My Weber Smokey Husband

Last year I received a Grill Pro Vertical Smoker as a graduation gift.  I decided to go with a cheap model because I wasn’t sure if I would stick with BBQ & smoking.  I tend to go through silly phases and I can never be too sure if it’ll last or not, so I played it safe.  I told myself that if I still enjoyed this next summer, then I will upgrade.  Well the time has come people – I have upgraded.  Last week I ordered the Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5 after much research and suggestions from fellow BBQ’ers.   This glorious box was sitting at my front door when I got home from work.  It was love at first sight, I knew that this would be the smoker…that I would marry.

I was so excited about putting this together that I even had to go find the perfect movie to watch as  I put it together, you know, to set the mood.  I had movie ready, tools in my hand, and enthusiasm galore.  I opened the box and was in awe of the size of this thing.  I had worked on the Weber Smokey 18″ before, I didn’t think the 22″ would be so noticeably bigger.  This thing was huge!  Of course the first thing that comes to my mind is – “Dude, I can totally fit inside this thing”. . .

I sure can!

During the time I was sitting in the smoker trying to get a photo of myself while also trying to hold up the smoker lid the only thing I can think of “Please mom, do not come home with the kids from the zoo yet….”  I’m sure the niece and nephew wouldn’t think twice about the strange things their Aunt Danielle does, but I may have a harder time having my mom let this one go.

Hey, forget about Danielle in the smoker, look at the cute Katamari who loved the smoker box!

 

Okay back on track, yes I do realize this is a piece of cooking equipment.  Not a hiding spot or a cat house.  It sure is nice to know it has other uses if BBQ doesn’t work out eh?  Well I did finally get it all set up after all the other Danielle shenanigans.  Since I didn’t know what time I would get off work today, or what time my smoker would come in, I didn’t have dinner plans for this big guy.  I clearly had to run to the store to get something.  By now it was already 4:30 so I didn’t have much time to mess around with hours of smoking.  I picked up some chicken thighs because I knew it was quick and easy enough to play with for my first night.  I got my charcoals going (all natural wood charcoal) and used some apple wood chunks.  I was amazed how quickly my smoker came up to temp, and stayed there!  My previous smoker was having issues staying at temp (225º) so this was amazing to me.  I even lifted the lid to put my meat and potatoes on and it went right back up! AMAZED!  I would have given it a hug if it wasn’t so hot.  I will admit I did hug it before it got hot, but we won’t get into that.  I can only pray the neighbors were paying no attention to me.

Isn’t it beautiful?!

In the end, I did end up playing with my smoker and I love it to pieces.  I made chicken thighs, rosemary red potatoes, corn on the cob and creamy cucumber salad.

 

BBQ Oh how I love you! Let me count the ways . . .

Luau Pig

Hello blogger friends!  I haven’t been able to post in a few days and I have missed it so!  I work for a catering company (Sweet Baby Rays & True Cuisine) so I have been a bit busy with everyone’s parties, weddings, graduations, etc.  I was working as an event manager for a luau today and it made me think that the perfect post for today be about my new found love, BBQ!  I should say it more about grilling in this case, not just BBQ.  I have a great advantage of working for a catering company that has the best of both worlds, casual BBQ and upscale gourmet.  I must admit that the BBQ crowd never disappoints.  They are always a fun bunch, rarely complain, and everyone is so laid back and chill.  How could you ever be angry while chomping on a pig fresh off the spit?  My blog today will be my top 10 reasons why BBQ/Grilling is my favorite cooking method.

10.  It means the winter is finally gone for a few months!!!! (Im in Chicago, this is a victory)

9.  It’s always casual! There is no need to dress fancy for BBQ

8. Cheap!  When on a budget, throw it on a grill and it now becomes a crowd pleaser

7.  For hermits, it’s a great way to leave the house – even if it’s only the patio. . .

6.  Keep the kitchen clean! Leave the mess out doors, let the critters clean up

5.  Great reason to get together with family & friends, who can turn down a bbq?

4.  Diet!  There’s no need to add extra butters, oils, cheeses, fats in general to the grill.  It just works it’s tasty magic

3.  Even a man can do it! (I just did this cause since I dont get any mail, I figured I could start with hate mail)

2. Equipment – not as many whirley gigs and do dads to keep track of, just a grill, some charcoal and some fire..hooray!

1. THE SMELL! I never ever ever get sick of the smell of burning charcoal and wood.  To me that’s the smell of summer and I LOVE it!

