Monday, January 08, 2007 

Don't forget to step outside the box.

Since I entered into the world of competitive barbecue, I've discovered that I tend to always cook as though I'm competing. In some ways this is good. I'm always trying to make my barbecue the best I can. I'm very aware of timing and appearance. But I've also realized that there are some downsides to this approach.

When I cook KCBS style for the New England judges, I make everything red and sweet, even if it's not my preference. If I did well using a particular method of cooking (as I did with my pork shoulder in Warren, NH), I tend to stick with that method. While it's good to be sure my methods are consistent when competing, I've realized that it stunts my experimentation.

I find myself needing to remember that I learned how to cook by experimenting. Sure, I had some food service experience and lots of cooks to watch when I was a kid, but there is nothing as important to a cook than trying new ideas and recipes. I have a number of barbecue cookbooks that have never been used. Why? Because I forget to try the new stuff!

This weekend, while cooking for the Rookie, I tried a wing Rub out of Paul Kirk's "Championship Barbecue" cookbook. It's a great book, and I have used it a lot - but not for the recipes. I've used it constantly for the excellent temperature charts in the first chapter. To date, I think I'd only made one recipe out of the book, a watermelon salsa (which was absolutely fantastic).

The wing rub was supposed to be sweet and spicy, and it lived up to the name. It had some interesting things in it like Ginger and Mace (I made mine without the mace because that's not an ingredient I ever have). I'm really glad I did it, because the wings were wonderful. It was a good reminder that there's so much more for me to learn and so much farther to take my barbecue.

So, during this offseason I'm going to endeavor to cook some things I wouldn't ordinarily cook. I'm going to expand my horizons a bit and make use of some of my more unused cookbooks. Perhaps it'll give me an edge during the next competitive barbecue season!




A break in the weather

New England is knee deep in some pretty darned strange weather right now. There's virtually no snow. In fact, as if I look out the front door right now, it's raining and my thermostat is sitting at about 40 degrees. In Vermont, we should be heading into deep winter. For those of you who are from the South and feel that deep winter is anything below 50 degrees, let me give you some perspective - In January and February it is not uncommon for temperature to dip substantially below zero Fahrenheit, like to minus 20! So, needless to say, when I sparked my smoker up yesterday and looked at a thermostat sitting in the sun and saw nearly 70 degrees, I was quite shocked.

One of my buddies, hereby dubbed "the rookie", is hosting a few parties over the next couple of weekends. He's been dabbling in barbecue since he got a shiny new Webber (the best all-around grill you could ever own). But, it's nearly impossible to cook a 16 pound Turkey in a standard sized Webber, so he asked if I'd help him out by being his pitmaster. As you can imagine, dear reader, I was willing and able to help him out.

We play poker with the rookie and his lovely wife semi-regularly on fridays, so I picked up his bird then. I brined the turkey (which was raised on our farm, by the way) on Saturday night and by the time he arrived on Sunday, I was preparing to build a fire in my pit and had the bird coming to room temperature. With him the Rookie brought two more pork roasts and a small rack of ribs. The turkey and the roasts were for his parties, but the ribs were for our eating pleasure while we watched Sunday's NFL Wildcard games.

In addition to the food for the Rookie, I also tried my hand at smoking something new - nuts! Farmer Girl had purchased a large quantity of cashews for Christmas to try her hand at roasting them. So, I filled an aluminum pie plate with them, tossed about a teaspoon of olive oil with them and put them on the top shelf with our ribs. The next floor down on my grill had a pair of pork roasts and a small chicken. At the bottom, occupying several rack spaces was our pretty bird.

With the weather so mild, I only had to fill the pit with Wicked Good Charcoal once. the unit puffed away all day with only the usual interruptions for basting, temp checking, and nut turning. As we expected, all came out great. The Turkey was done in no time because of the brining. The ribs came out during half-time of the Jets/Pats game, and I grilled a few chicken wings to go with them. I sent the Rookie home with his pork roasts wrapped in foil and instructed him to put them in the oven until they reached the requisite 195-205 for pulling.

All in all, it was a very good day. The weather was sunny and springlike and I was cookin' meat. The only downside is that my beloved Jets lost to the powerful Patriots, but given that nobody expected them to be anything but the AFC's whipping boy, I'm pretty happy with how far they went.



Thursday, January 04, 2007 

What a slacker, eh?

Where the heck have I been? Why haven't I posted anything recently? Have I forsaken the fabulous art of barbecue?

Well, if you're asking these questions, the answer is:

2.Because I'm a slacker.
3.Don't talk crazy.

With the rush to get work finalized be for vacation, and the usual chaos before Christmas I never made time for my fair readers. Sorry about that! But, let me assure you that there has been barbecue. (apologies for the lack of pictures)

In fact, two days before Christmas, I cooked the largest quantity of meat I've ever cooked at one time. I cooked up four pork shoulders and two briskets at the same time! I sure do love my Backwoods Smoker.

For New Year's eve, I threw in three small chickens and four racks of St. Louis-style ribs.

The food and family during vacation was at its best, making this one of the finest holidays I can remember in quite a while. I hope everyone can say the same.

Peace, love and barbecue to everyone!

Keep smokin'