Archive for ‘BBQ’

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.

Are Premium Charcoal Brands Worth Buying?

Before I delved deep into grilling or any kind of barbecue, I genuinely thought that Kingsford was the charcoal out there that everyone used. I never heard of barbecue competitions, if I’m being completely honest, and entering the world of barbecue flipped my entire paradigm upside down as I gained this new hobby that turned into a full-blown passion backed by the enjoyment of throwing down grub that will be enjoyed by those I’m feeding.

The first time I ever grilled on my own, it was on a cheap 17.5″ Backyard Grill charcoal grill that was purchased at Wal-Mart. I used Royal Oak, that was purchased by someone else — the same person who was teaching me how to grill. Up until that point, nobody had taught me how to properly grill; growing up, my mom would use an old charcoal grill and line the top with foil for easy clean-up and to avoid flare-ups. My aunt, who lived within a minute down the road, would often cook family meals and she used a gas grill, even though we all preferred the flavor that charcoal imparts onto meats.

When the person who was teaching me how to grill explained Royal Oak to me, they said, “This is a serviceable charcoal, but Kingsford is the best.”

I got into barbecuing a few months later when I received my first smoker, which was a used offset vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster stick burner. It was great — now, when I say ‘great’, I mean that it got the job done, and being a stick burner, one eating the grub from it would enjoy the best barbecue the world has to offer from the most classically done ‘Q. However, it was a pain in the ass to manage the temps, because you had to continuously babysit the fire by adding more wood periodically, and as stated, it was used… it was several years old by that point, had experienced rust from being outside in rainy and humid weather conditions, and it didn’t seal well so there was a lot of leaky smoke. It eventually rusted to the point of holes being accrued, rendering it unusable, but I miss the heck out of using it, since it was my first smoker and created the barbecue that I first knew of: flavors imparted from logs of wood via an awesome stick burner. I learned how delicious barbecue is a labor of love.

Enough of that story, however. I used Kingsford to start my fire, in a bed of briquettes, before layering it with some genuine southern cherrywood.

2017 was the year I got into the barbecue community on Instagram, and it was the same year I started using my 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, which is a ‘water’ smoker featuring a water pan that runs on charcoal briquettes (you can use lump, too, with no issue) and wood chunks.

During that time, I noticed a lot of people in the barbecue community on IG talking about all these ‘foreign’ charcoal brands. I say ‘foreign’ because they were all ‘foreign’ to me. Jealous Devil… FOGO… Primo… there are other brands I’m forgetting, so you will have to forgive me here. This are much smaller companies than, say, Kingsford or Royal Oak or even Stubb’s, and one can say they are ‘niche’ products because the averae griller or barbecuer is unlikely to know of such brands, unless they hang out on social media within the community and follow some of the ‘bigger’ names in the said community who often write about them.

A bag of Jealous Devil lump charcoal

Jealous Devil lump charcoal ranges from $31.99 (20 lb. bag) to $49.99 (35 lb. bag). Source/credit of the image: @borderbangerbbq — my good friend Jimmy, who is a BBQ savant and an absolute beast when it comes to slinging smoked grub

I remember the first time I heard of one of these brands. I believe it was Jealous Devil all natural lump charcoal. One of the big names in the Instagram barbecue community posted about it, and she said she was using it for a barbecue competition, stating that she was using a Weber Smokey Mountain. I was intrigued and read the comments from other Instagrammers who wrote about how good Jealous Devil charcoal is. I remember checking out the price and my mouth dropped. I was used to finding incredible deals on Kingsford and Royal Oak around the major grilling holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day…) for cheap prices (I’m talking 40 or so lbs. for around $10), and then I see Jealous Devil all natural lump charcoal’s price… $33.95 for a bag on Amazon.

It was daunting to see that price for charcoal at first. I mean, I would rather spend that type of money on a brisket, but curiosity grabbed hold of me, and I had to check to see what the fuss is about, so guess what? I ordered a bag. The shipping was super fast and I couldn’t wait to get it.

