Archive for ‘Recipes’

Enchilada Tacos with Smoked Beef

Enchilada tacos with smoked beef on the Blackstone Griddle

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

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

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

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

Overall, you are going to want these base ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 enchilada tacos with smoked beef

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

Poor Man’s Brisket: Smoked Chuck Roast

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

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

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

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

Smoking a Chuck Roast

2 Gringo's Chupacabra Brisket Magic

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

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

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

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

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

Bark from smoked chuck roast

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

Sliced and cut-up smoked chuck roast

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

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

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

Reverse Seared Tomahawk Ribeye on the Grill

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

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

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

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

3 pound tomahawk ribeye

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

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

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

Reverse Searing a Tomahawk Ribeye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and a tomahawk ribeye bone

The look of satisfaction after devouring this tomahawk ribeye.

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oven Baked Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

Crispy oven-baked potatoes

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

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

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

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

How to Bake Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

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

Use a cast iron skillet

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

Rub the potato with rendered bacon fat

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

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

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

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

Baking the Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blueberry Pancakes on the Blackstone Griddle

I used to watch UFC pay-per-views with my friends at a local movie theater on Saturday nights whenever the aforementioned movie theater still hosted the showings of the MMA events for a discounted price. Afterwards, we would often find ourselves heading over to IHOP and I typically wound up ordering the Cinn-a-Stack pancakes every single time, asides from the occasional internal battle I would have with myself in my mind over whether or not I wanted to roll with the Double Blueberry pancakes. Decisions, decisions.

Pancakes are delicious, and if you are a carb fiend like I am, you get it. It is no surprise that, even in the 13 colonies during the eighteenth century, pancakes were being chowed down with gusto (source). Nowadays, there are so many ways to throw down pancakes, so many options and variations as for what you can add to them to spruce them up. As of the time of writing this post, there are over 234 million pancake recipes that show up under the search results on Google. That is a horde of pancakes, my friends.

Blueberry pancakes fresh off the Blackstone Griddle
I like pancakes in all different kinds of ways. I have to watch myself when I eat them, because I usually like a big ol’ stack of them on my plate, topped with a pat of butter, and that is something that simply foretells a certain nap in my life’s destiny shortly afterwards. However, it is more than worth it, especially when you make your own homemade pancakes the way you like them rather than spending money for mediocre pancakes at a restaurant.

I woke up one day and it was an unusual day. I was hungry. It is not the ‘I was hungry’ part that I am referring to; I rarely eat during the mornings despite my love for breakfast foods. I’m an intermittent fasting kind of guy, if we are talking lifestyle habits. However, on this day, I knew what I wanted: pancakes. Not just any pancakes, but blueberry pancakes. I had an 18oz. package of blueberries sitting in my fridge. Sure, I could have made the decision to be moderately healthy and eat them alone, but no, I wanted breakfast — pancakes for breakfast at that — and I wanted to cook up some blueberry pancakes on my Blackstone griddle.

I used about 90% of that package of blueberries. Listen, IHOP’s Double Blueberry pancakes have nothing on these. I accidentally made bigger pancakes than I intended with this big ol’ batch, so the recipe for this stack is a big one. Adjust to your liking. I am virtually always cooking for a group of people.

August 2020 will mark three years of owning a Blackstone griddle, and this is only my third time making pancakes on it, which is a sad truth. Nonetheless, I stand by this recipe and it is well worth a shot if you want to knock it out of the park with these for your friends and family.

Ingredients/Recipe
— 3 cups of flour
— 6 tablespoons of sugar (you can use less if you want them to be less sweet)
— 5 teaspoons of baking powder
— 3 teaspoons of salt (I used kosher salt)
— 3 eggs
— 3 cups of milk
— 6 tablespoons of oil

Whisk it together into a nice mix. Don’t overmix. You just want a nice slightly thick consistency. If it is too thick, add a smidgen of water.

The above recipe is supposed to make 12 ‘normal’ sized pancakes, but instead I made about seven or eight large pancakes (my mistake). They were still excellent, just bigger. Everything is bigger in Texas, but as for southwest Virginia? I don’t know. Virginia is for lovers. I love pancakes. Big pancakes included.

For a smaller batch of pancakes:

— 1 cup of flour
— 2 tablespoons of sugar
— 2 teaspoons of baking powder
— 1 teaspoon of salt
— 1 egg
— 1 cup of milk
— 2 tablespoons of oil

Blueberry pancakes cooking away on the Blackstone Griddle

Basic instructions
1.) Using the 36″ Blackstone Griddle*, set three of the burners to medium and added a thin coat of olive oil to the flat top cooking surface once the griddle was heated up.

*NOTE: You can use any size of griddle, of course. Whether you are using a 17″ or 22″ tabletop griddle or even the 28″ griddle, adjust the heat accordingly.

2.) Add the pancake batter to a bowl that has a little spout or ‘lip’ for pouring. Blackstone Products sells a breakfast kit that features a batter dispenser that holds four cups of batter, but I do not own it (yet), so I can’t add any kind of personal testimonial here. Using my method of pouring from the bowl may have been the source of my issues of making bigger pancakes, but nonetheless it all still worked out just fine, and they were delicious as ever.

2.) Add the batter onto the griddle. As you drop the batter onto the hot cooking surface, pay more attention than what I did and watch how big you make them. Use a ladle, if you have one, to carefully pour the batter onto the surface.

3.) After you have added the batter to the griddle surface, top with blueberries. Now, I realize this may have been a mistake on my behalf, because you could just mix the berries into the batter when you are whisking it up prior to the cook, but I loved how these turned out with the blueberries meeting the heat source more than they would have otherwise.

4.) After a minute or two, you will notice bubbles appearing on top of the batter. Slide your spatula underneath the pancakes to see if the bottom side has cooked, as usually this is a sign that it has. Proceed to carefully flip the pancakes over in one fell swoop. In a couple of the flips, blueberries fell out onto the surface of the griddle, but that was fine, because I topped he finished pancakes with them.

5.) After another minute or so, your pancakes will be ready to go. Plate them up and enjoy.

Serve the pancakes with your favorite syrup or whatever topping(s) you would like. I used the Wondershop-at-Target Vermont Maple Syrup Infused With Habanero, which is delicious.

Vermont Maple Syrup Infused With Habanero

This is a simple recipe you can whip up in a cinch using your outdoor griddle, or even in a cooking pan inside the house. I centered this post around cooking them on the Blackstone griddle because food tastes better when cooked outdoors. Let me know your thoughts in the comments if you decide to give these blueberry pancakes a try.

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.