Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Product Review: Cast Iron Plate Setter by Innovations by Chance

I recently tweeted a picture of some burgers that I was grilling and Daniel Pittard's keen photographer eye caught something and he asked...

I have been testing out the cast iron plate setter from Innovations by Chance for four months.  The plate setter is one type of heat diffuser for kamado grills {e.g., Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Primo, Kamado Joe, Vision, etc). The standard OEM plate setter is made out of ceramic but Michael Chance had an epiphany one night and decided to make a plate setter out of cast iron.  Let's take a look at this bad boy.

Innovations by Chance Cast Iron Plate Setter
Price:  $119.99 at Tasty Licks BBQ Supply
For Sale:  at certain kamado dealers - Innovations By Chance doesn't sell online at this time but you can buy online through dealers like Tasty Licks BBQ Supply.

kamado heat diffuser cast iron
Plate setter shown in the "legs down" position.

Plate setter shown in the "legs up" position

The obvious question is "Why would you want a cast iron plate setter?".  In one sentence, the answer is
  1. a cast iron plate setter is less likely to break and 
  2. it offers the additional griddle surface.
Broken Legs?  Did Someone Stiff A Loan Shark?
Ceramic plate setters are notorious for broken legs.  It is not a defect in materials but carelessness on the part of users.  They are easy stand upright on two of the legs and just as easy to knock over from that position breaking the third leg.  I have two ceramic plate setters and both bear scars of broken legs.  [Related article:  How To Repair A Broken Plate Setter].

The line is where the leg broke and then was repaired with JB Weld. 
That is not to say that you can't break a cast iron plate setter.  If you submerge a hot cast iron plate setter in cold water the thermal shock can cause it to break.  Or if you drop very cold cast iron, it can break.  But you aren't as likely to break it with just the brush of a leg or knock of the foot like how I broke both of my ceramic plate setters.

Griddle Me This
The griddle surface bonus feature is a favorite of mine and I have used it heavily.  The lines of "grill marks" are packed with flavor from the Maillard reaction caused by the hot metal on the meat surface. So if a steak with cross hatch marks tastes good, wouldn't a steak with more cross hatch marks be even better?  That is the argument from chefs like Adam Perry Lang, who feels you should move your steaks frequently, not just 1-2 times, to maximize the amount of surface that caramelizes.

Innovations By Chance, kamado burgers

Almost full contact with the griddle surface does that, maximizes the flavorful crust, and this has become my absolute favorite way to cook burgers on the kamado grill.  You still get the smoky flavor of the burning coal but you also get that even tasty crust.  I haven't cooked burgers any other way since getting this plate setter.

Sometimes it is just better not to ask what is going on...just cutting up here.

While my sister was here we did a spin on Steak au Poivre that she said was the best steak she had ever eaten.  It is a green peppercorn encrusted Manhattan filet, which will be an upcoming recipe post.

Excuse the mobile phone picture, I didn't have my camera.  Peppercorn Encrusted Manhattan Filets.

Of course I have used it extensively during this period in the "legs up" position for indirect cooks like pork butts, briskets, and these BBQ Beef Short Ribs.

Another advantage that the cast iron plate setter is these raised ridges on the "legs up" side.  These allow you to put a drip pan in without it getting conductive heat from the whole plate setter.  This helps minimize drippings burning or your liquid from evaporating as fast.

kamado cast iron heat diffuser deflector
Cast Iron Plate Setter in "legs up" in a kamado

Side By Side Comparison
The cast iron plate setter isn't the exact same dimensions of a ceramic plate setter.  It's obviously thinner in construction since cast iron is stronger and doesn't have to be as thick.

Ceramic plate setter on top, cast iron on bottom.
The cast iron plate setter is also a tiny amount bigger in diameter.  I didn't have calipers handy but a tape measure had the ceramic one at about 12 3/4 inches while the cast iron was a hair over 13 inches.

The legs of the cast iron plate setter are also slightly narrower, thinner, and a smidge taller.  A ceramic plate setter legs are 4" wide x 5/8" thick while the cast iron plate setter's are about 2 3/8" by 3/8".

