Starting with 2006’s BBQ blog, I have written a year end wrap up summing up my past year pursuing this hobby. At years end everybody in the media seems to do some sort of Top !0 list. In my case I have reduced it to several Top 5 lists. The list helps me to think about what I have learned during the last year, plus I also use it to chart my course for the next year. By looking at my previous years blog I can see just how I did in reaching my goals. Many times I may not do everything I wanted to, but by reviewing the list from last year it is easy to see what I missed doing and add those items to this years list. Plus it is sometimes fun for me to reread the lists for each year to see my progression pursuing this hobby. I am a bit late getting this online this year, but since it is a retrospective of the year 2016 I will post it in the 2016 Blogs area. Some new 2017 Blog Entries are in the works. I just must free up some time to write and post them. 2016 year was a watershed year for both me and this site. I had some serious health issues that caused me to have to lose a lot of weight and my being put on a very low sodium diet. This will have a huge effect on what I can eat going forward. While there are some things I will never be able to eat again, I am trying to learn how to make that list as short as possible by learning some of the alternative ingredients that are lower sodium. I also promised myself I was not going to let it suddenly turn me into a preachy evangelist for healthy living. Honestly I would go out and order up a breakfast burrito or pizza right now if I could. So I am not going to tell people not to eat those things when the truth is I want them myself. The only thing I will suggest is perhaps you learn to eat a little healthier so your body will let you keep eating all of the things you love long term. This event in my life is going to have the biggest impact ever on what I make and what I can eat. But I am stubborn, I don’t want to only eat “rabbit food” and I will continue to try to learn how I can work low sodium versions of my favorites into my diet when possible. I also had to take some time off to deal with family and personal health issues which cut into my grilling time. I also totally redid the look and feel of the site to freshen up the look and make it more responsive and mobile device friendly. People seem to like the new look from the feedback I have gotten. Lastly starting in September I now have a client that I will be working 40 hours per week for. It means one or two days where I may be out of the office instead of working from home all week. So I will lose a little flexibility when I can grill or smoke. But after 3 or 4 years of having to tailor my work to part time only and to an uncertain availability schedule, I am grateful to have steady work with a regular paycheck.
As usual the lists in this blog entry consists of the Top 5 Items Cooked in 2016, which is self explanatory. However there is also a Top 5 New Items Cooked in 2016 list. Some years the Top 5 Items Cooked list tended to contain food items that were my favorite foods too. So because I liked pulled pork if I made a pulled pork recipe that year it would usually end up on this list. Rather than have this list be populated with many of the same type things year after year, I added the Top 5 New Items cooked. This made room for some new entries that were very good and worthy of being on the Top 5 list, but might be crowded out by new versions of old favorites. Since I have had to change my diet this year, there are far more new items on this list than many years. I am trying to take a positive attitude that not being able to make some old favorites will give me the opportunity to find new favorites. Also in some cases new versions of old favorites. Now that I have 3 Eggs, I often use one for the main dish, one for the sides and one for rolls and desserts. As a result, I am making more side dishes and regularly baking on the Egg. So there are now separate lists for Top 3 Sides, Top 3 Baked Goods and Top 3 Desserts. I have noted in parenthesis the items that I made a Low Sodium version of.
TOP 5 ITEMS COOKED IN 2016
Smoked Garlic Beef Tenderloin (12-31-16)
I usually have this blog written and posted before Christmas. But this year I didn’t get to it and so my amazing New Years Eve (day) meal was eligible for inclusion here for 2016. That meal sent 2 items to this list. Besides this amazing beef tenderloin the IRON SKILLET BAKED POTATOES also made the list. Beef tenderloin is an amazing piece of meat, but this piece was a center cut piece of USDA Prime grade tenderloin. This recipe from Fred Thompson’s The Kamado Grill Cookbook had you smoke the meat low and slow. To help flavor it a garlic and herb paste was applied to the outside. This marked the first time I slow smoked a beef tenderloin, and I used hickory chunks as recommended. This was the first beef tenderloin I’ve made on the Egg. The great seal you get from a Kamado grill really paid off in an incredibly moist and juicy roast. This was the best piece of meat I have ever tasted. The herb crust was very flavorful and the hickory smoke seemed to help bring out the beef flavor of the roast. The 1/2” thick slices of meat was literally cut with a fork tender. Not only was this my top item cooked in 2016, it was the top meat I have ever cooked or eaten. It is a pricey piece of meat, but if you have a special event you can’t go wrong.
I think Memphis dry rub ribs are my favorite style of ribs.These ribs used a mustard slather to help hold the rub on and where I love mustard this was almost a “Can’t Miss”. This recipe from Eric Mitchell’s More BBQ & GRILLINGproduced some of the best dry rub ribs I have ever had. This was the first time I ever made dry rub ribs by smoking them on the Egg.They were very, very moist. I am not sure if this is from smoking vs. grilling like you often use for dry rub ribs or if it was due to the tight seal of the Egg. Either way these ribs were excellent: crisp and crunchy on the outside and moist and flavorful on the inside.
I had never made a New England boiled corned beef & cabbage dinner before. When the day was done I was amazed to find I had hit a homer and made the best corned beef & cabbage dinner I’ve ever had. For the occasion I bought a USDA Prime grade corned beef brisket from my butcher. It was organic and had all of the good buzzwords associated with a great piece of meat. What it didn’t have was salt peter, a preservative, which also gives corned beef its pink color. So this brisket didn’t have the traditional corned beef red color. But as my butcher reminded me: What piece of beef is naturally bright red? The corned beef was brined using the butcher’s 40 year old family recipe. I combined several recipes from various web sites to help cook the meat. This corned beef was truly amazing with all kinds of complex flavors. Getting a corned beef from the butcher vs. the high volume supermarket variety is an excellent way to insure a great meal.
This was another recipe from Eric Mitchell this time from SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO. I wanted to make a whole beef brisket, which I had only done once before. I also wanted to try my hand at burnt ends. This was one of those cooks that: “Takes what it takes”. I started it the night before and intended to have it for lunch the next day. Instead of taking 10-12 hours as I expected, it had a 5 hour plateau at 150 (66 C) degrees and took 17 hours. We ate this brisket for supper instead of dinner. Fortunately my CyberQ WiFi literally had everything under control and I got a god nights sleep and was able to attend to other things during the following day. There is a saying that: “Good things are worth the wait”. That was certainly the case here. The brisket was great, but the burnt ends were incredible. Crispy, moist and incredibly tender. If you like burnt ends, definitely try this recipe.
I have made Matambre before but there were two big differences with this recipe from Eric Mitchell’s More BBQ & GRILLINGFirst of all the recipe was written for being made on the Big Green Egg (or other Kamado cookers). Secondly the cooking method for this was direct/indirect vs. Indirect for the other Matambres I have made. The recipe is a South American version of a pinwheel roast. Various meats, cheese and veggies are rolled up in a butterflied flank steak which is tied in a tubular shape. Giving the outside a high temperature sear made the outer crust crispy and tasty, far more flavorful than cooked indirect in foil. Finishing it indirectly on the Egg made it vey moist. This was a best of the best version of Matambre and well worth making.
