Thursday, October 31, 2013

Judging at the Jack Daniel's

Judges Credentials
Each October as the leaves begin to change color in Jack Daniel's Hollow, championship BBQ teams from the US and abroad gather to compete in what is touted as the most prestigious barbecue competition in the world, The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue.

The Jack is an invite only competition. The winner of the American Royal Open, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo BBQ and the Memphis in May World Championship receive an automatic invitation to the Jack, as does any team that wins 7 Grand Championships during the 12-month qualifying period. The remaining teams are determined by a state-by-state "Draw" from all the teams that won a State Championship contest during the qualifying period. After all the state draws have been completed the remaining teams get one last chance in a "Wild Card Draw" where one final and very lucky team is selected! In addition to the US teams, 18 international Championship teams representing 10 countries were also invited to this year's Jack.

Judges Invitation
As with the barbecue competition, judging for the Jack is by invitation only. Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) master judges, the most experienced KCBS table captains, local celebrities, national celebrities, legends of competition BBQ and barbecue connoisseurs are among those that receive and invitation to judge each year. So suffice it to say, I was stunned and honored (mostly stunned) when I received my invitation to join the judges panel at this years landmark 25th annual event!

The festivities kicked off on Friday, October 25th, with a judges certification class conducted by the KCBS, a requirement for those who are not certified judges. The folks at the Jack recognize the effort and work these top teams put into competing and bring in only the very best KCBS instructors to ensure all teams get fair and accurate judging and that proper judging procedures are followed.

This year's instructor was Mike Lake. Mike is the pitmaster for Rock River BBQ, a KCBS Master Judge and certified instructor. Mike and his wife Theresa are also the KCBS Reps for the Sam's Club National BBQ Tour Event. Mike is a top notch instructor and did a fantastic job making sure the new judges were very clear on the process and how to properly score an entry. Mike consistently and frequently emphasized putting your personal expectations aside, judging only what you are presented, judging each item for it's own merit and scoring each entry before moving on to the next!

Parade of Teams
Next up after the judges certification class was the parade of teams. The parade is a Jack Daniel's tradition where teams wear their shirts and/or uniforms and carry their banner, state or national flag. The procession is led by the Moore County High School band followed by the international teams and then the US teams. The parade started at the entrance to Wiseman Park, the site of the competition, and proceeded through the Lynchburg town square and then on to the Jack Daniel's Distillery Visitor's Center about 1/4 mile away. It's truly a sight to see, especially the international teams who were decked out in the traditional garb of their homeland. Lederhosen, dirndl, bunad and ceremonial costumes were abound! We followed the procession cheering on the Missouri Shark Fisherman's Club, the only SLBS team that qualified for the Jack.




Barbecue Hill
From the visitor's center, the teams and judges boarded buses for a reception and dinner on Barbecue Hill. Barbecue Hill is an open-air pavilion that offers a spectacular view of the Jack Daniel's Hollow and city of Lynchburg. Dinner was served buffet style with one section for a traditional fried catfish dinner with hush puppies, baked beans, potato salad, etc. and a second section showcasing meats such as lamb and venison cooked on Jack Daniel's Special Edition Primo Oval smokers. There were also two bars that served shots of Old No. 7 and mixed drinks, one of which quickly became our favorite, Lynchburg Lemonade. Here is the recipe:
  • 1 part Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part sour mix
  • 4 parts lemon-lime soda
Combine and stir. Garnish with a lemon slice and cherry. It's a truly unique drink!

After the reception on Barbecue Hill, most of the teams headed back to the competition site to start or continue preparations for Saturday's contest. Friday is really the only day judges are permitted to fraternize with teams. Judges who fraternize with teams on Saturday prior to turn in's are immediately disqualified from participating on the judges panel. So Friday night, we visited a few of our friends who were competing to say hello and wish them luck. "Break a Rib", we say! Then, it was off to our hotel to get some rest for the big day ahead.

Celebrity Judges
On Saturday October 26, the morning of the contest, it was straight from the parking lot to the judges pavilion. The pavilion set up was quite unique. The large open air pavilion was located in the center of the competition site and was fenced in on four sides. What was interesting is that spectators lined up around the perimeter to view the judging. In fact, there were bleachers five rows high that ran the entire length of the main side of the pavilion, more on this in a little bit. After finding the judges entrance, I proceeded to the check-in table where they validated my credentials and assigned a table. We were also given a black apron and a silver sharpie marker, tools of the trade for yet another Jack tradition. Judges use the time between the check-in and the kick-off of the judging to collect autographs from fellow judges on their apron's. Some of the most sought after autographs included country music singer Keith Anderson, Famous Dave Anderson of Famous Dave's restaurants, Ken Hess, pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson's and Ardie Davis a.k.a. Remus Powers PhB (doctorate in barbecue philosophy) the author of nine barbecue books and KCBS Hall of Fame member.

