Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Smoketown USA BBQ Louisville KY

Don't miss out on your chance to win the cookbook Ciao's as simple as a link in a post and benefits MDA.

Smoketown USA BBQ

1153 Logan Street
Louisville, KY 40204

(502) 409-9180

Date of visit: 07/19/2009

Atmosphere: 4 out of 5 (casual)

Service: 5 out of 5

Food: 4.5 out of 5

Value: 5 out of 5

Overall: 4.6 out of 5

“I’m a Jewish, redneck, massage therapist,” I heard a strange man dressed in overalls say to my wife as I walked back into the restaurant.

That strange man turned out to be the owner, Eric Gould. Wait, that sounds bad, Eric really isn’t strange per se, just a bit different! This whole place is just a bit different and in a fun way.

There are two very interesting things about this restaurant that stand out.

First, it is housed in a pair of antebellum buildings that Eric and his wife Lynn bought in 2002. It’s a former grocery, feed & seed store, and a livery. They spent 5 years restoring it and in 2007 opened up the bbq restaurant Smoketown USA.

Second, the place is for sale. Well not the restaurant, but everything in it is. Smoketown USA is what happens when a BBQ Restaurant collides with E-bay! Lynn is an avid garage sale enthusiast and the place is stocked and decorated with a wide range of styles. So you can literally buy the chairs you are sitting on, the salt/pepper shakers on your table, or any of the wall decorations that catch you eye. It’s really a unique approach and fun.

Service is a major plus at Smoketown USA. What you see in the pictures on their website is what really goes on. Not only did our server visit us, so did another server, Eric and the pit master that day, David. They are all friendly and a bunch of cut ups. It felt like we were hanging out on a friends deck while they finished up getting dinner ready.

When David found out I was a BBQ enthusiast, I got a tour of the kitchen and more importantly the two wood fired smokers out back. They were loaded with chicken and rib tips at the time. He talked about each cooker, their good qualities, their hot spots and possible future modifications on one of them. We discussed our personal smokers at home, our preferences for cooking Q for ourselves, and I knew I was in for some authentic BBQ.

The online menu is limited compared to what you can really get. The daily chalkboard menu contains many more options. A bit unusual, this BBQ joint has actual valid vegetarian options, not just sides. Yeah, I know, it's like a vegetarian restaurant offering rare prime rib! Ok, it's not that drastic but still.

Alexis ordered the Cuban (a very liberal bbq spin on a Cuban that is) and mixed greens while I opted for the “Flintstone ribs” (HUGE BEEF RIBS), tex-mex pintos, mac n cheese, and jalapeno corn bread. While we were waiting for our meal, David brought out a sample of their off the menu “lamb stew” which was hearty and full of flavor.

The pintos, mac n cheese, and corn bread were all good. The mixed greens recommended by the server had that perfect mustardy bite you expect. I took a bite of Alexis’ Cuban and it was the best I’ve ever had.

But the highlight of the meal had to be the beef ribs. These things were huge, big, and ginormous. David told me they give them a simple rub of salt, pepper and just stay out of the way, letting the meat & smoke do their own magic. They had a crisp bark covering the smoke ring yet the meat melted in my mouth. They were like a chuck roast on a bone! And did I mention they were huge?!? (Excuse the crappy mobile phone pics)

I didn’t get to sample their ribs, butt or chicken because our order itself was so filling. But when we come back in fall, we’ll definitely check out the rest of the menu because what we had was so good.

If you find yourself in, near or around Louisville, do yourself a favor and check out Smoketown USA. It’s a great little BBQ joint! And I mean real BBQ.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chicken Parmesan Piccolinos & a Contest Giveaway

If you clicked on the link because of the title, then I sort of lied to you. I am posting a recipe for this dish but this post is not about that. But play along, I have a blog contest I am running in which you could win a cookbook!

Let's be honest. In this economy, it is hard to give up your hard earned cash for someone else. But what if you get something in return? Yeah, not so bad, right? So here's the deal.