I have wanted to make more fish and I also wanted to try my hand at deep fat frying. A big advantage to doing it out on the Egg was I wasn’t stinking up the house for several days. My butcher is also a fish monger. They get fresh fish in during the week and I started off with fresh pieces of haddock fillets. I wanted to get a recipe that was both foolproof, easy to make and gave great results. That is not always and easy trick: You can often achieve any 2 out of 3 of those, but all 3 at once can be hard to find. When I think of that type of recipe, I think of Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen first and foremost. This recipe from Cooks Illustrated did not disappoint. I had to make some tweaks to make these beer battered fish and chips low sodium and alcohol free. The end results were as good as any fish and chips I have ever had in the best seafood restaurants in Boston. As long as you maintain the proper oil temperature things came out exactly as planned. I am very happy with my fist deep fat fried meal on the Egg. Those of you without diet restrictions could make this recipe as written and I’m sure it will be as good or better than my results.
See: FISH & CHIPSFish Picture Entry(Low Sodium) ________________________
Expresso Chicken Breasts (09-05-16)
Eric Mitchell’s two cookbooks have a big presence on this list this year. This time the recipe is from More BBQ & GRILLING.The first item that contributed to the greatness of this cook was the amazing all natural boneless skinless chicken breasts from my butcher. They were huge and measured 1 1/2” (3.75 cm) thick in the middle. The breast received a dry marinade, which was a essentially a dry rub applied the night before. A big component in the rub was Expresso Powder, which gave a deep rich flavor. I had no idea how long these huge breasts would take to grill, but I let my CyberQ WiFi control the cook and I used it’s three temperature probes to tell me when the breasts were perfectly cooked. The rub was great, with great flavor, but it was the breasts that put this recipe way over the top. The breast meat was incredible, moist and meaty. These were the best chicken breasts I have ever had. I used more of these breasts to help make the Chicken Quesadillas also listed further down the page here.
I have never made turkey tenderloins before and after trying this recipe, I will be making them more often. The recipe from the Food Network was written for the oven. Indirect grilling it allowed me to get some added smoke flavor from the lump charcoal. It used a pesto made with fresh herbs and olive oil. The tenderloins were placed in a wire mesh grill tray. I added some red potatoes all around the perimeter of the turkey to cook along with the turkey making this a one pot meal. Cooking everything together assured a nice blending of the flavors of the meat and potatoes. Making this on the Egg helped insure a moist piece of meat and there was a nice hint of smoke flavor. This was a very interesting dish with a many wonderful flavors all blending together.
Steak Tips are a favorite here in New England. This was another Eric Mitchell recipe from More BBQ & GRILLING. Eric is a New England native and this recipe proves he knows his steak tips. Moxie is an old time soda also made here in New England. The meat was flap steak, which was cut into strips and marinated overnight in a Moxie based marinade that gave it great flavor and helped keep the meat from drying out when grilled. I used a grill basket to make flipping the strips of meat a one step operation. The Moxie marinade had helped bring out the beef flavor and offered it’s own unique and complementary flavor. With the overnight marinading, these are not an impulse cook. But if you want some unique and great steak tips, you certainly couldn’t do better than this recipe. See: MOXIE MARINATED STEAK TIPSBeef Picture Entry(Low Sodium) ________________________
Chicken Quesadillas v2 (09-04-16)
This was really two cooks in one. I started out by making my own corn tortillas. There were two reasons for this: There is metter flavor in the homemade version and the ability to control the amount of sodium in them. Part two was the quesadillas, which I made using my own choice of fillings. I started off grilling more of the amazing all natural boneless, skinless chicken breasts I also used for the Expresso Chicken Breasts on this list. I grilled up all the veggies too to get some nice grilled flavor and caramelization. Then I assembled the quesadillas and grilled them up. Everything was done on two cast iron half moon griddle grates. The quesadillas were excellent with great grilled flavor on the fillings and the homemade corn tortillas were indeed a cut above the store bought variety.
This category was added in 2012 as Top 5 Sides & Desserts. I am making many more Sides as well as Desserts so I have split this category up into two separate lists. The Top 3 Sides List has had the name changed to Top 3 Sides & Veggies. In addition I have added a Top 3 Desserts list.
Iron Skillet Baked Potatoes (12-31-16)
The meal I made on New Year Eve was one of the best meals I have ever made. The Smoked Garlic Beef Tenderloin was the best piece of meat I’ve ever had and these were the best baked potatoes I have had. The beauty of them was the simple prep. The steps: 1) Wash the potatoes, 2) Cut them in half lengthwise and 3) Place them in a cast iron skillet cut side down over a pat of butter. The potatoes were baked on the Egg for 45 minutes at 350 (177C) degrees. They could also be baked in the oven, but doing them on the Egg allowed me to add some smoke from Apple wood chips. When the potatoes reached 200 (93 C) degrees I flipped them to finish skin side down and I took them to 212 (100C) degrees. The potatoes were crispy on the outside with a great buttery taste on the inside. Simple prep and cook with incredible results.
This recipe came from a surprising source: Figure skater Brian Boitano has a gig on the Food Network and this was his recipe. It starts off with grilling 6-8 ears of corn and this is one of these cases where you can’t really over cook the corn. You are looking to get a nice char on the corn.I have made this now several times and the last time I used the Wok Spider and the 13” (33 cm) Cast Iron grill grate suspended right over the coals to get a quick deep char. While the corn cools you prep the other veggies & herbs. You then shuck the grilled corn and combine everything together into the finished salad. I typically make it a little ahead and refrigerate it for several hours. This salad is said to pair particularly well with fish, but the truth is it pairs well with anything I have served it with. Where it can be made ahead, I have made it several times to bring to a pot luck type dinner and people have been arguing over who gets the leftovers (if any)
This recipe came from Stephen Raichlen’s Project Smoke. I was looking for a quick dish to go with the lamb ribs I was making this day and this recipe was just what the Doctor ordered. While the recipe was before my low sodium diet period, it certainly could be made low sodium via the use of a salt substitute. The corn was cut into thirds and the onion into wedges. They were smoked for 20 minutes and allowed to cool after which the corn was shucked. The remainder of the recipe from the cream sauce on was made in the kitchen. There were very few ingredients, but the dish had some powerful and complex flavors that held their own vs. the Lamb Ribs I was serving this day.
The Top 3 list for this category was added in 2014 year to cover non-dessert baked goods such as breads, rolls, scones etc. With the addition of my dedicated baking Egg in 2014 I have been doing many more baked goods, This year recipes from the King Arthur Flour website took all 3 spots on the list.
Honey Wheat Black Bread (03-05-16)
I was looking for a bread with a strong robust flavor to pair well with the other items I would be making this day. This King Arthur Flour recipe fit the bill nicely. Brown bread is a favorite here in New England and this recipe was said to be the Canadian version of brown bread. The main difference was the use of honey versus molasses as one of the main ingredients. I had a little trouble with the oven spring (rise) because I made my batter a bit too soupy. So instead of rolls, I had black bread squares. The flavor was all still present but in a differently shaped package. If you love New England style brown bread, you love this too. Think of it as a sweeter version of brown bread.
