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Archive for November, 2010

Ranch dressing is really easy to make.

I don’t know why people feel the need to dip barbecue chicken wings into ranch sauce.  I’m not anti ranch sauce. I like it on a cucumber, I like it on a carrot, and I especially like it as a flavor of Doritos. But chicken wings?

(Avoiding a “what the cluck” joke. Unsuccessfully, I guess).

I think it’s all just part of humanity’s ongoing lack of respect for the chicken.  You wouldn’t dip a turkey in ranch sauce. You wouldn’t dip a duck in ranch sauce. But somehow, the poor, under-appreciated chicken, no matter how well barbecued, gets dipped.  Blech.  Shame on you ALL!

That said … we’re all about customer service here at the Blue State BBQ.  And so I figure, if you’re going to ruin your wings with ranch dressing, it might as well be good ranch dressing.

I went hunting for ranch dressing recipes, and noticed two basic categories. Those with buttermilk, and those without.  Basically, recipes with buttermilk tend to have equal parts buttermilk, mayonnaise and sour cream (mixed with the appropriate spices), and those without buttermilk have a 2:1 ratio of mayo to sour cream.

Today we had a family taste test, and it was unanimous – the ranch dressing without the buttermilk tasted better.  But I still recommend keeping the ranch with the veggie platter and away from your barbecue, even if you do know how to make ranch dressing on your own.

(FYI: I cut this recipe in half and had plenty for the whole family … but then again, I don’t eat wings with ranch sauce)

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • (Optional: 1/4 teaspoon onion powder)
  • (Optional: a pinch of finely chopped dill)

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Had to share this….

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After posting my latest entry on Just Plain Chicken, my poor, innocent, naive nephew asked for some advice on how to better cook his “simple boneless breasts of chicken.” 

Well, the answer is do NOT cook simple boneless breasts of chicken.

Dear nephew, here are three easy tips on how to cook a perfectly cooked, juicy, delicious chicken:

One (and most important): Never buy anything but a whole, uncut chicken.  Pre-butchered chicken is the classic convenience store crap trap where you pay more for less.  Generally, processed, pre-cut fryers means less meat, less quality, less healthy.   Whole chickens maintain way more moisture when you cook, especially if you throw a little butter in the chest cavity. I always buy organic, too. I’m 100% sure organic chickens taste better.

Two:  If you have the time, brine your chicken.  Brining is a guaranteed way to get a  juicier result from the grill.  If you’ve never brined,   basically you soak your whole chicken overnight in 1 gallon of water mixed with 3/4 cup kosher salt and 2/3 cup sugar. Some people will throw a splash of olive oil in there, too.   Take it out of the brine, pat it dry, and it’s ready to cook as usual.

Three: Buy a decent meat thermometer and take your chicken off the grill just before it hits 165 degrees, and let it rest for a moment as it climbs up to 165.   I like to check the temperature of a chicken in two places:  The space between the inner thigh and the chest cavity, then in the heart of the fattest part of the breast.   I like to see it hit 160, then I keep a close eye on it and pull it off the grill right before it hits 165.

Anyway, it also sounds like you’re cooking your chicken way too hot if you’re getting a blackened outside, and raw inside.  Even on an inexpensive gas grill, you should be able to regulate your temperature by either restricting oxygen or turning the gas way down.  You’re better off cooking low and slow than putting your chicken in an incinerator.

If all of these tips work, I think you should  let me have your Reggie Wayne in exchange for my Mario Manningham.

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Just plain chicken

Nothing but butter, salt and pepper on this bird!

I shared this once before on an old post about barbecued chicken, but I’ll say it again: I’m amazed how good just plain chicken tastes when it comes off a ceramic cooker like the Kamado

The one thing different about the chicken I cooked last night versus my original just-salt-and-pepper recipe is that, because I was  pressed for time, I cooked this bird a lot faster.  I had the 5.2 pound chicken at 375 to even 400 degrees for about 80 minutes.  So, roughly 15 minutes per pound

The benefit of having done this was a crispy skin. If you’re a fan of the skin, I’m thinking this hot and fast cook might be a better way to go for you.  But the flavor was definitely less smokey, which again, may be your preference.

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This lump did NOT sit alone in a boggy marsh. That I know of.

