WGD Brisket Sauce

Out here in Arcadia, a local group hosts an annual event called the Wild Game Dinner every December. We have a lot of hunters out here anyway, but the WGD is a celebration of our hunting heritage. Over 1500 people are served a variety of wild game dishes, including venison, birds, pork, BBQ brisket, beans, and chili. It’s an impressive show, and takes about three months to prepare.

One of the best kept secrets is the brisket sauce we use. Right here and right now, you are going to see how this tasty sauce comes together.

It’s called “brisket sauce” because it’s not bbq sauce. It’s soupy, almost like tomato soup with a kick. The other main point is that you have to use the drippings from the brisket you are cooking. That’s important so you are able to blend the flavors of your meat with the sauce that’s going on it. The marriage is unmistakable…if you are going to do sauce, this is the way to do it.

What you’ll need:


-3/4 cup of drippings (or as much of the drippings you can get, and filled with beef broth to ¾c

-2 cups of Heinz tomato sauce, brand specific

-1/4 c Worchestershire

-1/4c fresh lemon juice (don’t get the bottled stuff…squeeze it yourself)

-1/3 c apple cider vinegar

-1/3 c brown sugar (dark or light, your choice)

-1 tsp of onion powder

-1/2-1tsp cayenne pepper (your choice…1/2 tsp has a nice kick. Be careful on this, though. It will sneak up on you if you get it too hot)

As you collect the drippings, you’ll have some “stuff’ left over in the juice. Get a metal strainer and run all of the liquid thru that strainer (except the ketchup). You’ll pick up a lot of the flavor by running it thru the strainer, and can smash out the good stuff w/o the pulp.

Start with the drippings. If you don’t have ¾ cup, then supplement with beef broth.


Lemon juice


Apple cider vinegar:


Worcestershire. In Texas, we say “wore-stir-shur”, but the correct pronunciation is “wore-CHEST-uhr-shuhr”. It’s rotted sardines with water and salt, clarified. No shit. The Vietnamese have a similar product called “Nuoc mam” that’s the same thing, but much more fishy. Another topic, another day.


This is our liquid:


Pour the liquid into a sauce pan. Add 2c of ketchup.


Add your onion powder and cayenne (just do 1/2tsp at first. As it blends, add more if you like, but take it easy at first. Don’t ruin the sauce by trying to be tough).


1/3 cup of brown sugar. I’m using light brown sugar here so it’s not so sweet, but dark brown sugar is fine if you like more of molasses flavor. The difference is somewhat negligible.


Heat this over medium heat. We want it hot, but not rolling. If you get it too hot, it will break and separate, and then you’ve got a mess. The consistency we are looking for is runny drips that coat the back of a spoon.


When it gets hot, turn off the heat and let it start to cool.


I love these containers for serving sauce. You can get them for about a buck at Bed, Bath, and Beyond or any other kitchen store. Use a funnel to avoid a mess.


This sauce will be kinda thick, so when you cut the tip off the nozzle make sure you cut it deep so you don’t have to squeeze really hard for it to come out, but you want it restricted enough so the sauce doesn’t just fall out.


If you are going to sauce your brisket, this is the way to do it. WGD Brisket Sauce.

Advertisements

Dad’s Mustard Brisket

Of all the things I cook, the most requested recipe is brisket. As a Texan, it should be required in order to graduate high school to know how to properly cook a brisket. It doesn’t have to be smoked, but right before they hand you a diploma, if you can’t answer “slow and long” to the question of how a brisket should be cooked, they should send you back to class.

My brisket is a world-stopper. You’ve never had BBQ quite like this, and the key is yellow mustard. Not fancy brown or Dijon mustard, but plain ol’ French’s mustard. Here’s my secret, though: This isn’t my recipe. It’s my dad’s. When he first told me how he was doing his brisket, I just about squeezed my eyeballs out of my head squinting at him. Sure enough, though, he was right. He’s right about a lot of things that I challenge him on, but none moreso than mustard brisket. Here’s to you, dad.

I’ve never officially gone thru this procedure before because of one major component, and we might as well tackle it head-on right out of the chute. To properly cook a brisket, you’ve got to dedicate an entire day to doing it. Not a “day” as in “when the sun is up”, rather a full 24 hours. An entire rotation of the friggin Earth. If you aren’t willing to put in the time, sacrifice some sleep, and do this right then don’t bother with it. Go get yourself a nice margarita and rent Brokeback Mountain. When you get started on this, take notes of time and do it right. Don’t come bitching to me if you pull this thing after the sun goes down and it tastes like shit. Not my problem. You’ve been warned.

Your timeline is:

Day 1: Brine for 4-6 hours, up to overnight

Day 2: Marinate overnight

Day 3: Smoking

4-6 hours unwrapped

12-14 hours wrapped

4-7 hours in the cooler

Example:

1) Put the brisket on at noon unwrapped

2) Wrap it at 6pm

3) Put it in the cooler at 7am

4) Serve at noon.

24 hours.

Good so far?  Good.

