Wednesday, December 30, 2009


On day three of a chest-cold beatdown. Thinking I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel finally.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas

I hate to use the cliché, but I lead a charmed life.

It’s this time of year that always gets me thinking about this. For every little thing that comes my way, there are thousands of challenges I have been fortunate enough not to have to confront. There’s a lot of time I forget that. I’m not saying that I routinely have pity parties or anything; I’m just saying that I often neglect to think of all the good things I have.

While most people take Thanksgiving to write out their “I am thankful for” lists, it’s Christmas that gets me really thinking about it. Because, while I still have some ambiguous attitudes about religion, I do believe that we were given a tremendous gift in our Savior. That reminds me of the many other gifts I have been and am being given.

My family. I could never, in my wildest dreams have ever imagined being blessed with such a wonderful wife and three amazing children. I never planned it. It was given to me and I can think of no more wonderful gift than my family. My parents and brother, my cousins and in-laws – I could not choose better people to call family.

My country. I joined the Army in 1994. I served until December 2003. When I joined, I wasn’t thinking about doing my patriotic duty, I was thinking about how I could secure a decent life for myself and my soon-to-be spouse. What I didn’t realize is how innate patriotism was to me. I grew up in a very America-centric household (though I didn’t really comprehend that most of the time) and I am so thankful for that. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to serve my country in the capacity of a soldier and I’m glad that I get to continue to do so in my capacity as a civil service employee. I don’t just believe that this is the greatest country on the planet, I believe we are blessed.

The many things that have happened that prove to me that someone is out there watching over me and my family. Too many things to mention, but they include my job, my home, our friends, and the way that situations always seem to work out regardless of how much we worry about them.

It’s just a special time of year. A time energized by the joy of children and our belief in the inherent goodness of mankind. I hope we don’t lose any of that – joy, belief or goodness. They sure seem to be easy things to overlook lately.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lost comments

Haloscan went to a pay system. I lost all my old comments until I figure out how to import them back into Blogger - it that's even possible.

UPDATE: Apparently, I can import old blog entries saved in xml, but not comments. Darn.

Further Food Adventures: Ribs!

Since my last time firing up the grill, I’ve done some research. I wasn’t entirely pleased with how my brisket turned out (though I have been told repeatedly by my wife that I doth protest too much), so I was looking for ways to better control the temps in my grill. Through my many Google searches, I ran across the Minion Method. This single, simple process is probably the greatest thing a charcoal smoker has ever had happen to it.

But the Minion Method was created for a Weber Smoker Mountain, not for a barrel-style grill like I have. So I had to come up with an idea of how to apply the method in my situation. I also had to have an excuse to cook. While I wanted to tackle another brisket, I was also craving some ribs. In a somewhat funny coincidence, I was asked by some friends if I wanted to cook some ribs for a going away dinner last night. I had my excuse! I just needed to focus on execution. I took Friday off to prepare them.

Now, on to the preparation:

Baby backs were the menu item this time. I have no preference when it comes to the cut of ribs, but I do prefer pork over beef. However, our friends did the shopping and I didn’t specify which kind. This is what she bought. I was quite pleased.

I looked at a lot of different sites about a lot of different styles of meat preparation. A common theme seemed to be to rub the meat with a light coat of mustard (though there were variations aplenty). I used regular old yellow mustard and glopped it on rather thick. One note here, if you’re going to rub your meat with mustard USE GLOVES! My hands were yellow for hours.

The mustard’s primary mission is to provide a nice sticky substance for the rub to adhere to the meat. Now, I’ve used rubs for many years and have done plenty of ribs and shoulders doing nothing other than applying the rub directly to the meat. I find that the mustard does let the rub stick the meat much better. However, when you use a rub directly on the meat, there is a little penetration. Here, the rub forms more of a bark. I guess it has a lot to do with preference. Having done both now, I will always be using this method. I liked it that much.

I did stub my toe a little when putting certain spices in the mix. I was a bit heavy handed adding some Tony Chachere’s and chili powder. It was too spicy for some palates though it was by no means what I would call a spicy rub. It was just over the edge of mild but well below what I think of as spicy.

After getting the racks rubs, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and foil and let them sit in the fridge overnight.

