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

Getting Better All The Time

It's Getting Better All the Time Collage
When I was writing this year’s 5th annual Looking Back, Looking Ahead blog entry I realized I had a really good year. I have been trying to analyze why this year worked out so well. It certainly wasn’t any one thing, I think it was a combination of items that may have come together to make the total greater than the sum of the parts. Writing this down on the form of a blog entry may help me understand it better too.

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Both of these meals show picture of meals where I made everything you see here - from sides to the main course, to the rolls. This has really helped me with my planning and multi-tasking skills.

The first item contributing to a great year was my goal of doing more multi-item cooks. I made a conscious effort at the beginning of the year to think about what else I could make to go with my main dish. By the end of the year this had changed. Now it was what grilled/smoked sides am I going to do with what I am having today. Big difference between “can I do...” as opposed to “ I doing....” One implies the possibility, the other is definite. I wasn’t aware of when this happened, but I was happy when I realized it had happened. One of the contributing factors were several cookbooks that became available around April of this year. Stephen Raichlen came out with a new cookbook called PLANET BARBECUE with great cue from around the world. It also had side dishes to go along with these dishes. This was a good thing at the time, for two reasons: First I’ve never heard of the main dishes, so I sure wasn’t going to know what sides would go with it. Secondly, having someone suggest the appropriate side was good. This was at the point of the year where I was trying to make myself do more sides. Having recommendations right in front of me made me think, can I do these too? When I was ordering PLANET BARBECUE on Amazon, they recommended two new Weber books: WEBER’S STEAK & SIDES and CHICKEN & SIDES. The key word here is “Sides”. Most of the main dish recipes had recommended sides to go with them. Once again this was perfect timing since I was trying to do more sides.

Pushing myself to do more has really improved my cooking skills. This Paella Primavera (Vegetarian Paella- Top) was the most difficult paella I have done to date. But the skills I learned doing them on the stove transferred well to the grill.

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The skills I learned using my pans on the stove made using the drop-in griddle for my grill easy. The entire breakfast was grilled on the gas grill using open grates & the griddle.

Trying to do more things at a time helped improved my multi-tasking and cooking skills. Many of the things I was making involved starting items on the stove. Sauteeing, browning etc. Historically I was not an indoor cook. Suddenly I was having to use the stove more and items like paellas forced me to sometimes be cooking in 3 pans at once. Even something as simple as cooking bacon on a pan was new to me. If I cooked bacon at all, it was in the microwave. It took me a while to learn to pull it before it actually looks done because it continues to brown after it is out of the pan. Who knew? I also learned how to set the correct temperatures in the pans, and the various sights, sounds and smells you see when things are cooking correctly. I was tentative at first and always breathed a sigh of relief when I was past this phase. Later it surprisingly had become second nature and I didn’t give it much thought. Why am I going on about indoor cooking? Well when I started making breakfast on the grill and paellas on the grill I found these indoor skills translated to cooing on the grill. I started using my drop in griddle pan on the grill again. To my delight what I learned for pans on the stove translated to the griddle. Even better, the griddle had as much cooking area as three of my big saute pans. When I made my first paellas out on the grill, I found the adjustment quite easy and I really enjoyed having the much larger cooking area available for me on the grill. Recipes that I might have once passed by, because they were outside my skill set or comfort zone, suddenly were within my reach. So my challenge to myself to make more items taught me skills that upped my game and allowed me to do more.

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This years primary theme seemed to be comfort food. Examples include: Creole Hot Dogs (Top Left) Shepherd’s Pie Burgers (Top Right) N.Y. System Hot Wieners (Bottom Left) and Grilled Nachos (Bottom Right).

