Monday, July 28, 2014

Chicken Margarita Penne - Great Idea For Leftover Chicken

I am pretty well known for being late with getting dinner on the table but I'm trying to get better with that.  I saw this recipe for Penne with Tomatoes and Green Beans with a Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette in Southern Living and thought I could snazz it up a bit for a quick fix dinner.

grilled chicken pasta salad

The main changes that I did were
  1. Added meat - I had tests a margarita injection on a few chickens the day before so I had leftover chicken on hand but you could use a rotisserie bird.
  2. Made a margarita vinaigrette instead of their lemon shallot one.
  3. Subbed asparagus for green beans.
  4. Added a little heat.
But first here is the injection recipe if you want to make your own chicken.  This marinade not only adds beaucoup flavor and moisture but it also gives the chicken the buttery texture that you'd imagine.

Margarita Injection for Chicken
prep time: 5 min
cook time: 5 min
servings:  enough for 2-3 chickens or 1 turkey

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces margarita mix
  • 3 tablespoons silver tequila
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small sauce pan over medium heat until it begins to simmer.  
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool before injection.  
  3. Use a meat syringe to inject into the chicken, making sure to get the legs, thighs, and breasts.
Chicken Margarita Penne
adapted from Southern Living's Penne with Tomatoes and Green Beans
prep time:  20 minutes
cook time:  12 minutes for the pasta
servings:  8

  • 16 ounces dried penne pasta, cooked according to directions
  • 2 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces asparagus, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
For the Margarita Vinaigrette
  • 3 ounces margarita mix
  • 1 tablespoon sliver tequila
  • 1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Mix all ingredients for the vinaigrette in a medium bowl except oil, salt and pepper.  Slowly add the oil while briskly whisking until the oil is thoroughly combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  I did about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
  2. Mix together the chicken, pasta, tomatoes, asparagus, and red pepper flake.  Toss with just enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat everything.  Keep the rest.  Add the dill and lightly toss.
  3. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving.  
Two tips
  1. This is one of those dishes, like spaghetti, that is even better the next day so make in advance when possible.
  2. Freshen it up when serving by tossing with with a bit of the reserved vinaigrette or just some white balsamic vinegar.
To shorten my grill cooking time for cooking the chicken, I spatchcocked the chickens and cooked them "raised direct" skin side up for 1 hour at 375°F.  I injected the chickens with the buttery margarita injection and then seasoned them with Albukirky BBQ rub.  I also added 2 chunks of mesquite wood to the coal for a little Southwestern smoke.

spatchcock, chicken injection, poultry injection
One bird spatchcocked on the left, just cut out the back bone with a sharp knife or scissors and then flatten the chicken out.

The raised grill rack postions the chicken closer to the dome of the kamado grill, so the reflective heat browns the top too.

Mesquite smoke is strong, so I only use a little and typically only for cooks of short duration.

spatchcock chicken, grilled chicken, chicken on kamado, grilled poultry
Cooked until it reached an internal temp of 160°F in the breast and 175°F in the thighs.

grilled chicken,
I'll take a spatchcocked bird cooked on a kamado over a store bought rotisserie bird any day of the week.

grilled chicken pasta, leftover chicken

We served ours sprinkled with a little cotija cheese - perfect! 

Drapers BBQ Giveaway
My BBQ brother and owner of Drapers BBQ is doing a huge giveaway over at his Facebook page.  The prize package is valued over $550 and includes a Pit Barrel Cooker, Drapers BBQ Rub, and much, much more.  I've mentioned the Pit Barrel Cooker before - it is simple to use, doesn't take up much space, and is perfect for the person wanting to try their hand at BBQ and smoking.

The best part is to enter, all you have to do is Like his Facebook Page.  Seriously, that's it.  How simple, right?  You can get the full contest info and enter HERE.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Grilled Hot Wings and the Big Kahuna Wing Festival

I do a lot of wings on the grill, they are one of my favorite treats and I rarely do them the same way twice.   But honestly, most of my wings aren't what I'd call Buffalo wings or even hot wings because in my view, those are a specific flavor profile.