Judges Apron
The judging kicked off with the judges oath led by Ardie Davis "I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each barbeque meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be an Official KCBS Certified Judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbeque and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever." And then, it was down to business.

Judges Pavilion
There were 7 categories to be judged: Jack Daniel's Sauce, Cooks Choice, Chicken, Ribs, Pork, Brisket and last but not least Dessert. With each table having to judge 6 to 7 entries in each category, we were cautioned not too eat everything put in front of us. If you think about, in a couple of bites, a person could easily eat an ounce of food. That's over 3 lbs of food before it's all said and done and that's not counting the crackers and water consumed to cleanse your palate. I really wish I was able to share pictures of the entries, however, cameras are not allowed in the judging area as with any contest. The best I can do is provide a picture of the judging in process taken from the spectators seats outside of the judge's pavilion, something unique to Jack. As far as judging goes, the process at the Jack was pretty much the same as at any contest. There were, however, a couple of nuances in terms of what was being judged and what happened after judging that are unique to the Jack and definitely worth mentioning in order to put the whole judging experience into perspective.

First of all, sauce is a category that is not typically judged at a BBQ Contest. For the sauce entries, the teams were required to use Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 in the sauce. Each contestant turned in one pint of sauce in a styrofoam cup. The judges were instructed to score each entry on appearance, taste and texture (as opposed to tenderness). For texture, you had to decide was it appealing or not, was it too thick, too thin, too chunky, to runny? Texture to me, was very subjective, and not something you typically consider as a judge. The judges were also provided some unseasoned pulled pork so that they could taste the sauce by itself and also with meat in order to get an overall perspective on taste profile. To me, all of the sauces were eerily similar. If I had to guess, I would say that most of the teams started with Blue's Hog original and Jack and tweaked it from there.

Spectator's View
The next area where the Jack was different from most contests was the chicken category. Competitors were required to turn in both dark meat and white meat and a minimum of 7 identifiable portions. There were no guidelines on how many portions of each type of meat the contestants were required to turn-in. This resulted in some controversy right away as we started scoring boxes for appearance. For example, one contestant turned in a single unsliced breast and 6 thighs. Another contestant turned in 3 wings and 6 thighs. So the dilemma was what should each judge take from the box to sample? It was at this point that the table captains stepped in with guidance. As your turn came around and a box had both a white meat and dark meat available, you could take one of each. If not, you had to take one portion of whatever was left. In order to be fair, each person was then instructed to judge ONLY what was in front of them. If you wanted dark meat, but only got white, you were NOT to penalize the cook and you were instructed to judge only what you received on it's individual merit. I can't say for sure how the judges who only received a single type of meat scored their entries, especially those who were less experienced. But if I had to guess, not turning in 6 pieces of each most likely did not help a competitors chicken score.

Sunset at the Jack Daniel's Hollow
The last unique point to note is what happened after the judging of a category was complete and all the scores had been collected. Earlier I mentioned that there were bleacher seats along the main section of the judging area. You ready for this! After the judging was complete, the table captains and judges handed out the remaining contents of the turn-in boxes to the spectators in the bleachers. Now this is definitely unique to the Jack. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to watch judging since it's pretty boring. Now, it all made sense. I came to find out that people came very early in the morning to claim those bleacher seats so that they could sample competition style BBQ from some of the best cooks in the world. Only at the Jack! Wow!

Looking back at it all and taking it in, judging the Jack was an incredible experience. From the scenery of the Jack Daniels Hollow, to the hospitality of the contest organizers and staff to the rich traditions that are uniquely those of the Jack. If you ever get the opportunity to go as a competitor, judge or spectator, seize it! It's an unforgettable experience!

by Bill Grenko









Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Breakfast Fatty

The other day, my friend and fellow competitor, Big John Yeast of Code 3 BBQ Team invited my to St. Louis Home Fires to sample some of Jason Day's (Burnt Finger BBQ) famous Bacon Explosions. Jason is the inventor of the "original" which is often imitated but never truly duplicated! Big John cooked up both the "Original" and the new "Cheese" Bacon Explosions and they did not disappoint! I highly recommend you try these - they are the real deal!

The Bacon Explosion is a type of Fatty (see our previous post on the Bacon Wrapped Fatty) made by stuffing chopped bacon slathered in BBQ sauce inside of Italian Sausage and then wrapping that wonderful explosion of pork flavors with a bacon weave seasoned with BBQ rub. They make my mouth water just thinking about them!

