Archive for ‘Thoughts’

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.

Why Do Food Bloggers Post Their Life Story Before the Recipe?

One of the things I was most excited about when I created Grizzly BBQ was the prospect of writing recipes earlier in my posts than what you see on a typical culinary-based website. I may write a paragraph or two before posting my recipes, but by and large, they are right there in front of you within one quick scroll down. I couldn’t help myself, but I had to write a poem about these culinary bloggers who love to post an overly long story in each of their recipe posts before they, you know, post the actual recipe:

This evening I’m feeling bacon-fried rice

The family agrees that would be quite nice

So I open up my laptop to perform a quick search

Besieged I am to buy lots of merch

So I click several links over here and there

Reading stories of what people smelled in the air

As well as growing up down on grandma’s farm

Where they would cook things like fresh chicken with parm

Growing furious not wanting to read a book

I scroll down the page and continue to look

Why do these people think it is a necessity

To tell their story and not give the recipe

Alas I have found a Google Chrome filter for inspiration

And I have to admit this is a riveting sensation

For recipes only and story prevention

I’ll download and install this new Chrome extension

There really is nothing more aggravating than heading over to Google and trying to find a specific recipe for something, or when you are searching for general recipes for dinner ideas, and you have to scroll through the food blogger’s life story before you can finally arrive at the destination you wanted: the recipe itself.

Thankfully, there is an extension for Google Chrome that filters out the nonsensical stories and brings you to the content so that you don’t have to read about Barbara’s tangents about making potato soup with her aunt June in November 1979. The extension is called ‘recipe filter’ and you can find it here, granted that you are using the Google Chrome web browser.

I just wanted to share, because not only do I love sharing the love of good grub, I empathize with everyone who is agitated when looking up recipes only to have to scroll through 3,000+ words of fluff in order to get to the recipe they want to find out about.

I’m not sure what compels anyone to want to regale readers with these stories. One could argue that a small segment of readers may be interested in reading these big, tall tales, but at the end of the day, by and large, the majority of people who visit your site for a recipe is there for the recipe and that’s that. I feel as though there is an ulterior motive for these food bloggers/recipe creators because they are trying to manipulate the system with more ‘search keywords’ in their post in order to appear higher in the results on Google (I don’t blame them). That’s all fine and well, but most people see through that. We just want the recipe.

Anywho, if I have a story to tell related to the food I’m posting about, I will write it after I post the recipe. Those who enjoy my content will stick around, and those who come for the recipe will bolt. Either/or, that is fine. Perhaps these long-winded narrative-writing food bloggers can pick up on that tip as time ensues, making finding recipes less than a hassle than it can be sometimes.

My Advice for Making The Best Smash Burgers Ever

Blackstone Griddles and smash burgers are synonymous with each other, and it’s no surprise as to why: a smoking hot griddle and a sizzling ball of ground beef being smashed into a burger patty, influencing the maximum amount of surface contact for the Maillard reaction to occur, when the amino acids in the meat come into contact with the heat of the griddle, creating the beautiful brown crust and the delicious flavor we all enjoy out of a burger.

I’ve taken better burger photos in my time, so I apologize for how lackluster it is, but take a look at how thin the patty is, with the caramelized crust. I topped this one with cheddar cheese, bacon and caramelized onions & jalapenos.

Big ol’ fat burgers are nice (and I say that because I have a genuine penchant for burgers in general), but in my humble opinion, smash burgers are the best way to prepare a hamburger. When you smash the meatball, you flatten out the created-by-action patty to allow more surface area for the Maillard reaction to build a crust. The outside is given its color and flavor, and the inside stays juicy if not cooked for too long.

