight. I did that once, and the rub got a weird texture.)
  6. About 6 or 7 hours before you want to eat: Fire up the grill. Get your temperature to stabilize at 200 degrees. Too hot is definitely a problem. 
  7. If you don’t have another form of heat shield, your coals should be off to the side as much as possible, especially if you don’t have a rib rack.
  8. Spray your rib rack with non-stick spray.  I’ve been meaning to try something less yucky, like vegetable oil … but haven’t tried that yet, so can’t recommend it yet. Let me know if it works for you.


  1. Place the rack on the grill away from the coals, put the ribs in place on the rack, toss wood chips if you have them on the coals, close the grill lid and set your timer for 90 minutes.
  2. Check the grill frequently to make sure the temperature stays stabilized at or around 200 degrees.
  3. After 90 minutes, open the grill and rotate your rib rack 180 degrees. Set your timer for another 80 minutes. (Close to, but not quite 3 hours of cooking total)
  4. When the timer goes off, you have 10 minutes to prep for the next phase in the cooking by tearing off 8 big sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil, and place them in a convenient place near your grill.  
  5.  And pour about 1/4 cup or so of apple cider into a cup or jar, and keep a spoon nearby.



  1. OK, here’s what needs to happen! Each slab of ribs needs to be pulled off the rack, wrapped individually in sheet of foil with about a teaspoon or so of apple cider.  The trick is to do this a) carefully, so you don’t rip the foil, b) quickly, so your fire doesn’t take off while the lid is open, and c) without dropping any ribs on the ground, which I have done before and it really makes you mad.   Also, take care not to wrap the ribs too tightly: Think of it more as making a little tent where the cider can circulate.
  2. You’re done with your rib rack, so that can be taken away and cleaned for next time.
  3. Put the 8 foil packages back on the grill, again away from the coals, and it’s ok if they’re stacked in piles. Close the lid. Your coals probably heated up while you were doing the wrapping, so stick around and get your temperature stabilized again.
  4. Set your timer for 1h and 30m.  (I have found 2 hours is just too long. I think the ribs get this weird texture if they’re in that cider steam bath for the full 2 hours).


  1. When the timer goes off, get your apron. The next part can be messy.
  2. Here’s what needs to happen: Each slab of ribs needs to be unwrapped carefully and placed back on the grill away from the coals. Again, it’s ok to pile them on top of each other.
  3. You might want to save the foil along the way – there’s a chance you’ll need it later
  4. Set your timer for 1 hour. (And get to making your corn bread!)
  5. Again, hang out around the grill, and make sure it doesn’t get too hot. It’s ok to open the grill along the way and shuffle the ribs to make sure none of them get too much direct heat.
  6. After the hour, it’s time to test the ribs.  I say go ahead and eat one. 

When are they done? 

There is a certain amount of variation with ribs, including how much meat there is on the bones, how big the bones are, and so on.  So, don’t worry if your bbq ribs are not quite done. It happens.  But here’s what you’re testing for:


I love “falling off the bone,” but perfectly cooked ribs have meat that still hangs on the rib and pulls off the bone easily with a bite. If you find yourself pulling, they’re not done.  No problem.
  • Keep the ribs slow cooking for another 30 minutes or so.
  • OR, put the ribs back in their foil tents, put the packages in a brown paper (grocery) bag, and you can let the ribs sit in foil for as much as an hour. This is why you saved your foil.
  • OR, both.

Serve with your sauce, a roll of paper towels, and floss. 

Some related links:

Should you baste your ribs?

How much rub to use on your ribs

Asian Style ribs

Beef ribs

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Types of Ribs

All good, but definitely different.

You know what’s really annoying when you’re a bbq newbie? When you go to the butcher, make an innocent request like “may I have some ribs please,” and the butcher replies with “what kind?”

What do you mean, what kind!!??  You know, the delicious kind!  Duh!

I thought of this, because I’m cooking ribs today, and this morning I was at the butcher remembering my past confusion.  So, here’s your guide to what kind of ribs.  There are three types:

1)      Baby back ribs. These are smaller, leaner and tender. They may cook a little faster, and will have smaller bones. They are generally what a person thinks of when they think of ribs. And some people like to sing that baby back rib song, which reminds me, I need to sharpen my knives.

2)      Spare ribs and/or St. Louis Style ribs.  These are bigger, fattier ribs.  Like, grown up baby back ribs. The difference between the two has to do with how they’re trimmed and boned, but to tell ya the truth, I’m still trying to figure out why I would care. They’re both great. Also, for whatever reason people sometimes say spare ribs all the time to refer to any type of ribs.  Fine by me.

3)    Country Style ribs. Mostly meat. Like, big slabs of pork with little bits of bone here and there.  To which I say, blech.  Sorry country fans.

If you really want more details, here’s the Wikipedia link for you.  But my two cents:  I prefer ribby ribs, with bones that I can pick up and gnaw on. So, Between Baby backs and Spare ribs, I honestly don’t have a strong opinion, but usually get baby backs when they’re available. After you slow cook ribs for 6 hours, honestly, they’re all great.

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The Rib Rack

This is the one I own. But there are many other choices out there.

