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Archive for May, 2011

Brisket: A few extra tips

A 14 pound brisket will make about 20 sandwiches that look this.

I’ve had the chance to make brisket two more times since I posted my “Satan’s Barbecue” recipe.  And the approach continues to work out really well. But I think I can offer a few extra notes, having improved upon the original slightly each time.

  • First, I’ve done the math, and the ideal cooking time seems to be 1 hour, 15 minutes per pound. I assume particular cuts of meat will vary.  But that timing has worked for me extremely well. The brisket was moist, and sliced perfectly.
  • Second, circumstances forced me to pull the brisket off the grill about an hour before company arrived.  So, I wrapped it in heavy duty foil, then put it a brown grocery bag, and then put the whole thing in a cooler.  I didn’t do a before/after taste test, so I can’t be scientifically certain – but wow, I definitely ended up with the juiciest brisket I’ve ever made.   Let’s put this in the  “it didn’t hurt, and may have really helped” file.  I’ll be doing it again.
  • As with the beef ribs, I’ve been very strict with temperature, making sure the temp stayed close to 200 degrees. It peaked at 220, and dipped to 190.  But I’d say it was at 200 degrees about 85% of the time.   This seems to be the ideal spot.
  • Finally, I’ve been asked a lot about how many people a brisket can feed. This latest brisket started out at 14 pounds. After we made 12 sandwiches (pictured), and served two adults without bread – so 14 servings total – about 1/3 of the overall cut remained.  Looks like a big  brisket feeds about 20 or so. 

Ok, then.  Memorial Day Weekend over, and my arteries are going on a nice, leafy vacation.

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10 caveman sized beef ribs rubbed and waiting for a nice, slow cook.

Apparently, prehistoric humans lived to about age 30. This makes me nervous because I’ve had 4 barbecue meals in 4 days, and yet, I just put a 14 pound brisket on the Kamado for tomorrow.   If it weren’t for the bag of snap peas I ate today, I’d be a wooden club away from becoming Captain Caveman.

Don’t worry. The way I see it: Just survive Memorial Day weekend, then get back to my normal routine, which does include food that’s more gatherer than hunter. 

One more day to go. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Anyway, tonight it was beef ribs. There’s a long story here captured in my last post.  But the short version is, after many past disappointments, I’ve finally figured out how to make really good big beef ribs.   Beef ribs, if you’ve never cooked them are quite large, thick, and it’s hard to get them tender while also keeping them moist.

Or so I thought.  It turns out you really just need to keep the temperature very low, and you need to cook the ribs for a long time (10 or 11 hours).  That’s as much as double the time some popular, but wrong, recipes suggest. Again, for the full story, read my experiment post from yesterday.

Now that I know how to make beef ribs, I’ll be cooking them a lot more often. They’re a fantastic change of pace from pork ribs, and are just plain big.  One rib, and you’re full. Two ribs, and you’re up late blogging because you can’t sleep.

Recipe

Prep

Only lightly rub the ribs. The long, slow cook will create a tough, exterior bark. The bark is delicious, but too much of a shell can undermine the tenderness you’ve worked so hard to create. 

Cooking

10 to 11 hours at 200 degrees.  It’s important not to let the grill get too hot, or you will dry out your ribs.

You may have seen other recipes touting shorter cooking times.  Don’t believe it.  I’ve made a lot of terrible beef ribs, and this formula has by far generated the best results.

That’s it.  Enjoy. Or as Captain Caveman would say, Unga Bunga.

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Taste test number one: At four hours, this little nugget really was flavorful, but too chewy to serve.

Ok, perhaps I’ve been too hard on beef ribs. Maybe it’s me, not them. After all, my meal the other night at Peckinpah taught me beef ribs can be THAT good. So, as of right now, I’m done making merely tolerable beef ribs. I will make perfect beef ribs. 

All I know is that Peckinpah’s ribs were cooked for 10 hours at 200 degrees, or so one of the cooks there told me. 