While making smash burgers on my Blackstone griddle is my favorite method for preparation, you can make them in a cast iron skillet as well. When I cook them on the griddle, I use high heat during the entire cook, but if I’m making them in a cast iron skillet, while I may preheat on high I will modify the heat to being between medium high to medium. The griddle, to me, is more forgiving than the cast iron on my indoor glass top stove, and maybe it is because the glass top stove, and perhaps that can be attributed to electric glass top stoves not being optimal for the very best cooking methods (debatable, but that is my limited anecdotal $.02 cents for you), so your mileage may vary pending on the equipment used.

When selecting your ground beef for smash burgers, choose a higher fat beef. An 80/20 protein to fat ground beef is the most commonly agreed on superior ratio for burgers, because there is enough fat to deliver premiere flavor in a burger, but not too fatty that a great deal of fat will render out during the cooking process. I go a little extreme, oftentimes, I suppose, because my local grocery store features amazingly cheap prices for 73/27 protein to fat ground beef, as I can usually buy 5 lbs. for $10 — there was even a special one day where it was $.99 cents a lb. and I scored 5 lbs. for $5. Even if you think 73/27 ground beef is too fatty, that was an amazing bargain. With this high fat content, I typically make larger meatballs to account for the rendered fat loss during cooking. However, 3 to 4 ounces of ground beef for smashburgers is typically recommended for 80/20 or 85/20 ground beef, though I must now admit my laziness when it comes to bothering with weighing out the meat when I prepare them. I just measure it by feel and by the judgment of my eyes.

When you have preheated your stovetop or griddle and the meatballs have been placed onto the skillet or griddle, use a heavy duty cast iron press to smash the meatball flat. I use the Blackstone stainless steel press-and-sear burger press. One tip that I recommend for this: use parchment paper under the press to smash the meatball flat in order to prevent sticking. You don’t have to, but it saves a moment of aggravation if some of the cold meat from the top of the beef sticks to the press. You may be wondering if you can use your spatula to smash the meatballs into burgers. Well, you can, I suppose, if you have a spatula that can handle the task, but most spatulas don’t have the weight to properly smash the meatballs, and in my one experience using a flimsy kitchen spatula, it created an absolute mess. Just buy yourself a press and thank me later.

Here’s a better look of the same burger from the first photo. Just admire the crust that was formed on this smash burger.

As for when to season the burgers, I’m typically known for being a guy who loves bold flavors with seasoning on both sides of the meat, but my method involves a bare meatball to begin, and after I smash it into a patty I will liberally season the upfaced side with my choice of seasoning (salt/pepper/garlic sometimes, Caribeque Big & Bold Beef, Reload Rub Fully Loaded, Blackstone All Purpose — just my four favorite methods that I switch up from time to time), and that is the only side I season. I feel that there is no need to season the other side once flipped, because by making the burger patty thin and by generously seasoning the one side, you give it enough flavor that you can taste throughout the patty versus overpowering it.

You may be wondering, “What about adding seasoning into the ground beef and mixing it up before forming the meatballs?” Salt has the potential to dry out meat by drawing out moisture. You want the inside of the patty to be juicy while the outside is properly browned. I will make a loosely packed meatball, because according to the food scientists, that is the way to go, and to my unscientifically inclined taste buds, they agree with said food scientists.

Typically, with my smash burgers, I will flip them after four to five minutes once I see the top of the burgers becoming wet from the rendered fat, as well as observing the edges browning nicely. Three to five minutes once flipped, and you are ready to go.

Brown/toast your buns for even more flavor, and add your favorite toppings. You are good to go from there. Create it however you want it. Plain? With cheese? Loaded with toppings? It is your burger — do how you please.

For my burgers, I like: American cheese or cheddar cheese, bacon, sauteed mushrooms & onions & jalapenos (or habaneros if I can easily find them here). Sometimes I like mixing up mayonnaise with a little ketchup, mustard and dill relish. Occasionally I add hot sauce.

