Saturday, December 27, 2014

Product Review: Kick Ash Basket

So you got a Visa gift card for Christmas and it's burning a hole in your pocket?  If you use a kamado style grill, the Kick Ash Basket might be just the ticket.

kamado grill, Big Green Egg, Big Green Egg table

I have to admit something up front.  I almost didn't accept this product review because I had seen this accessory online and I had some preformed notions about it before ever seeing it in person**.  I thought it was a solution to a problem that wasn't really a problem.  I thought it was a little silly, I mean, how hard is it to stir your ash?  

My BBQ teammate and neighbor, John, echoed those thoughts when we first got it. For three months we have heavily used the Kick Ash Basket for low and slow BBQ, hot and fast grilling, and even the extreme high temps of pizza cooks.  In that process, our skeptical (i.e. prejudiced) minds have been changed.

Charcoal Baskets
While relatively new in the kamado world, the Kick Ash Basket is actually not a new concept in the barbecue world.  Charcoal baskets are pretty common for ugly drum smokers (aka "UDS" - homemade rigs made from 55 gallon drums) and offset smokers. They are used for preventing air flow problems and for easier refueling. They are most often made with expanded metal and maybe some metal edges, like this one from my Pit Barrel Cooker

Charcoal basket from my Pit Barrel Cooker (UDS style smoker)

The nicer models have baffles to make the fire burn in a pattern (called a snake, wick, or fuse burn) instead of the coal all catching fire at once.  This gives a longer burn and more temperature control.  Here is a typical coal basket for a nice offset smoker.

Quality charcoal basket ($155) for an offset smoker.  Photo credit: Gator Pits of Texas

But for some reason, this idea never caught on with the kamado grilling crowd.  Perhaps it is because kamados can go 20+ hours on a batch of coal whereas UDS have to be refueled every 10-12 hours and some charcoal pits every 4-8 hours.

Back in 2009, creator Chad Romzek, was bumping into the typical learning curve issues on his first kamado grill - a Grill Dome.  He thought there had to be a better way and came up with this.

The Product
The Kick Ash Basket is such a charcoal basket but made specifically for kamado style grills.  They are made from raw American steel and come in three shapes/sizes to accommodate almost any standard kamado (Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, some Primo, Vision Grills, etc). 

Grill Dome, Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg, Vision, Primo

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Smoked A Few Beef Briskets On The Kamado Grill

I've smoked a bunch of briskets lately and I'm smoking another one tonight for Alexis' office party on Christmas Eve.  This isn't going to be a recipe post, just some random thoughts and notes for my BBQ friends.  Also, excuse the photographs as most of these are mobile phone pictures taken on the fly.

Since I have been smoking so many briskets, I have had some leftovers.  Here is a quickie that I made this weekend - beef brisket sliders with crispy fried "tobacco onions" and au jus.  There is no tobacco in them, they are said to resemble strings of tobacco.

I warm up slices of brisket in the leftover au jus over low heat.  This is the best way to warm leftover brisket up - low, slow, and juicy.  If you heat brisket up fast (microwave, high temps), it is going to dry out before it finishes warming up.  Plus, this way pieces of the beef and seasoning fall off into the au jus making what the Louisana folk call "debris" - the ultimate dipping au jus.  The "tobacco onions" are just thin sliced onion dusted with flour, garlic pepper seasoning, and Creole seasoning and deep fried.  Flat out awesome, leftovers are a good thing.

I used to not be able to get a decent smoke ring on my brisket when I cook them on my ceramic kamado grill (Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Primo, Kamado Joe, Vision, etc).  They still tasted great but when it came to appearance, they just couldn't compete with the smoke rings we'd get when we smoked them on our wood fired trailer pit.  But with just these few changes, lately I have been getting noticeable smoke rings to go with our tasty and tender brisket.

Our Thanksgiving main course was reverse seared ribeyes (left), smoked brisket (middle), and grilled NY strip steaks.  Notice the smoke ring on that brisket.  I never used to get that pronounced of one unless it was from our offset trailer pit.

