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

Looking Back, Looking Ahead - 2010

Lookin' Back 2010 CollageTHE YEAR IN REVIEW Continuing a 5 year tradition, I am writing a blog near the end of the year summing up the past year. It contains several “Top 5” barbecue related lists from prior years: “Top 5 Cooks”, “Top 5 Things I’ve Learned”, “The Top 5 Mistakes Made”, and a list of “Top 5 Goals for the New Year”. In 2009 I made a change to the format and added a new list. This year, as in 2009, I was lucky enough to have made some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Since these items were also some of my favorite foods, they would automatically have to be listed as the Top 5 cooks this year. There were a lot of other great meals I made that deserved so acknowledgment. So the category I added last year for “Top 5 New Items Cooked” will return in 2010. It is intended for recipes using new foods or new techniques that turned out great. Additionally I am adding a new category in 2010 called “Top 5 Grilling/Smoking Related Events”.

This year was definitely the year for comfort food. It wasn’t something I set out to do, it just happened naturally. I explored different types of hotdogs from around the country: Chicago Style Hot Dogs, Brats in Beer, Flo’s Famous Hot Dogs, Chile Dogs and N.Y. System Hot Wieners. I also made things like Salisbury Steak, Grilled Nachos, Beef Stroganoff, Shepherd’s Pie Burgers, Breakfast on the Grill, Meatlovers Pizza Paninis among many others. I don’t know what got me into this kick to revisit comfort foods from my younger days, but it was a definite trend this year.

Two more trends emerged this year. The publishing of Stephen Raichlen’s new cookbook, Planet Barbecue, meant I would be increasing the amount of foods I was grilling or smoking from around the world. The Mid-Summer opening of a new high end butcher shop in town, the Meat House, marked the first time I could buy prime grade meats any time I wanted. This had a big influence on the quality of the foods I made in the second half of the year.

Top 5 Items Cooked in 2010

Cowboy Steak (07/20/10)
There was no doubt which meal would head the list this year. A new high end butcher shop opened in town, that carried prime grade meat. The first item I bought was something I knew I had to try the moment I laid eyes on it. It was their Cowboy Ribeye. It is a 2 1/4 pound (1 Kg), 2” thick (5 cm), bone-in prime grade ribeye. I jokingly wrote that the ground shuddered when I placed it on the grill. I used a recipe from Weber’s Steak & Sides called Cowboy Steak to prepare these monstrous steaks. A flavorful rub was used and the steaks were seared directly and then finished indirectly on the grill. Tasting the first bite, it was like I had died and gone to heaven. This was the meal I made for myself for my birthday, later in the summer.

  COWBOY STEAKS Beef Picture Entry
  PRIME TIME Blog Entry
  A LOT AT STEAK Blog Entry

N.Y. System Hot Wieners (07/11/10)
This was comfort food from my youth. N.Y. System Hot Wieners are found only in Rhode Island. I used to have this when my family visited my grandparents in Providence. I made chili dogs in June and was lamenting that I wished they were N.Y. System Hot Wieners near me. They were made with a special type wiener and are served with a special sauce, similar to a chili sauce, that was not as spicy but more tasty. They also were topped with yellow mustard, onions and celery salt. A week later out of the blue, without his knowing I was thinking about weiners, my dad volunteers what he missed most about living in RI was hot wieners. My mother seconded that. Thus was born my quest to make an authentic N.Y. System Hot Wiener. It involved field trips to RI to get the authentic wieners and a massive search for the actual mustard used. This quest is detailed in the blog entry listed below.

  N.Y. SYSTEM HOT WIENERS Beef Picture Entry

Paella Mixta - (10/23/10)
This was my second grilled paella and the people who shared it with me said it was my best ever. I’d made lots of paellas using a combination of starting on the electric range and finishing it the oven. The disadvantage to making paella this way, is you don’t get the soccorat. This is a crispy bottom crust that is the mark of a great paella just like the smoke ring is in BBQ circles. I’d made some changes from my first grilled paella, which had the start of a soccorat. For this one I had a fully developed crust all the way along the bottom. The meats were chicken breast and chorrizo and it had roasted peppers, onions and garlic for the main veggies. It truly was an excellent recipe and cooking it on the grill meant it came out nearly perfect.

