Monday, July 28, 2014

Chicken Margarita Penne - Great Idea For Leftover Chicken

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

grilled chicken pasta salad

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Grilled Hot Wings and the Big Kahuna Wing Festival

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Father's Day Wagyu Brisket and Kurobuta Pork Shoulder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pork, bbq

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

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

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

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

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

bbq pork, smoked pork shoulder

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

John spritzing the pork shoulder with fruit juice.

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

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

BBQ brisket kamado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So was the splurge worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Product Review: Surprising Grilling Accessory - NewAir Outdoor Misting Fan

Barbecue contests are often set up on parking lots or gravel and can get seriously hot during the summer.  The still hot air is stifling as you try to go about your business. The same thing can happen on your patio.  Whether in a BBQ contest or on your back deck, manning a grill or smoker in the summer can be a sweltering experience.  

That's why I was glad to get NewAir's offer to give our team one of their outdoor misting fans to try out this season.  Sometimes the best grilling accessories have nothing specifically to do with grilling, such is the case here. 

Our plan was to use it at Memphis in May but record cool weather for that event sent us scurrying for jackets, not fans.  But just a few weeks later at the Rocky Top BBQ Cookoff, the heat was on and this misting fan helped us keep our cool.

Fan in use at the Rocky Top BBQ Cook-off

I had never used a misting fan before.  I have seen them on tv when football players cool off in the swirling mist from big units but I assumed they were too bulky and too costly for home use.  I had no idea that you can actually buy consumer versions that are no bigger than any regular oscillating fan like the NewAir AF-520 model that they sent me.

Priced at around $129, this small fan delivers big cooling relief.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Pork-don Bleu - A Pork Chop Cordon Bleu

On a whim last weekend, I decided to try making a grilled Cordon Bleu but instead of using a ham and Swiss stuffed chicken breast, I used a chicken and Swiss stuffed pork chop.  I dubbed it the "Pork-don Bleu".  

The sauce is a bacon cream sauce.  The bacon isn't a matter of "Just throw bacon at it to appeal to the lowest common denominator".  Since the pork chop is grilled instead of sauteed in a pan, I didn't have the sucs (pronounced "sooks" - brown bits left in the pan) to make a pan sauce.  So I sauteed some diced bacon to create the needed sucs.

Pork-don Bleu
Serves:  4
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time:  40 minutes

  • 4 New York Pork Chops (aka center cut boneless pork chops)
  • 4 thick slices chicken breast lunch meat
  • 4 slices Baby Swiss cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
For the bacon cream sauce
  • 4 strips hickory smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
  1. Set up your grill for direct heat and preheat your grill to 350°F.
  2. Prep the pork chops - Use a sharp boning knife to butterfly the pork chops (see tips below).  Place each between pieces of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet to pound them to an even thickness. 
  3. Assemble the Pork-don Bleu - Mix together the salt, black pepper, garlic, thyme and sage.  Season both sides of the chops.  Top each chop with a slice of chicken and cheese.  Roll up and secure the edges with toothpicks (see tips below). TIP:  COUNT THE NUMBER OF TOOTHPICKS THAT YOU USE.
  4. Make the bacon cream sauce - Crisp the bacon in a sauté pan.  Remove bacon and reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan.  Whisk in the flour to form a blond roux.  Whisk in the stock, making sure to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan.  Don't worry, it will become a thick goo for a second.  Now whisk in the cream 1/4 cup at a time, continuously whisking until all is added.  Finely chop up the bacon and add 3/4ths of it to the cream sauce, keep the rest to use as a garnish. Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and stir in the cold pat of butter.
  5. Increase the grill temperature to 450°F.  Sear the rolled up chops on one side for 2 minutes.  Rotate about one third of the way around and sear that side for 2 minutes.  Rotate the pork chops to the last side and sear for 2 minutes.
  6. Place the rolls in a small grill safe pan, pour the cream sauce over them, and top with the bread crumbs.  Place back on the grill in an indirect set up and cook until the sauce is thickened and bubbly, about 15 minutes.
  8. Plate and pour some of the sauce over each pork chop.  Sprinkle with the reserved bacon bits and serve.
A tip for butterflying the pork chops, before trying to cut mine, I compact the pork chop by lightly squeezing it inward on all sides like below.  This makes it slightly thicker, giving you a bigger target. 

But it also makes it easier to slice through the compressed meat.

The plastic wrap just helps the meat flatten without tearing so much when the mallet strikes.  It also helps to give the wrap a light spritz of water if you have a misting bottle.

