Sunday, November 24, 2013

Venison Backstrap Medallions

I've started to enjoy the meat from the deer I killed in September (you can read about that here). In fact, I've been enjoying it a lot, but just getting around to posting about it.

My first sampling came on a Sunday when the wife and kids were gone and a couple of friends came over to watch football. 

The backstrap is a cut that runs up either side of the spine. It's known as the "hunter's choice." From what I've read elsewhere around the web that this is the first cut to get eaten up by most folks. Recipes abound. What caught my eye was a simple recipe I found after some googling.

Venison Backstrap Medallions:
  • Pan fry some (where "some" equals the number of medallions you're cooking) bacon strips until they're partially cooked, but still floppy. Set aside.
  • Season the medallions with salt and pepper.
  • Sear the medallions in the pan using the bacon grease.
  • Wrap the medallions with the bacon.
  • Transfer to the Big Green Egg (I used a raised grid at 350f)
  • Cook to desired doneness.
  • Enjoy right away.

Using toothpicks would've been a good idea to hold the bacon together. I thought if I started with the medallions on their side with the heat hitting where the bacon overlaps it would all work out. Well, it all worked out from a flavor standpoint. But the bacon didn't cooperate totally from a presentation point of view. Nobody complained.

Typically I use a Thermapen to gauge internal temp. Medium rare for venison is 125-130f. These were a halftime snack and I was hurrying so I just pulled them using a little guesswork and intuition. The result?
The result was very rare venison. One of my friends doesn't care to see juices in his meat. He's a well-done kind of guy. But to his credit he took on an adventurous spirit and ate it all up with enthusiasm. Most venison I've ever had was been pretty tough and chewy. This was truly amazing though. Very tender, juicy and flavorful. Wow. You understand why it's the hunter's choice.

Also for snacks during the game we had some venison sausage meatballs. Part of the 31 lbs of venison I got back from the butcher was ground Italian spicy sausage. This has become some of my favorite. I don't know the exact blend, but it has some pork in there--just enough to make it a little fatty--and some blend of seasonings that's really tasty. My kids do NOT care for spicy food, but they put that aside for this stuff. They take these things down and just keep extra milk handy.

This particular batch I made into golf ball sized meatballs and placed them into the meatball rack that Labon had given me for my birthday. It was perfect for the job. I just got these nice and brown and we snacked on them too. Just ate 'em plain. And, by golly, they were plain good.

Other times I've made sausage patties and fried the sausage in the frying pan. There's not too much pork in there that I can tell. The pan needs to be oiled rather liberally, because these things are a far cry from fatty.

Anyway, I've enjoyed trying the different cuts. I still have some cube steak to cook up. I'm not sure what to do with that exactly. But it is very gratifying to have some meat in the freezer that I harvested that I know is lean, healthy and even where it came from.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Adventures with Bacon: The 50/50 Burger

So Labon's been watching the Destination America channel. In particular he's taken with the United States of Bacon. Heh. That rhymes. Anyway, there was an episode where they talked about the "50/50 Burger," popularized at Slater's in Huntington Beach, CA. Quite simply, it's a burger made from 50% ground beef and 50% bacon. Do I have your attention?

This went down at Casa de Labon. He did the shopping too. He asked the butcher at the grocery store about grinding the bacon. He declined citing how terribly it would gum up his meat grinder. Fair enough.

So we decided to employ the food processor. Behold: one pound ground beef beside one pound ground bacon. Can you guess which is which? We decided that ground bacon looks kind of gross.

But the two together make some nice looking patties.

So there's a high fat content in these things. Drippy fat means Labon had to do some vigilant flippin.

Slater's serves the burgers with a fancy chipotle mayo and avocado and a fried egg. We didn't have all that mess--or really even the desire to fancy it up that much. But the egg sounded pretty great. We also slipped some mayo on the bun.

The yolk broke open before I could get that first bite in. But looking at it makes my mouth water even now. That drizzly, gooey goodness getting all over the burger made it just perfect. We served it up with some sweet potato fries and some dill pickle wedges.

Wow. In real time I could feel my wedding band and my watch band getting tighter as my extremities swelled from the sodium in this meal. But when you've got a bacon burger in your hands, it's hard to care about those little details. Labon was kind enough to send me home with some leftovers. My 7 year old daughter's reply? "Wow! I wish I'd been at that party." Yes. It was a bacon party for two. Delicious burgers. But with that much bacon, I have to declare that this is a sometimes food, people.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ruminations of a Carnivore

This is a broad head tip to a crossbow bolt that I used on Tuesday September 24th to kill my first deer. For some time now I've been wanting to try my hand at hunting.