Ceramic leg on the left, cast iron on the right.

Michael Chance pointed out that this narrower leg might require some specific positioning with grill grates that have open handles like below.

Arrow points at the open handle where the leg could possibly slip through.  I found that even in this position, the rib on the leg still supported the grate but I guess if you put the grate on unevenly, it could cause problems.
But Mike recommends setting such grates like this so all three legs fully contact grate bars.

The cast iron plate setter also fits the Craycort cast iron grate systems.  As usual, you need to be careful putting lateral forces on the grate, such as scrubbing with a grill brush, or you might push the grate off of one of the legs.

Craycort grate on cast iron plate setter
Craycort cast iron grate on an cast iron plate setter.

Some folks might ask if the cast iron plate setter would cause temperature fluctuations.  Mike told me that the cast iron would get a little hotter at first.  I set up two Large Big Green Eggs with equal coal loads and got them both stable at 250°F.  Then put the cast iron plate setter in one and the ceramic in the other and measured their temperature after 15 minutes.

Then I rose the Egg temperature to 350°F for 15 minutes and measured once again.

So the cast iron plate setter did get about 20% hotter at first at first.  But The Naked Whiz did a longer test than mine that showed eventually (about 30 minutes), the cast iron and ceramic plate setter temps converge to near the same.  That supports my general experience that I could not tell any difference in temperature control when using the cast iron vs ceramic plate setter.  They are pretty equal performers in that aspect.

Just like ceramic plate setters, when I use it legs up for convection baking, roasting, etc, I use some type of spacer to minimize the transference of conductive heat.

Isn't it a pain in the butt to keep a cast iron plate setter seasoned? 

To be clear, this is photo from the initial photo shoot.  Didn't want to misrepresent it as current.

You would think that, wouldn't you?  I did.  But my experience has been the opposite, I haven't reseasoned it other than to hit it with a spritz of spray oil (Pam, etc) once or twice as it cooled down after higher temp cooks.  I just kept it inside of a kamado grill outside in the weather.  After 4 months, I have had zero rust show up and it is still well seasoned.

Like my cast iron grates - I found the best maintenance for the cast iron plate setter is frequent use.

I knew I was going to like the griddle function but I was surprised that I didn't have to do a lot of work to keep the seasoning.  Ironically I re-broke one of my ceramic plate setters during testing, so I certainly appreciate the cast iron plate setter's ruggedness.  I absolutely love mine and apparently so does everyone else, they keep having to order new batches to keep dealers supplied.

So is the cast iron plate setter for you?  If you are buying a new kamado, then getting a cast iron instead of ceramic plate setter will cost you about $45-50 more.  If you already have a ceramic, you are shelling out around another $119.  So the question for you is - is having a sturdier plate setter with a griddle surface worth that extra cost to you? 

Update 7/2016
Over a year later and I still love my cast iron plate setter.  It has now become my go to indirect piece for the Big Green Egg.  I can't remember the last time that I used one of my ceramic plate setters.
The cast iron plate setter is more rugged than ceramic ones and provides a fantastic griddle surface.  Two thumbs up from me.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received my cast iron plate setter for review free of charge from Innovations By Chance but all opinions stated are my own.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

East Tennessee Blogger Party – 2015

Here is the first official announcement for this year's Blogger Party on the lake:
Greetings fellow bloggers!
We are happy to announce that the 6th rendition of our annual blogger party will be held at Almost Heaven South during Memorial Day Weekend.  Larry (Big Dude's Eclectic Ramblings) and I still have the final details to work out but wanted to tell you the possible dates (most likely May 24) in hopes you would pencil it in on your calendar.  We would appreciate if you would mention it on your blogs as well so more people will be aware of the event. 
Date: Memorial Day Weekend (popular recommendation from last year’s attendees)
Time: TBD
Place: Almost Heaven South in Greenback, TN
Theme: Tapas Party (another popular recommendation from last years attendees)
Many of you have expressed a desire to come in the past so why not make this your year – before Larry "gets too old" to host them.
More details will follow in March.
We have had a great time every year and hope that you can join us this year.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Product Review: Meat Church BBQ Rubs

I first heard about the Meat Church line of BBQ rubs and seasonings through the Egghead forum, where it is quite popular.  You may have seen them when Matt Pittman competed on the Texas episode of BBQ Pitmasters in Season 5.

