Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wagyu Brisket Tamales with Red Chile Sauce

We've just started having a few cool nights and Summer isn't forgotten yet, but I have already had a big craving for tamales so we made some this past weekend.

Bill and Cheryl Jamison are well known for their BBQ classic, Smoke and Spice: Cooking With Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue-a must have for any barbecue enthusiast.  But a few years ago they came out with Tasting New Mexico: Recipes Celebrating One Hundred Years of Distinctive Home Cooking, which is loaded with fantastic traditional Southwestern cooking, and that is where I turned for recipe ideas.  I used their tamale dough from their recipe for New Mexican Pork and Red Chile Tamales and varied one of their red chile sauces.  

If you can't or don't want to smoke your own brisket, no problem, just buy some from your local BBQ place.  In Knoxville, I'd highly recommend Dead End BBQ or Full Service BBQ.  Both make great brisket.  For corn husks, I just buy those at my local grocery store.  Pretty much all of the major chains carry them in their Latino foods section.   

wagyu beef brisket tamales, leftover brisket, grill dome brisket, kamado brisket

Brisket Tamales with Red Chile Sauce

dough and sauce adapted from Tasting New Mexico


  • 18-24 dried corn husks, soaked according to package directions
  • 1 recipe tamale dough
  • 2 cups chopped smoked brisket
For the Red Chile Sauce
  • 8 ounces dried chiles
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water, see notes
  • salt to taste, 1 to 2 teaspoons


  1. Preheat your grill to 350°f.  Toast the chiles over the fire in a grill pan, tossing once or twice, until the chiles become fragrant.  This should be about 1-2 minutes.
  2. Remove the end and seeds from the chile and discard.  Break up the chiles into pieces in a blender.  Add the tomato paste, seasoned salt, oregano, sugar (optional), and stock.  Pulse the blender until the mixture forms a paste.  Add in water in batches until you reach a sauce like consistency.  
  3. Place thick bottomed pot on the grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes.  Add the oil and wait 1 minute.  Add the onions and garlic.  Saute until tender, 5-8 minutes.  
  4. Add the chile mixture from the blender to the pot.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the pot from the grill, taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.  
  5. Stir in a few tablespoons of the red chile sauce in with the chopped brisket.
  6. Take a husk in one hand and then smear about 2-3 tablespoons of the tamale dough across the wider part of the husk.  Place about 2-3 tablespoons of chopped brisket on top of that.  Roll up into a cylinder, and fold the empty end up (you can tie with a string but we just lay them folded side down).  Repeat with remaining dough and brisket.
  7. Place a trivet in the bottom of a large stock pot and fill 1/2 inch deep with water.  Place the tamales in, folded side down, tightly close a lid on top, and heat until steaming.  Steam until the dough firms up, 45 minutes to 2 hours, replenishing the water as it dries up.
  8. Remove from heat and carefully remove lid to avoid steam burns.  Serve tamales with some of the sauce ladled over them.
Yield: 18 tamales
Tags: brisket, beef, Tex-Mex

I forgot how long steaming the tamales could take.  I was starving by the time they finished 2 hours later!  

wagyu brisket, willy's butcher shop knoxville
This Wagyu brisket from Willy's Butcher Shop in Knoxville was drop dead gorgeous!  Look at that marbling.

Homemade beef rub, best brisket rub
This brisket was for our enjoyment, not a competition, so I just used my beef rub on it (kosher salt, cracked black pepper, crushed green peppercorns, onion, garlic, red and green bell pepper, and oregano).

brisket prep, how to prep brisket,
The rack under the brisket helps the rub stay on instead of getting stuck to the bottom of the bin.

smoked beef brisket, butcher paper brisket, whole brisket
Instead of foil, we used butcher paper for wrapping.  I plan to do a full Franklin method brisket soon using our offset BBQ pit but this time, I used one of our Big Green Eggs.

smoked beef brisket, butcher paper brisket, whole brisket
I got a really nice, dark bark on this brisket.