I like to use those small pieces of deli wax sheets between the flattened pork chops to keep them from sticking together and make them easier for handling.

Ready to roll up.

 Seriously, count your toothpicks.  Having a guest swallow a toothpick is not a good thing.

If you find your grilling temperatures getting too hot while crisping the bacon or making the sauce, gas grillers can just lower the temp.  For charcoal grillers, just move your saute pan from directly over the hot fire to a cooler part of the grill.  

Mmmm bacon dust!
You can make the sauce on a stove top burner if you feel more comfortable but I like the challenge of making sauces on the grill.  The picture below shows it before the cream is added.  For most sauces, you cook them down to a consistency that covers the back of a spoon but this sauce will cook more, so you want it slightly thinner.

You want your pan to be just big enough to hold the pork chops.  If it is much bigger, the sauce will spread too thin and burn.  These foil drip pans that I get at my grocery store do perfectly.

Instead of dropping in the plate setter to convert my Big Green Egg to indirect, I created a form of indirect by putting the pans over my stoneware lasagna pan instead.  Worked like a charm and I didn't have to bother with moving the hot grill grate.

Gratuitous Egg shot.
 When the sauce gets bubbly and thick like pictured below, they are done. 

These were pretty excellent. The pork was tender and flavorful and the bacon cream sauce was the perfect accompaniment.

Pork Bucket List
Our good friends at the National Pork Board have started a "pork bucket list" at What is a pork bucket list?  Here's what they have to say.

We’ve all heard of travel bucket lists and before-you-kick-the-bucket list – so we decided, with so many ways to enjoy pork, why not start a #PorkBucketList? Think of it as ‘That Amazing Recipe I’ve Been Meaning to Try’, or ‘The Perfect Excuse To Travel to San Francisco for Authentic Dim Sum.’

The opportunities to take a new adventure with pork are endless – so, to help fans get inspired and get started on a journey to enjoy pork in as many ways possible, we’re asking you to share what’s on your #PorkBucketList. Here (at you can see what pork adventures other fans, food personalities and chefs are checking off their lists, find great recipes to try and more. And, just for sharing, we will surprise a few lucky individuals by helping them check an item off their list.
I thought through every amazing pork adventure that I have been fortunate enough to do and realize that I have already scratched off a lot of great pork bucket list items.

  1. Attend Memphis in May - the super bowl of swine.  Did it the past two years 2013 and 2014.
  2. Visit a sustainable pork farming operation.  Did that with the National Pork Board in 2012.
  3. Lead my own BBQ team in a BBQ competition instead of being on other people's teams.  Did that just two months ago.
  4. Cook each of the heritage breeds of pork.  This one is in progress because there are more that I want to do, but my neighbor and I just cooked a Kurobuta pork shoulder for Father's day this year.  
But there are still things on my #porkbucketlist that I want to do.  Namely....
  1. Cook pork shoulder on a team at the Jack Daniels World Championship BBQ Invitational. It is one of the big 4 in the BBQ world.
  2. Become an MBN judge.  We are already KCBS Certified BBQ Judges but I'd like to become certified in MBN because they include live in person judging and are more pork-centric as a contest body.
  3. Be the pitmaster for a group cooking whole hog.  
  4. Take a butcher class and break down a whole hog into consumer cuts.
What's on your list?  Share your #porkbucketlist and the National Pork Board might just make one of your items come to pass. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tyler Florence's Salt and Pepper Wings

I have made a lot of iterations of grilled chicken wings, some more complex than others.  I was flipping through Tyler Florence's book, Family Meal, the other day and came across a very straightforward recipe for Salt and Pepper Wings.  They were simply wings seasoned with salt and pepper, baked in an oven, and served with a homemade Humboldt Fog bleu cheese dressing and chile oil.  

I liked the back to basics approach so I gave it a shot. 

hot wings, grilled wings, blue cheese,
Wings and Beer - America's Pub Food.

The recipe called for baking the wings but you know that isn't allowed at my house.  Instead I set up one of our Big Green Eggs for indirect cooking.  On a kamado grill like the BGE, there are a couple of ways to do indirect heat.  One way is to use a Spider rig with a 13" pizza stone like below.

indirect kamado set up
To keep it clean, I would also top the pizza stone with a foil covered deep dish pizza pan to catch the drippings.  See the picture below for an example.

Another common method for indirect cooking on a kamado grill is using a plate setter like below.  By the way, when did Big Green Egg change the name of the plate setter to "ConvEGGtor" ?  I noticed that in the last BGE Lifestyle magazine.  It will always be a "plate setter" to me.

ConvEGGtor indirect set up