Thursday, April 29, 2010

Central Texas Barbecue Series: Iron Works BBQ

I fell a little behind along the book tour in my posts about other barbecue restaurants I've tried on the road. The thing is, of all that I sampled along the way, only the barbecue joints in Austin and Lockhart got me excited. Those places I tried in Atlanta and Birmingham were decent, but not wow. Admittedly, as things got busy, I didn't get to many places in those cities, so I don't consider my sampling to be ample enough for a scientific study.

But if ever there was a control group, it would have to be Central Texas. When I started this book tour, I made a point to leave some time in each city to chow down on the local barbecue. Austin required a longer stay, in part because I hadn't seen my cousin in ages, but also because of the sheer number of restaurants I wanted to hit was staggering.

I reached about half of my list. In Austin, I first went to Ruby's BBQ, which I reviewed here. Next on my list was Iron works BBQ. This place by far got the most thumbs up on twitter, so it was on my must-go list.
When El and I went to lunch at Iron Works, the first indication that it would be good was the full parking lot. The second was the deep smoke that hit us as we walked in.

We ordered at the counter, in full view of the smokers. They had an old pit for holding the meat, but I could see two Southern Pride smokers in the kitchen.

To be honest, I don't love these smokers. They are the standard for restaurants, but I often find something lacking in the 'cue. If you know me and my book, you know I don't take a hardcore stance on smokers. I also know what it is like to run a barbecue restaurant in a city, that has fire and health requirements that don't necessarily allow for a wood pit. But whenever I go to a joint with Southern Pride smokers, I find the meat to be on the dry side.

I hoped Iron Works would prove me wrong.

The meat man at the counter was genuinely friendly. I ordered a combo plate that had brisket, sausage, and a big ol' beef rib, plus sides. I also ordered the pork loin sandwich.

First taste went to the brisket. It was a center of the deckle cut (again!), so no bark on my slices, nor any lean. Like, Ruby's, it was good, but not great. I was beginning to think that this is what they throw at the tourists, and give the best stuff to the regulars.

The sausage....mmmm. Again with the sausage. Such a perfect blend of flavors, texture, and deeply smoky. Delish. I want to find sausage in Seattle like this. Or make it.

But the best part, the Queen Bee of the plate, was that beef rib. This baby was so thick, tender, moist, and flavorful, that I forgot all about the brisket. Beef short ribs aren't the easiest cut to serve in a restaurant. They vary in size quite a bit, even on the same rack, they have a fair amount of fat, which can off-put the customer and be tough if not given enough time, dry if too much. It's a tightrope walk. And they are expensive. Most people don't get that they are three times as expensive as pork ribs.

That's why we only do them as a special on Fridays at Smokin' Pete's (though, to be honest, we have them more than that. We only promise them on Fridays).

This beef rib had a lightly sweet rub on it, and cooked to perfection. It almost seemed liked they'd butterflied it, which is something I'll have to try when we get home. Baby girl wouldn't give up the bone.

The sides? Not much to write about. Potato salad from Sysco, or it just tasted that way. Beans, a decent scratch pinto bean that is typical in Texas. The plates were accompanied with white bread, as is the custom in Texas.

The pork loin sandwich? Hmm. I have to say I'd never put a smoked pork loin sandwich on a restaurant menu. There is so little fat in the loin that you can't hold it for any length of time before it dries out. I smoke it at home, and love it. In fact we did it here on Shauna and Danny Ahern's (aka Gluten Free Girl and the Chef) pork blog Pork, Knife & Spoon (more about that later).

The pork loin sandwich, which was dirt cheap at $4.50, was three slices on a naked bun. The meat was on the dry side, no matter how much of their tangy sauce I put on it. HOWEVER, the next day, slathered with mayo and pickles, by golly that sandwich was tasty. So what if it was on the dry side, it's pork loin! It still was flavorful and smoky, and...let me say it...gutsy.