I checked the mail bag today, and noticed more questions about charcoal.  Two were about how to light charcoal properly, to which I say, um … have you tried matches? 

But I think what folks are getting at is how does one get charcoal to the right temperature, and then how do you get it to stay there.

When I wrote about How to Use a Kamado, someone commented on this issue, too. It can be tricky, especially if you’re a beginner to either a ceramic cooker or quality lump charcoal.

As with most of my ramblings, there’s the right answer, and then there’s my answer.

The right answer: Use a charcoal chimney. To be clear, this is something I’ve never  personally used, never owned, and don’t even want.  But most die-hard barbecue lovers use them. So, consider doing as I say, not as I do.  A charcoal chimney is a metal canister that you operate separately from your grill. You pour your charcoal into it, it heats the charcoal quickly and evenly, and then you pour your charcoal into your grill.   This solves two problems at once. First, it helps you get a hot grill faster, but second and more important, it gives you even, predictable heat. 

Or so I’m told.  I will never know, because I don’t intend to own one. My back deck is already cluttered enough with barbecue stuff.

So, if you’re like me, and don’t plan on having a charcoal chimney, here are my five tips when it comes to taming your charcoal.

1)      Pick a brand of quality lump charcoal that you like, and stick with it. I’d say 75% of the battle is just getting to know the coal itself, because there’s a lot of variation between brands. Some burns hot, some burns slow, some lights quickly, some doesn’t, some starts cool then gets hot, and so on.  So, it’s a really good idea to get used to something, and then stick with it. The brand I use is Lazzari Hardwood Lump Charcoal    …  I don’t know if it’s the best, but I definitely like it, and am very accustomed to it.

The only brand of lump charcoal I don’t recommend (aside from the horror that is grocery store briquettes) is the Big Green Egg charcoal.  This is not a comment on BGEs, which I’m sure are great. But the BGE charcoal I found is relatively hard and slow to light, then suddenly gets lava hot.  So, too moody for me.

2)      Make sure you’ve cleaned out your ashes.   Per my post about how to use a Kamado, cooking on a ceramic cooker is all about air flow.  A big pile of ash at the bottom of your grill is like a stuffy nose to a fire.  If you block the airflow, you’re going to get weird results.  So, even though it’s a pain, and you’re hungry, get those ashes out of there on a regular basis.

3)      Get the coals hot, then cool them down.  I hate this, but it’s the right thing to do. You’re hungry, you’re impatient, you have a dinner to serve. So when the grill hits your target temperature, you can’t help but want to get to cooking.  Well, don’t.  You’ll be happier and you’ll get more predictable results if you let the grill heat up and let the coals get going more evenly.  Go over by 50 to 100 degrees. Then, when you starve them of oxygen, the temperature will drop back down to your target temperature, and you’ll have a smooth, stable ride from there.  This is especially useful when you’re doing a long, slow cook, and you don’t feel like checking your thermometer ten times overnight

4)      Mix up the sizes of your charcoal.  Unlike briquettes, lump charcoal comes in all sizes, and irregular shapes. So you can’t just pour from the bag.  It’s a little more like building a campfire than your run-in-the-mill barbecue.  I generally put on a pair of gloves, dig out a few of the bigger pieces, then surround them with handfulls of the smaller pieces.  (This also makes lighting easier, because the smaller pieces will get fired up first, then they do a great job heating up the big logs).

5)      Per my other charcoal post, I use 3 to 5 sugarcube sized pieces of Firestart or similar sawdust-based product to get the coals going.  I’ve never had any issues at all getting coals started this way, and it’s nice not to use gas or artificial lighter fluids.

Ok, now here’s what I don’t know.  A lot of pro barbecue types either mix in a lot of plain wood, or just use wood exclusively.  I’ll be giving that a try soon, so I can make some comparisons.  But for all I know, all this advice is the same – or, completely different – if we’re talking about just plain wood.   I’ll let you know.

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Local Review: Stan’s Bar-B-Q

I’m always suspicious of “fan favorites.”  I think people just vote for what they’ve heard of.  How else do you explain Taco Del Mar, the home of the Northwest’s most undercooked burrito, winning the local “Best of Seattle” contest? 

I love a drunken, midnight burrito as much as the next guy. But best?  Were you drunk when you voted?