  PAELLA MIXTA Paella Picture Entry

Trattorian Pizza - (04/25/10)
I’d made big improvements on my grilled pizza last year after buying the book Grilled Pizzas & Piadinis. I continued that trend this year based on another book called Pizza on the Grill. This book had some great crust and sauce recipes, but most importantly it had a great new method for cooking the pizza. It solved several problems and also means I can make grilled pizza year round. This pizza was a combination of recipes from both books. The recipe, sauce and toppings were from Grilled Pizzas & Piadinis and the crust and cooking method were from Pizza on the Grill. A pizza made with this recipe was a prize winner in a national competition and it is easy to see why.

  TRATTORIAN PIZZA Pizza Picture Entry

Lone Star Beef Ribs - (07/23/10)
Back in 2003, one of the first recipes I wanted to try on my new grill was from How to Grill and was a beef rib recipe. Unlike the meaty beef ribs in the picture, the best I could turn up were these scrawny anorexic looking things that had little meat on the bones. I never bothered making beef ribs again because I couldn’t do any better in terms of finding meaty ribs. This all changed when The Meat House opened this summer. They had the meatiest beef ribs I’d ever seen. This recipe from Ribs, Ribs, Ribs used a spicy dry rub and a beer based mop. The ribs were out of this world and I made them twice more this year.

  LONE STAR BEEF RIBS Beef Picture Entry

Top 5 NEW Items Cooked in 2010
This list represents items that are new to my repertoire: food types I haven’t made before, new methods of preparation, items I’ve never made on the grill before etc. Just like 2009, I had a very good year in 2010. The new versions of old favorites that by default made my Top 5 list above, were going to crowd some other deserving meals off of the list. So a bit of a cheat, but these items deserve some recognition.

Mechoui of Lamb with Berber Spices (09/11/10)
This rotisserie roasted lamb was excellent and offered several surprises. The recipe had you cook the lamb to a temperature of 190 degrees (88 C), but it was not dry. The second even bigger surprise was my dad who is not a lamb lover, loved this lamb. It was very tasty from being studded with slivers of onion and garlic and getting mopped with a thick spicy sauce. I never would have thought that a lamb cooked to this temperature could be this good.

  MECHOUI OF LAMB Lamb Picture Entry

Beef and Lamb Koftas, Moroccan Tomato-Olive Relish & Simple Moroccan Hot Sauce (05/08/10)
This all Moroccan meal was headlined by ground beef and lamb kebabs, called Koftas. They are seasoned with various herbs and spices, that are cooked up of the grilled grate. The Koftas were accompanied by a tasty Moroccan relish and a Moroccan hot sauce that lived up to the hot in it’s name. This meal was really a unique and special meal.

  BEEF & LAMB KOFTAS Kebobs Picture Entry

Serbian Chicken Bundles - (10/18/10)
I knew I wanted to make these the moment I saw them on the Primal Grill TV show. The chicken thighs were butterflied and pounded flat. They were stuffed with diced bacon, ham and Gruyere cheese. After being closed back up they were brushed with bacon fat and grilled. These were very easy to make, a quick cook and had great flavor. It doesn’t get any better than this.


Cedar-Planked Meatloaf - (11/15/10)
I picked up a cookbook called The Cedar Plank Cookbook and the first item a made from it was this meatloaf recipe. It was a complex meatloaf with lots of tasty fillings and an extremely tasting topping sauce. It took longer to prep than it did to cook. But it was worth it because when all was said and done: This was one of the best meatloaf recipes I’ve tried.


Rotisserie Pineapple - (08/14/10)
I’ve been trying to do more grilled or smoked deserts for a few years now and I need to get more serious do about it this next year. Particularly if this dessert is any indication of what to expect. A pineapple was peeled and then had v-shaped slits cut around the perimeter. The slits served two purposes: First they cut out the eyes of the pineapple. Secondly they created more surface area to hold the sugar coating that was applied every 5 minutes during cooking. This was a really wonderful dessert. The big surprise for me was that the caramelization process had made the pineapple even sweeter on the inside than the outside which was coated in sugar.

  ROTISSERIE PINEAPPLE Desserts Picture Entry

Top 5 Lesson Learned, Re-Learned or Reinforced
Nothing Beats Experience.
This was the first item on this list last year and again this year. I had many more opportunities to grill and smoke and I took advantage of them. I continued trying to make multiple items for a meal on the grill or smoker. This year it was a more natural event, instead of thinking: “Should I try to find something else to do?”, it was more a case of “I am making X, what grilled or smoked sides will go with this?” I have been making 2,3, or 4 items on the grill or smoker more and more this year. I have been getting much better at multi-tasking and time management, which is key to getting this all to come out together. It has also improved my cooking skills, both indoors and out. Things I used to worry about have become second nature.

