Tuesday, July 28, 2015

King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese

We are cooking a lot of high carb meals this week because it's football camp for Trevor's high school.  That means 5 hours per day of weights, running, hitting, and running some more, so he needs lots of calories.  

I saw this recipe in Southern Living and thought it would be perfect.  First it is part mac and cheese, which Trevor loves.  The second part is King Ranch chicken - a cheesy, gooey, and comforting Tex-Mex casserole.  The two together had to be a winner, right?  The added benefit is that this recipe only requires 20 minutes hands on.

casserole, big green egg casserole, kamado casserole

I made a few changes of course, the first being that I cooked it on my Grill Dome kamado grill.  I also did it in one skillet instead of two dishes like the recipe called for.  I wanted mine to be a little more "Tex-Mexy" (...."Tex-Mexish"?) so I used Mexican crema for sour cream and added some of my fajita dry rub. 

Instead of cheddar, I used Queso Chihuahua with Jalapeno for a bit more kick.  Chihuahua cheese is a mild, moderately soft cows milk cheese that melts nicely, making it ideal for cheese sauces like fundido.  I already knew that, but what I did not know is that, according to Cheese.com, it was originally made by Mennonites, which is why it also goes by Menonita.  If you can't find Chihuahua cheese, you can substitute a pepper jack cheese.

King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese

  • 8 ounces cavatappi pasta, cooked according to directions
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil or other high temp cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fajita or taco seasoning
  • 10 ounce can RoTel
  • 8 ounces Velveeta, cubed
  • 3 cups cooked chicken
  • 10 3/4 ounce cream of chicken condensed soup
  • 3/4 cup Mexican crema
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 cups Chihuahua with jalapeno cheese, shredded (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Cotija cheese for topping (optional)

  1. Preheat your kamado grill to 325°F. Initially it should be set up for direct heat with a regular cooking grate set on the top of the fire ring.
  2. Once the grill is preheated, place a large, grill safe skillet on the grate and let it preheat for 5 minutes with the grill lid closed.  
  3. Add the butter and oil to the skillet.  Saute the onion and peppers for 5 minutes.  Season with the fajita or taco seasoning and continue cooking until tender, another 1-3 minutes.  
  4. Stir in the RoTel and Velveeta and cook, stirring frequently, until the Velveeta melts, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the chicken, soup, crema, chili powder, cumin, and about half of the shredded cheese.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and panko bread crumbs.
  5. Switch the kamado to indirect heat (see pictures) and place the skillet on the Grill Extender or other raised rack.  Bake at 350°F until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly, about 40 minutes.  
  6. Remove and serve topped with Cotija cheese if desired.  
mise en place, Southern Living, Grill Dome recipes
Mise en place - this recipe goes pretty quickly so have everything ready.

skillet on Grill Dome, skillet on kamado, skillet on Big Green Egg,
I used a 13" cast iron skillet but you could use a deep 10-12 inch skillet, a Dutch oven, or stoneware casserole dishes.

Kamado grill lower vent, controlling temps Grill Dome, controlling temps Big Green Egg
When frequently opening your grill lid for kamado grills, your cooking temp will rise because you're letting more air in.  Cut your bottom vent to about half of what you normally would have it set for 350°F.  This will help keep your temps from getting away from you.

Cooking over coals adds more flavor than cooking stove top.
Here are some tips for "stove top cooking" (saute, stir fry, etc) on your kamado grill. The frequent opening of the lid can let too much coal to ignite but these simple steps will make it no problem.

  1. Start with a lower temp then your desired cooking temperature as it will get hotter every time you open the grill.
  2. Close down the lower vent while you have the grill lid open.  Just don't forget to open it back up when you close the lid.
  3. Keep the lid closed as much as possible
  4. Burp frequently.  It's easy when frequently opening and closing your kamado to create conditions (heat, fuel, limited oxygen) for a back flash.  "Burp" your kamado by slightly opening and closing the lid a few times quickly to re-introduce air to the equation. 

Grill Dome indirect, Big Green Egg indirect, Vision Grill indirect, Primo indirect, kamado grill indirect set up
Here is the indirect set up for the Grill Dome - Indirect Rack, stone, and Grill Extender.

Grill Dome thermometer
Once you are finished sauteing and are ready to bake, your grill should be close to 350°F.

Indirect set up for Grill Dome, kamado indirect set up
The reason for putting the casserole higher up in the grill is to harness the power of the Grill Dome's great ceramics.  The heat reflects down off of the Grill Dome's dome and browns the top evenly.  This also keeps the bottom from burning.