Ah, NFL playoff season.  Nothing to do Saturday but watch football, fold laundry, and cook ribs. I plan on posting “how to cook ribs” next week.  But before doing that, I wanted to tout one of the few pieces of equipment that I consider essential: The rib rack.  Not a lot to say here other than I find a rack like this incredibly helpful, and if you don’t have one, I suggest getting one before you think about cooking up a rib feast.

It helps to keep your ribs from getting over cooked, and it allows you to put more food on the grill.

You can get the one I use here.

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Charcoal for beginners

Charcoal for beginners…

The single easiest thing you can do to get a great barbecue dinner is come over to my house. But the SECOND easiest thing you can do is change the charcoal you’re using.

Remember, I have done all the dumb things a person can do to ruin a barbecue, so you don’t have to.  And believe me, perhaps the single dumbest thing I did back in my chump barbecue days was to use cheap, grocery store briquettes (e.g. Kingsford) when I could have been using high-quality lump charcoal.

Let me make this simple: I’d sooner burn the bags that good lump charcoal comes in before lighting another grocery store briquette.  But if you’re like I was, you may not even be aware that there’s a choice.

What’s the difference? The way it looks, the way it lights, the way it burns, and most important, the way it makes your food taste.

Here are some details…


Hey, that wood looks like ... wood. Go figure!

The way it looks:

 If you’ve only ever used briquettes, you’ll be pretty surprised when you open a bag of quality lump coal.  It’s wood.  Amazing, eh? Logs, branches and wood chips, blackened into coal.  You’ll see the knots and the wood grain, and even the occasional twig floating around in the bag. And the pieces are all different sizes. There will be pieces as big as your shoe, or even bigger. And golf ball sized pieces, and everything in-between. Ahhh, chaos!

The way it lights: Not with a single match, to which I respond, so what? Lump charcoal is easy to light with a little help from sawdust bricks (e.g. Duraflame Firestart), which you can get at almost any grocery store these days.  These bricks are hunks of sawdust held together by a flammable wax, and are more eco-friendly than lighter fluid.  Tear 2 or 3 pieces off, place them strategically in your pile of charcoal, and sure, with a single match, you can light them. You’ll have a hot fire in about 30 minutes. In a hurry? Tear off 5 or 6 pieces instead.  Two weeks ago, I cooked chicken wings at 450 degrees, and I was able to get the grill to that temperature in about 15 minutes. No gas, no lighter fluid, and no loathsome briquettes.

The way it burns: Longer, and with less waste.  Once you start barbecuing more often, you learn to covet charcoal that can burn for 8 to 12 hours at a time, and that won’t deposit huge piles of ash at the bottom of your grill. Ash inhibits oxygen flow, screws up the temperature, and ultimately makes it harder to cook. Not to mention, ash means waste. I have slow-cooked pork butts for 15 to 20 hours using a single pile of lump charcoal. (The low flow of oxygen keeps the wood from burning up, like a wood stove).  So, don’t get sticker shock when you go to buy lump charcoal. It costs more, but in addition to all the other advantages, it will last you 5 times as long.  Think of it like ‘green light bulbs.’ The value is actually there, as long as you remember to cut off the oxygen once your cook is done.

There is some variation in how lump charcoal burns, however. I’ve used some brands that get really hot, really fast.  I’ve used others that seem to never get too hot, unless you really open up the vents.  My advice: Pick a brand, get used to the way it heats up and burns, then stick with it. Familiarity is probably more important than how it actually behaves.

The way it makes your food taste: Well, this is what really matters, right? As soon as you get your barbecue going for the first time with a quality lump charcoal, you’re going to smell the difference right away.  Those horrible grocery store briquettes, you realize, smell like burning glue. That real wood smell goes right into your food and translates into flavor.  I remember the first time I cooked a chicken over a hickory fire. I was mumbling, this is the best chicken I’ve ever had after each bite. But it wasn’t just the chicken, it was the smoke.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that you get what you pay for. But keep in mind what you paid for the food you’re grilling, too. 

What should you buy?

I’m not a charcoal expert, but there are people out there who are.  The best I’ve found is nakedwhiz.com, and yeah, that is one regrettable URL, eh?  First time I heard it, I was like, “um, you sure?”

Lazzari happens to be the brand I use. But there are plenty of choices.

Nakedwhiz has detailed reviews of many different brands of lump charcoal, and I’ve found that the reviews have been pretty accurate.  (They’re really harsh on Kamado charcoal, which I found to be ok.) What I’m not sure of is when, if ever, they update their site.  It has looked the same to me for more than a year.

The best charcoal for me is whatever kind I can easily get, and am accustomed to using.

Again, my advice is to just get really familiar with a good brand, rather than agonize between brands. I live near a fish market that sells Lazzari Lump Charcoal year round. Is it the best lump you can buy? I have no idea.  But I’ve really learned how to use it, e.g. how fast it heats up, how long it lasts, how much ash it creates.   (For folks in Seattle, I’m referring to Mutual Fish Co.).

So, hopefully now you’ll never buy terrible charcoal again.

BTW: The only lump charcoal I’ve purchased that I truly didn’t like was the Cowboy brand at Trader Joe’s.  Sorry, TJs … but I’ll stick with the Joe Joe’s and cream cheese.

More on charcoal: Lighting your Lump here :  https://bluestatebbq.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/lighting-your-lump-more-charcoal-for-beginners/

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