Stoke Pizza Oven: An Honest Review

The 13" gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven
The 13″ gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven

In recent years, I have used multiple outdoor pizza ovens. From the Bertello to the latest Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit, it has been fun jumping into the backyard pizza oven game by learning new techniques to cook up pies. I was given the opportunity to try out the 13″ gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven this month, and because I enjoy giving new culinary gadgets a try, I couldn’t wait to give it a shot.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I am an affiliate with Stoke. They are a brand new company entering the world of pizza ovens and are seeking out brand ambassadors in order to grow the brand. If you have a formidable social media following in the realm of grub slinging, you can reach out to be an affiliate. As a result of this, I received the 13″ Stoke gas pizza oven, a peel, a pizza cutter and a care package from DeLallo Foods featuring flour, pizza sauce, pesto sauce and a stick of pepperoni.

Otherwise, right now — as of the time of this posting — you can purchase their ovens at a discount for their Father’s Day sale. The gas pizza oven that I am using is $345.99 and the 16″ gas pizza oven is $475.99; they also offer a $345.99 wood-powered model that is fueled by pellets. These are $100 discounts until just after Father’s Day.

Regardless of my partnership with them, I am bound by honesty. I only use products that I believe in. I hold such products to a standard, because if I think something is not up to par, it will not be part of my outdoor cooking arsenal. There was a glaring issue which was subsequently corrected when I first received my oven, and I will cover that.

The average brand ambassador will shill for a brand without question; a great brand ambassador will provide quality feedback paired with constructive criticism for a brand in order to promote growth and progressive improvement of a product or service.

First Impressions of the Stoke Pizza Oven

While awaiting the 13″ gas pizza oven, I couldn’t help myself but read up and research what other people were saying about it.

If you peep the Amazon reviews, you’ll be a witness to a mixed bag of thoughts. One glaring complaint that avidly made the listings in the negative reviews of the Stoke Pizza Oven is that the stone doesn’t get hot enough. This instilled some doubt in my mind as I awaited the pizza oven. Furthermore, there is only one comprehensive review of this oven on YouTube, via RodrickViews. He backs up the negative reviews showing proof that the stone simply was not getting hot enough to cook the bottom of the pizzas. He heated the pizza oven for over two hours and the temperatures of the stone were never exceeding 400.

I noticed in all the Stoke Pizza Oven promotional videos, nobody was showing the undercarriage (bottom) of the pizzas. Stoke wasn’t nor was anybody else on social media. That is concerning, considering that the browning of the bottom of the pizza is inarguably the most important part of a great pizza asides from the leopard spotting of the rim (outer crust).

When I received my oven, I set it up immediately to test it out. I was already expecting the stone temperatures to be low after the aforementioned research. The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the oven is that the stone itself is rather thin. I’m thinking of eventually replacing it with a pizza steel.

For a test, to see if I experienced the same issues as everybody else, I fired up the oven. After 45 minutes, the stone was only reaching a maximum temperature of 472 degrees in the back of the oven. What separates the design of the Stoke Pizza Oven from, say, an Ooni, is that there is a big wall that stands between the flame and the stone. I suspected that the wall was being used as too much of a buffer for the flame, which was preventing the stone from reaching higher temperatures.

At this state, the oven is completely unusable. You cannot expect to cook a good Neapolitan style pizza when the stone temperature is between 350-400 degrees.

Stoke Pizza's recommendation for a different regulator.
Stoke Pizza’s recommendation for a different regulator

I reached out to Stoke and explained that the stone was not getting hot enough. Within an hour, Stoke responded to my email and explained that it is a regulator issue, and they recommended a different regulator from Amazon.

I wound up purchasing the new regulator, but I was still skeptical. However, asides from that, I was impressed by the customer service given the response within an hour of sending out the email. This was even in the evening, past 7pm.

First Cook With the Stoke Pizza Oven

The Stoke Pizza Oven roaring like a dream with the new regulator.

Once I made up some dough and had the new regulator in possession, I gave it a go. I had never used a regulator with a PSI gauge before. I followed Stoke’s instructions to merely go with a 1.5 setting, barely above 0 on the gauge.

The results? The flame was roaring. It is now such a strong flame that it rolls underneath the stone. Within 15 minutes, the back of the stone was reaching 650 degrees. At 30 minutes of heating the Stoke Pizza Oven, the back of the stone was at nearly 900 degrees.

I was ready for some pizza. I had five dough balls made up, and my quasi-nephew was hungry for a slew of pies.

A salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven
A salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven
The undercarriage of the salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven.
The undercarriage of the salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven.

My first attempt using the Stoke Pizza Oven was with a pizza featuring salami with a pesto sauce base.

As you can see, it was a rousing overall success. There is actually color on the crust. If I had used the stock regulator that came with the oven, I wouldn’t have achieved any browning whatsoever on the bottom of that pizza despite the top of the pizza looking nice. That is the qualm I have with Stoke’s marketing team and some of the current ambassadors at this time: the top of the pizza will look great with the stock regulator, but the bottom will not. With the new regulator (at the proper, safe settings*), the bottom will cook like a dream.

