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.

Blueberry Pancakes on the Blackstone Griddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a smaller batch of pancakes:

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

Blueberry pancakes cooking away on the Blackstone Griddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermont Maple Syrup Infused With Habanero

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

Hot and Fast Smoked Caribeque Chicken Sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrel House Cooker smoking away

The preheating process of the Barrel House Cooker.

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

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

Cracking the lid of the Barrel House Cooker

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

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

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

Fully cooked chicken breasts featuring Caribeque Signature Series Chicken Rub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Double Bacon Cheeseburger

Double bacon cheeseburger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grilled Peaches with Bourbon Brown Sugar Sauce

Grilled Peaches with Bourbon Brown Sugar Sauce

I like desserts as much as the next guy, but I don’t find myself preparing them too often, or any sweet dishes in general. I usually stick to entrées and side dishes. However, from time to time I surprise myself with a hankering for cooking up a unique dessert.

Enter grilled peaches with bourbon brown sugar sauce.

grilling peaches with bourbon brown sugar sauce

I didn’t come up with the idea myself, unfortunately. That credit goes to one of my old, good friends on social media. She wrote about growing up in South Carolina and how her family would prepare grilled peaches that featured a glaze made with bourbon and brown sugar for dessert. This enticed me, because it sounded delicious, and I knew I had to make it for my friends and family. I have cooked a multitude of vegetables over the years, but grilling fruit was not something I had ever considered before this interaction, but I was ready to give it a shot because I had no doubts about these peaches being delicious. So, after my inquiry, she gave me the basic rundown on how her family prepared them, but I went with my own twist, not without a little bit of side research in the process.

The night before I decided to toss some peaches on the grill, I searched the web for recipes, just as an idea of what other people were doing. It turns out, what I had in mind for what I was going to do was different than what others had to do. You will see why, but first, the recipe, because I know that is why you are here.

You only need a few things to make grilled peaches with bourbon brown sugar:

— Grill
— Peaches (I used 8 peaches since I was feeding a group of people)
— Chef knife
— Basting brush
— 1 cup of any type of bourbon (I used Fighting Cock Straight Bourbon)
— 4 tbsp of butter
— 4 tbsp of brown sugar
— Ice cream for topping them (optional, but highly recommended)

That’s it. It is a simple recipe and the steps to get it going are outrageously simple.

1.) Preheat your grill. I have only ever made these on a charcoal grill, not minding whether or not the temperature is too high. You may be different in me in that department. See, I like a little bit of charring; not too much, but enough to where the flavor of the fire is ample, because the sugar present in the peaches as well as the brown sugar on the surface is going to caramelize and become perfectly brown. If you are using a gas grill, set the heat to medium/medium-high. Using a charcoal grill, I recommend using a charcoal chimney to begin your fire. I used a mixture of briquettes and lump coals.

2a.) While your grill is preheating or as your charcoal is graying over with some ash, this is when the magic happens. You can do this earlier, but I like to get things going during the preheating process. When I researched other grilled peaches featuring bourbon and brown sugar, many of them recommended making the sauce to coat the peaches afterwards, but that is no fun in my humble opinion. I highly prefer my method because of the additional caramelization that happens on the surface of the peaches. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits.

2b.) Add the bourbon, brown sugar and butter to a saucepan over medium-low heat until it begins to simmer. Stir occasionally, but be sure to allow the sauce to simmer for about five minutes until it adequately thickens. Afterwards, use a basting brush to brush the sauce onto the peaches. I prefer brushing them all around, but you can brush the ‘inside’ parts only if you prefer.

3.) If you are using a charcoal grill, dump the coals into one section of the grill for 2-zone cooking. Add your grill grate & allow it to preheat for about 15 to 20 additional minutes.

4.) Remove the lid and add the peaches to the grill. My method is to add the peaches facedown for three minutes before flipping them over and grilling them on the skin-side for an additional three minutes. After this time eclipses, move the peaches over to the side of the grill for indirect heat, close to the fire but not over top of the coals/heat source. Close the lid for five minutes to allow the inside of the peaches to soften up.

5.) Bring the peaches in and serve. Allow guests to serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if they wish to do so.

grilled peaches with bourbon brown sugar sauce
It is a simple, tasty treat to make, especially during the summer. Peaches, especially, are so refreshing with just the right amount of sweetness where you aren’t overloaded. When I made these, I had grilled some ribeyes for dinner, served with baked potatoes, and the crowd wound up going wild for the peaches more than anything else. I want you to read that sentence again, because yes, I just admitted that people favored the peaches more than the ribeyes. I’m still surprised.

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.