Sunday, December 31, 2006

Smoked Pork BBQ - Part 5 - smoking continues

The pork is 7 hours into the process. I'm actually having the opposite problem this time than over the summer. Since it was so cold out this morning, I had a little trouble keeping the temperature up. The result should be just as good (we'll see), but I'm using a heck of a lot more fuel. Also, the wood chunks are burning faster than I expected - so perhaps more of those will be be used as well. It's almost 12:30 and the smoking is in a nice groove. I'll probably smoke for another few of hours, then wrap.

As I said, there's as school of thought out there that says a piece of meat can actually be "saturated" with smoke. Meaning that it doesn't matter how much longer you smoke it, the smoky flavor will not actually increase. Also, wrapping in foil will actually allow enhance the tender texture of the pork. Either way, here's how things looked at high noon. If you need something to read in the meantime - here's a great site with pork butt tips.

Smoked Pork BBQ - Part 4 - Smoking begins

It's 5AM and the butt is now in position. The charcoal is arranged just how I wanted it and the wood junks are on top of them smoking away. Of course, right away the first problem comes up. After only 5 minutes, the temp has spiked to around 300 on the meat side and the fuel side is going like gangbusters. It's producing a lot of smoke, but also a lot of fire.

Not too worried about it though, this is exactly what happened the first time I tried this, except the temp actually spiked even higher. I'll monitor it for the next 20 min before dozing off for a nap. Once I get into a groove, all will be well.

UPDATE: It's now 5:20, the temp has come down to 250 (the goal is 200-225), and there's tons of smoke moving through this thing. The pork now begins absorbing flavor. Yum!
UPDATE 2: It's now 6:20, the temp has come down to 230. I added a few more coals and wood chunks. Things are going fine now but the temp needs to drop just a smidge more. This process will continue with wood and coals being added about every hour or so. I'll post another pic around 10AM when the meat starts looking crusty.

Smoked Pork BBQ - Part 3 - The Fuel

Yah, it's just about 4:30AM on New Year's Eve. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one away in the neighborhood, except for whomever ran over the skunk that I can smell. Of course, as awful as it sounds, I hope that's what happened. The alternatives are not good.

It's important to smoke pork for a long time. I don't want to leave the impression that this is incredibly difficult, it's not. It just takes a while, and the longer the better, so I decided to get an early start. I do subscribe to that school of thought that a hunk of meat can actually only hold a certain amount of smoke, but the cooking time still needs to be long (more on all that later).

So, out of bet at 4, prepped up and ready to go - just waiting for the charcoal to get ready. Before all you purists scream at me, please know that I'm not claiming to be a purist. I don't have an actual smoker, so this modified version will have to do. My fuel will be reliable Kingsford charcoal (for heat), and water-logged hickory wood chunks (for smoke). I've got just under half a chimney heating up, and about that same amount in on the coal tray waiting. This is sotof a modified "minion method" that prolongs the heat without the need to add a lot of charcoal.

Here's the wood chunks, and chimney a smoking...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Smoked Pork BBQ - Part 2 - the Sauces

As I said, traditional Lexington pulled pork BBQ is sauced with a vinegar based condiment. In fact, some restaurants offer nothing but the vinegar sauce. There's always this discussion going in North Carolina regarding Eastern vs Western NC styles. The differences are slight for my purposes - and I'm certainly not going to be smoking an entire hog, or even a side of pork as they do in the East. Some say Western (Lexington) style is supposed to have a touch of tomato in their sauce as well, but in my experience, some joints in that area do it that way, and others do not.

I've learned that BBQ sauce is actually quite easy to make, although there are also some very good commercial brands out there. My favorite right now is Sweet Baby Ray's (really a rib sauce), with other good choices including Stubb's (from Texas), and Open Pit - which is more of a Kansas City style) sauce.

So, I decided to make several sauces - 4 totally difference varieties in fact. Here they are left to right:

1) Mid-Western tasting -tomato/molasses based sauce.
2) South Carolina style mustard based sauce.
3) NC style vinegar based sauce.
4) Chimichurri sauce. I know, I know - this is meant for the fantastic beef that's found in Argentina. I had the opportunity to spend some time in that beautiful country many years ago, along with one of our New Year's eve guests. So, the chimichurri will be something completely different, and I can always save it for a nice steak or roast if it tastes horrible on the pulled pork.

Smoked Pork BBQ - Part 1 - The Rub

I've decided to bring you along for the ride as I prepare smoked pork BBQ for New Year's Eve.