A Margherita pizza in the Stoke Pizza Oven

The final pizza, after a few basic pepperoni pies, was a pseudo-Margherita pie in the Stoke. It was my favorite of the bunch, without question, as an unabashed fan of the simple style of pizza.

The original issue I had with the oven was resolved. The new regulator corrected the problem that would have occurred with the stock regulator. My recommendation to Stoke Stove is to begin sending these gas pizza ovens out with a new, powerful regulator, because at the time of this writing, the stock regulator is terrible unless you are a fan of pale, white crusts with zero browning nor flavor. I’m a straight shooter and that is simply a fact at this time.

It is a simple request of Stoke Stove to do this in the future, because a typical consumer should not be expected to receive a new oven with an underpowered regulator out of the box. I had no problem buying the recommended regulator, because of the fact that I was gifted the oven as a partner with the brand. However, if I had spent the money to buy the oven, I would have been miffed.

Furthermore, the pizza stone should be thicker, in my opinion. I am worried of the durability, but the tests of time will reveal how long it will last. Again, I may replace it with a steel.

I’m loving this Stoke Pizza Oven after the regulator change. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to throw down some more pies with it, because you can’t beat cooking up restaurant-quality pizza in your backyard.

Final Thoughts: Should You Buy a Stoke Pizza Oven?

Even with my complaints, from the big one (the stock regulator being subpar) and the rather inconsequential one (the stone being a bit thin), I highly recommend the 13″ gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven, but it is imperative that you replace the regulator for a properly cooked undercarriage of a pizza.

Even with the purchase of a new regulator along with the oven, the Stoke Pizza Oven (with the current sale pricing going on) is cheaper in price than other brands like Ooni or Gozney.

I may be an affiliate with Stoke Stove, but again, I refuse to use products or services I do not believe in. All of the opinions expressed in this post are of my own subjective opinions backed by anecdotal experiences and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of anybody else. I will never blindly recommend something if I do not personally think it is up to par.

I have not yet tried any pan pizzas in my Stoke Pizza Oven, so that will eventually be a test soon enough. However, I am already loving the hand-stretched Neapolitan pies I have cooked in it, and also once again, I can’t wait to have the time to make more pizzas with the Stoke.

I now have an appreciation for the high wall in the back of the oven, because I suspect the pan pizzas are going to be incredible when I do cook them, as cooking with the heat setting on low and the high wall will provide enough of a buffer for the time needed to cook a pan pizza all the way through.

Stoke Stove is brand new to the game of the outdoor pizza oven frenzy. I do not drone on and on over the stock regulator in order to be a menace but to provide the feedback needed for the company to grow. I fully believe that there will be changes in the future simply based on what I see from the customer service being top notch regarding feedback and complaints. In a year from now, my qualms about the stock regulator may be irrelevant. Who knows?

In your search for an outdoor pizza oven, definitely give Stoke a priority in your considerations. I will be posting recipes in the coming future that will pair fantastically with a Stoke Pizza Oven.

The New Blackstone Pizza Oven for the 22″ Griddle

The brand new Blackstone Products Pizza Oven Conversion Kit
The brand new Blackstone Outdoor Pizza Oven Add-On for the 22″ Blackstone Griddle

About a month ago, Blackstone Products announced the release of a new outdoor pizza oven. Technically, it is called the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit, or the Blackstone pizza oven add on. It is a Wal-Mart exclusive, website only, and it is for the 22″ tabletop models.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one. In the last couple of years, I have become a pizza-making fiend. Prior to 2020, the thought of making homemade pizza left me in trepidation. Pan pizza is easy to throw together, but hand-tossed? It was always an exercise in failure. Being stuck at home more often during the pandemic afforded me the time and patience to delve into the world of pizza, and over time I have learned how to make a halfway decent pie.

My better half surprised me with an outdoor pizza oven (a Bertello) for Christmas last year. It heats up to over 900 degrees, and it is perfect for making 10-to-12 inch Neapolitan style pizzas. That pizza oven works great, but given the small opening of the door and the extreme heat, there isn’t a lot of options to do other styles than just a Neapolitan pie.

Enter the Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On

I was skeptical.

When I watched the first couple of videos of the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit in action, I noticed a difference between it and other outdoor pizza ovens, like Ooni and my Bertello oven.

Unlike most outdoor pizza ovens, the heat source isn’t coming from the back. That is the case with my Bertello: the fire source roars from the back of the oven with flames rolling over top of the pizza. The pizza sits on a pre-heated, piping hot stone and the bottom cooks up while the residual heat of the flames kiss the top of the pizza to finish it in about 90 seconds.

In the style of the new Blackstone pizza oven, the heat source is coming from the bottom-sides. This product features not one, but two pizza stones: a round stone that sits on the floor of the oven and a square stone that sits above the pizza. There are two mechanisms of cooking at play here. When you pre-heat the oven, both of the pizza stones heat up, so when you load your pizza, the heat coming off the top stone provides aid in cooking the top of the pizza along with the bottom stone. It is like a tag-team in action.

The pizza oven add-on itself is heavy. It is about 50-lbs. Installation is fairly simple. You remove the griddle-top from the 22″ Blackstone base, remove the ‘leg’ stubs on the bottom, add your heat shield, re-add the legs, sit the pizza oven accessory kit directly onto the base and — using a screw-driver — install the handles to the sides, door and the little base on top.

