Enchilada Tacos with Smoked Beef

Enchilada tacos with smoked beef on the Blackstone Griddle

Over the last year on social media, I keep seeing videos from food trucks pop up featuring tacos, made from corn tortillas, being dipped in an enchilada-like sauce and cooked on a screaming hot griddle surface prior to being topped with a variety of toppings, folded over, crisped and served to customers. This intrigued me, so I figured I would whip up my own recipe in an experiment by making tacos in this manner on my 36″ Blackstone griddle.

I haven’t been able to find a conclusive name for this type of taco. In my Googling research, I have found a specialty dish that was founded in Jalisco in Mexico, called ‘Birria’, which is a spicy stew. However, this isn’t birria or close to it. So I can only refer to these as ‘enchilada’ tacos.

If you have been following Grizzly BBQ, you will find that I recently posted about smoking chuck roast in the last week. As an alternative to brisket, I highly recommend giving it a go, because generally it is going to be cheaper than brisket — not per pound, but by being a smaller ration of meat. When cooked correctly, it stands almost next to brisket in terms of flavor. Don’t get me wrong: that sounds like a touch of hyperbole in that sentence, but hear me out; a properly smoked chuck roast can achieve a level of a smoky beef flavor that will impart a delicious level of smoke in whatever dish you feature it in. That is what I used in these tacos, and if you decide to make these for yourself, you won’t be kicking yourself at the end of the day. You will be happy you have given this a try.

First things first, buy a pack of corn tortillas from your local grocery store. I used Chi-Chi’s white corn taco style tortillas. They come in a pack of 18. For the enchilada sauce, I picked up the store brand — Food Lion — of the sauce. You could make your own, which would likely wind up better tasting than what you would find in a can, or you can pick up a premium brand, but the store brand worked out well for me, because all you are doing with the sauce is dipping the tortillas in it prior to cooking. Keep in mind that you don’t need a Blackstone griddle to cook this recipe, but I love griddling outdoors so I rolled with that particular method. You can use a hot cast iron skillet to make these as well in your kitchen.

Overall, you are going to want these base ingredients:

— Corn tortillas
— Cooking oil
— Enchilada sauce
— Your choice of toppings

I stuck with the basics in making these: the above, smoked chuck roast that I had chopped up into bite size pieces of optimal tenderness, Great Value Fiesta blend cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, queso quesadilla and asadero cheese) from Wal-Mart, chopped cilantro and diced caramelized onions. You may prefer different ingredients, from a cut of pork or some kind of chicken. These were incredible with the smoked chuck roast that I cooked in my drum smoker, the Barrel House Cooker 18C, so I can’t help but recommend my method rather than others.

My preparation involved dipping the corn tortillas in some warmed cooking oil in a cast iron skillet. I had made chicken and cheese taquitos the day prior to cooking this, so I still had about a half inch of oil in my cast iron pan. I heated it up on medium for about ten minutes and dipped the corn tortillas — one by one — in the oil for about two or three seconds on both sides before adding them to a bowl. I find this step to be crucial, because you aren’t cooking the tortillas this way, but you are making them more pliable by adding them to the hot oil for just a moment. This does not make the final product greasy, but it will help allow the corn tortillas to crisp up enough after it is dipped in the enchilada sauce and subsequently cooked.

In another bowl, I dumped two cans of Food Lion brand enchilada sauce in, which is what you are going to want to dip your corn tortillas into before cooking them.

I fired up the burners on my Blackstone griddle to medium and quickly cooked up the diced onions in order to caramelize them. Different strokes for different folks: you might prefer diced raw onions, but I prefer the flavor of caramelized onions on my tacos. One of my guests that I was cooking for has difficulties eating raw onions due to digestion issues, so cooked onions are more palatable to them, and hey, caramelized onions are delicious, so there is no problem with that. I turned off one of my side burners and moved the caramelized onions over to the far side of the griddle where the burner was turned off. If you are making these inside your home, just remove the onions and place into a bowl or plate.

Afterwards, I added some oil to the hot griddle surface, dipped the corn tortillas — one by one — into the enchilada sauce and added them to the cooking surface. As they cooked away, I topped each tortilla with the aforementioned Fiesta blend cheese, added the smoked beef, spooned out some of the diced onions onto each tortilla and followed that up by topping each tortilla with a smidgen of chopped cilantro, which added a level of freshness in each bite of the finished product.

At this point, I bumped the heat of the burners to high and folded the tortillas over to crisp them up for about one minute on each side before removing them. Now it is time to eat.

18 enchilada tacos with smoked beef

Step-by-Step Instructions

1.) In a cast iron pan, add half an inch of cooking oil, heat for 10 minutes before dipping the corn tortillas, one by one, in the oil for three to five seconds on each side. Remove and add to a bowl.
2.) Dump your enchilada sauce into a separate bowl.
3.) Fire up your griddle or cast iron to medium heat, add a bit of oil and cook the diced onions for a couple of minutes. Remove the onions from the heat source.
4.) Dip the corn tortillas in the enchilada sauce and add to the cooking surface.
5.) Add your toppings.
6.) Bump up the heat and fold the corn tortillas over into tacos. Cook for about a minute on each side in order to achieve a substantial level of crispiness
7.) Remove and eat!

Bear Smoke BBQ Review

Bear Smoke BBQ sauces

A new company based out of Charlotte, North Carolina recently dropped with a line of barbecue sauces, hot sauces and a rub. Bear Smoke BBQ.

I saw the name on social media and knew I had to check them out. It is only naturally, given that my handle features ‘Grizzly’ in it that I would check out a brand with bear in the name. I contacted the person, or the people, behind the brand to let them know my intention of giving their products a go.

One thing about brand new barbecue brands like this is that, when they first begin, a lot of them send out their sauces to certain big wigs in the barbecue community, not only for feedback but for the ‘big wigs’ to help spread the word of the new brand in order to help their marketing efforts for the said brand to become more prominent in the world of social media.

For the record, Bear Smoke BBQ did not supply me with these sauces. I ordered two of them on my own volition, fueled by the motivation to give them a fair shot of my own, much like I did for Reload Rub when they first arrived to the party in the summer of 2017.

