Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maple Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Mash

Bourbon, pork, and maple syrup - I think they go so well together because they complement the natural sweet flavors that each possess.  

Great recipe for bourbon pork chops

I play up that even more by serving these Maple Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with a Sweet Potato Mash and candied pecans.

Usually I like more colors than orange/brown but in this case, it fit my mood of a cold fall day.  This is a recipe that I developed for Char-Broil: Maple Bourbon Glazed Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Mash so it's over at their site.  Check it out, it's a good one.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Product Review: Grilla Pellet Grill

In May, I got this pellet cooker from the folks at Grilla Grills as a "thank you" from them for cooking on their BBQ team at Memphis in May.  

I could have chosen to have one of their new and extra big Kong kamado grills but I ultimately chose the Grilla because
  1. I already have umpteen kamado grills and 
  2. I had used this Grilla at the event and was seriously impressed with it.
If you follow my social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), you've seen that we have used this cooker a lot over the Summer.  We even started taking it to our BBQ competitions.  It has gotten a lot of attention and people have been asking me about it often, so I thought I'd do a full review post on it.

First, I want to clarify my relationship with Grilla.  One of my friends assumed that I was working for them because we've been using it so much, but I'm not.  I don't get a check from them, I don't get commission on sales, and they aren't paying me to cook on their equipment.  I took a week of vacation to cook on their team and they gave me this cooker in return - that's all there is to it.  So when you have seen me using this cooker, it's because I wanted to use it.

What's A Pellet Cooker?
For the uninitiated, a pellet cooker is a type of smoker that burns pellets of compressed wood for heat and smoke.  You can get different "flavors" of wood pellets, such as; hickory, pecan, oak, cherry, blends, or just about any kind you want. They are about as easy of a cooker that you can get.

An auger (think big screw) pushes the wood pellets out of the black tube into the metal cup. Once the pellets are ignited, all of the heat is coming from the burning wood.  A computer monitors the heat, knows your target temp, and adds more pellets as needed to keep the temp at your set point.

The Grilla boasts a troop of features (a group of gorillas is called a troop).  You can click on the link for specifications but here is what I like about it.
The first feature you notice right out of the box?  Ease of assembly.  The top picture shows it uncrated.  You just stand it up right, take out the packaging, and attach the two shelves (6 screws).  That's it.  You're ready to let the smoke roll.

The next thing is the stylish design - how cool does this thing look?  But beauty is more than skin deep.  The shape has function.  The Grilla has a fan that blows air into the "waist" (skinny part) and that starts a swirling convection current - a vortex of smoke. Why is that important?
Convection Cooking
In Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin says that the most crucial element in selecting a smoker is airflow because that determines how well the smoker does it's job (48).  He repeatedly keys in on the importance on air flow.  In a recent BBQ class at Dead End BBQ in Knoxville, Christopher Prieto of Prime BBQ said that the aerodynamic of flow over and around meat in the cooker is extremely important.  Kenji Lopez-Alt explains in The Food Lab that moving air cooks faster and more evenly because moving air is constantly replenishing the energy around the colder food whereas still air cools quickly around the relatively colder food (31). So long story short, moving smoke is better smoke.

Another very cool design feature is the "Keep Heat Swing" lid. When you open a typical grill lid up, you are letting all of the heat out and then have to re-establish equilibrium.  With this lid, you can open it just a sliver to check things, spritz your meat, etc.  Plus, unlike some smokers, you don't have to worry about finding somewhere to put the lid when working in the cooker.

The Grilla has 488 square inches of cooking space and heavy duty, 1/4" stainless steel grill grates.

The control panel of the Grilla is intuitive - power button, temp up and down. 

Cool touch lid handle.

The large back wheels make it easy to move the Grilla around and this pedal retracts the front wheel, serving as a brake of sorts.

The face-plate isn't just cool looking.  It lets you see that your pellets are burning and doing their job.

Instead of having to put a drip pan on the heat deflector, the designer had what I think is a brilliant idea. The deflector plate angles slightly towards the back and then channels out of the cooker where you see here.  Then you just put a can in this holder to catch the grease and other drippings.

The Grilla has a large pellet hopper that holds 20 pounds of pellets, allowing for long cooks.
Some other features include

  • Heavy duty powder coat finish
  • Thick gauge metal construction
  • Stainless steel shelves
  • Easy 1 touch start up


We have used this cooker all Summer long and it has continued to impress me.

This smoker cooks pork butts like a champ. This time we were cooking an Albukirky's Green Chile pork butt to use for tacos, enchiladas, etc and a typical pork butt for BBQ.  It could handle 3 pork butts as is or 4 if I use a raised rack.
To test the steadiness of the heat, I hooked up my Flame Boss to monitor the temperature.  The blower wasn't hooked up, I was just graphing the cooking temperature and internal meat temperature.  The red line shows the cooking temperature which is steady.

Green chile pork with cilantro lime slaw is one of our favorite ways to smoke pork butts.

Several times this Summer, we fire roasted batches of bone in chicken breast to use for multi-purpose things like chicken salad, pastas, burritos, and casseroles.