I was looking for a robust rye bread recipe that could hold its own against the big bold flavor of the pastrami I would be serving this day. This recipe from the King Arthur Flour website didn’t disappoint. The bread had some big bold flavors of its own and people liked it so much they were having pieces of it on the side in addition to their pastrami sandwiches. You must plan ahead because the bread has two rises before you bake it, but it is well worth the wait. Besides the big bold flavors, it had a crackling crisp crust and was relatively soft on the inside. So it ate as good as it tasted. See: CARAWAY RYE BREADBaking Picture Entry ________________________
Whole Wheat Pita Bread (08-28-16)
Yet another Eric Mitchell recipe, this time from More BBQ & GRILLINGmade it to this years Top Items. This time though it was in a surprising category: Baking. These pitas were made to go along with a made from scratch LAMB SOUVLAKI, also from Eric Mitchell. By making these homemade pitas I got better flavor and was able to control the sodium in the recipe. The pitas were coked on a pizza stone and towards the end of their cook time puffed up like a ball forming a center pocket. When the pitas were off the grill and cooling, I brushed them with a garlic oil for better flavor. These pitas had better flavor and texture than the supermarket variety pitas, including that hint of sweetness you only get from fresh baked goods eaten fresh out of the oven.
This category was added for the 2014 list because I was baking many more desserts on the grill. Now that I have a dedicated baking Egg, this trend had continued. Recipes from King Arthur Flour took swept this category, This year due to my low sodium diet, I baked less than normal. Baking Soda has as much sodium as the equivalent amount of salt. Baking Powder is high too at 50 percent. Also salt is used not just as a seasoning, but it serves to retard the rise in some recipes. This means you can’t just substitute for it. As a result the desserts that made the list are all made before my low sodium diet started. I am determined to figure out ways to bake more desserts next year.
Lemon Bliss Cake (12-05-15)
This recipe from King Arthur Flour was a big surprise. I chose it because I wanted a quick and easy change of pace. It was easy to make as expected, but its bold lemony goodness was a big surprise. The cake used lemon juice in the glaze and as expected the glaze had a sweet and tart lemon flavor . But the 2 tablespoons of lemon zest added to the batter made the cake even more lemony than the glazing. It was deliciously tart causing your mouth to pucker a bit when you bit into it. Everyone raved about this cake and everyone had second slice. This after saying how full they were from their meal. See: LEMON BLISS CAKEDessert Picture Entry ________________________
Pumpkin Bread Pudding (12-25-15)
Another King Arthur Flour recipe which proved to be a big hit. I wanted to try my hand at making bread pudding for Christmas, but I didn’t want to make the same kind of bread pudding my parents used to make. I figured the pumpkin flavoring would be a great change of pace (and it was). Another advantage of this recipe is it could be made ahead, refrigerated and then baked on the Egg Christmas morning. Everyone had filled up on the prime rib dinner I served and it was looking like dessert would be neglected after this meal. But then one person tried a piece of bread pudding and was not only raving about it, he made everyone try it. I am glad they did because it was both unique and excellent.
King Arthur Flour swept the Desserts category this year. These were the first tarts I have made and though they were a bit fussy, it was worth it. The tarts were both filling and flavorful, certainly living up to their name “tart” The fussy part was cutting the dough rounds out and laying them into the tart pan to receive the filling. One of these tarts was filling and two made you feel like you would explode. But they were good enough everyone “forced” themselves to have another. See: MINI LEMON TARTSDesserts Picture Entry ________________________
TOP 5 iOS COOKING RELATED APPS
This list was added in 2012 and had been somewhat the same every year. This year one new app made the list and one slipped off. Plus there was a reordering of the list with CyberCook rising to the top of the list and the previous top app slipping to number 5. There is a new app and it is a bit of a stretch because it also works on your computer. That app is the Craftsy platform of online classes in Arts and crafts. I included it here because I tend to use it on my iPad more than my Mac or Apple TV. Just like last year, and again a bit of a stretch: I am including the Apple Watch. Yes this isn’t a iOS app, but like these apps the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone which gives you additional functionality. So it is like a hardware app for your iPhone. All of these apps help make cooking outdoors easier and more fun. While this list is iOS specific, many of these apps or something like them are available for other smartphone platforms. The app that slipped off the list: Kitchen Calculator Pro is one I still use, but just not as much now with the Apple Watch in the picture.
CyberCook (iPortable Solutions, LLC)
This is a 3rd party companion app for the BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi. It helps to make the CyberQ easier to use and adds or extends features. There are several of these apps out there. But for my money this was the most polished version with the best features. One of the great usability features is that the touch interface of CyberCook on an iPad is far easier to use for settings than the 4 arrows and center button scrolling menu system used on the CyberQ. The ability to create an attractive graph of your cooks is huge. You can call up other cooks in your history to see how this one compares. When setup correctly you can control the CyberQ over WiFi from anywhere in the world. This means you can run some local errands and monitor your cook from your iPhone or iPad. This year there was a very worthwhile upgrade to CyberCook which added new features and improved the usability. I also added a second CyberQ Wifi and this combination of hardware and software has become even more useful and essential to my cooking than before.There are separate versions for the iPhone and iPad with interfaces tailored to the screen real estate of those devices. If you have a CyberQ WiFi definitely look into this app. The blog link below is to a rather extensive review I wrote about this app.
FULL DISCLOSURE: In 2014 I bought and paid for CyberCook after buying, trying and disliking several other solutions. I had some questions which the developer, answered in great detail. We got into some email discussions about features that might be handy to have. CyberCook was developed at first for completion BBQ teams. I gave the developer a lot of feedback on the app from the perspective of a backyard BBQer. He valued this information was nice enough to give me a code where I could get a free copy of CyberCook Mini for the iPhone. Total cost: $6.99. I also Beta tested Version 3 and gave the developer a lot of feedback on the app. The update to Version 3 of CyberCook was a free update for all at the time I am writing this. If you add up the amount of time I spent writing emails with reports about the two versions of CyberCook I’ve used and Beta tested, my hourly rate would be measured in cents per hour. Therefor I will leave it to the person reading this whether my opinion can be bought for $6.99.
Craftsy is an internet based art & crafts trying site where you can take training courses. Two things set it apart from many of the others: First you don’t pay a monthly membership to retain access to your classes. When you take a course you pay for it and it is yours forever. You aren’t paying a monthly fee to keep being able to access your courses. They are yours and you can download them and keep them on your computer., tablet or smartphone. To save storage space on your local device, you can keep your course online and stream them onto your mobile devices or computers. They even have an app for the 4th generation Apple TV. The second thing is the platform was designed form the ground up to be social. You can ask questions of the teachers, post pictures, interact with other students. The people who teach the classes are experts in their field and may have written definitive books on the topic they are teaching. This year I learned how to make my own homemade tortillas from a class on Mexican cooking. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving picture is invaluable. I have written several blogs about the Craftsy platform and specific classes and I will refer you to them if you want to learn more. The reason I listed Craftsy under best iOS apps is I tend to access these courses on my iPad most often. I can have my iPad out in the Kitchen with me while I cook. Definitely check Craftsy out. Their attention to detail is evident every step of the way.