I ordered two sauces and a t-shirt on a Friday evening. Immediately upon ordering, I contacted the person (or people) behind Bear Smoke BBQ to let them know of my overwhelming excitement to try their sauces. To my surprise, the owner of the brand had already boxed up my order virtually by the time I had contacted them, and it was ready to go in the mail! This was close to 10 p.m. I was blown away by the quick response to my order. The Bear Smoke BBQ owner stated that he usually boxed up all the orders during the mornings, but since they were still awake at such an hour, they went ahead and fulfilled my order. I appreciated that.

By the following Monday, my order had already made it to my local post office and was available for pickup. No surprise, since Bear Smoke BBQ — to me — is basically a local company with them being based out of Charlotte while I’m in southwest Virginia (only about a three and a half hour distance apart).

The two sauces I ordered from Bear Smoke BBQ:

— Bear Smoke Recipe No. 1: Everyday BBQ Sauce
Description from the site: “Bear Sauce Recipe No. 1 is our take on traditional BBQ sauce with a mix of Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and Eastern and Western Carolina style sauces all wrapped into one. Hand crafted in small batches to ensure quality in every bottle.”

— Cam Cam Chipotle BBQ Sauce
Description from the site: “Previously known as our Chipotle or Grizzly Sauce. This is a chipotle version of the Bear Smoke No. 1 Sauce infused with chipotle pepper to give this sauce just enough extra heat and smokiness to stand out in the crowd. Cam Cam Chipotle Sauces was a collaboration between myself and Campbell, my oldest daughter, so in return for her contribution to the sauce, all profits from this sauce will go to the charity of her choosing.” That’s nice.

Bear Smoke BBQ Cam Cam Chipotle BBQ Sauce

The first of the two sauces I tried was the Cam Cam Chipotle barbecue sauce. How could I not? Asides from the fact that I always relish the prospect of adding any kind of spice to virtually all my meals, there was no way in the world I could pass up the opportunity to try out a sauce given that its name was once known as ‘Grizzly Sauce’ once upon a time. Grizzly Troy had to give the once-known Grizzly Sauce a shot.

With the smoked chuck roast I posted about previously, I tossed some in a plate along with a heaping dollop of Bear Smoke’s Cam Cam Chipotle sauce and gave it a try. The consistency of the sauce is not too runny and not too thick. Perhaps a perfect balance in a sauce. I don’t mind a sticky sweet sauce, but when it comes to barbecue sauces in general, I always prefer something smooth and dip-worthy.

In the first couple of bites of the Cam Cam Chipotle sauce, I didn’t detect any heat, but I definitely tasted the chipotle pepper note right off the bat. As for heat detection, I wasn’t expecting it, as chipotle pepper — to my tastebuds — is more mild than a regular jalapeno, but what I noticed after a few more tastes is that the heat began to build and settled into a comfortable level of spice that pleasantly lingered on my tastebuds as I continued eating.

I really appreciate the presence of the chipotle pepper flavor in this, well, chipotle-based barbecue sauce. It isn’t an overwhelming ingredient that dominates it to the point of making the base of the barbecue sauce unrecognizable. It is a prominent note in the flavor, yes, but it is there with enough purpose without overpowering the entire sauce, if that makes sense. It is a really natural flavor, too, so it doesn’t taste like it was infused with some cheap extract that may be in the usual run of the mill mainstream barbecue sauces at your local grocery store. You can tell that the person, or people, behind Bear Smoke BBQ worked hard to create this one and went through thorough testing to get it right. This is what I enjoy about small batch products, especially in the realm of barbecue, because the people involved are going to put their personal time and effort into creating the highest quality product they can concoct.

So, Cam Cam Chipotle is a win for me. It will definitely be a staple in my cabinet of sauces for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to give it a try on chicken wings, as I feel that the natural flavor of the chipotle peppers is going to lend themselves to grilled wings in the future when I throw them down on my Weber kettle.

Bear Smoke Recipe No. 1: Everyday BBQ Sauce

As for the Bear Smoke Recipe No .1: Everyday BBQ sauce? I gave it a go shortly after trying the Cam Cam Chipotle sauce, which may have been a mistake. Remember, I have a natural proclivity to prefer spice in my food, so when I gave the Everyday BBQ sauce a try, I knew better than to expect spice. Keep in mind that the Everyday BBQ sauce features the same base as the Cam Cam Chipotle sauce, but it is more palatable and easy on those guests who prefer little spice in their sauce.

Lacking the chipotle pepper flavor in the Everyday BBQ sauce, it features the same smooth texture that the Cam Cam Chipotle sauce does. It is rich in flavor and delivers a nice, complementary hit to food. This is going to be the one that I serve my friends and family going forward in the next couple of barbecues I host. I imagine that it is going to be well received on an upcoming cook of a big batch of pork spare ribs that I plan on smoking for a friends-and-family get-together. However, between the two sauces that I ordered, the Cam Cam Chipotle is unabashedly my favorite because I cannot under-emphasize the beautiful way that Bear Smoke BBQ incorporated the chipotle peppers as an ingredient in it.

In total, Bear Smoke BBQ features five barbecue sauces to choose from: Everyday BBQ sauce, Cam Cam Chipotle, Swine Sauce (North Carolina vinegar style BBQ sauce), Sticky Sweet (a thicker version of the Everyday BBQ sauce) and S.C. Mustard.

I would like to try the other sauces soon, although I’m not crazy about vinegar-based barbecue sauces, so I may save the Swine Sauce for last to try.

Bear Smoke BBQ also features three hot sauces:

— M.C. Hot Sauce
Description from the site: “8 pepper hot sauce aged with the finest toasted Hungarian Oak. Yes, the same toasted oak that some of the world’s finest wines are made with. Hand crafted in small batches to ensure the finest quality.”