During our feast, Big John and I started talking about some of the Fatty's we have cooked in the past and John mentioned he wished he had a breakfast fatty recipe. Well being a person that never passes up an opportunity to cook, I decided to post a Breakfast Fatty recipe inspired by Jason's Original Bacon Explosion. This ones for you Big John! Let's get started.

The ingredients
We are going to stuff this Italian Sausage Breakfast Fatty cheddar cheese, hash browns, scrambled eggs, sausage links and bacon.

Preparing the Sausage for Stuffing


























The first thing we want to do is to put the Italian Sausage in a standard 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag and roll it to a uniform thickness with a rolling pin. I usually spray the inside of the bag with PAM so that it is easy to remove the sausage with minimal sticking. Be sure to leave the bag open at the top so that air can escape while rolling out the sausage. Another tip is to cut along the sides of the bag with scissors to easily access the sausage in the next steps.

Cook All the Ingredients Prior to Stuffing


























The next step is too cook the stuffing ingredients. Prepare the hash browns according to the package ingredients. I pan fried mine in chipotle olive oil and seasoned them with Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. For the eggs, I scrambled them in butter, added a healthy portion of sauteed diced jalapenos and seasoned them with Penzy's "Mural of Flavor" spice. Finally cook up a few slices of bacon and about 6-8 sausage links. Now - let the stuffing begin!

Start by Adding the Cheese


























Start by centering the rolled out sausage on a piece of parchment paper. The parchment paper is actually a tool to be used to help us roll the stuffed sausage into a log. Because we are rolling from the front towards the back and we are folding in the sides of the sausage to create the log, we want to leave a 1 inch border around the perimeter of the sausage. Notice how the cheese is positioned on the sausage. Let's continue adding ingredients.

Next Add the Hash Browns




























Next we will add the hash browns on top of the cheese. Notice that we extended the hash browns slightly past the cheese towards the back. As we use the parchment paper to roll the log, the ingredients get compacted and pushed towards the back. Staggering like this creates a unique spiral of ingredients inside the Fatty. It also leaves enough sausage at the top to overlap and completely encase the ingredients so that seal everything in an not have a noticeable seam. Now let's add the eggs.

Adding the Scrambled Eggs




























Notice that with this layer too, we stagger the ingredients extending them slightly past the existing layers towards the back of the sausage. Now on to our final two ingredients.

Add the Sausage and Bacon




























Finish by adding the sausage and bacon. I alternated the sausage and bacon it this step. It does make a difference in appearance of the final product once it is sliced. Remember, when we roll the sausage to create the log, we are compressing the ingredients as we roll from front to back and fold in the sides. The process creates a spiral of ingredients inside the Fatty. Rolling the Fatty is a combination of art and science. It's really hard to take pictures of the steps and if I can find a camera assistant, I will post a video.

The Finished Stuffed Sausage Log
































The key here is to use the parchment paper much like a sushi chef would us a bamboo mat. You are rolling from front to back tucking and compressing as you roll forward and pulling the parchment paper back as you progress. At the same time you are folding the ends in to completely encase the ingredients. It takes a little practice, but after just a couple, you will be a pro. Above is the finished log. Now it's time to create the bacon weave and wrap the log.

7 x 7 Bacon Weave




























Start by cutting a piece of parchment paper. we are going to make a 7 x 7 bacon weave. Start by lying 7 slices of bacon side by side creating a square on the parchment. Next weave in the remaining seven slices of bacon creating a mat. There are a number of videos and step by step instructions on the internet if need help. Just search on "bacon weave" to find them. The final step is to wrap the log in the bacon weave.

Preparing to Wrap the Sausage Log in the Bacon Weave




























We are again going to use the parchment paper much like a sushi mat. Place the log as pictured on the bacon weave. We will roll from front to back peeling back the parchment paper and tucking the sides of the bacon as we progress.

Finished Fatty




























The finished Fatty will be completely encased in the bacon weave with the seam on the bottom. we will want to cook it seam side down until the bacon has set and started to crisp. Prepare you smoker for indirect cooking at a temperature of 225. I like to smoke breakfast fatty's with hickory wood, but any fruit wood will work fine too, especially apple or cherry. Hickory and apple is a really nice combo for these too.

Finished Smoked Breakfast Fatty




























You will want to cook the fatty to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. At the temp, the insides will be hot, the sausage thoroughly cooked and the bacon will be juicy and crisp. Yum!

The Breakfast Fatty is Served!

Now for the finished product! Notice how the stuffing ingredients form a spiral from the center starting with the bacon and sausage links and moving clockwise from the center out incorporating the eggs, hash browns, cheese and Italian sausage. There are different flavors in almost every bite! For this one, I toasted a bun and created a sandwich. Try it on a toasted bagel or English muffin or open faced on toast topped with sausage gravy. You really can go wrong!

