The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Looking Back Looking Ahead ‘08

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Since I started this blog 3 years ago I have been ending the year with a blog containing several Top 5 barbecue related lists. Top 5 Cooks, Top 5 Things I’ve Learned, The Top 5 Mistakes Made, and my list of Top 5 Goals for the New Year. No reason to change anything this year so here goes. This year was really like 6 months for me because I had a 2 month & 4 month period where I was working nights and weekends and had to take a break from grilling and smoking. So this list was harder than some years because I had less time pack everything in.

Top 5 Items Cooked in 2008

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“Chopped” Steak with Ketchup Glaze (12/30/08)
It may surprise you that a hamburger makes the Number One Item on my list. While it was a great burger, and I made fresh hamburger rolls and Hand Cut French Fries to go with it, that was not what elevated it to Number One. It was what it represented:. This was a burger grilled in the middle of the winter, something I didn’t think was possible until the last couple of weeks. If you want to read more about this click on the two blog links below on the background story.

See:
  WINTER WISH GRANTED Blog Entry
  DIRECT GRILLING IN THE WINTER??? Blog Entry
  CHOPPED STEAK WITH KETCHUP Burgers Picture Entry
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Stuffed Herbed Tenderloin - (08/26/08)
This recipe had several surprises for me. The first surprise was that I would even think of making it. I was looking through cookbooks for a new beef tenderloin recipe. I don’t like mushrooms as a rule and usually avoid recipes with mushrooms. But lately I’ve trying to revisit items I traditionally didn’t like to see if my tastes were changing. The second surprise was this the best beef tenderloin recipe I have made. It was even better than the Holiday Beef Tenderloin that I make on special occasions like New Years. What put it over the top for me was the direct grilled crust which had a nice tasty sear to it. The Holiday Beef Tenderloin is indirect grilled. While the outer crust has an herb paste and pink peppercorns applied to it, the taste still couldn’t compare to the tasty grilled crust. This tenderloin was also stuffed which added another level of flavor. So this year for New Years I am making another direct grilled tenderloin, called Cajun Beef Tenderloin.

See:
  STUFFED HERBED TENDERLOIN Beef Picture Entry
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Three-Ginger Rotisserie Chicken - (07/13/08)
Quite simply this is the best Chicken I have ever made on my grill or smoker. It was even moister than Beer Can Chicken. It is a bit harder to make and I often have trouble getting ginger preserve in my locale. But the end results are worth the effort. The chicken has a paste of ginger and butter applied under the skin which bastes the chicken as it cooks. The second ginger is from a ginger glaze applied during the final part of the cook. The last ginger is from a ginger sushi based relish served with the chicken. Let me say this again: This is the best chicken I have ever made. I keep a stash of ginger preserve around at al times now so I can make it whenever I want.

See:
  3-GINGER ROTISSERIE CHICKEN Poultry Picture Entry
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Ancho Stuffed Turkey Breast - (06/29/08)
This recipe was cooked as part of my kick this year to try more grilled vegetables. Corn, tomatoes, onions and hot peppers were grilled to make up some of the stuffing. Which was placed inside a butterflied boneless turkey. The turkey received a very spicy Southwest style rub. Now the turkey was not as moist as a rotisserie .chicken, but the stuffing was tasty and added moisture some moisture to it. The rub on the outside packed a real kick. This recipe was done more or less as a whim flicking through cookbooks and it turned out to be a favorite.

See:
  ANCHO STUFFED TURKEY Poultry Picture Entry
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Steak Quesadillas - (04/19/08)
These were a lot of work, but were well worth it. The fillings can be most anything you want, but I think I came up with a good combination for my tastes. The big trick here is to get the grill at the right temperature so as not to burn the quesadillas. Where these are a bit of work, I make extras because they reheat well and you will probably eat more than you planned on.