  A LOT AT STEAK Blog Entry

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The Right Tools Can Make All the Difference
This was an item on last years list too, but it continues to play in important part in the successes I’ve had. In September of I bought an infra red/instant read thermometer and this year I began using the infra red function in a big way. I am able to shoot the temperatures of the grill grates or pan bottoms to insure I get consistent and predictable results. It has made a big improvement in my grilling and pan cooking too. The second item was also a thermometer. I picked up a remote read rotisserie thermometer. The remote read rotisserie thermometer allows you to keep the lid down and monitor the temps from the comfort of the Kitchen. I have been, and continue to be, a big advocate of remote read thermometers. This next item is also thermometer related: Just before Thanksgiving I got replacement meat probes for my other two remote read thermometers. They are 6’ (1.75 m) long (vs 3’ / 1m long) and are high heat and heavy duty. This should give me more flexibility in food placement and contribute to the longevity of the probes.


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With the increase in multiple item cooks I’ve been doing, I have been finding more and more uses for the full, half and quarter sheet pans and cooling grids I own. They are great for taking things back and forth to the grill and using separate sheet pans for separate food items, helps keep the ingredients straight. Another item that has been a big help has been a food chopper I picked up at Williams-Sonoma. It gives you quick consistently sized dices which make quick work of onions, peppers, tomatoes for salsas and toppings. The last item is my new Sur La Table grill light which is good enough that I don’t feel like I am working at a slight disadvantage grilling at night. It covers the entire surface of the grill with a consistent bright light.


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There is Great Barbecue in all Corners of the World
Stephen Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue was published this Spring. This meant my journey into the WORLD of Barbecue which got going big time last year, was only going to accelerate this year. New combinations of spices, new cooking techniques, new recipes, I find it all quite exciting. I have made 15 items from Planet Barbecue in the last 6 months and it will soon become the cookbook I have made the most recipes from. And I have only just begun. The recipes have come from South Africa, Kenya, Israel, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, India, S.E. Asia and are all great dishes I might not have otherwise tried. If you want to experience something truly different start looking outside the U.S.


Getting to Know Your Charcoal
At the beginning of this year I tried Kingsford Competition Blend All Natural Hardwood Briquettes as a replacement for Duraflame All Natural Briquettes. I simply can’t get the Duraflame around here anymore even in the Summer. The Kingsford charcoal is available year round, and in multiple locations. There were many things to like: Fast lighting, fast warm up in the smoker, I can drive the smoker to high temps, and it is very responsive. There are also some things not to like too: large production of ash being the biggest one. Mid year when The Meat House opened they carried Wicked Good All Natural Hardwood Briquettes, which had beaten the Kingsford briquettes in several tests. They make little ash, burner longer, are very steady, but are a royal pain to light sometimes. I planned on them being my go to charcoal once I ran through the Kingsford I had bought. Just this week, I made the decision I would use both. The Kingsford will become my cold and bad weather charcoal. The Kingsford is easy to light and warms up quickly, even in the cold weather. I can get my smoker up to temperature far more quickly. This is important in the Winter where the cold or winds tend to prolong warmups. Knowing the characteristics of these two charcoals allows me to use them correctly since they have similarities and differences that are important to know. I need to light the coals earlier with Wicked Good. The ash drawer fills up faster with Kingsford. Kingsford doesn’t last quite as long. Wicked Good is slower to respond to vent opening changes, but is more steady than Kingsford.


Get to Know Your Grill (or Smoker)
This item makes the list every year, but every year I come up with new reasons it still needs to be there. This year I have done more multi-item cooks and knowing what to do with the grill and smoker in terms of proper food placement and getting the right temps has let me worry about other things while learning to cook multiple items. Less time out at the smoker tweaking the vents, means I can devote most of my time to other tasks. Knowing how the temperatures run on the smoker have helped me place the food properly for the best cooking. On the gas grill front: I’ve started taking advantage of the drop-in griddle attachment more this year. The griddle is larger than multiple frying pans, plus I have still more cooking area using the open grate. So for something like breakfast I can cook more items at once. Having the infra red thermo meter helps me get the griddle at just the right temperature for cooking bacon, eggs, pancakes and finishing of Salisbury steaks.

