Friday, December 21, 2012

On Location: Luella's BBQ in Asheville, NC

 My job takes me on the road occasionally. When it does, I'm always keen to find a good local joint. A co-worker insisted I try Luella's in Asheville, NC. Boy, am I glad he did. They have a complete menu of all sorts of good stuff like chicken, brisket, pork and even turkey. Since it was my first visit and since I'm kind of a  purist, I ordered the chopped BBQ pork.

As I ordered, the helpful woman behind the counter asked if I was interested in having some local pork from Hickory Nut Gap Farms for a little bit extra. Sure! For my sides I got the spicy vinegar slaw (or "slaw" as I was raised calling it) and the fried okra. The plate comes with hush puppies.

First of all the sides were all great. The slaw was tangy and had a nice crunch to it. After I ordered it dawned on me that okra was out of season. I don't know a whole lot about what needs to happen to make fried okra taste right. The cynic in me says that simply frying is 90% of what makes fried okra good. But all fried okra is not equal. I would suggest that Luella's has some mighty fine fried okra. It totally hit the spot. I even found myself squirting sauce on a fried nugget before popping it in my mouth. I was having fun. The hush puppies were good too.

But the barbecue. Let start by saying that it's really easy for me to get disappointed by a plate of BBQ. This stuff was excellent. It comes with a "touch of Scooter's Vinegar Sauce." So I had my first few bites just as it arrived. The pork was moist and tender with a subtle and delicious hickory smoke. Once I had a good appreciation for what I was eating I started squirting some extra sauce around--namely I experimented with the Sweet Pisgah, but was drawn mostly to having a little more of the Scooter's. Mmm.

The sauces were so good that I bought some jars as a present for my dad. I got the last jar of Scooter's and also bought some Lusty Mustard Sauce, which I imagine would be good on wings or pork tenderloin or something. 

Luella's really was a treat. This isn't a restaurant you check off your list. You look forward to going back.

Love Okra?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Location: Bob's Grill

Some folks at my employer, Davidson College, have a loose tradition of visiting Bob's Grill in  downtown Mooresville, NC for a mass hot dog run. This was my first visit to Bob's.

I took this photo toward the back of the restaurant. Yes, this is it. At the far end is the grill and a counter where you order. On the right is a counter where you can stand and eat. And if you must, there's a bench there on the left for sitting.
On this particular visit, Parker (glasses) instigated a hot dog eating contest. The lone entrant was Ryan. Once upon a time apparently there was an employee of Davidson who managed to take down 5 dogs in one visit. So Ryan decided to start with 6 just to dispense with that record. Just to drive the point home, he ordered his 6 "all the way" and took them down without much ceremony.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thai Grilled Chicken Breasts

This is another recipe that came from The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue and it's good for making up some of the best chicken I've ever tasted. Brining the chicken ahead of time, plus the rub made this something special.

The folks at Cook's Illustrated are big on brining chicken. By putting the chicken in the following bath for more than 30 minutes, but less than 60 the chicken gets a nice, tender texture and a very clean, fresh taste.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 quarts cold water

The Rub:

  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 lime juice
  • 12 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh, minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

"There's the rub." -- Prince Hamlet
So the bulk of the cook time is drawn up to be indirect, but the recipe calls for you to cook them skin-side down for 3 minutes first to crisp things up a little. So I used my platesetter, but just set the breasts at the edge of the cooking surface, where there is direct exposure to the coals. See 'em under there?

Meanwhile all that lime juice and cilantro got us thinking: guacamole. Because what goes better with Thai chicken, than guacamole? It wasn't tough to sell it to these customers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving: Turkey, Wings & Venison

In 1997 we were merrily cooking Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house when the oven failed in the middle of the whole process! Thanks to the kindness of our neighbors we were able to share theirs to get some of our goodies baked up. My dad did a quick internet search (I wonder, was it Netscape? I also remember a search tool called Dogpile that he and I sometimes used). Anyway somehow in that internet frontier he found some instructions on how to cook a turkey on a gas grill. It came out great and  a tradition was born.
All one does is put the turkey like so in a gas grill at 350f. In the roasting pan we use water, chicken stock and coarse chopped onion.  Baste it often until the breast reads 160f and the thigh gives you a read of 180f.

