Archive for April, 2010

I used to subscribe Cook’s Illustrated. Great magazine, but I cancelled it because when I do get enough free time to read for the fun of it, I sadly tend to opt for my Xbox instead. I realize this exposes me as the cretin I am. But to you-know-who-you-are: Drop me a note and I’ll get you my gamertag.

Anyway, CI just sent us a sample “please come back” copy of their mag, and it included “A Guide to Buying Fresh Pork.”

I thought I’d try to summarize quickly in my own words, so you can get back to playing Madden NFL.

  1. They say that the government made pigs healthier since the 70s, which is good for a lot of health-related reasons, but bad for one big reason: A lot of pork sucks now.
  2. Don’t buy enhanced pork. Duh.  I don’t know about you, but it totally grosses me out to see cuts of meat with a lengthy ingredients list on the label.
  3. Free-roaming, natural pork is better.  Um, didn’t I just say that?  But why:  Old fashioned pork butt (aka: the kind you get at the butcher) had 50% more fat than the butts they got at the supermarket. And Old fashioned pork chops had 210% more fat than supermarket chops.  Are you getting the picture?
  4. A pork butt is a shoulder, not a butt.  But you already knew that.
  5. Of the retail cuts, CI’s five favorite are: Pork Butt, Shoulder Arm Picnic, Baby Back Ribs, Rib Chops and ham.
  6. Their least favorite cuts are Pork Tenderloin (too dry) and worst of all, the Sirloin Roast (too sinewy).

Thanks to Rebecca Hays, the CI author who wrote the long version of the above.


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If anyone out there thinks my love for barbecue is a bit much, try heading on down to your local BBQ competition.  There’s a whole different level of crazy down there.

Today was Seattle’s most public display of fat men with facial hair, smothered in smoke and sauce: The Pike Place Market BBQ Competition. So much fun, great food, lots of people. And no, I went to eat, not to compete. I honestly don’t ever see myself competing, in the same way I don’t anticipate trying out for American Idol. Singing around my family is good enough for me, and they kindly put up with it.  Ditto for the food I cook.

I was there too early to find out who won the competition. But I was lucky enough to be there right when the ribs were heading to the judges table.  This is the BBQ equivalent of being at the aquarium when they’re feeding the sharks:  Crazed swarms, gnawing teeth, and lots of red splatters everywhere.

So how was the food?  Almost as good as mine, of course.   🙂 

Here’s a gallery for those of you who missed it …. click to enlarge the photos … especially that one of them pulling the pork!

And a very short video:


The winner of the PPM BBQ Championship was the Left Hand Smoke team.   The “BeerBQ” guys in my little video came in 5th place.  Not bad!! And poor Daddy’s Butt Rub guy came in 27th.  I guess a funny name just isn’t enough.   Full list of results can be found here.

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(Sorry out-of-towners.)

Snipped from the official Pike Place Market Web site:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dozens of BBQ teams will fill the street in this annual competition.

Starting at 10:00 a.m., talk to the cooks and learn a few grilling tips.

Beginning at 11:00 a.m., you can purchase a pulled pork sandwich with proceeds benefiting the Market Foundation (sales continue until sold out).

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Brisket, Satan’s barbecue

If there is indeed a type of BBQ spawned from hell, it is brisket. You can make all the right preparations, follow the right recipe, employ the right cooking tricks, including choosing meat from a cow that slept on its left side, and still make a terrible brisket. EVIL.

And I’m not joking about that left side thing.  Apparently, some barbecue science nerd figured out that 80% of winning briskets in championship barbecue competitions came from “left-handed” briskets. That means the cows slept in a way that the yummy part wasn’t getting all ruined during nap time, and so he started some whole debate about how to get your cows to sleep on the proper side. So, if you ever start thinking that my love for barbecue is a bit much, just remember THAT guy. I’m nowhere close to as bad as it can get.

The reason brisket is so tricky is because it’s hard to find quality meat, it dries out easily because it takes so long to cook, and there’s a fine line between delicious and disgusting when it comes to a meat that’s about 30% fat.

So, in the good fight against Satan himself, today I made my 3rd brisket, and it finally turned out great. Think of me as a superhero, fighting for Truth, Lipitor, and Meat that falls off the bone. Er, even if brisket is boneless.

 Notes for any beginners

First thing you should know is that a brisket takes a LONG time to cook.  Today, I finished cooking a 13.2 lb brisket, and it took about 20 hours.  That’s not including the prep time.

