Archive for ‘Grilling’

Is It Still Worth it to Buy a Barrel House Cooker?

Is It Still Worth it to Buy a Barrel House Cooker?

You have been in the market under the notion of buying a new smoker for a while. After much deliberation, you decide that you are most interested in a drum/barrel-like smoker for hot’n’fast style cooking and the ability to hang meats. In your barbecue-fueled research, you come across the BHC (Barrel House Cooker) and the PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker). The PBC is arguably the most popular, highly heralded pre-built drum cooker in the world. However, your interest is piqued by the features of the BHC, as it appears it can do a bit more in the cooking and user accessibility side of things than the PBC.

However, in the same vain of research, you might discover that Barrel House Cooker was recently acquired by Pit Barrel Cooker. That could be why you are here right now, as you consider your upcoming prospective purcase of a new drum smoker. Yes, that is true. Barrel House is now owned by the Noah Glanville (creator of the PBC). In short, a legal battle broke out after PBC sued BHC. The results of the lawsuit found that BHC would have to pay royalties to Noah and PBC with some of the proceeds from each sale of a BHC. It wasn’t long before PBC acquired BHC in an act of debt forgiveness.

You might be wondering, with the advent of this news being uncovered, if it is still worth purchasing a Barrel House Cooker. My answer to that curiosity is a resounding yes. You can take my word however you want it, but I have two Barrel House Cookers, and I have cooked with them at least one hundred times since my original purchase in April 2018. You can read my extensive review of the Barrel House Cooker 18C here.

The Glanville family announced that Barrel House Cookers are going to continue to be produced alongside Pit Barrel Cookers. It has been noted that they will still be operating under the two separate names. This should dispel any concerns over the cookers being removed from the market.

Barrel House Cooker 18C

My Barrel House Cooker 18C smoking away. Photo is from July 2018.

I bought my BHC 18C cooker for $249 (plus tax) in 2018. Nowadays, the BHC is sold on Amazon for $299. While the price increase is unfortunate, the BHC is more than worth purchasing, especially over the PBC. I absolutely know and understand that the PBC is a fine, exceptional cooker — which is why it is so popular and receives as much love as it does — but I simply prefer the BHC’s plethora of extra features, which is objectively cool to use when possible.

These are a couple of the advantages the Barrel House Cooker offers over the Pit Barrel Cooker (it is actually nice to be able to write this now, without fear of debates arising over BHC vs. PBC, now knowing that Noah Glanville and Co. are benefiting from both entities now).

Advantages (Features) of the BHC That Are Better Than the PBC

  • Easier access to modify your coal/wood positioning or remove ash. On the Pit Barrel Cooker, access to your charcoal basket is rather limited, since you have to sit the basket inside the cooker, at the bottom, and being able to access the basket of coals while in the middle of a cook is next to impossible barring some unnecessary, aggravating inconveniences. With the Barrel House Cooker, you can remove the middle base of the cooker from the bottom, remove the charcoal basket and empty ashes (using some heat resistant gloves) and resume cooking once placing the base back onto the cooker.
  • Perhaps it is the bigger competitive advantage of the two, but the Barrel House Cooker has made the bottom part of its cookers to where you can place the cooking grate over top of where you have your charcoal and use it as a hibachi! As far as I know, this cannot be done on the Pit Barrel Cooker. There is nothing like smoking a tri-tip until you hit about 120-125 degrees on the internal temperature before removing the base, adding the cooking grate to the bottom, over top of the coals, and searing that delicious tri-tip to perfection. The options are virtually unlimited as far as what you’d like to reverse sear by par-smoking a particular piece of meat(s) and finishing on the hibachi insert.
  • The Barrel House Cooker features a thermometer on the lid while the Pit Barrel Cooker does not. I know plenty of (myself included) barbecue fanatics who like to use thermometers made by Thermoworks or Maverick (and others) to gauge the grate temperatures, but I find this to be a point worth mentioning.

