Tuesday, January 29, 2008 

Superbowl Que

There's really no way an American can avoid the knowledge that this weekend is Superbowl weekend. Every news source in the USA is spewing predictions about Tom Brady's ankle and the Giants underdog status.

At the same time, many of us are planning their food list for Superbowl Sunday. I, too, am among this crowd. Unlike last weekend, this coming weekend is relatively un-planned. In my freezer are the two briskets and two pork shoulders I bought a couple of weeks ago. On Saturday AM, I'm planning on cooking them up, although they're to be used at a later date.

I've been batting around ideas for a meal theme with Mr. Muleskinner. We've decided that we like the idea of a meal made of mostly appetizers.

For Sunday, I'm going to do up the following:

  • Atomic Buffalo Turds (commonly known as ABT's). As crude as the name is, this is a rockin' finger food. ABT's consist of JalapeƱos stuffed with goat cheese (and possibly pulled pork), wrapped in bacon and smoked.
  • Smoked Chipoltle Deviled Eggs. While I'm cooking the big meats, I'll throw a dozen or so eggs on the top shelf and smoke them. Once they're cooked through, we'll make them into deviled eggs. Instead of mustard and mayo though, I mix in chipotle peppers and hot sauce with may and pipe that into the halved eggs.
  • Something else. I'm not sure what else I want to do. Marinated steak tips come to mind. Or perhaps some sort of shrimpy thing for those who eat shrimp.
In addition, I'll likely have some smoked almonds added to the mix.

This will be a fun weekend. I have to work much of Saturday, but I can do it from home and will be able to tend my pit while doing work. I intend to pay far better attention to what I'm doing than I did last weekend!

After all that cooking and eating, I understand that there'll be a football game. My team of choice, the New York Jets, had no chance of seeing a superbowl this season. And my adopted NFC team, the Packers were bumped out by the Giants. So, my choice at this point is clear. I'm rooting for history to be made.

Go PATS! 19-0!



Not paying attention

This past weekend was most definitely not about food.

I DID actually cook food. But I didn't really put my heart into it, and it showed. I cooked up a Jambalaya on Saturday that ended up being kind of mushy because I put the rice in to early. And, I had to mix tomato paste in at the last minute because I had forgotten to put it in. On Sunday, I fried up some boneless pork chops, but put them on too early so they were really dry and I put too much rice in my side dish making it bland.

Obviously, I was focused on other things. We had a good friend over for gaming on Saturday and as the gamemaster I had other things to think about beyond food. And on Sunday we had to rush out of the house just after dinner because we had tickets to see the young English blues band "Back Door Slam". They were fantastic, by the way. If you dig blues, go buy their CD. I'm a good guitar player. If I actually practiced, I could probably be as good as their guitarist Danny Knowles. The thing is though, I'm 37. He's 20. At the same age he is now, I was still just fumbling around on the guitar. This kid has the makings of a guitar hero.

But, that's not the point of this post. My two mediocre dinners served as a good reminder that no matter how good at cooking I think I am, I still need to pay attention to what I'm doing.

It was a great reminder that you really DO get out what you put in.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008 

Conference Championship Weekend

This weekend was a busy one, in fact, I wound up being too busy to take the time for cooking brisket and pork shoulder. The four big hunks of meat are now waiting for me to pull them from the freezer at a later date.

The tempo of the weekend did not interfere with my prep for Muleskinner's conference championship party. Five racks of ribs spent about five hours in my pit before we left home. Between the two games I pulled them out of the hot box and finished them on his Weber, getting a nice, finished glaze on them. They were very well received.

I just adore getting together with friends. I have, entirely by accident, surrounded myself with other foodees. In addition to Muleskinner and his lovely wife Ms. T, we were joined by other friends and the Duxbury half of Howling Hog Barbecue, so the food was copious and top notch. Muleskinner smoked a chicken and let it sit in Big Bob Gibson's white sauce for 11 hours prior to eating. The Mamer brought down a hearty spicy chili. There were salads and sandwiches and desserts! Oh My!

It was a great feast. Plus, there were a couple of football games on, too. I was rooting for old man Farve and the storied Packers, but the Giants played a solid game. Only Chargers fans were kidding themselves if they thought New England was going to lose that game. Being a Jets fan, I had no team to root for, so I was planning on taking the Pack in the event that they made it past the Giants. Now, though, my choice is clear. I'm rooting for the Pats to make some football history. 19-0 would be pretty darned impressive. After that, it's time for someone else (like the Jets, for example) to have a chance!

This coming weekend looks to be without any barbecuing. We've got company coming on Saturday and we're going to see "Back Door Slam" in concert on Sunday night. I think I'll do the big meats the weekend of the Superbowl.