With the door of the oven closed, you can heat the oven up to 600 to 700 degrees in about 20 minutes, based on my anecdotal experiences. Within 30 minutes, you will be tapping it up to a surplus of 800 degrees.

One of the things I love about this pizza oven is that it is quite large. The round pizza stone that you cook on is a 15″ stone, so you can cook a large family style pizza. In addition to that, the opening is big enough to accompany pans. I love making bar style, Chicago style and Detroit style pizzas. With the adjustments of the two temperature control knobs, and a little practice, you can subjectively dial in the temperature to cook pan pies to personal perfection.

My First Pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

14" pan pizza on the new Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On
14″ pan pizza on the new Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On
Right out of the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of the pie

I was eager to test out the new Blackstone pizza oven, but I didn’t have any homemade dough, so I ran out to the grocery store and bought a pound of dough.

After letting the dough sit out for about an hour, I stretched the dough out in an oiled 14″ pan. I made a pizza that I can only call the ‘House Divided’ pizza with Rao’s marinara sauce, a blend of mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano and provolone cheeses, half pepperoni, green peppers, diced onion; half Italian sausage, pepperoni, jalapeños, banana peppers. This pie finished in only seven minutes and I capped it off with a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey.

I turned the burners down, because I wanted the dough to cook without burning the bottom crust.

Neapolitan and New York Style Pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

As soon as I was afforded the time, I whipped up a Neapolitan style pizza dough: a 24-hour room temperature ferment with minimal yeast, bulk proofed for 24 hours and balled up four hours prior to cooking.

A pepperoni Neapolitan-style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A pepperoni Neapolitan-style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

Boar’s Head pepperoni, a mix of white cheddar, mozzarella and Colby Jack cheese and a homemade sauce (San Marzano style tomatoes, salt, fresh basil, garlic and a pinch of oregano) was the ticket to a wonderful pizza.

With this style of pizza, I left the burners on high, with the door closed, rotating it every 45 seconds. It finished in about two minutes and thirty seconds. Yes, it took a little longer than a traditional Neapolitan pizza, but the results were still fantastic.

A New York style pizza in action on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of New York style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of New York style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
Bottom crust of a New York style pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A perfect under-carriage

I subsequently tried my hand at a New York style pizza. Once again, similar to the Neapolitan style pie, since NY-style is actually a derivative of Neapolitan pizza, I cooked it up with the burners turned on high, door closed. The only differences are that I was more rough when I stretched the dough, so the cornicione (rim of the pizza) was less poofy, and this dough was only about 55-56% hydration compared to the 60% hydration in the above Neapolitan pie.

Detroit Style Pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven

A Detroit style pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A Detroit Style Pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven
Detroit style pizza cooking away in the Blackstone Pizza Oven Conversion Kit
Hot & fresh Detroit style pizza cooking away in the Blackstone Pizza Oven

Detroit style pizza might just be my favorite style of pizza in the world, so I am biased in everything I write in this realm of things. I have been making this style of pizza in my home oven for about a year and a half. Typically, it takes 16 to 18 minutes to cook one in the said home oven, and I never have been able to acquire a perfectly browned, crispy crust no matter what. There are many reasons for this, and I think it is due to the fact that my home oven is old and inferior compared to many other ovens out there.

The Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On perfectly accommodated the 10×14 pan I used for the Detroit style pie. With the burners turned down, I still managed to finish this pizza in nine minutes. Not only that, but the bottom of the crust was perfectly crispy. Again, it is something I have never experienced from my home oven, and the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit finished it in roughly half the time.

Is the Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On Worth It?

Considering that most outdoor pizza ovens are over $300 to $400 pending on what you are wanting to buy, my answer is a resounding yes.

The Blackstone pizza oven add-on sells for $227 on Wal-Mart’s website. If you already have a 22″ Blackstone griddle, that is an incredible price for what is a capable, heavy duty, thick and well-made pizza oven. Even if you don’t have a 22″ griddle, the price of the griddle and pizza oven add-on is significantly less than other stand-alone pizza ovens on the market, especially when you factor in the potential for large pizzas and the ability to cook pan pizzas. As I said earlier, many outdoor pizza ovens only give you one option of pizza: Neapolitan, since the heat source is usually incredibly hot. You can do multiple styles in the Blackstone pizza oven.

One might ask, “Well, I have a home oven that I can cook pizza in, even New York style at 550-600 degrees.” Sure, go ahead and use your home oven if it fits the bill for you, but what about during the summer months when it is far too hot to heat up your home? Enter this pizza oven.

I have been having a blast with this new oven. I am in no way, shape or form affiliated with Blackstone Products. I am merely an advocate. I only tout and endorse products I truly believe in and personally use. I will never post about something that does not live up to the hype.

I am not sure how long the new pizza oven accessory kit will be available, so get it while you can. I will be posting pizza recipes in the near future that will go along with the use of this pizza oven.

The Angry Italian – Bristol, TN – Food Review

The Angry Italian – Bristol, TN – Food Review

As much as I used to dislike the term, I’m a ‘foodie.’ In the last nine years of my own cooking, expanding my range of tastes and giving in to my desires to try different food by doing what I can to support small businesses while moving away from big corporate chain restaurant eating, I have had a great deal of opportunities to try out different spots while traveling.