Kabobs weaved with Bacon!

 

Why do YOU love BBQ?

Red, White & BBQ Part 2

So I see you have come back to see what hell broke lose on the second day of the event.  I’m glad you take pleasure in reading about my painful experience.  Just kiddin’ 😉

I woke up around 7am from my 2 hour power nap and felt better than I had at 4am.  My team mate cooked up some bacon and I munched on some coffee cake while waiting to hear the plan for the day.  Our first turn-in was going to be chicken at noon.  We still had some time to kill but even so, it feels rushed.  The butterflies were starting to flutter in my stomach, the anticipation was starting to build.  Was our meat going to be cooked? Would our ribs have the right coloring? What catastrophe could happen today? Would it all just run smooth and I was just worrying?  I looked at the sky and saw the same thing I had the day before.  No sun, not one spec of blue showing through the clouds.  It didn’t look good.  Everyone had assured me the day was supposed to be beautiful.  I wasn’t buying it.  Even with bad weather the show must go on.  We had to stay focused on all of our meat categories.  Being sure that we were putting everything on at the right time, pulling them off at the right time, assuring the quality of what we were about to turn in.  The ribs seemed to be the ones that needed the most attention.  There’s so many steps from smoking, seasoning, wrapping and all have to be done at the perfect time.

Ribs with top coating

When chicken was ready to be put in the smoker people were starting to panic saying a storm was headed our way.  We had already dealt with a bunch of rain the night before so people weren’t entirely concerned about this.  We pulled our smokers under our tent in anticipation of this storm and continued on, business as usual.  We were nearing turn-in time.  It seemed about every 10 minutes we were getting updates from the people who worked for the competition saying where to evacuate to, bad storms were heading our way and we need to seek shelter.  This may be bad to admit, but not one person left their tent.  We were all determined to get to our turn ins.  Our main focus was on chicken! Nobody felt the need to leave their precious smokers.  11:55 hits – 5 minutes until turn-in time.  We get our boxed packed perfectly and ready to run to the judges tent.  Then we hear yelling “JUDGES ARE NOT ACCEPTING TURN INS – TURN INS ARE CANCELED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE!”.  All we could really do was look at each other and blink in disbelief.  The storm hadn’t even started yet.  It was just a rumor, what does radar know anyway?!  What are we supposed to do with our chicken?!  This is a competition that is pretty much based off of perfect cooking times and ability to use a smoker.  Do we just stow this away and hope for the best? We had no choice.  We had to put them in a hot box and pray they didn’t dry out.  We didn’t even have a clue of when the judging would be back on, if ever.

Storms a brewin'

People starting packing up their tents and all equipment being unused.  We kept getting weather updates from the competition crew.  They all recommended abandoning our tents and just going to our cars.  We were expected to get hit in about ten minutes with 70 mph winds, hail, heavy rain, lighting and thunder.  We put away as much as we could.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to take down our tent.  What if they randomly announce its back on? We need to be prepared!  Then it came.  The storm hit quick and hard.  Sudden down pour, lighting, thunder and high winds flew in.  I guess they weren’t lying!  I didn’t want to go to my car, I wanted to be there and ready for any update!  I may not be bright, but i’m sure as hell determined!  A small pond started to form in my tent, and I was also having to hold an umbrella under my tent.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t devote my time to this competition to just run to my car for some rain storm! I was here to compete with the big guys and show that I had it in me to be there.  About an hour later the storm started to let up a bit.  I was cold, wet, dreams crushed, i’m sure i appeared to be on the verge of killing someone.  A man walked by our tent and announced “TURN IN AT 2!”  Twenty minutes!! Were back on! I called my team mates (they abandoned me for the safety of their cars).  “Turn in 20 minutes! go go go!”

