Monday, May 31, 2010

Not Quite Meatless Monday: Katy's Grilled Bread Salad with Brisket

If you eat at Smokin' Pete's BBQ, chances are you've met Katy. She's an amazing chef and we are lucky to have her on our team. From time to time Katy escapes our little corner shop to head to Quillisascut Farm to feed her soul....and the goats and the chickens.

She goes there to Sous Chef for retreats, workshops and classes wherein they learn to reap the bounty of the farm, from making goat cheese, creating 6-course meals from only what they grow, to slaughtering and butchering a goat. A lot of folks forget that true sustainability isn't all that glamorous. The days are long and the work hard.

We benefit from Katy going to the farm too. Not only does she bring us wonderful cheese samples, she always comes back inspired creatively. Her specials are, well, extra special.

Here is her grilled bread salad topped with brisket and grilled green peppers, tossed in a bleu cheese vinaigrette that just rocked. I had to take a picture. It's a wonderful way to have your brisket on the light side. It's not quite "Meatless Monday", but it's leaning that way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Live tomorrow on KXL radio on Cooking with Mr. Barbecue

Bruce Bjorkman has a great show on KXL Radio out of Portland called Cooking with Mr. Barbecue. I had the good fortune of being on his show for one of my first live radio interviews ever, and he actually asked me back.

Tomorrow we'll jaw about brisket (why not?), my recent fun at Memphis in May, and about the book, one year later. Tune in at 2pm, Pacific time. I'll be on around 2:30, but you'll want to hear his entire show. (If you miss it or can't get it where you are, I'll post a link to the archives once it's up. Well. That is if I don't tank. Then you'll have to search for it yourself!)

He always has an amazing line-up. Last week he interviewed grand champs of Memphis in May, Yazoo's Delta Q.

Wish me luck and remind me to slow down to about half my normal talking speed!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It Should Be Illegal: Eric's Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Bacon Cake

A few weeks ago we said farewell to a dear employee who stuck it out with us for two years. For those not in the restaurant business, that doesn't sound like a long time. We are lucky to have almost half our staff for longer than two years, but still, two years is kind of like a tour of duty in a restaurant. Unless you move up or change positions, you go a little nuts after two years.

Eric made a cake. Eric doesn't make a cake for everyone. He makes cake when he's inspired to do so, and because of this, his cakes are amazing. He made a monster cake for our son's 4th birthday that was...HUGE and was of course a monster. Then there was his famous (infamous?) She-Cake.

But when he came out with this cake, covered in bacon, I knew to let go of logic and dive in.

It should be illegal. It should have heart warnings stuck in it like little country of origin flags. It should go in a cookbook.

Decadent chocolate cake covered in a rich peanut butter cream frosting, covered in crispy bacon. Oh. My. God.

It was so rich I said halfway through that I really should stop. "I'm going to be sick," I said. I finished it. Felt a little sick, but a bit of milk and rest stabled me out just fine.

Try this at home. I dare ya.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

She's Smokin': Crystal Johnson of Bare Bones BBQ

Meet Crystal Johnson.

I met her at Memphis in May, the World Championship of Barbecue. I'd been searching for female pit masters, and was led by someone who said, "You HAVE to meet Crystal of Bare Bones BBQ. She's the boss and an awesome pit master. She runs a tight ship."

If you hail from the Southern states, you might want to set your ears to "speed" when you meet her, because Crystal is a fast talkin' Vermonter. I think they named the wind "Nor'easter" after her. Lucky for me, I'm from the opposite coast, where we talk just as fast, in part fueled by the copious cups of coffee we drink.

Crystal's fuel comes from within. It comes from her passion for creating pure barbecue goodness on a plate. Crystal and her husband Mark live in a small town in Vermont, they've been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and competing on the barbecue circuit for 10 years.

They run a small restaurant that features a few barbecue items on the menu, but once a month they pull out all the stops.

"We hold a monthly barbecue event next to our restaurant. You can't produce competition level barbecue in a restaurant 24/7, so we decided to just do it once a month and give people the closest thing to it."

As a barbecue restaurant owner, I nod in understanding. A team can highly manage a brisket or pork butt to perfection. Because they only need to turn in six samples to the judges, they can cook easily hundreds of pounds of meat to get the perfect 1 pound or so on a plate. A restaurant wouldn't last three months with that kind of food cost.

Those monthly barbecues double as fine-tuning for competition season. Crystal said it's helped, "This is the best we've felt coming into a competition. We've been practicing so much."

I asked her what her "secret" or best advice is for folks out there.

"Don't use crap!"