juicy brisket, sliced brisket, bbq brisket,
Black gold! Dark and smoky on the exterior, tender and juicy on the inside.
sliced beef brisket, smoked brisket, big green egg brisket, kamado brisket

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Product Review: Flame Boss 200 Electronic Controller for Smokers

Electric controllers for BBQ smokers have been around for quite a while now.  I can remember when they were a pretty brand new thing.  I received a Flame Boss 200 electronic smoker controller to review and for the past two months, I have been putting it through its paces at the NMT Proving Grounds (aka my back deck).   I am impressed with the features, performance, and functionality of the Flame Boss 200 system.

A Bit About Controllers
For folks not familiar with them, electronic controllers are devices that keep an eye on your smoker and maintains a cooking temperature.  In an overly simplified explanation, a processor keeps checking the temperature probe inside your grill and if that is below the goal or "set" temperature that you wanted, it kicks on a fan to stoke the fire and bring up the heat.

What really goes on in the processor (really a PID controller) is much more advanced than a simple if-then feedback loop.  It's constantly measuring data.  It's calculating deviation, rates of change, and making predictions about grill behavior and then adjusting how it controls the blower.

Instant Pitmaster?
Now before you run off thinking all you have to do is buy one of these and you'll be an instant pitmaster, it's not that easy.  My advice to everyone is that you should have at least six months of experience with frequent cooks using the manual controls of your cooker before you begin using an electronic controller.  You need to have an intimate understanding of fire management and how your smoker acts/reacts. An electronic controller won't turn a bad pit monkey into a talented pitmaster, it's not a magic bullet.

Classes of Controllers
When it comes to controllers, I group them into two categories - entry level and premium.  Entry level controllers are low cost ($145-$200), usually have only one temp probe, and have only basic functions.  Some entry level controllers include Auber, iQue120, and PartyQ.  Premium controllers cost more ($300-$400+), have multiple temp probes, and have features like wireless capability, ramp down modes, and open pit detection.   Some premium controllers include DigiQ DX2, CyberQ, Stoker, and both Flame Boss models. (Note: The DigiQ DX2 and Flame Boss 100 don't have wireless but have other premium features.)

When you buy a Flame Boss 200 for kamado grills like the Grill Dome, Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, etc, it comes with the following items: 

Clockwise from upper left:  PID controller with mounting bracket, power adapter, 2 blower adapters, blower, cooking temp probe, and meat temp probe.

PID controller
This is the heart of the system and does all of the thinking. I like the design, it reminds me of electronics for boats.  The housing is plastic and the faceplate has blister style buttons, which make it a little more splash resistance (that's my opinion, not their claim).

  • User Friendly - The display and controls are simple, intuitive, and put everything you need at the touch of a finger tip.
  • Backlit LCD display is easy to read day or night.  It has the key information displayed at a glance - your target temp, current temp, fan status as a percentage, and meat temp.
  • It has alerts for when you hit your target meat temperature or cook timer.  You can even have them come to your smart phone.
  • Auto Learning - The Flame Boss actually learns from how your smoker acts during cooks and applies this information to future cooks.  Yep, Artificial Intelligence for your grill.  (Not sure whether I want to go with a "Hello Professor Falken...would you like to smoke a brisket?" or a Skynet joke here.) 
  • Mounting Bracket - The device comes with a mounting bracket so you can permanently install to your table or a base or you can skip the bracket and lay it flat.  I totally would not even mention that except I saw that another controller manufacturer charges $20 for a bracket.
  • Keep Warm - You can set the Flame Boss 200 so that when your meat hits the target internal temperature, the controller will drop the pit temp to whatever pit temp you want to just keep the meat warm.  This keeps you from overcooking your meat because sometimes butts and briskets cook faster than others.  
  • Open Pit Detection - With my Auber Instruments controller, when I open my kamado, the controller sees the temperature drop and kicks on the fan while the lid is open and stokes the fire trying desperately to raise the temperature.  Then when the lid closes, I have too hot of a fire.  I learned to unplug the fan before opening the smoker because of this.  The Flame Boss 200 is smarter than that.  It detects the temp drop, realizes the pit is open and starts an adjustable timed delay where it does nothing.  Once your lid is closed, it will kick back on and run the fan as needed to restore the normal temps.
  • Power Glitch protection - If your electrical power kicks off and back on, the Flame Boss recalls the last settings instead of defaulting to factory settings so it won't mess up your cook.