Bing, mentioned in the comments of my brisket post that he wasn’t too familiar with the innards of my style grill. So here’s a crappy pic of the inside. The coal grate below can be raised and lowered by a crank, there are vents in the coal area on both sides and on both sides of the lid. You can see from the indentation in the coal grate I always build a fire on the right-hand side. I never fill the coal grate entirely, I can cook directly over the coals on that side, then pull the meat to the far left for indirect cooking. It’s a good system for grilling, but most often too hot or too uncontrollable for long smoking. Until now, that is!

The Minion Method was created for the Weber Smokey Mountain vertical smoker and has been adopted by many to use in a lot of situations, but I didn’t find anything by anyone who’d used one in a barrel grill kind of environment. I knew that my main problem was airflow. There’s just too much of it in the grill and I had to find a way to cut it down. My first thought was to use my cast iron Dutch oven as the coal pan. The problem here is that it would cut down on the air flow too much. I thought that maybe I would just build my fire as normal, directly on the grate, and hope that the Minion Method would compensate. Eventually I figured that I would create a foil “basket” for the coals, with some air holes punched in the bottom. That way I still got my air flow, but it was choked back a bit. As normal, I used my Dutch oven as a water pan/fire break.

I also deviated from my normal style of wood use. I have been using chips in a cast-iron wood box for a long time but switched to chunks for this burn. I chose three fist-sized chunks (using hickory only because I couldn’t find anything else at Walmart) and I did put some apple chips in there as well.

The biggest thing I added to my grill for this cook was to buy a rib rack. I can’t believe I hadn’t done this before now. I was able to cook these six racks of ribs in the space two-and-a-half would normally take. I also decided to smoke a chuck roast just to have some beef on hand as well. Notice how close that beef is to the fire. I had concerns, but everything turned out fine.

It took a while for the temp to get above 200 (the temp at which I put the ribs on the grill). Eventually it hit the 225 area (probably about 45 minutes after putting the ribs on the grill) and sat at 250 for a good long time. The highest the fire ever climbed was 275 and it sat there for about an hour. Closing down some vents helped control the temp. I watched this gauge neurotically – probably checking it every 15 minutes or so.

To be honest, I never expected to have such good temperature control. It shocked me, in a good way. The best thing was that I got a good, long burn out of this. I put the ribs on around 9 a.m. and pulled them around 3:30 p.m. I added about 15 unlit coals about 1 p.m. I also basted them every 30-45 min. with apple juice and water. I sauced the ribs about 45 min before I pulled them off the grill. When they were done, I wrapped them in foil and put them in a towel-lined cooler for about an hour.

When I cook without the foil using the “normal” way of lighting coals, I start with half a bag or more and wind up adding coals about every two hours. I used less than half a bag and got six-and-a-half hours of cook. Just amazing. I’m anxiously waiting getting a Weber Smoker and getting the 12-to-15 cooking times I’ve read about.

The final result was quite good – tender, smoky and flavorful. Of course there are always things to learn. Here’s what I got out this cook:

1. Use a simpler rub. More paprika, less cumin, low to no Chachere’s or chili powder.
2. Make a sauce entirely at home. I started with a base of Kraft Original and came up with a good sauce adding apple juice and Worcestershire, but I’m pretty sure an entirely home-made sauce would have come out better.
3. Less hickory. Three fist-sized chunks was too much. I personally like the flavor, but I understand that it’s considered too smoky by many people. I need to locate apple chunks and do two apple and one hickory next time.
4. Not a rib note, but don’t use a chuck roast. The chuck roast just wasn’t a good one for the smoker. It required a good, sweet sauce after the smoke to be really good. Without the sauce, the beef’s flavor just wasn’t all that good. It was plenty tender – texture-wise it was where I wanted my brisket to be at my last cook.

Good cooking, everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sad and funny

Last night we went to see The Wizard of Oz play at the Orpheum Theater here in Memphis. It was a great time. Bobo, our four-year-old boy, was very good for the show. He hit his wall after intermission though. Even with that, he still acted well - just laid down on J-mom.

The wee hours of the morning were a different story, though. Bo woke up very early full of snot and crying. He came into our room to sleep because he wasn't feeling well. An hour or so later he woke up crying and says, "The teacher told me I had to get rid of my dog!"