But wait, there's more! Cobbler. Blackberry cobbler. Is there a photo? No. We dove into to that before I remembered to take a shot of it. Cobbler isn't all that photogenic anyhow. Not if it's good. Pretty cobbler never tastes as good as the messy homemade stuff. That's what this was. Messy, just the right of sweet to counteract the tartness of the berries, warm and gooey.

Overall, I liked Iron Works BBQ. It wasn't all perfect, but their beef rib saved the day. The ambiance was pure Texas; lots of wood, western memorabilia, an open air porch, overlooking a green space, comfortable and inviting. The service was friendly and relaxed. Plenty of extra touches like butcher paper on a roll labeled "Doggy Bag Supplies" were helpful and given with a wink. I like a place with a sense of humor. Iron Works doesn't take itself so seriously that they forget good service.

I'll be guest blogging a review of The Salt Lick on Man Up BBQ soon. My next post on Central Texas will be at the famous Kreuz Market. Is it all they say it is? Find out here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Tour Ends with a Bang (and thunder and lightning).

Hello from the road! I've just spent a great day with my Alabama family after two great events in Birmingham.

The first was an appearance on Good Day Alabama. What a cushy gig! I grilled on a rooftop patio in perfect spring weather, overlooking the city.  Host Janice Rogers and the crew were so nice that I relaxed as if I were just at a barbecue with friends.

Lucky for me, someone that day cancelled so I got two segments. In the first I made a Chocolate-Chipotle Barbecue sauce, using Theo Spicy Chili chocolate. You can see in the video link that I made pulled pork sliders, topped with Island Slaw, and showed my baby backs finished on the grill.

It was a perfect spring day, but by evening we had a lightening show that the kids watched like fireworks.

The next day was the Book and Cook event at Alabama Booksmith. We were supposed to barbecue in their huge parking lot. That part was cancelled due to the severe tornado warnings and torrential rain.

My family braved the weather to come and we ate barbecue in the back of the bookstore. There were some  non-family members came as well, but most of the bookstore customers called in their book orders. I signed a huge stack of books to a near empty room.

Still, we had a good ol' time, laughing an eating in our mostly private party, with thunder and lightening booming in the background. The owner of Alabama Booksmith was so gracious and kind. He made me promise to come back with the next book I write. I promised back that I would be there.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CBS Better Mornings Atlanta

Getting up at 1am for work is a little rough, but spending the wee hours with the crew of Better Mornings Atlanta was a blast.

Together host Tracye Hutchins and I smoked baby backs on a Big Green Egg, made chocolate barbecue sauce, pork sliders, Island slaw, and talked about my book event tomorrow....all before 7am.

The Big Green Egg folks gave us an Egg to give away - a generous prize worth close to $1000 - for which over 500 people entered on the website. Not only that, but they sent representative Jonathan, who helped me immensely. Three hours of sleep and no coffee (I didn't want to ruin the prospect of a nap later on), made me a little foggy, so having Jonathan there to talk things through was great.

I'll post the video on the website when I get it. You can also view the footage on their website, though the specific links will change.

We will spend the day relaxing in Atlanta. Tomorrow night I'll be at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club with A Cappella Books for a book signing at 7pm. If you are in the area, come for some barbecue, beers and books!

Central Texas Barbecue Series: Ruby's BBQ

I allowed extra time on this book tour for Austin and the surrounding areas specificaly so I could sample some of the best barbecue in the country. The next series of posts, interrupted by book tour news, will be about the barbecue joints I tried in Austin and nearby Lockhart.

The first place on my hit list? Ruby's BBQ. I started with Ruby's for three reasons; the first because a dear friend used to live here and loved Ruby's. When we were recipe testing for our restaurant Smokin' Pete's BBQ, she always gave us her opinion on the brisket, using Ruby's as her ruler. It was like I was in a secret competition with them and only I knew. I wanted to meet this secret foe.