Enter The Angry Italian, located in Bristol, Tennessee — about an hour away from my hometown.

The Angry Italian Bristol, TN

The Angry Italian in Bristol, TN

Keith Yonker, the owner/executive chef, was born and raised around Chicago, Illinois. He moved to the Tri-Cities of Tennessee back in 2015, fell in love with the area and, soon enough, kicked off The Angry Italian restaurant. He moved the restaurant from a rather tiny location to a bigger one in the beginning of 2021, and that decision has clearly paid dividends to the observing eye, evident by the amount of patrons frequenting the joint whenever one drives by on State Street.

I found out about The Angry Italian in 2018 for one simple reason: my search for a local Chicago style deep dish pizza. I had the pleasure of trying out such a pizza years ago, and I loved it. Call it a casserole or ‘overloaded tomato sauce bread’ all you want in your snide verbal jabs that are veritably rooted in pizza elitism, but a well made Chicago deep dish pie is delicious. Once I heard about the existence of this restaurant, of the owner being from Chicago and there being authentic deep dish Chicago pizza available, I had to give it a try, and that was a few years ago when I did, back in 2018.

Troy Sparks with The Angry Italian Chicago style deep dish pizza

Back in 2018: when I tried The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza.

The Angry Italian Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Back in 2018: when I tried The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza in Bristol, TN.

Chicago Style Deep Dishin’

The distinct taste of a real Chicago deep dish, I presume, is from the corn oil as well as the corn meal added to the dough along with butter (the existence of butter varying between recipes). The outer crust has a corny crunch to it while the toppings are piled high. I made a Chicago deep dish pizza earlier this year, sans corn oil since I didn’t have any on hand, and it turned out terrific, but it wasn’t the same.

The Angry Italian’s iteration of a Chicago style deep dish pizza featured an expected horde of shredded Wisconsin mozzarella cheese and loaded with a pizza sauce boasting large chunks of tomatoes on top. I ordered pepperoni and mushrooms on the one I ate. I wasn’t a huge fan of the large chunks of tomatoes being so prominent, but all in all it was delicious.

When you order the Chicago deep dish at The Angry Italian, there’s a brief prefacing statement on the menu that lets customers know that it will be a 45 minute wait. The wait is well worth it: that’s why you gotta order an appetizer to hold yourself over. I ordered the calamari pepper fritti: fried, lightly breaded calamari rings served with banana peppers and marinara sauce. Here’s a bold declaration from yours truly on their calamari: it sucks. I unabashedly must state that with ruthless honesty while at the same time saying that I must be a little lenient since I’m sure it is frozen calamari that is cooked. It is rubbery and hardly flavorful without the marinara. If you go out to eat at The Angry Italian, do not get the calamari.

When the coveted, highly anticipated Chicago style deep dish pizza arrived to the table with steam ascending from it. The server delivered the first slice — I grinned with gusto, like a hyped up child on Christmas morning, as I watched the stringy mozzarella cheese perform a circus act of cheese pull epicness — onto my plate given the tremendous high temperatures the pie was rockin’. I eagerly delved into it with a fork before reminding myself that I did not want to scorch the roof of my mouth, so I waited a couple of minutes before sending my tastebuds on a flavor journey.

One thing I’ve noticed about every pizza restaurant I have been to, and this includes The Angry Italian: the pizza sauce is always lightly seasoned. I can see why, and I assume it has a traditional background, as the sauce is typically not the star of the show on a pizza. However, I love bold flavors. When I make homemade pizza sauce at home, I give it a big hit of sautéed crushed, minced garlic, plenty of oregano, lots of fresh basil, onion powder, thyme, marjoram and crushed red pepper for a backdrop of heat. I noted the flavor of basil in The Angry Italian’s deep dish sauce, but lightly so. Not a lot going on, but I don’t hold that against them, although I will say that when you have this much sauce on a pizza, you should go for a bold flavor because there’s — again — so much of it!

The beauty is in the makeup of the rest of the pizza. The signature Chicago style crust, the generous toppings, all the cheese. You have to eat this pizza with a fork! Some people scoff at that (once again, looking at the elitists), saying that it isn’t pizza if you eat it with a fork, but that’s a rubbish mindset. Eat it however you like it.

The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza: I give it a 7.5 out of 10.

The Angry Italian Tavern-style pizza

The Angry Italian’s Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

The Real Chicago Pizza: Tavern Style

There’s a belief that appears to be valid in Chicago: the real Chicago style pizza that locals eat is the tavern style pizza. It is said that deep dish is for tourists or for random occasions when the mood for deep dish strikes.

I’m going to tell you now: I agree with the folks from Chicago. Tavern style is the best style, and that is a gate I will keep.

The defining characteristic of a tavern style pizza is its extremely thin crust. The crust is noticeably thinner than the standard New York style pie; might as well call it a cracker-crust pizza, but it is better than any cracker-crust pizza I have ever had, at least the one from The Angry Italian validates that opinion of mine on a personal level.