This Thursday, July 30th Carrabba's is hosting the "Mix It Up For MDA" event to raise money in the fight against Muscular Dystrophy. One of my wife's cousins has MDA so I take this a bit personally.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill “Mix it up for MDA” Event

What: “Mix it Up for MDA” Event, a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association

When: Thursday, July 30thfrom 5 p.m. to close

Cost: $15 a person

Admission includes a sampling of four food items from the new Mr. C’s Bar Menu and, for guests 21 years and older, one of three signature cocktails (Blackberry Lemonade, the Italian Lemon Drop or Blackberry Fields Martini) or another drink on the Mr. C’s list. In addition to monies raised from event admission (your whole $15 goes to the MDA) , Carrabba’s also will donate $1 to MDA for each of the three signature drinks sold from July 30 – August 6.

Where: To find Carrabba’s locations near you, visit

Contest Give Away
Up for grabs: The cookbook Ciao Tuscany provided by the good folks at Carrabba's themselves
My Contest Rules: (And yes, this is MY contest and MY rules, Carrabba's has nothing to do with this so don't blame them if you aren't happy with the results.)

1) Entries:
1 entry ticket = post THIS LINK in a post in your blog with a clear mention of the purpose of their event.
10 entry tickets = post the link AND a picture of your attempt of Chicken Parmesan Piccolinos. Creative license and substitutions freely permitted.

2) Posts:
All posts must be made and entered in the comments section, between now and the end of their event on August 6th 2009.

3) How to Enter:
Leave a link to your qualifying post in the comments section.

4) Drawing:
The qualifying entries will be placed in a non-reactive mixing bowl and the winner drawn at random. How do we know it will be random? We are going to put the paper slips into the bowl, spin it around and stick it into Ollie the Wonder Chinchilla's cage. The first one he pulls all of the way out of the bowl is the winner (will post the video just for fun).

Carrabba's Chicken Parmesan Piccolinos

8 oz breast split Chicken breast, pounded thin (1/4 inch)
* Kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
1 Beaten egg
2 Cups Seasoned breadcrumbs
2 oz Olive oil
4 oz Hot pomodoro sauce***
1 oz Grated romano cheese
2 slices Mozzarella
4 slices Italian mini sandwich bread

Season chicken on both sides with the kosher salt and black pepper. Dip chicken breast into beaten egg and then coat with the seasoned breadcrumbs.

Heat olive oil, medium heat in a Teflon-coated skillet. Make sure the oil is hot before placing breaded chicken into the pan otherwise breading will absorb oil and not brown properly. Sauté chicken breast on both sides until golden brown.

Place chicken on a baking pan. Spread the pomodoro sauce evenly over the chicken and sprinkle with romano cheese, and top with mozzarella.

Melt cheese under broiler until lightly browned.

Cut to size and serve on Italian mini sandwich bread.

***I didn't get a recipe for their pomodoro sauce so you could try this one from Tyler Florence.

So please consider stopping by your local Carrabba's this Thursday. If you find yourself there the following week, order one of the new menu items. Or if you can't, at least consider making a donation to the MDA.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Avocado-Tomato Toss

I received my August issue of Southern Living magazine this week.

I remember "discovering" Southern Living when I was about 16 spending a summer vacation at my grandmother's farmhouse in North Carolina. It was a dry afternoon and the only "air conditioning" was a box fan propped up in an open window of the old home. It was one of those afternoons that was so hot you could hear the heat because even the bugs were quiet and still. In an effort to remain cool, I spent an afternoon minimizing activity by reading a few years worth of back issues of Southern Living.

I specifically remember reading about the difference between chicken fried steak and country fried steak. I am pretty sure that was the first day I ever wrote down a recipe to try, it was a flank steak with equal parts of oil, red wine, and soy sauce. But from then on, I was curious about food and how I could make mine better.

Sorry, I drifted off there for a minute. Now I get Southern Living every month courtesy of my parents. It is one of my favorite Christmas presents because I get it 12 times! Tonight we wanted to do something easy and quick without making a mess in the kitchen, so we tried the Avocado-Tomato Toss. We halved the recipe.

Avocado-Tomato Toss
Makes: 6 servings
Prep: 15 min

1/3 c cilantro, fresh chopped
1/4 c olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T lime juice
1/2 t salt
2 c cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 c red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium avocados, halved and cut into chunks
4 romaine lettuce leaves

Whisk the oil into the cilantro, vinegar, lime juice, and salt in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, red onion and avocados, tossing gently to coat. Serve over the shredded romaine.