The second reason I started with Ruby's is because it's run by a woman, Pat Mares. Female pitmasters are an uncommon bunch, so what better way to begin the She-Smoke tour than with Ruby's?

The third reason is because Ruby's uses all natural meats like we do at Smokin' Pete's BBQ. They also have the brick pits modeled after those you find at Kreuz Market and Smitty's in Lockhart, TX. I'll post later about those locales, but I tasted some of the best barbecue, ever, in Lockhart (my husband was offended when I told him that. I reminded him that those joints have been in business 70-100+ years, so he should get over himself).

I ordered the two meat combo plate with brisket and sausage. Sides were potato salad and mac-n-cheese. It came with sauce on the side, homemade pickle slices, and the ever-present white bread. My vegetarian cousin ordered the black bean tacos and sides. Ruby's, of all the barbecue joints I visited in Texas, was the most gracious toward the vegetarian crowd.

For starters, the sausage blew me away. I normally don't get too excited about sausage because it's easy to smoke. But this sausage was deeply smoky, with the right amount of spice, flavors, and texture. Baby El loved the sausage too, so mostly I got to eat the casing, while she ate the meat.
Now for the brisket, to me the truly important meat of any barbecue restaurant. Yes, I love pulled pork and ribs, but it is the brisket that is the greatest challenge to cook to tender without drying out.

The slices had a ruby red smoke ring, pun intended. It was good. Not amazing, but good. I had mostly center cut deckle, though, so I didn't get much of the bark.

The sides: The mac-and-cheese was also good, but I didn't care for the potato salad. Too heavy on the dressing and too much mustard for my taste. The pickle slices were delicious and definitely homemade. Lightly sweet and sour, they were lovely with the meats and sauce.

The sauce: I love the thinner, tangy, peppery Texas barbecue sauce. Ruby's has the right blend of molasses and red pepper heat. One of my favorite sauces on the trip.

They invite you to see their pit. It is the only old fashioned brick pit in the Austin City limits. Here is a smoke-filled picture.

The last thing I want to say about Ruby's? It is welcoming. It exemplifies Austin: comfortable, quirky, and contemporary, but wrapped within a rich history.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First book event of the tour: Book Woman

It's simple. Book Woman represents exactly why we need to keep our independent bookstores alive. Owner Susan isn't in this just to "buy for one dollar, sell for two", she's in this for the love.

So many books in the world would never get sold without the hand selling by passionate readers behind the counter of independent bookstores. There are great books that aren't meant to be block busters, they don't fit well into a Hollywood script.

But they are good. Better than good. Necessary. They are stories we need to hear and pass on. They are stories from different voices than the three or four that control 95% of every media outlet in the country. Voices that remind us that sound bites don't tell the whole story, and that many voices are systematically silenced.

So it was an honor to start my book tour at Book Woman. Susan gave me a warm welcome. We both brought chocolate. And not just any chocolate. I'd rushed around looking for a bar of Theo Spicy Chili chocolate, one I'll be using in a chocolate barbecue sauce for the upcoming TV appearances, but couldn't find it. Guess what? Susan bought that exact bar for my reading.

There was more synchronicity that night. Besides the chocolate, I happened to draw a winner for the contest (totally legitimately), from Austin, that was coming to the reading. She came, and because I was also thrilled that Elizabeth Englehart, Carly Kocurek, and Lisa Jordan Powell Melanie Haupt, three of the authors of Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket came to the reading, I told the group about their book.

The winner of the contest wanted to buy that book too, not getting that she was seated next to the authors. When I told her later that she had just won their book, she was happy.

Three cheers for Book Woman! Remember, you can order books from independent booksellers just like you can on any of the on-line retailers. Without the shipping costs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Winner: Mary F. step forward to claim your prize.

Greetings from Austin, TX. We are having a ball already. And because the sandwich we bought from Wolfgang Puck Express was moldy (effen Puck!), we were starving when we landed. We headed right to Ruby's BBQ, and though I'll post about that soon, let me just say that baby El ate most of the delicious smoked sausage from my plate.

