Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Smoke ’em if you got ’em! (BBQ!)

It’s Smoker Week! (And apparently LOTS of pictures week) I spent some time last month building a terra cotta flower pot smoker à la Alton Brown on Good Eats. I went from Home Depot to Lowes to Taylors to the little Feed ‘n Seed on the corner in search of my parts and pieces:
  • 16" terra cotta pot
  • standard hot plate
  • replacement grill grate
  • metal pie pan
  • 16" round terra cotta planter (This was ridiculously hard to find*)
  • replacement grill temperature gauge
  • bricks and/or planter “feet”
It finally came together with a price tag of around $50. They had a metal smoker at Home Depot for about that price. I could explain why terra cotta is better than metal... heat insulation, blah blah blah - but you know what? Take a couple minutes to watch Alton's video up there and see what he has to say.

On to the build! Once I had gathered everything I needed, I started assembling. The best piece of advice I ran across on the Internet was from Dave Naffziger’s blog post regarding getting the heating element OUT of the smoker itself. A little tricky on the reconnect of the wires through the pot, but otherwise a piece of cake. We want the temperature knob outside where we can adjust it!

Next goes the metal pan with the wood chunks. I used applewood and soaked them overnight. The first time I used the smoker, I skimped on the soaking time and had some flare ups and more smoke than I’d have liked. The grill grate sits nicely in the lip of the pot near the top.

Place the lid on top, stick the temperature gauge in the hole in top and we’re done!

Plug it in and voila! Smoke!

My first attempt at smoking I brined and rubbed a turkey breast with average results. In my opinion, it was too smoky BUT the lessons I learned from this trial run definitely paid off for my hunk o’ pork.
  1. Preheat the smoker! It'll take at least 45 minutes to get to 215˚F.
  2. Don’t short yourself on wood soaking time. The longer the better... overnight won't hurt. You’ll have a slower, longer smoke and there is less chance of a random fire.
  3. Have LOTS of aluminum foil handy. I don’t remember what for, but I know I ran out at 6am and wasn’t very happy about it.
  4. Don’t keep opening the lid. You’ll only let heat out and if air hits that smoldering wood down there.... again with the fire. Not fun.
And without further ado, the pulled pork (ahem- BBQ) that almost made Laura cry...

Pulled Pork BBQ
I used Alton’s recipe for the brine and rub with a couple of adjustments for my tastes. Starting with a 7 pound Boston Butt, I brined it from Wednesday night to Friday morning in a huge container filled with pickling salt, molasses, water, minced garlic and black peppercorns.

When the alarm went off at 5:30am, I got the smoker set up and going and pulled the meat out of the brine to take the chill off. At 6:15 the alarm went off again and I trudged into the kitchen to apply the rub I’d made the night before: ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, onion powder, paprika, garlic powder and a little black pepper. I used already ground spices because that's what I had on hand. Alton grinds his own :P

Ready to go:

At this point the smoker was at temperature, so I added a couple of chunks of applewood, put the meat on and went back to bed! About halfway through the smoke (at about 5 hours), I replenished the wood. At 10 hours I started checking for doneness by trying to pull the meat with a fork. I decided to let it go for one more hour and took it off at the 11 hour mark, wrapped it in foil and let it rest for an hour.

And then the pulling began.... (and initial sampling that made me go “WHOA! That is GOOD!”)

All pulled, chopped and out on the platter. Turns out it didn’t need any sauce at all, so I served my two saucy concoctions on the side along with some Frank’s Red Hot.

Rounding out dinner, we had baked beans (also Alton’s recipe), macaroni salad (Laura’s specialty), and coleslaw for the BBQ, of course. Delish! I honestly couldn’t have hoped for it to come out any better than it did.

Next time Boston Butt goes on sale I’m stocking up my freezer. In the meantime, I’ll be plotting what to smoke next! Beef maybe? Oh and I’d be remiss to not mention dessert: monkey bread and homemade honey ice cream!

*at time of posting, I have since broken the impossible to find lid to my smoker. I know what I’m doing this weekend since I’ve promised my parents BBQ for their birthday dinner!

Really, WHO gets up at 5:30 in the morning to make dinner? Slow cookers are for meals that take all day, aren't day? Millions of cookbooks were based on “fix it and forget it”. Not a single cookbook that I’ve ever seen talks about how to spend ALL DAY making dinner for your friends by fussing every hour with temperatures and wood. Naturally, I rolled my eyes. As far as I was concerned, this was just some quirky idea that was just going to make everything taste like smoke. I have a hard enough time making things on the grill not taste like smoke. Do I really want that on purpose?