We smoked a few whole chickens on the Grilla, as well.

Whole chickens are great for making pulled chicken sandwiches.

The Grilla is a brisket cooking beast.  I get great color, balanced smoke flavor, and deep smoke rings. Another kick butt Egger friend of mine has a pellet cooker and he says his cooks amazing briskets too.  At our last contest, we cooked a brisket on a kamado and one on the Grilla.  We ended up using the Grilla one based on results and got a top 10 call.  My favorite brisket would still be one that was on the Warthog (my ugly trailer pit) for 2 1/2 hours and then finished overnight on a kamado.

A Certified Angus Beef brisket point that we cooked on the Grilla.  Man.....that bark. I love smoked brisket points.

Slicing the brisket point to cut into burnt ends.  A perfect burnt end might just be the best single bite for beef.  The deep rich flavor, tender bite, and the bark just makes it the pinnacle of BBQ for me. 

The deep rich flavor, tender bite, and the bark just makes it the pinnacle of BBQ for me.   We sauce them for competitions but at home, I like having them without any sauce.  I like the smoke, salt, pepper and beef flavor to stand on their own.  But sauced are still freaking awesome too.

I get okay smoke rings on my kamado grills but everything has to be just right (cold meat, moist surface, moist cooker air, and good clean smoke).  I almost don't have try with the Grilla, I always get these deep smoke rings. I'm thinking of how convection currents keep hitting the meat with fresh hot moving air, so that means it's getting more smoke at the same time.  That has me thinking a lot about the difference between natural air draw and forced air currents, such as a Flame Boss on a kamado.

Bend test....yep, that's tender.

One weak spot for the Grilla, and any pellet cooker I have seen in action, is high temp grilling.  They rock for smoking, fire roasting, and baking but their upper limit seems to be air temps of around 450f.  Air temps of 450-500f doesn't equal direct grilling temps of 500f.  I found the best way to mimic grilling was to take out the grate and place GrillGrates directly on the heat deflecter.  

Doing this gives decent grill marks and then I can finish roasting to my desired internal temperature.  

Another area where charcoal grills have the edge is that the pellet cookers electric power.  If the power fails, your cooker is dead.  I haven't had this happen to us at all but I could see it being an issue at contest events where electric supply isn't the best sometimes.

A pair of pork spare ribs on the Grilla.  I'm using a 18" raised grate from one of my kamado grills here. 

How does the Grilla do for ribs?  Money!

Final Thoughts

We have put the Grilla pellet cooker through heavy use for the whole Summer.  We have used it and our BGE Mini-Max more than any of our other grills this year, so this review covers a thorough testing period.  After all of that use, I can say we love this cooker.  

The Grilla pellet cooker is a solid performer for smoking, fire roasting, and any indirect cooking up to 450f. The Grilla gives you steady temps and swirling sweet smoke.  It delivers a balanced smoke flavor, mahogany color, and those classic deep smoke rings that you associate with pit smoked BBQ.  It is an ideal cooker for someone already has a basic grill but wants to get into barbecuing and fire roasting.  Or like me, if you already have 16 grills but want to try your first pellet cooker, the Grilla is the one for you.


Product:   Grilla wood pellet grill
Price Point:  $799 including delivery to your door.
Where Sold:  Sold Online Only
Design:  5/5
Performance:  4.5/5
Value:  5/5

Overall:  4.83 / 5

Monday, October 17, 2016

Live From Smithfield - Day 1

Everyone knows that Smithfield, Virginia is the Ham Capital of the World.  But did you know that it was almost the Peanut Capital instead?  If a 1921 fire hadn't wiped out the peanut warehouses, Smithfield would have stayed the Peanut Capital and wouldn't be known worldwide for their hams.  

I learned that and a whole lot more recently when Smithfield Foods invited me up to learn more about their historic town, the company, and Genuine Smithfield Hams.  In full disclosure, they paid for my educational trip but all in all, I should have been paying them  - what a great few days.  Plus, to get a chance to walk through the hallowed halls of such a famed know I wasn't going to turn that down.

Day 1 was a travel day, happy hour, a cooking class, and then a great meal.  

I flew into Norfolk, Virginia, flying over the worlds largest naval installation.  See that tiny little ship down there?  Yeah, that's an aircraft carrier.

A short drive later, we arrived in Smithfield, Virginia - the Ham Capital of the World.  Located in Isle of Wight County (not an Isle...), Smithfield was established in 1752 and has been making history ever since.

Live From Smithfield Ham Capital of the World
We stayed at the Smithfield Inn which was also established in 1752.  Back then, it was a stagecoach stop - a welcome respite for travelers journeying the dusty roads.  It makes pulling up in an SUV rather anti-climatic. 
The Inn is well appointed with craft made furniture.  This is the front parlor, to the right when you first walk in. 

George Washington stayed at the inn.  A lot of places claim this but Conde Nast Traveler says Smithfield Inn is one of two places where it is a valid claim.

As you walk down the long wood plank floors of the upstairs hallway, it feels as if you are walking back in time.