Flame Boss 200 and Flame Boss 100 shown next to an Auber Instruments controller.

It's important to keep the top vent almost all of the way closed when using a controller at low and slow temps.
Temperature Probes
The temperature probe wires for the meat and pit are often a critical failure point in remote probe thermometers and controllers. My sister and I experienced this when the probe wires for a controller we were using died in the middle of the night when cooking for 80 people. The Flame Boss uses ruggedized probes and cables to make their system more robust than others.
  • PTFE coating (aka teflon) of the cables keeps them from getting wet and add physical protection.  This coating also makes it easy to wipe the wires clean.
  • The Flame Boss uses RTD temperature sensors which are more expensive than thermocouples but they are more accurate, stable, and have a more robust signal.
  • Cable Management helps keep things orderly and avoids damage to cords.  The Flame Boss uses right angle 3.5mm jacks for connecting wires to the processor, which has a recessed protected lip where the cables connect.  That's a small detail but I appreciate it.
  • Six feet long - some controllers start at 4' cables and offer longer ones as an upgrade.  Believe me, you'll want the 6 feet long cables.
Flame Boss cable on left, Auber Instruments on right.  The flame boss cable is PTFE coated and is at a right angle so it doesn't stick straight out from the processor.  When things stick straight out of a device, they are easier to break (USB cables anyone?) and it puts extra tension on the cable because it has to bend. 

Nice cable management keeps wires out of your way and keeps the wires safe.

More cable protection where the cable enters the meat probe.
The blower for the Flame Boss is powered by the same Delta brushless 6.5 cfm fan that Auber Instruments use.  It is a variable speed fan so it lets the controller tailor the amount of air blowing into your smoker.  The status of the fan is on the home screen and listed as a percentage.  I have found it to be more than adequate and I have rarely seen it run at 100% except for start ups. It is super easy to install on a kamado grill.
Auber Instruments on top uses a spring loaded connection.  The Flame Boss on bottom simply utilizes gravity to hold in place.  Springs wear out, gravity doesn't.
Flame Boss 200 fits on a variety of kamado grills, Weber Smoky Mountain smokers, and many other cookers.  Here it is shown mounted on the different vents of 3 of our kamado grills.
Easily my favorite feature!  The Flame Boss 200 connects through your home WiFi to access a web based application.  It's a super easy set up, all you do is enter your network name and password.  No installing software, no fiddling with laptop settings or ports.  You can even use a hot spot connection at a remote location, ideal for BBQ contests.

The Dashboard works the same on your phone, tablet, or computer, no different versions to contend with.  It's so freaking awesome on overnight cooks to be able to check my temps and even adjust them without even getting out of bed! 
The set up was very easy and worked on the first try.

Screenshot of the Dashboard from my laptop.  This was a saved cook, otherwise, the 4 tiles at the top would disply set temp, pit temp, fan output, and current meat temp. The drops in the red line (cooking temp) are from me opening the lid a lot for spritzing, taking pictures, etc.

Screenshot from my mobile phone during a cook.  The 4 tiles give you at a glance information while the detailed graph would be scrolled down below.  You can change the cooking and internal meat temps right from your phone.
Returns and Warranty
Flame Boss offers a satisfaction guaranteed, 30 day return policy.  When you are spending hundreds of dollars you would expect that, right?  As Lee Corso would say, not so fast! One leading controller company won't accept returns if the controller has been used at all.  Another one will only accept it if it is in "resellable condition".