The longest I’ve ever cooked pork ribs is 6 hours, and those completely disintegrated when touched (in a good way, but still, ridiculously tender).  Beef ribs are obviously a lot bigger, and more dense, so it makes sense that they may need to cook for 6 to 8 hours. But 10?

Well, we’ll see.

The plan is to prep, cook and taste test the ribs at 4, 6, 8 and 10 hours.  And I’ll make up my mind on how to adjust the cooking approach as I go along.

Here goes…

Hour one:

There are only three things I knew for sure going into this experiment. First, I needed whole (8-inch) short ribs. While “Long Short Ribs” falls into the same nutty category as “Jumbo Shrimp,” it’s the type of rib I was served at Peckinpah. I know this because I showed the picture to my favorite butcher. Thank you, yet again, Bob’s Quality Meats.

Second, they need to be only lightly rubbed.  What I ate at Peckinpah was not overly rubbed, and had no bark.  So, I prepped the ribs, and only sprinkled a small amount of my rub on the ribs. 

And third, they needed to be cooked at 200 degrees.  I got the Kamado settled before cooking.

So the only mysteries left: How long until done, would they need any foil along the way, and of course, how would they taste.

Hour Four:

My justification for testing the ribs at 4 hours is that several cookbooks – including the Big Green Egg cookbook – have ribs done at between 3 and 4 hours.   Another reason is that I don’t want the ribs to dry out. If I get any sense of dryness, I’ve decided I would do a foil tent around one of the test ribs.

At four hours, the ribs are nowhere close to done. I mean, not even remotely close.

 I would be embarrassed to serve something so chewy and sinewy to guests, and I’m baffled by how any mainstream cookbook could suggest such a thing. My baseless theory is that perhaps  “quicker” recipes are more popular, and sell more books.  If that’s the case, I suggest those folks should just serve their ribs raw, then say to their guests, hey, at least they didn’t take too long to cook.

Anyway, I did not get the sense that ribs are drying out.  But I decided for the sake of science, I’m going to put one of the ribs in foil for the next two hours anyway, just to see if it amounts to anything. I made a tent with just a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.

Hour Six:

So, no doubt about it, at six hours the ribs are definitely not done.  No surprise that big beef ribs take longer than pork ribs. But it is a bit of a surprise to me that they are SO not done. 

By the way, this is not a comment on flavor. The ribs taste great. They’re just too chewy.

I will say there was some difference, but not a huge difference, between the rib I put in aluminum foil and the one I didn’t. Maybe another two hours will separate them more.  If I had to pick one blindfolded, I’m not sure I could.

Hour Eight:

At 8 hours. Both ribs good and servable. But not quite as tender as I'd prefer. Will 10 hours be better?

I can definitively declare that eight hours is much better than six, for both the foiled rib and the rib over indirect heat.  While still neither as loose nor as tender as I’d like just yet, I could at least see serving these ribs. I even got the “yum, those are good” from my wife.

I am however, starting to write off the foil approach. I’m not noticing any difference in moisture level. And at about 7 hours, I dropped some more hickory chips on the coals, and it’s clear the foiled rib didn’t pick up as much smoky flavor, not surprisingly.  If there’s a moisture benefit, it’s subtle. Whereas the smoke flavor difference is noticable. 

But I’ll be leaving it in the foil the whole way just to see what happens.

Hour Ten:

Luckily for me, there’s a good Mariners v. Yankees game on the television. Otherwise, all this meat would have put me to sleep by now.

The news at hour ten is very good. The ribs are really getting tender. I was actually able to yank away a little meat with a fork, which I haven’t been able to do up to this point.  The meat was easy to cut, soft and still juicy. At this point, these are clearly the most successful beef ribs I’ve made.  To nitpick I did sense a little dryness happening at the bark level, so I’m starting to suspect that “between 9 1/2 and 10 hours” may be the sweet spot.  But I’m going to leave the ribs on for one more hour, to see if dryness really sets in or not after 10 hours.

Oh, and the foiled rib is just not as good, period.  Don’t do it.