Before I continue, let me mention something about Kingsford and Royal Oak. As far as Kingsford goes, I can’t believe how many detractors it has on social media. There are so many people who claim they despise the smell of it, describing it as acrid, disgusting and ‘chemical.’ I disagree with all of them, and perhaps my olfactory senses are ‘ignorant’, but I’ve never found that to be the case with trusty ol’ Kingsford blue. As far as Royal Oak goes, it is more known for its lump charcoal than its briquettes, but the knock on it is that, for one, people knock it for having small pieces in the bag, and for two, I’ve read stories of people finding weird items in there, from rocks to nails to barbed wire to concrete chunks to whatever else; I’ve heard similar stories about Cowboy lump charcoal. I have never had these issues with either Royal Oak nor Cowboy, but they are alarming to hear about.

Anywho, I received my bag of Jealous Devil all natural lump charcoal and was pleased to see the consistency with the size of the lump coals. They were pretty much all uniform in size, unlike Royal Oak or Cowboy, with next to no ‘tiny’ pieces. I fired it up for a cook in my Barrel House Cooker 14D, vents wide open, and hung a whole chicken in there. It turned out delicious. The next day, I smoked a few racks of ribs in my Weber Smokey Mountain, using the Jealous Devil all natural lump charcoal, and again, delicious… with the ribs, it held temperature perfectly, but then again, I was using my WSM, which always holds temps better than virtually anything else.

But was it worth the price?

To me? A backyard barbecue guy with business aspirations that have not come to fruition yet?

No.

I’m glad my curiosity influenced me to give it a shot, but as I’ve stated above, after several hundreds of cooks and becoming a lite barbecue veteran, I have never had any issues with Kingsford, Royal Oak, Stubb’s or Cowboy, which are much cheaper brands. As far as Royal Oak and Cowboy lump are concerned, respectively, I’ve never found any weird items in there, and I don’t really mind the small pieces, because if you really want to combat the small pieces from falling throw the cracks of the charcoal grate, you can lay it on a small bed of briquettes.

I can’t consistently afford Jealous Devil, FOGO or Primo charcoal. I mean, I guess I could, but consider how often I’m grilling and barbecuing, it would be a big time money sink for me, personally, if that would be all I use, because instead of putting that same money towards delicious meats, I’d be sinking more of it into charcoal. However, I will say this: if you have disposable income that lends itself towards justifying that kind of spending towards such brands, that is wonderful, but the taste in the food when using such premium brands vs. Kingsford, Royal Oak, Stubb’s, Cowboy, etc. is negligible to me.

I think using such premium brands are worth it if you are entering barbecue competitions, however. Reliable, big chunks of lump that will burn clean & consistently and not impart any ‘chemical’ flavors is something you want on your side in a competitive cook, but for frequent grilling and barbecuing? If you can afford it, go for it, but don’t turn into one of those types of people that wants to “keep up with the Joneses” and use it because it is popular in the niche barbecue community on social media. Use it if you like it and can consistently afford it, because while I have tried FOGO and the others, Jealous Devil is awesome, but I can’t justify using it exclusively as far as my allotted budget is concerned.

Brands like Kingsford, Royal Oak, Stubb’s and Cowboy have never once failed me up to this point, so I’ll be vanilla and stick with them, although I may return to Jealous Devil this fall when I enter another barbecue competition that is coming up.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comment section. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Hot and Fast Smoked Caribeque Chicken Sandwich

When I began my barbecue journey, Caribeque is the first brand with a line of rubs that I tried. The first time I smoked a pork butt all by myself, with the ‘training wheels off’, Caribeque Honey Heat was my go-to. Ever since, it has been my go-to. It was love at first bite. Despite ‘heat’ being in the name of the rub, it isn’t spicy. It isn’t a sweet rub, but it has a depth of flavor unlike anything else I’ve used for pork. It has a rich umami flavor (the only way I can describe it, so I urge you to try it for yourself) that stands out in the finished product, as it is savory and naturally lends itself to pork more than any other meat. It genuinely is one of the very few rubs that I will use on pork since it is that good.

Caribeque chicken sandwich featuring pepper jack cheese and dill pickle chips on a brioche bun

The finished product: a hot and fast smoked chicken sandwich with pepper jack cheese and pickles (an ode to Chick-Fil-A). Between the Caribeque Chicken Series rub and the cherry wood from the cook, this sandwich was over-the-top amazing and put Chick-Fil-A to shame if I do say so myself.

Kurt Halls, the man behind the Caribeque brand, released a new chicken rub in July 2018. That rub was aptly named, “Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub“. This is a full-fledged chicken rub that packs a flavorful punch to poultry. It has a zesty flavor that pumps up the flavor in your chicken whether you are grilling, barbecuing, baking or pan-frying.

