Thursday, October 30, 2014

Beef, Vermont White Cheddar and Pancetta Sliders with Fire Roasted Fries

"What are you doing?" Clint asked as I stood at the hotel window with my zoom lens camera in one hand and my kitchen timer in the other.  

I was shamelessly shigging, I guess.  I was watching the Burger Fi cooking crew five stories below and watching how they did their sliders on a flat top griddle and, yes, I was even timing their burger flips using a kitchen timer.

Burger Fi crew as seen from my hotel room. Wonder if they had "that feeling" they were being watched.

My friend, Clint Cantwell, and I were in Atlanta to do cooking demonstrations for Big Green Egg at the Taste of Atlanta.  The event had 90+ restaurants serving and 4 live cooking demo stages.  I got to cook with some great people at the festival and at the Big Green Egg corporate location - my next post will be about all of that.  But this post is about these sliders.
Burger Fi is a relatively new burger chain that focuses on building a better burger by using simple, quality ingredients like all natural beef.  They recently opened a store in Knoxville on the Strip by campus and it is quite popular.  But my first time getting to try Burger Fi was at this food festival, where I got the double slider and fries.
Isn't it cool how they brand their buns?
After an event like this, I like to come up with a recipe inspired by the event so I decided to put my spin on the sliders they were serving.  I used their principles to guide what I was doing with my sliders.
  1. Use quality, all natural beef - Burger Fi is one of many restaurants serving Meyer Natural Angus.  I went to the Meyer Ranch last year and saw first hand how they manage their cattle with no hormones or antibiotics.  They are an incredible organization that puts out top notch beef.
  2. Keep it simple - they let their quality ingredients shine.  So I keep the seasonings simple, just some salt, pepper, and garlic.  
  3. Hand cut fries - the fries were crispy, golden, and melt in your mouth delicious.  They fry theirs of course but I decided to do a fire roasted version.
  4. Branded buns - When I won a burger contest hosted by McCormick GrillMates a few years ago, one of the prizes was one of those customized steak brands so you can sear your initials into a steak or burger.  I hadn't used it yet but thought I would try it on the buns like they do.
I upgraded the cheese to white cheddar which works great on burgers. I also skipped the lettuce and tomato and added pancetta. They used a flat top griddle and I have one but I wanted to use my Big Green Eggs so I opted for a griddle plate on the grill instead.  You could use a skillet, salt block, or grilling stone instead.  Use what ya got.  You might have to do the burgers in small batches depending on the size.

These would be ideal for a tailgate situation because you can make the ground beef balls hours in  advance.  That is why I don't add the salt to the beef mixture - it can draw out moisture from the meat.  Instead I only season with the salt as the burgers are cooking.  

tailgate, grilling, burgers

Beef, Vermont White Cheddar, and Pancetta Sliders

  • 1.25 pounds all natural ground chuck
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 5 slices Vermont white cheddar cheese 
  • 5 slices pancetta
  • 5 slider buns
  1. Set up your grill for direct heat, add your griddle (or salt block, skillet, grilling stone, etc), and preheat to 500°F.
  2. Lightly mix together the beef, black pepper, and garlic powder.  Form into ten 2 ounce balls.  Use two plates, a burger press, or a tortilla press to flatten each ball into a 4" circle.
  3. Lightly fry the pancetta on the griddle until crisp, about 45 seconds per side.  Remove.
  4. Place the burger patties on the griddle, close the grill lid, and cook for 90 seconds.  
  5. Flip the patties, season with a little salt, top each with 1/2 slice of cheese, and cook until done, another 60-90 seconds.
  6. Serve by stacking two patties and a slice of pancetta on each slider bun.  
Burger Fi uses Meyer Natural Angus for their burgers and I knew that I could get the exact same beef at Publix from their GreenWise brand.  Their meat associate confirmed that still get their GreenWise beef from Meyer.  Last time I checked, Whole Foods store label is also from Meyer Natural Beef.

Simple. Quality.

Just about 30-45 seconds per side - it's thin and cooks fast.

You can just eyeball it into 10 even meat balls but I like precision.

Lined up for duty sir!

They just flattened theirs directly on the griddle but I didn't have that kind of room.  So I grabbed my tortilla press and used that to flatten them out.  The deli wax paper keeps it from sticking to surfaces.  You could do the same with a burger press or two plates.

This is where things got funny.  How hard could branding a hamburger bun be?

