Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Pitmaster - Recipes, Techniques, & BBQ Wisdom by Chris Hart and Andy Husbands

New BBQ book season is upon us and the first one we are reviewing for 2017 is a winner - Pitmaster by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart.  We received a complimentary electronic copy for review prior to the March 15, 2017 release date.  

I like to bring in other opinions than my own and brought Jeff Greene on to add his thoughts about this book.  Jeff shares our BBQ and grilling madness and runs the Twitter handle @Grill_Porn.  He came to Knoxville by way of South Carolina and loves cooking on his Big Green Egg.  He says he's "just a backyard and tailgate" guy but don't let his modesty fool you, he knows his way around a grill.

BBQ Cookbook review for Pitmaster 2017


Pitmaster - Recipes, Techniques, and BBQ Wisdom

Andy Husbands and Chris Hart
Fair Winds Press
$24.99
RELEASE DATE:  March 15, 2017 (available for pre-order now)

It's no surprise that this BBQ and Grilling book rocks because the two authors are well respected in the BBQ family/community/asylum and this is their 4th book.  Andy Husbands is the Chef at Tremont 647 and The Smoke Shop in Boston.  Chris Hart and Andy won a World Championship at the Jack Daniels Invitational in 2009.  Andy was on Season 6 of Hell's Kitchen and Chris was on BBQ Pitmasters and Chopped.  They know a lil' bit about the world of BBQ and grilling.


Physical Description

  • Available in hardcover and Kindle
  • 224 pages 
  • Hardcover is about 8 x 10 
Jeff's thoughts
“Pitmasters” is definitely a book I would buy if I saw it in the book store.  I love the overall look of book.  The layout seems well thought out and the pictures are very well done, and do a great job of adding to the overall experience.  I also really enjoyed getting to know more about the philosophies, approaches and histories of some of the more well-known pit masters, which I imagine why the book is titled the way it is.

Chris' thoughts
This book is an eye catcher with it's gorgeous cover photo of that amazing smoking beef rib.  I like the way they organized the book a bit differently into categories of Backyard, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, The North, and Competition.  The content is also not limited to recipes.  They share techniques and I was quite fond of the segments throughout the book talking to other pitmasters about their food and BBQ ideas.  


Recipes

For me, one barometer of a BBQ/grilling book on the first flip through is how many of those adhesive flags/tabs I used to mark recipes that I want to try.  This book was full of those eye catching "Oh, I've got to try that" type of recipes.  

They cover from the basics, such as pulled pork on a kamado grill and Memphis dry rub ribs to more advanced recipes like the competition style steak which applies flavoring in multiple layers.  Andy and Chris do a good job of breaking down the steps to make the recipes approachable, so even those new to grilling and BBQ can try these recipes.


Butcher Paper Brisket from the BBQ book - Pitmaster
Butcher Paper Brisket - I used a Certified Angus Beef brisket to use the first of two brisket recipes in the book.  The second one is their competition recipe that scored a perfect 180.  I was going to use my stick burner but the weather didn't cooperate so I smoked it on my Grilla Grills wood pellet cooker.  The simple seasonings of salt, pepper, and smoke lets the delicious beef shine through. 


Sweet and spicy rub for pork from the BBQ book Pitmaster
Everyday Sweet and Spicy Pork Rub - I made a batch of this rub. The blend of sugars gives it an up front sweetness that melds into smokiness (because I used smoked paprika) and finishes with a very mild heat. This is a good general purpose BBQ rub and gives a good color to butts, ribs, and chops.  That is a quart jar in the middle so this makes a good bit of rub. 


Pulled Pork for the Kamado cooker from the book - Pitmaster
Pulled Pork on a Kamado Style Cooker - Being a kamado guy, of course I did this recipe. It wasn't anything fancy and that's good sometimes.  Simply the Sweet and Spicy rub with a proper smoking and you've got great results.  I did a pair of butts on my Grill Dome with an Adjustable Rig set up and followed their recipe. I like both pulled and chopped pork, so I did half and half.  It is a solid recipe and I like the fact that they give you 2 different timelines, one cooking at 225°f and one at 275°f. 


