Archive for March, 2010

Alder Plank Barbecue Salmon

King salmon filet

When you move to the Pacific Northwest you learn two things. First, never to wait for a sunny day to do things, or else you’ll never do anything. Second, just how good fresh king salmon can be.  Which is why tonight I barbecued salmon, and did so in the pouring rain. 

When my 9yo daughter made barfy face over the idea of salmon for dinner, I lectured her. Where I grew up, salmon was something that came in a can, right between the little cat-food-looking tins of deviled ham and the Bumble Bee tuna. Blech.

I think those days are over in most parts of the country, but still, here in Seattle, you really can find ‘it was swimming this morning’ salmon, and I think we’re pretty lucky.

The lecture didn’t work. So I made my daughter grilled cheese instead, which ironically, wasn’t grilled.

First: What kind of salmon should you barbecue?

Well, sadly, flavor isn’t everything.  I’ve always thought farmed salmon tasted better than wild salmon.  The farmed salmon is fattier, more full of fat, and furthermore, it’s a lot fattier.  Yum.

But I don’t use it.

There’s this small matter of high levels of PCBs that apparently are prevalent in farmed salmon.  Ugh.  Plus farmed salmon tends to be dyed, Easter egg style, which is ridiculous. (Why? Seriously, why?) And rumor has it that farmed salmon also has cooties.

To be fair: The American Heart Association will tell you the health benefits of eating salmon, even farmed, far outweigh the risks. Sounds reasonable. But the fact is, wild salmon is delicious, so for a few dollars more it’s easy enough to avoid the extra carcinogens.

Meanwhile, there are lots of different kinds of salmon: Silver, King, Coho, and so on.  I don’t really have an opinion on what’s best or what you should buy.  However, I will say the single best bite of salmon I’ve ever had was a King salmon.

How can I be so sure? Because I’m talking about the salmon I had tonight

The Recipe:

The salmon we ate tonight really might have been the best salmon I’ve ever cooked. No lie. And it was easy.

It was the first time I tried cooking fish on an alder plank.  I followed a recipe recommended by Seattle’s best seafood shop (Mutual Fish Company).  Their recipe, plus

Alder plank soaking in apple cider and water.

incredibly fresh fish, plus the Kamado, plus the alder plank, plus some hickory on the coals, and Wow!  Incredible results.

Here’s the technique:

  • Starting at least 6 hours before your cook, soak the alder plank in a mix of water and apple cider.  (The cider means it needs to stay in the refrigerator).  I’ve seen instructions that say a 20 minute soak is enough, but every forum listing I read said 6, 12 or even 24 hours.
  • I got the grill to stabilize about 325 degrees. And I put a single handful of wet hickory chips on the coals
  • Prep the fish by rubbing it on both sides with olive oil. On the meat side also apply light salt, pepper and a small amount of minced garlic. Then sprinkle the fish with a few pinches of brown sugar.
  • Take the alder plank out of its bath, place it on the grill, and then put the fish on the plank skin side down. Close the lid.
  • I generally cook a salmon until I see a uniform cooked color on top, and can see the beads of white fat beginning to form on top of the thickest part of the fish. Err on the side of caution though. Over-cooked salmon is a tragedy.
  • I did choose to turn the plank once or twice when I noticed the fish seemed to be cooking faster on the coal side.  However, I really tried to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

I do have another salmon recipe that I really enjoy, but haven’t tried it on the alder plank yet.  I’ll try that next time I cook salmon, and let you know which is best.


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Meat Thermometer

There’s a category of equipment that includes cordless phones, wifi gateways and portable DVD players, that you buy, and they just never seem to work exactly right.

I would also put meat thermometers in this category. Maybe you use them once or twice and they seem to be doing ok, but then one day, they read 40 degrees even though you know perfectly well your chicken is done.

But after a lot of trial and error, and thanks to some great consumer reviews out there, I have a meat thermometer I’m really happy with. I highly recommend the The CDN Proaccurate (sic) Stainless Digital Thermometer .