— Meesh Bear Pepper Sauce (a whopping $15.99 price point — yikes)
Description from the site: “This hand crafted limited edition sauce is made in small batches of only 12 bottles at a time. Meesh Bear is a thick Roasted Red Pepper base touched with a speck of Heat, Mint and other ecret ingredients; it is the perfect compliment to almost everything. We recommend it to be served with Lamb, Chicken, Steak or Salmon.”

— Angry Bear Hot Sauce
Description from the site: “This Hot Sauce is made with 10 different peppers including the 3 hottest peppers in the world — the Carolina Reaper Peppers, Chocolate Bhutlah Peppers and Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Peppers along with 7 other peppers for added flavor layers, that is if you still have a tongue left after trying it.”

I would definitely like to try out the Angry Bear hot sauce in the future. It sounds delicious and packed with enough heat to satisfy my tastebuds’ addiction to a high level of uncomfortable spiciness.

All in all, based on the two sauces I have tried up to this juncture, I feel comfortable in recommending Bear Smoke BBQ sauces on here as an official mode of advocacy. The Everyday BBQ sauce is a fantastic general barbecue sauce that is sure to please not only your tastebuds, but the palates of your hungry guests as well. The Cam Cam Chipotle sauce is also another one that you could get away with serving most guests, as well, since the level of heat will not overpower them (in my opinion) unless they have a natural aversion to a mild level of spiciness.

To end this post, I have to admit that I can’t help but feel a level of disappointment. Bear Smoke BBQ, the new brand, recently released its list of ten chosen brand ambassadors, and they did not choose me. At the very least, I was not contacted. I am rather dumbfounded by this, to be honest, because I have to say… consider the match-up. I am Grizzly BBQ. They are Bear Smoke BBQ. I am based out of swVA while they are a mere few hours away in Charlotte, NC. Asides from the relevant bear names apparent in both of our brand titles, our values in the realm of barbecue appear to link up well. Furthermore, I have a larger social following than half of their ten chosen brand ambassadors. I can’t help but raise an eyebrow over this. Not to mention, I can’t help but speculate that the parties chosen were given sauces to review and post about, while I shelled money out of my own pocket to support the company and freely advertise them before I could verify if the sauces were up to snuff. It is simply bewildering. I can’t help but also mention that I am the only person on the entire internet to write a review of any of the sauces on a website, but I suppose that is neither here nor there.

I just feel like there was a monumental opportunity missed out of shortsightedness, but I digress.

I will continue to support Bear Smoke BBQ, as I believe in supporting small companies, and I will only ever support companies featuring products that I believe to be of high quality. That goes for every product I use and post about in my recipes that I have featured and will continue to post about on here. I am excited to feature Bear Smoke BBQ sauces in my future recipes on Grizzly BBQ. In the meantime, you can check out all the products that Bear Smoke BBQ has to offer here.

Poor Man’s Brisket: Smoked Chuck Roast

Juicy smoked chuck roast
When I first began my barbecue journey, one of the first meats I attempted to smoke was chuck roast. It is nicknamed ‘poor man’s brisket’ because it is a fatty, collagenous cut of beef, much like brisket, that requires a cook time that allows the tissue within to soften and break down to render it into a tender, edible finished product. While you may spend upwards to $40 to $50 or more on a big hunk of brisket, chuck roasts are smaller and in the range of two to five pounds, and you spend less in comparison to what you will on brisket.

I think the name ‘poor man’s brisket’ is a bit of a misnomer, though. Over in my neck of the woods, chuck roast is often more expensive than brisket (per pound), coming in at $5/lb. while a choice brisket from my local Wal-Mart can be purchased at a price point of $2.96/lb.

With that said, one of my local grocery stores recently ran a sale for chuck roast at $2.99/lb., and I picked a couple of them up for a big barbecue dinner I planned for my family and friends, because for chuck roast that is quite the bargain. Poor man’s brisket or not. Maybe we should start calling brisket, ‘poor man’s chuck roast’ for now on.

When you think of barbecue, you probably don’t think about chuck roast. When you think of a chuck roast, I’m sure you are likely to think of a big pot roast consisting of the meat, carrots, potatoes, onions and maybe mushrooms cooked up low and slow in a slow cooker. Well, sure, that is its most common use in the realm of the culinary world, but it is a sneaky, delicious cut of meat in the barbecue world and I think it is time that pitmasters everywhere begin accepting it as a veritable element in the game of smoked grub.

Smoking a Chuck Roast

2 Gringo's Chupacabra Brisket Magic

I want to share with you how to go into ‘next level’ mode when you smoke a chuck roast.

As I stated, I purchased two chuck roasts while they were on sale at the aforementioned local grocery store. One was around 2.6 pounds while the other weighed in at just shy of 3 pounds. The night before I began the cook, I took the guesswork out of the preparation by applying my rub of choice for these chuckies. I sliced both of them down the middle to create four equally sized pieces. There were two reasons I did this: for one, doing so meant a quicker cook time, and two, more surface area to create a nice, dark bark on the outside of the meat so that when it was time to cut up the finished product, there would be more bark in more bites for my guests to enjoy, and if you are into barbecue, you know that the bark is everyone’s favorite part of the meat.

I rubbed the four hunks of chuck roast with
2 Gringo’s Chupacabra Brisket Magic. I had them sitting on a sheet pan that I then placed in the refrigerator to sit overnight, allowing the rub to settle onto the surface of the meat.

The next morning, I fired up one of my drum smokers, my Barrel House Cooker 18C, with a combination of Kingsford’s charcoal briquettes, two chunks of hickory wood and two chunks of pecan wood, and when the smoker’s internal temperature gauge read 200, I added the four pieces of chuck roast to the middle grate and closed it up. This was at around 9 in the morning.

The reason I added the chuck roasts to the cooker at 200 rather than waiting for the temperature to rise even further is because I wanted to go ahead and allow them to hit some smoke, as the heat was coming up quite nicely, and the actual temperature of the middle of the grate was probably at 250 degrees since it was closer to the fire source. In a drum smoker, the cooking environment is hotter than other smokers since one is typically not using a water pan, so there is no type of heat deflector between the meat and the cooking source.

Bark from smoked chuck roast

Just take a look at the bark on this smoked chuck roast!