See: LOW & SLOW BBQ AT HOME-PT. 1Blog entry describing purchase of my first Craftsy course and describing the Craftsy platform. LOW & SLOW BBQ AT HOME-PT. 2 Blog entry describing my first Craftsy course taught by Ray Lampe-AKA Dr. BBQ. THE ART OF STIR FRYINGBlog entry describing thet Craftsy stir frying course taught by re known cookbook author and stir frying expert Grace Young. ________________________
Apple Watch (Apple Computer)
The haptic feedback where it vibrates against your wrist means you are far less likely to miss calls, alarms or other alerts. Typically you always have your watch with you. whereas your phone may be in some other room in the house while you are out at the grill. Since the watch uses Bluetooth 4.0, I find at my house I can be at least 50’ away from my iPhone without loosing connectivity. So far there are no killer apps specifically for BBQ and with the release of Watch OS2 & now Watch OS3, I had expected to see some more at this point. For now one of the advantages is the not missing phone calls, only this time it is when I am out at the grill. The CyberQue WiFi does send me text messages of the status every 10 minutes so I can monitor my cooks right from my watch.The Apple Watch replaced the iOS Clock app which had been on earlier years lists. Also I have conversions app on the watch. That means I am using Kitchen Calculator Pro less. which is why it fell off this years list. Once again it is easier having the clock functions (alarm, count up timer, count down timer) right on your wrist. You can also receive reminders on the watch no matter where you are. The Apple Watch allows you to keep your iPhone in your pocket all day and still use most of its functionality. You also can leave the phone charging somewhere in the house and the Apple Watch has you covered if you get a call, text or email. This comes in handy when you are cooking. You can take a call and keep the phone in your pocket or in your house. By setting your notification preferences you can filter down the notifications to just the items you feel are absolutely necessary to see on the watch. Often you can discretely glance at the watch without giving away what your doing, unlike pulling the iPhone out of your pocket. The Gen 2 watch has a much brighter screen and is water proof, both good for outdoor uses like grilling. Your iPhone remains in your pocket most of the time: out of sight, out of mind. I have found that there have been several instances where my phone’s battery ran down because the phone hadn’t left my pocket for two days and I simply forgot about it. ________________________
Dark Sky (The Dark Sky Company, L.L.C.)
Most of the text of this entry is from last years version of this list. There is one new change I will mention at the end RE: the release of an Apple Watch version of this app. I will italicize this new information.
I used to really love this app and actually used to use it for the pure fun of it. An update changed all of that. The app originally told you with a high degree of accuracy, measured in mere minutes, when it is going to start raining or snowing and the expected intensity in the next hour. By looking only one hour into the future this app tends to be very accurate. The app also sends you an alert on your iPhone or iPad if it is going to start raining. A subsequent update changed all of this in two ways. The app added a bunch of new features in an attempt to become a full fledged weather app. The second item was the program has a flatter look and feel a la iOS 7. Frankly the addition of the additional weather functionality is unnecessary clutter for me. I have other apps I prefer to use for this information and the new user interface makes a lot of the additional information hard to comprehend, The new user interface also took much of the joy and wonder I used to feel using Dark Sky. I find the presentation of the information is harder to comprehend and I get less out of it. So this app is still very useful, but now I use it more because I have to and not just for fun sometimes like I used to.
This year with the release of WatchOS3 Apple made some changes to their interface which has increased my usage of Dark Sky on the watch. Apps that you put on the Mac OS equivalent of the Dock are now refreshed in the background so that within a second or two they are displaying useful information. This is a vast improvement over the 10’s of seconds wait with prior versions of watch OS. Also you access these items in two taps, so it is easier to pull up Dark Sky. I also have notifications turned on so significant weather events alert me on the watch plus I get a daily weather forecast at 9:00 AM.
As I have said before: Grocery Gadgets is powerful and using it day to day is easy. Skip down the end to see why this app went from 1st place last year to 5th this year. What hasn’t changed is how quick and easy it is to use once set up. Now that I have all of the groceries I typically buy stored in the app, it has really come into its own. Some of the nice features are: You can recreate the aisle structure of each store and organize the products by aisle for that particular store. There is cloud integration which backs up your lists and allows multiple devices to share the lists even real time at the market. Two people can go shopping and their lists will be updated realtime with the others purchases. Your spouse can even make a change to the list at home and you will get a push notification at the store. There is a web portal that allows you to perform editing tasks via a web browser on your computer for greater ease of use. The app allows you to have customized lists for multiple stores. These lists can contain custom aisle layouts, product lists, pricing and coupons. You are able to use your device’s camera to input a product via its barcode. The software supports all of the major smartphone platforms. I wrote last year that I was getting nervous because this app has not been updated for several years. This may have been a case of be careful what you wish for. The app finally got updated this year and the upgrade while welcome was controversial. I had paid for the full version with all of the features and no banner ads. This years updates was a paid upgrade and added some new tweaks, brought the app into the world of iOS 9 and assured it’s continuing to work a while longer. This was all good. What is VERY, VERY, VERY annoying is even after paying for the new version you still have banner ads you can’t get rid of. I had no problem paying for an upgrade after many years. What I object to is that there is no mechanism to pay more and get rid of the ads. On the iPhone they are very disruptive due to their size relative to the small screen of the phone. Every time I use it, instead of the joy it used to bring, the banner ads annoy the hell out of me. If I see something that works equally well, I would certainly consider switching. But for now I still use it regularly warts and all. It is essential and annoying at the same time.
Pit Controllers Have Many Valid Use Cases on Kamado Grills
I have become addicted to my CyberQ WiFi / CyberCook combination. So much so that when BBQ Guru had a 30 percent off sale I bought a second CyberQ WiFi (the controller unit only) to swap out for the second controller I bought: the DigiQ. I had all of the probes and fan from the DigiQ so I just replaced the DigiQ controller with the CyberQ WiFi. The CyberQ WiFi controls the grill temps more precisely than the DigiQ and unlike the DigiQ, the CyberQ is WiFi enabled. This means I can fire up 2 of my 3 Eggs and let the controllers warm them up and keep them at the right temperature. This allows me to focus on my prep or whatever ever else I may be doing on my 3rd Egg or in the Kitchen. Sure I can do this myself but on days with complex schedules with many things happening all at once, it is nice to be able to leave the control of 2 Eggs to the pit controllers. If I do an overnight cook I can go to sleep knowing if any problems come up in the wee hours of the morning I will be alerted. When I lift the lid of the Egg to add more food I can go back inside knowing the CyberQ will get it back to temp quickly. I never thought I needed a pit controller for backyard BBQ on a Kamado grill. But once I started using my CyberQ WiFi, I knew that I was wrong.