I was super frustrated with analog (or whatever) thermometers.  They never seemed to be properly measuring temperatures.  And my father-in-law was kind enough to give me a gift of another CDM thermometer that must have been designed by NASA – but I found it to be not very Kamado compatible, and I’m way too lazy to use something so complex.

So this one I’m recommending is a good in-between solution.  Digital and accurate, but one button turns it on, and you don’t have to think too much after that.  Also, I’ve been using it for more than a year now, and it works as well today as the first time I used it.   So there.

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Barbecue CAN be bad!

BBQ atrocity. There's a layer of cheese under that pile of meat. Ugh.

Typically, I make an effort to eat a healthy lunch. I have a rule that if I’m even halfway in the mood for a salad, I’ll have one.

But today I saw “Kansas City Style Pulled Chicken” was the special at my workplace cafe, and I thought I would take one for the team.  So, team, you owe me one. This mess, served on a roll with (oy, it’s hard to even type) provolone cheese, was an overly sweet, pile of shredded chicken.  Ick.

“Kansas City Style” barbecue refers to a somewhat sweet, but also tangy barbecue sauce made famous in Kansas City in the early 1900s.  If you really want to read about it, here’s the Wikipedia article.

Real KC style barbecue is really good, because of the zing that comes with the sweetness.

But what happened was a sauce from hell called KC Masterpiece was invented in the 1970s, and is best known for its potato chips, stadium advertising, and oh yes, way-over-the-top sweet flavor.  It’s the Log Cabin syrup of barbecue sauce. Don’t believe me? Here’s the recipe – I don’t recommend it, I’m putting here mostly to add to our collective disgust (3/4 cup Corn Syrup?!!?  Yuck!!):

2 cups water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Anyway, you realize what this means right? It means I’m going to have to figure out an actually good pulled chicken sandwich recipe. 

Oh, btw, the slaw was gross, too.

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Satay, three ways

I’m sure in Indonesia they’d tell a different story. But here in swanky Seattle, Satay refers to a 6-inch wood skewer, with four bite-sized chunks of marinated, grilled meat, that’s sold for $14.95 and served with a linen napkin. And with each nibble, you say ‘oh, that’s divine!’

But barbecue is not a classy affair. You don’t wear a tux, or eat off fine china, or drink wine, unless it was squeezed from a box touting a ‘freshness date.’ So I submit that at a barbecue, you don’t serve Satay, but rather, ‘Elite Meat.’

On a stick!!

 Wahoooooo! I reckon that sounds downright good.

So, this weekend I made 3 different kinds of satay. I’d say one was really great (beef), one was good (chicken), and the third I need to try again (lamb).

So, here is the recipe for the really great one.  And I’ll post the other two when I get them just right.

First, buy the right cut of meat.

Tenderloin Tails

I spent a lot of time talking to my butcher about this.   And I am sold, ecstatically, on tenderloin tails.  Basically, this is the tip of the same cut that brings you filet mignon. Because the cut of meat tapers, it ends up getting used in the ‘miscellaneous’ pile of recipes, including Satay. Thank you for the leftovers, filet mignon!

Also, it’s less expensive, but it’s every bit as tender as the center portion of the filet.

Cut your beef into cubes. Mine were a good 2 inches thick, because I wanted a seared outside and still keep them a bit rare in the middle. Thick pieces were more likely to get me the result I was seeking.

I used four tenderloin tips for the following recipe.

Second, mix your marinade (about 4 to 6 hours in advance)

1 green onion finely chopped
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3 tbl dark brown sugar
3 tbl fresh lime juice
1 tbl peanut oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Put the beef cubes in a Ziploc bag, and pour the marinade over it.  Zip it up, put it in the refrigerator, and let it soak for 4 to 6 hours.

At this same time, you’ll want to take a handful of short, wooden skewers and toss them into a bowl of water, and let them soak, too.

Third, make your dipping sauce

When you serve your Satay, it is accompanied by a dipping sauce.  This dipping sauce is the same recipe as the marinade, but with the following changes:

½ recipe overall, but ….

Only 1 Tbl of lime juice

Add (at least) 1 Tbl of hoisin sauce. Add more if you like a thicker sauce for dipping.


