Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Restaurant Style Salsa At Home On Your Grill

We love eating at Mexican restaurants around town and on the road.  It's one of my guilty pleasures.  And I am not talking about Frontera Grill or somewhere like that.  I'm definitely not talking about any large chain places.  No, I've got my eyes set on the local places.  You know the place - clean, but a little worn.  The once brightly painted exterior has faded over the years. The menus are combos of tacos, burritos, enchiladas and stuff.  They make up for their low food prices by keeping the drinks flowing. Yeah, that place.

One of the best things about eating at Mexican Restaurants is snacking on the simple house salsa and thin, warm tortilla chips while enjoying a margarita or Dos Equis. It really doesn't even matter if it's a bad house margarita and cheap beer. This is that time when we feel like the world stops a bit for us.  Just for a moment, we're just hanging out.  Just the two of us.  No worries, no pressures.  No schedule to keep, nowhere to be.  It's just the two of us like when we first started dating eons ago.

Fire Roasted Restaurant Style Salsa

Published 08/23/2016
This is our version of the typical red salsa you get at Mexican restaurants in America. It's basic - just tomatoes, chiles, onion, garlic, cilantro, and a few spices - but that's what makes it so good. But the real flavor amplifier is starting by fire roasting your vegetables on your grill.


  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 1 med onion sliced into 1/2 inch rings
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 poblano chile
  • 1 serrano chile
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder


  1. Preheat your charcoal grill to medium high heat - 400 to 450°f.  This is a quick direct grill so your food will be place directly over the hot coals.
  2. Quarter the tomatoes, remove the hard core, and thread onto skewers so the skin sides are lined up.  Thread the garlic cloves onto a skewer or toothpick
  3. Place the tomatoes on the grill, skin side down, and let grill until charred or even blistered - about 4-5 minutes.  Turn on one of the cut sides and grill for 2 minutes,  then repeat for the other cut side.  Total cook time 8-9 minutes.  Remove from skewers into a large bowl.
  4. Place the chiles and onions on the grill (can be done at the same time as tomatoes).  Turn the chiles occasionally, until the chiles are charred, about 8 minutes total.  Flip the onions after 4 minutes and add the garlic skewer, grill lightly browned. The garlic, onions, and chiles should all come off about the same time.  Remove all of this to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  5. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, and garlic and put in a blender or food processor along with any juices from the bowl.  Add the cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder.
  6. Cut the stem end of the chiles, slice lengthwise, and scrape off the seeds and ridges on the inside.  Flip, scrape off, and discard as much of the blistered skin that comes off easily.  See notes about heat below.  Dice and add to the blender/food processor.
  7. Blend for about 30-45 seconds until the salsa is as smooth as you like it.  
  8. Place in a medium pot over medium high heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
  9. Allow to cool and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 00 hrs. 10 mins.
Cook time: 00 hrs. 20 mins.
Total time: 30 mins.

Heat Control
The heat is controlled by the type and amount of chiles.  I like to use one half each of a serrano, jalapeno, and poblano chile for a basic, medium salsa.  Want hot?  Use whole chiles or mix in some habanero.  Want mild?  Skip the serrano. 

Fresh restaurant style salsa recipe.
Fresh veggies make the salsa.  But in a pinch, you could substitute 2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes. 

Big Green Egg Mini-Max
I used my BGE Mini-Max for this job, it is the perfect size.  As you can see I picked up a new cart for it.  Got it at Sam's for $59.  It doubles as a station for our smaller flat top griddle.

How to grill tomatoes on a charcoal grill
When it comes to fire roasting tomatoes, some folks will tell you to cut an x on the top of the tomatoes, parboil them, then roast them indirect and peel them.  Not for my salsa.  I just direct grill them and throw them into the blender, skins and all.

How to make restaurant style salsa at home
Grill the onions until they are tender, about 4 minutes a side.  Grill the chiles until blistered, about 8 minutes total.  Grill the garlic until turning golden and slightly tender, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Because the coals are so close to the grate with the BGE Mini-Max, I almost always use my Grill Grates when direct grilling.

I throw all the veggies in one bowl for steaming.  I've read that the steaming of roasted chiles in a bag or bowl really doesn't help them peel any easier.  But I don't think it hurts at all and I still prefer to do it.

The best jarred salsa off the shelf can't compare to fresh made at home.