I prefer a North Carolina Style BBQ - using a pork butt roast (don't worry, it's actually a shoulder roast). My wife's family hails from the Winston-Salem area, very close to Lexington - the BBQ capital of the world. In that part of NC, BBQ means very slow wood smoking, and a vinegar based sauce. There are a number of places that have great Q, but my favorite is called Speedy Lohr's in Arcadia. Not to be confused with the dozen or so other places called Speedy's in that region. If your ever traveling and have a hankering for decent BBQ, just make sure you see a wood pile somewhere on the property. The only thing I don't like about Lexington BBQ is the bread. They usually just serve cheapo hamburger rolls. These lousy rolls show up all across the Southern US as well.

One great thing about the fact that I love BBQ is that our best-o-friends also love BBQ. They'll be joining us for what I hope will be a festive evening with some fine chow.

The proper pork butt does take some time - a bit of prep, and 10 or so hours of smoking. I also like to use a tasty rub - one that will make a nice crust. So, I picked up a 6.8 lb roast at the Fairgrounds Farmer's Market today. I could blog several posts on that place alone! Anyway - I rubbed the roast with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and cumin. It's all wrapped tight in foil and making itself happy in our fridge. My mouth is watering already!
Sorry 'bout the glare...

Monday, December 25, 2006

A little fun survey

Now for something a little different. I'm sure you've all seen those blog or e-mail questionnaires that go around. You know - questions that attempt to help people to get to know you. Some of them are better than others. Hopefully - this one will be worth answering. So, without further ado...

(if you care to respond, just copy and paste in a comment)

3 favoritest foods:
Pizza, Scallops, Tamales

Favorite snack food:
Potato chips (cooked in lard of course!)

Favorite Breakfast food:
French Toast

Favorite Beverage:
Diet Dr. Pepper

3 favoritest local restaurants:
Alebreje, Judy's on Cherry, Panda Heaven (all Reading, PA area)

3 favoritest non-local restaurants:
Coastal Cactus (OBX), Rosita's Place (Phoenix), Tripps (Winston-Salem)

Favorite fast food place:

You're at the farmer's market - you're hungry - you've got 10 bucks - what do you buy?
A bag of fresh roasted peanuts, a whoopie pie, and a sausage sandwich.

3 least favorite foods:
Mushrooms, oysters, candied yams.

Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish - pick just one?:

What game-ish meats have you had?
Venison, antelope, elk, rabbit, turtle, frog's legs (not sure if all of those count)

What's the most unusual thing you've ever eaten?
Hmm, probably sweetbreads in Argentina.

Like sushi?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Restaurant Review - 5th Street Diner

Consider this my first restaurant review. I'm writing about 5th Street Diner because it's kindof our latest regular place to go, particularly with our current slim budget requirements. The wife and I rarely spend more more than 20 bucks including tip.

No - you won't get a gourmet meal at 5th Street Diner. What you will get is a reliably good plate of grub (and darn good soup), a clean booth or table, and good service. They also grind their own beef - which makes for a great burger.

If you like Gyro's - visit 5th Street Diner. There's only one place I've been that makes better ones (at the Ephrata Fair), and most restaurants don't really know what their doing. They make a good french dip, and a real grilled ham and cheese. You know - where the ham is grilled before becoming part of the sandwich.

So, if you're in the Reading area, head up to 5th Street diner, situated between Sam's and Walmart on 5th Street in Temple.

Friday, December 15, 2006


The wife and I usually host the family gathering at our house. This has been going on since we moved in over 7 years ago, so we're getting the hang of it. We've got the basics nailed down - the turkey, stuffing, mashed taters, gravy, cranberry sauce, apple pie, and rolls. The rest of the family are kind enough to bring some other favorites - green bean casserole (yuk), creamed mushrooms (super-yuk), various dips and pre-gorging snacks, as well as additional deserts such as my sister-in-law's pumpkin pie.

This year, we went all out again, but the most ambitious task by far was our giant turkey. He was so huge and impressive that we dubbed him "Turkules" - master of all gobbledom. Half god and half bird.

29.45 lbs. Yah, you read that right - just a half pound shy of 30. Luckily we remembered to take pictures of some of the preparation. Some of them are, well, um, kinda, sorta gross. You really don't want to see pictures of me washing him or dropping him in the brine. BTW - here's Alton Brown's recipe - the one we use.

I'll keep the pictures pleasant. Here's Turkules just before prep. Just to give you some perspective, we have a huge sink - it's 19 inches across, and 10 inches deap.

Here's the supreme gobbler unwrapped and flexing his muscles.