Staircase to nowhere.  I forgot to ask about that.

I stayed in the George Washington Suite!  Yeah, don't get excited, it's just named after him.  They don't know which room he actually slept in.

Just like back in the day when stagecoach travelers might have a pint of ale to wash down the trail dust, we met at the inn's bar, where I had a Legend Brown Ale.  It reminded me of a less heavy Newcastle Brown Ale.
Best ham on the planet, best country ham, genuine Smithfield ham
The best ham I have ever had in my whole life.

At happy hour, they provided us with this "snack" - a Charles Henry Gray party ham.  Here I am in the Ham Capital of the World having the best ham they have to offer and it exceeded my expectations.  It's a country ham but treated to a very special painstaking process using Mr. Gray's secret brown sugar seasoning and taking over six months of curing, aging, and smoking. The flavor is deep, sweet, slightly smoky and pleasantly salty.  It's a ham experience and NOTHING like a wet cured, spiral sliced ham (not that there's anything wrong with those).  They are expensive but for a high end holiday party, this would be an amazing centerpiece.

And those yeast rolls?  Also incredible.  Together, I could have eaten nothing else on this trip but these ham rolls and I would have been just fine.  These are the secret recipe of Miss Mozell Brown, who has worked at the Smithfield Inn for 50 years.  She got the recipe from her mother and comes in every morning at 4am to make them so no one else in the kitchen can see her recipe.  These have been featured on television and won national acclaim, for good reason.

I could go on and on about both of these.  Together they are one of the most simple yet amazing single bites of food I have ever had.  A Smithfield Inn ham roll is everything great about Southern cooking in one bite.  If it sounds like I'm gushing, it's because I am.

Speaking of Miss Mozell, not only did we get to meet her, she taught us how to make bacon jam.  You'll have to excuse my photos for this part, we had lighting problems.  Apparently, you can't run more than a half dozen hot plates on a single power strip in a building built in 1752...who knew?  So I borrowed the photo on the left from the Inn's website.

It's kind of cheating when they had everything already prepped out for us in portion cups.  Maybe I can get them to come to my house?  

My partners at the bacon jam session were Robyn Lindars from Grill Girl and Clint Cantwell from Grillocracy.

After the bacon jamming, we headed to the main dining room for a fabulous dinner.

The inn put out an amazing feast for us, including candied bacon, Teriyaki ribs, carnitas, and the Virginia specialty, she crab soup.

HERE IS THE BACON JAM RECIPE that we made, or a version of it, and this is the one that I made on the grill this weekend.

I used light corn syrup instead of dark, because that's what we used in class.  Also instead of apple wood smoked bacon, I used Smithfield Thick Cut Hometown Original, which is hickory smoked.

I made the bacon jam on the grill in a Dutch Oven.  I was using a kamado grill running at 350°f with direct heat when I started.  I had the lower vent barely open because I had to keep opening the lid to stir, add ingredients, etc. and that gave the fire plenty of air.

Also, since the grill was MUCH hotter than what we used at the Inn, I didn't add the sugar in the onions until the onions had cooked for 10 minutes first.

We got about 3 small jelly jars full from this recipe.

Bacon ham on a homemade buttermilk biscuit?  Yes please!  
Here are the few changes I made to their recipe in order to make this on a ceramic kamado grill.  Today I was using a Big Green Egg but it would be the same process on any of our other kamados.
  1. First, don't rely on the 40 minute cook time.  There is one step where you simmer the jam for an hour.  
  2. By the time the bacon cooked, my Dutch oven was getting pretty hot so for the step on sauteing the onions and sugar for 15 minutes - I did the onions only for 10 minutes and added the sugar for the last 5 and that seems to work perfectly.
  3. Trying to reduce a hot kamado to a medium low heat for simmering for an hour is tough.  So I took the Dutch oven out, covered it and let it sit for 15 minutes (this stayed quite hot) while I shut down the grill's vents to get the temperature lowered enough.  Then I put the Dutch oven back on uncovered for the remaining 45 minutes.  
Day 1 Takeaways
  • Charles Henry Gray hams are incredible.
  • Miss Mozzell's rolls are delicious.
  • I need to make bacon jam on the grill (done!).
Operation BBQ Relief NC Deployment
I've mentioned Operation BBQ Relief on here several times.  They respond to feed the victims of and first responders to natural disasters.  They are a great non-profit and their leadership does not even collect a salary - all donations go straight to helping people.  On the heels of the Louisiana flooding deployment where OBR served 20,000-30,000 meals PER DAY - now they are in North Carolina serving over 25,000 meals per day.  This is stretching their resources thin.

Thanks to companies like Rhino, Walmart, and Weber for making large donations of supplies and logistics.  Smithfield's Helping Hungry Homes program has donated trucks full of products as well.  But OBR is truly a grassroots, regional response program that relies on people like you to donate and volunteer.  Sign up here to be a volunteer in your region for future deployments.  Check out their Amazon Wishlist to donate supplies.  Of course, cash is the fastest way to get assistance to ongoing deployments.