Sliced and cut-up smoked chuck roast

I began checking my temperatures at around three hours into this cook. However, the total cook time was about five and a half to six hours, as I finally removed all four pieces of the chuck roast at about 2:30 p.m. when the internal temperatures of the pieces of meat were reading 200-204 degrees by that time.

I allowed the meat to rest for fifteen minutes before slicing it up like a brisket and subsequently cutting it up into bite size pieces. This was by far and away the juiciest chuck roast I have ever smoked up to this point. Serve on a bun, eat by itself or make tacos with it, like I did.

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

Ribeyes are my favorite cut of steak, by far and away. I love the marbling, the tenderness of the finished meat and the overload of flavor that comes from this cut, so it stands to reason that I also love tomahawk ribeyes

A tomahawk ribeye is a cut of steak that has at least five or more inches of extra rib bone. I suppose this is for presentation purposes, because when you see one, it is going to command your attention and seduce your steak-loving heart, and it has ‘tomahawk’ in the name because the long bone resembles an axe, but to me it reminds me of how one could eat it ‘caveman’ style by holding the bone while eating the meat, just like a caveman. This cut of beef virtually speaks to your inner primal instincts.

I have heard of tomahawk ribeyes being preferred to as simply ‘bone-in ribeyes’ (you will see these classified as such as a menu item at LongHorn Steakhouse chain restaurants) or ‘cowboy steaks.’ In order to call these a tomahawk, bone-in or cowboy ribeye, the butcher preparing the meat will trim off the meat around the bone, exposing it. It is all about the total presentation, so when you see these steaks in the meat department at a grocery store, they stand out among the rest. I cannot forget to mention how incredible they taste when reverse-seared, as well, so presentation aside, tomahawk ribeyes make for delicious steaks.

Living in rural southwest Virginia, with farmland everywhere around me, the only time I ever saw a tomahawk ribeye in person before a couple of years ago was at a Sam’s Club, which is an hour away from where I live. I’m not sure why, but it isn’t popular around here, and it could be due to the smaller population, but that’s a shame. In 2017, a local meat shop opened up, called Appalachian Meats, ran by a husband-and-wife tandem, and they started advertising for tomahawk ribeyes. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cook one for the first time, to finally have the experience of tasting one.

3 pound tomahawk ribeye

A perfect amount of fat and marbling in this beautiful tomahawk ribeye from Appalachian Meats.

The tomahawk ribeye I purchased from Appalachian Meats was just shy of three pounds, unless you want to round it up.

This cut of steak isn’t one where you can flash-sear in a pan for two minutes on each side. Nope. Pending on how you like your steaks cooked (medium rare, right?), you have to figure out a way to make sure that you cook the inside of the meat adequately while still achieving the seared crust that you will ultimately desire. Enter the reverse sear method.

Reverse Searing a Tomahawk Ribeye

‘Reverse sear’ and ‘slow-cooking’ go hand in hand. It simply means to cook the meat at a temperature that is low enough where the outside layer of the meat isn’t overcooked, while high enough in temperature to cook the inside of the meat enough to reach your preferred doneness.

You can certainly reverse sear by using an oven and a cast iron pan on the stovetop, but this is Grizzly BBQ, and I wanted to grill it.

I loaded up my faithful, trusty Weber kettle grill with a charcoal chimney full of scorching hot lump charcoal and closed the lid to allow the grill to heat up. I left the exhaust vent on the lid halfway open and only had a quarter of the intake vents open for a lower temperature, in which the temperature gauge on the lid was reading 300 degrees by the time I brought the tomahawk ribeye out to place on the grate. Keep in mind that I shuffled the charcoal to one side of the grill so that I could use the other side to cook the steak on indirect heat. I placed a chunk of pecan wood over the coals for an extra smoky flavor that embedded itself into the steak.

You can use whatever type of seasoning you prefer. With most steaks, kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper is sufficient, but I like to play around with flavors, and one of my favorite steak rubs/seasonings is Hardcore Carnivore Black, which not only has a delicious flavor that it imparts on beef, but it featured activated charcoal in it, which is purely superficial because it gives the meat a near blackened look, which is beautiful to look at when the meat is finished cooking.

As the grill was hitting 290 to 300 degrees, I placed the tomahawk ribeye on the side of the grill as to where it would cook indirectly and closed the lid. I didn’t use any ‘fancy’ equipment to monitor this cook. I do own a Thermoworks Smoke thermometer, which is amazing for monitoring long barbecue cooks like smoking a brisket or a pork butt, but I stuck with my trusty meat thermometer for this one.

Searing a tomahawk ribeye
After 35 minutes, I opened the lid of the grill and checked the temperature of the ribeye, and it was reading 115 degrees. I was overly eager to finally take it inside to cut into and eat, so I saw this as the perfect opportunity to finish it.

I removed the lid of the grill, opened the intake vents wide open for maximum airflow in order to increase the temperatures of the hot lump charcoal, waited around three to five minutes and ensuingly placed the steak directly over the coals and seared it on each side for three meats a piece.

Reverse seared tomahawk ribeye Rare tomahawk ribeye
Everybody has a different method for how long they will sear a steak, but with a thick steak like this, this amount of time to sear it ensured a phenomenal crust that wasn’t ‘burnt’ in the least.

I usually prefer medium rare steaks, but I wound up cooking this tomahawk ribeye rare, about as rare as finding one around this part of the country if Appalachian Meats did not exist.

The flavor was on point. Hardcore Carnivore Black naturally lends itself to beef with notes of garlic, onion and chili that don’t overpower the meat to detract from the beefy flavor we seek from a flavorful cut of steak, not to mention it produces a beautiful color on the crust.

Me and a tomahawk ribeye bone

The look of satisfaction after devouring this tomahawk ribeye.

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

When I first began my barbecue journey, I never considered the prospect of smoking burgers. Usually, in a low and slow cooking environment, you will find yourself smoking big cuts of meat like brisket, pork shoulders and racks of ribs low and slow, because these are generally tougher cuts of meat that need time for the collagen within these types of meat to break down, which results in juicy, tender bites of flavor in the guise of edible goodness that all but melts in your mouth.