This one is a winner and we'll make it again.  I held off on adding a chopped chipotle because I didn't want this to be too spicy but next time I'll throw that in too.

This is also my last cook having to cook out front.  The weather finally cooperated and we got to finish pressure washing, sanding, and staining our deck. 

Now it will be grilling on the back deck, the way that nature intended! ;)

[Standard FTC Disclosure]
  We are proud to have Grill Dome as our kamado sponsor! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

BBQ Tools - Idea for a Grilling Gear Box

People that have to travel a lot often keep a "go bag", a bag of essentials that is always ready to go at a minute's notice.  I keep a "go box" of my essential grilling gear for BBQ competitions, grilling demonstrations, and offsite cooking.

Setting up for Fire Day Friday at lunch this week.  My Director and I surprised our staff with burgers, smoked sausages, homemade ice cream and the usual accompaniments.

Each time my "go box" has shown up in my social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), people have asked about it so I thought I would do a quick post about it.

Grill Dome, Bostitch tool box, grilling gear box, grilling tools, bbq tools
Loaded up for heading to the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival in Tryon, NC last month.  As Molly H noted, it color coordinates with the Grill Dome charcoal bag.  That was unintentional but cool.

Alexis bought this for me this year when we were having competitions and events every weekend for months on end.  It is a Bostitch toolbox she bought on Amazon that currently runs about $80.  It may be just a tool box but if I didn't know better, I'd swear that Bostitch made it specifically for grilling tools.

It has a top loading tool box, two pull drawers, and a tilt bin on the bottom.  It's made out of plastic, which might not be ideal for carrying heavy duty shop tools but it is perfect for carrying grilling tools because it is grease resistant and easy to clean/sanitize.  

Grilling tool box, grilling gear box
One of my favorite features is that it is modular so it can break down like this.  This makes it easier to fit into your vehicle when traveling.  It is great for cooking because these fit nicely on top of the tables in our trailer for easy and frequent access.

The top box is for general stuff like my remote probe thermometers (stacked 3 high), twine, extra kamado thermometers, measuring cups/spoons, extra temp probes, extra injector, poultry sheers, knife sharpener, floral wire, and more stuff.  Floral wire?  It comes in super handy for securing things in place, clearing clogged injector needles, and 101 uses.

Thermapen, Thermoworks, TimeStick, Char-Broil
Electronics drawer
I keep most of my electronics in the second drawer, plus pencils and a sharpie or two.  You can never have too many sharpies, right?  Electronics include
  • Couple of instant read thermometers (Thermapen, Thermoworks, Char-Broil)
  • TimeStick timers
  • mini flashlights, worth their weight in gold for overnight cooks
  • Internet - I always like to bring my wifi hot spot so our team has internet for devices.

I use the next drawer for a box of nitrile food gloves, silicone gloves for handling hot food, and welding gloves for handing hot metal and ceramics.

I use the bottom tilt bin for my spices and rubs.  It is over a foot deep so it holds even larger containers.  I always have the basics (salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne) and then jars of my own rubs, commercial rubs, and injection mixes.  Being a foot deep, this bin would be useful for lots of things. 

One of my favorite features is these two slots on the back.  Seems like they were MADE with long handled grilling tools in mind.  Plus they have bungee straps to hold the tools in place when driving.

It has a telescoping handle and 7 inch wheels so you can either roll it or pick it up by the top tool box handle and carry it.  

Since I got this gear box, it has proven useful time and time again.  Organization is huge for cooking off-site and this has helped me immensely because I can be "organizationally challenged".  I try to use it every time I cook at home - that way if I frequently need something, it's in the box, whether I am at home or away.

So that's my "go box".  What do you use for your "go bag/box" and what's in it?

[FTC Standard Disclosure]  We paid full price for this tool box and received no compensation for this post, we just like it.  That Amazon link is an affiliate link, so I might make a whole $0.37 if someone buys this through Amazon.  You can also cut out my $0.37 and buy it a Lowe's under the Stanley brand.  Actually, that's a few bucks cheaper as of today and you won't have to wait for it to arrive.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Chicken Fajita Bowls

Here's a post from my neighbor and BBQ teammate, John Makela, about one of their favorite dishes.  He apologized for "the pictures not being up to your usual pictures" but hey, this is how real people eat - not everyone likes to sit around taking 72 shots from every angle while the food gets cold.

One of the things that I like about John's process is that is uses the "grill once, eat twice" strategy.  A little bit of prep work on Sunday feeds them quick meals for the first few days of the week.  And now, here's John's fajita bowls recipe.       