Hour Eleven:

Get this. At 11 hours, the ribs are even better.  Thanks to my wife for suggesting the extra time.  They have indeed developed a little bark, but the ribs are still very juicy, taste terrific and are wonderfully tender, which is exactly what I was shooting for.  They’re really, really good and not at all dry.  I can’t wait to make them for guests tomorrow.  (Oh man, can’t believe I’m doing this again tomorrow.)

So, it’s clear.

Beef ribs need to be cooked low and slow for a good long time.  I did religiously keep the coals at 200 degrees today — one of the benefits of this experiment was that I  hung around the grill all day.  Keeping the temperature low was clearly a key to success.

Anyway, I’m not going to twelve hours because I have officially eaten everything those rib bones had to offer.

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A handful of hours after eating at Memphis Blues Barbeque House in Vancouver, I got hungry again.  Why does this keep happening to me? 

And what did I find waiting for me back at my hotel room?

A message from the hotel concierge suggesting a “good new smokehouse” that I might want to try. Within walking distance, no less.  What else could I do but determine that barbecue for both lunch AND dinner was a wonderful idea? So with help from my new best friend at the desk, I got directions and was on my way to Peckinpah.

Not on the menu at Peckinpah. I asked if they'd do me a favor and give me a brisket and beef rib combo, and they kindly obliged.

Let me jump ahead for a moment. Peckinpah served me the best slow-cooked beef ribs I’ve eaten, anywhere. Not kidding.  

Beef ribs are tricky to get right, and I don’t recall ever walking away from a beef rib dinner loving it as much as I enjoyed Peckinpah’s.  

So, with that, I have a message for the Canadian media.

Dear Journalists of Vancouver,

I have no quarrel with the Memphis Blues Barbeque House, even if they do put a ‘q’ in barbecue. Read my review, I was nice enough, right? But adequate, a word that indeed has a ‘q’ in it, describes my lunch there.  Please, break the cycle of “best of” hype, go to Peckinpah and have the beef ribs. There is no excuse for handing MBBH any more awards.

Yours Truly,

Blue State BBQ

To be honest, I was actually fairly skeptical on my walk to Peckinpah, which is on the edge of Vancouver’s Gastown.  Just like Virgils off of Times Square, by reflex I get suspicious of barbecue restaurants sitting so close to tourist traps and gift shops.  That said, I did buy some Canuck breath mints.

When I walked in, I again had a case of not sure. Noisy and without a lot of elbow room, it seemed at first glance like a  sports bar that happened to serve sandwiches on the side.

I opted to sit at the bar, where another new best friend turned out to be the waitress who had to keep leaning over me to get clean plates.  I luckily thought to remove one of her long blonde hairs from my sweater before heading back to Seattle to see my wife.

I had my heart set on brisket. But then I started talking to the guy behind the counter with the ancient gladiator beard who was making hush puppies, and he said the beef ribs were absolutely his favorite.  So, the waitress was kind enough to let me order a combo of both brisket and a big beef rib.

Peckinpah's homemade sauces. Oh, and yeah, I had a cream ale.

The brisket sandwich came topped with a pickle, a tomato slice and sauce. It was a very good sandwich, and the sauce at Peckinpah is outstanding. But I should have listened to gladiator guy. Once I tasted the beef rib, I almost didn’t eat the rest of the brisket.  Of course I did, because I can’t help myself.  But bluntly, if you’re in the mood for beef, don’t order the brisket sandwich.  Just get the ribs and be happy.

The ribs had clearly been rubbed. They had a small amount of the terrific sauce on them, but it didn’t need much. The meat was incredibly tender for a beef rib. One of the cooks said they were slow cooked for about 10 hours, which is a few hours longer than I would have guessed. I’m thinking I need to give beef ribs one more attempt on the Kamado.

One last note, the waitress suggested the potato salad and everything about that idea was good. Dill, some red onion, paprika on big chunks of potatoes.  All the sides looked good, but I can certainly second her endorsement.

Anyway, I returned to the hotel and am on my third cup of mint tea, as I try to unclog my system. Tomorrow, fruits and veggies. That’s it.

I couldn’t find a web site for the restaurant, so here you go…

Peckinpah, 2 Water St, Gastown, Vancouver, BC   604-681-5411.