Today we are going to Iron works Barbecue for lunch.

Tonight I will be reading from She-Smoke at Book Woman at 7pm.

But before all that, El and I drew a name from the hat for the big barbecue box of goodness. We had some last minute entries, and most of you stacked the deck excellently.

And the winner is....Mary F. Please step forward! I'll send you a message to get your address to mail your prize. Congratulations!

Monday, April 12, 2010

One more day to enter the contest, people, 'cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane.

OK. I'll admit it. I just unpacked from our January vacation, so that I could pack for the April book tour. Is that so wrong? You already know what my laundry room looks like, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

But I'm not here to talk linens with you. I'm here to remind you that, as of 5pm Central Texas Time tomorrow, the official She-Smoke-Stack-The-Deck-Southern-Book Tour-Contest ends. I feel your pain, your tears. But every good thing must come to an end.

As of now, you have really good odds at winning the fabulous prize package. Not only is it a...let's say select group of people that have entered, you have myriad ways of gaining multiple entries via facebook, twitter, and by following this blog.

Read the official rules here. It's a great box of goodness! Go forth and tweet your little hearts out about it.

I dare ya. I'll announce the winner once I touch down in Austin, Texas. Yeehaw!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Street Food Review: Marination

I have a taco stand fetish. I love street food, when it's good. Luckily for me, we are entering a street food Renaissance in Seattle, spurred on in part from our competition with our southern sister Portland. Portland, as any foodie will tell you, is way ahead of Seattle for street food. Yea, yea. To that I say go to Portland if you want to marry it so much.

My thing with street food is that I dream of driving one of those kitchens on wheels someday. The only thing holding me back is not a thing. It's my husband Eric. Everytime I start waving Craigs list ads under his nose he says, "Stop! You are just trying to add one more thing to your plate to make yourself crazy."

He's right. We don't have time for the Smokin' Pete's BBQ Roadshow....yet. Once the book events slow down and we get through this summer of catering, you can bet I'll be putting that barbecue truck back on the table.

In the meantime, I'll just have to enjoy the many solid vendors slingin' thier savory vittles on the street right now. We tend to stick to street fare of the Mexican persuasion. It's kid- and pocket-friendly grub, and far enough from barbecue that it's a different dining experience.

But after Seattle Magazine named Marination Best Streetfood of 2009, putting their sliders on the cover, I had to try it. Honestly, I don't know how I've missed them. They park in Fremont every Wednesday and were named best street food in America by Good Morning America. Best in the whole star-spangled country? Really? This I had to try.

We walked along the canal in Fremont and easily spotted Marination in front of the Indoor Sun Shoppe, due to the long line. I cursed myself for going right after the Seattle Magazine article came out. I never go to a place after a review because everyone else and their cousin Billy Bob are there.

I also cursed myself for being starving with hungry children going to this place right after a review. What was I, a rookie? I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the line moved. Check one for Marination.

Now for the menu. At 1pm-ish, a few things were out for the day. I understand this and do not get peeved when this happens. As a restaurant owner I know that you a) can only predict so much what people will order and b) actually want things to run out. This means that product is moving. Product moving = fresh product. I wish more people understood this. The reason McDonald's doesn't run out of stuff? Because they have a MASSIVE FREEZER.

Themed as a Korean-Hawaiian cross, Marination has a very simple menu. Tacos, sliders, and a few other items like kimchi quesadillas. We'll get back to those in a minute. Both sliders we tried - Kalua Pork and Spam, were tasty.  The Spam was surprisingly tasty. It was a single thick grilled slice topped with a tangy non-mayo slaw on a soft dinner roll. The kalua pork slider, though good, needed a bit more meat. At $2 a pop, I don't expect more than a mouthful, but this was more like a capful. A bottle cap. Still, it was nicely seasoned pork.