When I purchased a Barrel House Cooker in the spring of 2018, this was my first tried and true experience with hot-and-fast style barbecue, a veritable art form in the realm of cooking that I took to and fell in love with quickly. Drum smokers, like the Barrel House Cooker, naturally lend themselves to hot-and-fast barbecuing, as usually you aren’t using a water pan in most cases and the meat is closer to the fire source than in traditional low-and-slow barbecue. In hot-and-fast smoking, rather than cooking meats at a temperature range of 225 to 275 degrees, you are rolling along with temperatures along the lines of 300 to 325 degrees. In my Barrel House Cooker, if the thermometer on the lid is reading between 250 to 275, I know that the meat inside the smoker is likely being cooked between 300 to 325 degrees since it is closer to the heat source.

But that is based on smoking in a drum cooker. What about in an offset stick burning smoker? Can you smoke hot-and-fast barbecue in one of those contraptions? The answer is an emphatic yes.

A few days ago, a local grocery store around these parts ran a monthly sale, and one of the things on sale was a 5-lb. family pack of ground chuck (73% lean/27% fat*) for $1.79/lb. Regardless of your feelings on ground beef with a rich amount of fat, that is an undeniable great price.

* – If you are wondering whether or not 73/27 ground beef is optimal for burgers, allow your reservations to relax and take a look here, where I break down my opinion on the fatty, delicious burgers.

However, another item that was marked down was not only chicken leg quarters for $.55 cents/lb, but chicken thighs for $.50 cents/lb. I picked up a pack of the ground chuck, the chicken leg quarters and chicken thighs. Upon making it back home, with time to spare for the day, I fired up my vertical offset smoker with intentions of only smoking the chicken leg quarters and thighs.

In order to cook hot-and-fast in an offset smoker, you want both your intake and exhaust vents wide open. When I began this particular cook, I filled up a big charcoal chimney with original Kingsford charcoal briquettes, using two lighter cubes, and waited about 20-25 minutes for the coals to completely ash over before dumping them into my firebox. Directly afterwards, I added a log of hickory wood, a log of cherry wood and an extra chunk — chunks that I typically only use in my Weber Smokey Mountain and both Barrel House Cookers — of cherry wood.

It didn’t take long for the smoker to fire up to 350 degrees as the wood caught fire pretty quickly, and this is when I added the chicken leg quarters and thighs. After around 35 to 40 minutes, I probed each piece of the chicken with a meat thermometer and they were all in the 170-180 range (perfect for dark meat chicken) and removed them from the pit. By this time, my smoker’s temperature gauge was still reading 325 degrees, and I didn’t want to close it up and choke the fire just yet, and as I was considering what I wanted to do next, a voice inside my head emitted, “Burgers, Troy! Burgers!”

Some may consider it a sin straight out of the grilling and barbecue Bible to cook burgers in any other way than on a scorching hot cast iron pan, a flat top griddle surface or directly over a fire in a grill, so forgive me for this sin, but if it is a sin, I recommend you try committing this sin as well, because it is a delicious act of barbecue blasphemy if I have ever tasted one. Now, I love grilled burgers and smash burgers cooked on my griddle as much as the next pseudo-pitmaster and burger fanatic, but smoked burgers should have a place in the hierarchy of barbecue directories.

I have heard detractors of smoked burgers speak of their firm thoughts and feelings about how burgers should be cooked directly on a hot pan or over a fire, as they will defend this traditional method of cooking by stating that smoking will dry out a burger. My retort to this would be to say that their point of view is only valid if you are smoking burgers that feature a fat content of more than 80%. Remember: I had just purchased a fresh pack of 27% fat ground beef.

Smoked cheeseburger
With a high fat content, unless you allow a burger to sit in your smoker for longer than an hour, it is next to impossible to dry it out. You would have to blatantly try your best to dry it out.

When I form my patties in order to shape ground beef into a burger, I form a ball and rarely measure it out. I usually make bigger burger patties than most people, because not only will a great deal of fat render from such a high percentage of it embedded in the ground beef, I am biased in favor of bigger burgers, especially one that will fit on a nice sized bun, like a brioche bun, which is what I ate this smoked burger on. Anyhow, after I form a ball, using both hands I smash it flat into a circle to the best my abilities (arguably questionable ones at that) and form multiple dimples underneath and on top of the burger to account for the shrinking that is inevitable when the meat is cooked. I seasoned the burgers on both sides of the surface with Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub.

Before I added the burgers to the smoker, I added a smaller log of hickory wood, which bumped my smoker’s temperatures back up to 350 degrees. As for when I ultimately placed the burgers onto the pit, I placed them as close to the fire source as possible. Again, I wanted to smoke these burgers quickly. Another thing that a smoked burger detractor might say is that this is tantamount to cooking a burger in an oven. Well, sure, I will accept that claim, as instead of an oven, the burger is being ‘baked’ in a smoker and infused with delicious smoky notes of heaven. That is not something that should deter anyone from giving this a try.

You could move the burgers further away from the heat source and smoke them longer, but closer to the heat source in my smoker? They cooked to 155 degrees in 20 minutes. They developed a beautiful, red-like color (from the cherry wood, I assume, as it is one of my favorite smoking wood sources for most grub, and it imparts a color I am all too familiar with, with other barbecued food) with a formidable crisp along the edges from being close to the fire.

I topped both burgers with a 4-cheese blend of cheese slices that I picked up from Kroger (their brand), which featured a mix of cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby and mozzarella cheese. On one burger patty, I forgot to top it with cheese while it was still in the smoker, so I added it afterwards, but with the other burger I topped it with cheese while it was still in the pit and closed the lid for 30-45 seconds until it adequately melted.

I must not fail to mention that I had some apple wood smoked bacon sitting in the fridge that I also added to the smoker, so you can consider it ‘double smoked bacon.’ This is something that bacon pundits might holler at me over, saying that bacon should be cooked in its own rendered fat in a pan, but I will ignore them after it is cooked when I devour the salty, smoky piggy sticks of glory.