It's Norman Rockwell meets . . . I dunno. But it sure tastes good. We tented it with foil until carving time. Meanwhile the Big Green Egg was patiently waiting at 400f ready for the wings.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mixology: Cough Remedy

The over-the-counter cough medicine I took last night was a joke. Sure, it tasted kinda nice: sweet mouthfeel with strong bubble gum presentation along with some cotton candy and heavy eucalyptus tones. But it was worthless as a cough remedy. I coughed my head off most of the night.

It's time to take matters into my own hands. As this blog post went to press your correspondent was enjoying the following remedy:

Grill Knuckles Homemade Cough Syrup

  • 3 parts bourbon. To my chagrin I only had my top-shelf Woodford Reserve handy.  Oh well. Bottoms up!
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 2 spoonfuls honey

Microwave the bourbon and lemon juice in your favorite mug until hot. Stir in the honey. Sip. Ahh. Sip. Sip. Zzz.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Teaching Tomorrow's Grillers Today

Back in June I struck up a conversation with a rising college senior at Davidson College. I wish I could say that I remember how the conversation turned to outdoor cooking, but hey. If you're talking to me, the conversation is going to find its way around to outdoor cooking. His girlfriend and her roommates had just acquired a used propane grill.

Intuitively he felt that propane cooking wasn't the same as cooking on live coal fire. I tried to convince him that there's a time and place for all sorts of grills in this world. But he wanted to know more about cooking over coals and after seeing him on subsequent occasions we continued the conversation.

Ultimately we found time on Saturday to get together for a little grilling colloquium. I gave him a full range of options of things to cook. He liked the idea of doing a beer can chicken and some atomic buffalo turds. Can you blame him?

When he came over, I'd already sliced the jalapeños and scraped out the membranes. I'd also mixed up the stuffing for the ABTs.
I browned two tubes of chorizo earlier in the day and set it in the fridge for use later on when I had time to mix up the rest of the ingredients.

Atomic Buffalo Turd stuffing:
  • 2 tubes chorizo, browned
  • one packet of cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 yellow onion finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
Mix all of this until you get a yellow-orange goo.
Stuff the goo into the peppers.
Wrap the peppers with bacon and spear with a toothpick.

I cooked these indirect at 325f until the bacon was crispy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Slow Cooker: Beef Stew

Here at Grill Knuckles we sometimes eat food that was cooked indoors. For Sunday dinner we enjoyed this easy and hearty recipe for beef stew in the slow cooker.
 After hearing on a cooking program that "stew beef" can be a grab bag of undesirable and chewy bits, my wife bought a one-pound London broil and cubed it to fit the following recipe.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On Location: Coddle Creek BBQ

The co-workers piled into a couple of minivans to hit the 64th annual Coddle Creek ARP Church BBQ luncheon on Thursday in Mooresville, NC. This was my first annual trip. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Porterhouse with Chimichurri

What in the world is chimichurri? This etymology for chimichurri on Wikipedia was amusing. I don't know if it's true. But I do know that it's great with beef.

The recipe for chimichurri was easy. I just used what I found here at

  • 1 cup packed fresh Italian parsley (I used whatever was in the produce section--country of origin unknown)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
The recipe calls for you to puree it. I just chopped all the dry ingredients and mixed in the wet.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bar-B-Q Chicken with White Sauce

One of the best ways to rid your mind of prejudice and stereotypes is to make the foreign into the familiar. I'll confess: white barbecue sauce made from mayonnaise sounds pretty gross to me. But I trust that the good people of Alabama don't eat it simply to make the rest of us cringe. Even if it's an acquired taste, it must be popular for a reason. I decided it was time to expand my BBQ horizons. 

This was my second recipe in as many days from Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book. 

