Archive for the ‘Notes and Tips’ Category

The feedback from my last post on this topic was some version of “um, dude, those were some sad looking, scrawny ass steaks you made.” Fair enough. But that’s what happens when you let an 8 year old select your dinner.

Anyway, the meat of the feedback, so to speak, was that carry-over cooking is more impactful with more substantial, denser cuts of meat. I should try again on thicker cuts. Oh really! Ok! This is why I love critics. They give me more excuses to grill something.

 So this time, I bought double cut, bone-in rib eye steaks. Thick and awesome.

Once again, I pulled the steaks off at roughly the same time. It was at 124 degrees about 10 seconds off the grill. 

Science is fun and delicious!

Over the next 2 to 3 minutes, the internal temperature rose to 130 degrees, again confirming that carry-over cooking theory is indeed based in reality. But before reaching 131, the temperature stalled and started to drop. After 8 minutes, the temperature dropped down to 118.

So, yes, these steaks that were twice as thick did see an increase of a few more degrees than their skinnier predecessors.   But seve degrees? For just a couple of minutes?

Sorry. This doesn’t convince me that carry-over cooking is meaningful.

The reason to let your meat rest is because the steak is much juicier that way, so it taste better.  But if you want your steak medium, I suggest you cook it to medium.

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You'll probably get more useful advice from this guy.

Apparently, thousands of people like me investigate what it would take to open their own BBQ joint. This post is not about that, since obviously, I haven’t a clue. What I do know is how hilariously useless this article on eHow is on the subject.

It’s not very long, but basically says to open a BBQ, you need to pick a location, hire people, buy stuff (like meat) and then — duh — have a grand opening. So simple!

Anyway, I promise, if I win the Washington State Lotto, I will indeed open a barbecue restaurant. That also sells comic books. And then perhaps I’ll have some advice that’s actually useful, like “you too should buy Lotto tickets.”

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Cut an "x" in the nut, to let the hot air out. Roast until done.

Half the family loves roasted chestnuts. Half the family thinks they taste like words that we don’t like to use on the Blue State Barbecue.  What we can all agree on is that Nat King Cole definitely owns this song:

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting…)


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Should you let your meat rest?

I’ve always secretly hoped that the practice of “letting your meat rest” was some unsubstantiated claptrap that I could happily ignore. My motto has always been “Let’s eat, NOW!”

Letting your meat rest is the practice of taking your steak, your brisket, your ribs, or whatever it is that you grilled or barbecued, and letting it sit there on the counter while you and your hungry guests stand around looking at it, angrily. Possibly while holding knives. 

That’s just not a situation I look forward to.

After getting a question from a reader, though, I decided I’d finally look into this business, and see if there’s anything to it.

There are two popular claims about why you want to rest your meat.

The first is that your meats, especially beef, will be juicier if you let it rest for a while.

The second is that your food will keep cooking after you take it off the grill, also known as “carryover cooking.” So you want to take your meat off early to avoid over-cooking it. There are many who will tell you, for instance, that if you  want to serve your duck at 165 degrees, you may want to take it off the grill at an internal temperature of, say 155 degrees. You let it rest, and supposedly, it will rise up to 165.

I always found both of these claims to be hard to believe.  I’ve never heard someone say “ouch that’s hot” wait five minutes, then say “ouch, that’s hotter!”   How could the meat still be doing anything other than cooling down once you take it out of the oven?

And as for the juiciness, seems to me the juice is either in there, or it isn’t, right? How does letting it rest magically make juice appear, especially when one considers evaporation?

But the culinary science nerds all say both are real, and here’s why.  When you cook a piece of meat, especially a dense piece of meat like beef, the liquid inside gets hotter, faster, than the fleshy stuff.  It’s like when your vegetable soup gets hot as hell, but the carrots still aren’t done.  And worse, the fleshy bits contract when heated, and push the hot juices outward. 

This is why, theoretically, when you cut into a piece of meat right when it comes off the grill, you end up with something of a blood bath, literally.  The “juice explosion” means more juice on your plate than in the meat, right?

 So resting your meat solves two problems at once.  Letting it rest, so it’s said, gives that liquid a chance to get sucked back into the flesh where it belongs.  And as it does, because the juice is hotter than the meat, it continues to cook the interior.  Sounds reasonable, but I’m a skeptic.

You don’t need Dexter to figure this one out. An unrested steak (left) versus a steak that rested 5 minutes (right).

So, I decided to find out for myself.

I cooked two T-bone steaks side by side at 375 degrees.  When I pulled them off the grill, the interior temperature of both was very close to 125 degrees.   I cut into one right away, and I let the other rest for 5 minutes.