It was too hot, not hot enough, didn't hold it long enough, solar flares, too big, whatever.  I ruined 6 buns trying it out.  I will have to ask Burger Fi about their little secret process for this.  I'm picturing a room of gnomes locked away and working in a sweatshop somewhere branding all of the Burger Fi buns.  (Note:  I would have gone with "elves" but don't want to get them in a labor war with Keebler.)

Cooking burgers in the rendered pancetta grease - nice!

grill, cheeseburger, burger, Big Green Egg
It gets a little smoky, of course.

grilled sliders, cheeseburger
Did I say a little smoky?

The aforementioned cooking timer - a Thermoworks TimeStick.

pancetta sliders, grilled sliders, big green egg
I think my sliders were a nice upgrade from theirs, but I wasn't trying to cook for tens of thousands of people at once, either.

How To Fire Roast French Fries on a Kamado Style Grill
For the fries it really wasn't as much of a recipe as it is a technique.  Wash a few Russet potatoes (skin them if you like but I like the skin on) and cut into fries.  Soak them for an hour or two in cold water to help draw out the starch.  Drain and discard the water.  Air dry them in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Set up the grill for convective heat - which for a kamado grill would be plate setter in with the legs down like this.

Notice the 3 stainless pieces?  Those are spacers to keep your pizza stone or roasting pan from sitting directly on the plate setter.  Why?  If the pizza stone or pan is sitting directly on the plate setter, the bottom of the food will get cooked too fast because of the conductive heat transferring from the plate setter to the pan.  The spacers raise it up just a smidge to control that heat.  Preheat the grill and stone to 450°F.

Notice the slight gap between the plate setter and pizza stone here.

Toss the fries in just enough oil to lightly coat them, maybe 1-2 teaspoons, and some dried herbs.

You can put the fries directly on a pizza stone in the Egg but I find it works better with a piece of parchment paper on the pizza stone.  It makes clean up easier and helps prevent seasoning sticking to the stone instead of the fries.  Make sure the edges don't stick over the stone or they can catch on fire.  A quick tip for cutting the parchment is shown below.  Just fold it in fourths and trim off the edge.  Unfold it for a perfect fit.

Note:  This just shows how to trim the parchment.  The stone would actually be preheated in the grill before you add the paper.

Place the parchment paper on the stone and add the fries, one layer deep.

Close the dome lid and cook for 40 minutes, turning them occasionally after the first 20 minutes.

Season the fries with kosher salt as soon as they come off of the grill.

cheese burger, big green egg, pancetta burger
Yep, sometimes simple is best.

Giveaway Reminder
There is still time to enter my giveaway for a set of El Diablo Mustards - The Mustard That Bites Back.

Giveaway ends this weekend.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received no compensation for this post.  I have no affiliation with Burger Fi or Publix. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Smoked Brisket Sliders, A Tailgate, and El Diablo Giveaway

One important rule about tailgating is to always have a Plan B.  

El Diablo Mustard offered to sponsor one of our tailgates this year so we planned an outdoor event at our older son's house for one of the University of Tennessee away games.  We were going to do everything outside and the day had been beautiful blue skies.  But just as we were getting set up in the back yard a few hours before the game, the winds blew, the skies turned dark, and the temperatures dropped.

Dark clouds rolling in...

We weren't sure if it was going to rain but the wind was blowing everything over and it was cold so we just went with Plan B and moved everything indoors.  The food tasted just as good inside and everyone had a blast.  The menu we picked was:

Nachos and Red Hatch Chile Queso
Smoked Bologna
Smoked Beef Brisket Sliders with Crispy Fried Onions
Golden Chipotle Wings
Mango Mustard Slaw
Pit Beans

Shot recreated on a much less windy afternoon...with leftovers that were still great!

It may seem a little counter-intuitive to make a big meat like brisket or pork butt for a tailgate but it actually makes logistical sense.  You can cook those meats at home, put them foiled in a cooler or Cambro, and hold them for 4 hours.  All you have to do at the tailgate is slice or pull it.

For this brisket, I used the El Diablo Steakhouse Mustard as a slather.  Mustard slathers are nothing new in BBQ, the mustard acts as a binder for the seasoning rub and the vinegar in the mustard also provides a tenderizing effect (although I think the latter is more "old pitmaster tale" than fact). But the varieties and heat that El Diablo Mustard has bring something new to the game - a more complex flavor.  

Dat smoke ring...