I hope you give this a try and let me know how it turns out. Enjoy!



Friday, August 9, 2013

Smoked Armadillo Eggs


Mammoth Jalapenos
It's been a long time since have posted anything so I spent the last couple of weekends cooking some of my favorite BBQ Appetizers. I will be posting a series of recipes over the next couple of weeks.

I love spicy food and this time of the year I usually cook with Jalapenos. This year I planted some mammoth Jalapenos I picked up at home depot. These Jalapenos are very large, 3 to 4 inches long and perfect for stuffing. For the first recipe, I chose Armadillo Eggs. And no, they are not made from armadillos :)

Armadillo Eggs are a popular appetizer on the BBQ circuit and make for a fantastic tailgating snack. There are a number of variations of Armadillo Egg recipes out there and I have pretty much tried them all. In my experience, the best way to make them is to core a Jalapeno, stuff it with a cheese mixture, encase it sausage, season it with BBQ rub and wrap it in bacon. Yum!

Ingredients
Ingredients
6 Mammoth Jalapenos
8 oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese w/ Jalapenos
8 oz Kraft Mexican 4-cheese Blend (shredded)
1 lb Bob Evans Pork Sausage
1 lb Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon
Code 3 5-0 Rub
Chipotle Chili Powder

The first thing we want to do core the Jalapenos. Cut the top off just below the stem then core the Jalapeno removing the seeds and membrane with a knife. The stems and seeds are where all the heat is in a Jalapeno. Removing them will get rid of some of the bite.

Stuffed Jalapenos

The next thing we need to do is parboil the Jalapenos. Parboiling will soften them up so that the will cook more easily once encased in sausage. It will also take out some more of the heat. The key is to get them softened but not mushy. You want them to be spongy, yet firm. To parboil the Jalapeno's bring a pot of water to boil. Add the Jalapenos one at a time and close the lid. Boil for two minutes and then pour them into a colander and rinse with cold water. Now it's time to stuff them!

To make the cheese mixture, take 1/2 of the cream cheese and 1/2 of the shredded cheese and mix them together in a bowl with a spoon. I like to add back a little heat since we tamed the Jalapenos by seeding and parboiling them. To add back some heat, mix in a tablespoon of Chipotle Chili Powder otherwise you can skip this step. Now, simply spoon the mixture into each Jalapeno as pictured at the left. 

The next thing we want to do is divide the sausage into six equal portions. The best way to do this is to cut the sausage in half and then cut each half into thirds. I just kind of eyeball it and make sure that you cut the ends caps slightly larger because they are rounded.

Divide Sausage Into 6 Portions

Next put an individual piece of sausage in a Ziploc sandwich bag sprayed with PAM. Now press it into a about a 4 inch patty. Repeat for the remaining sausage. 
Press Sausage Into Patties
The final step is to place a stuffed Jalapeno in the center of a sausage patty and fold over the sausage completely encasing it. You should end up with an oblong "egg" shape.

Wrap sausage around stuffed Jalapeno pepper

The next step is to season the eggs with BBQ Rub. You can use your favorite rub here, however, I prefer Code 3 5-0 Rub. It goes great with Pork Sausage!

Season with Code 3 5-0 Rub
After you have seasoned the eggs, it's time for my favorite step, wrapping them in BACON! Take a strip of bacon and start at one end and wrap it around the egg to the other end. If you let the bacon set out of the fridge for 10-15 minutes it will be more pliable and much easier to wrap around the egg. The last step is to hit with a little more Chipotle Chili Powder. Again, you can skip this step if you like a little less heat.

Wrapped in bacon and seasoned with Chipotle Chili Powder


Now it's on to the Smoker.  I like to smoke the Armadillo Eggs with fruit woods, usually cherry or a combination of cherry and apple. It gives them a nice reddish mahogany color. You will want to smoke them at 250 for 60 to 75 minutes. They are done when they temp at 155 in the center and the bacon has begun to crisp.

Smoke at 250 for 60 to 75 minutes
Below is the finished product! They are truly an incredible treat and really quite addictive. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Smoked Armadillo Eggs


Saturday, October 20, 2012

How To Make a Fatty Piston

In an earlier article, we talked about fatties - bacon wrapped smoked meat heaven! Friend and fellow competitor, Arthur Aguirre of Major League Grilling is pretty much a master of the Fatty. Arthur regularly contributes to Scott Thomas' highly popular website GrillinFools.com. I decided to give one of Arthur's recipes, the famous Blueberry Muffin Fatty, a try this weekend.