Here's the finished Turkules. Finally defeated by 12 hours of brine, a blast of 500 degree heat, plus 4 more hours of roasting. His legacy? 12 full bellies, the tastiest gravy ever(prepared by the red-head), about 7 turkey sammiches, a giant pot of turkey corn soup, and still some remains in the freezer.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Santa Nutter Butters

I'm not much for cutesy stuff, nor am I really into crafty ideas normally. But once in a while, you see something that's just so cool you have to take notice. One of the ladies at work made made these Santa Clause Nutter Butters. It's a very creative idea and tasted great as well. There were dozens of these little guys, I can't imagine how much time she spent on them. They all look exactly alike - which is also a little bit creepy - like maybe they're watching you.

Cube Chili - part 2

The pot luck was great. Breakfast casserole is a strange but tasty concoction. My cube-neighbor made a smoked cheddar dip that was delicious. There was also good crab dip, 7-layer salad, and a Greek salad that was kinda like bruschetta topping. Here's the chili right before serving - 0ne of my better batches. I wasn't quite used to the new crock pot, and probably will start it a good 2 hours earlier.

Cube Chili

Today is the IT Christmas Pot Luck. Cube-rats from the 3rd and 1st floor are bringing in a wide variety of sharable size yummies. This is one of the most serious pot-lucks around - we start with breakfast items go through lunch, and then bring out various cookies and deserts.

For the past few years I've brought my super-spicy turkey chili. This is sortof my specialty, and definitely one of my favorite things to make. It's all about good ingredients and layered flavor. Anyway - the first year, most people didn't even realize it was ground turkey and not ground beef.

I made this year's batch last night after V-ball, stick it in the fridge, and now it's heating up in my cube in our new crock pot - 6 quarter with locking lid. Certainly, I'm breaking all kinds of company rules! Here's a pic as I arrived at work about an hour ago. I have more from the prep that I'll post later after I actually get some work done.

Got about 5 hours to go...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Salmon Salad

No, not salmon made into a sandwich type salad - ala tuna. But it's a Sam's Club salmon fillet grilled and placed atop a pre-bagged salad with Newman's Own light honey mustard dressing, toasted sesame seeds, crunchy oriental noodles, and raisins (the redhead left those off).
It's easy, fast (10 minutes), healthy, and satisfying. There are a number of variations we use. Sometimes we use sesame ginger dressing, sometimes ranch. On other occasions we top it with sauted shrimp.

A very tasty meal - please ignore the ugly desk I used for the picture.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Crock Pot Mac N Cheez

Since I mentioned Macaroni and Cheese as one of the recipes I'm looking to perfect, I figured I better post about our first experience with it since starting the blog. The Red-Head (AKA the Wife) made a Mac N Cheez recipe in the crock pot. Turned out pretty darn good - quite a bit like the traditional baked version that most of our Moms used to make. This one includes cheddar, Monterrey jack, and parm cheeses, as well as eggs and condensed milk.

I think we'd give it a 7.5 or 8 out of 10, but not quite the Macaroni and Cheese nirvana we were hoping for (Jer - still waiting for that recipe dude). I didn't discover the browning until later on when I dumped the leftovers out into a container. Still not sure if the browning had taken place during the normal cooking time, or after we left it in place while we ate and attended to other things. Either way, I found myself practically gorging on the brown stuff later on in the evening. I'd give that part a 9/10.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Chicken Fried Bacon

This might just be the most awesome food idea I've ever seen.

Unfortunately the original You-Tuber does not allow for embedding. But you gotta see this anyway.

Chicken Fried Bacon

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Queen of where?


Yup Queen of Farts - my latest hot sauce find. This one is made by CA John's. I purchased this sauce at my favorite shop on the Outer Banks - Try My Nuts - a place originally known for it's nut products, such as Nuts on Fire. Lately I've been into their brittle products, but they also carry a large selection of hot sauce.

I look for more than heat in a hot sauce - it's got to taste good, give a kick, and be all natural. No guar gum, carrageenan, or anything unpronounceable intended to thicken, thinen, or preserve. Chills, spices, other produce, vinegar. That's pretty much all I want to see on the label.

I just checked the fridge and I've got 14 different hot condiments, mostly sauce, but also chili paste, and spicy mustard. A few are home-made, and a few need to be tossed because I really don't like them a lot.

Here's why I love Queen of Farts. First of all, it's delicious. It's got a nice complex fruitiness and of course a fine kick. I liken it to a Dr. Pepper of hot sauce, with many fruit flavors combined in just the right blend (banana, citrus fruits, curry).

I was surprised that I liked this stuff - but I'm glad I studied the ingredients because that's why I bought it. It tasted awfully good on a ham steak - but it might get lost in a taco or salsa. Whatever the case, I normally shy away from gimmick sauces with gimmick names. Make something vinegary and hot, stick it in a bottle with a comical name and make some money. Not my kind of thing. I spent about 20 minutes browsing sauces and most of them had to be disqualified.