Top 5 Mistakes Not to Repeat
Leave Enough Time for Prep
This item makes this list every year. Making multiple items on the grill or smoker has made me better, but I there are still times where I did not leave enough time for all of the prep. Often even when I think I am starting way early, I finish getting everything ready right down to the last second. Now before I end up looking too bad here, let me say something in my defense: If I am making only one item on a given day I tend to get it done on time. It is when I make multiple items that I am still having some trouble with allowing enough time. Doing multiple items often involves doing prep for one item early when you have a break in the prep of something else. One problem is there is no way to be at the grill and at the stove and prepping at the same time. You can cook some things on the grill that you’d use the stove for. You can prep and keep and keep an eye on something on the stove. What you can’t do is be outside at the grill and inside the Kitchen at the same time. If you don’t start early enough and plan well, You may end up getting off to a late start grilling or smoking. I just have to keep telling myself to allow extra time for unforeseen things.

Before You Start Make Sure You Have Everything
This item still manages to bite me and it shouldn’t. There is zero excuse. Once again I have managed to get home from the supermarket only to find I didn’t get all my bags. Or I “knew” I had something in stock at and instead of checking before going shopping, I ASSumed I was good to go. Later I found the item was past it’s expiration date or I didn’t have enough of it to use in the recipe I was making. A few times I may have used up something I was saving for a cook and forgot to replace it. There is a quickie mart around the corner that has saved my bacon a few times now. A last minute trip to the store doesn’t help you stay on schedule.

Keep a Fresh Supply of Batteries on Hand.
I have had several occasions this year where one of my remote read thermometers needed batteries and I didn’t have the right kind or enough. Cold weather chews through batteries on items you use outdoors. I have also had cooks delayed because my camera’s flash, which uses 4 AA’s, got low on battery life. Then it takes times measured in minutes, not seconds, to recharge. Batteries also seem to have a way of dying late at night or on a Holiday where it isn’t convenient to go out and get them.

Read the Directions
I bought a Williams-Sonoma chopper I’d seen in a cooking demonstration. It was great for chopping onions, but I found it pulverized tomatoes and peppers. For months it was a one trick pony - it was great for onions. Imagine my surprise when I got around to reading the directions and I found you must put items that have a skin, with the skin side up in the chopper. Who knew? Fortunately I found this out before I made a huge batch of smoked ratatouille. But this is a silly mistake to have made.

Experience is Good, but Don’t Forget to Use What You Know
This year I had several instances where I took things for granted where I should have known better. Example: Rubs with high sugar content burn. I ignored this on some steaks I was grilling and ended up with a charred crust, not from the high heat, but from the sugar burning. I didn’t bother to think about what was in the rub when I set the grill temperature. Another Example: I know I should always double check the tightness of the set screws on the rotisserie forks. This year was making some beef ribs on the rotisserie and I ignored this fact. Fortunately one of my rules is to always check the rotisserie regularly, to make sure nothing unexpected has happened. I went out 15 minutes into the cook and found both forks had come loose so the spit was turning but not the beef ribs. It must have just happened just before I went outside, so no damage was done. Even though you are in a comfort zone about something, you should still run through a mental checklist to make sure you aren’t making a silly mistake.

Top 5 Grilling/Smoking Related Happenings

This is a new section I am adding this year. These are activities that were related to my grilling and smoking hobby, but not something I cooked. If this didn’t explain it well, I think it will make more sense when your see what is on the list.

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The Opening of The Meat House
For years I have lamented that I would love to have a crack at some prime grade meat like the restaurants get. Not as a steady diet mind you, but it would be nice to have it available for special occasions. I could find it once in a great while at Whole Foods, but it was unpredictable. Plus the nearest store is 30 minutes away. My wish came true this summer when a growing regional chain called The Meat House opened in my town. They sell top grade meats at a reasonable price. The COWBOY STEAKS & LONE STAR BEEF RIBS from this years Top 5 Items Cooked list came from there. If it was a Top 10 list, it would contain several more items I bought there.

  PRIME TIME Blog Entry

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Refurbishing My Gas Grill
I love my gas grill. In the years since I bought it the market for a good quality reasonably priced gas grill has vanished. A lot of that is due to the huge price increases in stainless steel. This spring I decided to order replacement parts for my current grill and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll keep this entry short, because I’ve written about it at great length in the blogs I link to just below. If I get another 7 years out of it, I will be thrilled.