My motivations were varied. On a very simple level, my family had been in a serious car accident with a deer on the highway in 2009. That event helped bring my attention to the overpopulation problem among deer in North Carolina (like many places).

Also, I have started to become suspicious of the hormones and antibiotics present in our food chain thanks to modern animal farming techniques.

Lastly, I was aware that, as a meat-eater, my relationship to my food was very distant. If I want pork chops, I just hit the grocery store and select whatever looks best. How often do I think about the fact that they came from an actual animal that used to hang out and do whatever pigs do? It's not all that often. Lately it's occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to have a closer connection to (and respect for) the food that I eat. I heard somebody on the radio once talk about how "giving thanks" takes on greater significance when you had some connection to the animal outside of the styrofoam tray.

What follows is my experience as a hunter. There are some photos of a dead animal. There's some blood. If you're squeamish about such things, be forewarned.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paradigm-Busting Vacation Grilling Adventure!

Absurd? Genius? Awful? You decide.

So we're on vacation for a week in Sandwich, MA. You ever hit the grocery store for a week of vacation and sort of go nuts? We did that. We bought a ton of stuff we didn't need (Lucky Charms and a huge thing of relish come to mind). Of course we also bought stuff without getting their necessary partners. I'm thinking of the salsa for which we never bought corn chips. Also when it came time to do burgers for dinner, we realized we forgot buns. Rats.

My wife says, "Why can't we make hotdog-shaped hamburgers and put them in hotdog buns?" 

"Well, because you CAN'T," is what almost came out of my mouth. Then I thought, "Yeah. Why can't we make hotdog-shaped hamburgers and put them in hotdog buns?" So what ultimately I uttered was, "OK."

So here you go folks. Prepare to have your mind BLOWN as I present to you: Hotdog-shaped Hamburgers.

That first flip (or roll, as it were) was tricky. They wanted to come apart. But I babied them and they hung together nicely. Once they were closer to done, they were all nicely-bound, solid meat units.

And so! Here it is. You've got yourself a meal that can also be quite a conversation starter. In fact, they tasted great. They were juicy and easy to handle. The kids ate 'em up. The wife and I did too. Will we do it again? Probably! The question is what to call them. We settled on hamdogs for now, but will be patient and see what else may occur to us later. Any suggestions?  Have you ever been forced to create a new way of doing something by similar circumstances? How did it go?

So anyway. There you have it. The hamdog. As you can see: this was one wild and crazy vacation.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Location: Sandwich, MA

My wife grew up spending summers in Sandwich in a house which her grandfather built himself at a time when this particular stretch of beach had only 2 other houses. Over time it's had various upgrades, but it remains a very modest, but comfortable little house tucked in among the dunes. The house stayed in the family for many years, but some time ago my mother-in-law sold it. This summer it worked out for the first time that we were able to rent it.
Speaking of upgrades, I was delighted to learn that it has this Weber Genesis on the back deck. It was perfect for grilling up some fat pork chops.
Cast-iron grates! Sweet. I just seared these on each side for about 2 minutes before backing off the heat and cooking them for another 7 or 8 minutes per side afterwards.

When you rent a place there's always those crappy utensils you have to sort through to find something to suit your purposes. Well these grabbers were actually pretty great and I wound up using them for many jobs in the kitchen and grill.

Sorry for the lousy presentation, but it seemed consistent with being on vacation. Same for the cheap chardonnay in the plastic cup. But I will say that it was pretty stoked to cut into the pork chops and find--even without my trusty Thermapen--that they were perfectly done. Yum.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Neighborly Smell and a New (to me) Concept

Memorial Day weekend began with me taking Friday off.  I was hanging out with the kids in the back yard when it hit me. Hickory smoke. My new neighbor, John, was hard at work doing amazing things I'd never beheld.

Turns out this is a tradition for him where he cooks a bunch of stuff over Memorial Day weekend. He feasts for a few days and then freezes what's left. He was trying out a new propane Smoke Hollow cooker.

He had it filled with pork ribs and shoulders.

Also John had found a home for this beautiful setup.

Inside he had 160 pounds of shoulders going. He rubbed them using what he called a simple Steven Raichlen NC BBQ rub recipe. I found this one online, but I'm not sure if it was THAT simple (salt, pepper and paprika). Maybe John can verify this for me.