Grilled porterhouse on GrillGrates
Competition Style Beef Ribeye - Steak competitions have taken off thanks to the Steak Cookoff Association.  This is Chris and Andy's version of a competition steak. I used a porterhouse steak instead of a ribeye and used Hard Core Carnivore Black instead of salt and pepper, but I did make the Umami Steak Sauce and Steak Finishing Butter. I also used the GrillGrates that they and seemingly most every SCA team uses. The sauce uses the umami power of concentrating portobello mushrooms, brisket au jus and more.   I cooked it on a small kamado grill and was very impressed with the results. 
Red Slaw, White Slaw - While we were making the pork butts, we made two of the slaw recipes from the book. The white slaw is a creamy slaw that you would expect at a BBQ joint or fish shack, you're probably used to that, but red slaw?  Red slaw is a signature dish from Lexington, North Carolina.  Instead of the typical mayo or vinegar base, red slaw uses a spicy tomato base. I don't like it by itself as much as I do vinegar and white slaws, but it is freaking awesome on a pulled pork sandwich.  

Western Style North Carolina Sauce - The first real BBQ I had in my life was smoked pork shoulder with a Piedmont sauce mixed in and that is what made me fall in love with BBQ at 7 years old. Unlike Eastern NC vinegar sauces, Piedmont style sauces have a light touch of ketchup and some sweetness added in, like this one.  This is pretty close to one of my treasured recipes that was handed down to me by my grandmother. 



Gold Sauce - Mustard based BBQ sauce is the hallmark of South Carolina.  Golden BBQ sauces are one of those things you either love or hate, I love them and this one is a good one. This recipe has the predominant mustard and vinegar kick with the slightest kiss of sweetness.  
Jeff is a South Carolina guy so I wasn't surprised that he also made the Gold Sauce when he cooked several recipes out of Pitmaster for his Superbowl menu. Here are his thoughts about the recipes he cooked from the book.


Jeff's Thoughts

I like how the authors intermixed their own recipes with those from the other pit masters that were included, many of which were fresh takes on traditional foods.  I am not sure how many cookbooks have taken this approach, but for me this is a new and novel way to write a cookbook that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I not only liked the thoughts of the pit masters that were sprinkled throughout but I also appreciated the differentiation of regions or styles of bbq.   It has everything from backyard to competition and hits most of the major bbq regions from New England to Texas.  I was saddened that South Carolina bbq was not included, but I may be a bit biased in that opinion being a palmetto state native.  Plus my experience from travelling “up north” is that there is little to no difference to New Englanders’ between the two Carolinas, but rather only one “Carolina” but I digress.


Gold Sauce - Being from South Carolina and having grown up on mustard based bbq sauces, I can say without a doubt the Gold Sauce recipe is legit.  This sauce has a wonderful balance of sweet tanginess on the front end and nice heat on the back end.  The only change I plan to make moving forward is to use a little less thyme, but this is a personal preference.  Gold Sauce is on par with many of the best “Carolina Honey Gold” mustard based sauces I have tried, as it is a bit sweeter than most mustard based sauces, but not so sweet that it detracts from the experience.     



Lexington Style Cheerwine Pork Shoulder - This is a nice take on smoking a pork shoulder.  I have cooked dozens of shoulders but have never used any of the “soda” injection recipes popular in some circles.  The injection had a very nice taste with a balance of sweet, heat, and vinegar bite.  I cooked the shoulder per the recipe although I generally smoke at lower temps than the 275-300 degrees that is called for.  This recipe only uses Kosher salt as a dry brine/rub, and calls for spraying the shoulder every hour with Cheerwine.  