Smoked double bacon cheeseburger
Consider the above to be a smoked double bacon cheeseburger, held together with a brioche bun.

Don’t write off smoked burgers just because it is an unorthodox cooking style. It is a tasty treat, and not only will your taste buds wind up being pleased with the result, but your family will undoubtedly thank you after they bite into one.

You Don’t Need Fancy Tools or Seasonings to Make Great Barbecue

You Don’t Need Fancy Tools or Seasonings to Make Great Barbecue

I still remember the first time I knowingly ate good, delicious barbecue. Eric, the man responsible for instigating my passion for the smoked grub, smoked a pork butt. I was blown away by the flavor in each bite. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. The rub, the smoky essence, the tenderness and rich flavor of the meat itself. I thought he must have smoked that pork butt in a $5,000 smokehouse machine, but no — he used an old horizontal offset Brinkmann (a company that isn’t even in business any longer) smoker.

I have to admit my ignorance. Before then, I didn’t know squat about barbecue. Being from southwest Virginia, we have a local barbecue joint in this tiny town, but when I heard the word ‘barbecue’ I thought about potato chips, not things like brisket, pork butt or ribs. What a shame, right? However, after this genuine smoky introduction, I was hooked and wanted to learn more.

So I received an old vertical offset Brinkmann Trailmaster smoker as a gift. This is the smoker I learned how to barbecue on. When I received it, it had received a nice, new paint job, but this pit did not come without pitfalls. It leaked smoke, had trouble maintaining temperatures and was a pain in the butt to use, but I loved it. It was a labor of love to use, and all the hard work paid off judging by the finished product (the food) being delicious. The only reason I quit using it is because it rusted and developed holes. Again, this was an older smoker that had been left out, uncovered, in the elements for years. Its demise was inevitable.

Today, you can buy certain smokers that take the guesswork out of barbecue, from pellet grills offering set it-and-forget it temperature settings and expensive offset ($1,000+) offset smokers that feature heavy gauge steel that works to ‘lock in’ the smoke and maintain temperatures better than cheaper cookers, but let’s face it: both pellet grills and those offset pits tend to be expensive, and not all of us have thousands of dollars to throw at a smoker, and if you do, that’s great. However, if you aren’t down for splurging, you should never fear, because the barbecue you create from a cheap cooker can be just as delicious as any barbecue from an expensive one.

Limited edition Weber kettle

Using a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker

You can use a gas grill as a smoker, but I have no experience in that side of things, as I prefer charcoal grills any day of the week. I have used both a STOK drum grill and a Weber kettle grill to achieve smoky barbecue deliciousness, and they have both worked out for many cooks. Unless you are always cooking for a large crowd, you don’t need a big smoker for the job; you can simply use your grill with some charcoal and a couple of chunks of your favorite smoking wood to do the trick.

Grills can often be overlooked in the realm of barbecue. I know that almost sounds silly to say, but in a world where a lot of people are trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, the elephant in the room that is in the guise of a $100 grill is often ignored despite the fact that the barbecue produced from said grill is truthfully just as good as the barbecue created from a $2,000-$5000+ heavy duty smoker, you know, as long as the pitmaster slinging the meat is adept at what they are doing.

Here is a rack of ribs I made on my Weber kettle. Just as good as ribs from an expensive pit:

Smoked pork ribs
Fall off the bone ribs
So, how do you create barbecue using a charcoal grill? You can either shuffle all of your charcoal to one side of the grill, emptying a big ol’ batch of unlit coals onto the charcoal grate while lighting 8-10 briquettes to dump onto the unlit ones for low’n’slow smoking as the unlit coals catch heat slowly over time, with the intake and exhaust vents adjusted accordingly (barely leave the intake vents open), or you can use my favorite method: the Snake Method.

Snake method

Image source: Perth BBQ School — https://perthbbqschool.com/blog/snake-method

The snake method involves creating a line of unlit charcoal briquettes around the edges of the charcoal grates, and it is called the snake method because the look resembles a snake. You simply add your wood along some of the briquettes, and just like the previously mentioned method you only light a few briquettes to add — when adequately ashed over and hot — to the unlit coals to begin your cook. Afterwards, you simply add the meat to the middle of the cooker to get things going. I have smoked ribs, pork butts and briskets using the snake method with my Weber kettle, and it has never failed me. It only takes patience and a little bit of trial and error to do it.

But what if you have a bigger crowd to feed and a charcoal grill won’t cut it?

Offset smoker

Cheap Offset Smokers

There are cheap offset smokers that are available to be purchased, from bands like Char-Grill and Oklahoma Joe offering them. However, what you should understand is that these smokers likely won’t be tremendous right out of the box. They will leak smoke and cause a myriad of frustrations. I recommend picking up a gasket kit to seal off the smoke leaks that occur.

Even with these cheap offsets, much like with a charcoal grill you can create barbecue that is just as good as the expensive ones that may be marketed to you when you are browsing for a pit online. There will be more labor involved — vs. a charcoal grill, too — because with these cheap offsets you have to almost constantly be tending to the fire, making sure your temperatures are being maintained and that the wood is burning cleanly and not creating dark gray smoke. This may sound like an inconvenience to you, which is understandable, but again, it is a labor of love and something I genuinely enjoy.

My old Brinkmann may have died and rusted out, but a buddy of mine gave me his old horizontal offset smoker last summer. He moved on to an electric smoker (no thank you) for the ease of use, and rather than selling his offset — which he could have done — he gave it to me, and I guess a motivation for that is that he knew it would be in good hands. It leaks smoke and has its issues, but smoking burgers, wings, chicken thighs/leg quarters and ribs on it have been a blast.

Offset smokers, or stick burners as they are often called, will offer a different, more pronounced smoke flavor to the barbecue you create with them, and the reason for that is because you will find yourself using logs of wood vs. chunks (most of the time), and the larger pieces of wood is going to create a larger, more pervasive amount of smoke. I have actually met a fair amount of people who prefer a more subtle flavor of smoke (looking at pellet smoker aficionados and their ilk). That isn’t me, though. Give me all the smoke you got.