We consoled him that it was just a bad dream and that our dog, Allie, isn't going anywhere. He fell back asleep. J-mom and I had a good laugh afterwards. After all the things that you could be scared about in the Wizard of Oz - the Wicked Witch, flying monkeys, creepy short people - he's worried about giving up his dog.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Disappointing food post about awesome food

Last week I smoked an awesome brisket. Why disappointing though? Because while I started the process thinking I would photograph it and make a big food post a la Bingley, I forgot to take pictures of the cooking and the final product. So, what we have here is the prep.

We held our annual office Christmas party last Friday. We had a summer pool party and I brought some pulled pork. That went over quite well, so this time I decided to step it up a bit and bring a brisket.

I put off my brisket buying until the Tuesday before the event. Rather than shop the big chains, I went to my local meat shop. We have several in the greater Memphis area, but there’s one just down the street from the Navy base and just a few miles from my home. The only brisket they had in stock was a 14 pounder! I initially balked, but I wound up going ahead and picking it up. Turns out that was good idea.

The thing I was most pleased with is that my butcher carried the entire packer’s cut. That way the “flat” and the “point” of the brisket were intact.

Is $2.19 a pound good? I didn’t do any price comparisons. I like supporting my local meat guys and I do know that I get a good deal on most of their other products. They’ve got great deals on steaks.

Anyway …

I decided to marinade the beast rather than rub. I do both and, honestly, it’s all about the same as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to roasts, rubs impart little in the way of flavor beyond the outside crust and marinades don’t penetrate very far into the meat. So, unless you’re injecting or using a vacuum marinade system, your real flavor comes from the smoke.

So, I did a marinade. As you can see, that’s quite a group o’ stuff I got going on there. That’s quite atypical of most of my cooking the past few years. I’ve been on a simpler is better kick, but I messed around with a bunch of stuff a couple of weeks ago for some steaks and they came out so kick ass that I attempted to repeat the marinade for the brisket. I can’t give you a recipe because it’s all “Well, that looks about right” as far as adding stuff and amounts go. I start with a base of vegetable oil, add some red-wine and balsamic vinegars. I add a bunch of Worcestershire sauce, a little soy, some garlic powder (that Kirkland stuff from Costco is awesome), some chopped, dried onions, some Chachere’s, a good bit of cumin and whatever other Southwestern seasoning I can find. Somehow the flavors combine to create a unique but not overpowering blend. After getting the base ingredients together, I fill up the rest of a gallon pitcher with warm water and let it sit.

In the end, I think I should have used a rub instead.

I then got out the brisket to trim the fat.

You can see there’s a monster fat cap on this sucker. There are a couple of schools of thought on fat caps and briskets. Some people think you should just leave it all on. Others believe you should trim it down to about 1/4-inch all around. I did a lot of surfing to get some different opinions and most of the guys who cook competitively trim. I read one guy who said: “All that extra fat just makes it harder for the smoke to penetrate.” That comment alone sold me.

However, you don’t want to trim off too much fat. That fat is one of the greatest things about the brisket. For a “low and slow” style cook, that fat serves to baste the meat.

I easily trimmed two pounds of fat off this bastard, and yet there’s plenty of fat still left to baste and flavor.

Unless you have a huge fridge, getting a monster piece of meat like this into a container and then in the fridge is a nigh-impossible task. So, I took a page from Alton Brown and used a disposable cooler. He did an episode about brining a pork shoulder for BBQ. I didn’t want to brine, just marinade, but the principle is the same. I put the roast in the foam cooler.

Poured in the marinade.

Then covered with enough ice and cool water to completely cover the meat. I let this set for about 24 hours. The cooler sat in my cool garage. When I went to take it out the following evening, hardly any of the ice had melted. This experience and one we had with brining a turkey for Thanksgiving in the same manner has given me a lot of faith in this method.

What you’re not getting to see; the rest of the story:

I have a long grill similar to a barrel style or a large gas grill (This, but in all black). Ideally, it’d have a separate fire box on the side, but it doesn't. So I have to build a fire off to one side and put the meat across the grill. This indirect method of cooking produces very good results, but it’s hard to control the temperature. However, the night I cooked, it was in the mid-to-low 20s and the grill never got above 300 degrees. That was awesome, but still too high to cook a brisket for long periods of time.

I cooked the meat on the grill for about four-and-a-half hours. I used apple and hickory chips for smoke with fantastic results! It was first time using apple and it has earned a place on my permanent barbecue items shelf.