I noticed they had a separate door for take out, which is good to know because it’s has to get crowded in there during peak hours.

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I’m a simple man. I love Vancouver, BC, and I love to eat.  And that usually means sushi, not barbecue. Vancouver has some of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted, so it’s what I usually hunt for when I’m here.  But this trip, I made up my mind that if it didn’t have hooves, I’m not eating it. 

I was going to find out if there was great barbecue to be had in Vancouver.

The first stop was award-magnet Memphis Blues Barbeque House.  Best barbecue last two years from one Vancouver magazine.  Best barbecue for 4 years in another Vancouver magazine.  Best place for meat lovers by another magazine. It even won a best wine list award.  

Memphis Blues Barbecue is the Michael Phelps of barbecue in this town, so it simply had to be tried, with or without a bong.

I went with two colleagues from work for lunch.  I understand there are several Memphis State Barbeques in town. This was the one on W. Broadway if it matters to you.

The atmosphere was tavern. Even though there are multiple locations, it definintely does not come off as a chain restaurant.  Lots of wood and pictures of Memphis blues greats all over the wall.  Although, someone needs to remind the proprietor that Muddy Waters was born in Mississippi, and was a Chicago Blues man.   That said, who cares … watch this, and be happy.

Anyway, thanks to my friends indulging me, we got three different dishes. We had the ribs, the pulled pork, and the brisket.  Each of these came with baked beans and coleslaw served in those tiny waxy cups. (One of my colleagues would later rightly complain: Coleslaw is dirt cheap, why are you serving me such a tiny little portion? Hmm… good question!)  Each dish also came with a corner of corn bread.  Finally, you had a choice of potato salad and fries. And of course, all this was served on top of red and white checkerboard paper in a basket. Nice.

Of the three main dishes, the brisket was by far the best.  It was a tall sandwich, the meat was tender and really flavorful, they left a good amount of fat on, and the strips of brisket still had some integrity, which you don’t always get. I liked how you could easily pull a strip of brisket out of the sandwich.

Pulled pork sandwich at Memphis State Barbeque House

The pulled pork was not only the worst of the three, but I’m actually going to declare it something to avoid. It’s the classic problem of so many really popular barbecue places: It’s just too hard to make THAT much pulled pork and keep it from going mushy. The flavor was ok, but the pork had the consistency of processed chicken, and I can only conclude that other reviewers are themselves processed and chicken.  Again, I point to RoRo as clear evidence that you can be a restaurant, and serve pulled pork that looks pulled, not mashed.

The ribs were good, but nowhere near as good as the brisket.  I was surprised that the ribs without the sauce had almost no flavor.  This isn’t a complaint, just an observation. Usually there’s something going on with ribs … a rub, or a spice, or something.  But these ribs were just plainly cooked, no real personality (good or bad), and obviously waiting for the sauce to do the work.

The sauce was interesting. It had a big flavor that at first I thought had to be some sort of bourbon. I hate to say something so cliché as ‘aromatic,’ (that’s a word for little softies), but in this case, it really was.  The sauce seemed to creep up into my sinuses. One of my colleagues called it though, and pointed out it was too sweet for it to be a bourbon.  Bingo. It was molasses.  And to quote the dude behind the counter “the good molasses, too, not the cheap stuff.”

Ok then.

Please put it on my brisket.

As for the side dishes, I was definitely the harshest critic on my taste test team.  My advice, order the brisket, and when they ask you what side dishes you want, say “more brisket.”  That’s about the nicest thing I can write.

So the truth about the Memphis Blues Barbeque is that it’s good not great.  No way it deserves all those awards unless all the other barbecue in town is bad not good.  But I don’t mean to be overly harsh. I would absolutely go back for the brisket sandwiches, so recommend the place for that meal alone.   

Finally, for those copy editors among you noticing a lot of que vs. cue in this story, please refer to this old post on how to spell barbecue.

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The dog knows just how good those pork chops are going to be.