  1. Low at first, even if hot and fast later - I have found that regardless of low and slow or hot and fast, I still get a good smoke ring if I keep my kamado cooking temp at the grate level around 210-215°F for the first two hours.  When I start off at a dome temp of 250°F or higher from the beginning, it still tastes smoked but the smoke ring isn't as pronounced.
  2. Moisture - kamado grills deliver juicy meat but to get "dat smoke ring", the air in the cooker needs to have moisture to help the nitrogen dioxide in the smoke change into a nitrite compound that will react with the myoglobin in the meat - stabilizing it as pink - while the rest of the meat browns from cooking [Horribly paraphrased from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, but excellent book, highly recommended].  So instead of just putting a drip pan in there to protect my plate setter from the drippings, I fill the drip pan with liquid.
  3. Coarse rub - not sure how it is involved yet, but I notice that when I use my normal beef rub finely ground, I don't get the same ring that I have been getting from when I just crush the black peppercorn, green peppercorn, dried garlic, dried onion, and dried red and green bell pepper - then add the salt.  The coarse texture reminds me of how the spices look for a corned beef, so maybe there is a little curing going on too.  I'm not cheating and adding any curing salts.
  4. Triangle wood burn -  I used to use wood chunks or chips but once had to use small split logs from my stick burner only because I was out of chunks.  Got a great smoke ring so I have been doing this set up ever since.  
I haven't played with this enough to determine whether it is one of these things, a blend of a few, or a combination of all four.

For the triangle wood set up, I put in three 13-15" log splits in like pictured below.  I try to rest the top end right where the firebox and fire ring meet on a Big Green Egg or just above the air holes on kamados with a single piece fire bowl/ring, for example, a Vision Classic. Then I fill in around and over it with coal.  John and I think it might have something to do with getting a steady long burn although if you are mixing up the same quantity of wood chunks in with your coal, you should get the same result in theory.  Whatever, this works so I'm sticking with it.

smoking kamado, smoking BGE, how to use wood in a kamado

Tuning Plate - Part II 
I mentioned in a previous post that I am experimenting with a tuning plate on the kamado grill, much like stick burners use to even out hot spots.  The Big Green Egg and other kamados heat relatively evenly, but there are open spots around the plate setter or heat diffuser that allow radiant heat to come straight up and hit any meat directly above those gaps.  It's a real pain with ribs or brisket where the ends have to go over these spots.

All of the heat from the fire box below has to come up through these gaps as pictured by the red arrow.

So to block those gaps, I made a tuning plate out of a 16" pizza pan that fits above my plate setter and drip pan like this.

another crappy mobile phone picture....

This way some of the heat and smoke is deflected outwards, some is deflected towards the middle where it can come up through the holes.  It doesn't block anything - it just redirects.  From the side, the set up looks like this.

I used three bolts as legs to hold the pizza pan above the drip pan.

It works with a plate setter and a Craycort Cast Iron grate system.

It also works with a cast iron plate setter and a standard grate.
So when all of this is put into the kamado grill, it still has plenty of room for air to circulate.  The drippings that fall onto the tuning plate pretty much drip down into the drip pan below.  The few drips that don't drip down harden and are easy to knock off with the grill brush scraper.

So is a tuning plate for a kamado grill necessary?  No but it is definitely an improvement when indirect cooking large cuts of meat that hang over the gaps, in my opinion.  No charred ends. Total cost was less than $10.

Like most everyone, I trim the fat cap down to 1/4" or less.  On the other side, I also cut out as much of the hard fat between the point and flat that I can get to.  A flexible, sharp boning knife helps.

trimming beef brisket
If this was competition, you would clean up the sides too but this is an eatin' brisket.

I use a slather to help the spice rub adhere to the brisket.  Sometimes I'll just use the injection liquid that leaks after injecting and rub it all over before seasoning.  

rubbed brisket, brisket dry rub

Sometimes I'll use a quality, highly seasoned mustard like El Dorado Mustard (The Mustard that Bites Back!).  

slathered and rubbed brisket

Other times I use Chris Lilly's method (Fantastic book - get it if you don't have it) which is a paste of beef bouillon or beef base mixed with Worcestershire sauce.

Notice the gap towards the top - that is where I cut out the hard fat between the point and flat.

kamado beef brisket
This was one before using the tuning plate.  Look at how much of the brisket is over the gaps.

Briskets shrink up a lot when you cook them.  Don't panic if they are almost too big to start with.  This is the same brisket as the picture above this one, just later in the cook.

brisket kamado grill dome, kamado joe brisket, primo brisket
A different brisket.

Brisket hiding out in the smoke.
The last brisket I did was for our office Christmas party and the theme was "come as you are" so everyone wore pajamas.  I found the goofiest PJ's I could, a great big onesie.  Here I am slicing brisket on the meeting table in my office.

Too hilarious not to post this.

brisket big green egg
The only thing different between this brisket and the Thanksgiving one posted earlier was that this one started off cooking at 250°F while the other was 215°F.  Notice that this smoke ring is okay but not as defined as the Thanksgiving one.

Warming up the leftover brisket - slow, gentle and moist is the way to go.