More Natural Charcoal Choices
I had been using Duraflame All Natural Hardwood Briquettes quite happily until 2009. Suddenly I could no longer get them even in the Summer. Early in the year I found Kingsford Championship Blend All Natural Hardwood Briquettes at Home Depot. Mid year I was able to buy some Wicked Good All Natural Hardwood Briquettes. I was originally going to use the Wicked Good, but lately (this past week actually) it has occurred to me that the Kingsford might make a good cold and bad weather briquette. This is my scheme for now: I will use Kingsford in the cold weather and switch back to Wicked Good when things warm up. These two choices only became available to me this year and just in the nick of time.


Planet Barbecue
It has been a while between Stephen Raichlen’s cookbooks, but that drought ended this spring with the release of Planet Barbecue. It covers the best barbecue from every corner of the globe. This was good timing for me because I had started getting into international recipes in a big way in 2009. I’ve made 15 recipes from it so far and I have just begun to scratch the surface.


Chef’s in Shorts
For the second year in a row I attended this benefit event with my former boss. It is held outdoors in Boston early in July. About 30 chef’s from well known Boston area restaurants grill up food for the attendees. It is a good time for a good cause and you get to sample some great food.


5 Goals for Next Year

This year was an excellent year for me, both in terms of what I made and what I learned. I actually managed to accomplish many my goals for 2009. I am going to remove “Continue to Try New Things” which has been on the list every year. At this point, I think the desire to try new things is hard wired into my system. “Continue to Make More Breads and Rolls” is coming off the list too. I made more breads and rolls, as well as pizza crusts from scratch. It has gotten to the point where I don’t really have to think about it, it comes naturally. “Continue to Improve” from last year is coming off, not because I don’t think I have room for improvement, but because I think that is simply in my nature. So this years list consists of 3 new items and 2 repeats.

Revisit Old Cookbooks For New Recipes
I have accumulated quite a cookbook collection. This year before I run out and buy any new cookbooks, I’d like to run through some of my old favorite cookbooks to see if there aren’t some more good recipes lurking in there. I am thinking there are probably a number of recipes I passed by because they looked too difficult for my skill set at the time. The older the cookbook is, the more likely I will find items that didn’t fit my skills. I have improved my skill set and will probably find all kinds of things to try. Plus it will be good to revisit some “old friends”.

Make More Desserts
This is a holdover from the past three years that, I let slide. I did make a rotisserie pineapple recipe from Planet Barbecue this year that was excellent. Perhaps this will help me do more. With side dishes I had to keep asking myself if there weren’t some sides I could make out at the grill or smoker. After a while this morphed into: “I am making X, what sides am I making on the grill or smoker to go with it?” I need to start that same process with desserts so after a while I don’t have to think about it, I just do it.

Experiment with Appetizers
This is another holdover from the previous two years. I got a little closer in that somethings I’ve made could be both appetizers or, in larger quantities, a main meal. One of my issues with this is: If I am out making appetizers it is hard to be working on the main meal. I need to explore appetizers that can be made ahead to better fit in with the big picture. Where I have been more comfortable doing multi item cooks, this should be the year.

Use the Rotisserie More
Now that I have the remote read rotisserie thermometer, two sets of forks, and can grill in any weather, I want to use it more. There are several things I’ve wanted to try: Cornish Hens, Baby Back Ribs, and a large Whole Chicken. I did finally make rotisserie duck this year and I want to make it some more.
Try Some Recipes I’ve Been Talking About For a Long Time - Past year I finally got around to making duck on the grill, which I’ve long talked about. There are several other items that fall into that category for me too.

Beef Wellington
This is a bit of a strange one I know, but I have always wanted to try to make a Beef Wellington on the grill. One of the things holding me back is Beef Tenderloin isn’t one of the cheapest meats in the world. When I have the most free time, it generally means work is slow and I don’t have a lot of money to spend. Hopefully the economy rebounds next year. Salt Crusted Prime Rib: same cost issue there. Salt crusted chicken: I just saw this recipe this summer. I don’t want to let it become a long time wish list item, so I will list it here.
I’d like to thank you for reading this and my other blogs this year. I hope somewhere along the line, something you read or saw on this site has been of help to you. Let me wish you a wonderful 2011 with lot’s of great things coming off our grills and smokers.


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