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

Cookbook Heads Up

I picked up this cookbook the other day during a trip to the supermarket and I already have a dozen recipes picked out to make. This great summer supplement is filled with interesting recipes for items that are sometimes hard to make due to the availability of the right ingredients or they are regional in nature or hard to get just right. Sometimes it can be all three. One of the things that I like is this magazine isn’t just a collection of recipes, there is always a story behind the recipe. This story involves working out some of the problems in terms of getting the right ingredients and finding the proper cooking method. Even if I am not interested in a particular recipe there are often helpful sidebars about cooking techniques or the best brand ingredient to use, that still make the recipe a worthwhile read. They also have a few pages of quick tips that are great time or money savers. These tips can be worth the price of that issue alone.

I am a big fan of the
America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country TV shows on PBS and their parent magazine Cook’s Illustrated. Cooking is a combination of art and science. The problem for me is there is often too much of the art (or in some cases pure BS) and zero emphasis on the science in the recipe. You will get recipes that may taste good when the author makes them, but what gets put down on paper has mistakes, missing information critical to success or both. America’s Test Kitchen (ATK from now on) is the kitchen/lab used by Cook’s Illustrated. They run experiments to find the best ingredients, the right techniques, the right tools for a recipe. They confirm their results with blind taste tests. These tests can sometimes be exhaustive. There was a recipe on the TV show where I remember them saying they made about 160 batches of it before hitting on the right techniques. When you get a recipe from them there is scientific research behind it that you could never afford to do yourself. What I also like is they name names. Many of the recipes will have sidebars talking about some key ingredient(s) and they will have tested a dozen different versions of this ingredient and will tell you the best ones based on taste tests. If there is a certain piece of gear needed, they will often test those and give recommendations. As I mentioned before: Even if you aren’t interested in the recipe itself, there is still useful information to be had. I’d been making my grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs for 30 years and it seemed like it couldn’t get any better. Well after reading a sidebar in Cooks Illustrated on tomato sauces, I tried the brand their tastes testers preferred and suddenly everyone noticed an improvement in my grandmother’s sauce.

They didn’t just tell you to use horseradish for the sauce, they told you to skip the ones in the condiment aisle and go for the ones in the refrigerated case which didn’t have preservations and had better taste. Who knew? I sure didn’t. They even listed a brand that won their taste test.

But back to this particular Summer Grilling issue. While Cook’s Illustrated is more on general cooking with grilling featured along with other cooking techniques, this issues is all about grilling. Two of the recipes I flagged were regional favorites I never thought I’d have much luck making: BALTIMORE PIT BEEF & ST. LOUIS PORK STEAKS. Either one of these two were worth the price of the magazine alone for me. Baltimore Pit Beef was a regional favorite I’d tried 20 years ago in Baltimore and loved. The problem was I haven’t seen a recipe for it I’d want to try. The folks at ATK had done their homework in terms of to rub or not rub the roast, the right cut of meat to use, the right horseradish for the spicy sauce. I made this recipe last night and it was probably the best sandwich to ever come off of my grill. I’d seen St. Louis Pork steaks made on TV and I had seen them in various cookbooks and they sounded great, but getting pork steaks outside of St. Louis is problematic. I’d made them once, but I had to buy the steaks from a specialty butcher shop in Boston, and even then it was a special order. Many recipes cop out and say if you can’t find pork steaks, use a ham steak. Well I’m sorry they just aren’t the same. The folks at ATK provide a solution for everyone, no matter where they live. They have you buy a Boston Butt (pork shoulder), the same cut used for pulled pork and St. Louis pork steaks as it turns out. You cut the Boston Butt in half, trim the surface fate and then turn it so the cut side is face down on the cutting board and cut two or three steaks out of each half of the Boston Butt. I am thrilled at the prospect of being able to make pork steaks whenever I want. I’ve also flagged 10 other recipes to try as well as the two I’ve mentioned above.

Part of the key to success with this sandwich was thin slices which are more tender. This told me it was time to break out the food slicer.

I’ll give you an example of the money saving tips you will often find. Just let me say this tip was from a different issue. I’ve been so busy reading the recipes, I haven’t gotten to the tips in here yet. QUICK TIP: You have a recipe that uses a small amount of wine and you have the rest of the bottle left over. What do you do with it? Well you could drink it, but lets say you can’t or don’t want to drink it now. This tip had you use a plastic microwave cupcake tray and a measuring cup. You measure out the portion from your recipe and fill the cups in the the cupcake tray with this portion. Put the cupcake tray in the freezer and when the wine freezes remove the frozen disks and store them in a ziplock bag. You now have recipe portion sized servings of the wine ready to go. Speaking of ziplock bags, ATK tested plastic storage bags and found the fancy zippered ones do not hold their seal over time at all. The less expensive press and seal type does a far better job. This is the type of useful information they provide in their magazines. I am an online member at the ATK web site too. All of the recipes from the TV show and their equipment and ingredients test results are archived there.

For the price of an $8.00 grilling cookbook I just made the best sandwich to come off my grill. And that was just the first recipe!!!

“So act now, this special limited time offer won’t last long....”. While these words often make me suspicious, the Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling Guide for 2010 will only be on the shelves for a few short months. Next time you are at a bookstore, magazine stand or your supermarket seek it out. Flip through it and I am pretty sure you will find something well worth the $8.00 price tag. In my case it was the best sandwich to come off my grill, and I am just getting started with this book.


Here is the link for the Picture Entries for Baltimore Pit Beef.

  BALTIMORE PIT BEEF Sandwich Picture Entry


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