The unavailable tacos were their miso-ginger chicken and a kalbi pork. Both sounded good and I can see why they sold out. (I didn't want to try the "sexy tofu". No matter how you dress it up, it's still tofu.)

What they did have was a spicy ground pork, so we ordered two. The tacos were topped with the same fresh, tangy slaw and served on the classic two mini corn tortillas. I like a spot of cheese with my tacos and thought a few crumbles of queso would have been nice, but the pork was moist and seasoned perfectly.

Lastly, we ordered the much buzzed-about Kimchi Quesadillas. Hmm. I've got to say this item was a bit of a buzz kill for me. It tasted kind of fishy, and while it was too spicy for kids, it barely hit the heat-o-meter of kimchi-ness. It was also a wee slimy. I didn't like the mix of textures between the kimchi and the cheese. It felt like I was eating something that the marketing department made up before testing it out in the kitchen.

Marination, you gals don't need a gimmick.

That item aside, I thought Marination did a lovely job both in execution of their menu, especially on the wave of a review, and in the flavors they chose. Plus, their truck is totally tricked out. I salivated for that as much as I did for their food.

I'll be back. I'll try to take better photos next time (like I said, we were all hungry and one of us had to hold two cranky kids back from the food and the canal, while the other took the shots).

And maybe someday, I'll be waving to Marination from my own truck, heading to the day's location.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The She-Smoke Stack the Deck Southern Book Tour ***Contest***

I love contests. Did you know I recently won a prize package from @FanOfLamb on twitter? I was agog when my cool I heart lamb shopping bag came in the mail, filled with lamb rub, a lamb cookbook AND lamb stickers with sayings like "I love ewe" and "Green eggs and lamb". Oh ewe.

Here at She-Smoke headquarters, we've drummed up quite a prize package for you as well. It is a big barbecue basket of fun to celebrate my Southern Book Tour that begins next week.

In the picture you see it includes a bottle of Ole Ray's Apple-Cinnamon Sauce. They recently sent me a CASE in thanks after they found out I'd recommended their sauce for an article coming out in May. It's delish.

Next up is your very own special edition Smokin' Pete's BBQ hoodie. It's special edition because our printer-dude made them without us having ordered them. He's awesome, but, yea, the ink after all those years...Large and XL are the only two sizes.

A bottle of my signature Cocoa Bliss rub rounds out the package, plus my review copy of the amazing book, Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond The Brisket. I hate to give it up, but it's the kosher thing to do. Sigh. It's really a great book. Luckily, I'm heading right into the Central TX land it examines, so I'll be living it on the tour.

Here are the official rules:

#1. TO ENTER, comment on this post which city you think has the BEST BARBECUE: Austin, Atlanta, or Birmingham? If you have a favorite joint, do spill. I'm collecting quite a list of places to visit.

#2. STACK THE DECK. You may get multiple entries in the drawing the following ways:
a. Become a follower of this blog and get THREE entries in the contest.
b. Tweet or re-tweet about the contest and/or tour and get ONE entry per tweet. Be sure to include @shesmokebbq so I can tally you properly.
c. Become a facebook fan and get TWO additional entries.
d. Mention the tour and/or contest on your blog and get THREE additional entries.

The contest ends April 14, 7pm CTT (that's Central Texas Time), the start of my first tour book event. I will announce the winner on the road, but will leave it packed and ready to mail whilst I'm away so you don't have to wait.

Flex those social media muscles and start stacking the deck!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Edible Books: Calling all cooks and writers.

Calling all cooks and writers! I just discovered this via Twitter. There is an edible book contest by the Seattle Edible Book Festival. Last year's winner was Goodnight Moon Pie. You can see a picture on Edible Seattle's facebook page.

Deadline is in a week! Register by April 8th. The event is on April 10.  Get your creative hat on and make your version of...
The Secret Life of Peas
The Lion, The Witch, and the Rhubarb
Jane Pear

OK, those were just off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of something much, much better.