If you are on the fence, I can’t help but recommend that you go ahead and give Barrel House Cooker a shot. The features are nice, it is durable (I can speak for myself, and for many others from a Barrel House Cooker hangout group on social media, when I write that) and easy to use. It pumps out excellent barbecue, which I can also vouch for, and you will find that in a myriad of my posts on here where I have been consistently using my Barrel House Cookers for the last two years. My only complaint is that I did not purchase one sooner.

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

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

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

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

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

3 pound tomahawk ribeye

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

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

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

Reverse Searing a Tomahawk Ribeye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and a tomahawk ribeye bone

The look of satisfaction after devouring this tomahawk ribeye.

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited edition Weber kettle

Using a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker

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

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

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

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

Snake method

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

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

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

Offset smoker

Cheap Offset Smokers

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

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

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

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

22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain
Barrel House Cooker drum smoker

Bullet Smokers and Drum Smokers

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

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

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

With that said, I want to shift gears to this

Expensive Seasonings and Rubs Are Not a Requirement for Great BBQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Classic Double Bacon Cheeseburger

Double bacon cheeseburger

Do these burgers make my bun look big? “Uh, no, honey.”

If we are talking about plain ol’ good grub, there are few things I enjoy more than a cheeseburger, and even more than a cheeseburger? Make that a double bacon cheeseburger. I said “plain ol’ good grub”, but when it comes to flavor content, your taste buds’ perception will be disagreeing with that.

“Double bacon cheeseburger” is a string of words designed to scare the life out of a vegan. Double the meat, double the tears. Double bacon cheeseburgers might as well be the garlic to the vampire that is a vegan. Hey, vegans, if you happen to be checking out this post, frowning and readying yourself to write a self-righteous comment, allow me to humbly let you know that I am merely half-joking with what I just said. Actually, wait, what are you doing on a barbecue-based website if you are a vegan? Where am I?

Right. There are thousands of food blogs on the internet, and for good reason. Food is the gateway to any human being’s heart. Very rarely have I met someone who has the weak mentality of, “food is fuel, and that’s that.” We eat delicious, fatty, chock-full’o’carbs, calorically dense grub because it spikes our dopamine receptors as soon as it hits our tastebuds. There are fancy recipes to share, secret recipes that your great grandma April that become unconcealed with the world and unique ideas to be emitted to the world. But sometimes there is a time and place to post a classic.

Enter the double bacon cheeseburger. Without looking, I surmise that there are thousands upon thousands of blogs that feature a post about them, so what is my intent in sharing mine? Asides from having a naturally inclined penchant for sharing good grub with the world in the guise of the internet, these burgers are sure to knock your socks off, so enough with the bloviating and onto my version of not only a double bacon cheeseburger, but a grilled double bacon cheeseburger.

First things first, I used 73% lean/27% fat ground beef. Before you scoff at that, vociferating that it is too fatty, check this resource out on how to make the best burgers with 73/27 ground chuck. I often buy 73/27 because the family packs (5 lbs.) at my local grocery store wind up at a $1.99/lb. price point, and that is too good to pass up. One could argue that the shrinkage from fat being rendered from the meat as it cooks is too costly, even at that price, but I disagree. What yields from the cook is a juicy, flavorful burger with a nice crust if your heat is optimal.

Grilling cheeseburgers, featuring bubbly cheeseRecipe:
— Ground beef
— Your choice of seasoning
— Bacon
— Cheese (I used American)
— Buns

That’s it. Look, I like burgers in all types of ways, from a classic burger featuring iceberg lettuce, a thin slice of a tomato, a slice or two from an onion and cheese, but sometimes a grizzled man wants a double bacon cheeseburger as is, and that’s the route I went with this simple, ‘so easy a caveman can do it’ recipe.

1.) Preheat your grill. I always use a charcoal grill, so I start off firing up a large charcoal chimney almost full of briquettes. I’m usually rolling with classic Kingsford Original, because I would rather use my money on buying food that would otherwise be spent on more expensive charcoal brands, and Kingsford does the job just as well as anything else, not to mention its price point is more attractive than other charcoal brands, asides from Royal Oak.