Second thing you should know about brisket: You won’t find the brisket you want at the grocery store. The brisket you want is a ‘whole’ brisket, not just the flat.

Images are larger than they appear. (Oh, and thanks to my daughter for the labels)

Need a brisket topography lesson? A brisket has two parts, the Point and the Flat. The Flat is the big rectangular part of the cut, and the point is the more bulbous and notably uglier end.  There’s also a massive slab of fat on one side called the “fat cap.”  (Since barbecuing, I have been developing a fat cap of my own, unfortunately.)

Grocers and even some butchers generally sell only the flat, which is less fatty, smaller in size, and has a different composition than the thick part. It’s perfectly fine for a roast (eyeroll).  But on a barbecue, the flat cooks too fast, dries out more easily, and makes you wish the brisket would go back to the hell from which it came. You want a whole brisket, except for this …

The third thing you should know (lord knows, I didn’t know): The first time I got the courage to ask for a whole brisket at the butcher, I was rather surprised to see the butcher put on a lifter’s belt.  Wha?

Here’s the thing….a WHOLE brisket is the size of a stinkin’ garden shed. They’re HUGE. I guess it stands to reason, given that cows are also huge. But wow, I was completely shocked, and had to humbly suggest to the butcher that I didn’t need more than 1/2 of the thing. And even then I had enough to feed the neighbors. So, if you buy a whole brisket, plan on having all the ranch hands AND their families over for dinner.


Picking your Brisket

Unlike pork butts, ribs, and other more forgiving cuts, it’s really important to pick the right beef.  In addition to my usual lecture about why you want organic, high-quality foods from a butcher and not a grocery chain, here are few additional tips. You want a brisket that is more floppy than stiff.  You want one that is as evenly marbled as possible. Avoid a cut that has darkened fat or a lot of yellowish looking fat.  Also, while some very hard fat sections are normal, less is better.

Prep (2 to 6 hours before your cook begins)

  1. Trim any fat that looks yellow, or feels especially hard (like Vibram soles). But otherwise, leave the fat on.  (There’s some debate about this, but in general, I always like to cook with fat, and then trim it later. If the fat cap is more than an inch thick though, there’s no problem trimming that down a bit).
  2. Poke some holes with a knife in the thicker parts of the fatty side of the brisket. You should be able to poke a finger into the holes you cut.
  3. Apply Adam’s barbecue rub on all sides of the meat, but only lightly on the fatty side. Instead, use your fingers to push rub into the holes you created with the knife.
    1. You’ll be trimming away the fat after the cook, so there’s no point in wasting a lot of your rub on it.  By poking rub into the holes, rub flavor will find its way into the meat as the fat begins to drip away during the cook.
  4. Bag it, put it in the refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours.
  5. About an hour or two before the cook, toss your hickory chips into some water.


  1. Pull the brisket out of the refrigerator so it can warm up some before cooking
  2. Light the coals, and get your grill to stabilize at 200 degrees.
  3. Place the brisket on the grill fat side up, and toss your hickory chips on the coals.
  4. The rule for cooking is pretty simple: Figure on 75 minutes per pound. But that may vary depending on the cut you buy.
  5. Spin (don’t flip) the brisket once or twice during the cook. You may want to add more hickory.
  6. When your brisket reaches 190 to 195 degrees internally it’s cooked. But remember, cooked and “done” are not the same thing.  You want a really tender, easy to slice, soft brisket. Cooking it low and very slow following the 90/lb rule should get you there.

Still not done? Here’s what you do if you’re a cheaterpants: If it’s getting to be 2 hours or so before dinner and the brisket doesn’t seem like it’s getting anywhere, I read that you can create a bath for it.  Take a very big piece of heavy duty aluminum foil, put the brisket on top of it, and bend the sides upward.  Pour a small amount of warm water in, and then fold the foil over the top tent style.  Bob Gibson suggests a little beef bouillon to go in the water, btw. Blech.  Anyway, I haven’t done this myself, so can’t endorse it. But I read that you can cook the brisket up to 2 hours in this warm bath and it will help get things tender. But BBQ snobs will say “hrumpfh” and ask why you just didn’t microwave it.


I like to serve brisket thinly sliced on hoagie buns, drizzled with my favorite sauce. 

This should leave you unspeakably full, feeling fat, and ready for a long nap, which according the Urban Dictionary, is exactly the opposite of what a Satan Sandwich is supposed to accomplish. But I’m sure it’s the next best thing.

 For a few extra tips, please read this update.


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