The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Succeeding Despite My Best Efforts to Fail

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This is a tale of success despite my ignoring what turned out to be good advice. I really didn’t deserve to succeed. But after almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, I managed to turn things around. I won’t take all of the blame here though. I really think something wasn’t right with the directions or ingredients in the recipe.


After the initial mixing and while the meat was still cold , I should have quit while I was ahead and put it on the skewers.

One of the advantages of working from home more is I can also grill more. I was looking for something new and different to make on the grill. A friend who knew I owned many of Steven Raichlen’s cookbooks said I should try one of the meat kebob recipes from Barbecue Bible. Instead of chunks of meat and veggies they use ground meats flavored with fresh herbs and spices. The other piece of advice: Keep the meat very cold and don’t warm it like the recipe directions say. It won’t stay on the skewers. Now the keep it cold part made sense to me. Many other recipes call for the meat to be chilled to help it stay together when you start to grill it. The part about not warming it didn’t. I mean this recipe is from a Julia Child award winning cookbook, how could it be that wrong? Two other things were at work here: The first I like to make a recipe “as written” the first time around. This way I have a benchmark to go by rather than trying to “improve” something that may not need my “improvements”. Secondly when I was young I was laid up for three days with a very bad case of food poisoning from bad hamburger so the warming the meat part somehow appealed to me. If I had thought more about it at the time warming but not cooking the meat wouldn’t help.


Per the recipe the meat was warmed under very low heat just to take the chill off.

So you guessed it: Despite being warned, I warmed the meat. When I got done mixing it, I had this very tacky and sticky ball of meat I could have molded into any shape I wanted. I had been preheating my frying pan on the stove and it was barely warm to the touch. I was very careful to stir the meat constantly with a wooden spoon and do nothing more than take the chill off. I spooned the meat back into the mixing bowl and surprise, surprise it was no longer stick and clingy. I was concerned but not alarmed yet. I had some time left and I decided to put it in the fridge to cool it back down. I managed to form the meat around the skewers and it sort of held together long enough to get it in the fridge. Hopefully that would help things out. After 2 hours in the fridge the meat was stiffer, but not sticky. I could tell there was zero chance of it holding together on skewers. I spent a few minutes where I really didn’t know what I was going to do. What could I do now to make it hold together?


The meat after the warming was dry and crumbly.

The meat had already used one egg and egg certainly helps the meatball recipe I make, so I took the meat off the skewers. Actually this wasn’t hard. I just picked up the skewers and the meat crumbled. I put the meat back in the mixing bowl and added an egg. While it definitely was better, it still wasn’t enough. At this point I remember that
VEAL BURGERS actually another recipe from Steven Raichlen did not hold together on the grill either (here is a blog entry about that: GRILL CAMP ‘06-DAY 3). Raichlen even made this recipe on his TV show and it stuck to the grill pretty badly. The same thing happened to me the first time and it was the addition of bread crumbs that made things hold together. As this all came back to me so did my earlier thought about: “How could a recipe in an award winning cookbook be wrong.? Well the veal burgers were off too. Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier? But now it was time to deal with this problem. I added in 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs and it was getting closer, but still not there yet. I added one more egg and It reminded me of the consistency of the modified veal burgers I’d made. With the breadcrumbs added the veal burgers actually held together on the grill.


After warming phase the meat lost all of it’s stickiness and wouldn’t hold together. The picture at the top of this blog shows it after 2 hours in the fridge barely holding together.

So Plan B the extra egg and breadcrumbs had helped, but as I tried to get the meat back on the skewers I had a feeling I was close but still not there. I really didn’t want to tamper with the recipe any more than I had done already. It was time for Plan C. I was so excited about making these kebabs from Afghanistan that I’d looked up some recipes and pictures of them. Some of the pictures showed grill marks around the full perimeter as if they had been grilled like a sausage and simply rolled around with tongs to turn in lieu of skewers. So Plan C was I’d still form them like a long cylindrical sausage shaped piece of meet. But since I didn’t think they’d hold together on the skewer, I’d bag the skewers. Just like when I’d made the veal burgers I’d need to get a real good coat of oil on grill grates.


The end result was a great meal, but getting there was more than half the “fun”.

To cut to the chase, Plans B & C saved the day. These skewerless kebabs came out great. They were tasty and filling and definitely a great change of pace. So sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our failures because they cause us to think. I am definitely going to have to make these again for several reasons. I have to try it without warming the meat, but most importantly this meal tasted really great despite my best efforts to mess it up.


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