22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain
Barrel House Cooker drum smoker

Bullet Smokers and Drum Smokers

I have a Weber Smokey Mountain (bullet smoker) and two Barrel House Cookers (drum smokers), and I barbecue with them more than any of my other cookers. I am clearly biased in this camp, but what can I say? They produce delectable barbecue and they are virtually effortless to use once you get the hang of them.

The thing is, what do you consider ‘cheap’/economic for your wallet? A 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain is around $400 while drum smokers range in price (I paid $250 for the bigger Barrel House Cooker, which is now $300). For the price and the ease of use, I find these types of cookers to be of extreme value. I can fit between 60 to 80 lbs. of pork butt in my Weber Smokey Mountain, so there is plenty of room in there for a large cook. If I were to use both of my Barrel House Cookers in one cook session, I can smoke around 12 to 14 racks of ribs (by hanging them) at a time. Keep these types of cookers in mind when you searching for a pit.

The bottom line is this: you don’t need an expensive smoker to create amazing barbecue. I don’t care what is being marketed towards you as you browse online. If you have the cash to afford it, I say you should go for it, but if you don’t, then you don’t, and there are alternatives, as mentioned above. Yes, all these expensive smokers are nice, but that is simply because of how well built they are. That is not a knock on them, because who doesn’t want a well-built pit? But you can doctor up a cheaper smoker to make up for any deficits and disadvantages that you perceive from it. There are people who win barbecue competitions with grills, bullet smokers, drum smokers and cheap offsets against guys using expensive cookers like Lang, Yoder and pellet grills. It happens every year, all the time. It will continue to happen, because great barbecue is more dependent on the person cooking it rather than the smoker used.

With that said, I want to shift gears to this

Expensive Seasonings and Rubs Are Not a Requirement for Great BBQ

This has admittedly been driving me crazy lately, especially in the realm of the barbecue side of things on social media. Let me expound on that.

Let’s say you are browsing the barbecue community on social media and you encounter one of the more popular ‘players’ in the game, someone who has over 15,000 followers and appears to be a brand ambassador for multiple companies. All their posts feature food mentions where they got their meats from (Porter Road has been the latest flavor of the month, it appears), what particular rub and/or sauce they used, and sometimes they will throw in a photo of an expensive chef knife they used, especially if they are being handed a little cash for posting about it.

Ignoring the meat side of thing for a moment, notice how the rubs and sauces (if applicable) they recommend always seem to be from an online company. Both the rubs and sauces are on the expensive side in comparison to what you can buy from your local grocery store, have you noticed?

I will always be down to support small businesses if I like their products in the barbecue side of things. This goes for some of my favorites, as it pertains to seasonings/rubs: Caribeque, Reload Rub, The Killer Cook, Grill Your Ass Off and Meat Church. I will recommend the rubs and seasonings from those companies to anybody who is interested in grilling and barbecuing. However, using those particular aforementioned rubs and seasonings is not imperative to create incredible barbecue. Some of my favorite seasonings are from the Weber brand itself, featured for $2-4 at my local Wal-Mart (garlic habanero seasoning is excellent)!

I just mentioned The Killer Cook in the above paragraph. Their Chow Khan Pan-Asian rub is incredible on chicken wings and in stir-fry, and their Mediterranean Spice blend is the only thing I will use on lamb, but let’s face it: their products are expensive. For a 10oz. shaker of seasoning, it will run you $25 ($20 for the rub and $5 for the shipping in the United States). This is a small company that is using fresh ingredients, but still, it is a steep price, especially when you could buy a seasoning from your local grocery store for 1/8 the price and spend the rest of the money — that you otherwise spend on a bottle of seasoning — on meats to barbecue. I’m not knocking The Killer Cook, because I love them dearly, and I will be an advocate for them until the end, but not everybody can afford to justify spending that much money on a bottle of ground-up spices. I certainly can’t, at least not all the time. I find myself using both the Chow Khan Pan-Asian and Mediterranean Spice rubs sparingly, unfortunately.

I was talking to one of my good pals in the barbecue community in the social media side of things the other day, and we were having a good laugh over some of the product peddlers and lackluster pseudo-marketers in the community and how many of these guys won’t post about using more economic, affordable seasonings from big brand companies because they won’t ‘receive a pat on the head’ for posting about them.

If you are a consumer, a caveat I must offer you is to be very wary of what is being marketed to you at every turn, especially in this hobby. You might be pitched the idea that a $20 rub is automatically better than what you can buy from the grocery store, and that is simply an egregious notion. The expensive rubs/seasonings may feature products that are advertised as being fresh or ‘without MSG’ (even though MSG’s negative health effects are greatly exaggerated and false), but at the end of the day, when it comes to a great flavor, cheaper seasonings get the job done just as well, if not better at times pending on what you are using, than the expensive niche ones.

Heck. If you want to be even more economical, you could always either grind up spices yourself, or you can gather a variety of different singular spices and create your own rub. I actually have a rub of my own that I’ve been experimenting with for a while.

I definitely recommend picking up a high quality thermometer (the one I use from Thermoworks, the Thermapen Mk4, is the best money I have ever spent as far as value is concerned) for not only food safety purposes but for checking what your meat’s internal temperatures are during a cook so you can follow along (important, especially, if you are cooking a brisket and want to wrap it in aluminum foil or butcher paper when it hits 160 degrees).

If you are just beginning your barbecue journey, it is important to not overthink what you are doing. Stick to the basics, because the option to delve into the more advanced side of things is always available to you in the future. Don’t worry about trying to keep up with the big wigs. It is easy to fall into having the mindset, which is like a trap, of trying to have the ‘biggest and best everything’ but it is unneeded. Great food is created by the person behind it.

Oven Baked Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

The love for potatoes is embedded in my blood. Growing up on farmland in the rural countryside of southwest Virginia, potatoes were invariably a side dish served at dinner every day throughout the week. If you heard the sound of a sudden, loud sizzle emanating from the kitchen, and you made a bet on predicting that noise was being caused by sliced potatoes hitting hot lard in a cast iron skillet, then you would be correct nine times out of ten.