In Arthur's recipe, he makes use of a very unique tool called a "Fatty Piston". The Fatty Piston is designed to compress the ingredients used as stuffing for a fatty into a log. The log is then frozen in order to maintain it's shape. When you are ready to construct the Fatty, you simply remove the log of stuffing from the freezer, place it on the flattened square of sausage and roll it up - voilĂ ! The Fatty Piston is incredibly easy to construct and best of all, you can get everything you need at your local hardware store for less that $10. Let's get started!

Fatty Piston Materials
The fatty piston is entirely constructed with PVC schedule 40 pipe and pressure fittings that are commonly used in irrigation, sprinkler systems, swimming pools and cold water supply lines. 

Here is what you will need (pictured at right):

2" PVC Pipe (cut to 10" length)
1/2" PVC Pipe (cut to 12" length)
1 1/4" PVC Cap
1 1/4" to 1/2" PVC Adapter
1" PVC Cap
1" to 1/2" PVC Adapter
2" Knock Out Plug (quantity of 2)

The first step is to cut the PVC pipe to the specified lengths above. Both Lowes and Home Depot have the 2" and the 1/2" PVC pipes pre-cut to 2 foot lengths. If you don't have a hacksaw, they will cut the pipe to length for you at no charge. I bought 2 foot of 2" PVC and cut it into two 10" tubes so that I could make and freeze two logs at a time. These 10" tubes are the cylinders that you will fill with the ingredients that will be compressed into the log and then frozen. Next cut the 1/2" pipe in half and saved the other half in case you want to make another piston. The 1/2" pipe is actually the drive shaft for piston you will use to compress the stuffing ingredients into the cylinder. The next steps involve assembling the piston.


PVC Caps and Adapters
Assembled Handle & Head
Fully Assembled Piston













First we will assemble the piston handle and the piston head. For the piston handle, insert the 1" to 1/2" PVC Adapter into the 1" PVC Cap. Then for the piston head, insert the 1 1/4" to 1/2" PVC Adapter into the 1 1/4" PVC Cap. The final step is to attach the assembled handle and head to the 12 inch section of 1/2" inch PVC (the drive shaft) thus creating the Piston. All of the parts fit quite snugly so there is no need to use PVC cement. Assemble as shown above.

Insert Knock Out
Pack Ingredients
To use the fatty piston, simply insert one of the knock out plugs into the bottom of the 2" PVC cylinder. Stand the cylinder upright and begin adding your stuffing ingredients. Each time you add an inch or two of ingredients, use the piston to pack them tight. You will want to pack your ingredients until they are about 1 1/2 inches from the top of the cylinder. Then you simply cap the top of the cylinder with the other knock out plug and place the entire cylinder upright in your freezer.

When you are ready to construct the Fatty, remove the knock out plugs from the top and bottom of the cylinder (I use a butter knife to pry off the knock outs). Then use the piston to push the log of ingredients out of the cylinder.

There you have it! A very simple tool that you can build at home and use to stuff your fatty with just about anything. And today for me, that stuffing will be Blueberry Muffins and Mrs. Buttersworth Syrup!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Making Your Own BBQ Sauce

A couple months back, we had a post on making your own BBQ rubs. Probably the most requested topic since that post has been "How to Make Your Own BBQ Sauce". Today, that's just what we are going to do. 

When most people think about their favorite BBQ sauce, what comes to mind is a thick sauce red to brown in color that is sweet and tangy with just touch of heat. This type of sauce is typically referred to as Kansas City style. Most of the BBQ sauces you find in your local supermarket are Kansas City style sauces. If you take a look at the ingredients you will find almost all of them have a tomato component (ketchup, tomato sauce, tomato paste, etc), a sweet component (sugar, honey, molasses, etc), a tangy component (vinegar, lemon juice, etc), some sort of liquid flavoring (Worcestershire, liquid smoke, soy sauce, etc,) and various spices (bbq seasoning, garlic, onion, and peppers such as black, white, crushed red, etc). In a nutshell, they are tomato-based, sweet and tangy and vary in degree of spiciness. Since this the most popular style of BBQ sauce, this is kind of sauce we will focus on making today. Let's get started!

Just like in making rubs, I like to start every BBQ sauce recipe with a trinity consisting of a ketchup, sugar and vinegar (tomato, sweet and tangy). Then I make a list of the flavors and spices that will round out the recipe.

For this recipe, we are going to start by blending the sweet, tangy and spice components and then develop that into a sauce. I like to use fresh ingredients where possible and included them as options in the ingredient list below. In a large sauce pan, add the following:
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup clover honey or honey blend
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of water (can omit this if you like a thicker sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice concentrate or juice from 2 medium size lemons
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated onion or 1 small white onion finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic or 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of barbeque spice (McCormick or Weber are best)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Bring these ingredients to boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. You want to stir the entire time until the sugars have melted and then stir frequently enough to keep the mixture from burning as it comes to a boil. If it gets too thick and/or starts to burn the bottom of your pan add some more water.