When the rub was announced in the early going of the summer of 2018, I felt like a child waiting for Christmas day to arrive. I trust in Kurt’s mad scientist prowess when it comes to throwing together any kind of rub, because each of them from the Caribeque line of seasonings have been phenomenal. There is not a single muted flavor in any of them that fails to stand out. As it were, it stands to reason that I would be excited for the adventure that my taste buds were anticipating with the then-new chicken rub.

As soon as the new Caribeque chicken rub was available, I placed an order, and within a few days (Caribeque always sends its shipments quickly) I had it in my hands. I had a pack of chicken breasts sitting in the fridge, and when I arrived home from the post office, I needed try out the new rub immediately. I was drooling. I opened the lid of the bottle, removed the packaging to smell the rub and get a sense of what it would be, and the strong flavor enticed me more than I can convey. ‘Drooling’ is not a hyperbole in this case.

Barrel House Cooker smoking away

The preheating process of the Barrel House Cooker.

I fired up my Barrel House Cooker 18C with Royal Oak lump charcoal and a chunk of cherry wood, with the exhaust vent wide open, and proceeded to butterfly the chicken breasts by taking a sharp knife and slicing each breast down the middle. I could have pan-fried these breasts, but I wanted to hit them with some smoke. Chicken breasts are delicate, since they are so lean, and typically they do not lend themselves to barbecue, but if you cook them using high heat — in this case I quick-smoked them — then you can finish the chicken quickly, cooking it all the way through while still delivering juicy chicken onto your plate.

The temperature gauge on the lid of the cooker read 350 degrees, but the actual temperature in the cooker was probably close to 400 to 425 degrees as the grate is naturally closer to the hot coals than the lid.

Cracking the lid of the Barrel House Cooker

I sat the lid of the Barrel House Cooker on top of the base, but I left it open by ‘cracking’ the lid off-kilter to allow for more airflow in the cooker in order to reach high temperatures.

When I placed the chicken breasts onto the grate, I did not completely close the lid of the smoker. As you can see in the above photo, the lid is barely cracked, which allows more oxygen into the smoker and increases the temperature by yielding a more fierce burn from the fire produced by the coals and wood. The chicken breasts only took 20 minutes to complete, and I confirmed this by checking each breast with my food thermometer.

One could ask why I did not simply grill the chicken breasts, but the reason is simple: this drum smoker is capable of reaching high temperatures by using a couple of tricks (wide open exhaust vent, cracking the lid, using lump charcoal — which burns hotter than briquettes — and the patience to properly give the cooker a chance to adequately heat up).

Fully cooked chicken breasts featuring Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub

Check out the color on this chicken, not only provided by the Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub but also from the hot-and-fast smoke that was aided by the additional flavor of cherry wood.

A brief summary of the above, if you want to make this for yourself in a drum smoker (if you are using a different type of smoker, be sure to utilize the hot and fast smoking method by opening your exhaust and intake vents for maximum airflow to achieve high temperatures):

1.) Pre-heat your smoker using lump charcoal. You can use briquettes if you would like, but lump burns hotter. Add the coals into the charcoal base/basket of your smoker. Optional: add a chunk or two of your preferred smoking wood for extra flavor.

2.) While the smoker heats up, unless you are using pre-thin sliced chicken breasts, butterfly the chicken. This helps for quicker, even cooking so that the chicken does not dry out. Thoroughly season and rub both sides of the chicken with Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub.

3.) Once your smoker temperatures are at around 350 degree degrees, add the chicken. If you are using a drum smoker, crack the lid (see above). It won’t take very long to cook.

As for the construction of the sandwich, you can use whatever bread that you would like, but I used a brioche bun. I say that you can use whatever bread you prefer, but the bottom line is that the bread is the heart of any sandwich. I mean, who wants to eat a sandwich with soggy bread? Not this grizzled foodie.

Here is the way I constructed my sandwich. You are free to use any combination you would like, but I wanted mine to be in the spirit of a spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, and my promise to you is that this is delicious:

— Brioche bun (toasted with butter spread on it)
— One thinly sliced chicken breast
— One slice of pepper jack cheese
— Four dill pickle chips

You are now ready for an unprecedented flavor journey that may incite irrational dancing on your behalf.

