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

Thanksgiving Eve 2014-New & Improved?

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This is Part 2 in a 3 part blog entry about Thanksgiving 2014 where I violated the old adage that: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”. I had been turning out my best turkey ever these last few years, but I was no so thrilled with the dark appearance it seemed to take on. At first my plan was to only change the turkey recipe, but by the time Thanksgiving rolled around I had decided to change virtually everything. Part 1, THANKSGIVING 2014 - NEW & IMPROVED?, discusses the changes I made and the thinking behind them. This entry will discuss my Thanksgiving Day Eve cook and whether things went according to plan and if everything turned out the way they should. Part 3, THANKSGIVING DAY 2014 - NEW & IMPROVED? discusses the items I made Thanksgiving Morning. I am going to give something away: Thanksgiving morning things definitely DID NOT go according to plan. It was in a way The Tale of Two Cooks, where two old adages applied. The first half of the cook could have been called: “When bad things happen to good cooks”. I was at the point where I was getting ready to decide what item I could NOT make to help get things back on track. Fortunately the adage “If you don’t succeed, try, try again”, took effect. We often learn a lot from our mistakes or failures than we do if everything goes smoothly. I didn’t have any failures, but there were plenty of mistakes to go around. If you are interested in learning more there are links at the bottom of this blog to some relevant Picture or Blog entries and some of the recipe links.

This blog entry and Part 3 were originally intended to be posted a few days after Thanksgiving when I wrote it, with Part 1 describing the thinking behind the changes, being posted a few days before Thanksgiving. As it turned out work hit the fan, I had issues with the software for my website and together these two items initially prevented me from posting this blog. Then I got a pit controller just before Christmas. This was a huge change to my cooks and I wrote a series of blogs on that topic. I wanted to write those while the initial experience was fresh in my mind. Thanksgiving is well behind us, but I am still going to post this blog. I think there might be some worthwhile information in it about multi-item cooks, make ahead cooks, and using the Egg for tasks like baking. Plus there was an element finality to this because this was a scheduled holiday dinner, with one shot to get it right,


THANKSGIVING EVE:The night before Thanksgiving couldn’t have gone smoother, with one exception. My plan was to make the Nantucket Cranberry Cake and while it was baking on my dedicated baking Egg, I would get the Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce started in the Kitchen. This sauce has a long, but easy prep. It essentially simmers & reduces for an hour plus. It was around freezing and there was a light coating of snow everywhere. As I have discovered the weather doesn’t affect the Big Green Egg, only the cook using the Egg.


One of the nice things about having a dedicated baking Egg is I can leave it configured for the typical baking setup I use these days. That would be the Adjustable Rig with the oval pizza stone on Level 1.5 (1 1/2” or 3.8cm above the ceramic fire ring)and the stock BGE s/s grill grid on top of the AR at Level 6 (6” or 15cm above the fire ring). Sometimes I add the rig extender and put a shelf at Level 7.5 (7.5” or 19cm above the fire ring). Level 6 or Level 7.5 gets the baked goods up into the dome where they cook nice and evenly. In fact they cook so evenly I do not have to rotate them to even out the cooking like I do in my indoor oven or at lower shelf heights in the Egg. This works out well in the cold weather because I do NOT need to open the lid midway through and rotate the baked goods 180 degrees. One trick I use is to try to bake without the Dual Function Metal Cap and set my temperature only using the lower draft door. OR you can remove the cap temporarily to peer inside the chimney opening. This allows me to shine a flash light down the chimney opening and see how things are going. Do NOT do this at higher temps because flames often burst out of the chimney opening at temps above 450 degrees (232C) or so. The other bonus about cooking up in the dome is the time seems to be within 5 minutes of what the recipe calls for. I lit the Egg and put the fully set up AR back in. I had a temperature probe at the cooking grid level and I could go in and monitor the pre-heating on my Maverick remote read thermometer from in the Kitchen. When the Egg got to within 75 degrees (40C) of my desired cooking temperature, I went out and set the upper & lower dampers to the proper opening for my desired 350 degree (175C) baking temp.

I went back in to continue my prep, being sure to keep an eye on the Maverick to make sure I did not overshoot my desired temperature. I did need to go out and make one tweak to the upper damper since the temperature was overshooting slightly. At this point, I noticed a charcoal smell coming from my Egg. One of the reasons I use Wicked Good Weekend Warrior charcoal is it tends to be very smoke neutral. I have had this problem several times recently and I have not figured out clause. My two theories are: it is either an off batch of the Wicked Good that made it to the distributer or somehow the charcoal got wet. I planned to let the Egg warm up for an additional 30 minutes so that the Egg and the pizza stone were truly stabilized at 350 degrees (175C). I hoped that the additional 30 minutes of warm-up would serve to burn off whatever was causing this charcoal smell. Sadly it did not. Though my Egg had warmed up for nearly an hour total, I still had this smell.