I was trying out some excellent rubs from a local company, BKW Seasonings, and used their recipe for Grilled Hot Wings [click for the recipe].  We were quite pleased with the results, which were more in line with a true hot wing than a lot of the flavor profiles that I often use.  This is a simple recipe and their Buffalo style sauce delivers a big bold flavor that I love.

The recipe relies on their BKW Original and/or BKW Fire seasonings, which I have found to be quite good.  If you can't find BKW (stores listed at end) or wait to get it shipped, you could try spicing up your favorite seasoned salt with cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder.  It won't be the same, but you can try.

I got to sit down with Matt Beeler, one of the owners of BKW Seasonings, a couple of weeks ago and learned the history behind the BKW Original Gourmet Seasoning that started his company.  Way, way back in the day, Matt's father would throw big tailgates at the University of Tennessee football games.  He invited friends, family, and his business clients and they made up this seasoning just for those events.  Later the family realized it worked on just about anything and BKW Seasonings was born.  Now they have a full line of seasonings and are opening a restaurant in West Knoxville.

Back to the wings - their recipe calls for grilling the wings directly.  When I do wings direct, I like to do them "raised direct", meaning they cooking rack is elevated higher over the fire.  This cooks the wings just a little bit more gently, lessens the effects of any hotspots, and minimizes any damage from flare ups once rendered chicken fat drips down to the fire below.  It is also a more forgiving technique if you happen to be enjoying an adult beverage and forget to turn the wings right on time.

For a kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, the easiest way to do that is to build your own raised grid like this using 4 bolts, eight washers, eight nuts, and an 18" grill grate.  This will also let you double your grill's capacity when cooking indirect by placing a spider rig and pizza stone between the coals and lower grill grate.  

For charcoal grills with an adjustable cooking grate - set the cooking grate at its highest setting or for charcoal grills with an adjustable charcoal tray - set the tray at one of its lower settings.  The goal is to create about 2-4 inches of space between the food and coals. 

You can buy frozen wings already cut into wingettes and drumettes, but I prefer to just buy them fresh and break them down into parts myself because it seems like I get bigger wings that way.  When you buy them frozen you can't tell the size of the wings you're getting.

Their instructions call for lightly coating the wings in olive oil.  It only needed a very small amount to coat the wings, maybe less than a tablespoon.  You want just enough to get the rubs to stay on.  For the rub, I used a blend of about 2 1/4 teaspoons of BKW original and 3/4 teaspoon of the BKW Fire for a medium level of spiciness.  For mild, use just the Original and for spicier, increase the amount of BKW Fire or use it straight.

This was one of my favorite wing sauces that I have made in a while.  It's your basic wing sauce but the BKW seasonings and cilantro give it a more developed taste instead of just the heat and vinegar you get from some Buffalo sauces.  I didn't have the BKW Pepper Blend so I used some garlic pepper seasoning that I had on hand and it worked just fine.  

Here is where the raised grid comes in handy for this cook.  The flames leaping up from small grease dripping fires isn't even touching the wings.

When the wings were about done at 30 minutes, I put them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the sauce and tossed them to coat them.  Then it was just back on the grill for another 3-5 minutes just to cook on the sauce.

So whether you are cooking these on gas, charcoal, or kamado grill, these wings are the ticket for grilled hot wings. 

Matt is also the brains behind the Big Kahuna Wing Festival here in Knoxville.  We went this year to check it out and sample the wings from 30 different teams vying for best wing around.  It was the same day as the Gay Pride festival, a beer festival, and a few other events and we had also had a long line of storms move through so I had this crazy notion that we would get there and there wouldn't be long lines.... much for that idea. Despite the storms and competing events, throngs of people turned out for this second year event. 