This is a nice take on smoking a pork shoulder.  I have cooked dozens of shoulders but have never used any of the “soda” injection recipes popular in some circles.  The injection had a very nice taste with a balance of sweet, heat, and vinegar bite.  I cooked the shoulder per the recipe although I generally smoke at lower temps than the 275-300 degrees that is called for.  This recipe only uses Kosher salt as a dry brine/rub, and calls for spraying the shoulder every hour with Cheerwine.  

[Chris' thought on this - Around here, "pork shoulder" sold in the stores is usually just the picnic end of a whole shoulder and that looks like what Jeff had to work with.  When cut away from the other half (pork butt), these picnic shoulders are leaner and can dry out easier than when cooked as a whole shoulder.]


Cornbread with Butter, Honey, and Sea Salt - Oh my gosh this The Smoke Shop corn bread was a big hit at the SB party.  People could not get enough of it.  Being from the south and growing up on white and sugarless corn bread, I had in my mind that I was not going to like this recipe, but I could not have been more wrong, this was a very nice change of pace.  The cornbread itself was light and fluffy and it was all set off by the sugar crust.  I will say that the recipe was somewhat labor intensive, but it was worth the extra work.  As if it could get any better, when you add the sea salt and honey butter on the top it became even more delicious.   
Classic Macaroni and Cheese: The recipe was easy to make, and my wife and kids thought it was good.  If you are looking for a replacement for grandma’s Sunday dinner mac and cheese, this is not it.  However, it is billed as more or less a replacement for “shells and cheese” and it does quite well at this.  It could use a bit more nutmeg, but that is a personal preference.  


Chris' Favorite Pitmaster Recipe

My favorite recipe from Pitmaster was the City Ham recipe aka Canadian Bacon. We did the book's version and one of our own with bourbon and brown sugar.  Both were fantastic.
Making your own Canadian bacon saves a lot of cash. When we made this batch, it was selling for $0.43 per ounce.  Accounting for the Smithfield Prime Reserve pork loin, coal, and ingredients, we spent $0.20 per ounce.


Making Canadian Bacon with a Smithfield Prime Reserve pork loin
Tied off and ready to go into the smokers. Notice that I tied one (bottom) differently than the other two.  That was just for knowing which one is which.


Smoking Canadian Bacon on a Grilla wood pellet grill
I smoked one of the Pitmaster versions on my Grilla wood pellet cooker.  




Smoking Canadian Bacon on a Big Green Egg BGE using the Flame Boss 200 and a Thermoworks DOT
I did the other two on one of our Big Green Eggs. I had hickory and lump down below. Next was a spider, stone, and drip pan under an Adjustable Rig.  I had a lot going on this day so I went on auto-pilot and used the Flame Boss 200 controller to regulate the temperatures of my BGE.  I had a DOT remote probe thermometer in the second piece.  


Smoked Canadian Bacon made at home, recipe from the book Pitmaster
Great color on these hams and they smelled great.  I put them in one of our garage fridges for two days to let the smoke flavor balance through the hams. It's also easier to slice cold firm ham.



We started with a little over 9 pounds of pork loin and finished with over 8 pounds of finished bacon, so you don't lose much to shrinkage.  We vacuum seal most of this in 8 ounce packages and freeze them.

I burned out my last slicer years ago and have been hand slicing my bacon for the past year.  Alexis got me a new, more robust, slicer this month and I am thrilled with it.  It has a bigger 10" blade and a more powerful motor.  If you are considering a slicer, skip the cheap versions (I burned out two Waring Pro's) and spend the extra money to get a heavier duty slicer.  It doesn't have to be a commercial Hobart slicer but the $300 range will get you something decent for most home purposes.




Eggs Benedict featuring canadian bacon made from Smithfield Prime Reserve
Canadian Bacon means Eggs Benedict!!!!  

Photos and Graphics

Pitmaster features gorgeous color photography by Ken Goodman. Ken is a phenomenal photographer and his work has graced the pages of several books in my personal collection. He collaborated with Andy and Chris on their three previous books and continues his excellent work here.  As a wannabe food photographer, I study the work of artists like Ken.  The thing that sets his work apart to me is his mastery of shadows and highlights.  He uses them judiciously to create moods and tell stories.