Kurt personally told me over the phone that his ultimate goal with his new Signature Series line with Caribeque is to go back to the basics. He expressed concern over how too many of these seasoning/rub companies are coming out with bizarre flavors that are kinda mucking up (my words here; paraphrasing) the cabinets of kitchens, and how he wants to go back to the basics. For example, if you want to season up your chicken with something, it’s a no-brainer to go with the new chicken rub, because it is tailor made for chicken.

When I spoke to Kurt from Caribeque over the phone in the summer of 2018, he expressed that his ultimate goal with the Caribeque Signature Series line of rubs is to go back to the basics. He emitted concerns over how too many seasoning and rub companies are coming out with bizarre flavors that don’t lend themselves all too well to a wide variety of grub (think of, say, blackberry chipotle java or something off the wall like that). His desire to go back to the basics is motivated by wanting to reach for a seasoning in the kitchen without having to place too much time in doing so — imagine if you are about to cook up some chicken; rather than slinging some kind of artsy blackberry chipotle java seasoning on it, you can reach for the signature series chicken rub and avoid second guessing yourself on whether or not your guests will like it, as the rub lends itself to chicken by not containing any ‘ostentatious’ flavors or a pretentious combination of notes that could repulse the taste buds of a guest.

One more tip about the chicken rub: I have added it to diced, fried potatoes as an experiment, and in that same ‘experiment’, I wound up cooking up several batches for five people. Over 10 lbs. of potatoes were gone in minutes. This rub is not only delicious on chicken, but it is perfect for fried potatoes. Since then, I have made French fries and sprinkled the chicken rub over top of them when they are fresh out of the fryer, and it is always well received by hungry guests.

Yes, I am biased when it comes to Caribeque. Not only is its founder a super nice guy and a good friend of mine, but everything featuring the Caribeque label has been off the charts. I would never spend my time championing the brand if I didn’t believe in the products.

Honey Heat Spare Ribs on the Barrel House Cooker

Ever since I got my hands on my first Barrel House Cooker in April 2018 and smoked a rack of ribs by hanging them for the first time, it has become my favorite way to cook pork ribs. In a drum smoker environment, when the lid is closed and the intake vents are set to achieve an inside temperature of anywhere from 275-325 degrees, without a water pan the juices and rendered fat from the meats you are smoking are going to drop onto the hot coals below, which causes a resulting vapor to rise and flavor the meat above, creating a beautiful cocktail of unique flavors you don’t get in other forms of smoking meats.

Don’t get me wrong — I still love my other two smokers, but the enhanced smokey flavor of using a drum cooker is unrivaled to me as far as maximum flavor is concerned. I like a deep, smoke flavor to penetrate my grub; others prefer a lighter smoke. It is all preference.

We experienced some major flooding in my hometown this past Thursday. Probably the worst flood I have ever seen in my life (at least around here). On Friday, it wound up snowing, and since I was paranoid about the power potentially going out, I decided to get out in the conditions and smoke a rack of spare ribs for supper.

Recipe & Instructions:
1.) Prior to firing up my Barrel House Cooker 14D, I removed the membrane from the undercarriage of the ribs and subsequently rubbed both sides of the rack of spare ribs with Caribeque Honey Heat Pork & Poultry Rub*.

2.) Filling the charcoal basket of the Barrel House Cooker to the top, I removed about 10 to 12 briquettes and added them to a small charcoal chimney and began a fire with a lighter cube. I used trusty ol’ Kingsford blue bag briquettes. I know that fancier, more expensive charcoal is becoming more popular online, but I have never had a single issue with Kingsford. I would rather spend the money on food to smoke than I would otherwise spend on more expensive charcoal.

3.) While waiting for the charcoal to fire up, I added three small chunks of hickory wood, two small chunks of apple wood and a couple of chips of cherry wood on top of the unlit charcoal in the basket of the cooker. This isn’t all that much wood, honestly, but it does provide the deep smokey flavor that I enjoy in my barbecue. I’m a lover of bold flavors. If you want less smoke, add less wood. Meanwhile, after 15 or so minutes, the charcoal in the chimney should be appearing to ash over in gray whiteness on the surface. This is when you should dump it into the base. I assembled the top part of the drum cooker, with the lid closed. Note: I left the intake vents wide open for about 30 minutes since it was around 18 degrees outside here.