I don’t know how in the sacred pit of fire I’ve managed not to write about these pork chops in the past 18 months. Then again, I’m also not sure how I’ve managed to blog about barbecue for 18 months. Is there really that much to say?

Anyway, as you know, pork chops are already good. But soak them in a salty brine full of maple syrup, molasses and ginger, and you have a pork chop that probably qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction.  Then, serve it under grilled apples that have been basted in honey?  AND on top of cheesy grits? 

This recipe is a masterpiece, and it’s time I shared. It has been one of my favorites for years, but sadly, I can’t take credit for it.

The recipe is from Tom Douglas, and his “Seattle Kitchen” cookbook .  And that pains me, because I happen to think Tom Douglas is incredibly over-rated, and so is this cornball cookbook.  Take one look at the ridiculous photo of Douglas on the cover, and trust me, milk will fly out of your nose.

(I could do an entire article here about the ho-hum meals I’ve repeatedly had at Dahlia this-Dahlia that, Lola, Etta’s, and so on down the Douglas line. I do like Serious Pie. But even so, I’ll take Flying Squirrel ‘s pulled pork pizza over Douglas’ truffle buttered flatbread any day. Ok, most days.

Anyway, I’ll never completely beat up on Douglas because of this recipe.  It’s like when a singer you don’t particularly care for (Reba McIntire) appears in a movie you love (Tremors).   Thank you Tom.

Again, this recipe has three components

1)      Maple-brined thick-cut pork chops, grilled

2)      Grilled honey-smothered apple rings

3)      Creamy, cheesy  grits

Don’t worry. It sounds like a lot, but it’s all very easy and you’ll have no problem managing it.

Here are the instructions to serve a dinner for four.  This is not 100% Douglas’ recipe. I did change a few very minor things because I can’t help myself.

STEP ONE. 6 to 24 hours in advance, brine your chops

Take 4 double cut, bone in pork chops.  Make sure you’re getting thick chops, at least an inch and half thick on the bone.

Cover them in an airtight container with the following brine:

  • 5 cups of water
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh, ground ginger (Douglas calls for less, and doesn’t indicate fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon of allspice (this is double what Douglas suggests)
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper

STEP TWO: 80 to 90 minutes before dinner, get your grill and your grits going

Organic corn grits

Get your grill hot. I usually cook pork chops at 400 degrees or more.  As your grill is heating, focus on getting your grits ready.

Important note, you need real grits, not instant grits.

 I was at a deluxe grocery in Queen Anne and I asked for real grits, and the store manager jokingly replied “Uh, where do you think you are? There aren’t any real grits in Seattle.”  But he was wrong, it’s actually not that hard to find real corn grits. Just don’t give up if they can’t be found at your usual grocer. There is an enormous taste difference between slow cooked grits and instant grits.

To cook grits

  • Bring 4 cups of milk mixed with 2 cups of water to a boil
  • Add 1 cup of corn grits, lower the heat to a simmer
  • Simmer for 50 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally to keep grits from settling and burning on the bottom.
  • Right before serving, melt into the grits 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter
  • Add salt to taste

STEP THREE:  About 20 to 30 minutes before dinner, start grilling your chops and apples

The pork chops will take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes to grill depending on how thick they are.  And the apples about 10 minutes.

Take the chops out of the brine, but do not rinse them or pat them dry.  Toss the pork chops over direct heat, but not over flames.  If you’re seeing fire, err on the side of caution and go with indirect heat.

As soon as the chops hit the grill, it’s time to prepare your apples.

  • Take 4 apples (any variety, really), core them, and slice them into “O” shapes about an inch thick, leaving the skin on.  
  • Spread honey liberally on both sides of the apple slices, and place on the grill, but away from the coals

The goal with the apples is to get the honey to carmelize and to soften the fruit. I shoot for some nice, dark brown grill marks on the apples, but yank the slices off the grill if they look like they’re starting to burn, or feel like they’re getting too mushy.

Douglas says to pull the chops off when the internal temperature reaches 140 to 145 degrees. I actually find that a bit rare, personally. I like my pork chops medium, so I keep them on for a few minutes past that. But obviously, overcooking is a hideous sin. 