This item has been on the list before, just never as a 2-parter. It is particularly true this year and there are two reasons for it: Quality and Service. In the last several years the local butcher that has been around this area for over 100 years really upped their game. They always had a much bigger selection of meat than the local “Super” supermarkets, but the quality really wasn’t noticeably better. In the last couple of years they have moved to carrying a much better quality of meat. This year most of their typical cuts of beef are now USDA Prime grade and it is not coincidental that some of the best meals I have made have come within this same time period. Every one of the meats for the meals that made this years list came from here, with all but one being prime grade. The steaks I get from this butcher are “melt in your mouth” tender and have amazing flavor. The prime grade corned beef I got from there for St. Patricks Day was simply amazing. I’ve never had better They are a fish monger too and get fresh fish in from Boston during the latter half of the week when the docks in Boston are processing the fish. The all natural chicken breasts I talk about above came from here. Now I know many people may not be able to afford this, and I certainly can’t afford to eat like this every night of the week. But my weekend and holiday cooks are special events where I am trying to make sure my guests have some memorable and now recently healthy food. So for those meals I pull out all of the stops. This was true for the last few years before I was put on my low current low sodium diet and was ordered to lose about 75 pounds too. Some things have come together to help with the economics. Sadly I am cooking for less people these days and I need to eat smaller portions to keep off the 75 pounds I’ve lost. Since I am buying less so I can afford to pay more. Also there are more salads in my diet and less meat. So events have conspired to help me afford the added cost of the better cuts of meat. Believe me people do notice the difference in quality. Sure a great recipe can help make an amazing meal, but great meat is what can really help put it over the top and make it memorable. So even if you can only get these great cuts once a month or several times a year at the holidays it is worth it. The best meat makes special events truly special. ________________________
Get to Know Your Local Butcher - Pt. 2 Service.
This item has been on the list before. As mentioned above I divided it into two distinct parts this year. Part 1, described above, is Quality. But even if you can’t afford your local butcher’s best cuts, there are other reasons you should consider frequenting your local butcher. One part of this equation is that they are usually a small locally owned business and not a multi-outlet faceless chain store. I like to support local businesses when I can. Buying from a single unit store may mean you pay a little more, but you can get a lot more. My local butcher is family owned and has been in business for 100 years and offers a level of service you won’t often get from the meat counter at your supermarket. Because they do a smaller volume, the service is more personalized. The folks there know your name which is nice and all, but what is far more important is they know what you like and how you like it. My butchers are all avid grillers and I actually turned them on to the great aspects of grilling on the Big Green Egg. As long as they are not busy, I may show them pictures of what I have just made using the meat they sold me the last time. I give them feedback, good and bad, on the meat I purchased from them. They are very interested in this feedback, because they know I take this seriously. I do it discretely and when it isn’t busy rather than shouting it from the rafters. In the extremely rare instance where something was less than stellar, they have always offered to make it right. They will often spend time with me discussing the various cuts I might be considering and what the differences are. But I also try not to monopolize their time when they are busy. When I can, I plan my trip for off-hours vs. the lunch or dinner time rush. They will often suggest alternate cuts I might like to try or might work better than what I was thinking of. This butcher supplies local restaurants and also competition BBQ teams so, they can get in almost any meat you want. In these times of free or 99 cent apps, people tend to expect something for next to nothing. Sadly this includes customer service. The butcher’s time is valuable and yes the prices may be higher, but you are usually getting better service. If you aren’t getting a higher level of service, may I suggest that you find another butcher. But your local butcher adds value to his products with their service. Some examples of this are my butcher smokes his own meats for their deli. I can have had them throw something in their smoker for me for use in a stew or chili when I don’t have the right leftovers in my freezer and I don’t have the time to smoke up the meat myself. Since they know my likes and dislikes they will suggest new cuts I might like and let me know of upcoming specials for meats they know I like. They will trim the meat down for me and make tricky cutting operations like butterflying a flank steak look easy. I might succeed in trimming it correctly but there is something to be said for opening a package of meat and being good to go. Similarly they will trim up and cube meat for stews or kebabs for me so I am ready to use the meat when I need it. They trimmed up some pork belly into strips to make my own low sodium bacon. This I never could have done myself. Time is money and a little of their time (as paid for in the slightly higher price) is worth even more time saved by me. So don’t just look at the price, look at the big picture and the value added by their services. ________________________
A Second Use for the Wok Spider: Grilling “Direct on the Coals”
Throughout the years I had seen recipes where you placed the food items directly on the coals to get a big char on them. I never looked at these recipes seriously when I owned a gas grill. When I got my smoker I didn’t consider it then either. I didn’t do direct grilling in the main chamber to help keep it clean and debris free for smoking. The Side Fire Box had a grill grate but it was too small to seriously consider for such a task. To be honest, when I first got my Egg I didn’t give it much thought. The idea of cooking food directly on the lump charcoal and getting charcoal dust on it wasn’t appealing. Charcoal dust just wasn’t on my list of desirable condiments. Then this past spring MeatHead: The Science of Great BBQ and Grilling: by Meathead Goldwyn of the AmazingRibs.com website came out. He had a recipe for steak (see link below) that had you give the steaks a final blast right on the coals. But not quite. To solve the charcoal dust as an undesirable condiment problem, he proposed using a grill grate set right on the coals. This is when the lightbulb went off: I could use my Work Spider from the Ceramic Grill Store to hold a grate just above the coals. When installed legs down the Spider has a ring that supports a wok. When installed legs up the Wok Spider’s ring could support any 13” (33 cm) dia. grill grate for the small Big Green Egg or any other grill. This grill grate would be an inch or so above the level of the coals in the firebox. I bought the 13” cast iron grill grate for the Small Big Green Egg. Used in conjunction with the Adjustable Rig (AR) I have a very flexible system. When I am doing an indirect/direct cook and need a final hot sear: I light the Egg, install the Spider Legs legs up hanging just above the coals and place the 13” (33 cm) CI grill grate on it. Then I place the AR set up for indirect grilling on top of the fire ring. The Spider’s legs fit in notches in the Big Green Egg fire ring and do not interfere with the placement of the AR. I grill the food indirectly on the AR and then remove the AR, food and all, when it is time for the final hot sear. I place the food back on the small CI grill grate for a blazing hot final sear. This setup works like a charm. If you just need some veggies seared/charred you omit the AR and just use the Spider and small grill grate. It works like a charm and I will probably write a blog entry about it after I have a bit more experience using it. So far I have learned 3 things: 1) You must keep your eye on the prize because the food can go from 0 to a cinder in the blink of an eye. 2) You must keep the food moving to avoid that charred cinder condition and 3) You must use long tongs and wear long high temperature rated welders gloves or similar. Lesser gloves won’t do. It is screamingly hot down there due to the proximity to the hot coals and also your arm is down near the ceramics of the fire box and fire ring. The ceramics retain and radiate a lot of heat. But this method is a great way to lay an intense blast of heat onto your food and it is the charcoal grill equivalent to the searing stations/searing burners that have been becoming popular on mid to high end gas grills. One of the advantages over gas grill is you aren’t using more fuel by turning on a high BTU special burner, you are simply tapping into heat that was there anyway.