Other Salsa Recipes
Fire Roasted Salsa Verde
Salsa Verde Cremosa

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  GrillGrates provided me with my 2 sets of GrillGrates at no charge, one in 2009 and the set for my Mini-Max in 2016.  I have no relationship with Green Egg or Dos Equis.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

BBQ Competition: Smokin' In McMinnville

Our BBQ team rattled the rust, shook off the dust, and got back on the competition trail this weekend. We headed out West to McMinnville, Tennessee for the Smokin' In McMinnville KCBS BBQ competition.

You'll have to excuse the potato quality of the pictures.  I didn't take my camera so these are all just camera phone pics.

Ramsay was excited to see my sister arrive.  He always brings her these toy flowers.  He thinks she comes here to see him....don't tell him it's for the competitions, it'd break his heart ;)  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]
Nibble Me This competition BBQ team
I always refer to "the team" but have never actually had a picture of all of us in one shot.  From left to right:  Rhonda (my sister), me, John (my neighbor), and Alexis (my wife).  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
We got up at the butt crack of dawn, towed our stuff across the Cumberland Plateau and got set up by mid-morning Friday.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Contest sites vary pretty widely.  This was a new configuration for us because our site was a little too narrow for our normal set up.  You have to be flexible and adjust because every contest location is different.

Victory Lane BBQ
I knew we were going to be facing a talented field when I saw some of the teams. Heath has been doing sanctioned BBQ contests for 19 freaking years. 

Jackie Price Knoxville
Jackie Price of Smoke on This and Donny Bray of Warren County Pork Choppers are perennial favorites on the BBQ comp circuit. 
Did that make us nervous?  No.  When we started 2 years ago, we decided to skip the backyard division and jumped right into the professional group.  We want to compete against the best.  It's been a trial by fire but we are learning a lot!  

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Since we were traveling further away from our home base of Knoxville, there were teams we were used to seeing like Smoke Me Silly and teams that were new to us, like Big Papa's. 

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
There were a lot of stick burners (horizontal offset smokers) here like this Jambo pit that belongs to South Pork (one of my favorite team names ever). 
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Some of them were bigger than your standard Lang offset pit.  This big pit belongs to Hammondville Hawg Mafia.

Another big one.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
This is more like your typical black steel stick burner. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

My Version of a Grilled Stuffed Buritto

This isn't a clone of Taco Bell's Grilled Stuft Burrito.  It's just a dinner that we made this week that was pretty good.

Grilled Stuffed Burrito Recipe
Grilled stuffed burrito stuffed with fire roasted chicken, TexMex Rice, and cheese with chipotle lime crema.

This was a quick meal because it was mostly leftovers and food that we had already made ahead of time.  We had the chicken, charred corn, and Tex-Mex rice already in the fridge.  If you don't have those, just grab a rotisserie chicken and packet of Mexican rice from the grocery store.  They also have fire roasted corn in a can now.  It's nowhere as good as fresh but it's not awful in a pinch.

Grilled Stuffed Burritos

Published 08/05/2016
Fire roasted chicken, TexMex rice, and cheese tucked away inside a burrito that is crisply cooked on a flat top griddle and served with chipotle lime crema.


  • 4 mission style flour tortialla
  • 2 cups Sargento shredded 4 cheese Mexican blend
  • 1 1/3 cup TexMex rice cooked
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken
For the saute sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1.5 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tequila (substitute chicken stock if necessary)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon NMT All Purpose Chicken Rub
For the chipotle lime crema
  • 1 cup Mexican crema
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile


  1. Mix together the crema, lime juice, and chipotle and refrigerate.  It is best after sitting a while and lasts easily for 1 week, so make it ahead of time if you want.
  2. Reheat the rice if leftover.  
  3. Whisk the saute sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.
  4. Preheat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and saute sauce and cook, stirring or tossing occasionally, until the chicken is heated through and the sauce is reduced - about 5 minutes.
  5. Top each tortilla with 1/2 cup of cheese, 1/3 cup of rice, and 1/2 cup of the chicken.
  6. Roll the bottom (edge closest to you) of the tortilla over the food mix and then pull the two edges inwards.  Now roll the burrito away from you towards the other edge and set aside, seam side down while you make the others.
  7. Preheat a griddle or skillet to medium high heat.  Add enough canola or peanut oil to coat the surface.
  8. Place the burritos, seam side down, onto the griddle and let cook until toasty and golden brown, about 90 seconds.  Flip and do the other side.  Finally use tongs to toast the edges about 12-20 seconds each.
  9. Remove, drizzle with the chipotle lime crema and serve with pico de gallo.
Yield: 4 burritos

I'll often cook an extra chicken on Sunday night just to have cooked chicken on hand for quick dinners on the first few nights of the work week.  You will typically get 3 cups of chicken meat per bird.  If I don't have time to brine, I'll inject chicken broth into the chicken.  I'll use about 20-25cc per breast, 10-15cc each in the legs and thighs.