I first "met" Matt in 2011 when he and I exchanged some e-mails about our times and process for cooking St Louis ribs on the kamado grill (Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Primo, Kamado Joe, etc).  While Matt now lives in Texas, he used to live here in Knoxville.  Recently Matt and Tracie graciously sent me a set of their Meat Church line and I have been putting them to use.

Meat Church rubs are available in 12 ounce shakers which are huge compared to the  3.5 ounce spice shakers that you may be used to from the spice and seasoning aisle.  At $9, that is a bargain. They also sell 1 and 5 pound packages for heavy users, caterers, and competition cooks.

Meat Church Honey Hog BBQ Rub
The Honey Hog is a traditional style BBQ rub with a sweet and salty flavor profile.  

Meat Church boosts the typical sweet of brown sugar with honey powder.  Honey powder is a great addition to rubs, we bought a pound online last year and have been experimenting with it.  Honey Hog has a fine texture with visible specks of the various seasonings.  The taste is sweet, salty, with hints of some of the other flavors, like garlic and celery.  I don't think most would notice the celery but I like celery seed and celery salt so I picked it up on the back side.  

I've used it on ribs, pork shoulder, and as a finishing seasoning for things like potato salad and pulled pork sandwiches.

Chopped Pork Sandwich

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fried Smoked Chicken Wings

As good as smoked or fire roasted wings taste, it is hard to beat the crispy bite of a fried chicken wing.

Hot Chicken wings recipe made at home are ideal for tailgates and gameday menus

Grill masters have a few tricks to get their fire roasted wings to have crispy skin.  Some will mix in a little corn starch to the wing seasoning.  Air drying the wings in a refrigerator for an hour helps dry the outer surface of the wings before putting them on the grill.  But these methods only come close to the texture of a crispy fried wing.  

To get the best of both worlds, you can smoke AND fry your wings. This time I used Harry Soo's method.  Harry Soo is the Pitmaster of Slap Yo Daddy BBQ (click for recipe) and he has some of the more advanced ideas and techniques for chicken so I followed his lead.  His wing times have them in the smoker for less time and in the fryer for longer than my normal technique but both ways work.

Wing Prep
First I took 4 pounds of wings and cut them into wingettes, drummettes, and the chunk-its (wing tips).

I call them "chunk-its" but the wing tips are actually great to freeze and use later to make chicken stock.
I did not do the buttermilk soak like Harry did because I was short on time but I will definitely try it next time because buttermilk chicken is the bomb.  I seasoned the wings with garlic pepper seasoning on both sides.

Kamado Grill Set Up
Harry smokes his for 15 minutes at 275°F.  I set up a large Big Green Egg for a raised direct cook at 275°F.  You could just use an indirect set up with a plate setter/heat diffuser instead - at this temp it doesn't make much difference. 

I used hickory chunks for my smoke flavor.  Hickory can be over-powering for poultry but at this brief of a "dose" it is fine. 

Phase 1 - Smoking The Wings
I cooked the wings raised direct, with the dome lid closed of course, for 15 minutes.  I flipped them half way through but I don't think that was really necessary at this low of a temp. 

This phase is all about putting a little smoke flavor on the wings and you are not cooking the wings through to a food safe internal temperature.  It is important to keep this in mind for a few food safety reasons.
  • If you are doing large batches, you will need to ensure the "smoked" chicken doesn't sit around for long at room temperature because all of the possible food borne pathogens probably weren't killed yet.  It's best to go straight from the smoker to the fryer.  If not, hold the wings at or above 140°F until you fry them.
  • Any surfaces that the "smoked" wings and their juices touch should be considered contaminated and quickly cleaned and sanitized.
Phase 2 - Frying The Wings
Have your fryer preheated to 350-375°F.  Harry goes with 350°F for 4-5 minutes but next time I'd go back to 375° for 3-4 minutes. Either way, don't over crowd the fryer and give it time to recover it's heat between batches. 