The Angry Italian’s tavern style crust is unique in that it is crispy and chewy at the same time. There’s more room for beer when there’s less dough in the pie, which explains why this pizza is a popular menu item at bars.

I returned for my second trip to The Angry Italian in early June 2021, at the new location. I was excited for my girlfriend to give it a shot. I had fully planned on going for another Chicago deep dish pie, but while perusing the menu I decided to give the tavern style a shot. They have a recommended pizza on the menu: the Original Southsider, tavern-style. The Southsider features Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms. I ordered the 18″ because I wanted leftovers for the next day, and I’m glad for it.

From The Angry Italian’s website, a description of their tavern style pizza: “Thin Crust. Cut Into Squares. Built with freshly shredded Wisconsin cheese and Roma tomatoes. All pizzas are made according to the original Chicago recipes. To insure proper flavor and cooking, Keith recommends a 3-4 item limit on toppings.”

I couldn’t believe it when the pizza arrived. As you can see above, it was loaded with cheese, and the lacy edges are a thing of beauty. It was love at first bite. I don’t know how to describe the flavor, but essentially the crust is something special. The toppings were perfectly scattered throughout the pie and every bite prompted me to have another slice.

It was past 9 p.m., we had hardly eaten all day, and something about this pizza just hit differently unlike any other. I was no longer concerned with the deep dish, because the tavern style is in a completely different echelon and class of its own. It is currently my favorite style of pizza if I’m going to be eating out and about. The flavors pop in a better ratio compared to the lopsided deep dish.

The Angry Italian’s Original Tavern style pizza: I give it a whopping 8.7 out of 10.

The Angry Italian's Italian beef

The Italian beef from The Angry Italian.

The Angry Italian Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

The Angry Italian’s Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

Three Time’s a Charm: I Can’t Get Away From the Tavern Style

The third trip to The Angry Italian was a few days ago. My girlfriend took me for my birthday dinner. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I wanted another Southsider pizza; tavern style, of course!

But I also wanted to try The Angry Italian’s Italian beef (description from the website: “Thinly sliced beef in Chicago ‘gravy’ served with either Hot Giardiniera or sweet peppers on a gonella roll. Light gravy or dunked. Served with French fries.”) If you know, you know: the ‘gravy’ is the broth/juices from which the beef is cooked in.

If you know me, you know I had to have the hot giardiniera, and why not go ahead and have the gonnella roll ‘dunked’?! It was delicious, to keep it brief and simple. The beef was just as tender as you can imagine thinly sliced beef being. The bread was adequately dipped and had a tremendous flavor to it. Bread is the most important part of a sandwich, because if you are using mediocre bread, then it doesn’t matter what goes on the sandwich: it won’t be too appealing. My only complaint with the Italian beef is that I wish there had been more giardiniera.

We tried out two of the appetizers: the Polpette Di Manzo (four of Keith’s famous meatballs) and the stuffed mushroom formaggi (little mushroom caps stuffed with herb cheese and baked under a blanket of creamy mozzarella.)

The meatballs had a great flavor, but they were served lukewarm. Perhaps that is traditional to serve them that way at The Angry Italian, but I wish they’d been hotter. The stuffed mushroom formaggi was amazing — I highly recommend that appetizer if you go.

Once again, the tavern style pizza was delicious. My girlfriend ordered the chicken parmigiana: 6oz. chicken breast, lightly breaded, topped with meat sauce and baked with mozzarella cheese. Served with a pasta side and a garlic breadstick. She loved it, and I finished her leftovers off the following day (she’s not a fan of reheated chicken).

The Angry Italian is an excellent eatery that calls for more return trips in the future. Maybe one of these days I’ll order another deep dish, but I can’t quit those tavern style pizzas. They are so out-of-this-world good.

I do have to comment on the service at the restaurant. The first two visits, I had the same server each time. She was pedestrian as far as ‘good or bad’ service goes. Frowning, unenthusiastic, the personality of a wet rag, the whole nine yards. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and consider she had a bad day on both trips; she visited the table frequently and promptly refilled drinks, so that’s good enough for me. I’ll always tip 20% unless the service is downright disastrous. On the third trip, we actually had a different server, and she was phenomenal. She had a great attitude about her, gave her thoughts on the menu, treated us like old friends and left a shining impression. Service is more important than the food at any restaurant.

Grizzly BBQ is a Member of Team Caribeque

Grizzly BBQ is a Member of Team Caribeque

If you have been following Grizzly BBQ over the years, you know that one of the mainstays in the rubs and seasonings that I’m frequently using in recipes is oftentimes one from Caribeque.

I will always be a man of my word and only promote products that I fully believe in and personally use. If there is something that I dislike, I won’t use it again, nor will I promote it, simply put.

The first time I heard about Caribeque was back in 2016, when a friend of mine — Brad Woods from Ohio, a top notch home chef who could hit big on Instagram if he posted more often — started avidly posting on social media about using Caribeque Honey Heat on smoked pork. I was intrigued, because not only did I trust his opinion in the realm of culinary dealings, but I thought the name of the product to be catchy (excellent marketing from the first step).

