Archive for ‘Thoughts’

Bear Smoke BBQ Review

Bear Smoke BBQ sauces

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two sauces I ordered from Bear Smoke BBQ:

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

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

Bear Smoke BBQ Cam Cam Chipotle BBQ Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

Bear Smoke Recipe No. 1: Everyday BBQ Sauce

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

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

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

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

Bear Smoke BBQ also features three hot sauces:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited edition Weber kettle

Using a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker

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

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

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

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

Snake method

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

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

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

Offset smoker

Cheap Offset Smokers

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

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

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

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

22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain
Barrel House Cooker drum smoker

Bullet Smokers and Drum Smokers

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

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

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

With that said, I want to shift gears to this

Expensive Seasonings and Rubs Are Not a Requirement for Great BBQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oven Baked Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

Crispy oven-baked potatoes

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

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

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

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

How to Bake Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

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

Use a cast iron skillet

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

Rub the potato with rendered bacon fat

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

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

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

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

Baking the Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Cooking Burgers Using 73/27 Ground Beef

73/27 burgers on the Blackstone Griddle with caramelized onions and mushrooms

Here are 16 burgers, made out of 73/27 ground beef, that I cooked on my Blackstone Griddle for a birthday party, along with caramelized onions and mushrooms. Notice how none of them puffed up. Note: these are smash burgers.

Whenever I read about cooking up the best burgers one can concoct, it seems that most people use 80% lean/20% fat ground beef for optimal the optimal lean:fat ratio. Just enough fat to keep the patties moist and juicy, but lean enough for the burger to stand on its own. But what about 73% lean/27% fat ground beef?

Burgers are one of my favorite foods, unabashedly so. My family and friends love them, so when they are visiting, I find myself making them quite often. While I agree that 80/20 is a fantastic ratio of ground beef in a patty to cook up, more often than not I’m buying 73/27 ground beef from my local grocery store (Grant’s Supermarket, in southwest Virginia, if you are wondering) — they often feature it on sale for $1.99/lb. in 5-lb. family packs, so the prospect of having that much meat to throw down for the whole family for just $10 is a game changer. Even more mind-blowing is that sometimes this grocery store will price it, on certain days, at $.99 cents/lb., which is crazy to even think about.

A lot of people will shun that style of ground beef and pay a little extra for 80/20 ground beef, because they’ll consider the fat/overall collective ‘weight’ loss (in the mass of the meat) resulting from during the cooking of the 73/27 ground beef as throwing money down the drain, but here’s the kicker: any time you are cooking burgers with high fat content it is fine, because the best burgers in the world that you can create come from not only the finished product being juicy, but also when the burger is cooking in its own fat. There is nothing like eating a burger with a crust formed thanks to the glorious Maillard reaction (caused by overall contact from the exterior of the burger on a scorching hot cooking surface) that is juicy and oh-so melt in your mouth good internally.

Yes, with 73/27 you will experience substantial fat running out of the meat and running wild in the process, but you should never fear this becoming an issue. Again, the best burgers in the world cook in their own rendered fat.

I will offer this one caveat, though: if you are cooking burgers that feature a high fat content like this in a skillet, particularly a scorching hot cast iron that is properly preheated for maximum crust formation, be wary of how many burgers you are playing into the pan. What happens is, say, if you are cooking four medium-to-large burgers in one skillet, there is going to be a ton of fat that will pool out, and when you flip the burgers, there is potential for the crust to not be the best. This is why I recommend buying an outdoor griddle, as they (Blackstone, Camp Chef, Royal Gourmet, Blue Rhino, etc.) feature grease drains that will remove the excessive amount of grease that covers the cooking surface. However, if you are limited to a cast iron skillet, two burgers at a time with some grease poured out between each cook of the batch of burgers you plan on making will help aid you in your quest for making the best burgers possible.

There are, basically, two burger cooking methods, and one I consider superior than the others, but let’s go through both:

1.) The classic, standard patted-out burger: this is the type of burger you shape into a patty yourself. It is great, nonetheless, but here is what can lead to disaster and ultimately a burger that will be smaller than the bun you place it onto: when you form the patty, no matter how much you flatten it out into a perfect circular shape, it is going to puff up as the fat renders and the proteins contract. You can counteract this by making a shallow indention (the ‘dimple’ method) in the middle of the burger before placing it onto a hot cooking surface, about an inch or so wide. When making burgers this way, especially if I’m going to be cooking them on my charcoal grills, I have also experimented with making small slits in the burger patties with a knife along with the indention, and it has never failed me.

2.) Smash burgers (the best burger method, in my humble opinion): this is by far and away the superior method when it comes to making burgers. I wrote about it here. What you do is, instead of patting the ground beef into a patty, you make a meatball out of it, and the size of the meatball is up to you, and I don’t recommend making it too big (you can always make thin double-burgers on a bun). But you lightly pack the ground beef into a meatball, not forming it too tightly and leaving it slightly loose, and afterwards when you place it onto the screaming hot cooking surface, take a burger press or a cast iron press and smash it down. This does not force out any of the juices that you want to remain in your burger, as the internal meat has not began cooking yet. What this does do, however, is flatten the burger out to achieve maximum surface contact with the burger against the surface of the material you are cooking with, which will yield not only the best crust ever but also keep the meat moist and juicy on the inside. Since the burger is flattened properly, it won’t take but just a few minutes to be ready to flip for a sear on the other side of the meat. The finished product is a juicy inside with a delectable crust on the outside.

While 80/20 may be ‘superior’ in a sense, because it is widely viewed as the standard for the optimal lean-to-fat content of a burger, you shouldn’t sleep on 73/27 just because of the 7% higher fat content. When I’ve made burgers, whether it is using the indention method on pre-patted patties or smashburgers, I have little to no issues with the meat puffing up during the cooking process. It may thicken up a little bit, but your worries should be far and few between.

As always, though, the temperature of your cooking surface will determine the quality of your burger. If your heat isn’t high enough, it will be lackluster because you aren’t going to create the crust that you want in every satisfying bite you take. Use these tips in this post and I promise you that it will change the game of your burgers.