Now that we have the unpleasantness of the requirements out of the way, let’s get to the basics of Texas BBQ beef. The brisket was just a trash piece of meat until just a few decades ago because no one knew how to cook it right. For reference, picture a delicious bovine:

The brisket is the cut just above the front legs. Think of it as your chest if you were to get down on all fours. Because of where it is, more than half of the entire body weight of the animal sits on this piece of meat. Therefore, it has to be strong, long meat fibers that are filled with fat and connective tissue. In addition, there are three different muscles that come in, and therefore three different meat fiber directions. This makes things really difficult to manage, especially when it comes to cutting the finished roast.

Ranchers would just toss this thing because it was so hard to cook. There’s an entire cap of fat on one side, and all three muscles are separated by  layers of fat and membranes that are really deep and hard to get to before it’s cooked. Even then, you can easily mess up the presentation by cutting it wrong. The direction of the cut is almost as important as how it’s cooked. About 50 years ago, though, ranchers started noticing that their Mexican hands were taking the briskets and making incredible dishes with them. They figured out that what they were doing was cooking it over low heat for a long time in a braise. They took the braised meat and cooked it over dry heat, and the modern Texas BBQ was born.

Now that I’ve officially scared hell out of you for cooking this thing, let’s get things prepped. We’ll need:

-an untrimmed brisket. UNTRIMMED by the butcher, that is. Don’t get a trimmed brisket.

-Bottle of Allegro marinade

-French’s yellow mustard (generic will do; I’m using French’s here so you see it’s not anything special)

-An oven bag

-Your favorite BBQ rub

That’s it. Not a whole bunch to this thing. Your brisket needs to be untrimmed. Competition BBQueers will try to tell you to trim a brisket, but that’s just because they are trying to skip on time. Keep it untrimmed…we are going to need as much fat as we can get. What size?  Hell, I don’t know.  About this big will do:

Doesn’t really matter. When you go to pick it out, what you are going to be looking for is a solid cap of fat on the backside of the brisket (they always put the label on the opposite side because it’s prettier). I had someone tell me one time that they went to Central Market and bought a “prime” brisket. I’m not sure that it even exists. This is meant for trashy cuts of beef, so the sinewy-est, fatty, marbled up slab of brisket you can find is perfect. If you spend more than $2.50/lbs for your brisket, you got taken. Look for it on sale, and buy it when it’s around $1/lbs and freeze it.

Take your brisket out of the plastic and rinse it under water to get off all the extra blood. Let’s examine:

You see the long meat fibers here? They lie just under that membrane on top of the meat. Don’t peel it off…I just want to point out how the meat runs for later. We are going to cut AGAINST the grain when we serve.

I pulled back that membrane a little bit to get a good shot. See how the direction of the fibers curves away? When we start cutting, we’ll need to look for that, and stop when we get to the point where we aren’t cutting against those grains.

The fat cap:

One of my favorite tools is the Reynolds turkey bag. They are just plastic bags that you can marinate/brine your meat in. Take one out, and put your brisket in, with the fat cap side DOWN.

I like to put it into a pan in case there’s a leak in the bag, and there’s always a leak in the bag.

Now, take that Allegro marinade and pour in enough so that it comes up about halfway up the brisket.

Make sure that it’s the fat cap side that’s down, and not the meat fibers. What we are trying to do is use that salt and acid that’s in the Allegro to break down the fat and the muscle fibers around the fat. If you brine this with the meat side down, you are going to turn the meat into mush, and we don’t want that. Seal up the back and put into the fridge for 4-6 hours, up to overnight.

When you are finished, pull it out and lay it into a pan big enough to hold the whole thing. This is key…you are going to be flipping it in just a bit. Start with the fat cap side DOWN.

Get your yellow mustard out and squeeze LIBERALLY all over this thing, and then smear it with your hands so that it’s thick all the way around. Go ahead and rub it in kinda hard into the cracks and crevices where you can get your fingers. I always start mine out right:

Coated:

When you get a good thick layer on it, grab your favorite bbq rub and sprinkle it LIBERALLY all over. You don’t have to use the Arcadian Rub, but you want to make sure you use one with some brown sugar, salt, and spicy cayenne. You know what? Just use the damn Arcadian Rub.

Flip it over and get the other side as well (fat cap back down). DON’T RUB IT. Just sprinkle on top of the mustard. If you’ve disturbed the mustard coating, make sure it’s even and then re-sprinkle to cover.

A close-up:

Now, we need to put this back into the fridge overnight. Don’t skimp. Needs to be overnight. If you put it in unwrapped, though, your fridge is going to smell like this for weeks, so grab a new trashbag (unscented) and put the whole thing in, pan and all. Seal it up and let it sit in the cold.

After a night in the fridge, poke that bad boy’s head out and take a look. The rub has gotten wet with the mustard and has made an incredible coat around the meat. That will be important for the next few hours as we slow smoke this

Close-up:

When you take it to your smoker, make sure you’ve let your smoker go enough so you are regulated to about 225deg constantly. Don’t try to singe this or sear it at first. It’s totally unnecessary, despite what you may hear from BBQ “experts” on tv. Just make sure you have a hard rolling smoke going, and your temp is around 225deg. 250deg at the highest.