See:
  QUESADILLAS Blog Entry
  STEAK QUESADILLAS Quesadillas Picture Entry
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Top 5 Lesson Learned, Re-Learned or Reinforced

You Can Direct Grill in the Winter.
This is HUGE!! This probably will be the biggest change for me since I bought my smoker. I used to arrange my menus by season. Traditionally I have cooked more direct grilled items like hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks in the warm weather than I might have otherwise liked. But I knew come Winter I couldn’t do those.The Winter months I reserved for big roasts and rotisserie items. As I have recently discovered: What was a problem in the past doesn’t seem to exist with my current gas grill. So now it looks like I may be able to pretty much make whatever I want year round. My menu will be more a product of whatever I am in the mood for vs. picking off a seasonally filtered list. I will still take weather into account. But now it will be just one of several factors.

See:
  WINTER WISH GRANTED Blog Entry
  DIRECT GRILLING IN THE WINTER??? Blog Entry
  CHOPPED STEAK WITH KETCHUP Burgers Picture Entry
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Use Good Meat & Get to Know Your Butcher.
This item has made the list every year and for good reason. You are only as good as the ingredients you use. For me it is not worth rolling the dice to save a little money, but risk quality. When I use good quality meat it is pretty much a given that the meat will turn out great, if I do my job right. That piece of mind is worth the price.

Getting to know the butcher helps you on many fronts. The butchers who know me know what type of cut I am looking for, know how I like it trimmed and sometimes even make a point of tying it up pretty for me so it will photograph well. I make a point of showing them a my pictures so they can see what I have done with the meat that they have sold me. They also are happy to answer questions for me, because they know I am serious about it. I have also had the butcher’s turn me on to good pieces of meat I might not have otherwise known about or tried. Icelandic lamb comes to mind. It has a limited season and I knew nothing about it. It is by far the best lamb I’ve tried.
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You Can Save Money Buying Spices in Bulk
We are lucky enough to have a Penzy’s spices here in Massachusetts. Up until recently I wasn’t really using enough spices to think about doing this. But I made a trip to Penzy’s this Summer and took the time to do the math on buying pre-filled jars vs. bulk. I found basically if I buy my own jars and get the spice in bulk, they pay for themselves after the second jar. So for the spices you use a lot, think about buying in bulk. If you are not lucky enough to have a brick and mortar Penzy’s near you, visit them online.

See:
  GET FRESH Blog Entry
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The iPhone Makes a Great Grilling Accessory
While I’m not suggesting that you run out and get an iPhone just to use for your grilling, if you have one take advantage of its features to help make your hobby easier. Many other smart phones share these same features too. I wrote several blog entries about using my iPhone for grilling related tasks. The links are below and I’ll let you read if you are interested, but I’ll give the short version here. The iPhone is a great organizer of data, such as lists, photos, maps, addresses and phone numbers. The app store has all kinds of software for doing grocery lists. The camera comes in handy at times too. The iPhone also make a great grill timer, alarm clock and it is backlit in the dark. In a pinch it can serve as a small flashlight. Just be careful to keep it out of harms way around hot stoves and grills.

See:
  THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY Blog Entry
  THE IPHONE - BBQ BUDDY - PT 2 Blog Entry
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Get to Know Your Grill (or Smoker)
This has been on the list every year, but every year I come up with new reasons it still needs to be there. This year I pushed myself to do more multiple item cooks. If you are going to have more items on the grill, it is even more important to know where the hotspots are on the grill. Knowing where they are you can avoid them or use them to your advantage as the case may be. Another new reason for me is my experiment with cold weather direct grilling. Being very familiar with how my grill behaves in more normal weather, helps me notice the differences (and hopefully adjust for them) in the cold weather. In the case of my smoker I was able to pick up a lost 30 minutes of cooking time by putting some smoked potatoes at the Side Firebox end of the smoker. This made up the 30 minutes and they finished with the rest of the meal. Even better I knew going in the difference between one end and the other was 30 minutes, so it wasn’t even a big deal. I expected it to work out and it did.