Although I didn’t realize this at the time, one of the things that helped make this year so good was my return to the BARBECUE BIBLE MESSAGE BOARD. This may sound strange at first, but I really think it helped. When I first got started I learned a ton there. Eventually my job got busy and I was traveling more so my time available for Que related tasks was cut down. I didn’t want to cut down my grilling activities, nor did I want to neglect this site. What was left was the message board. I stopped visiting and stopped posting without much conscious thought. I just didn’t have the time, simple as that. Now that I am off on my own and work from home, that freed up 4 hours out of my day from not commuting. This spring I made my return and what I found contributed to what I was making. Suddenly I was exposed again to a whole bunch of folks doing all kinds of different things on the grill or smoker and were willing to discuss it with anyone who was interesting. Hotdogs were a popular topic and people were trying all sorts of interesting dogs. This led me to making brats for the first time, followed by chili dogs. Chili dogs led to N.Y. SYSTEM HOT WIENERS which are incredible dogs from Rhode Island. These were comfort foods from my youth and suddenly I was thinking about what other comfort foods I could revisit. One of the guys on the board was talking about doing Salisbury Steaks and I had to try my hand at it. Next Came Creole Hotdogs which I made for National Hot Dog Week. This was followed by SHEPHERD’S PIE BURGERS, PIGS IN A BLANKET, GRILLED NACHOS , THANKSGIVING QUESADILLAS and many other comfort food items. The bottom line here: Is that being around a bunch of creative people all sharing the same hobby really got me thinking outside the box this year. I know this was the case, because the whole comfort food thing wasn’t even on my radar screen going into this year. The new cooking skills I was picking up were helping me set my sights higher in terms of what I could make.

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Weber’s Chicken & Sides led to a new method of making grilled paninis (Left) that look like they came off a panini press. (Right).

I’ve already mentioned PLANET BARBECUE and WEBER’S STEAK & SIDES and CHICKEN & SIDES cookbooks in terms of my making more sides. But they also played a big part in what I made. For main dishes. The chicken and sides book had a new to me technique of weighing a sandwich down with a sheet pan and a foil lined brick. This turned out a grilled panini that looked like it came off a panini press. I wanted to make more chicken this year and the I now had a book with just chicken recipes. When The Meat House opened in town (See PRIME TIME blog entry) selling prime grade beef I had a new cookbook full of new steak recipes. There was a 4th cookbook that played a big part in my better meals of the year. This would be the COOKS ILLUSTRATED SUMMER GRILLING GUIDE 2010. From this came several great recipes including Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwiches, which I ended up making in large quantities for 3 different parties I was asked to grill something for this year. It also had the CHILI DOGS, BRATS IN BEER and several other recipes that help get me started in the comfort food direction.

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The local availability of prime grade meat was a surprising and great development.

I mentioned the Meat House a moment ago. Having prime grade beef available any time I wanted and only 10 minutes away is a great thing. They had real meaty beef ribs, not the anorexic things I never bothered buying (See LONE STAR BEEF RIBS). They carry duck and tri-tip, which I had trouble finding unless I drove 30 minutes each way. Even my Thanksgiving turkey came from there this year too. Suddenly in less than 10 minutes I could get a first class piece of meat. I now had a new cookbook full of just steak recipes plus sides. This was good because a great steak deserves a great recipe and great sides. I didn’t know this was coming and it was the last piece of the puzzle that helped make this year a great year.

So in summary what made this year a really great year at the grill and smoker was a great convergence of several different items. Kismet if you will. I was trying to push myself to do more which helped improve my skills, which allowed me to do more. I bought 4 cookbooks that turned out to be a perfect fit and a perfect match for what I was trying to do. I found a group of like-minded folks and their creativity inspired me to think outside the box. This also contributed to me improving my skills. The last piece of the puzzle was the new high end butcher shop that opened. I suddenly had a local source for great meat and hard to find meat. What I like about this is all of those pieces can still be in play for the upcoming year. The only change I plan to make is rather than buying new cookbooks as much, I want to make a point of revisiting some of the ones I have around here. There are probably lots of recipes in there that I passed on initially, that I am more capable of doing now. This year also truly reinforced the notion that if I keep pushing myself to do more, more good things will come from that. If I am lucky next year will be a great year too.

Here are links for the Picture and Blog Entries mentioned above.

  N.Y. SYSTEM HOT WIENERS Hot Dogs Picture Entry
  SHEPHERD’S PIE BURGERS Burgers Picture Entry
  PIGS IN A BLANKET Hot Dogs Picture Entry
  GRILLED NACHOS Appetizers Picture Entry
  THANKSGIVING QUESADILLAS Quesadillas Picture Entry
  PRIME TIME Blog Entry
  CHILI DOGS Hot Dogs Picture Entry
  BRATS IN BEER Hot Dogs Picture Entry
  LONE STAR BEEF RIBS Beef Picture Entry


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