Here is how to spatchcock a chicken for grilling.
To spatchcock a chicken, just cut up each side of the spine with a sharp pair of poultry scissors.  Then just flip it over and press down on the breastbone, flattening out the chicken.

Season the bird all over with the NMT All Purpose Chicken Rub.  Don't be shy with it.

This is a basic easy chicken seasoning rub.
I like this rub because it is basic but bold in flavor.  You can add to it to make it BBQ, Southwestern, Asian or whatever but it's flavorful enough to stand on its own.

How to grill whole chicken on a kamado grill best way.
A spatchcock chicken cooked "raised direct" like this takes right about 1 hour at 350°f.  This set up was in one of my Big Green Eggs but using the grill extender from my Grill Dome with a Craycort cast iron grate placed on top of that.  This gets the bottom of the chicken away from the searing hot coals and closer to the heat reflecting off the top of the grill lid.  That gives you a more evenly cooked chicken and nicely roasted skin on top.  Any kind of a raised grid should work for this.

How to get rotisserie chicken results at home on your grill
Grocery store rotisserie birds are cheap and convenient but they pale in comparison to a fire roasted bird at home.

The saute mix just adds another layer of flavor onto your chicken.

Remember that big flat top that I bought two years ago?  It is awesome but heavy and I don't always have it out on the deck.  We bought it's little brother which is so much more convenient for us. We've been using this heavily since we bought it for pancakes, eggs, bacon, grilled cheese, quesadillas, and burgers.

If you don't have a flat top, there are plenty of other options.  You can get a grill top griddle like the Griddle-Q, a lot of kamado grillers love those. One of my favorites is a cheap cast iron griddle plate that I bought years ago for $11, it fits across the fire ring of a large BGE perfectly.  A cast iron skillet would do great too.

It doesn't take long, just seconds a side.

Don't forget the sides.

These were fantastic with Alexis' pico and some avocado slices that we coated with lime juice and seasoned with chile powder, cumin, and salt.
[FTC Standard Disclaimer] I received no compensation for this post and paid full price for the griddle.  Grill Dome was a sponsor last year and Craycort is an equipment sponsor.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Brat-jitas: Bratwursts Go Tex-Mex

This coming weekend is the 63rd Johnsonville Brat Days in Sheyboygan, Wisconsin, one of the best bratwurst festivals in the country.  Alexis and I were fortunate enough to attend this in 2012 and had a great time.  If you are in the area, you should check it out, it's a fun food festival.

When Char-Broil asked me to come up with a brat recipe, I was inspired by the crazy dishes that they come up with at Brat Days.  They make things like brat tacos, brat eggrolls, and things like that.  So I came up with Brat-jitas with Green Chile Crema.

Of course I had to make some Mexican street vendor corn too.  I just love that stuff!

[FTC Standard Disclosure]  Char-Broil is our premium sponsor and I work with them to provide content like this for their online presence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Grilled Cajun Pork Tenderloins

Here's a few reasons why I like grilling pork tenderloins.

  • They don't require much trimming other than the silverskin.
  • They are easy to cook whole.  Regardless of what I do to them in terms of rubs, marinades, injections, or brines, I'm always going to cook them around 350-400°f until they reach an internal temperature of 140°f which takes about 25 to 30 minutes.
  • They are a blank canvas for whatever flavor profile you want to use. From BBQ to Thai, almost anything goes.
  • They are relatively inexpensive.
  • They are easy to store and you can get a lot of them on a grill because of their size.
  • It's easy to scale recipes for pork tenderloin up or down.
  • They are lean but still have lots of flavor.

Here's a recipe for pork tenderloin that I recently did for Char-Broil - Grilled Cajun Pork Tenderloins with Spicy Slaw.

Using pork tenderloin for sliders makes about 4 sliders per tenderloin.  So if you're going to tailgate, it's easy to know how many tenderloins you will need.  Season or marinade them at home and take them to the stadium in gallon zip top bags.  Thirty minutes after the grill is going you will be ready to eat!  