We quickly dried off our prep table, unpacked cutting boards and knives from the car, rescued our hot box full of food from the trailer next to us.  Luckily the people next to us were fellow co-workers (and far more experienced BBQ’ers) they had a nice big trailer and let us use their shelter to store our hot boxes.  I’m sure this gesture was only because we gave them space in our hot box, but either way – it was appreciated.  Luckily our chicken was still nice and warm for being stored in a hot box for two hours.  Cambro sure makes a great product!  We loaded our box and were ready for the 2pm turn in.

The turn ins continued as planned.  Ribs at 2:30, Pork shoulder at 3:00, Brisket at 3:30.  We were prepared and ready to go on time for each turn in.  Everything seemed to be falling back into place with no serious concerns.  Between turn ins we kept trading meats with our fellow co-workers at Sweet Baby Rays, critiquing and socializing and sharing our relief of the storm letting up and allowing this to continue as planned.

After final turn in, there was no clear indication of when awards would be.  It was originally scheduled for 5pm, but we were all sure that wouldn’t be the case any longer.  I decided to run to Target to finally get into some dry clothes. Between the rain, and having to wash dishes rapidly between turn-ins and getting sprayed with the hose from hell, I was soaked, cold, and tired.  I felt a nice warm pair of fresh clothes with put me into better spirits.  I got myself a new sweat suit, warm and dry once more! I also couldn’t resist a nice hot mocha from Starbucks.  I headed back to wait for awards.  I was surrounded by friends and family waiting patiently to see how we did.  I’m sure they regretted this when they arrived at 5pm and awards didn’t happen until 7pm.   I sure felt loved though!  The first award announced was for people’s choice chili – my contribution.  I totally felt I had this in the bag.  Unfortunately I only won 4th.  Which I was still happy with, for my first competition it was definitely something to be proud of.  Most people agreed that it was most likely due to weather, if we had a better turn out we would have had many more votes.  I was still very proud to have won something!

Sadly, award after award were read off with no other mention for our team.  We did try our best, we worked very hard, and had a lot of fun.  We need to learn from our mistakes and push forward and look to the next competition.  I would love to make  shout out to our co-workers and BBQ team Duce’s Wild.  They achieved quite a few awards and yet again did a fantastic job.  I hope to get to that point myself.  I plan on devoting my summer to learning all there is about smoking and BBQ.  I wanna blow them outta the water next year!  Even though this competition was the worst possible representation of what competition really is I felt it was a good thing to see for my first time.  I mean, how much worse can it possibly get?

 

 

 

 

Red, White & Bbq Part 1

What words come to mind when  you think of Red, White and BBQ.  I’m sure many of the ones you’re thinking are what I thought too – fun, tasty, patriotic, beers, pork, socializing.  This was only partial reality.  The more accurate words I can think of are mud, lightning, evacuation, and patience.  I am by no means complaining.  I looked at this competition as a test to see how devoted I am to BBQ.  This was God saying “If she doesn’t survive this, it wasn’t meant to be”.

I woke up bright and early Saturday morning.  I was absolutely thrilled that I was only hours away from experiencing my first BBQ competition.  I should say my first food related competition period.  Saturday was the day  of the competition I contributed to, the peoples choice chili contest.  I am new to smoking and BBQ and when I heard there was small little contest along with the big event I wanted to be a part of it.  I had a friend of mine share her solid recipe for chili, I created the vision for the presentation and bought fancy little do-dads to make it pretty.  I woke up early to fry up fresh tortilla chips and little tortilla crisps and assure that everything was ready to go for the prize winning chili.  I gathered all my snacks, bedding ,tent, air mattress (im not that tough yet), and I was ready to go.

I was slightly concerned on my way to Westmont because the entire sky was white and gray with angry looking clouds.  I compulsively checked the weather about every 15-30 minutes to see what was expected.  It kept assuring me that there may be a thunderstorm over night but morning and afternoon would be cloudy and 70º.  I pulled up to the competition grounds and was in awe of the spread of competitors smokers, trailers, and RV’s.  Here I am in my little 2 door Grand Am and a tent I bought from Wal-Mart.  I still unpacked my car with confidence, making it seem like I totally belong there with the big guys.  I set up my little tent and air mattress and then hung out with my team.  Right round 2pm Mother Nature threw a fit.  Complete down pour!  I hated all the people in their cute little RV’s with their little chair set ups underneath their metal canopies keeping them dry and content.  We had our little shanty tent.  The usual fold up tents with tarps for sides.  We sprung a few leaks and had a nice little water feature but overall we were okay.  My only concern was in just a few hours was people’s choice chili.  Rain tends to keep people from wanting to walk outside for a 4oz portion of chili.  I waited it out patiently, praying that my cooler full of chili will not go uneaten.