I’m using mesquite.  Not pecan and especially not oak, which is good for firewood and that’s about it.  Use mesquite wood on your beef.  I could almost accept someone mixing in some pecan, but it’s not needed.  Just use mesquite.  Stop asking questions.  Use mesquite.

Put it into the grill with the fat cap UP. UP.

There are differing opinions on whether or not you should smoke fat side down or up. The folks who say “down” say that it helps keep the meat from charring. However, it you run your smoker right, it should never char since we aren’t getting above 250deg. Also, if the cap of fat is up, then it will melt down inthru the meat fibers, coating them with the delicious fat and Allegro brine. Does it matter? In the long run, probably not. However, this is how I do it and I know it works. Try it this way and see if it’s not good. If not, do it however you want to do it. This is America, baby.

After 4 hours:

After six hours (with a couple of sweet potatoes thrown on to smoke for dinner):

You notice how black it is? That’s GOOD. We call that “bark” in the BBQ world. It’s the blackened layer right around the outside that has all the seasoning flavor from the mustard mixed with our rub. After six hours, we need to wrap this. You can go a little longer if you like, but I think six hours is plenty.

Get your handy prep table out, and lay two layers of heavy duty foil (the long package). Lift your brisket right out of the grill and onto the foil.

Fold the first layer of foil around the briskets. Fold it TIGHT and do it so that all corners are covered. I start at the bottom, fold across like you are putting a diaper on a baby (old style diaper on a baby, that is).

Do both ends, tucking in each loose piece, pinching them together, and making sure they are sealed up TIGHT.

When you get it all sealed up, a nice fold or pinch will keep it together. Just like a good marriage.

You might have some spots left exposed after the first wrap. No worries..we’ve got three more layers to go. Second layer from the bottom:

After both bottom layers go on, take another large piece of foil and wrap all the way around the top, covering that hole at the top, tuck under, but make sure you fold corners so that it fits like it should. Do that twice. You should have used four sheets of foil so far.

Then you’ve got your tight wrapped brisket, ready to go on for the long burn. Again, make sure you are watching your fire constantly and keeping it between 225-250deg.

Back on it goes. Let’s add up the time so far:

-Allegro brine (4-6 hours, potentially overnight)

-Mustard and rub down (overnight)

-4-6 hours on the smoker at 225-250deg.

Up next, this needs to go for 12-14 hours wrapped at the same temps. Crazy, right? Yeah, just trust me on this.

After the smoker has done it’s work, the pretty foil will go from a nice golden yellow to a dark brown.

After 12-14 hours, take the entire brisket and place it in to your BBQ Cooler and let it rest for up to seven hours.

Do NOT open the cooler or disturb the foil until you are ready to cut.  That’s important.  Let it rest, and the rest is just as important as the other steps.  Don’t skip on this…let it rest.  Up to 7 hours max, no less than 4 hours.

When you are ready to carve, here’s a little trick.  You’ve got the fat side up still, so reach into the cooler and either rip the foil with your fingers or take a knife and cut the foil open.  You should be able to pick it up from underneath and flip it out onto your carving board.  However, get a pan so you can collect the drippings before you flip it out.  I use the same pan that I used to marinate the brisket.  Just tip it so the drippings run out, flip your brisket out onto your board, and then collect as much of the drippings as possible.  If you have some drippings that come out onto the board, go ahead and try to rake those into your pan also.  It will make the carving so much less messy.

Big ol’ slab of beef.

From the bird’s eye view:

When you start to cut, keep in mind how the meat fibers run.  Again, we are going to cut against the grain.  There’s a little secret to make sure you do this correctly.

a) start at the “skinny” end of the brisket

b) start on one corner, where you think you need to start

c) cut off the top of the corner on a bias (or on an angle) to make sure you are starting right.  If you chose the wrong corner, you can easily go to the other corner w/o too much of a do-over.

How do you know if you’ve cut it against the grain?  The part you cut should fall apart, with the meat fibers being really short.

I like to use an electric knife.  Honed steel is good, but don’t foresake the precision of an electric knife here.  Start making about 1/4″-1/2″ slices along that same line that you started on just a bit of a bias.

Excuse the blurriness, but you get the idea.

This is what I’m talking about being “against the grain”.  See the short meat fibers now that seem to fall apart?  That’s what you want.  This will be so tender that the meat will literally fall apart when you try to pick it up.

Here’s your brisket slice, about as whole as you can get it.  It’s ok if it falls apart.  It’s going to be so good and tender, it doesn’t matter if it stays in long slices.

Continue on until you get to the point where the meat fibers begin to turn.  You’ll know you are there when you get to the big thick part of the brisket, and your slices look like they are slanted.  Then, turn the brisket 90degrees and start cutting right across the top, which will now be against the grain.  You’ve got two different muscles in here, but they’ll both be going the same way.

A close-up of the muscle, with a thin membrane separating.

Here are the long meat fibers.  Cut against then so your knife is perpendicular to the muscles.

Close-up, of the slices.

When it’s all sliced up, you have should be able to peel some of the extra fat off and keep it in a pile up at the top.  Plus, you have tons of extras left over.

There’s all the brisket cut up.

That fat still has tons of potential to it.  Let’s not throw it away.