Next we will add the tomato base and other flavoring components. Stir in the following:
  • 1 24 oz bottle of ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
Simmer this sauce for another hour or so.

Now is when it really get's fun and where you can get creative an tailor the sauce to your own palate. NOTE: You will want to write down everything you do to tweak your sauce - trust me! I have created some masterpieces that I have not been able to duplicate because I skipped this crucial step!

Give your sauce a taste test. Is it too thin or too thick? Is is too sweet or not sweet enough? Is it too tangy or not tangy enough? Does it need more heat?  Depending on your palate, you can now adjust the sauce and create your own masterpiece. Below are some suggestions.

If your sauce is not thick enough, add a small (6 oz) can of tomato paste. This will thicken the sauce without drastically changing the flavor. Add molasses and tomato paste to thicken and sweeten. Add vinegar and tomato paste to thicken and make it tangier. Add 2 cans of tomato paste, and equal parts of vinegar and molasses to thicken and make it sweeter and tangier. Start with 1/4 cup of molasses and/or vinegar depending on what you are trying to adjust. And remember each time you add something, STIR BEFORE TASTING AGAIN AND WRITE IT DOWN! Finally, you can also simmer the sauce a couple hours longer to reduce the liquid if it is still not thick enough after making adjustments.

If your sauce is too thick, add some water to thin it without drastically changing the flavor. Add apple juice to thin and sweeten. Add vinegar thin and to increase the tanginess. Add equal parts of vinegar and apple juice to thin and both sweeten and make tangy. Start with 1/4 cup depending on what needs to be adjusted. Each time you add something, REMEMBER TO STIR BEFORE TASTING AGAIN AND WRITE IT DOWN!

Finally, it is time to adjust the heat. I intentionally left a couple ingredients out of the initial batch which is where I usually add my spicy components. The reason I left them out is that it is very difficult to tame the heat in a BBQ sauce if you make it too hot from the get go and I have a high tolerance for heat so I am the wrong person to ask if something is spicy or not.

If you really like it hot, then add just a teaspoon of crushed red pepper in the very first step and we can adjust and make hotter in this last step. I recommend using a hot sauce like Frank's red hot or Tabasco sauce to kick up the heat. If you are a maniac for pain like me, use Dave's Insanity or Ghost Chili sauce to really kick up the heat! I suggest thoroughly stirring the hot sauce in a teaspoon at time testing after each dose until you get the heat where you want it. This is really the best way to ensure the heat ends up just right for you! OH - AND REMEMBER TO WRITE IT DOWN!

Last but not least, there are a number of other ingredients you can incorporate into the very first step to add sweetness, tanginess, flavors and spice. For sweetness, I have used Karo syrup dark or light, white sugar, turbinado sugar, agave nectar and even maple syrup. For tanginess, I have used different kinds of vinegars (balsamic, tarragon, rice, red wine, white wine), wines, beer and citrus juices. For flavors you can add bourbon, broths (chicken, beef), chocolate sauce, coffee, mustard, pepper jellies and soda pop. And for spices, I like using allspice, cinnamon, chili seasonings, chipotle chili powder, dehydrated peppers and mustard powder to name a few.

The recipe I have given you is a great starting point for you to create a wonderful BBQ sauce ... as long as you remember to WRITE DOWN YOUR CHANGES :) Please enjoy and please share your recipes! I am looking forward to hearing about your creations!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Smoking a Brisket

Finished Brisket from Today's Cook
Brisket is probably the most requested recipe that I have been asked to post. I am going to be making a smoked brisket chili this weekend as practice for the 2012 Wildwood Bash at the end of the month. I will be cooking the brisket using the same method as I would for a competition, the only difference is that I will be cooking just the flat as opposed to the entire brisket and I will be using a commercial rub. Let's get started.

I picked up a 5lb USDA Choice Brisket Flat at Costco. The quality is a notch above what you can typically find at Sam's Club and the cost is about 1/2 of what you will pay at your local grocery store. There are a couple of things to consider to make sure you are getting the best possible cut of meat.

What You Will Need
First, I look for a brisket with a uniform thickness so that it will cook evenly. If the brisket has a significant taper, the thinner portion will get to temperature well ahead of the thicker portion and you potentially will ruin a great cut of meat. Secondly, look for a brisket that has a minimal amount of fat. I trim all the fat from the top and only leave about 1/8 inch of fat on the bottom (I will discuss why in a bit). And Finally, the brisket should be flexible, not firm when you give it a shake. The more flexible, the more tender it will be when it's fully cooked.