I messed up by tossing it all together with the romaine but it turned out alright anyway. I also added a little cracked black pepper.Alexis and I both loved it. It has all of the hallmarks of a good salad for me, varied textures, a little sweet, and a little bite. A little pedestrian, perhaps, but like I said, we were aiming for simple. If you don't like cilantro, this one isn't for you because I think cilantro is what gives it the signature flavor.

Some of the other recipes I have marked in the August issue to try are:
Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas
Grilled Fingerling Potato Salad
Maque Choux (a dish we've previously enjoyed from Sharlene)
Bourbon Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Fiesta Brisket

So what are some of your favorite media sources for recipes?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Airline Chicken Breast with Basil Butter

Sometimes simple is better.

Tonight's menu was one of those times. Each of our 3 dishes tonight had 5 or less ingredients, not counting oil.Airline Chicken Breast with Basil Butter
This dish is from Chris Lilly's Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book that came out this year. You should buy the book because it is a great resource, but you can find this particular recipe here.

I substituted skin on boneless breasts for the "hotel cut" that Chris uses. If you don't feel like clicking on the recipe link, it's essentially chicken seasoned with salt n pepper, direct grilled and indirect roasted while basted with basil and butter. It's a fan-effing-tastic grilled chicken!

Simple Sesame Noodles (a recipe I found on BigOven years ago)
8 oz pasta noodles
1/4 c oil
1 t sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
2 T soy sauce
1 T red pepper flakes

(My mother knew this recipe so well, she didn't write any instructions)
Possibly saute garlic in oil, add the rest into the cooked oriental noodles and toss.
The instructions are only from memory. try not to quote me... yet :)

That's the recipe as posted on BigOven. We cut back on the pepper flakes and added thin strips of some red hungarian wax peppers that Alexis grew in our front yard this year. It had a spicy heat but just the right level.

Veggies on a Stick
Finally, we made some simple veggie kabobs with squash and zucchini.

I seasoned them up with salt and pepper and brushed them with balsamic vinegar while grilling on the Egg at 400f for 8 minutes.Easy and tasty, despite what George Carlan (RIP) may have said about squash!

It was a mouth watering dinner that we had fun cooking together on a summer evening. You just can't beat that.

Printable version
Simple Sesame Noodles

ON EDIT: OK, here's the story behind why Chris Lilly calls this airline chicken.
"While a skin-on chicken breast with only the drumette of the wing attached was called a “taster” in the early days of the restaurant, in the 1960s, back when commercial airlines still served real meals, they became known as “airline chicken.” Leaving a portion of the wing attached to a small chicken breast made the serving look larger while still allowing it to fit nicely into an airline food tray."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fajita-bobs or Fajita on a Stick

We had Funday Friday at work last week and again, I was doing the main dish. The main theme was "beach party" so I wanted to come up with something "beachy".

No problem, right? I grew up on the beach. By the time I was a teenager, I was at the beach surfing every day that I could for as long as I could. See? Here's me at 8 months old and a week before high school graduation (hey, pink high top converse were the hot thing back then). All three are really me.Carson and I surfed as Hurricane Hugo passed by. I fractured my skull surfing on my mom's 50th birthday which was also Mother's Day that year. I've surfed within feet of sharks, curious dolphins, and even one whale. I've owned more surfboards in my life than I have owned cars. I may live in Tennessee now, but I know "beach".

But here's the thing...."beach food" to us meant two things back then,
1) cheap (we worked in a grocery store at night so we could surf during the day) and
2) drive thru (only long enough to let the tide change the way we wanted).
We ate a lot of Hardee's chili cheese dogs, Taco Bell's $.79 menu, and Shoney's Breakfast Buffet.

So I kicked some ideas around and and portable. Kabobs! But to make it a little bit more "beachy" I also liked fajitas. So we put our fajita recipe on sticks!


4 ea chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cut into cubes
1 ea red bell pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 ea green bell pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 ea yellow bell pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 ea onion, cut into 1" chunks

2 tablespoon Oil
3 tablespoon Lime Juice
1-2 clove Garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoon Season salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Red pepper ground
1 tablespoon Cilantro chopped

Marinade kabob ingredients in the marinade ingredients for 4 hours. Spear the kabob ingredients on soaked bamboo skewers alternating layers of veggie, meat, veggie. Make sure you start and end on a veggie.