As each batch came off, I seasoned them with Meat Church's Honey Hog Hot Barbecue Rub just enough to get a light coat on both sides.  It is important to do it just as soon as they come out because the heat and surface oils will bind that rub onto the wing, really getting that flavor on them.

Unless you have a commercial deep fryer, you will probably be doing this in batches (Batches? We don't need no stinkin' batches!).  Keep the cooked wings in a warming drawer or 200°F oven or kamado grill.  When they are all done, then I tossed them in a simple buffalo sauce of 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce, 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and a few pinches of BBQ rub.

You can do this with just about any flavor profile you like,  just switch out the rubs and finishing sauce.  For example, you can use a fajita style rub and garlic cotija wing sauce for a Southwestern flavor.  Or go with a sriracha finishing sauce for more heat and an Asian spin.  

Phase 3 - Eating....my favorite phase
I like to serve this with the obligatory celery sticks, ranch dressing, and extra buffalo sauce on the side.  Oh yeah, and a frosty cold one!

Smoke/Fry In Advance
With a few changes, you can use the smoke/fry technique to make a prep ahead snack.  To do that, you need to smoke the wings until they reach an internal temperature of 175°F so they are food safe.  If you are going to use them in the next few hours, hold them at a temp of 140°F or above.  If you are using them much later, chill them down to under 40°F.  Then when you are ready to finish them, flash fry them at 375° for 2-3 minutes until crispy and golden on the outside.

So is the twice cooked method a bit of a pain in the arse?  Yeah, that's why we normally just fire roast our wings.  But are these good enough to make the trouble worth it?  Absolutely. 

[Standard FTC Disclosure]  I received no compensation for this post from any of the brands mentioned other than I did receive a free sample of rubs from Meat Church. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Product Release: Thermoworks TimeStick Trio

This week Thermoworks released their newest addition to their line up - the TimeStick Trio

Last year I bought a pair of the TimeSticks and wrote about them, giving them high marks.  I still use those TimeSticks as my main timers and I still love them.  The TimeStick Trio is their big brother - three timers in one device.

TimeSticks (red) and TimeStick Trio (white).

Like brothers, the TimeStick Trio shares many features with the TimeStick.
  • The splash proof designs mean you don't have to worry about a little weather or grill table spills.
  • The rubberized keyboard is grease resistant and easy to clean after you use it with greasy 'que fingers.
  • A powerful magnet makes it easy to temporarily mount the timer on your fridge, grill facings, or other metal surfaces.  I keep mine on the fridge.  When Trevor comes home from weight training every night he heads straight to the fridge to make a recovery shake and he isn't bashful about slamming that door around. The TimeSticks have never fallen off.
  • The lanyard is my favorite feature. I used to be bad about setting the microwave timer and then leaving the area to never hear it going off.  I take the time stick with me.  Anyone seeing me at a contest or event has seen a TimeStick around my neck.
  • The units feature a keypad lock so you can carry it in your pocket without accidentally hitting a button and messing up your times.

Also, just like brothers, the two have some differences.
  • The TimeStick Trio adds a back light for being able to read your timer in dim lighting.
  • The Time Stick Trio has a bigger, easier to read display
  • The controls for both are similar but slightly different.  For someone who has never used either, I think that the TimeStick Trio controls are easier to use.  But if you have been using a TimeStick for a year and then switch to a TimeStick Trio like me, it is just different enough to be awkward because the clear and stop/start buttons are in different places.  My neighbor, John, had fun picking on me when I repeatedly kept hitting the wrong buttons at first. 

Be careful with placement on grill facings, as the TimeStick Trio operating range goes to 104°F. The plate by the control can heat up during cooking so put the timer on the facing out by the side shelves as shown here on my Char-Broil Gourmet.