The BKW Wing Festival is held at World's Fair Park under the watchful eye of Sauron Knoxville's iconic Sunsphere.  It seems to be the perfect fit for this festival for now but I suspect the success will eventually require it to move or take up the park on the other side too.

At work we have to deal with something called the Mobile Crisis Unit so we jokingly referred to BKW Seasonings' trailer as their "Mobile Spices Unit". 

There was plenty of live entertainment going on for folks wanting to take a break from stuffing their wing holes.  Here Blue Mother Tupelo plays their set.

Matt invited us to cook this year but we just didn't have enough time to pull it together.  We'll probably enter as a team next year.  There was a variety of cooking types.  Some people fried them, others grilled them, some smoked wings, and still others combined techniques.

The lines were rather long when we were there but that was mainly because there were about half the teams not serving.  Not sure if they had already cooked their quota and left or if the storms chased them off, but there were booths with not a soul there.  The lines weren't the end of the world, in fact, that was how we got to meet some nice people we wouldn't have met otherwise.  

We didn't sample all or even most of the wings, but the best one I had was from Flusterclucks.  I had their medium wings which were nice sized and had a balanced Buffalo flavor that was just well executed.  But they also had a Heisenberg wing, named after Walter White's character on Breaking Bad.  You can see the sauce was chicken wings.  Crazy right?  "You're god damned right!"   (Can you tell I miss Breaking Bad and can't wait for Better Call Saul to start?)

But the absolute BEST moments came during the awards presentation.  The winning teams were:

Third Place - Food City Grillers
Second Place - Buckethead Tavern
First Place - Phil Cobble Fine Homes/The Sports Source

The event was for raising money for the Ronald McDonald House and the Empty Stocking Fund.  These three teams exemplified heroic levels of class and spontaneously DONATED THEIR WINNINGS back to the charities!  We're not talking just a few bucks either, we're talking thousands of dollars. 

Job well done, Matt, the sponsors, and all of the teams!  This is a fun and tasty event for a good cause. Mark your calendar - the Third Annual BKW Wing Festival is already schedule next year for June 13, 2015.

You can find BKW seasonings at Kroger, Food City, Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, and Fresh Market or you can order them direct online. They are a great local company who support the community so I encourage you to support them.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received no compensation for this post and have no affiliation with BKW Seasonings.  I paid full price for my BKW Seasonings and tickets for the event. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Father's Day Waygu Brisket and Kurobuta Pork Shoulder

Yeah, I know Father's Day was over a month ago.  I am just behind on getting out stuff that we have done so far this busy summer.  Heck, I still have posts to get out about the Almost Heaven South - Blogger Party, the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival, the Blount BBQ Bash, and the Porkopolis Eggfest.  

But for Father's Day, Alexis splurged and got us a Waygu brisket and a Kurobuta pork shoulder from Snake River Farms.  My neighbor, John, and I celebrated Father's Day Eve by staying up all night smoking these two beasts for a Father's Day feast with a few of our neighbors.  

If you aren't familiar with the term, Waygu is essentially American Kobe beef.  A lot of restaurants and vendors have claimed to serve "Kobe beef" but most are really serving Waygu.  The difference is like the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine.  To be Kobe beef, the cattle had to be bread and raised in the Kobe region of Japan.  If you take that same breed and raise it elsewhere, even with the exact same techniques, it is Waygu, not Kobe.  

My first experience with Waygu beef was with Snake River Farms at Kingsford University one year and they were one of these first sources of this Kobe style beef that I knew of.  Many top level competition BBQ pitmasters rely on Snake River Farms Waygu briskets for that extra edge over their competitors.  This wasn't for competition but I wanted to serve the perfect brisket for Father's Day just the same.

Ordering the meat was super easy.  We went to the Snake River Farms website and ordered a 11-14 pound Waygu brisket and a 14 pound Kurobuta pork shoulder.  From what I understand, Kurobuta is a specialized version of Berkshire pork, but I don't know all of the details on that.

