Tag Archive for ‘Thoughts’

Chipotle Chicken Fajitas on the Blackstone Griddle

Chipotle Chicken Fajitas on the Blackstone Griddle



Believe it or not, this was my first time making chicken fajitas on the Blackstone griddle. I do have an excuse for that, which is one of my family members not being a fan of chicken, but still! After nearly three years of use, this was my first go-’round with them on the flat top.

One of the many great things about having an outdoor griddle, whether it is a Blackstone or a Camp Chef or a Blue Rhino or Royal Gourmet, is the versatility of it, and when it comes to versatility in cooking, fajitas — much like stir-fry — are something you can do anything with.

Traditionally, when you go to a Tex-Mex restaurant and order fajitas, what you are likely to receive is your choice of meat mixed together in a blend with cooked sliced bell peppers and onions, served with warmed flour tortillas, refried beans, rice and a little bit of greenery in the form of a tiny salad with tomatoes and a dollop of guacamole. However, at home, you can use whatever the heck you want. You can even make vegetarian fajitas with sliced portobello mushrooms if you would like. (A vegetarian dish being suggested on Grizzly BBQ? You don’t see that too often.)

At the same typical Tex-Mex restaurant, the fajitas comes out while sizzling on an oval cast iron skillet that is sitting on a wooden trivet. Truthfully, that is just for show, but you can’t deny the hunger augmenting effects it has on you and the others around when the dish is brought to the table, especially if your appetite is voracious and you are waiting to satiate it. At home, you could do the same for your guests by sitting a cast iron on the flat top until it heats up, adding your cooked meat and vegetables afterwards, and ensuingly walk into your home like a boss, but maybe I’m just boring, because I added these fajitas to a large bowl.

There are no rules when it comes to fajitas. Do what you want. If a culinary elitist tries to jump down your throat over the technicalities of fajitas, pay them no mind while you stuff your face with incomparable deliciousness. Let’s roll onto the recipe.

Chipotle Chicken Fajitas on the Blackstone Griddle

How to Make Chipotle Chicken Fajitas on the Blackstone Griddle

Do keep in mind that you can make these in a grilling basket (or cast iron skillet) on a gas or charcoal grill, or you can make them indoors in a cast iron skillet (I recommend cast iron for a proper sear of the meat). I enjoyed cooking them on my 36″ Blackstone griddle due to the overall cooking space.

As stated above, you can change up any ingredients you would like. One thing I would recommend, that I did not do, is cooking a combination of both chicken tenderloins (or butterflied chicken breasts) and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The reason for this is that you will feature the best of both worlds: the lean white meat chicken from the breast along with the juicy flavor from the fat content in the dark meat from the boneless, skinless thighs. I had chicken tenderloins on hand. Keep in mind that if you cook with chicken breasts, you should butterfly them so that they are thin enough to cook so that the internal temperature of the breasts reach 165 degrees without burning the outside of them, which can happen if the breasts are too thick.

Furthermore, if you want to, you can slice and dice up the chicken prior to cooking, but in the past when I have cooked meals similar to this, what happens is that the meat does not brown as well. I cooked the chicken tenderloins first, and then I sliced/shredded them up before mixing them together with the sauce.

I used raw flour tortillas that I bought from Kroger and cooked on the griddle. I believe they taste better, with a higher quality texture, than precooked tortillas, but you can use whichever you would like. Whatever you have at your disposal is a solid general rule if I had to make one for these.

Ingredients Used

  • A couple lbs. of chicken tenderloins
  • 1 stick of salted butter (cut in half)
  • 1 diced yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 habanero pepper, chopped and de-seeded (optional)
  • 1 red bell pepper sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper sliced
  • 1 can of Embasa chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Sazon (I used La Preferida)

Step-by-Step Instructions

1.) After slicing and dicing up the vegetables, fire up two of the burners on the griddle to medium-high heat
2.) Once thoroughly heated (about seven or eight minutes), add one of the halves from the stick of butter and spread it around around before placing each piece of chicken onto the flat top cooking surface
3.) Cook the chicken for around five or six minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature of the respective chicken pieces reach 165 degrees, and place it on a cutting board.
4.) Lower heat to low, add the other half of the stick of butter (spread around, again) and the peppers and diced onions to the cooking surface, occasionally stirring.
5.) Slice up the chicken during this sequence
6.) Turn the heat back up to medium high and add the minced garlic, stirring frequently for about a minute
7.) Re-add the chicken to the mix and liberally season with Sazon
8.) Add the can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
9.) Mix together for about two or three minutes
10.) Add to a serving plate for a bowl. Cover with foil or whatever you have on hand to keep warm
11.) Scrape the griddle surface from anything that was potentially stuck to it
12.) Cook the raw tortillas for about a minute or so on each side
13.) You are ready to eat. Enjoy! Serve with sour cream, guacamole, refried beans and rice, or whatever you would like.

Cooked chipotle chicken fajitas on the Blackstone Griddle

If you decide to give this recipe a shot, and I highly recommend it, let me know what you think in the comments.

Enchilada Tacos with Smoked Beef

Enchilada tacos with smoked beef on the Blackstone Griddle

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

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

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

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

Overall, you are going to want these base ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 enchilada tacos with smoked beef

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

Can You Smoke Burgers?

Can You Smoke Burgers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Limited edition Weber kettle

Using a Charcoal Grill as a Smoker

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

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

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

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

Snake method

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

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

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

Offset smoker

Cheap Offset Smokers

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

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

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

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

22.5" Weber Smokey Mountain
Barrel House Cooker drum smoker

Bullet Smokers and Drum Smokers

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

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

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

With that said, I want to shift gears to this

Expensive Seasonings and Rubs Are Not a Requirement for Great BBQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oven Baked Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

Crispy oven-baked potatoes

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

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

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

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

How to Bake Potatoes With a Crispy Skin

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

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

Use a cast iron skillet

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

Rub the potato with rendered bacon fat

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

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

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

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

Baking the Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.