See: BIG, THICK, STEAKHOUSE STEAKS2016 Picture Entry showing my first attempt a using a high temperature sear directly over the coals. ________________________
Store Stump Chunks Fire Starters Indoors
When I fist started using Stump Chunks Fire Starters, I had zero difficulty lighting them. In fact I often had to move my hand out of the way when the lighter ignited the wood. Over time and into my second and third bags, the Stump Chunks became a little harder and then a lot harder to light. Because you are said to be able to use these in the rain and wet conditions, I figured I had simply opened a new and bad bag of Stump Chunks that might have gotten soaking wet somehow. I didn’t imagine that simply storing them outdoors in the humid weather was the culprit. I kept the bags inside one of the base cabinets of my outdoor kitchen out of direct exposure to the rain. These bags do have an area on one side that actually is an open fabric screen, so the bags are not airtight. When I opened a large fresh bag of Stump Chunks that had been stored indoors at the store and at my house, it illustrated the problem and suggested the solution. Store the Stump Chunks indoors. I keep them on a shelf up off the basement floor in my dehumidified basement. Now I simply bring the bag of Stump Chunks outside with me when I go to light the Egg. Problem solved!
This section documents some mistakes that come up while grilling. All of them are items I try to do only once, I seem to be able to find new and more creative mistakes to make going forward. Sadly I am beginning to think some of these mistakes may achieve permanent status and some will change from year to year. I pass them along here so hopefully you won’t repeat them. You’ll just have to find your own mistakes to make and there will be less of them because you learned from my mistakes.
Leave Enough Time for Prep
This item is a regular item on this list. I am getting better, but it still ends up being a repeat problem. One of the things that is happening is I am doing more difficult or multi-item cooks. If I am not familiar with what I am making, I tend to underestimate the amount of time it is going to take. One of the things I am doing is taking my estimated times and adding on 30 minutes to an hour. If it takes the time I thought, then I can take a break and relax, but often I end up needing the extra time I added in. At least this way I not running late, or at least too late. Now there is a more recent problem: With my growing familiarity with multi-item cooks I am getting a little to cocky sometimes. Even though I do start at a time I think is “early enough”, I manage to underestimate what is “early enough”. All it takes is one little snag and it is off to the races to try to keep my schedule. So I need to revert to my former practices: On real complex cooks involving a main dish, sides, rolls, and dessert I simply start as soon as I get up in the morning. If I am running ahead of schedule I can take a break. Once again this rarely happens, but once again I am not too late. One thing I have been doing to improve on long prep times, is having my butcher do some of the prep work: Cube meat for stew beef or kebabs, cut the beef short ribs into thin strips for a stir fry, trim and pound thin chops for me. I take 2 or 3 times longer to do it and this time can be better used for other things. Also I evaluate recipes to see if some of the prep can happen the night before when things are less hectic. ________________________
Make Sure the Lid is REALLY Closed
This is a new one in 2016 that cropped up 3 or 4 times this year. I always pre-flight new grill setups or cooks where I intend to cook a large piece of meat or many pieces of meat. Better to make sure the lid will close before you have lit the grill. This way you are not scrambling to rearrange items on a hot grill. But for some reason this year I have managed to find this new problem. In my case it has to do with using the Adjustable Rig (AR). When you put a shelf at level 1.5 this puts the front shelf rod at gasket height. There are end returns which you need to face backwards onto the grill to avoid interfering with closing the lid. I’m not sure why I never ran into this before this past year, but here is the situation. It happens two ways. The first is: I light the grill, put the AR in and turn on the CyberQ WiFi. I return to the Kitchen to do more prep and I monitor the startup with on my iPad. The temps rise and when they get to the desired cooking temperature they just keep right on rising. It is normal for them to possible overshoot by 5 degrees so at first I don’t panic. Then when they reach 10 degrees over I figure I have the top damper or fan damper open too much and I go tweak it. It takes a while for changes to take effect so when the temps rise up to 15 degrees over I still wait. When it hits 20 over I go out and tweak the damper again. Bottom line: I can have the grill get 25-50 degrees high before I realize something more is wrong. Now this is not the end of the world when the grill is first warming up. It just costs you a little time. The second situation this happens in is when I pull the AR off the grill to add food, baste/brush a bunch of food, or turn the food. I take advantage of the AR’s ability to be removed quickly which minimizes grill lid open time. Sometimes when I return the AR to the Egg and after the Egg recovers from having the lid open, it starts rocketing past the cooking temperature. In both cases the culprit is the same. The shelf rod for the shelf at level 1.5 is positioned so the end returns are facing forward. These returns are in contact with, and resting on the gasket. This prevents the lid from closing completely. Looking very carefully you will find a 1/16” gap where the lid is not in contact with the gasket. It is difficult to notice unless you are specifically looking for it. The Egg is such a tightly sealed system that this little crack is all it takes to drive the temps an extra 25 or 50 degrees to high. Who knew? Other setups besides the AR can cause this problem: a pan or try that is just slightly too big or not centered can interfere with the lid closure too. Bottom line: Get in the habit of inspecting the seal between the upper lid and the gasket to make sure you don’t have an air leak. ________________________
Learn the Smoking / Burning Temp for Your Rubs
This one has resurfaced after may years, mostly because I am using a bunch of new rubs or seasoning blends for my new low sodium diet. Depending on the ingredients, rubs may burn or blacken at higher or lower temperatures. Traditionally rubs with high sugar content tend to burn or blacken at a relatively low temperature. So unless the recipe specifically calls for something with a high sugar content and a high cooking temperature, keep the temps down with high sugar content rubs. Sometimes a recipe will call for a particular rub recipe and use high temps that are intended to blacken the rub without burning it. But if like me, you are substituting a new seasoning blend or rub ingredient for the one called for in the recipe, take it easy on the cooking temperature until you know the behavior of that item. For example: I have found that the Mrs. Dash steak seasoning blend burns/blackens at a relatively low temperature and I avoid using it much above 450 (233 C) degrees. So take it say with the heat if you are using something new that a recipe didn’t specifically call for. ________________________
Don’t Ignore Your Timers. If You Bother to Set It Don’t Forget It:
I have managed to run into this several times this past year. It is really dumb and I have no excuse to offer. I have something warming up, rising, grilling baking or smoking on the grill. I set a timer for it on my Apple Watch because the watch is always with me and I won’t miss the alert. Then when the alert goes off I ignore it to finish just one more thing before checking on the item in question. This often goes hand in hand with running behind schedule on a cook. You are trying to finish a certain step so you can put the food on a grill, on in the fridge or proof it in the oven. You want to finish this step before running out to the grill. But remember: If you thought a process was important enough to set a timer telling you when it was done, then ignore that timer at your own peril. You may just have created a direct grill setup that is running too high on you or worse yet has totally run away. You may also have overcooked or worse burnt food or over proofed dough which affects the rise of the baked good. ________________________
Preflight all Cooking Setups in 3 Dimensions on the Egg
This is a repeat item and though it was not burned by it this year, I still have had some unexpected surprises during my pre-flights. There were several set ups I thought would work with no issues only to find out during per-flight testing there was an issue, Unlike many grills where you are usually worried whether all of the food will fit on the grill grate, with the Egg you are dealing with issues in height too. Due to the domed shaped lid, the higher up in the Egg you are, the less room you have in length, width and depth. This can result in some surprises. I bought a roast pan for my 2014 Thanksgiving turkey that JUST fit in plan in the X-Y dimensions but the slight inward curving of the lid at the felt line (gasket) interfered with closing the lid. Fortunately I had put the pan in a plastic bag to test it and I was able to return it. Last year made a bundt cake using the Adjustable Rig (AR) where I set a shelf one notch higher on the AR to bake up in the dome. When I finished I found that the stem of the dome thermometer had contacted the front lid of the pan and had tilted the pan forward. I had the “leaning tower of bundt cake” where the batter was not level at the bottom due to the tilting of the pan. So I make it a habit of pre-flight testing out all of my setups involving the Adjustable Rig and multi-tiered shelving arrangements. I often clean and refill my Eggs the night before or earlier in the day and I check my intended setups then. For a big roast or a turkey I will wrap the roast in foil or put it in a plastic bag and actually bring it out to the grill to test it out to make sure the lids closes and has some clearance between the food and the dome. Better to find out this way than putting your food on a hot Egg and finding out it doesn’t fit. With a hot Egg you run into the issue of possibly keeping the lid open too long and creating high or runaway temps. Another thing I do is make test set ups of the layout of the food on the grill. For example if I am grilling quesadillas or burger on the cast iron griddle grate, i will make paper cutouts of that size to see how many patties or quesadillas will fit at a time. I do it indoors on a cool half moon griddle grate to determine if I need to use a second half moon griddle grate or perhaps I will need to cook a second batch. The half moon shape with the pointy nearly triangular corners is often not space efficient for round or rectangular food items. Also before you go out to the grill you know the arrangement of food that maximizes the available area with the half moon or round shaped grates you will be filling. Better to find out this type of thing before hand instead of finding out when you are trying to actually grill the food. ________________________
TOP 5 GRILLING/SMOKING RELATED HAPPENINGS
This section includes items related to my grilling/smoking activities but that are not food items. Examples include BBQ or Cooking Events, Cookbooks, Grills, Grill Accessories that were important contributors to my enjoyment of this hobby.