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  I receive compensation from Char-Broil for providing recipes and other content for their online presence.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

BBQ Competition: Sevierville Bloomin' BBQ and Bluegrass 2016

Scenes from our first contest of the year.  It was actually 2 months ago, I just never got around to posting these.  I'm posting these in a typical contest week timeline for us so you can get an idea of what is involved.

Sunday the Weekend Before Contest
First order of business is cleaning up the trailer and getting it ready with everything except the grills and food which will be loaded later in the week.  The trailer is a 7' x 16' Freedom dual axle concession trailer with food safe walls, floors, and ceiling.  

My Freedom Concession trailer is the best for BBQ contests and vending.
Trevor mopping the floor. The interior looks so small here, it's hard to believe 4 of us fit on this with everything else once it is fully loaded.

Freedom concession trailers are top of the line.
Loaded back up until we finish midweek.  This usually takes 4 to 5 hours.

Tuesday Night - Shopping Night
We get our supplies from just a few places.  I get our wagyu brisket and pork butts from Willy's Butcher Shop.  Our ribs, coal, and dry goods come from Butler and Bailey Market, an independent local grocery store here in Knoxville. We usually make one last run to Kroger's to get drinks, any other supplies, and chicken.

Best butcher in Knoxville area
Willy's is in the Homberg Shopping District of Knoxville and is the premier butcher in the area.  He's got top end meats like wagyu beef and has a large aging room for producing succulent dry aged steaks.

We store the big meats in my Yeti 75, sandwiched in ice, and that keeps them fine until Friday.  I have a love/hate relationship with this cooler.  It's big, bulky, heavy, stupidly expensive and way over-engineered for 90% of my needs.  But for that 10% of the time, there's no better cooler.
Wednesday- Thursday Night
This is an important time because anything you can get done in the way of sauces, rubs, etc means less you have to do onsite.  You can trim the meats, you just can't season them at all until meat inspection Friday morning at the event.

Sometime between Wednesday and Friday morning, my sister, Rhonda, gets into town from Florida.  Ramsay LOVES his "Aunt" Rhonda, can you tell?  Photo Credit: Rhonda H.

Now we load the kamados and perishable foods into the trailer. Notice that the kamados are in our "kamado krates" to keep them secure. They are sitting on 2 layers of foam padding to absorb any shock from bumps en route.  This usually takes a couple of hours.  Once we shut it Wednesday night, we won't open it again until at the contest. 

Inside of each kamado, we add more padding.  A pad under the ceramic fire bowl and then one between the fire bowl and fire ring.  There are only 3 of the rings because the Vision has an integrated fire bowl and fire ring.

Thursday night or Friday morning we drop the trailer off at the site. It pays to get there early to make it easy to get your rig into place. Once everyone else gets there, navigating 40 feet of vehicle through tight spaces with a lot of foot traffic is not any fun.  We go ahead and hook up our water and electrical connections.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How To Pull or Chop Pork

This isn't how to smoke pulled pork, I've already done that before.  

No, this is all about different methods and tools for breaking down that big hunk of smoked pork shoulder down to the delicious bits and pieces that end up your sandwich.

First, some general pointers.

  • Smoked pork is best after it has rested for an hour or more.  Known as F.T.C. (foil-towel-cooler), just put your foil wrapped butt into a warm cooler, cover with a towel, and leave it closed until ready to pull.  We usually stick ours into one of our Cambos.  When we have a lot, more than 8 butts, we'll stick them in my Yeti 75 (holds 12) or an Igloo 150 quart.  The trick is to pick something the right size.  For whatever you use, to have as much meat in the cooler/cambro as possible with only a little empty space so it will stay warmer, longer.  
  • For transporting pork to a different site for serving.  My first preference is to haul it there whole and pull it on site.  Smoked pork holds better whole and the spectacle of breaking it up in front of your guests adds impact.
  • Pulling pork after the butt is cold.  Don't.  If for some reason you can't pull it while still warm, you will need to slowly reheat it.  With it still wrapped in foil, put it in a 200°f cooker or oven for an hour or so to get the chill off first.  
  • Work quickly.  The meat will start drying out as soon as you break the butt open until you have it pulled, stored, and covered.  
  • Taste and season the pork while pulling.  Sample pieces from all over - the horn, money muscle, and roast muscles - to get a good idea of where the flavor is at before you start adding. We usually use a fine ground, sweet and spicy rub for this.  We'll also drizzle a small amount of Carolina vinegar sauce when chopping pork; not enough to douse it, just enough to add a little flavor.  
  • Save the juices from the foil wrapping and add some of it back into the final product for extra flavor and moisture.
  • Pulled versus chopped.  This is just a personal preference.  Pulled pork is just that - the meat pulled apart, leaving bigger pieces and strands.  Chopped is further processed into small pieces for a different texture.  You will get a higher percentage yield from chopped pork than pulled pork because you have less waste or scrap.  