Ken's shot of Pitmaster's Kansas City Tribute Sauce.  Notice the highlights in the sauce on the first two ribs and the perfect amount of shadows under the bowl and ribs. That's no accident - that is skill.


Burnt Ends from Pitmaster. Again, look how the lights play off of the sauce to starkly contrast the shadows hiding in the midst of the burnt ends.  
Almost all of the shots are plated or finished shots of the food.  There aren't a lot of step by step photos but Pitmaster makes up for it with a wise use of graphics, especially visual time lines for certain recipes.


Summary

Chris' Thoughts
Not to cop out, but see Jeff's thoughts.  He summed it up perfectly.  

Jeff's Final Thoughts
This book should have a wide audience, not only because of the various pit masters and wide range of regions included, but for the varying levels of techniques presented.  It would have been easy for the authors to focus primarily on the experienced bbq cooks considering the subject matter of the book.  However, the book includes topics to help lessen the intimidation factor for the novice that may just be getting started, while at the same time including more advanced techniques and recipes for the experienced bbq cooks.  In short this book literally has something for everyone.  

Rating
5 stars – an absolute resource, will refer to frequently
4+ stars – very good cookbook with value added tips, photos, guides, and other content
3 stars – Good, average cookbook, glad to have it on my shelf
2 stars – a recipe collection

1 star – would give it away to someone else to get rid of it, but only if I didn't like them very much

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Grilled Flank Steak with Spicy Green Beans

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  We received no compensation for this post.  We have no affiliation with any specific brands mentioned, except Certified Angus Beef and the GrillGrates were a review sample.

Here is that Flank Steak with Spicy Green Beans recipe that I mentioned in my review of the Woo rig for a BGE Mini-Max.


Flank steak is a great cut of beef because while it is lean, it is still very flavorful.  I often use it instead of skirt steak for fajitas because I prefer the flavor and thicker portion of beef.  It has long muscle fibers running the length of the steak so it is very important to slice the steak against the grain to get the most tender bite.


  • Despite the name, the green beans are only mildly spicy as is.  That's what the chili garlic sauce is on the platter - to let each person adjust the heat to their liking. 
  •  To blanch the green beans, drop them in boiling water for 3-4 minutes.  Then remove them and shock them in a bowl of ice and water for a few minutes.  That will stop their cooking. Then just pat them dry with paper towels and if not using until later, put them on refrigeration.
  • I make a blend for stir fry oil.  I like the flavor of sesame oil but it's way too strong for my tastes.  So I blend about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to a half cup of a high temp cooking oil.  I used to use peanut oil for stir frying but recently switched to avocado oil.  Avocado oil has a very high smoke point (500°f compared to 450°f for peanut oil) plus it is high in Omega-9 fatty acids.
  • We like to serve this with sweet jasmine rice but coconut rice or a cilantro chile rice would be good too.



How to stir fry on a kamado grill like Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or Vision grills

Grilled Flank Steak with Spicy Green Beans

Serves: 4

Ingredients


  • Flank steak

For the marinade


  • 1/2 cup Yoshida's Original Gourmet Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Ink Ginger Sesame Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon roasted garlic
  • 1/4 cup stir fry oil

For the Spicy Green Beans


  • 12 ounces green beans, blanched
  • 3-4 medium sized portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced into wedges
  • 1/4 cup Yoshida's Original Gourmet Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon roasted garlic
  • sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions


  1. Marinade the steak.  Mix the marinade ingredients together.  Place the flank steak in a 1 gallon zip top bag, add the marinade, press out excess air, and zip the bag.  Slosh the marinade around to cover the steak and place in the fridge for 4-6 hours.  Flip once or twice during that time.  Remove from the fridge 30 minutes prior to cooking.
  2. Make the Stir Fry Sauce.  Mix together the 1/4 cup of Yoshida's, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, teaspoon chili garlic sauce, and teaspoon of roasted garlic.  
  3. Preheat charcoal grill to 450°f.  
  4. Grill the steak.  Shake off the excess marinade and pat the steak dry with paper towels (helps form nice sear marks).  Apply a very light coat of the stir fry oil (maybe 1 teaspoon a side) on the steak.  Grill the steak about 4 minutes per side to an internal temperature of 128°f for medium rare or about 5 minutes per side to 135°f for medium.  Remove to a resting rack and immediately put the wok on the grill to preheat few minutes.
  5. Stir fry the veggies.  Once the wok is hot, add about 1-2 tablespoons of the stir fry oil and add the mushrooms and onions.  Stir fry until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add in the green beans and just enough sauce to cover everything but not pool, 1-2 ounces.  Cook another 2-3 minutes until done and remove from heat.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  6. Slice the steak across the grain and serve with veggies, the leftover stir fry sauce, and extra chili garlic sauce on the side.

Notes/substitutions


  • Yoshida's Original Gourmet Sauce - It is a sweet Asian style sauce that we get at Sam's, Publix, and a few other retail stores.  If you can't find it, you can substitute a sweet teriyaki sauce.
  • Ink Ginger Sesame Soy sauce - As of this post, Ink isn't widely available yet. We got ours to test out from a very cool friend that happens to work for their insurer.  You can use another flavored soy sauce or just regular soy sauce and add some ginger and sesame oil.
  • Chili garlic sauce - We use the standard Huy Fong brand and buy it at one of the grocery stores that we frequent.  I love this stuff more than Sriracha because it has a more balanced heat to flavor ratio.  You could substitute sambal oelek in the same amounts or a little less sriracha.
  • Portobello mushrooms - These are the medium sized ones 1-2", not the full sized 4-5" ones.  You could also use about 5 or 6 of the smaller "baby bella" variety or go with something different altogether, such as shittake and/or oyster 'shrooms.

Asian style marinade recipe for flank steak on the grill.
We didn't marinade under suction, the steak was part of a two pack so we have vacuum sealed it prior to this. Didn't want anyone thinking I had some special technique.  I do have a vacuum marinator but I'm not convinced it does anything special.

Carbon steel wok for kamado grills from the Ceramic Grill Store on a Big Green Egg Mini-Max
I had to season the wok because this was the first time I used it, so I did that before grilling the steak.  It's a carbon steel wok from Ceramic Grill Store.  My sister got that and the Woo rig it is on, for me for Christmas.


Grilling the flank steak on GrillGrates on the Mini-Max, a small sized kamado grill.  The marinade has sugar and will burn easily, which is another reason I pat the steak dry after marinating.  You're not wiping off the flavor, it should already be in the surface of the meat. 


Always rest your hot meats on a resting rack to avoid trapping heat between two flat surfaces. This minimizes moisture loss during resting and yields a juicier steak, according to Rouxbe Online Cooking school.  I tried it side by side after taking a class there and I've done it this way ever since that comparison.

Small wok and woo rig for the Big Green Egg Mini-Max and other small kamado grills.
After seasoning the wok and cooking the steak, I had burned my coals down and needed to add 2 handfuls of lump coal.  You want plenty of heat with stir-frying and an under-fueled fire just wasn't going to cut it.  This wasn't ideal but it only took a few minutes to get the heat fully going again because I still had a good base of hot coals.  I was just topping it off.

Stir frying over a fire - or as I like to call it "stir firing" is a great use for small kamado grills like the Big Green Egg Mini-Max. I bought this one from Mannix Pools down in Winter Haven.  They just expanded their grilling show room and added facilities for the frequent BBQ and grilling classes that they have.  If you're in the area, check them out for your grilling equipment, grilling supplies, and pool supplies.  BJ and his staff will take care of you.

How to stir fry on a kamado grill, such as; Komodo kamado, big green egg, and vision grills.
Once you add the beans, you are just cooking them until heated through, 2-3 minutes.  Also don't use too much sauce.  You only want 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sauce.  You want just enough to coat the veggies, you don't want them swimming in the sauce.