Until then - keep on smoking.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008 


This coming weekend I'll be barbecuing again!

This particular cook has been on my calendar for a while, because I'm bringing ribs to Muleskinner's NFL Conference Championship party. The best football games of the year have been the focus of this annual party for a number of years now, and it brings out some positively fantastic food.

In addition to the ribs, I realized last night that I'm (gasp!) out of pulled pork. So, I put in a call to a local store near where I work and have two Boston butts en route to me for pick up on Friday. Late Saturday afternoon or evening, I'll spark up the pit and begin the long process of cooking my butts. The ribs will join the butts in the morning on Sunday and will be ready and raring for the party that afternoon!

Expect a post about my continuing adventures some time next week. Until then, keep smoking!



Cookin' in the cold

A cold morning in VT.

Last weekend, as I implied in a previous post, I dedicated a day to cooking barbecue. It's fun to justify it as "practice" even though I'm really just doing it because cooking makes me happier that many other things I could do. I realized this morning, as I was attempting to bring my brain to life with a massive cup of coffee that the pace of life many of us keep is frightening. We work five days a week, for most of the day. We come home try to be with our families and take care of those things that are important to us. We get up the next day and do the same thing. This is why I cook, and why I cook barbecue. No matter how you try, you simply cannot rush through the cooking of a pork butt or brisket. They require long, slow cooking and regular attention to bring out their best qualities. In short, barbecue makes me slow down.

The view down my valley, crisp and clear.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I was greeted by a cold, crisp morning. In the silence that hangs in my valley on an early morning, I puttered happily about, getting my pit up to temp and rubbing my butts.

Naked butts

Cooking butts

The buts, being the largest piece of meat, went on early and spent a good part of their day without company in my pit. However, early in the afternoon I added several companions to smoke along with it. I threw in three racks of St. Louis-style ribs and a whole chicken.

St, Louis-style ribs rubbed with my new Green Mountain Rib Rub.

I cooked the ribs for about five hours, probably an hour longer than would have been appropriate for a KCBS competition. If you look closely at the image of the finished products (two images below), the meat is pulling back from the bone a bit too much, a sign that they're overdone. However, what is overdone by the rules established under KCBS and what I actually like are not always the same thing. I like the meat on my ribs to come off the bone easily. And these ribs were perfect.

Finishing the ribs.

Once they came off the pit, I moved them over to my grill for the finishing touches. My sauce caramelizes nicely and adds a great color to the racks. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how my rib methods shake out in a competition.

Finished ribs, ready to eat.

One rack of ribs and the chicken were eaten for dinner on Sunday night. The other two racks were frozen and stored as a test to see how they will handle being re-heated.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I'm already looking forward to this summer. Barbecue has taken a prominent place in my life and I'm very grateful that it acts as a way to slow me down and bring me down to earth. With life as hectic as it is, it sure is nice to savor the smoke and fire for at least a little while.

Be well,


Tuesday, January 15, 2008 

Soup, it does a body good.

A recent source of fun and amusement (insert sarcasm here) in my life was the discovery that I have several food allergies. These allergies, it appears, have been responsible for some health issues I've head since I was in my twenties.

I'm allergic to Gluten and Cow's milk. This makes eating out a challenge and definitely forces me to know what I'm eating. Needless to say, during the holiday, it becomes even more difficult to avoid either type of food.

The long and the short of it is that a week after the holidays, I found myself at home, feeling like garbage. When lunch rolled around, hunger began to prod me to life a bit. I wanted hot, and hearty. With some brisket in the fridge, I whipped up exactly that.

Soups are one of my favorite foods. They can be made with the simplest ingredients or the most complicated and be an amazing experience to eat. The key to me, to making a good soup, is the stock. Stock makes up the bulk of whatever soup you're making. If your stock is bland, you'll have to work too hard to compensate for it, which might result in an over-spiced bowl of soup.

We often have our own chickens in the freezer. Farmer girl processes them onsite, so they aren't butchered, they're whole. No matter how we cook with the bird, there's a carcass left over. Throw the bones of a chicken or turkey into a large pot, toss in an onion or two, garlic and other veggie pieces, and then let it simmer for a good 12 hours on your stove and you've got it! They key, of course is all that time. It takes a fair bit of time to make a good stock, but it is really worth it.

In my case, I often have smoked stock on hand. Doing barbecue, all of my meats are smoked to some extent, and that flavor carries over to chicken or beef stock. During my sick day, I used smoked beef stock to make a darned good beef vegetable soup. I have to admit that since I was a child, my idea of good beef veggie soup was Campbell's. As a result, the style of my soup tends similar flavors.