On the heels of a study confirming the benefits of eating organic meat, I bought an organic chicken and spatchcocked it. That's to say that using kitchen scissors I cut along either side of the spine and opened the bird up and laid it out pressing on the sternum until it pops and flattens out.
By the way I had started off cooking at a high temp in order to burn off a little crud on the inside of my Big Green Egg then I choked it back down for this cook. Any time you go from high temps to low, it's always good to "burb" the lid before opening it all the way. I forgot this valuable nugget and gave myself grill knuckles. Better than grill eyebrows, right?
Another reason for letting it get really hot is I had my other spatchcocked chicken in the back of my mind. It was the very first thing I cooked on my Big Green Egg almost 3 years ago to the day. It's funny to see how--uh, green--I was on the Big Green Egg. First of all it seems silly that I put foil down to protect my platesetter, which now sports the drippings from dozens (hundreds?) of other cooks. Second I recall that the coals weren't fully going, so the chicken was marred with that too-heavy smoky flavor. I wanted to make sure this fire was burning clean.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spicy Apricot Wings

My wife and I raked, blew and bagged over 40 bags of leaves on Saturday. You can see by all the leaves on the surrounding trees that this was merely round one. After spending the day raking, I was ready for a tasty reward. 

And by the way, look what my parents gave me for my birthday: Big Bog Gibson's BBQ Book! These wings were my first recipe to try from the book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Grilled Peaches on Cast Iron

Emboldened by the tastiness of grilled peaches--which were an after thought when we tried the bacon-wrapped chicken strips, we wanted to try them again on direct heat using cast iron. Just to catch you up on what had been going on earlier in the afternoon the coals doing were doing backflips to produce temperatures north of 800 degrees Fahrenheit in order to sear up some tasty steaks.

For comparison: indirect heat (using a plate setter) at about 350f produced this delicious treat after we were done with the bacon-wrapped chicken strips. Note that this grate is stainless steel.

When we were done with the steaks we used direct heat at about 400f on cast iron, which gave us these babies--complete with pleasing grill marks. By the way, I can't tell you what grill marks taste like, but any old fool can appreciate what they look like. They're pretty awesome, right?

In both cases we cooked the peaches face-down for 2-3 minutes before we flipped them. After flipping them we inserted a pat of butter and a spoonful of brown sugar into the peach pit hole. We kept on cooking until all that was melted up together and we served it with vanilla ice cream. Trust me when I say there was nothing wrong with the peaches cooked indirectly. They were awesome, actually. But if I had to choose I would suggest doing them directly at a little higher heat on a cast iron grate. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrate the Fire

Here's something I've learned about myself. Sometimes a cook is about a new and interesting recipe. Sometimes it's about the journey of going low and slow. Other times it's just about doing something quick and tasty.

Then there's the times where you just want to celebrate the fire. When I get the urge to have a big, juicy steak I've learned that some of that is rooted to the desire to rev up my Big Green Egg and listen to that sizzle when meat slaps down on cast iron.

As a matter of course these days when I cook steaks and chops I use the T-Rex method, which I found on the Naked Whiz's website. The hot link takes you there. 

My wife came home with these lovely cuts, which also happened to be on sale. All I did was brush them with olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.

I've read mixed reviews about food safety and cooking steaks. I always leave my steaks out for an hour or more (wrapped up and resting on the kitchen counter) to get them as close to room temperature as possible. The reasoning I've heard is that cold tissues cook up to be tougher than warmer tissues. Just as you want to warm up your muscles prior to a strenuous workout, you don't want to grill cold meat. Others have said that this increases your risk for food poisoning, but I've never had a problem. Anyone got any opinions here?

Anyway while I was watching some football; letting the steaks warm up and letting the Big Green Egg heat up things actually got out of control. For the first time ever I "pegged" my thermometer. As you may be able to see, it appears as if we were north of 800f, folks. Yessss.