Parker's Charcoal is one of the best lump coal for kamado grills like big green egg, kamado joe, and primo.
Kamado grillers are notoriously picky about the lump charcoal that they use.  We prefer to use Parker's Charcoal which we buy at a local grocery store.  They are based in our State and use only Tennessee hardwoods.  In my experience for the past 2 years, it burns clean and consistent.  Usually it has pretty equal sized pieces without much dust, although we recently went through a couple of bags that had been treated roughly, probably at the store level.  The newer bags are back to the usual quality.


Stir fried spicy green beans with flank steak recipe.
Sliced up and ready to serve.  Take some of the leftover sauce, mix in more of the chili garlic paste to get the heat level you want and add it to your plate.  I put it on everything, the beans, rice, and steak.

For other recipe ideas for flank steak, check out these flank steak recipes at Certified Angus Beef. They are one of our sponsors but this is not a compensated post.  I just like the look of these recipes, especially that Southwestern Salad with Avocado Dressing.  I'll be making that one for sure.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kamado Equipment: Woo Rig 150 for Mini-Max

[FTC Disclaimer] I received no compensation for this post and have no affiliation with Big Green Egg or the Ceramic Grill Store.

My sister gave me a Woo rig and a wok for my Mini-Max for Christmas.  That was fantastic because while I have plenty of accessories for our large kamado grills, I haven't picked up many that fit the pint sized Mini-Max.

The Woo rig from Ceramic Grill Store serves as a great wok stand when you invert it.
Woo rig (#150) and a 12" carbon steel wok for the BGE Mini-Max.

What's A Rig?

Rigs are optional wire racks or frames that kamado users can use in their grills to expand capacity or create specific configurations for cooking.  They aren't required and you can do 90% of everything I do with just a standard heat deflector, grate, and an extended or raised grate.  But they do make things more flexible and fun.  Some examples include:

  • Spider Rig - The most basic rig, the main use of this is to hold a stone to serve as a heat deflector.  You can also flip them upside down (legs down, ring up) to hold a wok or raise a grill grate by an inch or so.
  • Raiser Rig - I think of this as an advanced spider rig.  It can hold a heat deflector, be used to hold a raised grate, or both at the same time.  
  • Roswell Rig - This holds two pizza stones at once, so you can cook two pizzas at once or it doubles your baking space if you are using your kamado grill as a wood fired oven.
  • Adjustable Rig - The grand-daddy of rigs, in my opinion.  We use them to get the optimum set ups during our BBQ competitions and at home I use them to double my capacity for big meats or even triple my capacity for ribs and wings.
And that brings us to the Woo Rig, that my sister gave me.  They make them for all kinds of kamado sizes but this specific one is the Woo 150 for the newer Mini-Max.  If you have the first version of the Mini-Max you'd want the Woo 75, I believe.  The Woo rig is made and sold by Ceramic Grill Store in Denton, Texas.  This one for the Mini-Max runs right around $40.  


A Woo rig is a needed accessory for the Big Green Egg Mini-Max.
The Woo rig is useful as a wok stand, a raised grate rig, a heat deflector rig, and gives an easy way to move hot plate setters.


Use the Woo Rig as a Wok Stand

The first thing I used the Woo for is as a wok stand.  It holds the wok at the perfect height over the coals. I made stir fried spicy green beans to go with a grilled flank steak.  That post is coming up.

A Woo rig doubles as a good stand for using a wok on the grill


Use the Woo Rig as a Raised Grate

I love my Mini-Max, the size makes it so convenient. But it's compactness puts the grill grate super close to the coals. Here is a shot of my Mini-Max with a full Kick Ash Basket of coal and the grate on the fire ring.

Grill grate and full Kick Ash Basket on a BGE Mini-Max
Being so close to the heat source exacerbates any hot spots. 