After cooking on the grill, I pulled the brisket and wrapped it in tin foil. I placed it in a large basting pan and finished cooking it in the oven at 230 for about another 14 hours. Figuring 1.5 hours for every pound of meat, accounting for the fat I trimmed, this was just about right. After the cooking time, I pulled it from the oven, drained juices, re-wrapped the meat and put it in a towel-lined cooler to rest for about an hour.

The towel-lined cooler is another trick I picked up from the internets. It’s a wonderful, amazing thing. I kept pork roasts warm and tender for over three hours at Thanksgiving. Some cookers have claimed to keep their meat warm for over five hours using this method. It’s truly a great technique for letting meat rest for extended periods without losing much temperature.

The results were quite good. I received nothing but compliments for it, but I feel the meat was overcooked. It was fall-apart tender and some of the smoke flavor had cooked out. Brisket should be fork-tender – you should be able to slice it easily and it should not fall apart. But mine did. I think if I’d cooked it at 210 or 215 in the oven and reduced the cooking time about two hours, it would have come out better. I could have put it in the towel-lined cooler where it would have kept warm for quite some time.

The last thing I did was to make a sauce out of the brisket juice. This was entirely a swag. I took about 1/2 cup of the juice (which was basically just rendered fat) and a cup of beef broth (cheater-type, I used a bullion cube), a mess load of ketchup (two cups? Three?), some brown sugar and some other spices. I can’t even remember what all I put in there, but my main goal was to cut a good balance between sweet and savory. The juices and broth made quite a savory base and the sugar added plenty of sweet. I did add a bit of soy sauce, a bit of Worcestershire … I can’t remember what else. The result was similar to a barbecue sauce. Very good.

J-mom really wants me to do another. We recently bought a bunch of meat from an acquaintance who had one of their own cattle butchered. I didn’t get a brisket out of the deal, but I have a few shoulder roasts. I think I could get similar results to the brisket. We’ll see. I’ll remember to take more pictures next time and try to use an actual camera and not my phone.

Friday, December 11, 2009


That’s it. Fuck it all. Bring them home.

If you’re not going to get the fuck out of the way and let them do their jobs, let’s just quit pretending.

I’m talking about this story I heard on NPR this morning.

Basically, the gist is that while there are 30K more servicemembers heading into Afghanistan, the rules of engagement have been changed to “reduce civilian casualties.”

I can’t even begin to explain how frustrated and upsetting this is.

Rules of engagement exist precisely to reduce incidents of civilian casualties and to protect our soldiers from breaking any of the laws involving armed conflicts. This new policy being instituted by Gen. McChrystal is not going to, in any way, make our fighting men and women execute their jobs with any more vision or clarity than they have in the past. It is going to make them overly cautious and paranoid about breaking rules. It is going to put them in danger. It is going to get our troops killed.

This is political posturing. I’m not going to hypothesize about who’s responsible for this. I have my ideas, but it’s really not important. The fact is that these stricter regulations are already stifling operations.

So, again, I say, if you’re not going to let our guys do their damn job, bring them the fuck home to refit. This is fucking ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Waxing nostalgic

I was thinking about WWII earlier which led me to think about my time on Okinawa. I did a Google Map search to see if I could find our old apartment building. Sure enough: I used to live right where the green arrow is.

We could literally walk downstairs and be on the beach in under a minute. We fell asleep to the sounds of waves crashing. It was by no means a large place, and it had its fair share of faults, but it was also amazing.

In this below image, you're looking south. The apartment in the linked map is just north of this, off the image. Torii Beach is the beach side of Torii Station, where I worked. One of the best beaches on the South China Sea-side of the island.

Losing that landline feeling

We've been wanting to get rid of our landline for some time, but our cell reception in our house is poor. We've got a VOIP line right now, but the special price we had on it is going to go tits up soon. I'd rather not pay the monthly fee.

I’m researching cell phone boosters/repeaters. Something along the lines of this. Does anyone have any experience with these kinds of products? Please let me know.

No snow

Everywhere around us, snow, snow, snow. All we can manage is rain. What the hell?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

WTF Coens

I mean, I like your movies and all, but this is just wrong.

For those who don't RTFA, the Coens are remaking True Grit. Jeff Bridges is slated to star as Rooster Cogburn.

Sure, the dude abides, but does he serve papers? This is just a bad move all around, methinks.

The eyepatch really ties the face together.