Flame Boss backs their product with a full 1 year warranty compared to 90 and 180 days from other controller makers. 
Features I'd Like To See
This is a short list because there are so many bells and whistles built into the Flame Boss.
  • High/low cook temp alarms - while the controller keeps the temps steady so there shouldn't be high or low cook temps, there are things outside of the Flame Boss' control, like running out of coal or someone leaving the top vent open.  Good news is this feature is coming in an upcoming firmware update.
  • Deadman Alert - I haven't seen any controller with this yet. Premium ones like Flame Boss remember the settings once the power comes back on. But what if you are asleep and the power goes out for longer?  The fire could die by the time power is back on. It would be cool to have an alert from the Dashboard that it lost the controller connection for more than "x" length of time. 
  • Edit capability to add information with the historical graphs.  It would be nice to have a field to add ad hoc information to be saved, such as meat (weight, source), prep (injections, rubs used, trimming), and other cook details. 
The Flame Boss 200 is a top of the line electric controller for your kamado smoker/grill.  It is packed with features, performs well, and I have no problem giving it a "highly recommended" rating.  If you don't want or need the Wifi capability (you do, you really do), you can get the Flame Boss 100 for $60 less and still get all of the other great features.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer] I got the review sample for free but I put my money where my mouth is and just bought another Flame Boss 200 at full price for our BBQ team.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grilled Rib Chops with Coppa Bacon and Apple Compote

We splurged this weekend and got some nicely marbled Berkshire* rib chops that ended up in this fantastic Grilled Rib Chops with Coppa Bacon and Apple Compote.

Berkshire pork, pork chop, grilled pork chop,
The smoky salty bacon, sweet apple compote, and simply seasoned pork chop play well together.

We splurged because we went to Willy's Butcher Shop in Knoxville without a shopping list. You know how they say not to go shopping when hungry?  Yeah, don't go to Willy's without a list either or you'll want to buy some of everything.  

Willy's Butcher Shop is located in the Homberg shopping district of Knoxville.

So we had already bought a fine Wagyu brisket, shop ground Toulouse sausage, and our Berkshire chops. We were on our way out the door when Willy called us back to try some of the best bacon I have ever had in my life - cherry wood smoked coppa bacon.  

Willy's Butcher Shop, bacon, coppa bacon
Willy slicing into his fresh smoked coppa bacon.

For the coppa bacon, he had taken a few "money muscles", cured them, and had just taken them out of the smoker.  The "money muscle" is what competitive BBQ teams call the treasured portion of the pork butt that helps them win the money, hence the name. The bacon was amazing with a lot of sweet up front, not from the sugar in the cure, but from the meat itself.  Then as the tender meat breaks down, a prosciutto like saltiness comes across and it finishes with a balanced smoke flavor.  I talked about it all of the way home so Alexis went back and bought an entire chub of it.

Coppa bacon from the pork shoulder - it's like a cross between Canadian bacon, prosciutto, and pork belly bacon.
Love this bacon!  I think a slice of this, an olive, and a cube of semi-hard cheese would be the perfect cocktail skewer.  I also can't wait to make some eggs Benedict with it.  I used it as a garnish for my chops because the saltiness contrasts the sweet of the apple compote. For this recipe you could substitute some Canadian bacon.  

I went very basic with the pork seasoning because I wanted the quality of the pork to come through. The idea for the compote comes from Adam Perry Lang's BBQ 25 - a great quick reference grilling book, btw - for how to cook thick pork chops.  I used a different method than his though.  The concern with grilling thick pork chops directly is that by the time the center is cooked, the outsides are overcooked.  There are several ways to do this but today my method was to use GrillGrates and a slightly lower cooking temperature.  First you use them to sear the chops, then with a raised grid the GrillGrates serve as a heat shield to let the chops roast. You can use GrillGrates and this method for any gas or charcoal grill, not just kamados.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brisket Tacos with Charred Corn Salsa

Last month, our BBQ team did a grilling demo for Grill Dome kamado grills and Saber premium gas grills at the local dealer.  Since football season was just a few weeks away, our theme was tailgating.  We made John's breakfast pizza, MOINK! balls, stuffed Fritos, and these tasty brisket tacos.

tailgate food, brisket, certified angus beef, food truck
Liven up your tailgates with food truck style brisket tacos.