Smoked Beef Brisket Sliders with Crispy Fried Onions
Serves:  10-12

  • 12-14 lb whole beef brisket, fat cap trimmed to 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 cup El Diablo Steakhouse Mustard (divided)
  • 1/2 cup beef rub (see recipe)
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups crispy fried onions
  • 1 cup spicy BBQ sauce
  • 24 slider rolls
  1. [Optional Step] Mix 1 tablespoon of the mustard and the cup of beef stock together. Bring to a simmer, strain, and cool.  Use a meat syringe to inject the mixture throughout the brisket.
  2. Slather the brisket with the remaining El Diablo Mustard.  Season liberally on all sides with the beef rub.  Let rest refrigerated for 2 to 4 hours.
  3. Set up your smoker or grill for indirect heat and preheat to 225°f (temp measured at the level of your cooking grate). 
  4. Place brisket, fat cap down, on the grill or smoker over indirect heat and smoke for 2 hours.  
  5. Raise the smoker or grill temperature to 250°F and keep cooking until the brisket reaches a dark mahogany color, which usually occurs around an internal temperature between 160 to 175°f in my experience.  At this point you can wrap the brisket in foil (stops the browning and speeds up the cooking) if you like or you can just keep cooking it "naked" without foil.  
  6. When the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 195-197°f, start checking it for tenderness by inserting a BBQ skewer or thermometer probe into it.  When it slides in like butter, your brisket is done.
  7. Wrap the brisket in a double sheet of foil (if you already didn't in Step 5), place in a warm, empty cooler, cover it with a towel, close the cooler and let it rest for at least an hour or up to 4 hours.
  8. Slice against the grain.  Usually brisket is sliced in pencil thick widths but for sliders, I like to go thinner. 
  9. Top the beef with a LIGHT drizzle of sauce and the crispy fried onions and serve on slider buns.
Serving Tip:  Brisket dries out quickly once it is sliced.  If you are serving in a heated chafing dish over an extended period, add the drippings from the foil and a little extra beef stock to the dish to keep the beef from drying out.

For the beef rub you have a couple of options.  You can do a simple rub of 3 parts kosher salt, 2 parts cracked black pepper, and 1 part minced dried garlic.  I used the following variation of my NMT Beef Rub.  I mix all of the ingredients except the salt and coarsely grind them, then add in the salt to taste.  I find the using the coarse grind is the key because when I finely grind this exact same recipe, it tastes mostly like salt.  

beef rub, brisket rub, Nibble Me This

mustard, brisket prep
I've mentioned this before but I use the resting rack to keep the mustard and seasonings on the bottom from sticking to a tray instead of the brisket.

BGE, Big Green Egg brisket, kamado brisket
I put liquid in the drip pan below the brisket.  This does two things.  First, it keeps the drippings from smoldering a nasty, greasy smoke.  Second, it adds moisture to the air, creating good conditions for forming a smoke ring.

Looks like a burned hunk of meat, right?  But look at the juices still welling up on top of that brisket and check out the slices.

bbq brisket, beef brisket, smoked brisket, Big Green Egg Brisket
For a BBQ competition, this would be too done as this was falling apart tender but it was still very moist and perfect for sliders.

BBQ brisket
The crispy fried onions add a nice flavor and texture contrast to the tender brisket.

My two boys and Brett's girlfriend killing time while we got set up.

Notice the Cambro at the front left.  This was strategically placed to help hold it down after the wind flipped the EZ-Up the first time.
Alexis getting the buffet set up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Product Review: Kamado Grill Accessories by Innovations by Chance

One of the cool things about going to regional Eggfests is that you get to see the newest accessories for your Big Green Egg or other kamado grill.  At Porkopolis in Cincinnati this Summer, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Mike Chance in person. 

Mike is the founder of Innovations by Chance, a company producing some rather cool accessories for kamado grills like the cast iron platesetter pictured above.  We spent some time talking about some of his new rigs, his new table, and his current line up of products.  Mike talked about how he got into this line of business.  Like often is the case, necessity was the mother of invention.  Mike needed somewhere to put hot and greasy grill grates when working in the Egg so he created his first Eggvention - the Great Rack.   

Mike followed up our conversation by sending me several of his products to try out.  I'm not someone to use a product once and then review it - I put the items through about 6 weeks of use and then I put together these following video reviews.