4.) Applying a hook down after the first couple of bones in the rack of ribs, I added it to the hanger in the cooker and closed the lid while also adjusting the intake vent to where it was barely cracked open.

5.) I started this cook at around 11:52 a.m. and finished it up at roughly 4:20 p.m. I did not open the lid during the cooking process except for one time, which I’ll explain why in the following step. My temperature was rolling between 275 to 300 degrees.

6.) During the final 20-25 minutes of the cook, I opened my intake vents completely and removed the ribs onto a sheet pan, adding a liberal amount of BBQ Rook BBQ sauce* to the undercarriage and meaty top of the ribs, brushing the sauce all over the ribs. There is 20 grams of sugar in one serving of the BBQ Rook sauce, which is perfect, because I wanted that sugar to caramelize on the surface of the meat when I added it back into the pit.

7.) Remove ribs from the pit after 20-25 minutes, allow the rack to rest for five to ten minutes, cut ’em up and dig in!

8.) I served these ribs with Bush’s Southern Pit Barbecue beans. I prepared them in a pot on the stove, but here’s a fun trick: I doctored them up by frying two slices of bacon, cutting them into strips and adding the bacon and rendered fat from the cast iron skillet into the pot of beans. The beans are good by themselves, sure, but even better with bacon and the added fat.

*Full disclosure: I am not affiliated, in any way, with Caribeque or the mentioned rub, nor with BBQ Rook and the mentioned sauce. I use both the rub and the sauce because they are among my favorites for smoked grub, especially pork. Caribeque is one of the first seasonings/rubs I tried when I began my barbecue journey due to the recommendation of a good friend of mine who was avidly posting about it on social media. I’m just an advocate. I’m providing the links in case anybody reading this wants to get their hands on this goodness.

Perfecting a Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey

Yesterday’s smoked turkey

I hardly consider myself a poultry pro.

When I was growing up, I was a picky child. Every time I would go out to eat with my family, when the question of, “Where does everybody want to go eat?” arised, my suggestion was always, “Somewhere with good chicken wings.” When we would go on vacation, it surprised nobody in the family that I was going to order wings everywhere we’d go.

When I grew up, I wanted to learn how to master chicken breast. Not how to consistently produce moist chicken breasts, but how to flavor them in different ways so they wouldn’t become boring. The grocery stores where I live often feature family packs of chicken breasts on sale for $1.99/lb. or under quite often, so it is an easy source of protein to come about. (My favorite method: hot-smoked on the Barrel House Cooker for 20-25 minutes, using lump charcoal, with Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub on the breasts — my all-time favorite seasoning for chicken if we aren’t going into the topic of spicy grub).

Turkey is a different beast, though.

I like turkey, but it isn’t something that I crave often. I became so conditioned to having standard, oven roasted turkey for Thanksgiving all my life. Deep-fried turkey is fantastic, but once you get past the skin, turkey still tastes just like regular ol’ turkey.

Fast-forward to last year: my first time smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving. My first time ever hosting a Thanksgiving in my life, at age 27. My mother had a stroke two weeks before Thanksgiving, and it was an emotionally charged time for my family because she was still in the hospital during Thanksgiving. I had my heart set on one ultimate goal for turkey day: I was going to smoke that bird. My method? Hanging the turkey with the EZ-Load Turkey Plus Kit from Barrel House Cooker Co. For the sake of shortening this particular Thanksgiving day story, this method of smoking a bird produced the most flavorful turkey I can recall ever having.

This year, I wanted to outdo myself from last year. This was my preparation for the 15-lb. turkey I smoked for Thanksgiving dinner:

(One caveat: I did not brine this bird, because it was already pre-brined. Keep this in mind if you are planning on cooking a turkey that hasn’t already been pre-brined.)

The day before Thanksgiving, with the turkey being thawed out in the refrigerator for around three days, I sat it out in a pan, removed the giblet package and the neck, and patted it dry with multiple paper towels.

Afterwards, I used duck fat spray (I originally found duck fat spray at Cabela’s, but now many Wal-Mart locations are carrying it for a couple of bucks cheaper) to spray the skin of the turkey. Not only does this spray act as a binder for your rub, but you add an extra layer of fat, yielding more flavor.