Grill Dome Chicken Fajita Bowls

This is absolutely one of my wife’s and my favorite dinners.  We own a small business and staff Monday and Tuesday evenings until 7 PM.  I sure don’t want to cook when we get home so I make the chicken and boil the rice on a Sunday and we now have a very tasty dinner for the next 2 or 3 nights with very little effort or time required.

easy meals, easy recipe, make ahead recipe

This is, as is any recipe, only a guideline feel free to substitute flavors that suit your tastes better.  This is for two people and will make dinner for 2-3 nights, so it's about 6 servings.

Grill Dome Chicken Fajita Bowls

  • 18 oz Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts or Thigh Meat trimmed
  • 1 ½ Cups Dry Brown Rice (measured before boiling)
  • 14 oz Can Black Beans (may need a second)
  • 14 oz Can Diced Tomatoes with Jalapenos (sub Rotel) (may need a second)
  • 1   Ripe Avocado Diced  (more is okay too)
  • 1   Fresh Tomato Diced (can use more)
  • Some diced sweet onions
  • Diced pickled jalapenos
  • 8 oz package Sargento sharp cheddar cheese or equivalent.
  • Cilantro for garnish (not on my bowl)
  • Rub for Chicken (we use commercial rubs that feature sweet heat)
  • Digital scale to weigh the salt

For the Chicken Brine:

  • 1 Liter Purified water
  • 35 Grams Kosher Salt (this makes a 3.5% brine solution)
  • 3-4 oz of your favorite marinade (We like World Harbors Fajita Marinade)
  • 3-4 good dashes of Tabasco or Sriracha sauce

Day Before the Meal

  1. Trim any excess fat off the meat.  
  2. Make your brine, we like a lower sodium solution and shoot for a 3 ½ percent solution; you can go as high as 9% (which would be 90 grams salt per liter of water) we think that is a bit too salty and you need to rinse your meat when it comes out of that brine.  Add 3-4 ounces of your preferred marinade and 3-4 good dashes of your favorite hot sauce; this can be omitted if you do not like spicy heat.  Put the solution in a gallon zip bag and cool the brine solution.  We place it in the freezer for 30-40 minutes and that seems good.  
  3. Place the chicken in the brine.  Burp as much air as possible from the bag and leave refrigerated for 2-4 hours.
  4. Set up your Grill Dome cooker (or similar) for indirect cooking and preheat grill to 350-400 degrees.  Pull Chicken from the brine and rub both sides of the chicken with your favorite rub.  We usually use two different rubs, one for each side.  In this instance we used Sweet Georgia Heat and Simply Marvelous Pecan rubs.  Add a small amount of smoke wood to your cooker (we like cherry, apple or pecan).  Place chicken on grid and cook until 160 degree internal on breasts and 180 degrees for thighs.  Pull chicken when done and let rest for a few minutes.  Then dice the chicken and place in a container to store in the refrigerator.  Place cooked rice in refrigerator.
  5. Boil your rice while the chicken is cooking.

Meal Day(s):
  1. Dice your avocado, dice your tomatoes, and dice your onions.  Open can of black beans and Rotel, combine in pot and heat.  Remove your chicken and rice and cheese from the refrigerator.  
  2. Grab a good size bowl and assemble your dinner.  We go layer of rice, then chicken then cover with beans/rotel mixture.  We then heat slightly in microwave since the rice and chicken were cold.  Then shredded cheese (this allows it to melt slightly).  Top with onions, avocado, tomatoes and diced jalapenos.  Enjoy! And repeat for day two and three.
chicken brine, fajita brine, chicken fajitas
Ingredients for the brine solution

Weighing the salt, yep this will be 3.5%.

Chicken in the brine bag, ready to head into the fridge.

Chicken ready to be rubbed.

chicken rubbed, fajita chicken
Rubbed and happy.

kamado fajita chicken
Grill looks ready, time to cook 'em up.

Finished dicing, time for the fridge.

Kroger products, fresh tomatoes
The rest of the ingredients.  The tomatoes are from our garden.

Just need to add the final toppings.
Ready - hold the cilantro on mine.
prep ahead meal, prep ahead recipe, easy recipe, weeknight recipe

Chris' $.02
John makes a great point about weighing your salt for the brine, that is the better way to do it for accuracy reasons.  I use about 2 tablespoons per quart of water but that is a volume measurement and it will vary by the size of your salt grains.  Also, if you want to make your own fajita rub, here is link to my NMT Fajita Dry Rub recipe.

Right now, I'm wishing that I had this available for dinner tonight.  I beat John home from work on Mondays and Tuesdays - I should sneak through his pet door and raid his fridge! 