Fishbones Charcoal Grate
Retail: varies by dealer but in the $30-35 ballpark

Raiser Rig
Retail: varies by dealer but in the $30-35 ballpark

The Claw
Retail: varies by dealer but in the $18-22 range

You can find these and other Innovations by Chance products for sale at these dealers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Smoked Brisket Nachos and the 2014 Kentucky State BBQ Festival

I had the craving for some smoked brisket nachos last weekend.

brisket leftover, tailgating

Normally I would grab a pack of sliced brisket from the freezer but alas the freezer was bare. So I smoked a brisket just so I could have some brisket nachos.

smoke brisket, bbq brisket, kamado grill

I'll do a full post about the brisket later, I did do a few tweaks that worked well but this post is about the nachos.

This isn't really a recipe per se, just an idea that a lot of barbecue folks often use when we have leftover pulled pork or brisket.  It is just a base of tortillas and cheese sauce with the meat of your choice and whatever toppings you want. If you don't have leftover BBQ, just pick some up at your local BBQ joint.  Most sell take out by the pound or quart.

This particular time, it was:
  • Nachos
  • cheese sauce - not too much, just a zig zag of it across the chips
  • chopped brisket - about one slice per order of nachos
  • BBQ rub
  • another zig zag of cheese sauce
  • shredded colby jack cheese
  • black olives
  • sliced jalapenos that my neighbors jarred and are HOT 
  • bbq sauce drizzled across it all 
  • topped with chopped green onion
beef brisket, tailgate

These really hit the spot while watching the weekend's football games with Trevor.  They also reminded me of the Kentucky State BBQ Festival from a few weeks ago because BBQ nachos was one of the things we served.

Kentucky State BBQ Festival 2014 - Danville, KY
Before I get into what a great event this was, how wonderful the team was, and how nice Danvillle is, let's get one thing out of the way - this was the hardest BBQ event I have ever done.  I was physically exhausted after the weekend. That said, it was a blast.

The Kentucky State BBQ Festival isn't a contest like most of the events that you see me doing.  This is a big party and culinary event celebrating all things BBQ.  There are just 7 pitmasters and their teams feeding the throngs of people.  I heard a crowd number of 50,000 and that would not surprise me.  Our team alone literally served more than one ton of food. 

I was lucky enough to be cooking with Shane Draper's team - Draper's BBQ.  I couldn't ask to be a part of a better team - EVERYONE busted their butts. We ran like a well oiled machine at times.  Other times we were in the weeds but we pulled together, cranked up the weed-eater, and got ourselves back up to speed. But at all times, we did it together.

Our Menu
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Smoked Bologna Sandwiches
BBQ Nachos
Kentucky Cheese Steaks

I didn't get much time to take pictures and when I did, it was very rushed and some are mobile phone shots, but I wanted to share the chaotic and fun experience.  

The first task for me was cooking 150 pieces of bacon for the BBQ quesadillas that we were serving for the festival's VIP dinner.  High noon and hot as fire, but we were already moving fast.

Later we engineered some shade for the cook area where the griddle and two Ole Hickories were.

The back end of "the house" was where the cooking got done.  In addition to the Ole Hickories, we had a Tucker Cooker.  Here Shane is fixing a gremlin in one of the Hickories.

The back of the house crew kicked butt all weekend.  I don't think we ever stopped prepping, cooking, wrapping, or shredding pulled pork.

Getting set up on Friday, the tent area is where we were going to serve and the trailer was for food prep. See all of those cases on nachos on the trailer?  Yeah, those didn't last through Saturday.

Loading coal up for a long burn in the Tucker Cooker.

Here Mike, Alethea, and I are prepping for the VIP dinner.

Frying up some of the nearly 300 BBQ quesadillas that we served up to the VIPs.

Do we look beat already?  Yes we were but as soon as the VIP dinner was done, Alethea and I were back in the trailer making pulled pork sandwiches, smoked bologna sandwiches, cheese for the nachos, and making Kentucky Cheese Steak sandwiches to order.  She was my wingman for the weekend.
Other teams were just as busy prepping for the crowds.

17th Street BBQ getting set up.
Rick and Moe Cason taking a minute to catch up.

Side note:  Moe Cason (pictured above, right), from Ponderosa BBQ and a judge on BBQ Pitmasters, announced this week that he has quit his day job so he can do barbecue as his full time career now.  Congratulations on chasing your dream, Moe!  Moe and I will be judging at the Pensacola Eggfest Presented by Pensacola's Kia Autosport in November.  Come out and join in the fun!