So if you've been to Grill Knuckles in the past, you've probably seen shots like these before. Nothing new here. I just love getting it hot as all get out and searing a good steak like crazy. I did 2 minutes on each side. I rotated them at 60 seconds to get the nice cross-hatched grill marks. That left the steaks with a great seared "crust." 
Then I took them inside on a plate and let them sit for the 25 minutes or so it took for the grill to cool back down to the 375f neighborhood.
I stood the steaks bone-side down and cooked for another 5-6 minutes until they were reading in the 130-135f range on the inside.
This was 135f when I pulled it and it rested for 5 minutes before I cut in. That's just how I like it.

That's all. Just wanted to share my love of the fire. Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Strips & Grilled Peaches

This is the first recipe I've cooked off of Pinterest. I first saw it on a friend's board. It linked to Diary of a Recipe Addict.
The recipe was so simple.
4 chicken breasts cut into strips
chili powder
garlic powder
brown sugar
salt & pepper
Cut the chicken into strips and then season with chili and garlic powders and the salt and pepper.
Wrap with bacon.
Roll it all in sugar.

I added this step myself: Have a beer.
(When I went to the grocery to get my supplies I found this tasty seasonal ESB from Sweet Water. I recommend it.)

The recipe on the blog references that the recipe was originally intended for an oven, but used a grill herself. I did these on my Big Green Egg at 350f using a plate setter to get indirect heat. They were done in about 25 minutes. I used an instant read thermometer to make sure the chicken was done. I moved them to the outer edges for a few minutes at the end. That gives you some direct heat to crisp up the bacon.

I tried to photograph the unbelievable downpour that came out of nowhere. I'm unsure what the proper technique is to do so, but the pics weren't worth posting. Let's just say it rained unbelievably hard and when I went to retrieve these things I think the rain washed off a good bit of the seasoning. I ran out there in a rain jacket. A (dry) guest suggested after the fact I should have used an umbrella, but I didn't have the appropriate number of hands to hold a plate, tongs and an umbrella. Alas.

But hey. They still look pretty good, don't you think? We spiced 'em up at the table with some Dizzy Pig Jamaican Firewalk. In fact, that was so tasty, I think next time I would use that in place of the chili powder and garlic powder. For desert we had some delicious peaches. I'd tried something like this before and I can't remember if it was a formal recipe or just ad lib. This evening it was ad lib--but inspired by some vague past experience.
Anyway, all you do here is cut peaches in half and remove the pit. Grill them face down for a couple of minutes. Flip 'em over and then put a pat of butter and a lump of brown sugar where the pit was.
Let it melt.
Melt a little more.
Put some ice cream with it; serve hot; sit back and accept praise from your guests.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

On Location: Memphis, TN

Until this recent business trip I had never been to Memphis. Fortunately for my employer I was able to stay in the very hotel where my 2-day seminar was hosted. Unfortunately for me, it meant I had no excuse to rent a car. That meant any BBQ tourism I wanted to conduct would involve being creative about how I got around Memphis.

I made a comment on Facebook about my trip. My old high school friend, Lester Miser (who asked that I use this particular bloggonym) used to live in Memphis; and saw that I was en route to this barbecue Mecca. He sent this amazing guide to eating in Memphis.
--email text follows--
It has been eight years since I have been to Memphis, but this should get you started.  Some of the places might be out of business, so check before traveling.  I will know if you do not listen to me because you will return to Charlotte the same person. When we return to Memphis, I will consume at least 5,000 calories a day.  You should too.