Stan’s is a barbecue in Issaquah that has earned such honors.  Good reviews from everywhere and, gulp, voted best in the state by fans.  So I went with my foodie friend  who also keeps a great food blog.  And I confess, I was worried that it was just going to be another disappointment.

Well, good news: Stan’s Bar-B-Q really is delicious, and the more I think about it, the more I think it was indeed the best barbecue I’ve had in the area.

First of all, everything that I found so repellant about Floyd’s Barbecue was completely the opposite  at Stan’s.  Sure, there was a bar, there were football games on the televisions, and there were beer lights in the windows.  But the atmosphere was relaxed, the service was super friendly, and the other customers could be seen, not smelled.  My friend said, “it’s a good thing this place is in Issaquah, or I’d be here all the time.”

Then the menu was instantly encouraging. The first thing I noticed was the text below “Baby Back Ribs.” It said “Stan’s favorite dry rub – no sauce necessary!”  Good sign.  Then under “Pulled Pork,” it read, “Hickory Smoked for 10 Hours.”  Yes!  And then I noticed they make their own hot links with locally farmed pork.   Excellent!

Not pictured: Another combo with a volcano-like pile of pulled pork.

We ordered two different combos, so we could each try the ribs, the pulled pork AND the beef brisket.  When I asked for the sauce on the side, the waitress kindly informed us “we always serve sauce on the side.”   Ah! Perfect.

Stan’s has three sauces, sweet, mild and spicy. We asked for all three so we could sample.

The plates come filled with barbecue, a single slice white bread on the side, and a side order.  It was a pickle short of being the perfect plate for me. But I loved that the meat wasn’t hiding under big, doughy buns.  I usually have to peel the bun off to try barbecue at other places. At Stan’s, if you want a sandwich, order a sandwich.  Otherwise, you’re going to get a mountain of meat, as it should be.

Here’s my take on the three barbecued meats and the sauces we tried:

The pulled pork: We both agreed this was the best of the three.  I have to say, this was the first pulled pork I’ve had at a restaurant that I’d say had a distinct personality.  It wasn’t just bland, mushy pork that needed sauce to taste good.  I’ll need to go back there to dissect the flavors of Stan’s rub, but there was a lot of flavor in the pulled pork and it was great, just plain, by the forkful.

The brisket:  This was my second favorite.  I love my beef brisket, but Stan’s is better.  I have to somehow figure out how to make a brisket as tender as Stan’s while keeping as much moisture. My only (very minor) complaint was that the bites of brisket with the bark were notably better in flavor than the bites without the bark.  Stan’s might consider pushing some rub into the meat, per the recipe I use.

The ribs: Good, but not as good as the other two dishes.  This was a falling-off-the-bone type of ribs, if you like them that way.  The ribs were really good, so don’t get me wrong, but I wished there was more rub on them. Compared to the other two dishes, the ribs came off relatively bland. 

The sauces:  When the sweet, spicy and mild sauces arrived, I noticed how red they were and worried about it coming off like ketchup.  Well, the good news is they didn’t taste at all like ketchup. But I did find the taste weird and borderline unpleasant.  Given the meat didn’t need it, I almost didn’t go back.  But then, I started putting some of the sweet sauce on the brisket and discovered it worked really well on the meat.   Weird.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a sauce that tasted so mediocre by itself, then so good when used.  So, clearly, the sauce is strictly meant to complement Stan’s rub, because it certainly doesn’t work on its own.   I liked the sweet sauce the best, and didn’t like the spicy sauce at all.  But that’s just me.

I was way too full to order their cheesecake or ice cream pie. And I’m not going to fool myself that I’ll ever by hungry enough to try either in the future.  But I like the sound of both.

Stan’s is great. If you’re not going to cook your own barbecue, this is the next best thing.  Even better would be if one of my favorite football teams would ever actually win a game, so I can enjoy the meal AND the entertainment at the same time.

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A Dark Day for Barbecue

Blech

I suppose the optimist would say the news that McRibs are going national will just help people appreciate truly good barbecue that much more.  But in the same way I don’t really want to see McBooks, or McMovies, or McPaintings,  I can’t help but think this is a low blow to the fine art of barbecue.

That said, I do like McMuffins.  So, I guess I’m just a big “not in my backyard” hypocrite.

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