Fast forward to noontime. Smoked food smell is wafting through Meredith’s house. Wait, I think SHE smells like the smoker. Oddly, I’m not repelled by it at all. It’s delicious. I was expecting the smoke smell that cigarettes give off. I was pleasantly surprised.

The rest of the process is a blur because I wasn’t going anywhere near that thing. This was her baby – I was staying out of it. I was planning on politely nodding when asked if it tasted good. You can imagine my surprise when I actually got to taste it. It was absolutely delicious. I’m going to be honest with you; it took all I had to wait for everyone to get to her house so I could eat.

I learned a lot from that meal. First, pork butt is not bad. (Meredith’s aside: It’s not the pork’s BUTT! It's its shoulder!) It may not sound like something you want to eat, but made correctly, it’s worth it. Second, barbecue is NOT something you make by turning on the grill. Finally, monkey bread is awesome.

Let it be known that I mentioned wanting to set up a smoker at my house. Let it also be known that I’m not going to do it. I don’t know that I have the patience to wake up early and constantly check temperatures.

Here’s my bottom line: If you have a free day and want to make something that tastes unlike anything else, then by all means go for it. Otherwise, do what I plan to do and request it at Meredith’s house. Now if I could just get her to make me some banana ice cream.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Meatloaf Mania

Some things are difficult to nail down with a recipe.  For example, everyone makes sauce in different ways.  The same applies for meatloaf.  There was no way we were both going to agree on one recipe that we wanted to use.  I have a standard recipe, but I thought that this would be a good time to try a stuffed meatloaf.  My normal meatloaf is a comfort food for me.  I wanted something out of the norm, but not too crazy.  I've seen recipes for meatloaf stuffed with spinach so that's what I looked for.  I found a Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Meatloaf recipe that I wanted to try.  Here's the recipe with my changes noted:

Cheesy Spinach-Stuffed Meatloaf (Pinwheel meatloaf aka Tournade)

1½ pounds lean ground beef (I used meatloaf mix)
¾ cup soft bread crumbs (1/2 cup used instead)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt (I omitted the salt)
⅛ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons ketchup
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (I didn't top the meatloaf with more cheese)

1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, well drained
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (1/3 cup of cheese used instead)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (I used Mrs. Dash Italian blend)
¼ teaspoon salt (Again, no salt - the Mrs. Dash took care of that)
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder

1. Heat oven to 350°. In medium bowl, combine filling ingredients; mix well. Set aside. In large bowl, combine meatloaf ingredients, mixing lightly but thoroughly.

2. Place beef mixture on waxed paper and pat into 14 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread filling over beef, leaving ¾-inch border around edges. Starting at short end, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Press beef mixture over spinach filling at both ends to seal. Place seam side down on rack in open roasting pan.

3. Bake in 350° oven 1 hour. Spread ketchup over loaf; return to oven and continue baking 15 minutes. Top loaf with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with additional Italian seasoning, if desired.

4. To serve, cut into 1-inch thick slices.

Okay, so the rolling of the meatloaf seemed a little odd.  It certainly went a lot better than the Chicken Cordon Bleu rolling.  Once I got the hang of it, the rest was easy.  The next time though, I'd use less spinach.  There seemed to be a lot of it in every bite.  Other than that, I thought the meatloaf was delicious. 

I'm soooo tired! And yet I made THREE meatloaves? oy. I didn't plan very well for this other than having the ground beef thawed and so eventually winged (wanged? wung?) it once I got to the kitchen. I started with a basic mixture of lean ground beef, finely diced onions, minced garlic and a couple of eggs; split that into three bowls and went from there.

To the first bowl I added: some grated Parmesan, Italian breadcrumbs and a spoonful of the red pasta sauce I made last weekend. Formed a simple loaf and topped it the last 10 minutes of baking with a mixture of ketchup, dried minced onion, brown sugar, pepper and dry mustard. To the second bowl I added: diced green chiles, panko breadcrumbs and stuffed the loaf (no rolling- just layered) with roasted red & yellow peppers and some pepper jack cheese. It was topped at the end with salsa.

To the last bowl I added: Worcestershire, onion soup mix, panko and stuffed it with a couple slices of muenster cheese. I topped it with the marsala/mushroom sauce that I'd made yesterday at dinner. All three loaves were served with mashed potatoes and an assortment of roasted veggies.

I actually liked them all. The Italian-ish one was most like my mother's that she used to shape into a heart for Valentine's Day. The beefy, mushroom-y one was just that – bold, rich and paired very well with the potatoes. The Mexican loaf was the most interesting I think – great flavor, I see potential here for something really fun.