If you take your fat trimmings and put them into a skillet, you can start to render some of the extra fat off.  Brown on both sides for a bit…

Then add a little beef broth or some of the drippings back to the pan and let it suck as much of the fat out as possible.

Then take that hot grease and drippings and pour it right back over the sliced brisket.  Cover it with foil, put it into the oven at 170deg for a few minutes just to keep warm until it’s time to serve.

Presentation on the plate:

In the pan, you’ll have this deliciousness:

I’m not opposed to putting sauce on this, but if you are going to use sauce, let’s use the WGD brisket sauce and not just some sugary sweet crap off the shelf.

That’s it.  My dad’s mustard brisket, cooked for a full 24 hours and about as perfect as Texas BBQ can be.

Bob the Cook’s Pit

One of my favorite things to do in life is to cozy up with a beer on a Texas afternoon and do some outdoor cooking. It’s what Arcadia is all about…sharing what you know and do well with your friends and neighbors. In my case, I love seeing the creations that my fellow Arcadians come up with and the crazy things we make different cookers out of. My buddy down in Madisonville made a smoker out of a barrel; my dad’s fish cooker is made from an old gas water heater; and one of my favorite outdoor cookers is my plowdisc wok. I can do fajitas and breakfast tacos on that thing to feed a small army and/or a group of tailgating Aggies.

Across the country, you’ll find cooking competitions of all sorts: chili, BBQ, steaks, or even full chuck wagon competitions where you have multiple dishes as part of the submission. One of the most well-known of the outdoor cooks in our neck of the woods is Bob the Cook out at Wildcatter Ranch. Bob is an incredible gastronomist. He knows his food and knows his wine. If you ever get a chance to make your way to Young County, Texas, make sure you stop by Wildcatter Ranch and let Bob pair up a bottle of his favorite wine from his extensive wine list with a slab of medium-rare Texas beef and then top it off with his banana pudding in a Mason jar.

Bob the Cook (or “BtC” as we like to refer to him) recently catered in ribeyes to a function in downtown Arcadia. Never passing up an opportunity to sidle up to a genuine Texas cooking rig built and used by someone I regard so highly, I got a chance to snap a few pics and talk to BtC a bit about how he goes about making ribeyes for so many people at once.

It starts with his pit. He made this out of a U-shaped pipe that he had bent to a box. Now, this thing has been used time and time again and had to sit out in the Texas weather, so some of the original features aren’t quite as functional as they once were, but the design is still awesome. BtC used a design idea from the great Joe Allen in Abilene, but put some proper modifications on it to increase efficiency for an outdoor unit.

Here this bad boy is with the lid up:

You’ll notice that the grill grates are on a slant. That’s key for a steak cooking pit so you can adjust the amount of heat on the meat. Steaks with less marbled fat are going to cook much faster than the ones that have tons of flavorful fat, so you want to put them in a cooler spot on the grill or pull them earlier. Also, notice the lip that folds over in the front. That has two functions: first of all, it allows for easy access to the cooking surface as well as for moving the grills to an angle. See the bar on the inside of the lip? You can put the grates on that for an even cooking surface when you are doing things like sausage. The other function it has is that it can be propped up from underneath so you can use it as a flat working surface for your tools or bins holding the meat you are putting on the grill.

The firebox has two entrances in for proper flow, and you can adjust the flow in on both sides. There is a chimney on the back side of the lid, but BtC admits that the design is somewhat flawed. Moreover, the chimney just acts as a stop for the lid so it doesn’t flop all the way back.

You can see how easy it is to get to the working surface from here. BtC puts the beef onto the grates before he seasons them so that the meat warms up and absorbs the seasoning all at once. Also, he keeps the meat that will cook faster on one side so he can properly tell how well done the meat is. The fire is well enough away from the meat so you don’t have crispy char on the steaks.

You can see from the backside that there was a pulley system at one time to raise and lower the fireplate, but years of use and weather rusted out the bottom. BtC had to have an additional plate welding in recently for repair, so the pulley system is non-functional now.

This is BtC’s trailer, specifically built for the cooker. He can haul and move this all by himself, which is remarkable because the cooker itself weighs hundreds of pounds. He took an old axle from a junk pile and made a long tongue on it for counterweight. Then, he welded a stinger that pins onto the cooker itself.

Right by the door on the side cooker, you’ll see a halfpipe. Also, on the trailer you’ll see bars that go across. BtC engineered this so the bars on the trailer go into the halfpipes on the cooker as a latch. With the trailer tongue up in the air, he latches the pin in place on the stinger and can pull the tongue down and attach it to his truck. The tongue is counterweighted perfectly so you have a zero balance right on the axle.

Using rebar and pipe, he engineered a hinge system as well as a poking bar all in one. You can see the bar there…he’ll use that to close the doors on the fire box as well as to reach up with the hook to pull the lid down during the cooking.

Secure pins are chained to the side so you don’t lose them. This is a great shot of that lip in the front.

There you have it…a Texas steak pit, fully mobile and as efficient as you can get for outdoor cooking.