A problem arose on the Wednesday before Father's Day when Alexis got home and asked where the meat was.  UPS tracking showed it was delivered to our house at 3:17pm; however, our son had been there waiting for the shipment at that time and the UPS guy was never even on our street.  Sean at Snake River Farms talked us down off the ledge - our Father's Day Feast wouldn't be a no-show.  He got UPS involved and assured us that he was going to have another package ready to go first thing in the morning if UPS couldn't get it straight.  MAJOR KUDOS to Sean and Snake River Farms for doing all of the right things to fix the mistake of someone else.  UPS got several people involved and it turned out that the package was delivered to a different house number....on a different street.  UPS' solution was for Alexis to drive to this location and pick up the 55 pound package herself from some stranger's door step.  Bad, UPS, bad.

Alexis went there and the box was still on the doorstep.  Fortunately, she wasn't shot at and no "good Samaritan" neighbor called the cops on her for "stealing a package from someone's door step".  Here's how the package arrived.

There were about a dozen freezer packs in with the meat.
The meat was still heavily chilled, I'd say frozen, even after shipping across the country.

The plan was to let them thaw for two days in the fridge and then cook them on kamado grills.  With good quality meat like this, we wanted to go basic with seasonings - no injections, no phosphates, no brines or marinades.  We wanted to meat to shine.

My ideal brisket is 13 lbs and this one was perfect at 13.7.  I think 13 is my favorite because it is about the biggest brisket I can fit onto a Large Big Green Egg so that is what I usually used before I got my pit.

Look at that fine marbling, it's most evident in the lower left quarter.
My NMT Beef Rub is my favorite for brisket.  It is just smoked salt, black pepper, green peppercorns, garlic, dried onion, dried bell pepper, and oregano.  That is not too much more than the classic beef rub of pepper, salt, and garlic but it adds a few more transition flavors.  We used about 1 tablespoon of beef base and enough Worcestershire sauce to thin it out, as a slather to bind the rub.  

brisket rub, bbq brisket
The toothpick in the lower right corner is to mark the grain of the brisket.  This makes it easy to know which way to slice once it is all done and the grain pattern isn't so evident anymore.
I set up my Big Green Egg for indirect cooking (plate setter in legs up, drip pan on that, grate on top of that.  My goal was cooking it at 250°F until done, about 1.5 hours per pound.  As you can see from the ChefAlarm, the meat was still quite cold, only 40°F, after thawing.

The Auber controller (left) was set at 250, this was right after opening the kamado grill to put the meat on, so the cooking temp had dropped and was on its way back to 250°F.  The probe was at grate level.

We planned to cook the Kurobuta pork shoulder on John's Big Green Egg but we ran into a slight issue with that.  The shoulder was too long and wouldn't fit!

Fortunately, the exterior of the Vision Kamado is over an inch bigger but the firebox is the same diameter so Big Green Egg accessories like the plate setter still fit inside as shown.

We tried it and the pork shoulder JUST BARELY fit inside of the bigger Vision.  We fashioned an adapter mount for John's Auber unit to fit the Vision.

We seasoned the pork shoulder with Meathead's Memphis Dust recipe.  Again, no injections or other fancy treatments.

pork, bbq

I frequently mention John and I talking so much about grilling.  That is because our grilling/bbq areas face each other in the back yard.  Here is his cooking area as seen from my deck.

And here is the opposite view of my cooking area as seen from his side patio.  So you can see how we always end up talking BBQ.

So after getting the brisket and shoulder on it was time for a little sleep.  We had some weirdness with the cooking temperature readings on both the Auber and dome thermometer for the Vision early into the cook.  We never did figure out what that was about, but it finally stabilized.  It was acting like the probe was touching the meat and reading low but there were two probes involved and neither was touching anything. 

Father's Day morning at first light, our backyards smelled glorious.  I mopped the brisket with beef stock, Albukirky's Duke City Sweet, and Liquid Aminos.  I only mopped it twice during the whole cook, just enough to keep the surface slightly moist but not overpower the flavor.  I normally do much more often with regular briskets.