Here are the results:

On the question of the “juice explosion.”   No doubt about it.  See the picture.  There was a very visible difference after the first cut.  The meat that rested did leak some, but nowhere near the fresh-off-the-grill steak.

On the question of juiciness:  Three tasters sampled both steaks blindfolded.  All three of us easily and quickly identified the steak that rested.  It wasn’t just juicier, it was a lot juicier.   

I’m 100% sold on letting your meat rest.  It makes a very positive, highly perceptible difference.

On the question of “carryover cooking.”  I watched the timer and my thermometer very closely from the moment the resting steak came off the grill.  It is true that the internal temperature rose from 125 degrees to 128 degrees in the first 60 seconds off the grill.  But the temperature plunged right back down to 125 after that, and dropped below 120 degrees by the time 5 minutes of rest was through. 

So, I’m not persuaded that carryover cooking is meaningful based on this experience.  It doesn’t seem like 60 seconds of additional heat penetration counts as “cooking.”  Yes, the temperature went up for a minute, but there’s no chance that this had any material impact on a thick, T-bone steak.

Apparently, lighter types of meat, like fish, chicken and duck, experience even less carryover cooking changes than beef.

Bottom line:

Let your meat rest because it tastes better that way.  But based on this experience, I don’t think you can count on carryover cooking to lift your internal temperatures to where you want them.

So, to my reader who asked …. If you want a duck to reach 165 degrees, then I recommend you cook it to 165 degrees.



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I love science. It’s such a good way to figure stuff out. I appreciate scientists for having invented it.  Today, science and I took on a question I received in the Blue State BBQ Mailbag: How much rub should I rub my ribs with?  (Say that three times fast!)

1 - the least rub. 4 - the most. Note how much darker they get.

That’s a great question because on more than one occasion, I’ve been served ribs that seemed to have little or no rub on them and typically, I tend to use a lot.  I’m also frequently surprised to read rub recipes that claim to be “enough for 4 slabs,” but yield tiny amounts of the stuff.

Have I been over-rubbing my ribs?

So, I bought two slabs, cut them into four sections, and applied different amounts of my rub to each:

  1. Barely any. This was a sprinkle of rub. I’d compare it to, say, 4 or 5 turns of a pepper grinder.
  2. Stained.  In this case, I put a good sized spoonful of rub on each side and really had to spread it around.  The ribs were red with rub, but there was no density to it. Think of it as staining the ribs.
  3. My Usual.  This is enough rub to make sure all surfaces (including the sides) are completely covered with rub. There may even be a dry spot or two, but no rub pours off when the ribs are moved.
  4. Caked.  Self explanatory!  Somewhere under all that rub were some pork ribs.  There were lots of dry spots, and if I tilted the ribs, some dry rub would roll right off.

Then I cooked them all at the same time, using the 3-2-1 method.

The result?

The first thing I noticed (see the picture) is that the more rub you use, the more burnt the ribs look when they’re done. Note, we’re just talking about appearances.  All the ribs were slow cooked the same way for the same amount of time, and were perfect.  The brown sugar in the rub simply gets dark when cooked, and gets a burnt look to it.  I can see how if I were a restaurant owner, I might shy away from using a lot of rub, or I’d risk having people glance at the ribs and pre-suppose that they were over-cooked.

I tried all of the ribs twice.  First without any sauce, and second with just a small amount of my favorite sauce.

Trying them without sauce led me to three conclusions.

First, that more rub is better, up to a point.  The problem with the “caked on” rub was that I actually got a few sandy bites.  Delicious sand, yes. But let’s face it, that’s not a texture anybody wants.

Second, the ribs with barely any rub were surprisingly good. Shockingly good.  So, it’s not surprising that some great restaurants are serving their ribs very light on rub.  It turns out slow-cooked pork tastes great without much help. Big surprise.  I think I even preferred the barely there rub to the stained version.

Third, the ribs got progressively juicier with more rub. While I didn’t like the “caked on” rub for the reason above, it did have the most moisture. And the ribs with hardly any rub were the most dried out.  I can’t help but conclude that the bark the rub creates helps hold some of the moisture in.

In the end, they're all good, right?

That was deciding factor in the end. The “usual” amount of rub – where I evenly cover the ribs in rub, but not so much as to have it pouring off them – was the best because it had a best flavor while also creating a nice, moisture-trapping skin.

When I tried the ribs with the sauce, I didn’t really come to any different conclusions, other than “wow, I sure ate a lot of ribs just now.”

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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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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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