Brisket tacos are one of my favorite things to get at Martin's BBQ in Mt Juliette, TN when I'm headed home from meetings in Nashville. Theirs is just shredded brisket, tomato salsa, cheese, jalapenos, and I like to add in some of their pinto beans.

brisket tacos, Martin's BBQ
If you're hungry and traversing Tennessee on I-40, stop off at Exit 226 in Mt Juliette, and get yourself some great BBQ at Martin's.  It's on the South side of I-40 across from Olive Garden and Target.

Their brisket tacos are always good or I wouldn't be getting them all of the time.  But I wanted to make mine a little more "food truck" style.  So I upgraded to a charred corn salsa.  For a flavor boost, we hit it with our Salsa Verde Cremosa and Chipotle Lime Crema.

This recipe is excellent for tailgates for several reasons. It's different than the usual burgers and dogs.  It's portable and keeps one hand free for the adult beverage of your choice. It also extends how many servings you can get out of your beef.  Best of all, it's flexible for preparation:
  1. Make it all onsite if you are overnighting it at the tailgate,
  2. Make the brisket at home and transport it whole to the game, then grill the salsa and tortiallas at the stadium, or
  3. Make everything at home and just put it together at the game.
We opted for option #2, smoking the brisket flat at my house and took it wrapped in foil in a Cambro (you could use a warm insulated cooler) so it would stay hot for 4+ hours. Having a kamado grill like my Grill Dome makes it easier since I can sleep through most of the overnight cook. We grilled the salsa veggies onsite, sliced the brisket, and then grilled corn tortillas to order as we handed out the tacos.

Brisket Tacos with Charred Corn Salsa

Published 09/20/2015


  • 7lb Certified Angus Beef brisket flat
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1/4 cup fajita seasoning or taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup beef seasoning (see substitutions)
  • 18 corn tortillas (taco size)
  • Salsa Verde Cremosa
  • Chipotle Lime Crema 
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
For the Charred Corn Salsa
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 5 ears yellow corn on the cob
  • 1 poblano chile
  • 2 jalapeno chile
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • season salt to taste


  • About 24 hours before serving, prepare your brisket flat.  Trim fat cap to about 1/8-1/4" thick. Use a meat injector to inject stock (optional but helps keep moist) into the brisket every few inches.  Moisten the outside of the brisket flat with the excess stock and then season evenly all over (don't forget the sides) with the beef seasoning and fajita or taco seasoning.  Refrigerate.
  • About 14 hours before serving, set up your smoker or indirect grill and preheat to 275°f.  
  • About 13 hours before your tailgate, place the brisket on your smoker/grill and smoke until the flat is tender when you insert a skewer or temperature probe.  This will take about 1 hour per pound or when the internal temperature hits about 200°f.  When done, double wrap in foil and place in a warm cooler lined with a towel, the brisket with another towel, and close.  This will keep it warm until ready to slice at the tailgate.
  • Meanwhile, preheat a grill to medium high (450°f) and cook the corn and chiles until charred on all sides.  This will take 8-10 minutes, turning them every few minutes.  
  • Make the salsa.  Peel, seed, and dice the chiles and place in a medium bowl.  Stand each corn cob on one end and remove the kernels by running a sharp knife down the sides. Place corn in the bowl.  Add the onion, black beans, tomatoes, lime juice, and oil to the bowl and stir.  Season to taste with season salt and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • At the game:  Slice the brisket and chop or break into 1" pieces.  Grill the tortillas over a hot grill until slightly browned on each side, about 6 to 10 seconds a side.  Top each tortilla with a spoon full of brisket pieces, a heaping tablespoon of salsa, a squirt of salsa verde, a squirt of crema, and if desired, a few pieces of cilantro.
Yield: 18+ tacos