The pork shoulder was rendering a lot of fat, we had to even take it out and empty the drip pan once.  Just a testament to the fat content of this gorgeous shoulder.

bbq pork, smoked pork shoulder

Almost 11 hours in and my brisket is still below 160°F.

John spritzing the pork shoulder with fruit juice.

It was at this point that I noticed I did my brisket with the flat up.  I normally do it point side up.

Alexis frying up bacon outside for a side dish.
It took right at 16 hours for my 13 pound brisket to finish.  That is longer than the regular briskets I do but still within the 1.5 lb per hour ballpark.  Normally I'm cooking them on the stick burner at about 275°F and here I did them at 250°F on the kamado grill.

BBQ brisket kamado

While the brisket got to rest briefly, we made BBQ beans and Ted Reader's Love Potatoes on the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared Gourmet.  Setting your gas grill up for indirect heat at 350°F and using it as an oven is a great way to keep your house cooler on those hot summer days.

The pork shoulder finished in 16 1/2 hours.  This is a huge hunk o' pork.

We set up a buffet in John and Anna Mae's front patio. 
John hamming it up for the camera. #porkpuns
Because the shoulder and brisket took so long, they didn't have much time to rest.  John had to use Bear Claws to shred the pork because it was really too hot to handle.  We ordered insulated food gloves right after this for that reason. 

Next we sliced the brisket.  It was the moistest brisket I have ever had, so tender and juicy that I think I heard angels sing.  Or maybe that was the radio playing.  Either way, it was bleepity-bleep good.

The one noticeable difference to us was the complete lack of a smoke ring.  This is not an indicator of smoke absorption and you could taste smoke.  You can read more about smoke ring formation at Third Eye's web page.  But John and I both agreed we like the smoke rings we get from using the stick burner and that's what we'll use in competition so all is good.

Chalk pig from our good friends, Jackie and David Scott. Alexis had this as the centerpiece.

Then we had our feast.  In addition to the pork and brisket, the neighbors brought sides and we loaded up.  If my plate looks light, it is only because John and I had already eaten a ton of meat just before serving when we were slicing the brisket and pulling the pork.  Quality control is just an occupational hazard in the world of BBQ.

We finished the meal with cold watermelon and key lime pie.  Great way to spend a Father's Day!

So was the splurge worth it?

Kurobuta Pork Shoulder
$60 vs ~$35-40 for commodity pork butts
I don't have a direct comparison since it is hard to get whole pork shoulders around here so I'll have to compare the shoulder against two pork butts.  You can taste a difference in the pork, for sure.  I can only describe it as getting more pork flavor, like I imagine pork was before the selective breeding and hybridization resulted in today's lean commodity pork.  I'll definitely use it again but I wouldn't feel that I have to buy it every time, maybe just for special occasions.

A note for kamado users: cooking a whole pork shoulder on a kamado has its limitations because it puts the thinner leg shank end right over the hotter spots of the smoker.  It makes it hard not to overcook that end.  Also a good bit of the rendered fat dripped down the leg bone and between the firebowl and kamado wall, making a mess to clean up.    Next time I would cook the pork shoulder on the stick burner where there is plenty of room and that isn't an issue.  I'll have to try it that way before I use it in a contest.

$85 vs ~$45-50 for US Choice Briskets at Costco
Absolutely worth the difference and this is what I'll be using for competition from here on out as well as for the backyard.  The texture was velvety and the taste, beefy.  Our neighbors said it was the best brisket they've ever had.  I consider it highly recommended and we didn't even get their best brisket,  which is their Gold Grade Waygu brisket.

We were very happy with the products and service from Snake River Farms and look forward to placing our next order with them shortly.

[Standard Disclaimer]  I have no affiliation with Snake River Farms, received no compensation for this post, and paid full price for the product.