“Troy, you just spent a thousand words writing about how to make a burger, which is one of the most simple things a person can concoct.” Hey, smash burgers are a delicacy in my book and should be considered to be their own food group due to how delicious they are. Homemade smash burgers are way better than any burger you will buy from a restaurant. Methods and techniques are important. Utilizing the right amount of heat is the most crucial variable of the cooking process in churning out the best burger you can potentially make. I’m just adding my personal method, because I want you — the readers — to give it a go and let me know what you think, because I think it will become your favorite burger concocting method.

Something to Consider Before Purchasing a Pit Barrel Cooker

When I make a decision on an investment in a product, the first thing I consider is the value of the product versus the price being asked for it. Secondly, and this coincides with ‘value’, I look into the quality of said product: is the brand reputable? Is it durable enough to last? With the time I’ll invest in using it, through enjoyment will I basically receive my return of investment through years of use?

My most viewed post is this one: Is Barrel House Cooker Going Out of Business?

When it comes to already-constructed, available-to-buy drum smokers, the two most talked about options are these two: number one, the most popular, is the Pit Barrel Cooker. Second, it is the Barrel House Cooker.

If you have been following my site, you will notice how often I have posted about Barrel House Cooker. I own both of their models, the 14D and the 18C. I have not held back from posting criticism when I’ve written about the cookers either, so while I’m an advocate, I’m no stranger to avoiding pulling punches in that side of things.

I don’t know what is going to happen with Barrel House Cooker. I am not knowledgeable enough about the legal side of things to comment abou what happened between them and Pit Barrel Cooker. All I know is that the legal conclusion to such matters resulted in portions of the proceeds of the sales of all Barrel House Cookers will fall into the pocket of Noah Glanville, creator of the Pit Barrel Cooker. Using Google, you can find more information about this that can expound on it better than I can.

For the majority of this year, I have noticed that Barrel House Cooker has not had their smokers on sale.

When I considered purchasing either the PBC or BHC, I went with the BHC because I felt it was a bigger bang for my buck. I have found it to be a superior piece of equipment for getting the job done as a drum smoker in comparison to the BHC. I listed my reasons why here.

I have stated in multiple occasions that, if my Barrel House Cookers ever fall apart, that I will likely go ahead and buy a Pit Barrel Cooker, because.. well.. I’m not sure if Barrel House will ever come back. Until they fall apart, I’m happier than a Texan surrounded by smoked beef brisket with using my two BHCs.

Pit Barrel Cooker has a much larger following than Barrel House Cooker. Asides from being available for a longer amount of time than BHC, one of the PBC’s main selling points is that it is a veteran owned operation.

As an American, I’ve been glad to support veteran owned businesses, but I can’t help but feel irked whenever certain companies try to over-emphasize that point when they are trying to gain business. It feels cheap to me. If your veteran-owned company is making a product that I feel is subpar compared to a competitor that isn’t veteran owned, I’m rolling with the the superior competitor. See the first paragraph of this post to consider why I say that. I am not interested in debating the moral compass guidelines behind these two companies, and neither should anybody else asides from those involved in the legal matters, yet if you Google the comparisons between the two cookers, you will find a horde of people stating their opinions while it is all hearsay.

Speaking of hearsay… onto the matters of the title of this post: Something to Consider Before Purchasing a Pit Barrel Cooker

If you take a look at the PBC website, while you will see the big, bold text in the site’s headlines, A VETERAN OWNED BUSINESS, this may mislead you to believe that the PBC is made in America while apparently the cookers and accessories themselves are made in China!

YIKES.


This information is allegedly only reported on tiny print on the packaging according to David H. from this site.

Others have confirmed. Consider what jfmorris from the Amazing Ribs forum said:


Interesting.

It is sheepish of consumers to lambaste Barrel House Cooker in one breath and place Pit Barrel Cooker on a pedestal in another. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if you are a consumer who looks at a brand and pretends they can do no wrong, you are the problem. I am culpable, too, in a way, because I will choose the design of the BHC over the PBC any day of the week, but we should all aim to hold companies to higher standards and not give them a free pass just because its creator touts his military service history.