Your buddy Lester

Germantown Commissary - (901) 754-5540 - 2290 S Germantown Rd, Germantown, TN 38138
This is our absolute favorite.  The best pulled pork shoulder in the world.  The best Memphis-style sauce.  Best banana pudding in the world (if you do not have room after eating, get it to go).  Great Potato Salad.  This is the first place [spouse] and I will visit upon returning to Memphis.  You will smell like bar-b-q for the rest of the day if you just walk in the place.  It is also about eight feet from a major railroad line.  The whole building shakes.
The Commissary is on the east side of town (far from downtown), but is worth the trip.  It is sort of near the airport, so you might want to schedule it for the way in or out, but do not miss it.
The Rendezvous – 901-523-2746 – 52 S Second Street, Memphis, TN 38103
Best ribs in town.  This place can be hit or miss.   When they get their ribs right, you cannot beat them.  About 40% of the time we go there the ribs can be a little dry.  60% of the time they are amazing (juicy and cooked to that perfect pink color).  If you get there for lunch early on Friday (before 11:30), they give you a delicious bowl of red beans and rice for free.   They may have it for Saturday lunch. They are closed on Sunday’s.  Lunch is only available on Saturday and Sunday.  Try to get a table towards the back on the right hand side.  That is where the best waiters are.  Be ready to order; they do not like to wait.  All you need to say is, “A pitcher of Michelob, a cheese plate, and full orders all the way around.”  Trust me.
It is down a dark alley across from The Peabody Hotel downtown.  The restaurant is downstairs and the waiting area is own the main floor.  More character in here than any place in the world.  All of the waiters have been there for ever.  Look up at the charred joists in the ceiling. 
Interstate Bar-B-Q – 901-775-2304 – 2265 S 3rd Street (US 61)
Best all around Bar-B-Q.  They have something called Bar-B-Q Spaghetti that you must try.  I know it sounds terrible; but trust me.  Get a small order as an appetizer before you order your meal.  It is noodles with their sauce and pieces of pork shoulder.  It goes great with grape soda, but doesn't all barbeque? I get it as my main course, but everything is great.
It is located a few miles south of downtown, about a third of the way down to the casinos.  The areas between downtown and the restaurant are a little like Detroit. You generally want to stay away from the areas in Memphis that are around the intersections of numbered streets and the streets named after states (i.e. 2nd and Louisiana).
The Little Tea Shop (901) 525-6000 – 69 Monroe Avenue, Memphis
There is a reason this place has been in business since the twenties.  This is a meat and two (vegetables) that is only open for lunch Monday through Friday.  The menu is different each day.  Thursday is the best day (red beans and rice).  Friday is corned beef and cabbage.  They have multiple items each day, but this is what you need to order.  Get the soup as one of the vegetables; it is great everyday.  They also have the best sweet tea and cornsticks.
The Little Tea Shop is between Main and Front downtown.
McEwen's on Monroe is my favorite of the more upscale dining restaurants. 122 Monroe Avenue.
Buckley’s Downtown has a good jambalaya for lunch.  Dinner is O.K. 122 Union Avenue.
Automatic Slim's has a crazy menu of things of which you have never heard.  83 S Second Street.
The Peabody Hotel used to have the greatest bartender on earth, Rosco, before they fired him for overpouring.  The lobby is still worth checking out, skip buying a drink.
Gus’s Fried Chicken used to be way out in the country in a shotgun shack until it burned down.  Now they have a location downtown. No one knew about this place until it was featured in Esquire magazine. 310 S Front Street.
The Flying Saucer is a good place to catch your breath.  It is a bar with over 300 beers.
Elliot’s is place for a sandwich. Lunch only. 16 S Second St.The Cupboard Too is another good meat and two.  Wednesday = Chicken and Dumplings. Lunch only. 149 Madison.
Dyers Hamburgers is a classic Memphis hamburger joint.  They deep fry their burgers (not breaded) in grease.  The other interesting fact is that they have never changed the grease.  They have strained it and added more, but never completely exchanged it.  They first opened in 1912.  Yes the grease is that old.  The burgers are very tasty.  Do not go to the location on Beale Street.  It is a counterfeit. The real location is 1785 Stage Road on the northeast side of town.
Memphis Pizza Café is our favorite pizza in Memphis.  They have four locations in town and they are all good.
The Glass Onion has great outdoor dining in the Cooper-Young District. 903 S Cooper St.
Café Ole has great Mexican also in Cooper-Young. 959 S Cooper St.