The Woo rig can be used as a grate grid lifter on a ceramic kamado grill like the Kamado Joe or Primo.
The Woo lifts the grate up right at 2.5 inches.  This distance balances out the heat from below a bit.


Use the Woo to Handle the Plate Setter More Easily

You can use the Woo to either hold a small stone or your plate setter to create an indirect heat set up in your small kamado grill.  

Mini-Max plate setter in a Woo rig.

How to set up your BGE MIni-Max for indirect grilling heat.
The rig raises your cooking grid about an inch above felt line - a bit higher than with the plate setter alone. This set up is good for smoking, baking, and fire roasting.

The plate setter in a Mini-Max is a bit more difficult than the larger versions.  The Woo rig fixes that issue.
Without a Woo rig, you have to reach in like this to take the plate setter out. I don't have sausage fingers and I'm not wearing heat resistant gloves here (grill was cold, just demonstrating) but you can see how little room there is.  Put your gloves on and it gets down right cumbersome sometimes.


With the Woo rig in, you just lift up the edges of the rig and the plate setter comes out without any problems.  Plenty of room to get an easy grip, even with the bulkiest of heat gloves.  Again, the grill was cold, this was just demonstrating how it works. 

I'm quite pleased with the Woo rig for my Mini-Max. It has made it easier to handle the plate setter, cook raised direct, and stir fry on my Mini-Max.  It definitely gives me options.  Thanks for the rig, Rhonda!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Blogger Summit at the World Food Championships Day 2

Day 1 of the Blogger Summit at the World Food Championships was session based but Day 2 was a field trip to Bayou La Batre to learn first-hand about Alabama's bountiful wild seafood and the industry's practices to keep that seafood abundant for generations to come.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL beach scene
The weather on the Gulf Coast is typically warm, sunny, and beautiful.  Even in early November, temps are in the mid-70's and bright.  Of course, Murphy's Law of Weather took effect and our all day outing was cold, windy, and rainy.


Visiting An Oyster Farm

Our first stop of the day in Bayou la Batre was Murder Point Oysters.

Murder Point Oysters are rich in flavor, creamy with a buttery taste and light metallic finish.
 Yeah, I know, your first question is the name - yes, in 1930, one oysterman murdered his competition over the lease on the oyster area and ever since, this place was known as Murder Point.   

Murder Point Oysters practices "off bottom" oyster farming. Dr. Bill Walton of the Auburn University Shellfish Lab talked about the benefits of off bottom oyster farming during Day 1, which include:
  • It allows you to select the best location in terms of things like water flow, oxygen, and water salinity.
  • It keeps the oysters cleaner, minimizing fouling from silt and barnacles.
  • It enables roughing up the edges of the shell, which causes the oyster to grow more "cupped" compared to the flatter, shallow oysters growing in the wild.
  • It creates conditions that mimic extended low tide conditions.  That causes the muscles to become more developed because the oyster naturally "holds tight". 
  • It allows for the oyster to go from being harvested to being on a refrigerated truck for delivery in 10 minutes.

World Food Championships 2016 Murder Point Oysters
These are the baskets that Murder Point Oysters use.  The oysters attach inside of these and then these are suspended up off of the bottom.



World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Murder Point Oyster Farm
This is what an oyster farm looks like.  These are "Australian long lines" and suspend the baskets at the proper depth. 

This is a Quick Sorter used to tumble and clean up the oysters.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Murder Point Oyster Farm
This party barge is used for processing when demand and conditions allow.


World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Murder Point
But sometimes they have to do it manually...

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Murder Point oyster farm
Luke Zirlott explaining their farmer operations to the food bloggers.

It costs more to do this and these oysters grow slower than bottom farmed oysters, so why do it?  Because it produces a premium oyster with a buttery taste.  These oysters won't end up in a plastic tub at your supermarket - these are like prime beef - almost all of them end up at premium restaurants.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Murder Point
Literally the freshest oysters ever - they were out of the pristine Gulf waters just minutes before top food bloggers were savoring them.


Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp

Next we headed over to Graham Shrimp Company where they have been harvesting the Gulf's bounty for four generations.  When I grew up on the beaches in North Florida,I always watched in fascination at the shrimp trawlers going up and down just off shore. We bought our shrimp fresh in Mayport with the shrimp boats parked out back, coming back to the docks daily.  But in the Gulf, it's different.  These guys go out for weeks at a time, from Key West, FL to Brownsville, TX to bring in the best shrimp the Gulf has to offer.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Graham Shrimp Co signage
Graham Shrimp Company is one of the largest suppliers of IQF wild caught Gulf Shrimp.  

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Graham Shrimp Co Enterprise boat
The Enterprise and a crew of 4 can haul 60,000 pounds of shrimp in 60 days, holds 50,000 gallons of fuel, and has facilities to individually quick freeze shrimp to -5°f. 

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Graham Shrimp Co
Ernie Anderson, bondsman turned shrimper, was a terrific host, showing us the entire operation from the back of the boat through where it loads on the trucks to restaurants and stores all over the Southeast.
A few facts of note that I learned on this visit:

  • Any scraps of the shrimp (heads from headless shrimp) at Graham Shrimp Company are used in a venture that produces chitin - a natural substance used in agriculture, industry, and medicine.
  • They land 17 million pounds of shrimp a year and process 45 million pounds in Alabama.
  • In 2005 there were 5,000 shrimp boats working the Gulf, today there are just 800.

Fresh Crab From The Gulf

Our next stop was Olympic Shellfish, a crab fishery in Bayou La Batre.  Here's a video of the arduous work of picking crab.


If you don't watch the video, here are a few of the notes that I wrote down during our visit.

  • Despite all of the advances in food processing, crab picking remains a 99.9% manual process.
  • Indonesian and Thai imported crab is from a swimming crab, completely different from wild caught Gulf crab.
  • Jumbo lump crab is specifically one part of the crab, regular lump is the smaller cavities, and the dark crab meat is crab claws.
  • Whole crabs are sold for dollars per pound.  Crabs used for lump are typically #4 crabs running about $.70 per pound, the smallest ones legally available for harvest.
  • The crabs are boiled 700 pounds at a time.


Old Fashion On The Bayou Boil

After touring these fishing companies, we went to the Bayou La Batre Community Center where Graham Shrimp Company and the Members of Organized Seafood.

The buffet was loading with boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, fresh shucked oysters, marinated crab salad, and all of the fixings.  


Lucy Buffet's LuLu's and Accountability in Sustainable Seafood

Our final stop of the day was back in Gulf Shores at Lucy Buffet's restaurant, Lulu's, to learn about Fish Trax.  Fish Trax is all about using technology to advance accountability in sustainable seafood. It's a voluntary system that tracks fish from the point it is harvested until it hits the plate in front of you.  
  • For you and me, the consumer, that let's us rest easy knowing when, where, how, and who caught your fish.  
  • More importantly, this is providing amazing data that helps researchers, fishery managers, and the industry collect, share, and interpret information to help keep our oceans' resources available for future generations.


World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Lulu's Fish Trax
Chef Dylan Feekner prepared some special dishes including this shrimp salad topped fried green tomato that was a fantastic appetizer.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Lulu's Fish Trax
Fish Trax works like this. Your fishmonger or restaurant gives you a card with a QR code like this. You can use your smart phone to pull up detailed information on your seafood.

World Food Championships 2016 Orange Beach AL Lulu's Fish Trax
For example, the red snapper we were served linked to this information. It tells you who caught it, how it was caught, who processed it, who sold it, and who prepared it.

Complete documentation of the fishery from harvest to plate - it's a pretty cool idea.

It was a long day and I learned a TON of information. It wasn't mentioned on the tour, but I saw three common themes from each of these fisheries - family, pride in quality, and conserving for future generations.

Day 3 was taking the E.A.T. Certification to add to my food judge certifications and that post is coming in a few days.

The registration for entering the World Food Championships for 2017 is now open!