More BBQ & Grilling (Cookbook)
For the second year in a row an Eric Mitchell cookbook has had a big impact on this list. Last year SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO placed 9 items out of the 19 possible entries. This year SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO placed yet another item on this years list and the new cookbook More BBQ & GRILLINGplaced 5 items. If I hadn’t lost nearly 6 months of grill time this year, I have no doubt there would have been more items making this list. Eric Mitchell’s 2nd cookbook came out in the Spring I have made a dozen items from it so far. Several of these recipes also made not just this list, but my all-time favorites list too. I have sampled Eric and his wife Cindi’s food at New England Big Green Egg related events at least a dozen times. Seeing for the first time, the wide variety of foods Eric used the Egg to cook really opened my eyes. I realized that with a Kamado grill you were limited only by your imagination. Both of his cookbooks have a wide variety of items you can cook on the Egg or any other Kamado grill. These books also do a wonderful job covering the proper way to use a Kamado grill. Yes it is a charcoal grill, but it has some unique characteristics you must learn to get the most out of your Kamado grill. Both cookbooks have you covered. I am hoping a third cookbook is in the works, but meanwhile I still have plenty of things left to try from both cookbooks. If you wish to learn more about this cookbook and his first cookbook, you can read the blogs I wrote when the cookbooks came out.
If you had asked me 3 years ago about getting a pit controller for a Big Green Egg used for backyard BBQ, I might have laughed at you. I would have replied; “Sure if I had all the money in the world and had everything else I wanted”. But using is believing. They have freed up so much time and reduced the stress of multi-item cooks far more than I would have imagined. When I got my 3rd Egg it was beginning to take up a significant amount of time controlling each Egg. Sure the Big Green Egg takes less tweaking than other non-Kamado grills, but the little amount of tweaking required x 3 Eggs was significant. Two Christmases ago I decided to add a pit controller to take over controlling the expensive Prime grade standing rib roast I was making. This would free up some time for making all of the sides, bread and desserts without trips outside to check on the Egg with the roast. My first controller was the CyberQ WiFi, which allowed you to monitor and control your grill anywhere on the planet that has an internet connection. I added a less expensive DigiQ to the collection next. But I soon found out it wasn’t as precise as the CyberQ and I really missed the WiFi capabilities. So in 2016 I added a second CyberQ WiFi (base unit only) to replace the base unit of the DigiQ setup. I waited for a 30 percent off sale and it was short money. These pit controllers have given me stress free overnight cooks where I sleep through the night and the CyberQ does the work. I love the graphing capability that allows me to analyze what is going on with the current cook and compare it to similar cooks in the past. They have also given me less stressful multi-item cooks where the CyberQ’s control and monitor 2 of my 3 Eggs. This frees up a lot of time for me to focus on other things. Plus my food is done perfectly every time. People comment on how my food is the text book perfect doneness. The food probes have the same kind of highly accurate sensor as the Thermapen instant read thermometer. So it is like having 6 Thermapens at my disposal. As long as I insert the food probes into the food correctly and set the right doneness for the food and the right cooking temperature, I can’t help but get picture perfect results. People marvel at this, but I know it is really easy to accomplish and all due to the CyberQ. The last feature that you don’t truly appreciate until you use it is the remote control capabilities. With a little additional setup, you can control your cook on your iPAd/iPhone from anywhere in the world that has a connection to the internet. This frees you up to sneak out and run some errands during a long low and slow cook and keep an eye on things remotely. You can predict when the cook will be done and lower the temperature of the Big Green Egg if needed to buy some time. I once was a pit controller skeptic, now I am one of their biggest fans
With the demise of the NewEGGlandfest and my knowing I was too busy to go to EGGtoberfest 2016 this year, there weren’t many shows to go to. But I still had my dealers mini Eggfest they hold every spring. Many local Big Green Egg dealers have something similar. The dealer essentially has an open house and has people cooking food on the Egg for their guests. I ALWAYS look forward to the Oasis one because they invite Eric Mitchell and his wife Cindi to cook for their guests. I get to sample their great food and pick their brains on Egg related topics. I get a chance to see and hear from the dealer about the new Eggcessories coming out for the Egg this season. It is also fun meeting and talking to potential purchasers, newbie Eggheads and long time Eggheads.
