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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Smoked Pork Chops

My sister-in-law was kind enough to give me The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. It's been a great source not just for recipes, but grilling philosophy. The book, for example, picks apart the different types of pork chop you can wind up with (blade chop, rib chop, center-cut chop and sirloin chop) and talks about what their "tasters" found to be the best. Until I read that I'd never thought about the fact that pork chops don't all look the same--let alone taste the same.

Speaking of pork chops, I came home from the grocery store with these bad boys to perform the Grill-Smoked Pork Chops with Apple Chutney recipe from the afore-mentioned book.

You get the idea by now. They were enormous. I specifically told the butcher that I wanted center cut chops cut 2 inches thick. He tried to look non-plussed, but you could tell he was a little curious. He said it would take him a few minutes, so I went off for the rest of my supplies.
Well, ok. One more shot. See? Huge.
When I swung back over to the meat counter he and I did start chatting a bit. When I told him what I was about to do he said that he used to work at a steak restaurant in Kansas that smoked chops like this and called it "Charlie Brown" style. I did an internet search and came up empty-handed. Anyone heard of Pork Chop Charlie Brown?

So according to the recipe you let these beasts come to room temperature for about 1 hour. Season the chops generously with salt and pepper and you set them on the grill bone-side down over an indirect fire at 350f, which has some soaked wood chips on it. In this case I used apple wood, which I think gives pork a nice, subtle smoke flavor. Then you cook them for 30-45 minutes until you get an internal meat temperature of 145f away from the bone.

Meanwhile you cook up some apple chutney to go with them.

Chutney Ingredients:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 small onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice

Directions for Chutney:
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bell pepper, onion, ginger and garlic. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables have softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, allspice and cayenne and bring to a simmer. Cook until syrupy. The recipe said 10 minutes, but I simmered and simmered and never really reduced it down to the suggested 1 1/4 cups. Once you've simmered, remove from heat, transfer to a medium bowl and cool.

Next heat 1 tablespoon of remaining vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the apples and cook, stirring until browned on all sides (about 4 minutes). Add to the medium bowl with the reduction. Repeat with the remaining apples and vegetable oil. Toss the chutney to combine.

Behold our non-syrupy chutney.

And behold this big old pork chop.

 The verdict: So I will say that I wound up salting these too much for my taste. Saltiness aside they were a big success. Very tender, juicy and good flavor. My next-door neighbor and grilling comrade was pretty jazzed about these things actually. The biggest hit from this recipe in my house? The chutney. The sweet, acidic flavor of it helped cut through the salt factor for sure. This was a fun way to do pork chops and I will probably try it again at some point--with a little less salt next time.