Catering/Party Hint:
If you are cooking on-site for an event, marinate the ingredients, assemble the skewers ahead of time and keep them in the marinade until cooking time.

Money Saving Hint:
Instead of buying individual red bell peppers at $475.79 per pound, buy the 3-pak bags of a red, yellow, and green bell pepper for cheap! Those are perfect for dishes like this or stir fry dishes and add a mountain of color.

Grill over a hot fire, 2 minutes a side for a total of 8 minutes.The family loved them and they were a hit at Funday Friday at work.So enjoy give the fajita bobs a try, they are kick butt!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Camp Fire Food Pictorial

As I mentioned on Friday, we went to visit my folks at their camp site in Cades Cove over the weekend. While most folks settle for sandwiches, burgers, or dogs while camping, my mom is the bad ass Iron Chef of the camp site. Here's a little bit of what we had.Friday night we had beef pot roast with carrots & potatoes, green beans, & garlic bread.We made s'mores for dessert after the kids roasted marshmallows over the campfire with Grandpa.Breakfast Saturday morning was stick biscuits. Click the link for great directions, but basically they are biscuits cooked over a camp fire on the end of a dowel rod. When done, you pull it off the rod and have a "biscuit cup" in which you can put a sausage link, honey, jelly, or whatever.

For lunch, we had two 12" dutch ovens, a Coleman camp oven, and a skillet at our disposal and we all pitched in to kick some camp food butt.
Spatchcocked chickenAlexis made Smoky Mountain Cafe's Summer Corn
The chicken was so perfectly done, it about fell apart as I tried to take it out.
Being a good southern girl, Grandma couldn't let that rendered chicken go to waste and made a delicious gravy.
Alexis and Grandma follow our "no gravy is left behind" policy...
Trev enjoyed a soft serve from the campground store
and there was watermelon, of course
But the ultimate had to be the cherry/blueberry cobbler that my mom made using blueberries that came from White Lake, NC.I don't do sweets and RARELY eat dessert, but damn this was good. After seeing what my mother can do with a dutch oven the past few years.....I would hate to see what she could do with a Big Green Egg.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Porkus Chopus Maximus

I hated grilled pork chops as a kid. They were always dried out, thin little things that somebody had brutalized over a pile of lighter fluid soaked briquettes. So I never wanted to grill them myself (this was back before I knew how to really grill and smoke) because I thought that was just the nature of a grilled pork chop.

Then in 2001 while assisting with an overnight whole hog roast, a neighbor made some pork chops for a midnight snack. He simply rubbed them with salt and pepper, grilled them and served them up on two pieces of white bread as a "pork chop sandwich" (bone in). Man oh man were those things good!!!!

I made up a nice batch of pork chops earlier this week. To me, these rival a good steak. Here are a few tips I've picked up for making great chops:

Go Big or Go HomeIf you REALLY want a REALLY good chop, then you have to start with a great cut of meat. Get a nice 1 1/2" to 2" thick, bone in pork chop. Look for one that is lean with fat around the edges like the one above. It's not going to be cheap but it will be worth it.

BrineTo help ensure juiciness and flavor, brine the pork chops in a brine with apple juice for about 3-4 hours. The one I have used for about 3 years with good results is:
2 cups apple juice
2 cups water
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup coarse kosher salt (sorry Scott, I haven't gotten gray salt yet :) )

Dry RubAfter brining, rinse the chops off and dry them. Give the chops a nice coating of rub and let them sit while you start the fire. Plain salt and pepper work just fine.

This week, I used a pork rub that I made following the section in Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book on creating your own dry rub. It worked well with these chops.
1/4 c white sugar
1/4 c turninado sugar
1/4 c smoked paprika
2 T garlic salt
2 T kosher salt
1 t black pepper, smoked
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t cumin
1/4 t allspice
1/2 t dried thyme

High Temp SearSear the chops over a very hot bed of coals or fire. I do this over a 500-600f degree direct set up on the Big Green Egg for a total of 6 minutes, flipping every 90 seconds. This gives nice grill marks and the maillard reaction that make it look and taste good.