STEP FOUR:  Serving

When the pork chops are done, they’ll need about 5 minutes to rest.  This is a good time to melt in the cheese and butter into the grits, per the above instructions.

When the grits are ready, use a ladle to place a scoopful of grits onto each plate.  Then, place a pork chop next to, or even slightly on top of the grits. And finally, place 2 or 3 slices of apple on top of the chop.

Eating is mix and match.  Take a bite of pork with apple, or with grits, or with both. It’s all amazing.

Have fun

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There used to be a picture here of a delicious Lunchbox Laboratory cheeseburger. But I got an official sounding take-down request from the guy who took the picture. So, here's a picture of a big tool, which is the image that comes to mind for me now.

Perhaps because I grew up in Ohio, or maybe because I used to be a journalist, but I’ve never been bothered by what folks out here call an “East Coast bias in the media.” I’m not saying the bias isn’t real. I’m just saying, who cares?

I can root for the Canucks all I want with or without ESPN’s attention.  

But then today, I saw this article from Food & Wine Magazine on Delish: The top 25 burgers in America. America is a big place.  So tell me, how is it of the 25 burgers listed, only 5 are to be found west of Texas? And one of those five is an In-N-Out burger?

 In-N-Out Burger?

I like In-N-Out Burger. I have thoroughly enjoyed more than a handful of cheeseburgers there. But I smell the hideous stink of lazy journalism when it came to this top 25 list. Some Food & Wine Magazine reporter emailed a friend in L.A., said “help me out here,”  and decided, yeah that’ll do.

So it then occurred to me that I would be a lazy journalist, too, if I didn’t call out what has to indeed be one of the best burgers in Seattle: Lunchbox Laboratory.

Please allow me to clarify, that by “best,” what I really mean is a blend of other, popular adjectives.  Monstrous.  Greasy. Grotesque. Insane. Colossal. Intimidating. And of course, Delicious.

Most of my friends and family have already been there, but if you haven’t,  then I’m sad to say you’ve missed out on a notable part of the Lunchbox Laboratory experience.

In their old Ballard location, it was standing room only even when empty. The place was decorated wall-to-wall with throwback lunchboxes and other retro flair, and I once sat at a “table” literally held together by duct tape. The only thing that separated the dining area from the grease fires in the kitchen was their menu: a blackboard the size of a schoolbus covered in the bazillion toppings you can choose from to build your own custom burger.  Not to mention the meats you could choose from. Dork anyone? (Duck + Pork burger).

But they’ve moved. I haven’t been to their new location yet, which is near the REI, south of Lake Union. I’m just going to assume the atmosphere has been upgraded.  That’s a safe assumption, given the old atmosphere was at best, “creepy garage sale.” 

I could seriously go on and on about Lunchbox Laboratory.  So why don’t I just do this instead: Here’s a helpful set of tips:

  1. Go hungry. Not like, “it’s been a few hours since breakfast” hungry. I mean like, I’m going to chew my own leg off hungry.   The burgers are huge.  They can easily be shared.
  2. My brother in law is not convinced that their French fries are any good. I honestly don’t remember, because I have always ordered the very crispy tater tots.   I can definitely recommend those. Tots! You can’t go wrong.
  3. If you are a mutant, and have a second stomach, order one of their shakes, which comes served in a beaker.  (The whole “laboratory” theme, right?)
  4. Love what you order. If you ask for something like bacon on top of our burger, do not expect a few criss-crossed bacon slices placed delicately on top. You’ll get two giant fistfuls of bacon, about an inch deep. 
  5. Expect that you will feel really good WHILE eating your burger, and that you’re going to feel like a walking can of Crisco for 36 hours or so AFTER eating your burger. This experience is in no way good for you, and literally causes me a dull ache in my torso.

My only wish for Lunchbox Laboratory is that they’d consider grilling some burgers. I was certainly impressed with how the staff there wields their multitude of frying pans.   But I have a hunch grilled burgers would go over well. And for all I know, they’re serving grilled burgers now.  I really need to get back there.

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