The real trick to cooking a brisket is to keep in the moisture during the cook. Some people will tell you that you need to leave all the fat on the bottom side of the brisket and that you need to mop it or spray the brisket to keep it from drying out. I will let you in on a little secret. There is a much better way - injection!

For this cook I will be using an injection and a rub commonly used on the competition circuit, both of which are available from online retailers. The injection is the key to keeping the moisture in the meat throughout the cook. I use a Brisket Injection developed by David Bouska of Butcher BBQ. David's product unlike others has moisture holding capabilities to keep the brisket moist even after slicing or reheating. The only drippings I get during the cook are from the rendered fat on the bottom on the brisket. The injection locks the remaining juices inside and keeps the brisket moist and tender. For the seasoning, I am using a competition rub called "Wow Up Your Cow" from The Slabs BBQ Team. I have heard nothing but good things about this rub from fellow competitor's so were giving it a try. I bought the rub online at the Kansas City BBQ Store.

Bottom Trimmed
Top Trimmed
Untrimmed Brisket
Let's get started prepping the brisket. You want to trim all of the visible fat and silver skin off of the top of the brisket. Because we are injecting, it's OK to trim a majority of fat from the bottom side of the brisket. Try to leave at least 1/8 inch of fat on the bottom side. Trimming the fat allows the rub to penetrate the meat and helps form a flavorful bark on the outside surface.

Adjustable Injector
The next step is to inject the brisket. I used to use a standard Cajun injector that you can find in most grocery stores. A couple weeks ago I picked up an adjustable dose automatic livestock injector from a veterinary supply store (pictured at left). This injector is awesome. It has a 12.5cc barrel and a stainless steel luer lock nut that allows you to screw in a standard needle from a Cajun injector. When you squeeze the trigger, the injection liquid is drawn through the tube until the barrel is full. Now each time you release the trigger after injecting, the liquid is automatically drawn through the tube refilling the barrel for the next shot. It only takes me about 3 minutes now to inject a whole brisket. And clean up is a breeze. You just drop the tube in hot water and cycle it through until the barrel and tube are clean. Now, to inject the brisket, try to imagine the brisket is a checkerboard. You want to inject each imaginary square keeping the needle in the center of the meat. You will likely have some liquid ooze out during the process. Rub the liquid on the surface of the brisket. This will help the rub stick. Now it's time to apply the rub.

Brisket On!
In competition, I usually layer my seasonings. The first seasoning I use is equal parts of salt, black pepper and paprika. I let the seasoned meat sit in the cooler for an hour or so to draw in those flavors. Then, just before I put the brisket on the smoker, I hit it again with a rub. If you follow this method, you will develop a nice bark and deep smoke ring. Since this brisket is going into a chili, I am not as concerned with getting all those complex flavors and a deep smoke ring. I want the brisket to take in the flavors in the chili spices. So for this cook, I am just going with the "Wow Up Your Cow" rub. All you need to do is to shake the rub on applying a nice even coat on both sides of the brisket. Now it's time to get smokin'.

Set up your Weber for 2-zone indirect cooking. The target smoker temp for the cook is 225°F.  I am using both the cherry and the oak/pecan combination mojobricks for this cook. Cherry is my favorite wood for brisket. I am using the oak/pecan combo to impart some flavors that I think will go well with my chili seasonings. Once the smoker is up to temp, on with the brisket!

We are going to wrap the brisket in aluminum foil when it gets to an internal temp of 160°F.  For a 5lb brisket cooking at 225°F, we should get there in around 4 hours. After 4 hours, check the internal temp with an instant read thermometer. If it's still below temp, check back every hour. It's OK if we go over 160°F.  Brisket strangely enough hits a wall at around 160 - 170°F. It could take a couple of hours to push through that wall. The reason you wrap the brisket is one, to help it push through the wall and two, to help tenderize the meat. The foil locks in the heat and keeps the juices from any fat that still hasn't rendered locked inside as well. You want to double-wrap it very tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil.

Off at 195°F
After you have wrapped the brisket, the new target internal temp is 195°F. Note that a brisket is actually fully cooked when it hits an internal temp of 200°F. What I have found is that the brisket continues to cook after it is removed from the smoker and the temp will rise at least another 5 degrees (see picture at right). I took the brisket off at 195°F and within 5 minutes the temp hit 199°F. For a 5lb brisket, it should take 2-3 hours to hit the new target temp. After 2 hours check the temperature. You want to check every half hour because we don't want to overcook the brisket. If it ends up going over 195°F, don't worry. Take it off the cooker and open the foil to expose the meat. That will slow down the cooking process and keep it from going to far over 200°F.
1/2 cubes for Chili

After you hit temp, remove the brisket and rest it for about 30 minutes before slicing. Resting will allow the brisket to firm up and soak in some of the moisture that has rendered out. You want to slice the brisket against the grain at a width of a pencil or about 3/8 inch. Since I am making chili, I sliced at a width of 1/2 inch in order to make 1/2 inch cubes (picture at right).