Thanks, John, for another great post!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Brisket Sliders with Fried Avocado Stuffed Hatch Chile and a Giveaway

Here's another idea for using leftover BBQ brisket - a brisket slider topped with a deep fried Hatch chile that has been stuffed avocado and cheese.

pub food, leftover brisket, smoked brisket

While the brisket alone makes great sliders, this topping creates a slider that has mild heat, crispiness, and then a smooth cooling effect from the avocado and cheese.  Don't have any leftover brisket around?  Your local BBQ joint would probably be glad to sell you an extra pound or two!

But when we do BBQ competitions, I like to cook an extra Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brisket flat as a back up.  Sometimes I'll use the exact same recipe, other times I'll tweak the back up flat recipe and choose between the better versions.  This was my back up at the BBQ Bash in Maryville - an 8.4 pound flat.

bbq brisket, competition brisket
Getting ready to go onto the smoker.

After building our brisket turn in box and passing out samples to friends...

competition brisket
Sorry about the "potato quality" mobile phone picture.  I didn't take my camera to the contest.

We still had an entire flat to bring home, about 4 pounds worth.  Even after sitting in the fridge and reheating, it was still tender, smoky, and moist.  Here's a confession - I like brisket better after it has been reheated and becomes fall apart tender.  I know that's over done and I don't like my ribs that way but crumbled up brisket on a taco or slider?  I'm all in.

bbq brisket, kamado brisket, big green egg brisket
Tasty even when reheated a few days later...

I wanted something a little different, something that you might get at your favorite watering hole.  I surfed the freezer and found a package of Hatch chiles from last season, inspiring these pub style sliders.

Cut the chiles in half and de-seeded them. Typical triple dip of seasoned flour, eggwash, bread crumbs.

Hatch chile for deep frying
I used a quarter chile, a half slice of avocado, a small piece of cream cheese, and a few pinches of fajita seasoning for each topper.

hatch chile for deep frying
The chiles can be tender so I double secured them with toothpicks.

hatch chiles
As soon as they come out of the fryer, hit them with some fine sea salt.

pub food, sliders, bar food, tailgaiting ideas
Served each with a slice of brisket, one topper, and a bit of au jus. 

These sliders were crazy good.  I'll admit it was a little bit of a pain making the toppers but they were worth it.

Certified Angus Beef - Steak Giveaway
Speaking of brisket, a few weeks ago I attended #GrillTalk at the Certified Angus Beef headquarters in Wooster, Ohio.  We learned about how beef is graded, why the CAB program yields better beef, we practiced breaking down primal cuts (shoulder, sirloin, etc), and discussed different cuts of beef for the grill.

Ashley Pado, CAB brisket
Chef Ashley Pado seasoning a CAB brisket as we discuss low and slow BBQ.

I am working on a post to share a good bit of what I learned at the Certified Angus Beef facilities but first I want to share this....

steak, giveaway,
Steak Giveaway!

The folks at Certified Angus Beef are generously giving away one of their Cattlemen's Premium Collection packs to one lucky reader, shipped to their door.  That collection includes:
  • four 12 oz CAB strip steaks, 
  • four 8 oz CAB filet mignon, and 
  • four 10 oz CAB ribeye steaks. 
How To Enter and Rules - CONTEST PERIOD CLOSED
  1. To enter, just leave a comment about your favorite cut of steak.  You can have a second entry for a tweet about this giveaway including my twitter handle @nibblemethis so I can find it.  NOTE:  If you are using the anonymous comment option, please make sure to leave a way to reach you (email,  forum user name, twitter etc) in case you win. 
  2. Giveaway entry period begins as soon as this is posted and ends July 19, 2015 at 11:59pm. Drawing will be held July 20, 2015 at noon (All times are Eastern Time zone).  Winner will be announced in an update to this post. 
  3. Comments & tweets will be numbered and random.org will generate a random number for the winner.
  4. Limited to residents of the continental United States unless you wish to pay the extra shipping charges.
  5. Certified Angus Beef is only sponsoring the prize package. I am hosting the giveaway and I am the final judge regarding any discrepancies, interpretations, grievances, etc about this drawing.
  6. Winner must respond to claim the prize within one week of the winning announcement and/or email contact. I do attempt to contact the winner directly if contact information is provided.  If a winner does not claim the prize during the specified time, a reserve winner will be drawn from the original entries.
In the mean time, check out Certified Angus Beef's website for recipes and inspiration for what you want to do if you win this amazing package of premium steaks!

Winner Announcement 
The random draw winner is Bailey Landreth.  Bailey, I have messaged you through a hangout on your Google+ account.  Please get back with me on your mailing address and I will get Certified Angus Beef to ship you your prize package.