--end of email text--
Is that the greatest, most thorough eating guide you've ever seen via email? Did I mention I was in Memphis for only 2 and a half days? I wasn't staying anywhere close to downtown, so I chose stuff nearby--starting with the Germantown Commissary. I took a cab.

First impression? Was pleased to be served water in a stadium cup I could take home as a souvenir. Also, in any classic BBQ shack I've visited in NC, the hardest stuff on the menu is Mountain Dew or sweet tea. Look! A beer! So we're off to a good start.
Menu: There's stuff on here that I just don't typically see on BBQ menus in NC; things like "Cheese Plate" and "Hot Tamales." But I was here for BBQ, so I got a combo plate with ribs and pulled pork.
Voila! I sent this pic to Lester. He reminded me to get the potato salad.
Voila! I got a side of potato salad too.
I was miserably full, but I had to try the banana pudding. As my grandfather would have said, "I was suffering with comfort." So how was it? Really really good. Being used to a thin, vinegary sauce, the heavy, thick sauce was tasty, but made it hard to appreciate the pork itself, which was very tender, moist and yummy. The ribs were also very good and some of the best restaurant ribs I could remember having. Smokey, tender and flavorful without being over cooked. The potato salad? It was fine. But I'm not such a fan of potato salad to begin with. Glad I tried it, but it didn't change my life. The banana pudding was very good. I cannot abide banana pudding made with under ripe bananas. This stuff was appropriately mushy and delicious. I got a cab back to my hotel and concentrated on digestion.

For lunch the next day I went off script from Lester's email. A guy I knew from an old job, with whom I've kept in touch lives in Memphis. He picked me up and we ran off to Corky's.  This place was very close to my hotel. It also came highly recommended from another good friend of mine who grew up in Memphis.

Curiosity won out and I got a cheese plate. To my companion who was just out for a weekday business lunch I'm sure my ordering seemed gluttonous. I reckon it was. Anyway, cheese plate? Very nice. The sausage was particularly good. But how much cheese can you really choke down enroute to another combo plate?

Here we go. This was the first time I'd ever had ribs "dry rubbed." I knew that was a Memphis thing, but I didn't understand what it meant in practice. All's you do is put the rub on right before the ribs are served. So the rub is . . . dry . . . and sticks right to the sauce. I really liked it quite a lot. It changes the texture in a dramatic way and the flavor pops just a little more when the sweet rub granules hit your tongue. In terms of the actual quality of the pork, I liked the Commissary better. Corky's was just a little dryer like everything might've been a little bit over cooked. Trust me, I still ate it all up with great enthusiasm. I would certainly go back to Corky's.

That night for dinner I walked to a Whole Foods near my hotel and had a salad. I just couldn't do another barbecued food. I needed some fresh vegetables. Sorry. In fact, as I went to the airport the following day I was battling some nagging thoughts of regret. This concept of BBQ spaghetti intrigued me. It totally sounded terrible just like Lester acknowledged. But where and when might I try something like it if I left town without it?

Well I was trying to come to terms with these thoughts when a poster in the airport caught my eye. It advertised that Interstate BBQ now had an airport location. Hey! Lucky me!

Right. So it even looks disgusting, right? Click on the photo to enlarge it and get a good look. I'm here to tell you, friends. Perhaps because it was completely different, I enjoyed this the most of any of the rest of my Memphis food. It was spaghetti with a heavy tomatoey paste that instead of having traditional Italian notes, was seasoned up with everything BBQ flavored. It had bits of pulled pork in there and a very pleasing spicy kick. Yessir. I'm here to testify. Good eatin'. Of course there's a downside to everything though. This probably wasn't the best thing to eat before getting onto a crowded plane--simply for respect of my fellow passengers. Fortunately I tend to have the stomach of a goat and the flight passed without incident.

I had to detox for some time after this trip, but I was thankful to get a good look at Memphis cuisine in my short time in the city. Of course I need to get back and hit the other spots on Lester's email. Would you add other spots to the list for my next visit? Thanks for reading.