She may say this with a twinkle in her eye, but to the core, she's serious. "It's all about the ingredients you use. Buy local, fresh pork. Research the ingredients you use and source those that are truly without crap."

This includes using an organic beef stock, and bringing her pork from a local Vermont farm with her to the competition. Her shoulders were amazing. This one is 40 pounds!

Keep an eye on Crystal. She isn't on twitter, facebook, she doesn't write a blog or even have a website that I could find. She's all about putting her energy into her food. We'll be seeing more of her and Bare Bones BBQ in the future.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yazoo's Takes Grand Champion at Memphis in May

Congratulations to Yazoo's Delta Q for taking Grand Champion at the World Championship of Barbecue. Yazoo's Delta Q is the Stubbs Bar-B-Q team, and run by female pitmaster Melissa Cookston.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kurt Koegler, president of Stubb's Bar-B-Q. Kurt and I shout out via twitter and thought it would be nice to meet face to face at Memphis in May.

I used a sample of his Honey-Pecan sauce in a cooking demo I did on the Char-Broil tent. I also put to rest a question I've always had about Stubb's sauces. I wanted to know if the man on their label, C.B. Stubblefield, was a real person.

"Absolutely," said Kurt. "A lot of people don't believe that. Even when Stubb senior was still alive, people doubted it, until he'd come out and talk. He had an incredible presence."

You heard it here. And to further prove their birthright, they just won the World Championship.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Char-Broil® Infrared BBQ All-star Pork Smack-Down

And another video! Can you tell that I just learned how to embed videos? It's like a whole new world just opened up. In this video, Mike "The Pirate" Hedrick wins. He was a blast to "work" with at the
Char-Broil stage.

Talking with Pork Barrel BBQ

I loved meeting Heath Hall of Pork Barrel BBQ at Memphis in May. I could have interviewed him, but he lost the coin toss (just kidding), and interviewed me. Heath and Pork Barrel BBQ have over 25,000 followers on twitter, he was on the reality TV show Shark Tank, and they make great sauces (and barbecue)!

Here is a video of his interview with me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Coming soon: She's Smokin'

In addition to the Central Texas Barbecue Series I've been slowly posting, I will be adding some new She's Smokin' segments, just like in the book, from interviews I've done with women in the pits here at Memphis in May.

Until then, I leave you with a few photos of women in the crowd.

The first is a Memphis in May volunteer that won a Big Easy Smoker-Roaster-Grill in one of the many Char-Broil giveaways this week. She was so happy. She'd already planned on buying one, and then she answered the trivia question correctly.

I'm not sure which trivia question it was, so I'll give you one that was asked this weekend.

Who was the first winner of Memphis in May?

I'll give you a hint: She won the first contest in 1978.

That's right! Bessie Louise Cathey

Speaking of winners, check out the first results that are in. The really important results, all things pig (whole hog, ribs, shoulder), won't be up till later today. Turn in time is at noon. Yesterday teams turned in all the "other" categories: Beef, Chicken, Seafood, Exotic, Coleslaw, Beans... you get the idea. These won't win teams the Grand Champion, only their chosen pork category can do that, but winners receive prize money and bragging rights.

The next photo needs no other words. OK, that's too hard for me. Aren't these ladies cute?

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Memphis in May Pictures

More pictures from the Superbowl! I'll take this Superbowl over that football one any day. The first photo to the right is by artists Susan and Roberto Vazquez. Each year they do a new piggy head that fits the Memphis in May country theme.

This year the chosen country is Tunisia. Susan said they chose to mosaic her face, to honor the mosaic tradition in Tunisia. Here are a few more shots of the Vazquez's and their handiwork.

It's all about Elvis here in Memphis.

Well, not all. I was here to help spread the word about Char-Broil's infrared grills at the World Championship of Barbecue.

And to compete a little myself. I must admit, I didn't win my two Pork Smackdowns. Mike "The Pirate" Hedrick, and Larry "MOINK Ball" Gaian each took one, but on the second smackdown, I loved my pork. It was just how I wanted it.

 That's really all that matters. Cooking, even when it is for thousands of people, is personal. More than any other cooking community, I think barbecue folks are the most personal, friendly, and, well, communal. It's one of the most active groups of people on the web in all its forms.

Here are a few friends I met face to face (though we've "talked" plenty on twitter and facebook).

Heath Hall of Pork Barrel BBQ.

From the Big Apple, Smoke In Da Eye's Clint Cantwell.

Kurt Koegler of Stubb's BBQ


And finally, Miss Memphis (she's the one with the crown). OMG, right? It's like we are twins!