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  I received the same package of steaks and an expenses paid trip to the Certified Angus Beef headquarters; however, I have been using CAB long before and any opinions given are strictly my own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

BBQ Competition - Blooming BBQ & Bluegrass - Sevierville

I am so far behind on posting wrap ups to some of our events.  May and June were killers with something going on almost every weekend, we barely had time to come up for air.  Here is the wrap up of our third KCBS competition - the Blooming BBQ and Bluegrass Festival in Sevierville, TN back in May.

We made two big changes this year.  First, we switched from cooking on the "Warthog" BBQ pit to cooking on kamado grills.  It just made sense to cook on what we know and we were thrilled to be sponsored by Grill Dome.  Second, after enduring heat and getting drenched at our first two contests, we got a concession trailer!  

It's a 7 x 16 tandem axle concession trailer by Freedom.  Why yes, that is an air conditioning unit on top!

Rather spartan inside but it is food safe ready with rubberized floors and metal walls/ceiling.  It is much bigger than it looks here.

Our home away from home.  You can't tell it from this shot but the service window has a stainless shelf.

We switched to cooking competitions on kamado grills because they are efficient (no reloading of coal), hold steady temps well in all kinds of weather, and produce excellent tasting food.  The one downside is that they are heavy to move and the ceramics inside can break.  So John and I spend a Saturday making shock absorbing crates for transportation. 

kamado crate, Grill Dome crate, Kamado Joe crate, Vision carrier, move kamado grill
Loaded up for the trip in their new "kamado karriers".

Big Green Egg carrier, kamado carrier, Grill Dome carrier, Kamado Joe carrier
In addition to the rubber floor of the trailer, we put a piece of 3/4" foam rubber below the kamado, a piece under the fire bowl, a piece under the fire ring, and pieces wedged around the kamado side to side.

KCBS contest, BBQ contest, Tennessee BBQ contest
It takes about 2 hours to set up our space but we're still figuring that out, we've changed for the better with each contest.

KCBS, BBQ contest, Tennessee,
That afternoon we had a little down time to walk around and check out our neighbors.

This is the Killer BBQ teams cooker.....yeah, it's a coffin.

KCBS Sevierville, KCBS Tennessee

One of our team banners

Our set up in the trailer was still primitive for this contest.  It's mostly 15 feet of tables with coolers, Cambros, and storage bins underneath. 

seasoning pork butt
John seasoning our pork butts after we injected.
 I must have had a thing for the clock tower as it kept showing up in pictures as day faded into night.

Once the crowds are gone, the contest settles down into quiet time.

building turn in boxes
Alexis building our blind boxes that will be used for turn ins.  The cans hold the lettuce in place as she builds.

John reseasoning the butts and briskets before they go onto the kamados in the wee hours of the morning.  The fans are there because we couldn't run the AC because we didn't order a 50 amp connection when we signed up (didn't have the trailer yet).

The sun comes up and finds the Grill Domes smoking along nicely.  I had the briskets in John's silver Grill Dome and the ribs in my blue one.

John prepping the chicken. 

My ribs smoking along.

John talking with folks about our kamados.

A part of being sponsored is talking to people about your smokers.  We get a LOT of conversations with folks.  I think we are more approachable than most other teams who are using big box rigs or trailer mounted smokers.  The Grill Domes that we compete with are the same grills that they can use in their backyard.  Their first question is "Is that a Big Green Egg?" and we go from there explaining about kamados.  We also cook on two other brands at the contest so they know they are getting our informed and honest opinions. 

chicken thighs, chicken turn in box, chicken blind box
Our chicken turn in box.
 I didn't get a picture of our rib box because I was too busy but I really wasn't too happy with our ribs.

Pork turn in box, a little too heavy on the sauce but scored well for appearance.

Brisket turn in.  We had two flats and one point.  One flat looked perfect but was dry.  The other was tender and good tasting but looked like ass.  Since appearance is weighted less, we went with the better tasting one.

So we went to the awards ceremony feeling that we weren't going to get any calls because we weren't too happy with our ribs or brisket.

We were AMAZED and excited to get 6th in ribs and 3rd in brisket - our first ever KCBS calls. All of a sudden all of the sleep deprivation and needing a shower didn't seem so bad.  Once again, the things we thought we did horribly on, scored the best.  Good times!

Fourth of July discount codes
If you need any grilling accessories or portable grills, I can get you 20% off for those purchases on Char-Broil's website between now and July 6, 2015.  Just use the coupon code B15NT4 when ordering.  

Happy and Safe 4th of July to everyone!  Fire up your grills and make someone happy.