RoastAfter the sear, cut your heat back to about 400-450 and change to indirect heat. Let the pork chops roast to an internal temp of 145 internal, then remove them from heat to rest for 10 minutes. Don't panic you won't get a raw in the middle pork chop. You'll get a perfectly done, juicy, white meat all the way through pork chop.
And man oh man were those things good!!!!

And on that note, I'm out of here. Headed to Cades Cove to do some dutch oven cooking with my mom at their camp site.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Leftovers for lunch

I think my coworkers might hate me when I warm up leftovers like this leftover smoked chicken for lunch. Especially when I do it at 11:30.

But it was oh so good!

I smoked a 5lb chicken (I know, huge right?) last night using my normal routine. It was delicious!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fourth of "Que-ly" Weekend Pt 2

I decided to go a bit old school and break out the old Brinkmann Offset smoker. Yeah I know, I "cheated on" the Big Green Egg, can ya believe it? I even used the first coal I ever used, Kingsford blue bag. Here it is set up out on the drive way, since I have an aversion to transferring hot coals on a wooded deck.
Two tips:
If you need extra capacity in your smoker, consider making a raised grid. The Naked Whiz tells you how to make one for a Big Green Egg or other round cooker here (scroll down to #45). I did basically the same thing but used a rectangular cooking grate.Fire control
With the Egg, I can cook 18 hours easily on one load of lump but in a less efficient cooker like the offset, it requires a bit more strategy, planning, and work to get even a 4-6 hour cook. Most smokers use the "Minion Method" to get a longer cook out of your first batch of fuel. You load your firebox with coal except leaving room for air intake (see left side of picture) and a gap where the hot coals will go (see the whole on the right).When you pour a chimney starter full of hot coals into the gap, they provide the initial heat and as they slowly burn out, the new coals start burning. This gives a nice slow, controlled burn. I got about 4 hours at 250f from this batch. You can read more about the Minion Method here.

There was just the four of us eating here yesterday night, so I made a rack of St. Louis trimmed spare ribs, a rack of baby backs, and some ABT's. I did one half of each using Billy Bones Original mixed with his XXX Cherry Rub. I did the other half trying out Chris Lilly's recipe for Memphis Dry Rub Ribs.

The ABT's were great, as always. We used Plumrose Peppered Maple Bacon which gets two thumbs up from me. Nice thick cuts and a nice blend of sweet and heat. I'd recommend this bacon.The dry ribs had great seasoning except I thought that they tasted a bit salty.The loin backs were "extra meaty" at 3 1/2 lbs (true baby backs are 1.75 lbs and under) and hmmmmm also a bit salty.The Billy Bones ribs came out good, I think in part due to the sweet glaze we used on them.Unfortunately it later dawned on me looking at pictures this morning that both packages of ribs were labeled "tender and juiciness improved with up to a 12% deep basted solution". That would explain the saltiness. (Then again, it also takes credit for the great smoke ring I got, to the bone....the brines are full of nitrates, which is what gives hot dogs their reddish color)Final Tip
The big duh: Avoid ribs with labels like that or "enhanced" or "brined". Sure, they are juicy but often end up salty and tasting more like ham than rib once cooked. It also means you are getting 12% less than you are paying for per pound. I knew this, but Alexis bought what was available at the store. Next time I'd pick something else instead of settling for these.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fourth of "Que-ly" Weekend

The air conditioning company came out to replace our air conditioner at 8 this morning. I figured if I was going to be up, I might as well start cooking. I smoked a 3 lb chuck roast to have for sandwiches whenever this weekend and a 1 lb fattie (smoked breakfast sausage) to go with some french toast (Sorry, Brandi.....I know you wanted to be here!)

The chuckie nicely rubbed with my cajun beef rub.
Rubbing the fattie with a 50/50 mix of Billy Bones Competition and XXX Cherry rubs.
Do you have blue skies and shade in your kitchen?
Look at the smoke ring on that fattie. This doesn't even taste like the same meat as pan fried sausage.
The beef chuck roast had a nice smoke ring too and great flavor but it wasn't as tender as usual. Oh well.
It still made for great sammiches!