The Smoker Project – Rehabilitating a Backyard Cooker

When you decide that you want to get into cooking as more than just sustenance and more of a hobby, one of the things you have to do is evaluate your gear. You don’t have to have the best gear and you may not have the money to spend on the most expensive equipment, but you need to have the right tools for the job. One of the things I love to do most is to smoke on a good smoker. The flavor of smoke combined with the caramelized flavors from your rubs and the “bark” of the meat is an art. Competitions around the country for smoked meats begin and end with the competitors trying to outdo each other on their rigs, and quite often they rip ideas off from each other to make the most complete cooker possible.

The question I get most from my friends who I cook for and are interested in getting into the hobby is, “What kind of ____ should I get?” People will try to skip a few steps in the learning process and go straight to overbuying for their skill of cooking. You have to spend time learning how things are cooked to really understand what kind of gear to get, although you never want to go with the cheapest thing you can find.

It’s like playing guitar. Sure, you can go out and buy the most expensive guitar you can find, but you won’t really appreciate it if you have no idea how to play a guitar. Most teachers will tell you to get as much as you can afford when you are starting out, then upgrade as you begin to know the difference. Always try different pieces, but most important is to get as good as you can get on your own, then try out other people’s instruments when you can and figure out what you like more/less about yours compared to theirs.

Now then…with all that out of the way, there is something that you should know: despite what hobby you are getting into, you should always try to minimize the amount of work you have to do in order to get the best results.  That goes double for cooking food.  Furthermore, if you don’t mind being a little bit creative and once you get your feet under you, then you should take the opportunity to use what you’ve learned and put it to practice. In regards to any smoker, these are the things you need to have as a constant:

-regulated temperature that’s not hard to control

-good airflow from intake (where the air comes in) thru flue/chimney (the “exhaust pipe”) and out the vent (where the smoke comes out)

-no flames directly on the meat

I don’t care how big or small your smoker is, if you don’t have those three things you won’t have a good experience. There are many other things you need to do, but those three are constants.

In regards to our backyard smoker project, we’ll keep those same things in mind. I had a smoker that was about five years old. I mainly kept it at my house for quick meals and I can use it as a pit because the firebox (where you build the fire) has an area for me to put a grill rack in for direct grilling. However, like any smoker off the rack, it’s not exactly built for heavy-duty use. After a few years, the paint was gone and rust sat in. Sometimes meals turned out good, sometimes they didn’t, mainly because it’s hard to control temperature on a smaller rig.  If you are handy with a welding rod, you can do some amazing things.  So, off to the Arcadian Ranch we go to do some metal fabrication.

This is what we are working with:

It’s just your standard smoker. This one is manufactured by a company called New Braunfels, and I think it came from Academy for $150. Nothing expensive…just a typical little smoker that definitely has its place in the world.  When you open it up:

You have decent access to the grill, which is actually pretty good sized. You can put a whole brisket in there and probably a rack or two of ribs at one time. That’s crowding it, though because:

The hole that goes to the firebox lends itself to direct flames on the meat. Direct flames create carbon, which is NOT GOOD TO EAT. A closer look at the firebox and the hole that goes to the smoking chamber (where you put the meat) shows the inefficiency of the design:

I took one of the grill grates off so you can see. The hole is so big that once you get a fire going, there’s nothing to stop the fire from attacking your food. Also, note that ash and cinders that are picked up in the airflow will be carried directly into the smoking chamber without anything to slow it down. Ash on food is NOT GOOD TO EAT.

The firebox design is pretty good, all things considered. You have a hinged door, a nice long handle to move the smoker, and a way to control your airflow.

Speaking of airflow, let’s go ahead and look at the basic design flaws that we are trying to remedy. First of all, airflow is key when you are trying to smoke. One of the basic principles that people fail to learn early on when taking on the hobby is how to make the damn thing work. You have to open up the vent (where the smoke comes out) and adjust the intake (where the air goes in) to regulate the temperature. Never, ever, evereverevereverevereverEVER close down the vent on the top. Creating an area that has stagnant airflow will result in building up a creosote, and creosote is NOT GOOD TO EAT. This particular smoker is originally designed so the air flows like this:

That’s a great design if you want to be able to get this thing fire engine red and cook the ever living shit out of anything within about a five foot radius. The suction from the intake is so strong you can actually feel it if you put your hand down there. As well, the air almost feels like it’s being propelled by a fan coming out of the vent. That’s just not what we are looking for if we want to keep our temp around 225-250® for 6-20 hours at a time. What we want to do is keep the good airflow but minimize the exposure to flame. To do this, we are going to need to put a plate inside the smoking chamber right under the grills over that giant hole. We want the airflow to be more like this:

This will:

-allow us to keep the temperature down (much lower than before)

-keep good airflow to reduce the risk of creosote

-eliminate the food in the smoking chamber from direct flames

Boom. That’s our design. It’s the design that any smoker should have. You can add on modular pieces, like a warming box or even another stack so that it’s easier to get the fire started to begin with, but we want the smoke to travel under the grill for heat and then across the meat for flavor and then out as soon as possible.

Let’s start with the plate running across the bottom. I didn’t take pictures of the welding itself, but you could imagine how hard it is to weld on thin metal that’s rusty, especially when you are welding it to brand new sheet metal. There are actually two pieces of sheet metal here that we’ve overlapped for strength. By placing the sheets directly under the lip of the smoker, we’ll have built in stability. As well, we need to tack a few spots along the side to keep it up. You could put in a brace underneath for stability, but once the weld should hold them in place. There won’t be any weight on them other than the drippings from the meat.