So there you have it - a proven method for cooking a tender juicy brisket that will have your friends and family wanting more. Please give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Fatty

Whenever I tell someone I can't wait to smoke a fatty I usually get a strange look. No it's not a cigar or something illegal, it's BBQ! So what is a fatty? The Online BBQ Dictionary defines a "Fatty" as: "A tasty treat that starts with sausage, includes a stuffing, and once rolled upped is wrapped with bacon.  This whole package is then smoked until the bacon is crisp." For me, it's Bacon Wrapped Smoked Meat Heaven!

A fatty is really easy to make. All you need is a 1 lb. package of bacon (about 14-15 slices), a 1 lb. roll of sausage, BBQ rub and a stuffing. What you stuff your fatty with is really up to you. The possibilities are endless. You can use breakfast ingredients like eggs, hash, and cheese, or you can use pizza ingredients like mozzarella, pepperoni, black olives and mushrooms or even mexican ingredients like chorizo, hot peppers and crumbling cheese. Today, I am going to show you how to make a spicy bacon cheeseburger fatty. Let's get started!

The first thing we are going to do is make a bacon weave (pictured at left). If you do a google search on "bacon weaving", you will find all kinds of resources from videos to step-by-step pictures on how to weave bacon. I started by laying 7 pieces of bacon in a horizontal row and weaved 8 pieces vertically to end up with 7 x 8 bacon weave.

Now it's time to roll the sausage (pictured at the right). For this step, you place the sausage in a one gallon zip lock bag and roll it out with a rolling pin. You want to leave the bag unzipped to allow air to escape while you are rolling. Start by dropping the roll of sausage in the bottom of the bag an then start pressing it flat by hand. When you get it good and flat, you can use a rolling pin to finish. You want to make sure the sausage is uniform thickness and that it is slightly smaller than your bacon weave. Now comes the fun part - stuffing!

I had some leftover smoked cheeseburgers which are my inspiration for today's fatty. We are going to make a spicy stuffing with chopped/crumbled cheeseburgers, bacon pieces, jalapeno peppers, pepper jack cheese and smoky chipotle pepper rub (or chipotle chili powder will work fine). 

Place the pork slab on a sheet of parchment paper. The first step is to lightly dust the entire slab with chipotle pepper rub. Now, starting at the bottom, we want to layer the remaining ingredients on about 2/3 of the slab (see left). You want to make sure to leave some room at the top because when we start rolling, the ingredients will get pushed to the uncovered portion of the slab. The first layer is the pepper jack cheese. Then evenly layer the chopped/crumbled leftover cheeseburgers. Next comes the bacon pieces and finally the jalapeno peppers. Now were ready to roll!

Starting at the bottom, carefully start rolling the slab towards the top by lifting the parchment paper and using it to help you roll. Peel back the parchment paper as you are rolling and pressing the slab into a log. As you get near the top of the slab, there should be just enough uncovered pork left to overlap with the roll and seal in the stuffing. You should end up with a log with all of the ingredients inside. Use you hands to shape the log and pinch in the ends.

The final step is to wrap the log in the bacon weave (pictured at right). Start by placing the log on the weave about one inch from the bottom. Then, using the parchment paper to help, roll from the bottom towards the top pulling back the parchment paper as you roll. With the 7 x 8 weave, there should be enough bacon left to overlap the roll. Make sure the seem is on the bottom of the roll. I finished with a very light dusting of chipotle pepper rub. Now it's time to smoke your fatty!

Set up your Weber for indirect cooking. The target smoker temp for the cook is 225°F.  I am using hickory mojobricks for this cook. I prefer hickory flavor with bacon and with hamburger and it also imparts a nice mahogany color to the finished fatty. The target internal temp for the fatty is 165°F. Once the fatty gets to temp, take it off the smoker, tent it with foil and rest it for 15 minutes.

Now it's time to serve! You have several serving options with a fatty. You can slice it and serve it plain or with your favorite BBQ sauce. You serve it open face over Texas toast or bread with or without sauce. You can serve it as a regular sandwich or in our case, we are going to slice it and serve it on a bun like a hamburger because after all - that's what we stuffed it with!

Now you know what a fatty is - Bacon Wrapped Smoked Meat Heaven! So the next time you hear me say, I can't wait to smoke a fatty, you will know exactly what I mean! I hope you will give this a try. It is simple and it is only limited by your imagination. I can't wait to hear about your creations!