When I barbecued for the first time ever in December 2016, I tried Honey Heat for the first time ever, and I was hooked. Rubbed on a small pork butt, I smoked it in my old vertical offset Brinkmann Trailmaster stick burner, and the results were overwhelmingly fantastic. Keep in mind that this was before I became a regular poster on the grilling and barbecue community on Instagram, so I had no idea who was behind the Caribeque name or anything about the small company itself. I just knew that I loved at least one product from the line of rubs and seasonings.

Bottles of Caribeque AP rub and Caribeque Smack Sauce

Fast-forward to July 2017, when I bought a bottle of the (then) new rub, ‘AP’ (All Purpose), along with two bottles of Smack Sauce (incredible on burgers, pulled pork tacos, French fries, as a chicken dip, etc.), I posted the photo above to Instagram. I believe that was my first time officially posting about Caribeque. I didn’t have many followers at the time — under 100, I believe — and yet Kurt Halls, the man behind the idea of Caribeque, not only reposted the photo to the Caribeque Instagram, but he reached out to me in a message to thank me for the support and to get to know me.

In the near-four years since then, only one or two other small BBQ-related companies have reached out to me in any kind of capacity like that (shout out to Mitch & Louise Swank from Hutch’s BBQ Sauce and The Killer Cook). Kurt spoke to me like a long-time friend and treated me like an equal in the culinary world, when at the time I knew nothing about how to take a halfway decent food photo, and I had zero pull or influence in the community. I have used products from at least one hundred different companies in the last half decade, and nobody else has made that kind of effort to engage with their loyal followers the same way.

Even if Kurt had never reached out, I would still be using the Caribeque line today, just because I genuinely believe in how fantastic of a collective group of products they all are for tossing on grub. In December 2017, I bought a couple bottles of the Big & Bold beef rub, and I was hooked from the get-go when I tried it on smoked’n’shredded chuck roast. Nowadays, I almost exclusively only use Big & Bold on burgers, because it has such a phenomenal flavor that compliments beef.

Over the last two and a half years, I can’t speak enough about how good of a person that Kurt from Caribeque is. When my mother had a stroke in November 2018, he reached out to me and asked me if I needed any help. When I disappeared from social media for most of 2019 while placing my energy into someone over any other life endeavor, Kurt reached out and asked if I was alright given the sudden absence. When I experienced perhaps the worst ongoing bout of extreme depression of my life starting on March 30, 2020, he and I commiserated over the pain of life circumstances as he shared with me the difficult times he has been through the last few years.

What other folks behind the labels of BBQ-based companies do that? While I love the products from Meat Church, Reload Rub and Grill Your Ass Off, they certainly never have despite the repeated support I’ve also shown them.

I never expected to be an official member of Team Caribeque. I would still be using Caribeque in the food that I sling weekly even if I had never been asked, but about a week ago, Kurt called and asked me to officially be a member. Hey, I was technically unofficially a member of Team Caribeque for the last four years, but now it is official.

Use code GRIZZLY for 15% off of any purchase at Caribeque.

Grilled Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Grilled stuffed poblano peppers and a bell pepper

Two grilled stuffed poblano peppers and a grilled stuffed bell pepper on a bed of yellow rice.

Stuffed peppers were always a common meal that my mother cooked up while I was growing up. She would take green bell peppers, cut off the top of them, remove the inner part and ‘veins’ along with the seeds, roast them in the oven until the peppers would be partially cooked and then stuff them with an assortment of toppings.

Usually, those said toppings included the ground beef that she would brown up in a skillet with a diced onion, tomato sauce and shredded cheddar cheese. She would turn these into a meal, sometimes paired with a pan of fresh cornbread (my parents were veritable bread fiends who always seemed to feature some kind of bread as a side item for most meals).

I didn’t begin cooking until I was nearly 21-years-old in 2012, and the idea of cooking up a batch of stuffed peppers never occurred to me until well after my mom’s stroke in November 2018. While taking care of her, she asked if I could cook some for dinner one evening. I couldn’t believe that, after nearly seven years of cooking, I had never thought about cooking them since they made for a fairly quick and easy dinner during weeknights when I was a child, so I recreated her recipe, except I incorporated white rice that I cooked in some chicken broth and Italian seasoning to go along with the browned ground beef, diced onions and tomato sauce.

These days, I have what I will declare as a way better version of stuffed peppers: grilled stuffed peppers. I have thrown down some grilled, stuffed bell peppers multiple times at this point, but recently my local grocery store has begun to sell poblano peppers. Poblano peppers are just about as mild as bell peppers, but I prefer the flavor. Today, I want to offer you guys the prospect of grilling stuffed poblano peppers, which I believe you should include in your future grill meals this summer (or in the spring, fall and winter if you are a year-round outdoor griller like me).

For the grilled stuffed poblano peppers, I want to mention that I left out the tomato sauce. I didn’t have any on hand, but they were just fine without them. If you want to use them, then fair game! Add what you see fit. I made some with browned ground beef and some with leftover pulled pork that I smoked in my recently purchased Po’Man Grill. As much as I would like to call this a recipe, consider it to be more of a guide. Without further ado, let’s roll on to it.

Ingredients

How to Grill Stuffed Poblano Peppers

In this recipe, I grilled a couple of stuffed bell peppers as well, for the picky crowd, so keep this in mind if anybody requests that variety.