Last year, I used the ‘Everything Rub’ by The Killer Cook, which is fantastic, but this year I went a different route: Slap Ya Mama. I wanted to throw down a Cajun smoked turkey. I seasoned the bird liberally with Slap Ya Mama. While it is quite a salty seasoning, I wanted to give the skin enough flavor to where enough would penetrate into the meat by the end of the cook. With the turkey ready to go, I let it sit in the fridge overnight to absorb the seasoning.

I started up my Barrel House Cooker 14D with about half of the charcoal basket with coals while filing a small charcoal chimney up before lighting. After letting the coals burn for 15 minutes, I added them on top of the charcoal basket, placed two chunks of applewood (I used cherrywood last year) onto two separate sides of the coals and placed the base of the Barrel House Cooker onto the bottom charcoal station and closed the lid.

At around 8 in the morning, I added the turkey, hanging it in the cooker using the EZ-Load Turkey Plus Kit. This was about ten minutes after I added the charcoal to the basket.

I let it roll until around 11:45, when the thigh and legs were reading 175-180 and the breasts were reading about 163-164. I removed it from the cooker and allowed it to rest in a foil pan for 20-25 minutes before tenting it with foil. The temperature gauge read 250-255 for the majority of the cook, so I imagine the turkey was cooking at around 300-325.

This was, hands down, the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, and not one complaint was uttered by the guests (maybe they were just being nice). I have no shame in calling this, ‘perfecting’ a smoked turkey. It was incredibly juicy and absolutely tender.

Some may describe the skin as being too dark, preferring more of a brown skin for their bird, but that also has much to do with what kind of rub you use. Again, I used a liberal amount of Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning, and I’m sure that is the reason for the darker skin, as it certainly was not burnt in the slightest.

Drum smokers like the Barrel House Cooker are perfect for poultry. I did not use a water pan. One of the reasons drum smokers are so formidable at producing flavorful grub is that the juices from the meat will hit the hot coals and the vapors resulting from that action will rise and baste the meat during the cooking process. I owe the juiciness of the turkey to that mechanism of the cooker.

I highly recommend giving this method a shot if you have a drum smoker. Your family, unless opposed to smoked grub, will thank you for it, especially on a day to be thankful.

Back to the Stick Burner for BBQ: Humble Beginnings and a Labor of Love

As I’ve referenced a few times on this site, the first smoker I ever used — the one I learned how to barbecue with — was an vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster offset smoker. It was adopted by myself, as the folks who were kind enough to give it to me had moved on to a horizontal style offset pit while this one was sitting out, experiencing the effects of weathering and the lack of use. It was a tough one to use, because anyone who has ever cooked grub in an offset smoker understands that you must tend to the fire virtually at all times, making sure that your pit isn’t oversmoking with billowing white smoke, chasing the thin, blue smoke perfection of proper cooking that won’t result in your food tasting like bitter, creosote-laden meats.

Nowadays, so many people have switched over to electric smokers or pellet grills, which are as close to set it’n’forget it as one can be, and I can understand why: less hassle. With an electric smoker, you use a smoker tube filled with wood chips to achieve a light smoke flavor. With a pellet grill, you use.. well.. pellets. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never tasted any food that has been cooked on a pellet grill, despite my curiosity, but I’ve read countless posts on both Instagram and BBQ-dedicated forums where users express a lack of smoke in their grub as it pertains to food made on pellet grills. I can’t speak to that, though, due to my tastebud’s devastating void when it comes to tasting meat smoked on a pellet grill. However, pellet grills must be doing something right, given the popularity of brands like Traeger (which has a huge social following, as the brand appears to pump a ton of money into its marketing endeavors by anointing a myriad of Traeger users as ‘brand ambassadors’), REC TEC, Green Mountain Grills, Pit Boss, etc. I have spent a great deal of time debating on whether or not to save my money for a future pellet grill purchase, but if the rumors are true in regards to the food from them only featuring a light smoke flavor, I’m conflicted as I am a man who enjoys the taste of heavy smoke-infused meats when barbecue is on the brain.

You would think that with the popularity of pellet grills, stick burners would fall to the wayside, but stick burners will never exit the spotlight when it comes to barbecue, because it is tried and true barbecue. It is a labor of love tha hardcore barbecue fanatics delve into, not in an elitist way that denounces the efficacy of other smokers, but because it is a classic, proven method to — when done right — produce incredible barbecue. While there are detractors of pellet grills out there who call ’em ‘pellet poopers’ or ‘outdoor easy bake ovens with a weak hint of wood smoke,’ stick burner faithfuls are in the game due to their love of traditional barbecue, and I don’t fault anybody for that.