  • Beef Seasoning - I used my NMT Beef Seasoning. You can also use garlic pepper seasoning, Montreal seasoning, any commercial beef rub, or just use 3 parts salt, 2 parts black pepper, 1 part granulated garlic. 
  • Chipotle Lime Crema - There are several easy recipes. One is to blend 1 cup Mexican crema, 1 chipotle pepper (seeded), and 1 ounce lime juice.  Another is to blend a cup of Mexican crema, 1 ounce lime juice, 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder, 1/2 teaspoon season salt, and chili powder to taste. 
I like to keep my briskets or brisket flats on a raised rack like this so that the rub on the bottom doesn't get stuck to the pan.

Use the wood you like.  I like using a triangle stack of 1" x 13" splits of oak or hickory.  The coals go in over this.  The basket is a KickAsh basket which makes reusing your coals easier.

My Grill Dome out front since we were staining our deck when we did this demo.

We grilled veggies for the salsa and the cremosa on the Saber grill. The infrared cooking charred the veggies quickly without drying everything out.

Don't worry, you aren't burning the corn, you are just charring sections of the cobs which packs flavor into the salsa.

You can buy jarred salsa for your tailgates but fresh is cheap, easy, and soooo much better.

Saber gas grill, stuffed fritos, grilling tortillas
Alexis heating the tortillas on the Saber grill while the stuffed Fritos were cooking.

tailgate, leftover brisket
A great combination of flavors all in a one handed meal.

Here are some other shots from our grilling demo at The Great Backyard Place, Knoxville's Saber gas grills and Grill Dome dealer.

Knoxville grill dome dealer, asheville grill dome dealer, Chattanooga grill dome dealer, TN Saber dealer
They used to be the Great Pool Place for years but they carry so much more for your outdoor lifestyle that they recently changed their name.  They have top end outdoor furniture, Saber gas grills, Grill Dome kamado grills, and amazing outdoor kitchen set ups.  Check them out in Knoxville, Maryville, Cleveland, Chattanooga, and Asheville.

grill dome carrier crate
They might be heavy but you can take your Grill Dome to your tailgate if you are inclined.

Setting up for a grilling demo.

John creating one of his breakfast pizzas, these are perfect for tailgating for early games!

Saber gas grill
Alexis cooking eggs on the Saber side burner while I'm grilling chiles for the salsas.

Eggs, sausage, bacon, cheese, and more all loaded onto a killer breakfast pizza. 

MOINK! balls are easy and ideal for preparing ahead of the tailgate.

Meatballs, bacon, and BBQ sauce, how can you go wrong with that?

tailgate food
Stuffed Fritos are a bit unexpected, easy to make, and always a big hit.

The Saber grill was the nicest gas grill I have ever used. Great design and plenty of infrared heat, this thing can cook!  It is a complete departure from most gas grills that use hot dry air to cook your food.

Excuse the blurry phone picture.  Whoever thought that the lowly Frito could be so awesome?

The rain wasn't supposed to hit until the end of our demo...it had other plans. It got dark with 2 hours to go and then the torrential rains kicked in.

Just hanging around?  No...hanging on!  With the rain came winds that knocked over trees all around the Bearden area.

Hanging on wasn't just for dramatic effect.  Shortly before, the other tent caught a draft, lifted straight up in the air about 15 feet (with Anna Mae under it), and then flipped upside down like this.  It took our buffet table of food with it.
Normally we strap our tents down with 5-gallon buckets of water on each corner but we were counting on being gone before the rains were supposed to arrive.  Lesson learned!

[Standard FTC Disclaimer] We are sponsored by Grill Dome, Char-Broil (which is in the same corporate family as Saber), and The Great Backyard Place.