These were awesome leftovers!
Here are the meat logs from a few of my recent brisket cooks.  If you don't already take notes for your longer cooks, take a cue from Meathead at and start doing it now.  You will learn so much more by analyzing your various cooks and you can use them later as a reference.  

I thought the last one was interesting because you can see it stalled out lower (150's) and longer (hours) than the other two but at the end, the temp shot up 50 degrees in two hours.  (I slept through a data point which is why there is a gap.)  Just goes to show, every cook can be a little different and that BBQ is ready, when it is ready.

Gotta run....I have got that 12.6 lb brisket waiting in the fridge.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

A popular way to make "oven fried chicken" includes using a mayonnaise slather on the chicken.  The mayonnaise does a few things, such as; 
  1. acts as a binder to hold other ingredients on the meat,
  2. provides a tangy flavor similar to buttermilk marinated chicken, and
  3. it helps keep the chicken moist.
Typically those recipes go for an Italian seasoned chicken but I thought it would be good to take it in a Southwestern direction by adding Mexican crema, Cotija cheese, oregano, cilantro, and red chile flake instead.  As it turns out, this is the closest thing I have come to crispy "fried chicken" on my kamado style grills.  I was just using the Big Green Egg as a brick oven, so you could just as easily make this in your oven.

fried chicken breast, Southwestern chicken, Tex-Mex chicken

The cotija cheese and Mexican Crema used to be a little difficult to find but now most grocery stores stock these in their refrigerated Latin food section or dairy department.  Cotija is salty and nutty, similar to Parmesan and you could substitute that in a pinch.  The crema could be substituted with either sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt.  If you are a cilantro-phobe, you can simply replace it with dried parsley.

Southwestern Cotija Crusted Chicken Breasts

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fire Roasted Chicken with Whiskey BBQ Sauce

You can pick up a BBQ rotisserie chicken for just a few bucks at most grocery stores now.  While they are convenient when you are on the run, they sure don't taste as good as ones that you make yourself. Hand made the hard way just tastes better.

barbecue chicken plate,

This recipe comes from Adam Perry Lang .  APL is a restauranteur, a classically trained chef, celebrity pitmaster for the Jimmy Kimmel show, and the author of highly acclaimed BBQ books, such as; Serious BBQ, BBQ25, and Charred and Scruffed.

I own all three and would highly recommend any or all of them. 

My hands-on cooking style (called "fussy" by my wife) is heavily influenced by these three books. Adam calls it "active grilling" and I like that term better. 

Adam is on a tour across the country with George Dickel celebrating American craftsmanship - things hand made the hard way like George Dickel whiskey crafted here in Tennessee. I recently had the opportunity to interview both Adam and Doug Kragel, Master of Whiskey, about BBQ and Tennessee whiskey.

In addition to the interview, Adam shared these two recipes for a hand made rub and sauce.

Making a rub from whole spices like this is an extra step or two but it unleashes a flavor that you can't get from pre-ground spices and herbs.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

BBQ Event: 2014 Pensacola Eggfest

Earlier this month we wrapped up 2014 with our final BBQ trip of the year at the Pensacola Eggfest, where we were invited as Guest Judges.  I don't think we could have ended the year on a more positive note.

Eggfest, big green egg

This Eggfest is sponsored by Kia Autosport of Pensacola and the proceeds go to Chain Reaction, a civic organization who's mission is to develop teenagers' leadership, character, and skills through volunteerism.  I can't say enough about the people we met that were a part of this amazing organization.  Their enthusiasm, spirit, and sense of civic pride was obvious in this event.

When is a better time to throw a BBQ event in sunny Florida than in November when gloomy grey skies and the first ice storms are crawling across the country? 

Sign reads:  "No Beach Setup - walk thru only.  Enforced"   I do not think that word means what you think it means...

We stayed on the Old River side of Perdido Key.

The event was held at the absolutely gorgeous Pensacola Bayfront Stadium - an amazing venue.  The cook teams were stationed around the wide walkway that wraps around most of the stadium.  It was an ideal set up for crowd flow.

I was super excited to have my sister, Rhonda (left), attend with us.  She's been an Egghead for a couple of years but this was her first Eggfest.

Moe Cason (BBQ Pitmasters, Ponderosa BBQ) gave a brisket class before the event.

I had a good time talking with Ivan D about the Smokin' In The Square BBQ Cook off that is a KCBS event in Florida in March.  It is a great early season contest in Florida - perfect way to kick off your competition season.  Sign up now!.

While I had Ivan distracted, my sister tried to "run off" with one of the trophies for this year's Smokin' on the Square.