As well, we need to put a level on the plate and make sure that it’s tilted down towards the hole where grease falls out. Otherwise, you’ll have excess buildup that could create a flame.

Once we get the first plate on, we’ll slide the other one on and attach it both to the smoker body itself as well as the first plate we put down.

It doesn’t have to be air tight, but it does need to direct the airflow down the chamber as well as keep flames from licking the bottom of the food.

I have to move that chimney over to the other side of the smoker chamber. I stuck a piece of cardboard up to the hole from the inside and traced the hole with a pencil. Then, I cut the hole out and cut a hole into the chamber on the exact same spot on the opposite side of the back of the smoke chamber.

Now, I need to seal up the original chimeny hole.  I just took another piece of sheet metal and cut it into halves, putting one section on the outside and one on the inside, making sure they covered the hole completely.  Using the same bolt holes as before, I bolted the sheets on.

That creates the perfect path for smoke/air to flow so that I achieve my three constants of not being able to control my heat easily, not having stagnant air, and not having flame ups.  Once it’s all finished, I took a product called Ospho and coated the outside.  That kills the rust and it’s now ready for high heat paint.  (The two pictures above are post-Ospho)

After the paint cures for a couple of days, then go ahead and fire it up and get it hot.  With a spray bottle of oil, cover the outside and let it season.  Same on the inside…you need to spray it down when it’s hot with oil from time to time to make sure it keeps its season.  Once it’s seasoned, you can go ahead and cook on it.

There she is…my little backyard smoker.  I will add some other modifications down the road, like a more stable brace and bigger wheels, but as for now it’s ready and functional.  As they say in the Army and in prison:  smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Texas Prairie Martini

There’s a part of me…a rather LARGE part of me…that loves a nice cold glass of liquor. The best alcoholics choose vodka as their boisson de choix, and who am I to argue with the experts?

There’s nothing like an ice-cold martini. Some prefer the Xmas tree lingering taste of gin, some like a little bit of vermouth; it all depends on the mood and most importantly depends on the drinker. That being said, there’s an equal if not greater part of me that’s North Texas white trash pedigree with a palatte for food that is hard to describe to most normal humans. We like our taco burgers, our Pittsburg Hot Links, and our pickled eggs. You put the two together and you have this incredibly dynamic mix of either delicious cocktail greatness or just a country washboard glass of goodness.

Up north of the Blackland Prairie where I grew up is the beautiful town of Muenster, Texas. If you want to throwback to the best of anything north of Dallas, you’ll find that this little town has it all. It’s a German town of about 1,500, and these people keep their town as clean as they can. There are two schools, one 2A school and one Catholic school (Sacred Heart ISD). The two schools are literally across the street from each other. Muenster hosts their annual Germanfest celebration, a half-concert/half-food festival in the last week of April every year. We don’t miss it in our family…I think we look forward to it more than we do Christmas. If you get a chance, you should make a day or even a weekend out of Germanfest in Muenster, Texas.

In downtown Muenster, there’s my favorite grocery store on the planet: Fischer’s Meat Market. Not only do they have a great selection of beer, wine, and Affiliated Foods groceries (the gears in any white trash family in north Texas), they have an incredible butcher counter (the back part of the store is also a slaughterhouse where you can take your beef to be dressed out), fresh German bakery items, and an entire row of canned/jarred food items that any north Texan would fall all over him/herself over. You can get apple butter, Hot N Spicy mustard, pecan pie in a jar, or any type of jelly you can think of including jalapeno jelly, muscadine jelly, or peach preserves. Right in the middle of this goodness is one of my favorite things in the world…pickled eggs. And not just any type of regular old pickled chicken egg; they have pickled quail eggs. This is the inspiration to this drink: leaning back on Lake Nocona on the Texas Prairie and sucking one of these down is as close to nirvana as possible (without the heroin).

First of all, to make a proper martini, you’ve got to chill the glass. Fill a martini glass with ice and then water and let it sit for a few minutes.

 

In the meantime, let’s review the ingredients list:

In that Aggie pub glass, we’re gonna throw in a few cubes of ice, three fingers of vodka, and another finger of the olive juice. That’s a pretty dirty martini…you can cut down on the olive juice if you prefer it to be sweeter and less olivey. What is a finger? Hold your finger up to the side of the glass and fill it up to the top of your finger. Then dump it all into the silver shaker, cap with the pub glass and shake three or four times to get it all mixed together. Dump out the ice water in the martini glass and clean out the extra water. Strain the vodka into the glass.  If it’s short, pour a bit more vodka into the glass, but don’t worry about stirring…that will come later.

Now comes the fun part. At Central Market, you can find a white cheddar called Isle of Mull. It’s incredibly sharp, but absolutely delicious. Take a bamboo skewer and run a couple of pickled eggs onto it. Then break off a hunk of cheese, and then top it off with a single olive. Break off the extra part of the skewer, but leave just enough to be able to hang onto it. Holding the broken end of the skewer, swirl the cocktail swizzle around in the vodka a couple of times to mix in the extra vodka (if necessary) and then serve with it across the rim of the glass (so the cheese doesn’t fall apart).