  1. Cook the yellow rice according to the package instructions (I used a family pack of the yellow rice — boil 3 and 1/2 cups of water, add the package of rice, reduce heat to medium low and cover for 20 minutes or until done).
  2. You can do this on your grill, but I was in a hurry, so I browned up the ground beef and diced onions in the taco seasoning in my cast iron skillet on my stove.
  3. Using a charcoal grill (if you are using a gas grill, fire it up to 350-400 degrees), I lit a small chimney of charcoal, allowed it to burn for 20-25 minutes and added them to the grill before adding my grates and procuring the lid on top. Both the intake and exhaust vents were set to being wide open.
  4. Preparing the poblano peppers — I removed the tops, sliced them into two sections and flatted them (seeds removed). This is my method that I find to be the most efficient: I applied a liberal amount of cooking oil (I used canola oil) to my hands and rubbed the skin and innards of the peppers. This is to create a thin layer of fat on the peppers in order to help the roasting process and keep them from sticking on the grill grates.
  5. I placed the peppers skin-side down onto the grate over the hot coals and cooked them for a couple of minutes before flipping them over to cook the inside of them for an additional minute or two before removing them.
  6. I added a spoonful or two of rice to the peppers followed by the pulled pork on some of them and ground beef and onions on the others before topping them with the cheese. This allows the cheese to melt down on everything.
  7. I re-added the peppers to the indirect side of the grill, closed the lid and allowed the cheese to melt for five to ten minutes.
  8. Remove and enjoy!

I highly recommend giving this recipe a shot. If you choose to use bell peppers, give them the same treatment with the coking oil and blemishing of the skin and innards on the grill for that classic grilled flavor. If you try this recipe (er, guide), let me know what you think in the comments.

The Key to Smoking a Great Brisket

Smoked, sliced beef brisket

If you held a gun to my head and delivered the ultimatum to me in the guise of a question of, “If you could only cook one food in the realm of barbecue for the rest of your life, what would it be?”, the subjective answer of mine is brisket.

The first time I ever tasted a smoked beef brisket cooked by someone at their home, and not at a restaurant, was in 2016. It was sitting in a foil pan, and it was chopped brisket, almost shredded. It sat in a mix of beef broth and juices from the meat itself. It was served for breakfast with biscuits. I ate mine on one of those said biscuits with a little bit of mayonnaise. Unconventional, but it was delicious. At that point in 2016, I had little to no knowledge about barbecue. If you have read my past posts, you will know that before 2016 my idea of barbecue was, well, barbecue sauce. I cannot emphasize how ignorant I was.

When I received my first smoker in December 2016, which was a used vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster stick burner smoker, I had brisket on my brain in terms of ideas of what I wanted to try smoking in the future, and so I hopped on Google and devoured all the information I could on how to smoke a brisket.

In that research, I learned that ‘chopped’ brisket was a variation of cooking it to the point of it being overcooked by traditional barbecue standards. I discovered that it was supposed to be sliced, and for the brisket to be considered true smoked beef brisket, that it would have to ‘pass the bend test’ as the slices would have to ‘fold’ over your finger when you hold it up, and furthermore, it would need to pass the ‘pull test’ where you take a slice of brisket and slightly pull it apart as it breaks into two pieces while still maintaining its sliced form, proving tenderness.

The brisket pull test

The brisket ‘pull test.’

Nonetheless, I did not smoke my first brisket until September 2017, and by that time I had been using my 22.5” Weber Smokey Mountain cooker since June of that year. A whole packer, which is what one calls a full brisket featuring its two parts – the point and the flat – in the barbecue world, was on my radar, but I was cautious. Before I continue, I want to mention that the point is the ‘fatty’ part of the brisket, often used to make burnt ends, and the flat is the learner part of the brisket.

I was daunted. When I was researching how to properly smoke a brisket, I discovered that it was allegedly the toughest food to properly cook in the barbecue world, and it served as some sort of litmus test for all true pitmasers.

With that said, when I smoked my first brisket, it was a four or five pound flat from Sam’s Club. On that day in September 2017, I was smoking a host of items in my WSM, from a head of cabbage with butter and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (so good, by the way!) to potatoes and a pork butt for a family dinner.

Smoked and sliced beef brisket Smoked beef brisket

Somehow, I managed to cook it just right, and my family loved it.

My confidence skyrocketed, and just a few weeks later in October 2017, I bought a 12-lb. whole packer brisket from Wal-Mart. This time, instead of starting early in the morning like I did with the first brisket flat, I wanted to cook this one overnight. I started it at around 9 p.m. in my WSM with a mix of Kingsford charcoal briquettes, hickory and applewood.

When I woke up at 8 a.m. the following day, my WSM was still running at around 220-225 degrees, and the brisket was reading 180 degrees on my meat thermometer. Here is where I made a mistake: I wrapped it in foil and placed it back into the WSM. Now, the foiling of the brisket was not the mistake, but what I subsequently chose to do surely was. After another two hours in the pit, the brisket had not reached the internal temp of 200-202 like I was hoping for, so I removed it and placed it in my oven on 375 degrees. Yes, I really did that, and now I’m cringing.