Nothing too complex here.  You’ll want to heat the grill to between 350 and 400 degrees.

While the coals are heating, skewer your beef with the wet wooden skewers, keeping as much of the marinade on the beef as you can. 

When the grill is hot, it’s a quick cook.  I was able to grill my beef Satay in about 8 minutes, and I flipped the skewers maybe 3 or 4 times.  But it depends on your cut, and the temperature of your grill. So just keep an eye on it, and when in doubt, try a piece!

(In case you’re wondering – My Chicken Satay was marinated in sesame oil, with a little soy sauce and red pepper flakes, then served with a peanut dipping sauce.  It was good, but mainly because the peanut sauce was good.  I want to find a better marinade. When I do, I’ll let ya know!)

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In honor of National Grammar Day, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the word “barbecue.” Now, I didn’t write a book on grammar, but I married someone who did, so I figure that makes me at least somewhat qualified to discuss this. Doesn’t it? Hmmmm….

Let’s start with the spelling. Barbecue, Bar-B-Que,  Bar-B-Q, BBQ.  Are there rules here?  You can bet your sweet pickles there are.

“Barbecue” is a word, the rest aren’t.  And the only recognized abbreviation is BBQ.  SPOGG officially agrees. One would only use the word “barbecue” when describing our favorite kind of cooking. (And for that matter, a backyard party where one eats food from the barbecue).  I definitely agree.  With the exception of my beloved sauce, I tend to cringe at the weird word-abbreviation hybrid versions of the word, like Bar-BQ. I say, either abbreviate it, or don’t. 

But I was surprised to learn that SPOGG is very supportive of nurturing the distinction between “to barbecue” and “to grill.”

To quote…

“If you are cooking hamburgers over a gas flame, you are grilling them, you are CERTAINLY not barbecuing them.  Grilling is cooking food in a way that there are stripes on food, whereas barbecue is deliciousness.”

I’m going to have to think that one over next time I’m grilling pizza, but the point is well taken. 

Happy National Grammar Day, everyone.  And remember, chili is food; Chile is where the earthquake happened.

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Dixie’s BBQ: Long lines, impossibly hot food, a vat of peanuts, warm water, and of course, “the Man.”  Not my favorite place to eat, but no doubt, Seattle’s most notorious and probably most popular barbecue joint. 

It just won’t be the same without Gene Porter walking around with his insanely hot sauce.  R.I.P. Gene!


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I got this letter from Kamado, and most of it is pretty annoying because I’ve never been a labor nationalist. I love my barbecue, and don’t care all that much who made it, or whether they earned dollars, pesos, baht or yen in the process. (In fact, I’m actually quite sorry for anybody overseas who has lost their desperately needed income because of this.  I guess that’s what makes this Blue State BBQ, eh?)

But on the bright side …. the bullet that says “We can now avoid devastating delays” is promise I really hope they can keep. See my previous post about Kamado’s wonderful cooker, but dismal customer service.

Maybe now I can recommend a Kamado without the huge caveat. 

Great Kamado News!

All our 2010 Kamados, components and accessory production is now in USA.  Some of the advantages, considerations and information are outlined below:

  • Possibly the single most important improvement is the refractory formula.  You can expect the latest and best heat retention, uniform heat radiation and overall ceramic body structural strength.
  • The components are interchangeable in size.
  • The overall dimensions and appearance are the same.
  • Additional tile colors are available.
  • All workers are U.S. Citizens or legal U.S. workers and chosen from an unbelievably large pool skilled quality Americans.
  • We can now avoid devastating delays in material purchases, miscommunication, no communication, foreign export regulations, ship scheduling/delays, 30 to 50 days ocean transportation, U.S. port delays, U.S. Customs holds/charges for inspection, U.S. Stevedore strikes or slowdown, damage from rough container handling, U.S. duties and charges, inland freight to our warehouse.
  • Tanking of the U.S. Dollar to foreign currencies.
  • Overall “good feeling”, respect and/or advantage of your product being “made in America”!


If you have any appropriate questions or comments we would be happy to reply.  Thank you for your consideration.


The Kamado Team

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