Obviously this would be useful as a general timer but specifically I thought of these applications.
  • The first that comes to mind is these are great for tracking up to three of your meat categories for BBQ competitions.
  • If you are doing a sort of multi-phase cook like ribs (naked/foiled/naked) and you are going by color or other indicators for your splits, you can do a separate tracking of each segment without losing your data. That's helpful when you are doing recipe development.
  • On the deck or in the kitchen, the TimeStick Trio is great for keeping track of cooking times for your main course and multiple side dishes all on one device that goes with you.
The TimeStick Trio is currently priced at $35 and is available online through Thermoworks.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer] I received a TimeStick Trio from Thermoworks at no charge for review and I am on the Char-Broil All-Star team.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Brisket, Egg, and Pepper Jack Cheese Grits

Lately my job has had me on the road back and forth to Nashville for work groups and meeting with folks from the State. Nothing like driving 3 hours each way for a 2 hour meeting, right?

One of the places where I like to stop to eat on those trips is The Timberloft Restaurant just off of Interstate 40 near Carthage/Gordonsville (Exit 258).  The wood pile is what got me to stop the first time. The staff and food brought me back.

The cooker and wood pile out in front of The Timberloft. It's a great rig, about 4 times as long as my BBQ trailer.

Since that first time I have probably eaten here a couple dozen times over the past 10 years.  I have had the chance to talk with pitmaster and owner, Chef Kevin, a handful of times.  His wood of choice is hickory and his pork BBQ is Memphis style.  His brisket on the other hand is more Texas influenced - simply seasoned with a salt, pepper, and garlic based rub.  

Of course they also have other stuff than BBQ, including their perfectly grilled steaks, fantastic sandwiches, burgers, and their sides are top notch.  Their sidewinder fries are some of the best fries I've had.  They are thick spiral wedges that are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and heavily seasoned. They also batter dip corn on the cob and deep fry it - ridiculously good. And desserts?  They have a le Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef turning out some tantalizing desserts. 

So I go into all of that because I stopped by there on the way home to Knoxville this week.  I ordered the brisket plate and they gave me what BBQ hounds call "moist" slices, the best part where the brisket point and flat overlap.  It tasted as good as mine at home, Chef Kevin nailed it.  I took a few slices to go with me and this is what I made up with it.  

Since "Brisket, Egg, and Pepper Jack Cheese Grits" is too long to say, we're just going to call this "The Timberloft" around the house from now on...and we will be making this often.

Brisket, Egg, and Pepper Jack Cheese Grits 
Makes 2 servings - two BIG servings

  • 4 ounces smoked beef brisket
  • 1/4 cup beef stock
  • 1/4 cup fine diced tomato
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon BBQ rub or seasoned salt
For The Pepper Jack Cheese Grits
  • 1/2 cup stone ground grits
  • 1/2 cup pepper jack cheese (divided)
  • 2 teaspoons dried red bell pepper, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Prepare the stone ground grits according to package directions.  During the last 20 minutes, stir in the dried red bell pepper. Then in the last 10 minutes, add the butter, black pepper, and all but two big pinches of the cheese. Taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary.
  2. Reheat the brisket in the beef stock in a small pan over medium low heat.
  3. Preheat a skillet and add the butter.  Fry the eggs the way you like them and season with the BBQ rub or seasoned salt.
  4. Split the grits between two bowls.  Place the brisket on top of the grits and top each bowl with a fried egg.  Top both with the remaining cheese, diced tomato, and green onion.  
  5. Serve with a green chile hot sauce on the side.  
Gratuitous dried red pepper shot. I dehydrate batches of these any time they go on sale. The last a long time and rehydrate in dishes like this with more concentrated flavor than the fresh peppers. You can also buy bags of them online but I have saved the price of my dehydrator by doing them myself.

If you are ever traveling across Tennessee on I-40, stop in with Chef Kevin and his crew, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer] I received no compensation for this post and pay full price for my meals at The Timberloft.  Just a place where I like to eat and that has great staff.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fire Roasted Veggies on the Grill

My post this month as a post of the Char-Broil All-Star Team was about fire roasting veggies on the grill.  We have been on a roasted carrot kick so I knew what I wanted to do.  I came up with this Fire Roasted Carrot Soup with Poblano Crema.