Placing the brisket at that temperature in the oven wouldn’t have been the downfall if I had left it in there for a short amount of time, but it was in the oven for over an hour and a half, and when I removed it, I immediately opened the foil and sliced it up. Guess what? It was stringy. I made pulled brisket. I was so upset. After doing so well with the brisket flat, with this whole packer I failed. Now, was it still delicious? Absolutely. It was smokey, rich with flavor and tender, but that isn’t how I wanted to cook it. I made pulled brisket sandwiches that day, and the next day I made brisket chili with the leftovers. Not all was lost, but I learned a lesson on that day.

The beef brisket that I ruined

Here is the beautiful beef brisket that I subsequently ruined. I don’t have any post-shred photos because I was too upset with myself to take any.

You can’t truly hurry barbecue. Sure, you can wrap meats in foil – the ‘Texas Crutch’ method – and speed up the cooking process, but speaking of a process, that is exactly what barbecue is. I rushed this brisket and threw it in the oven at a high temperature to hurry it along, and I overcooked it.

Nowadays, I smoke my briskets in one of my Barrel House Cookers, hot’n’fast style. I will hang them in the BHCs until they reach an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees, wrap them in foil, re-hang them in the cooker and let it roll until I hit 198-202 degrees and remove it afterwards for a lengthy (one to four hours) rest in a cooler, wrapped in a towel.

Rest Your Brisket

That is the biggest key to smoking a great brisket. Resting it. Perhaps you thought my long-windedness was going to arrive to the conclusion of, ‘not hurrying it along,’ which is also important, but notice when I was describing my failure above, I immediately opened the foil and began to cut the brisket up. When you rest a brisket, you allow the juices – that would otherwise rapidly leak on out of the meat, along with the steam from the heat, causing the meat to dry up – to thicken and release more slowly, resulting in a juicy brisket.

Furthermore, resting a brisket allows the collagen within the meat to soften and become gelatin. The fat further renders. The product itself is simply better.

I have smoked at least thirty briskets since that fateful day in October 2017, and it still haunts me. Luckily, that has never happened again.

While I do smoke 99% of my briskets in one of my Barrel House Cookers these days, last May I did complete another overnight smoked brisket in my Weber Smokey Mountain, and this time it was a success. When I smoke up the morning after I began the cook, I wrapped the brisket in foil, added some more charcoal to my WSM, and allowed it to ride for a few hours until it hit 199 degrees internally. Afterwards, it rested in a cooler for over two hours. The results were much better than they were from that day in October 2017.

The key to smoking a great brisket: be patient, allow it to ride out for the full cook and yield it the proper time it needs to rest before you slice it up.

Launching the Grizzly BBQ YouTube Channel

I have spent over three years toiling around with the prospect of putting together a YouTube channel for Grizzly BBQ.

Over the last year, I have posted a few videos that I had posted on Instagram, but they were hardly YouTube worthy. Being that the videos were from Instagram, they were short clips with nary any interaction involved. I suppose I just wanted to kick the channel off. I would have stopped procrastinating and started this YouTube adventure much sooner, but with 2019 being such a chaotic year, I had my priorities placed elsewhere. With more time available in my days in 2020, I am able to commit my energy into growing this cooking channel.

A few days ago, I cooked up a birthday dinner for my cousin Rachel’s 11-year-old son, and I decided to film bits and pieces of that day’s cook (which you can see above in my unofficial Grizzly BBQ channel introduction). I smoked a 10-lb. pork butt in my Barrel House Cooker 14D, and in my Barrel House Cooker 18C I smoked a 3-pound chub of bologna along with over 60 bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers (some with cheddar cheese; others with cream cheese). Indoors, I deep-fried over 60 chicken wings and around 20 chicken legs/drumsticks.

Yesterday, I lightly documented my cook of a double smoked ham. It was a precooked ham that was smoked with hickory wood, so I fired up my offset stick burner smoker and smoked it in order to get it up to temperature (130 degrees) with a few split logs of hickory that I had on hand.

Somehow, prior to the cook from the other day, I had 49 subscribers to my channel. I believe I know the culprit behind that. Back in February, I posted a short clip to my @grizzly.bbq Instagram page where I was hot’n’fast smoking some burgers and bacon. I live on a rural piece of farmland, and my smoker is just in front of a fence that features a vast field behind it. Cows, being the curious animals that they are, lined up behind the fence where my offset smoker sits, and I shot a quick video cracking a couple of jokes. I said, “Welcome to my barbecue class. Grizzly BBQ. I guess these (alluding to the cows watching) are my students… and the product.” Somehow, this video has over 8,000 views at the time of writing this post. I reckon that is where the bulk of my subscribers have come from.

There are going to be some growing pains along the way. I am not used to filming my cooks in this manner. I’m used to posting short clips to Instagram. I’m new to video editing, and I have simply been doing so using an app on my phone, but in the near future I’m going to look into other forms of video editing software. I’m such an amateur right now. I’m filming with my phone and winging it.

I would like to invite you to come aboard and join me in this YouTubing adventure. Hit me up with some likes and a subscription. I would greatly appreciate it. I promise the videos will be better as time ensues. I won’t only feature barbecue, but I plan on doing other forms of grub slinging from grilling to griddling on my Blackstone griddles to documenting some indoor cooks.