Fox 13 Video of the Char-Broil Celebrity Grill-Off

Our Char-Broil celebrity grilling competition yesterday was 100% fun. I was lucky to get assigned to Ernie Freeman, the anchor for Good Morning Memphis on Fox 13. Here is the hilarious video they put together about the competition.

Like he said, "We are the real winners."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pictures from Memphis in May, Day 1

Whew! What a day. I'll post about it tonight, but first want to give you all some photos of the day. Here is my teammate in the Celebrity Grill Off, anchor Ernie Freeman from Memphis in the Morning on Fox 13.

And the man who made this happen, Barry "CB" Martin. He's the man behind the Char-Broil blog and forum.

Some pics of us getting ready for the Pork Smackdown:

 This is what we cooked on today, The Big Easy. It Smokes, Roasts, and Grills all in one. If you are in the know, just call this baby your "SRG".

 Some shots of the teams. Folks like to have a good time here at Memphis in May, and the rule is be serious about making good barbecue, but laugh about the rest.

That is only a fraction of pictures that I have. I'll post more in a bit. It's time for dinner!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Surprises in Memphis

I landed in Memphis today for my big week at Memphis in May as a guest chef for Char-Broil. After a quick debriefing of tomorrow's schedule, we headed to Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ for a group dinner and more in depth meeting.

Before I sat down to write this, I realized that two things happened tonight that I didn't expect.

I'll start with the good surprise. Maybe surprise isn't the right word, unexpected is better, but tonight I met an amazing group of people, a group who cares deeply about their product, about their customers, and about my point of view. Little ol' me.

I've been to a lot of useless meetings, and it's one of the reasons I chose to start my own business. That, and the fact that I cannot bear to wear pantyhose.

But this was more than a hand-out of bullet points. I got to sit across from the VP of Marketing and talk about grills from an insider's perspective. The art director talked about his ribs. We all talked about how Char-Broil, almost exclusively a gas grill company, fits with a hardcore barbecue competition like Memphis in May. We talked about what this infrared cooking system really is, and how it differs from conventional gas, or other infrared grills. We even gave them a wish list for future products.

And instead of them telling us the answers, as a group we sat and discussed them, answering them together. I guess I didn't expect such a democratic and thoughtful meeting from such a large corporation.

Sitting next to fellow guest chef Larry "BBQ Grail" Gaian, was a hoot, too. I already "knew" Larry from social networking, from his MOINK balls, and his review of my book. It was great to meet him and his wife face to face, though. You can't hear the passion in a person's voice on twitter like you can when they are sitting next to you. I loved hearing Larry's passionate declarations and opinions about barbecue, the Char-Broil infrared grills (he's a recent convert), and the barbecue world in general.

And the other surprise? The barbecue was not happening.

At all. I have to think this was just an off night for them. Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ has received way too much praise for what came on my plate tonight.

After dinner I talked with one of the restaurant family owners, Kelvin Neely, and he made me laugh my head off. The man is out loud funny. So I'm going to let Larry do the critical review on this one on his blog, and share a little of what Kelvin had to say about getting around in Memphis.

"Memphis is the Bermuda triangle. No GPS works here. When someone says 'north', you ask, 'north which way?' You can drive on I-240 East, West, North and South without making a turn!"

"Customers call me for directions and I ask them, 'Well, where are you?' and they say, 'To be honest, I have no idea,' so I just tell them, 'Keep driving till you hear my voice!"

I love surprises. I love curve balls and last minute upsets. I love it when you go in with one expectation and come out understanding something in a new light. And I'm a sucker for a belly laugh.

I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be full of surprises, and hopefully a few laughs.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Oh Thank Goodness I Love It

Ever since Barry "CB" Martin and the folks at Char-Broil asked me to guest chef at Memphis in May, I've been thrilled...but with one hesitation. I'd never cooked on an infrared grill. What if I didn't like it?

At home I've always preferred charcoal grills, and ever since we shot our last gas grill, we didn't feel the need to replace it. So when the above little Quantum infrared grill show up yesterday (was it really only yesterday? I feel like we've known each other so much longer), I took a deep breath and said hello.

It's important to get to know your equipment and I always find hello is a nice ice breaker.
Then I fired her up.

Since yesterday I've cooked pork chops, sausages, pork loin cutlets, a roasted pork loin and a gorgeous fillet of black cod. Don't worry, I've had people over to help eat all of this.

Here is my initial impression: I love it!!! I really do. And thank goodness I do because I'm going to be talking about it all next week. But truly I'm a believer.

Let me tell you why.

Char-Broil would have me blab about the science of it all. It heats the food upon contact, not the air...yada yada yada.