But check out his setup! It runs on propane, but has trays for smoking wood and charcoal to give it that smoked flavor. You can see on the side he had leads for his thermometer feeding in through the side smoke vents.

It all smelled heavenly. Don't they look good? Here's the bummer. I wasn't around for when he pulled it. Other neighbors told me it was incredible. Apparently there's plenty in the freezer. So I just need to be around when he thaws a butt.

So this was a wonderful visit across the fence. John and I had a great time talking shop. It's great to have such a skilled barbecue enthusiast next door. But here's the one thing that was revelatory to me: He and his grilling buddy, Keith, have taken to pulling the pork at 160-165 degrees. Their logic is that the pork is cooked at that point, so why not go ahead and eat it? 

I've never tried it that way. But like I said, I've heard excellent reviews. It goes against everything I've ever done, but I'm always up for trying something new and learning a new way to do something. Anyone else do it this way? At what temp do you pull pork?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Father's Day Steak and Etc.

Perhaps somewhat predictably, when my family asked what I wanted to do for Father's Day, I told them I wanted to cook myself a steak. So I bought 2.5 lbs of ribeye on Saturday. The woman working the meat counter was very helpful. She assisted me in getting two nice, thick cuts which were even straight across. 
 The first couple we looked at were wedge-shaped. In other words they started thick at one end and got skinny as you cut across. Obviously a uniform thickness is preferred.

So going back to the asado for a moment. My cousin is in Uruguay and among the things she and her friends have cooked up are peppers with an egg and some cheese inside. Wasn't sure how to pull this off, but also figured it might be hard to screw it up, so I just went for it.
I also have a good friend in the wine business.He generously gave me a wonderful bottle of wine for Father's Day. He told me to refrigerate it for 20 minutes and then uncork it 20-30 minutes prior to serving. Done.

As I cooked the steaks (seasoned with salt & pepper after I sprayed them with olive oil), I took some short videos with my iPhone. My good friend, James Hogan, was very generous with his talent and time. He strung the videos together into one stream; added some images and some music; and came back with the above video on how to cook a steak T Rex style. Check it out! 

You may know James for his excellent blog at You may also have seen the very-flattering write up he did on me and this blog back in April. Thanks a ton, James. The video turned out much better than I expected.
Meanwhile the steaks came out perfectly. I pulled them when their internal temps were in the high 120s on my Thermapen. I guess it's pretty archetypal daddy grub, but I love me some steak with baked potato. The more stuff on the potato, the happier I am. 
And by golly! The egg pepper thing was really good! I think it could use a little seasoning in there, but it was mighty good on its own. I just cooked it until the egg looked done. And by the way, the pepper makes for an impressive heat shield. The eggs took longer to cook than I realized.
Suffice it to say, I was pretty satisfied at the end of this meal. It's good to be a dad.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day! My son gave me this grilling-related card. Click to enjoy the short jingle.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Asado (a-SA-do): noun; my kind of thing.

I have a cousin who is studying in Uruguay. I'm sorry to say that I haven't been to visit her. Fortunately, she'll be home soon. We will celebrate her return to be sure and I look forward to hearing all the stories.

Meanwhile my aunt and uncle just returned from a visit with her. One thing I totally latched onto was the asado. Friends of hers are renting a place with one. What's an asado? It's like an indoor grill for your house. I suppose almost like "barbecue" it seems like "asado" can be a verb or a noun. The noun can describe the food and the style--and even the event. But I was particularly drawn to the hardware that makes up an Asado.
Firstly, doesn't this look like fun? A bunch of college-aged folks from around the world standing around snacking and preparing a meal? Behind them is the asado. You can see the hood with the tiles and lower down is the fire cage.

So the way my uncle explained it, there's that cage at the side of the asado. You build a wood fire there. Once that fire produces good coals for cooking you use special tools to scrape them down under the grate on which you have beef, chorizo, kabobs and whatever else. This is cooking with live fire . . .INDOORS! I want one in my kitchen. Anybody know a Uruguayan architect? 

How great does this all look? So check for this in future Grill Knuckles posts: I love the idea of halved bell peppers--grilled with an egg inside. Wow!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cuban-style pulled pork

This cook started with some great expectations. Chris Lilly's Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book has a section on whole hog recipes. I've never done a whole hog, but one recipe jumped out to me recently. And I thought I might be able to apply it to a pork shoulder.