Voila…a Texas Prairie Martini, the perfect white trash cocktail and an awesome way to enjoy your cold liquor.

Trav’s Corner: Speckled Trout Tacos

One of the great things about being a food junkie is you get to find other food junkies and learn how to really cook things right.  Our S. Texas buddy, Travis, is a REAL foodie; a bona fide professional chef who left the trade for a normal job.  We’ve invited him to share some of his favorites from time to time here on AE.

——————————————————————————————

My corner of Arcadia is on the beach at South Padre Island. We’ve got a little place on the bay in Port Isabel with a dock and we keep an underwater light there that comes on at night to attract speckled sea trout. Not only are these fun to catch, but they’re also real good eating. My 7 year old son likes to catch a couple every night. We keep them for trout tacos. Here’s how I do it.

First, you’ve got to filet the fish. Start by laying the fish on the cleaning station with his back towards you.

 

Lift up the side fin and position your filet knife right next to the fin with the back of the knife at a diagonal towards the head:

 

Cut straight down to the backbone, and then turn the knife so that it cuts along the backbone.

 It’ll be tough at first as you’ll have to cut through some ribs, but after you get through that, it’ll go real easy all the way to the tail. Some people like to leave a piece at the end attached to the tail to make it easier to skin, but I prefer to cut it all the way off. Next you’ll want to remove the ribs. Place your knife right along the rib line and cut down at an angle, following the rib bones.

 

 

To get the skin off, lay the filet flat against your cutting surface, skin side down. Holding your knife flat, start at the tail end and cut through a little piece of meat to the skin.

 

Hold onto this piece with one hand and move the knife back and forth with the other. Let the knife do the work. Don’t try to push the knife along, and don’t pull the skin. This takes practice, but you can just trim off any skin you miss. Now turn the fish over and repeat.

 After you wash them off, you’ve got two nice filets. The next step is seasoning. I could put together some bad ass blend, but Tony Chachere already did:

 

 

Sprinkle this stuff on liberally, and then the filets go into a hot nonstick pan with canola oil. Cook over high heat until browned and then turn over and do the other side:

Note: searing with Tony’s can result in some pretty caustic fumes. Make sure your vent hood is on (assuming it vents to the outside) or make sure your kitchen is well ventilated. Once the filets are browned on both sides, remove from the pan and place on a paper towel or rack to drain.

While they’re draining, heat a tortilla in a dry pan until warmed through. I like Mission multigrain tortillas with this for health reasons (and cause they’re really good), but you can use corn or flour or whatever.

Once you’ve got all the tortillas warmed up (two filets makes about 6 tacos) you can start assembly. Break off a piece of filet long enough to cover the tortilla lengthwise. Next, spoon on some Greek yogurt:

 

 

This is some good stuff, and you can use it like sour cream. Next, squeeze some lime juice on there and start adding toppings. Here’s one with tomato, avocado and sprouts, but you can go with what you like here, including cabbage, peppers, onion, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, etc.

 

 

Now sprinkle on your favorite hot sauce and go to town. I usually serve with rice and beans.

Special note: you inland types can sub bass or catfish for the trout. Tilapia will do in a pinch. Just go with white fleshed fish and you should be fine.

Big Red Ribs

If I have my choice of bbq, it’s going to be ribs. The meat is awesome, they are fun to cook, and you can chew on the bones when they are cooked right. Brisket feeds more people and is much easier to prepare, but ribs are what BBQ is all about. That being said, you can’t just throw a rack of ribs on the smoker and smother them with bbq sauce and expect good ribs. The best ribs are cooked for a long time with a bit of care.

There are three types of pork ribs. If you picture a butchered pig:

You can see the ribs attached to the spine directly under the loin, or the “backstrap”. Those are baby-back ribs.  A lot of people get confused there because they think “babyback” is the operative word, as if the back part is “baby” or from a young pig. Actually, it should read as “baby back-ribs”, meaning that those ribs are back ribs (i.e.-contain part of the spine) and are small (“baby”). Those are the most lean and the most expensive. The next portion of the rib bones (you if you follow along the rib secion) you get the spareribs. Those are the ones we are going to eat because they have a lot of connective tissue and take smoke really well. For the record, the last part is the countrystyle ribs, which are really meaty and cut across the bone instead of with the bone. The layer of meat that lays directly on top of the country-style ribs is the part of the pork that they cut for bacon, which is the “pork belly”.

Prep

A rack of spareribs needs to be prepared or you’ll get some tough stuff. This is what we are looking at:

This is the backside of the ribs, or the concave side. These need to be trimmed. There is a flap of meat right in the middle of the rack that needs to be taken off:

As well, you need to trim off the meat at the bottom of the rack:

Both of those trimmings should be kept and cooked. They aren’t ribs, but they are delicious, so you can marinate them and cook them at the same time as the ribs. They are good testers as well so you can tell how the meat is cooking.  Now, you HAVE to remove the silverskin on the concave side of the ribs. The best way I’ve found to do this is to use one of my probe thermometers. Stick the thermometer under the skin, pull it away, then peel the skin off. That’s important so you aren’t trying to eat it from the ribs when they are cooked.