I like it because when it is hitting 600 degrees I can still wave my hand over the grill grate. It never feels too hot or out of control. I don't even think a flare up is possible on this thing.

Then there is the fact that every thing I cooked was tender and juicy. I could pat myself on the back and say, Damn I'm good, but truth be told, all the cook times were full of distractions. Baby girl has been super clingy, like she knows I'm going away next week. She cries every time I put her down. My 4-yr old is on a constant hunt for sharp objects. Tonight I actually heard him shout, "I need something sharp!" as he tried to break through the tool shed door. We've had birthdays and neighbors dropping in and staff forgetting they were working...

It's amazing we ate food in the past two days. Yet I've been churning out perfect plates of meat to those passing through our little corner zoo, thanks to my trusty Quantum infrared grill.

Lastly, it's a snap to clean. I'd read mixed reviews about cleaning infrared grills because of the tiny little holes. I don't know what those people are cooking, but I merely lifted up the grate once it was cool, brushed it with my grill brush, and it was clean.


I'm going to be talking up this grill to some seriously hardcore barbecue people at Memphis in May, but I would also recommend this grill to a beginner. It's understated. Instead of making a big show with flames and smoke, it quietly sears your food at 600-700 degrees without hardly a murmur. It's just the sort of equipment that someone tentative on the grill could get the hang of right away.

Now all I have to do is convince old school barbecue folks steeped in tradition, that this is not cheating. It's just good.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My New Toy. Gearing up for the Pork Smackdown at Memphis in May.

Today I received my very own infrared grill from Char-Broil. It grills, roasts, and even smokes slow and low by using radiant heat like that which naturally occurs with a wood or charcoal fire. The idea is that it keeps meat moist because it heats the meat, not the air around it. I don't cook often with gas because it lacks in flavor and can cook too dry. Infrared grills are supposed to answer that.

I can't wait to demo the infrared grills at Memphis in May. I'm going as a guest chef for Char-Broil. Until today, I thought I'd be working at a booth, demonstrating grilling on various models.

Guess what? I found out today that I'd be having much much more fun than that. I'll first help a celebrity contestant in a grilling competition on Thursday.

On Friday, I'm in the competition. Twice. I'll be going head to head in a Pork Smackdown with Larry Gaian of BBQ Grail (and the inventor of Moink Balls, bless his soul), and Mike Hedrick of Pit Crew Barbeque.

These two are classic good ol' boys. Mike even MC's or something like that at Nascar for god's sake.

I'm going to show them how it's done.

We'll be cooking pork loin at the competition, so tonight, that's what we're having for dinner. And tomorrow. And the next day after that. I'll let you know what I think of the results.

Stay tuned for more news about the Smackdown or Memphis in May.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eric's Rockin' Oysters

We just got home from Panama City Beach, our last stop on the She-Smoke US tour (grin). We spent time with Eric's mom, made sandcastles, and watched for oil. That would be the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico you've heard about. It was spreading and headed our way. It didn't hit while we were there, but between the stormy weather, and the motorcycle rally held that weekend, it wasn't the quiet stretch of beach I've been to in the past.

Luckily we bought oysters before fishing was banned. Eric shucked oysters and, though he likes to slurp his down raw, he made his favorite cooked version for the oyster wimps like me.

He calls these his "Rockefeller Lite" version, a simpler preparation than the old school Oysters Rockefeller.

I just call them rockin'.

"I think we had them this way at Szmania's years ago," he said, crediting a wonderful German restaurant in Seattle.

Here is his recipe.

Fresh oysters, flat shell removed
Fresh spinach
High quality Parmesan
Panko bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper

Saute onion in olive oil with salt and pepper.

Add spinach and saute until cooked. Squeeze out excess liquid. Make balls and chop finely.

After shucking flat side of oysters, cut out oyster from the bottom shell, leaving it in. Place shells with oysters on cookie sheet.

Sprinkle about a teaspoon and a half of the spinach onion mixture on oyster.

Top with shaved Parmesan and bread crumbs.

Broil until cheese fully melts and bread crumbs brown.

Memphis in May

I have exciting news: I'm going to Memphis in May! For those of you not as clued in to competition barbecue, MIM is the World Championship barbecue competition with a penchant for a party. It's all about the pig at this Grandaddy of Grilling event. I've been invited to be a guest chef for Char-broil to demonstrate their infrared grills.

I'll be there May 12-15th, grilling, talking barbecue equipment, and hopefully sampling some serious hog.

If you are going, stop by the Char-Broil booth. For those of you stuck in day jobs, I'll be twittering and facebooking and bloggin' the whole time so that you may live vicariously through me. You can thank me later.