This recipe is called a cake, but it is more like a pie. The pictures of the recipe showed it being served in a pie plate but it also mentioned using a square cake pan. I elected to choose the pie plate based on a hunch I had. I had never made a recipe like this where the batter was poured on over the fillings at the end. I really didn't think this cake would have a solid bottom. Sure some of the batter would make it to the bottom, But I didn't think enough would make it to the bottom where you could lift this out of the cake pan and cut into pieces. If I needed to serve it in the dish I baked it in, I did not want that be my cake pans. First of all they are nonstick so I didn't want to be poking around with a knife trying to cut pieces with the cake still in the pan. Secondly a pie plate makes for better presentation if you're going to serve out of the dish you bake in. It turned out I was exactly right. Some of the batter did make it all the way to the bottom, But there definitely was not a continuous solid bottom crust. So it definitely was necessary to serve straight out of your baking dish, otherwise you would lose a lot of the filling.

The recipe was fairly simple and straightforward. The pie plate got greased and the chopped cranberry and nut filling went in first. I had chopped the frozen cranberries in half several days earlier. I knew it would be tedious and time consuming , so I did it on an day when I had plenty of time to spare. This was topped with a liberal coating of sugar. The cake batter was mixed in a separate bowl and poured over the filling. I used a spatula to even out the batter and smooth it out somewhat too. The last step was to apply a liberal layer of sparkling sugar on top to give the crust a sweet crunchy finish. I brought the finished cake out of the Egg and put it on the shelf to bake for 40 to 45 minutes. I could still smell a bit of the charcoal smell but was less pronounced in earlier. I was just going to have to keep my fingers crossed that it didn't overpower the taste of the cake. I want out to look at 40 minutes and the cake needed a little more time. At the 45 minute mark, the cake was good to go. I brought it into the Kitchen to cool focused on finishing the Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce.


This was an Aalton Brown recipe I tried 5 years ago and it was a huge hit then and now. It actually eliminated my serving not one, but two other items. As you might expect this dish was able to replace jellied cranberry. This first year I made this dish, I served jellied cranberry sauce and nobody touched the jellied cranberry. This dish also eliminated turkey gravy because the intent is you dip your sliced turkey in this sauce. Every year I ask if people want me to make gravy or serve some jellied cranberry sauce and no one wants it. I still remember the first year I made this. People asked what they could use this for and I answered it is intended for the turkey but use it on anything you want. After that people were dipping everything on their plates in it including their dinner rolls too.

This recipe was a case of where the directions didn’t tell the either the whole story or the right story with several problems or mistakes in the recipe. Right off the bat this recipe got off to a bad start by showing the wrong picture. The picture on the website shows a cranberry sauce with the berries intact within the liquid of the sauce. The recipe itself calls for you to puree the sauce as the last step, so this obviously can’t be right. There was a companion video on the site that confirmed the picture showing the whole cranberries was wrong. The recipe as written, will also feed an army. I cut the quantity down by fifty percent and even with six to eight people using it on more than just the turkey, there was a bunch left over. The time called for to reduce the sauce is at least half off what it needs to be. I find the times called for in most recipes for reductions are typically way off. I simply reduce it to half or whatever the recipe calls for and the time is what it is. It is nice to know what that time will be and after making it 5 times I now allow 45 to 60 minutes. The last problem is when you go to puree the reduced mixture. When the cranberries are cut open they must release air or some other gas. If you aren’t careful this gas release will blow the lid right off your blender. The first year I was holding the lid tighter than normal and I had the lid blown right out from under me. The lid hit the ceiling and the ceiling and I were covered with hot sauce. Fortunately, as I mentioned, there is twice as much as you need and in this case it came in extra handy. The last 3 years I have been using an immersion blender. This seems to deal with the gaseous discharge better than a closed environment like a blender.

I gathered all of the ingredients near my cooktop and got the recipe started. I had finished all of the prep and had gotten the sauce to the point where I was starting the reduction. While the Nantucket Cranberry Cake was cooling, the dipping sauce was reducing. This year it took about 60 minutes to complete the reduction. Then I poured off the dipping sauce into a bowl and let it cool, which took about 90 minutes more.

Thanksgiving Eve had gone well and I had a very positive attitude going into Thursday morning’s cooks. The only possible negative this night was the slight smokiness I detected from this batch of Wicked Good charcoal. But I was excited to try the new recipes I would be making and couldn’t wait for Thursday morning. Sadly Thursday morning turned into a comedy of errors to the point where I was on the verge of deciding to leave something off the menu to get things back on track. But I feel we often learn more from our mistakes sometimes than our successes. To use a holiday reference I was just able to grab my chestnuts out of the fire. Read more about this in Part 3,

Here are some links to the there entries in this series. There are also links to my picture entries for the items described above. Some of the recipes are freely available on the web and if so, I have provided a link to the recipe as well.

   THANKSGIVING 2014 - NEW & IMPROVED?  These last few years I have had Thanksgiving dinner perfected. So why in the world would I change things up? Would I live to regret it?
   THANKSGIVING DAY 2014 - NEW & IMPROVED?  Coming Soon I had Thanksgiving dinner perfected, but this year I changed it all up. Thanksgiving Day’s cook was a comedy of errors that had me thinking maybe I should have never changed things.




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