Meathead: The Science of Great BBQ and Grilling Cookbook)
This is my kind of cookbook. Equal parts art and science. I sometimes get tired of cookbooks where the author makes the grand pronouncements from on high without a shred of evidence to back them up. Meathead Goldwyn, the webmaster of the AmazingRibs.com website, has very strong opinions. Unlike some opinionated chefs, he has the science behind his opinions to back them up. When a celebrated BBQ restaurant owner like Aaron Franklin and Christopher Kimball of America’s test Kitchens both strongly endorse this book, you know Meathead has achieved the perfect blend between the art and science of BBQ and Grilling. In some ways this is more of a textbook on the science of great grilling with some amazing recipes thrown in to illustrate the science. Along the way, Meathead proves some “truisms” and conventional wisdom about BBQ and exposes others as purely myth. He does this with controlled scientific experiments and not just his opinions. The book is generously illustrated with pictures, diagrams and charts illustrating each topic. Even though this cookbook came out in the spring of this year, I have been making recipes by Meathead for years via his AmazingRibs.com website. Most of the recipes in that site can be found in this book. Most cook books, you tend to look at the 10 or 20 pages of reference material at the front and the back of the book and glance at the recipes that interest you. This cookbook is a blend of reference material and recipes throughout. You learn a new technique and there are recipes to illustrate that technique. This is one cookbook I expect to read from cover to cover, probably more than once. ________________________
Prime Time (Meat)
This item was happening over time and finally took hold this year. My local Butcher upped their game and made the switch to carrying just USDA Prime grade beef. They also carry the high quality versions of other meat and poultry. In prior years I had wish list items for trying to buy and grill some USDA Prime grade meat to see what all the fuss was about. When I located some Prime grade steaks, I added a wish list item to try more Prime grade. In the past some, but not all of the Whole Foods in the area would get in some Prime grade steaks on a rather irregular basis. A high end chain of franchised butchers shops called the Meat House opened locations in the area. They had Prime grade meats on occasion but often it was a make believe grade that sounded a bit like Prime, but really was a very good Choice with a fancy name. The parent company folded several years ago. The local franchisee remained open under a new name, but they folded just this past year. Coincidentally about 2 years ago or so my current local butcher started getting in real USDA Prime grade on a regular basis. At first it was not every cut of steak all of the time and not the same cut from one day to the next. But I could go in and come back out with some type of USDA Prime grade steak. I did some experiments too. I would sometimes not mention to my guests that they were having a special piece of meat to see if they noticed anything. People would consistently mention how (extra) good the steaks were when I used Prime grade meat. At first I would get really nervous that I would burn or dry out a very expensive cut of meat. But by being watchful and having my trusty Thermapen by my side I was able to constantly hit the desired donees temperature, generally medium rare. I was also able to try some other Prime grade cuts of beef and I was never disappointed. This year various outside events have conspired to make the Prime grade meat be something I can make more often within limits. There has been some attrition (sadly) in the number of guests I am making these family meals on the weekend. As part of my new very low sodium diet I needed to lose and keep off around 75 pounds and this means smaller portions for me. My guests can’t eat as much as they used to either. Lastly in the last few years work has been intermittent because I had other more important things that came first. Now since September, I find myself with a new client and a contract for 40 hours of work a week. This means I can pay for my expensive taste buds and not worry about being able to pay my essential bills. Also with more time for work, there is less time for play during the week. As a result I am grilling less for now, which also helps the budget. So now instead of going in to the butcher shop and searching for what cuts of beef are Prime grade this week and coming up with a good recipe for using that cut. I now find an interesting recipe and simply go in and get that cut in Prime. ________________________
5 GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR
This year was a different kind of year for me, where I had to spend many months dealing with more important issues than grilling. I’ve had to change my diet over to very low sodium and lose 75 pounds. I am also working full time again as of September. All have these items in total have made for a watershed year for me.
Continue to Learn More About What I Can Make on My New Very Low Sodium Diet
My goal is to work within the “rules” of my new diet and still try make many of my old favorites as I can. I am still learning some of the tricks and alternative products available to help me with this task. As more folks have to cut back on sodium there are more Low Sodium products coming to the market. For example I was happy to see that Dizzy Pig has No Sodium versions of two of their most popular rubs. As part of my learning process I don’t want this website to turn into a site where I drone on about the virtues of eating “rabbit food”. I want to continue having as much traditional BBQ related food as I can. I will provide some separate info about how info I got the sodium or alcohol down in a separate area on all new photo pages. It will be there to help others in the same boat as me or who want to change their diets. But you must seek out the low sodium information, I won’t hit you over the head with it. Also remember if a recipe looks interesting to you, remember you do not have to make the very low sodium version. Eliminate my substitutions and make it as written. I will be secretly wishing I could try your version too. To see how I did adapting the recipe for my diet and to taste the recipe exactly as it was written. Also the first 675 or so recipes I have picture entries for on the site we no holds barred no restrictions. Any Photo Entries after July 10, 2016 would be low sodium with the low sodium entry in a totally separate area, but there are 10 years worth of recipes to look at before this time. ________________________
Explore Deep Fat Frying
I finally got around to doing some deep fat frying twice this year. I learned it is very doable on the Big Green Egg. The biggest issue seems to be temperature control. I had some learning to do because when I was trying my hand at deep fat frying, I was also using a new charcoal that I did not really know well. So I had some initial difference hitting the right temperatures for the oil. I eventually got it right, but things took longer to get set up correctly than I had planned. But I have since learned more about the Rockwood Lump. Even on my first attempt I turned out some excellent fish and chips, as good as any seafood restaurant and they met my new dietary restrictions while still tasting good. I definitely want to explore this avenue more in 2017. ________________________
Figure Out Baking
To my surprise, baking is one of the biggest problems on a low sodium diet. There are 3 main issues. Baking Soda has the same amount of sodium as the same sized portion of salt. Baking Powder has 1/2 a much sodium as the equivalent amount of table salt. Still way too high for me. There is a zero sodium Baking Powder, but it uses potassium chloride in lieu of sodium chloride and I must watch my potassium too. But that is at least is a partial fix, unlike Baking Soda. There are some substitutes for Baking Soda but they are very controversial in terms of just how well they work. Many people swear by them, but just as many swear at them. The last item is salt. You can’t just swap out the salt. In baking salt is used to bring out the flavor in the baked goods and this you can sometimes substitute for, But salt is also used to retard the rise of the bread, This is where there is a problem. Too much rise can adversely affect the texture of your end product. So for once a week baking I can use the no sodium baking powder. But dealing with the salt and the baking soda is a problem in need of a good solution. I intend to work on this. ________________________
Make More Fish
This item keeps going on and off the list. Now it is more of an essential that I do this because there is supposed to be less meat in my diet. The fact my deep frying effects were successful is encouraging. I also very successfully grilled some fish this summer. A further incentive is my butcher gets in fish fresh off the docks in Boston during the second half of the week. Some of this fish which they don’t use up in the first day or so is available frozen as well. Grilling fish always scared me a bit with issues like the fish sticking to the grill and knowing when the fish was really done. In 2015 I picked up a Craftsy class on grilling fish, so I hope this will encourage me to get off the dime and grill some fish. ________________________
Find New Things to Grill or Smoke
I am trying to look at my new diet as an opportunity not a restriction You know the whole when one door closes other doors open. So I want to try my hand at grilling more fruit and veggies plus find out new categories of food that I will be able to grill or smoke. I don’t have much to say here because I am just starting my search for new items. Hopefully by this time next year I will have found some new things to make, and it would be even better if some of them find their way to this year end list. ________________________
If you’ve made it down to here, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this blog as well as visiting the site. I realize my new diet may potentially scare off some people. I plan to try to keep this site focussed on grilling and smoking and not about rabbit food. From time to time I will be writing blogs about low sodium diet discoveries that may help others. But there are 10 years of blogs on “traditional grilling and smoking”. Another change to the site in the last 4 years is that I use 3 Big Green Eggs for all my grilling, smoking and baking tasks. Anyone who owns another brand of Kamado grill will be right at home with the recipes I make. And people with other types of grills should be able to quickly adapt most of these recipes to their needs. So even though the last 4 years have brought some big changes to the site, I hope most of you continue to visit. ARCHIVE OF BLOGS: 2016 INDEX OF BLOGS: ALL YEARS