Everything lined up for a good cook. Boston butts were on sale. Lump charcoal was on sale.
Things were smelling great. This Cuban-style recipe involved injecting the meat with a cocktail of orange juice, lime juice, dark rum, soy sauce, salt, garlic salt and onion powder.
Rum. Yum.
The recommended sauce to go with the finished product was Caribbean Mojo Sauce--a combo of lime juice, olive oil, minced garlic, oregano and cumin. Smelled really fresh. I was imagining that the citrus flavors were going to be a new take on the sour, acidic flavors that vinegar usually gives me. 

Caribbean Mojo Sauce
Now talk about smelling good. The rub was a fragrant blend of garlic, finely chopped green onions, dried oregano, fresh-ground pepper and salt. This was a radical detour from the traditional BBQ. I was excited. I cooked it in the usual way with a little bit of hickory, but I took it easy for fear of covering up the injected flavors.
Shoulder as it went on.
Shoulder after a couple of hours

Fourteen hours later it was ready. In the photo below you can see a little of the juice (I think). It all looks great, right?

I pulled the meat using the gloves my wife bought me. (similar to the ones advertised here) They're great for protecting your hands from the piping hot pork as you pull it. I don't know what you think, but I think my BBQ looks way better than that pitiful stuff the hand model is messing with.

Of course my partner in crime, Labon showed up to try this new recipe. So I've got this general attitude that all barbecue is amazing. Different cultures and regions put their stamp on it and it's up to me to find what makes it great. An example of this is the Alabama White Sauce Chicken recipe from the same cookbook. So I was prepared to be amazed by this Cuban take on pork. 

The verdict? Meh. I thought the rub wound up being too salty. The injection didn't really do much to enhance the flavor. The sauce was WAY too sour from the lime juice. The best move of the evening was when I grabbed a bottle of Eastern NC BBQ sauce and liberally doused the pulled pork. Then it started to taste pretty good. So as it turns out I do have pretty strong opinions about different barbecue styles. Cuban barbecue (as I executed this particular take on it)? No thanks. If somebody has pointers on what I might do differently or try next time, I am all ears.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Chat with James Hogan

This was great fun. My friend, co-worker and fellow blogger, James Hogan (, sat down with me to talk about food, grilling and fellowship. I had a chance to discuss what goes on when you fire up the coals and the importance of eating with friends and family. James has a wonderful blog that I encourage you to bookmark and check out often. I admire his writing; the overall visual aesthetic of his blog and the devotion he brings to his work.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cheyenne Burger

This is another great recipe from Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue!. In particular this is dubbed "Bobby Flay's Cheyenne Burger." It sounded simple enough, but I was almost completely unprepared for exactly how delicious this was going to be--especially when you consider that this is a turkey burger recipe.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. When you start with big ol strips of lovely bacon, you're going to win. Am I right? I tried Wright Brand Bacon for the first time. This was apple smoked, thick cut and very, very tasty--even by bacon standards.

The part of this recipe that really piqued my attention wast the homemade onion rings to serve on top of the burger. I'd never tried this before. 

The instructions in the book were not all that specific so I winged it a little. It did specify heating peanut oil to 360f in a heavy pot. I used my cast iron Dutch oven. It also said you dredge the cut onions through flour seasoned with pepper, salt and cayenne pepper (amounts were not specified). Then you dunk the rings in salt and pepper seasoned buttermilk. Lastly before dropping them in the oil you dredge them back through the flour. 

I had ambitions of making up a whole mess of onion rings, but it all got really messy, goopy and frustrating after a while. I had some lovely specimens and decided that about a dozen or so were plenty for our burgers.

As the burgers cooked, I brushed the buns with olive oil and gave 'em a quick toast.

So to bring it all together, you slap cheddar on the turkey burgers as they come to 165f. Then you set them on the bun in a little puddle of BBQ sauce (I used Stubb's Spicy). Top them with bacon, onion rings and pickle chips and you're ready to eat a real treat.

I set up the photo of the burger shown at the top of the page. My four-year-old was licking his lips and called dibs on that one. He's not always the biggest eater in the world, but he put away nearly the whole thing.

My six-year-old DID eat the whole thing and made quite a fuss over its deliciousness.

I love this shot. My daughter is happy and my son is ripping at the bacon like a feral dog.

This was easy and really darned good. Thanks for reading.