The rich taste of the carrot soup and the sultry char of the poblano crema kind of warms you up from the inside out. 

What?  Yes, I did a vegetarian recipe but it wasn't on purpose.  It just tasted good this way. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Smoked Pork Bayou Soup

The past few weekends I have been smoking a bunch of pork butts because we had no vacuum sealed packs of pulled pork in our freezer and pork prices have been coming back down.

smoked pork, drum smoker
Three 8+ pound pork butts that I cooked while working on an upcoming review.

Obviously the first thing you think of when you have a bunch of smoked pork is the classic pulled or chopped pork BBQ sandwich.  In my case that sandwich would get a splash of a great Carolina vinegar sauce like this recipe from Lionel Bateman.  I got to meet Lionel several years ago at a Kingsford event in Vegas and now he lives near us.  I like this sauce because it reminds me a lot of the Lisbon, NC sauce that I use, a hybrid of Eastern and Western NC style sauces. It has the vinegar and hot pepper kick with a touch of sweetness and tomato base. 

pulled pork,

Of course, you can't always eat pulled pork sandwiches so we barbecue hounds come up with a ton of fantastic ways to use leftover pulled or chopped pork in different recipes.  Here is a Cajun soup that I made up recently on a cold rainy night.  I saw this as a great chance to use some of the varieties of chiles that I had dehydrated last weekend. 

dried red bell pepper
Cut into 3/8" cut and then dried at 135°F in the dehydrator for about 14 hours.

Instead of using dried chiles, you can just use 1/2 each of a fresh red and green bell pepper, diced, and add it with the onions at the beginning.

smoked pork bayou soup

Smoked Pork Bayou Soup
makes 6 servings

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • pinch Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 package Dirty Rice Mix
  • 2 tablespoons dried red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried green bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped smoked pork
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • Cornbread muffins or hush puppies for garnish
  1. Preheat a stock pan over medium high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of the divided butter, the onions (and peppers if using fresh), pinch of kosher salt, and saute until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Make a blonde roux by reducing heat to medium and sprinkling in the flour while constantly stirring.
  3. Slowly add the chicken stock while whisking briskly.  At first it will start to seize up.  Don't worry, keep adding the stock and whisking until it blends together.
  4. Add the dirty rice mix, dried bell peppers, and dried garlic.  Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, and maintain the simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. Stir in the pork, hot sauce, black pepper, and celery salt.  Allow to lightly simmer for 10 more minutes.
  6. Taste for seasoning and add salt/pepper as desired.  
  7. Serve with cornbread or hush puppies.
  1. We used Zatarain's Dirty Rice mix.  
  2. Cheating - I needed 5 cups of stock but they come 4 cups per package so I just use 4 cups stock and 1 cup water the second time I made this.  Could not tell a difference, so feel free to do that instead of opening a new carton of stock for just 1 cup.
leftover pork suggestion
This is a very hearty soup, it won't leave you hungry.

Nibble me this,
The cornbread muffin in the soup makes this perfect.
Cool Kickstarter Project
Have you ever eaten at a Brazilian Churrascaria syle restaurant where everything is cooked on huge skewers and the servers carry them around to carve the selection of meats right onto your plate?  We have one in Knoxville and they are a pretty fun experience, although you need to come hungry.

Right now there is a pretty cool Kickstarter project going on that would allow you to convert your grill to be like one of those restaurants - The Carson Rockin' Rodizio.

If you saw the Memphis episode of American Grillmasters this year you saw this device in action.  A friend of mine, Clint Cantwell, has one of the prototypes in his possession and he has had nothing but good things to say about it.  

They have tested it on many types of grills.
It is one of the more interesting grilling related Kickstarter projects that I have seen.  Click over to their Kickstarter page to find out more if you are interested in getting in on the ground floor.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I have no affiliation with Carson or Zatarain's and no compensation was received for this post.