2.) Form your patties by creating a ball from the ground beef. I never weigh my patties so I can’t give you an exact estimation of the weight; part of this reason is because, for the friends and family that I cook for, some members of that group want smaller burgers while others want larger burgers. For me, I say, go big or go home. After you create the ball, smash it flat with the palm of your hands and create a couple of dimples (indentations) in the surface. Some folks recommend making one big dimple, but I make a couple of dimples in the center of the burger. With fatty ground beef, when you cook it, it tends to puff up as the fat renders and the protein contracts. The dimple(s) aid to minimize the burger shrinking and prevents it from turning into a grilled meatball. Not that there is anything wrong with a grilled meatball, but in this case you want a burger, not a meatball. Note: when I form my patties for grilling them, I make them as thin as I possibly can, even with the dimples, because they will cook faster and more evenly. If you are having trouble with this, don’t worry: practice makes perfect.

3.) Rub both sides of the patties with whatever your favorite burger seasoning is. Salt and pepper is fine, but I used Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub. It is the best seasoning/rub in the game for any kind of beef. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.

4.) Once your fire is hot and ready, when the coals have grayed and ashed over on top, add them to your grill. I like to use 2-zone cooking 99.9% of the time. Even with burgers, this can be beneficial, which I’ll explain why. Add your grate, close the lid and allow your grill to preheat for about fifteen minutes. Note: I like to add a competition blend of wood chips (oak, apple and hickory are my preferences) to the fire for extra flavor in the meat. This is purely optional.

5.) Once the grill is preheated, remove the lid and place a cast iron skillet (with bacon in it, of course) onto the part of the grate that is directly over the coals. The bacon will cook in no time if your charcoal is hot enough. When the bacon is finished, remove it and place it onto a place with a paper towel before setting the cast iron aside on a surface that can adequately handle the residual heat of the skillet.

6.) Add your burgers directly on the grate over the coals. The sweet spot, for me, is five minutes on each side. I usually never have any issues with this. Sometimes I will go five minutes on the first side, and after the flip I will go three minutes on the other side. You will know when to flip your burger when you see the bottom edges browning up nicely and when remnants of juices are pooling on top of your burger. The juices is an indicator that the middle of the burger is being thoroughly cooked and a sign that you need to flip them over. After the first flip is when you should top the burgers with cheese.

7.) Once done, plate them up. Be sure to toast up some buns. I like to give burgers a rest before I chow into them, as this allows the juices to reassimilate into the meat. I would be lying if I said I’m not tempted to immediately dig in. Assemble your burger the way you want to, and you are ready to chow down. Always close the intake and exhaust vents of your grill in order to choke the fire. Doing so allows you the ability to reuse the charcoal for the next cook (if you are grilling; I don’t recommend reusing charcoal for barbecuing/smoking, which is something I will cover in a later post).

Important: with fatty ground beef, you may find that the rendered fat dripping onto the hot charcoal causing an excessive amount of flames kissing your burger. Of course, you do want some of the fire to shoot up and French kiss these burgers, but if you are having trouble and finding that you are experiencing way too much char on the outside of your burgers (“taste the meat, not the heat” as Hank Hill would say), then close the lid as the burgers cook. This will be fine, as long as you have your intake and exhaust vents wide open. Some people recommend spraying the coals with water as a method to reduce the flames, but I’m not big on that, as this can reduce the heat of the coals which will not only effect cooking times but also the crust you are aiming for. A formidable crust is what transcends an average burger into an exceptional burger.

Bacon and grilled cheeseburgers
While I believe smash burgers cooked on a griddle (I’m shouting the good name of Blackstone Products every single time I say this) are superior to any other burger cooking method, sometimes I crave burgers cooked over a scorching hot fire, and this was one of those times. I love the smoky flavor imparted into a burger from being cooked over charcoal. The juices that drip onto the hot coals, creating a vapor that rises and bastes the meat, is out of this world delicious.

I highly recommend that you give these double bacon cheeseburgers a shot. In doing so, I have to toot my own horn and urge you to use not only the dimpling method when forming the patty, as well as the Caribeque Big & Bold Beef Rub, but also to give the aforementioned variety of wood chips (oak, apple and cherry) a shot because it adds an entirely new dimension of flavor that you are otherwise missing out on.