I like to wash the rack at this point under cool water just to rinse off the blood and juice that it was packaged in.  Then, pour Big Red soda on it up to about halfway up the pan, squeeze half a lemon, cover with saran wrap and put it in the fridge for a few hours, potentially overnight.

That might be the white trash in me talking, but I’m a Big Red fan, especially the stuff made in Dublin with cane sugar. The soda adds the sugar that the pork needs for flavor as well as a brine because there is so much sodium in soda. As well, the lemon adds the acid that the marinade needs to start breaking down the meat fibers to be tender.

Rub

There are two types of rubs in bbq…dry and wet. We use the wet rub on the brisket, but we are going to use a dry rub on this because there is a higher surface-to-mass ratio. The wet rub will permeate the meat, but the dry rub will season just the surface, which is what we want…sweet, carmelized outside and a tender inside. That’s balance; Taoism in food.

1/4 cup light brown sugar (pack it in good)

3 tbls pepper

4 tbls ks

1/4 cup paprika (get sweet paprika, not smoked)

1 1/2 tbls garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne powder

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

Mix all those ingredients together well with your fingers in a bowl. That’s your BBQ rub, and it’s universal for anything you want to BBQ. If you want more heat, throw some red pepper flakes in or a bit more cayenne. Also, if you want a slightly sweeter flavor, you can go 1/2 onion powder with your garlic powder. You can store it in a ziploc for a couple months as well.

After you let the ribs marinate in the Big Red for 1/2 a day to a day, take them out and blot the surface dry with a paper towel. Don’t go overboard and try to soak up all the juice…just get the pools of juice out of there.

Take a handful of rub and cover both sides. You don’t have to have a huge layer, but you can taste the rub and see that it’s not overpowering, so make sure you get good coverage on both sides as well as the ends. The bone marrow takes seasoning very well and is good to eat. Don’t forget about the trimmings as well.

Wrap the rack back up and let it sit in the fridge again, up to a day. I like to leave it overnight, but you’ll want to go at least a couple of hours min.

Smoke

Straight mesquite is going to be a bit harsh for this, so I like to mix pecan in for the smoke. Use mesquite to get your smoker hot, then add wood at a 2:1 ratio, pecan to mesquite. Don’t let people tell you that oak is good for this. Be a real man and use mesquite. You’ll need to keep the heat at 225-250 for this one, and let’s go with a 3-2-1 smoking routine: 3 hours on the smoker unwrapped, 2 wrapped in foil (double layers of heavy duty foil and don’t put the creases down or the juice will fall out), 1 hour wrapped in the cooler.  Depending on the size of the rack or how your heat fluctuates, you may need to increase to a 4-2-1 or even a 4-3-1.  What you are looking for is to be able to grab onto the end of a rib bone, jiggle, and have the rib bone come out with little effort.  Once the connective tissue melts down, this should be an easy feat.

Put the ribs concave side down (that’s the side we pulled the silverskin off of). As the rack cooks, the concave will relax because the connective tissue next to the bone will melt into the meat. You’ll want to put the rack away from the fire because the bone will burn really quickly if you aren’t careful. With five hours of smoke time, the ribs will have ample heat/time to cook so don’t worry about that. Again, don’t forget the trimmings…throw them right on top of the rack of ribs and let them cook. They have some fat, so the fat will melt into the meat.

After 3-4 hours, you should have a nice bark around the edges (but not scorched) and a nice red-brown color to the meat.

At this point, go ahead and wrap it up with heavy duty foil.  Wrap it twice and make sure the juices can’t drip out.

You’ve got another 2-3 hours at 225-250 to let these cook in their own juices…a rib confit, so to speak.

This is one of the most beautiful sights in the world…hours of smoke turn the aluminum gold. I think it may be the work of God.

At some point, you’ll need to CAREFULLY unwrap the rack just enough to get access to the bone so you can do your jiggle test.  If you spill any of that juice, I swear to you I’ll come to your house and cut your hair at the scalp with my pocketknife.  DON’T do it.

After the rack passes the jiggle test, then the ribs need a good hour to three hour rest in a cooler.  Take them directly (still wrapped in foil) from the heat and into a cooler.  Don’t open the lid until you are ready to cut/serve.  They will stay hot in the cooler, trust me.  Whatever you do, don’t open the cooler for at least an hour. DON’T do it.

Take the ribs out, cut one of the ends of the foil right next to the rack and pour the juice out into a bowl.  You should be able to squeeze the rack right out of the foil pouch now, so lay it up on a cutting board and cut them right in the middle between each rib (or two, depending on how many people you are serving). They are ready to eat, but if you want you can toss them in the juice.  If you want them extra gooey and kinda sugary like one of those sissy Kentucky fellers, then coat them with your favorite BBQ.  These are good enough without any sort of sauce.  If you go with sauce, try to do one on your own or try one without a whole bunch of sugar, like Stubb’s (which is my favorite bottled bbq sauce).

Tah. Dah. Big Red Ribs.