Crispy oven-baked potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most versatile foods in the world. You can deep-fry them, shallow-fry them, bake them, boil them, grill them, smoke them low and slow… the possibilities are virtually endless. The way Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump feels about shrimp (at the 1:16 mark) is how I feel about potatoes.

Potatoes have received a bad rap in the modern fad that is otherwise known as keto, low-carb and Atkins diet related dietary lifestyles*. That is a shame, because not only are potatoes highly nutritious (bananas are known for being high in potassium, but a medium-sized potato contains over double the amount of potassium) but they are incredibly satiating, which is especially useful if you are currently living on a caloric deficit with the goal of dropping fat from your body. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers and step onto a court, would eat a 23-ounce steak with a baked potato before every single basketball game (source). Before you say, “You are using a former professional basketball player, who burned through the carbohydrates quickly, as a way to promote carbs, and that is a hyperbolic example,” consider yourself — if you are active and watching after what you eat, it is easy enough for you to burn through the same on a daily basis. Anyhow, sweet potatoes are another nutritious starchy tuber, but that is neither here nor there.

* – I don’t mean to bash low-carb dieting, but there are downsides to it. While it is a useful weight loss strategy given that — unless you are consuming high amounts of sodium — your body will shed water weight quickly in the first week or two of starting the diet, it can spike a stress response via heightened cortisol levels in the body due to the absence of carbohydrates, as carbs naturally lower cortisol by temporarily raising your blood sugar levels. You may not ‘feel’ this rise in cortisol levels, as high cortisol may even produce a perceived sense of increased energy and awareness since a stress response lends itself to such a phenomenon. This is why you may hear people who champion low-carb diets say they feel more energy. When you hear people talk about the ‘dreaded crash’ after eating a meal high in carbohydrates, part of the reason one ‘crashes’ from a high carb meal is due to cortisol levels being reduced. Furthermore, and this is just a warning: high cortisol levels will age the body faster than normal. Also, if you are a man — unless you are a diabetic or otherwise insulin resistant — carbohydrate intake is essential for testosterone production. Source: Carbohydrates and Testosterone – Anabolic Men

In my biased opinion, potatoes are the single greatest carbohydrate source known to man, and if I’m wrong in overly stating my opinion as a quasi-fact, then I don’t want to be right. But I digress.

How to Bake Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

Recently, while browsing around the web, I saw a myriad of posts coming from a food-based website where people were lamenting their struggles as it pertains to achieving a crispy skin in the realm of baked potatoes. Frustrated, the posters exclaimed how they had tried everything to induce a crispy skin on their oven-baked potatoes, from rubbing them in butter or canola oil or olive oil to salting them. They pondered if their ovens were the problem or whether or not the potatoes were potentially somehow the source of the issue.

I, myself, do not rub my potatoes in butter, canola nor olive oil. I preheat my oven to 350 degrees while I wash, clean and dry the potatoes, which is what you will see in every recommendation. I will also either prick my potatoes with a fork or ‘stab’ them with a knife in order to allow the steam from the potatoes to rise and vent during the cook (extremely important). However, I have two tricks when it comes to my method for creating the crispiest baked potatoes on this earth:

Use a cast iron skillet

Cast iron heats up quickly and evenly. I have noticed that a lot of people prefer to sit their potatoes directly on the middle rack of their respective ovens, but that can be a little messy unless you have a liner to catch the drippings from the oil that has been rubbed onto the skin of the potato. If you want to, you can preheat the cast iron in the oven while you prepare the potatoes for cooking, but I find that to be optional, given the time the potatoes will be spending in the oven. A cast iron pan will effectively retain heat and allow for even cooking.

Rub the potato with rendered bacon fat

This is paramount. When I was reading about how people are using butter and vegetable oils to rub all over their potatoes, I was perturbed, as arguably the best fat source anybody can use to achieve a crispy skin on baked potatoes is bacon grease. Growing up, my mother always stored the rendered bacon fat in a jar and then she would use it to cook over things (ever tried stovetop-popped popcorn? I highly recommend it). Being from the south, maybe this is a regional thing. I cringe whenever I hear about people throwing out the rendered fat after frying bacon (so wasteful).

The reason bacon fat is superior to the cooking oils mentioned, at least when it comes to baked potato perfection, is because it contains remnants of salt leftover from the bacon. The salt will help dry the skin of the potatoes during the cook, and this is important, because as the potato cooks up the steam from the moisture being heated as the internal temperature of a potato will inevitably make contact with the skin, and the salt aids in drying that up, crisping the skin from the heat of the cast iron as well as the ambient temperature of the oven.

If you don’t have any stored bacon fat (come on — start staving it), have no fear. Fry up a few pieces of bacon. You can use this to your advantage when you are ready to eat your potatoes by chopping up the bacon and topping the potatoes with it. Allow the hot grease to cool a bit, or you can use a brush to carefully coat the skin of the potatoes.

After you have rubbed the potatoes with the bacon grease and subsequently added them to your cast iron pan, moderately salt the top of the potato. I’m tempted to label this suggestion as optional, as there is already salt (from the bacon grease seeping down) within the potatoes, but a light sprinkle of sea salt (or iodized table salt, if that is what you have) doesn’t hurt. My promise to you is that it will not be too salty.

Baking the Potatoes

In summary, keeping the above information in mind along with information on the finish:

1.) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Preheat the cast iron pan if you would like, but it isn’t necessary. Wash, clean and dry the potatoes. Prick with a fork or ‘stab’ them with a knife to allow proper venting for the steam.

2.) Rub the potatoes in bacon grease and salt the top with sea salt or table salt.

3.) Cook for one hour. Flip the potatoes over halfway through.

4.) (Optional step) Crank up the heat to 375-400 degrees in the final 15-20 minutes of the cook.

5.) Remove from the oven, eat and enjoy. Prepare your potato the way you like it, from topping it with butter to sour cream to bacon bits to diced green onions or chives to plain Greek yogurt.