Two Forks

This is the original way we first started pulling pork and we still do this depending on what is available.  Break the pork into large chunks and then using two large serving forks, pull the chunks into "threads".  Stick the forks into the middle of a chunk, pressing down on a cutting board, and pull the forks outwards.  

This is the most meticulous of all of the processes.  Look for any gelatinous pieces of fat and discard them.  If you find any pieces of bark (dark outer crust) that overcooked and got hard, discard them as well.  But that is where all of your flavor is so try not to over cook :)

By Hand

The pork should still be very hot so you'll want some heat resistant food gloves.  Silicone gloves are good for this and come in two styles - straight silicone and silicone with a fabric lining.  I use the straight silicone gloves because they are easier to keep dry but that's just a personal preference.

I picked up this technique from World Champion Pitmaster, Chris Lilly.  He just pops out the bone and then smashes the pork butts down like in this video from the NY Big Apple BBQ Block Party.  It works when you're in a hurry and only requires a set of heat resistant food gloves.  Obviously if you are rushing then you are not going to get the quality control of picking through it.  Usually I'll do this part, push it to the side for a teammate or two to pick through it, and I start on the next one.

There are a TON of these orange style gloves available and the prices vary pretty widely ($9 to $25) so comparison shop.  I haven't come across any that are poor quality yet.  I use them a lot for handling ribs, butts, and briskets as well as pulling the pork.

Bear Paws

Bear Paws are one of the original pork pulling tools.  They are cheap, easy to keep santized, and a slew of people swear by them. You use them just like you would forks, but hold your hands like this.

They are effective and get the job done.  They've just never been my favorite because they feel a little awkward to me.  These are very popular and there's nothing wrong with them, that is just a personal preference.

Meat Rakes

Meat Rakes are similar in concept to the Bear Paws but execute that product in a slightly different way.  They have metal tines for tearing the meat apart instead of plastic tips that can dull.  They are also dishwasher safe.  They cost twice as much as Bear Paws but I prefer them over Bear Paws because
  1. The tines are closer together than Bear Paws so they shred the meat smaller than the Bear Paws with each pass, making them work just a little quicker, and 
  2. My wrists feel like they are in a more neutral position when I use these vs the position I use with Bear Paws.

Again, this is just my choice.  Pick which is better for you.


At some BBQ joints you can find a worker with a pair of cleavers chopping away at pork in a blur with alternating strokes like he/she is beating a drum.  It amazes me that they have all of their fingers but these folks have been doing this every day for years.

The way I use it is in conjunction with some of the other tools I have mentioned.  I pull the pork first.  If I am wanting chopped pork, I rapidly chop back and forth across the pulled pork in two directions.  
Prices vary, I've seen them as cheap as $15 and almost no limit on the upper end, but you can get a decent one for $50.  Look for one with a thick blade that extends all the way through the handle (full tang).

Drill Attachment

I always thought this was overkill until we started cooking at the Kentucky State BBQ Festival where I cooked with our Memphis In May team.  We go through hundreds of pork butts each day so speed is of the essence.  One of our teammates makes a version of these.  This one is a RO-man pork puller that we bought online.

Best practice is to use this with a brand new drill that is only used for this to avoid cross contamination from a dirty drill that splits time in the work shop.
It works by pulling the bone out of each of 2 to 3 pork butts and putting them in a large stock pot. Then just insert the pork puller, add any additional seasoning, and whirl away.  It breaks down the butts into pulled pork very quickly.  Want chopped pork instead?  Just use it for another minute longer.

We typically only use this for large scale service, like the Kentucky festival, Christmas parade, or charity events.

So there are some options for pulling or chopping pork.  As I mentioned several times, it's all about preference and what works for you.  You don't need anything more than a couple of forks.

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  I received no compensation for this post and paid full price for all of the tools that I mentioned.