Luckily by 6pm the rain had died down to only a drizzle.  The people started to flood into the fair grounds, tasting spoon in hand.  I had my table set up beautifully.  Crock pot, nice linens down, my piggy platters I bought from World Market, a stack of black cups, bright red spoons – I was ready for them with total confidence.  People were ranting and raving over the chili.  I totally felt I had this contest!  I had some friends and family come visit and vote for me which gave me the chance to scope out the competition.  There were a few tasty chili’s but there were even more duds.  I passed my chili out to surrounding tents and got nothing but great reviews on it.  I was beaming with excitement that maybe we would go far with this one.  The contest ended at 9pm and I cleaned up my station and hoped for the best.

Around 10 it was time to get our meat out to rest before going on the smoker’s for the night.  We got our charcoals burning, our smoker’s up to temp, and got our meat on to our Weber Smokey Mountains.  The secret to us being able to get some shut eye for the night without having to feed our fire is the BBQ Guru which kept a blower on our coals burnin’ and kept our smoker’s at perfect temp.  I was finally able to get some sleep around midnight.  The plan was for me to wake up at 4am to season our chicken and get it back in our cooler to be ready for morning.  I slept terribly from midnight to 4, but I still had to be a team player and wake up to season our thighs.  I felt bad when I found out I over seasoned our chicken.  It was fixed, but I still had that bad feeling that it would hurt our chances.

 

Team Mate Bob Settin the Guru

7 am was when all the rush and magic begins.  And that will be tomorrow’s post.  Come back to see when all hell broke loose at Red, White & BBQ – Westmont Competition.

Competition OMGWTFBBQ

Im BAAAAAACK! (Yes, again.)

I started working for Sweet Baby Rays & True Cuisine Catering last summer which resulted in me pushing some things aside.  I wasn’t cooking as much or doing as exciting things as I was when I was unemployed.  I have finally gotten my blog spark back!  The inspiration for me coming back was I was invited to join a BBQ Competition team through work.  I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to blog again.  I’m hoping my

many fails of learning the ways of smoking/BBQ will entertain you all.  I am by NO MEANS an expert in this.  I have only had my own smoker for a year and only have recently learned the ”correct” ways of doing things.  Im sure most of my blogs for the next few months will revolve around my smoker but i’m sure most of them will be amusing and full of “don’t do this at home” moments. Anyhoo, enough of my welcome back intro – onto my first competition BBQ practice.

A few months ago I was asked to join “The B Team”.  It is composed of a few sales people from Sweet Baby Ray’s and some pals.  We are the “B Team” because obviously being employees of SBR we have “The A Team” to compete with – aka Sweet Baby Ray + Friends.  I still feel we need a fancy awesome BBQ name but im the new guy – what do I know? (I hope you’re reading this Bob).  I joined my team for our first practice mainly so I could watch and learn.  At this point I don’t feel I have much advice or input to give because im the noobie of the group.  I did however provide some piggy tummy which I feel I deserve awesome points for.   Our set up was 2 Weber Smokey Mountains, one for ribs and the other for miscellaneous snacky items and a pellet smoker for the chicken thighs.

We practiced chicken and ribs because it’s just more practical for timing.  We all work together – we don’t want to hang out for 18 hours on our days off (or at least I don’t – I hope im not fired now).  I will not say how we prepared the chicken because duh – this was for competition.   The last thing we need is for you to steal our brilliant ideas that we thought about for weeks on end trying to make it perfect.  Okay maybe that’s not entirely true – but either way *taunting voice* I’m not tellllin!  I will say that I was very intrigued by the method used to prepare the chicken thighs.  I have never done chicken in the smoker and now I can’t wait to do it again.  They were so flavorful and moist and full of happy.  I have this poultry phobia in the smoker because I’m worried of it drying out.  Fear no more – I will probably do this weekly.  Our other competition practice item was ribs.   Our goal during practice was to not mess with too many variables because A) It becomes too difficult to remember what the variable was and B) sometimes some of the changes really didn’t matter and it becomes difficult to decide which slight change was better.  We basically only messed with different rubs.