I use a mix of root veggies: Potatoes, cut into quarter inch cubes, Carrots, cut into small cubes, several onions, chopped and garlic, also chopped. In addition, I usually add celery into the mix. I season the soup with salt and pepper and other flavors depending on whether I'm trying for an ethic feel (spanish, for example). But for the traditional style, I always make sure there's been some molasses added to it and some tomato paste. Those two elements are essential if you were a Campbell's fan!

The result of my bleary-eyed efforts, was a thick, rich full tasting stew with hints of smoke and a deep flavor. It sure made me feel good.


Friday, January 11, 2008 

What's Cookin' This Weekend?

The stars are aligning for me to have time to do some practice cooking this weekend. Sunday appears to be an open day and with my TV being off at the moment (they want to get paid for it?) I can't watch football, so what am I to do?


I've got two pork shoulders waiting for me at a store near where I work. As an aside, this will be an interesting test because I've had some issues in the past with my current butcher and this store has the potential to be my primary meat source. I started getting my ribs through them after my butcher hosed me hard with ribs that were an embarrassment to sell.

I also have a whole chicken and a number of ribs in the freezer, so I suspect that Sunday will be an early morning with me popping two pork shoulders, a chicken and four racks of St. Louis-style ribs into the BWS.

I wasn't too happy with my last batch of shoulders, so I intend to spend a bit more time working on them throughout the day. As much time as I've spent trying to make my ribs top notch, I absolutely must not neglect the big meats. I don't want my scores in brisket and pork shoulder to take a hit because the shoulder in particular has been (at the very least) consistent (14th-12th place). I'll probably use up the last of my brine on the shoulders.

In addition to blogging about my Sunday, I've got another recipe to show off - beef brisket soup!

Until this weekend...


Thursday, January 03, 2008 

2007: A Barbecue Year in Pictures

In celebration of 2007, here's a photo album of our barbecue experiences from last season. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008 

Christmas Bounty

As always, Christmas in the Howlin' Hog Barbecue household was a generous event. We are truly blessed by our families and their generosity. In particular, I am blessed by their continued support of my barbecue habit! The two biggest gifts I got, which came from Farmer Girl and my Mom, were the new Barbecue Guru Digi Q II (a direct vent controller for my pit) and a Thermapen. What great new toys!

I used the thermapen a bunch of times this weekend and finally felt like I had a tool that would allow me to consistently make a good steak. For New Year's Eve, I cooked up chicken and ribs, this time using the Digi Q II (it didn't arrive before Christmas) to run the pit.

But, the two big toys pictured above weren't the only things that will help me fuel my passion for barbecue. My father got a lift jack that I can put on our homemade trailer making it easier to move around and lock in place. Grampy and his lady were both kind enough to donate funds to my barbecue account. This donation will no doubt help me buy more meat in the coming weeks. And Farmer Girl's mother bought a Seal-A-Meal, not knowing that I had recently purchased the Cabela's vacuum sealer. She was a bit dissapointed, but I realized as I looked at the package that having a smaller, more portable vacuum sealer on site at a barbecue competition will be really handy. So, the unit got put into storage for the upcoming season.

And lastly, the wife, myself and son all have 0 degree sleeping bags to keep us cozy and warm as we cook through the night.

I am grateful to have such a wonderful group of family and friends. Thank you all for your generosity.

Happy New Year!



Cookin' for the Holidays - Day 2

The pork shoulders went into the pit on Sunday, rubbed with spicy goodness. They stayed on all day while we worked on the rest of our Christmas projects. Here's the lone action shot I remembered to get.

I've been working on ribs so much as of late that I had forgotten some of the steps to cooking shoulders. It was good to do a refresher. I'm going to have to cook some more in the next few weeks.

Happy Holidays!



Cookin' For the Holidays - Day 1

My wife and I are trying to make a concerted effort to "buy local" this holiday. Most of the gifts we handed out were either purchased locally or made buy us. As my part in our campaign to keep things either personal or local, I did a whole lot of cooking over the 22nd and 23rd. I spent two days with the BWS chugging away. I cooked six pork shoulders, eight briskets and a couple of batches of smoked almonds. In addition, I whipped up batches of a bunch of my spice rubs and sauces.

Saturday was brisket day. The night before, I trimmed the briskets from whole packers to flats which I prefer to cook. I kept as much of the points as possible because they make such great burnt ends.

Early Saturday morning, I started the pit and then prepped the raw meat

Once all the meat was prepped, it went into the BWS and I went about my day. Here's a beautiful sight...

Fifteen hours later, here's what came out...

Using my Cabela's vacuum sealer I packaged up the meaty goodness for friends and family. Dig the cool labels my wife made!

Stay tuned for photos from Day 2