I finally got to meet one of my online colleagues - Big Green Craig.  In addition to judging the event together, we also had a fun time together at dinner that night with our families.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

El Diablo Onion Rings

We wanted some pub style food for the weekend games so I decided to make some ribs and onion rings this weekend.  Is there anything more "pubby" than beer battered onion rings?

El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe

I made the ribs using the Apple Cider Ribs recipe from Chris Lilly's 2014 book, Fire & Smoke.  It's a great book and it would be a good present for the griller on your shopping list.

As much as I tout the advantages of the kamado grill (Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Grill Dome, Primo, Vision, Etc), there is one thing that bugs me when cooking ribs on them.  With the indirect set up using a plate setter/heat diffuser, the end of the ribs stick out over the gaps which are hot spots noted by the red arrow in the picture below.  This means those parts of the rib will cook faster and unevenly.

Plate setter gap
Sorry about the mobile phone picture.  Red arrow points out the gaps where you have hot spots while grilling indirect using a plate setter.

I thought I would try to do something about that this time.  I used a 16" pizza pan ($5.49 at Gordon Food Services) and drilled holes in it.  I placed this 1" above the plate setter.  The pan edges help deflect the heat from those hot spots so the heat can't just come straight up and hit the food.  The holes give the hot air somewhere to go besides just around the edges of the pan, otherwise I'm just pushing the hotspots out a little further.  

Big Green Egg tuning plate, kamado indirect

This worked pretty well at tuning down the hot spots just like using tuning plates on a stick burning, offset smoker. This isn't something that you have to have, I just think it makes a great grill work just a little bit better.

kamado ribs, big green egg ribs, grill dome ribs
These loin back ribs were HUGE, weren't they?  I prefer true baby backs (2 1/4 lbs and down) but these were all that we could find at the time.

It worked well enough that I'm going to play around with that design some and make a better version with legs built in and the holes drilled symmetrically once I find the best pattern.

bbq ribs
More mobile phone pictures - sorry 'bout that.

The onion rings were an idea I had back when we did the tailgate party but I nixed them from the list because our deep fryer had kicked the bucket.  I thought that adding one of the El Diablo Mustard varieties to my onion ring batter would spice things up a bit.  This recipe is mild as written, to increase the heat to medium just increase the mustard to 1/2 cup.  For hot, add in some of your favorite hot sauce.

El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe

El Diablo Onion Rings

  • 4 large Vidalia onions, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rings
  • oil for deep frying
 For the batter
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white corn meal
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 3/4 cup light beer (American style lager)
  • 1/4 cup El Diablo Chipotle Mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons oil

  1. Mix together the dry batter ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Whisk the wet batter ingredients and then whisk that into the dry ingredients until combined in a smooth batter. 
  2. Heat your deep fryer or oil in a Dutch oven to 375°F.  When deep frying, always follow manufacturer's instructions, use personal protective equipment, and ideally have a Class K fire extinguisher available.
  3. Dip 5-6 onion slices into the batter, shake off the excess batter and lower into the hot oil.  Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 1 minute, and then use a long utensil to flip them.  Cook the second side until golden brown, about half the time that the first side took.
  4. Remove to a resting rack over paper towels.  Lightly season with fine salt.  Keep warm in a 200°F oven*.
  5. Repeat with remaining onion slices until all are cooked.
*The ignition point of paper is about 451°F so the paper towels should not ignite in a 200°F oven but I would only do this since I am near the oven the whole time and it will only be in the oven for about 10-15 minutes total. 

You can use types of onion other than Vidalia, I just like their sweet taste and meaty rings.

This is just the wet ingredients - look at all of that seasoning from the El Diablo mustard.  If substituting a different type, look for one loaded with visible seasonings, not plain yellow or dijon.

I stumbled on to this but a straight carving fork is perfect for handling the onion rings in and out of the batter as well as in the hot oil.

El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe
Notice the texture of the batter - that's where you want it.  If it is too thick, just add a beer 1-2 tablespoons at a time until you get the consistency like this.
Excuse the blurry picture but I was holding this as I took the shot and was paying more attention to keeping my hand out of the 375°F oil.   To keep the onion ring from sticking to the basket, hold each ring like this for about 3 seconds to let it start cooking before letting go all of the way.  

El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe
The color is your guide of when to flip and remove the onion rings more than time.  Also, give your oil a chance to recover its cooking temperature between batches.  You definitely don't want the oil dropping below 350°F. 

El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe
It is best to season fried foods as soon as they come out of the oil so keep doing it in small batches.  Don't wait until the end to season them all at once.
El Diablo Onion Ring Recipe, BBQ side dish, deep fryer recipe

Honestly, I ate more onion rings than I did ribs.