After six hours of practice it’s only natural that you get a bit stir crazy and just cant wait til you can enjoy that first bite of smoked meat.  For this purpose we did have snacky treats on one of the smokers.  I had found some small cuts of pork belly that I couldn’t pass up.  That was the first treat we were able to enjoy.  It was incredible.  While you eat it you have to sort of ignore the fact that you’re eating pure fat and just enjoy it.  Nobody cares about the fatty goodness running down your chin – because we are all in a state of porktastic euphoria.  Yes it is indeed that good.  We also got to enjoy sausages and rib scraps rubbed with what I created – “Weird ass rub”.  It was mainly meant to be created as a tester for this honey powder we wanted to try out.  I was definitely a fan of the honey powder and recommend it to anyone trying to create a sweet rub.

Overall the practice was a success.  Hopefully the notes we made will help us out at the competition in two weeks.

 

 

 

The Great Turkey Adventure!

Before I explain my great turkey adventure I had today I need to explain my new found passion that made the adventure possible.Grill Pro Charcoal Smoker For my graduation my parents bought me a smoker.  It took me some time to decide which one I wanted and whether or not I wanted charcoal, electric or propane but I finally decided on a cheap charcoal  model I picked up from Menards.  I didn’t want to go for a big extravagant smoker when I tend to sometimes have A.D.D and go through many short-lived phases.  I told myself that if I played with this smoker enough then I can buy a new pretty one next summer.  I did my research and everything pointed to charcoal so I needed to be the best and I got me a charcoal smoker!  It has been my best friend all summer long!  I have smoked a lot of pork and experimented with some beef but I never had moved onto poultry.  So this is where the adventure begins!

I had seen a recipe in a grilling magazine I had picked up for a turkey breast that was stuffed with sausage and figs.  I knew I really wanted to make it but on the other hand I really was eager to smoke poultry more than I wanted to grill it.  Then I had a revelation – I never follow recipes.  Why should I be restricted from smoking this?  I went out an bought a hefty turkey breast, some fresh figs and some mild Italian sausage.  Today I woke up ready and eager to get outside to my smoker.  I figured a smarter idea would be to look up some tips about smoking turkey.  I did a face palm when I noticed every site mentioned I should have brined it first.  Why didn’t I think of that? Oh well you live and learn right?  I did create a brine and let my turkey sit in the fridge for about 3-4 hours.  I did a concoction of cherry juice, simply apple, brown sugar, canning salt, white pepper and ginger.  I soaked some apple wood chips and waited patiently crossing my fingers that the minimal amount of brining would still result in a moist turkey breast.

A few hours later I sauteed off some onions along with the bulk sausage while re-hydrating my figs in        some simply apple.  I chopped up the figs pretty fine and added to the onions and sausage to let the flavors get all happy.  The recipe didn’t call for anything to bind this mixture together so I tossed some panko bread crumbs in the juices rendered from the sausage and added two eggs and combined it with the sausage mixture.  I proceeded to stuff the turkey breast with the mixture and tied it closed with some twine.  I started up some coals and waited for my smoker to get an internal temperate of 300º.  For those of you with a charcoal/liquid smoker – I did not use the water pan since using that makes your smoker stay between 225-250º.  Taking out the water pan allows it to go to a higher temp.  I then added the turkey to the top rack and let it go!

I did leave the skin on the turkey which i’m very glad I did because it basted my turkey during the 3 hours it was in the smoker.  I was concerned about leaving the water tray out since it tends to help with keeping the meat moist but the skin did just as good of a job.  After an hour and a half I turned the breast over for even cooking.  After three hours I took the turkey out and wrapped it in foil to let it rest for about 20 minutes.  This was the end result.


It was so moist and delicious.  I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did.  When it comes to lunch meats I tend to stray away from smoked turkey and chicken.  This turkey was so tasty that I would definitely make it again but maybe in a more natural way and not stuffed with sausage.  Don’t get me wrong, sausage is my favorite thing in the world but sometimes things don’t need to be stuffed with sausage to be tasty.