But not the Queen of Farts. Bowel down to her greatness or you will be blown a faceful of gas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Why I need good food

Just in case you were not aware, I'm on my way down in the weight category - having lost about 25-30 lbs over the past 8-9 months. A very very slow weight loss. Many weeks go by with no change or even a slight up-tick. I've got about 15-20 lbs to go to get to my goal weight.

I've done this with 2 major changes in my eating habbits.

1) I learned to like diet soda. It took a while, but I'm actually now at the point where I don't really like non-diet soda

2) I completely changed what I eat during the day at work. I bring along about 6 items of 50-150 calories each, and eat them every 1.5-2 hours. This keeps my matabolism going, and I end the day having eaten about 650 calories before heading home. Then, I have a decent dinner and a snack in the evening (not necessarily in that order). On weekend, I'm just simply careful, but not obsessive.

Here's my lunch today:

Youll notice a 110 calorie yogurt, a 100 calorie pack of doritos (a godsend), a single serving of pretzels, and little cups of puddin and jello. There's a ice pack and a couple of Diet Dr. Peppers uner the food. Another good reason to eat this way is I don't feel so guilty when a co-worker brings in treats (notice the brownie bites back there on my Oracle book).

So, this is my lunch pretty much every day. Varying up the snacks and yogurt flavors, tossing in a microwave soup once in a while, and occasionally some re-heated leftovers. It's tedious, but it's not horrible, especially because it works. Not to mention it's cheap as all get out - I'm spending less than 2 bucks a day on lunch.

But - it also makes me appreciate cooking with real ingredients at home, and finding creative and flavorful recipes. It's almost like my taste buds have become more aware of what's coming accross them and have asked me to reward them for putting up with this nonsense during the work day. So, I'll oblidge and share some of my food experiences with the blogosphere (geez, I thought I'd never use that word).

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Just getting started

Well, here's another blog. Not that I have as much time as I should for the adoption blog but this will be much much easier to post. I'm kindof using it as a journal for my food experiences as well - something I should have done many moons ago.

My wife and I absolutely love to cook, and absolutely love to eat out. Whenever we travel, we tend to avoid chain restaurants, which has led to some interesting experiences. Unfortunately, I've just recently gotten into the habbit of taking my camera with me in order to photo-document those experiences. As this new blog progresses, I will go back and re-count some more interesting food escapades, some with pics, some without. This is also my way of sharing more of myself because I'm incapable of creating a blog without a theme. Call it anal, but I just can't bring myself to do it!!! In actuality, this blog will be similar to the other in that much of what actually happens will be joint experiences, but will be reflected on by just me. On second thought, it's a good bet to think that I'll include her thoughts as well.

Also, you'll be more likely to see home-made experiences more often. We've fully shifted to our more streamlined budget (nice way of saying forced semi-poverty) in order to work on serving our church and adopting a child. Because we saw that coming, we have spent the last couple of years aquiring some mid to higher level cooking tools. For instance a new stove, a chest feezer, decent knives, and most importantly, a kick arse grill that can double as a smoker. Pictures of all forthcoming. In the long run, this will save a ton of cash, because being able to cook larger quantities of tasty chow (and freeze the leftovers) will be more cost-effective even before our family grows.

So, what can you expect? What kinds of food do I like? I like many of the same things most people do, such as pizza, burgers, ice cream, etc. But I've also really come to appreciate the difference between Frank's in Mt Penn and Domino's (ick), as well as the difference between Fudruckers and McDonald's. As far as cooking food myself, here's what I aspire to perfect...

* Pizza- I'm starting to figure this one out, but I can get better.

* Smoked Pulled Pork BBQ - first attempt at this on the new grill came out great, not sure if I can duplicate.

* French Toast - this has always been a specialty, and lately I'm experimenting with some slightly different techniques. For me French Toast is not a desert and should not be eaten with powdered sugar and whipped cream.

* Macaroni and Cheese - this is my wife's absolute favoritest food, so I want to learn how best to prepare it. I've still got a lot to learn about cheese and cream sauces though.

* Thanksgiving dinner - something I love to host. Melissa and I split the cooking duties down the middle, I make turkey, stuffing, and mashed taters. She makes cranberry sauce, gravy, yeast rolls, and apple pie.

* Chili - at this point, chili is the one food that I feel confident I can make better than any restaurant, so I'm always torn when I see "worlds best chili" on a menu. Should I order it and find out for sure? Or would that be a waste of $3.99?

* Hot Sauce - this is kindof a hobby and passion. I love spicy food, and have been growing peppers for a number of years now.