The only reason I stopped using my Brinkmann Trailmaster is because it rusted so badly that holes were formed. I’m not a welder, and I might as well be the least craftiest man on the planet, so that ended my run with it. I subsequently bought a 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain and eventually purchased my Barrel House Cookers, all the while occasionally barbecuing with my Weber kettle, but I never spent a day without missing my stick burner.

Yesterday, I added a new member of my grill/smoker family. A long-time family friend upgraded to an electric smoker long ago, and he had placed his old horizontal offset stick burner in his garage. It was wasting away, as it was being unused, and for him (as he stated) it was in the way, and he offered it to me. I could only utter an emphatic, “YES.”

After impatiently waiting, he delivered it. It had rust on it, and the grates were filthy, but I fired it up with some cheap Kingsford match light charcoal and some wood I had lying around, to see how it would run, with the intake and damper vents wide open, and it reached 700 degrees. I tossed the grates into the scorching hot fire that I built in my fire pit before scrubbing them down and ensuingly rubbing them with cooking oil. The additional reason I fired the pit up to 700 degrees, asides from seeing how it would run, was to sanitize the inside of the cooker. It leaked smoke from the lid, but that’s alright. I’ll roll with it that way for a while, but eventually I will invest in a gasket kit to line the lid to prevent smoke from leaking so heavily. After the fire cooled and I removed some ash, I used a can of Rustoleum to rid the smoker of the rust that had been built up.

It’s all ready for its first Grizzly BBQ smoke session, which I plan on throwing down some ribs soon enough. As for bigger cuts like pork butts and brisket, I’ll stick with my WSM and Barrel House Cookers for the time being, but I can’t wait to finally get back to tasting the amazing flavor that a stick burner provides, starting with the ribs, and then I’ll move onto other favorites like chicken wings and thighs, as well as bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed jalapenos (or, er, poppers).

Are you a stick burner fan, or do you find that tending to the fire is tedious and aggravating, preferring the set it’n’forget it route? Let me know in the comments!

Lamb Chops on the Barrel House Cooker (Recipe!)

Freshly smoked lamb chops right out of the Barrel House Cooker 14D.

I never tried lamb until last April. I’m from rural southwest Virginia, and it just isn’t very popular here! This is an agricultural haven in the United States, yet beef and pork reign supreme, and lamb? Good luck finding it unless you find a small business to buy from (shout out to Victoria and Brandon Gent from Appalachian Meats in Lebanon, VA for selling lamb!)

You just need three things
— Lamb chops
The Killer Cook Mediterranean Spice Blend seasoning
— A smoker (I used my Barrel House Cooker 14D)

Instructions
— Optional: I sprayed the lamb chops with duck fat spray as a binder before applying the Mediterranean Spice rub.
— You can use charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal; I’ve used both when smoking lamb. For this cook, I just used trusty ol’ Kingsford blue along with a small chunk of cherrywood.
— Fire up the charcoal in a chimney starter (if you don’t have one, I recommend that you purchase one).
— After 20-25 minutes, once the charcoal has turned white hot at the top, dump into the charcoal base of your smoker (if you are using a grill, just cook on indirect heat)
— Allow 15-20 minutes for your smoker to heat up.
— I just had the intake vents on the Barrel House Cooker barely cracked open, although you can leave ’em wide open if you’d like.
— Add the lamb chops to the smoker

This only takes me 25-30 minutes for medium rare lamb. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just remove, let the meat rest about five minutes and dig in!

The Mediterranean Spice Blend seasoning by The Killer Cook is so good because it is a perfect pairing with lamb. It is a match made in heaven. Of course, I guess that is an obvious statement given the name of the seasoning, but still. You can tell me I’m narrow minded, but it is the only seasoning I trust in using when it comes to lamb because it works so perfectly well with it.

If you can’t get ahold of The Killer Cook’s Mediterranean Spice Blend seasoning for lamb, I highly recommend you try this combo:

— Kosher salt
— Black pepper
— Garlic powder
— Dried rosemary
— Dried oregano
— A dash of paprika

The Mediterranean Spice Blend I keep bragging about features mint, too, so if you can get your hands on some dried mint, add a little bit of it to your lamb seasoning mix.