Top 5 Mistakes Not to Repeat Leave Enough Time for Prep
This makes my list every year too. I always think I’ve left extra time for prep and suddenly find I haven’t left enough or left just enough. So then you are scrambling to stay on schedule. I try to start early and tell myself I will get through all of the prep and then if there is any left over time I will take it easy. Something unanticipated happens. You have trouble lighting the grill, the cover is frozen on, you can’t find an ingredient, a jar won’t open. The list goes on. I keep trying to get an early enough start. I will say part of my problem is I am doing more ambitious meals and I am still not completely used to what that involves. I really do need to do better at this and will keep trying. Rushing is not good when your hobby involves the use of sharp knives and open flames.

Foods with high sugar content burn easily particularly under high temperatures.
This is something that I should know better by now, but I still managed to make this mistake several times this year. Usually the reason I made the mistake is I was more worried about some other aspect of the recipe or I was cooking multiple items and got distracted. Recently I burned the first side of a pork loin because I had boosted the temps higher to try to compensate for the cold air temps.

Use more than one temperature probe.
If you are using remote meat thermometers, many have dual probes, some have four. It NEVER hurts to have an extra probe in the meat taking a second reading. If you only put one in and have placed it poorly, you can over or undercook your food. Also I had a probe go haywire mid cook and the only way I could tell was by comparing it’s readings with those of the second backup probe.

Look at the bones on both sides of the ribs to check for doneness
This is a beginners mistake I almost made this summer. Ribs have their own little version of the pop up thermometer. As the ribs cook the meat will pull back from the end of the bones. I was smoking ribs and they seemed to be taking longer than I expected. I kept checking but the meat had not pulled back from the bones at all along the top side of the ribs as they sat in the rib rack. Something seemed wrong here, but it wasn’t till I revisited several times that I figured it out. This time in addition to looking at the bone ends that were facing up, I checked out the ones facing down that were closer to the grill grate. These had pulled back between 1/4” to 1/2” meaning the ribs really were done.

If Using Recipe Software, Be Sure to Proofread
I almost fell victim to this recently. I use this great Mac based software called YummySoup!! I was cooking a recipe I have done many times in the past and when I got to the Tabasco sauce something was wrong. It called for 4 tablespoons (60 mL) of Tabasco sauce. This was a double mistake. I’d mistyped 1/4 and was left with 4 not 1/4, plus when you type “T” under Units the Auto Complete fills in tablespoon (1 tablespoon = 15 ml vs 1 teaspoon = 5 mL) and I didn’t catch it. Now this happened to stand out because it was a VERY spicy ingredient, but it could have been disastrous if it had been something less obvious. So proof any recipes you put in recipe software.


5 Goals for Next Year Continue to Try New Things
I want to continue to expand my grilling horizons. Last year I got into grilled veggies in a big way and I want to continue down that path. I also want to try more new recipes. I will still return to old favorites but I want to find some new favorites too. Now that I will be working at home more, I should have more time to try new things.

Make My Own Hotdog Rolls
I now have a pan for baking my own hamburger rolls and one for hot dog rolls too. I vowed last year to put that baking class to use to make my own hamburg rolls and I did make them twice. I want to continue making my own hamburger rolls as well as add hot dog rolls to the mix too.

Start Making Desserts
This is a holdover from last year that I let slide. I did make a recipe called maple crusted apple rings and planned to do more. I will blame my hectic work schedule that cost me about 6 months of grilling time. I was just getting into making dessert when things got busy again in work.

Continue to try multi item cooks
This goes together with my wish to continue to try new things and make more desserts. Doing veggies or dessert on the grill often means overlaps with the main course. I want to continue to learn how to manage these items which often have different requirements. I want to put more things on the smoker too. If I am making something that takes a long time, throw some beans or sausages or hot dogs on as well.

Experiment with Appetizers
In the process of compiling this list of 5 goals for next year I may have had a bit of a barbecue epiphany. I am not really sure, but I think the direction I am charting for myself is to eventually be able to prepare an entire meal from appetizers to dessert on the grill and/or smoker. I realize this will take some time and will involve many baby steps. But I just now realized this may be where things are headed without my really being aware of it

If you’ve made it this far all that is left is for me to wish you a Happy New Year in 2009. I hope it hold some good eats in store for all of us.


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