Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It's been awhile, so I thought I'd do a quick one.  Not so much a new post but a ripoff of one of the most educational websites for authentic BBQ ribs,  Y'all know that true BBQ is one of my favorite things to make EVER!!  Several of my Vegas friends have asked me what the difference is in all the different regional sauces and styles and this article explains it much better than I could ever attempt, check out Meatheads website and get edumacated on fantastic BBQ, I've used his techniques, adapted them to my own tastes and needs, and had fantastic results....enjoy and save me a rib.


A taxonomy of American barbecue sauces

Barbecue sauce on his chest"Sometimes I eat ribs nekked, but if company's coming, I usually put on pants." Meathead (no, that's not me at right, but it could be)
To most Americans, barbecue sauce is red and sweet and smokey and it comes from a shelf near the ketchup. To those who travel and would rather lunch in back of a rickety shack under a shade tree rather than under the golden arches, barbecue sauce comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and most tied to the area of origin and its ethnic roots. Indeed, barbecue sauce is a cultural phenomenon.
In the eastern half of North Carolina barbecue sauce is practically transparent with cayenne pepper flakes that flurry in it like a snow globe. In western half of the state it is practically pink going on garnet from ketchup. In much of South Carolina it is yellow from mustard, popular with German settlers. In many dingy brown joints of Texas it is close to brown from meat drippings with big chunks of green peppers and other flotsam in it. And in a corner of North Alabama it is white with black pepper flecks. In Memphis the "sauce" often comes from a shaker and is no more liquid than the paprika that is its backbone.
To the cook, barbecue sauce is alchemy. It is downright fun to make. Standing over the pot adding a dash of this, a pinch of that, taking a taste, adjusting, tasting, and adding something else makes one feel like a wizard. To add a personal flair to your next cookout, serve your homemade sauce from a jelly jar and be prepared to take a few bows. If you feel ambitious, serve your guests a choice of several sauces and repeat what you read here.
Below are the 13 classic American barbecue sauces with links to recipes.
Saucing strategies. Many sauces contain sugar and can burn quickly, so the secret is to hold off on the sauce until the last 10 to 15 minutes. Click here for more on saucing strategies.

The regional American barbecue sauces

How long can you keep a barbecue sauce?

When it comes to storing sauces, we have two concerns: Safety and flavor. We don't want any microbes setting up housekeeping in our sauce, and we want the flavors to remain bright and fresh.
Commercial barbecue sauces usually have preservatives so they can keep in the fridge for many months, even a year or more. Homemade sauces, at least my recipe, have no added preservatives, per se.
The good news is that vinegar, salt, sugars, liquid smoke, some spices, and other common ingredients all have antimicrobial and preservative properties, so they tend to help sauce safe from microbes and fresh tasting for weeks, even months. As long as you keep your sauce refrigerated, you should have little risk. Just make sure that when you are done making the sauce you put it in a very clean glass bottle with a tight fitting lid. I use Ball canning jars and lids and run them through my dishwasher, but jelly jars and bottles from other condiments work fine as long as they have tight lids. Just clean them well.
Also, never dip a brush into sauce and then brush meat, contaminating it with meat juices and microbes, and then put it back into the jar. Pour what you need into a coffee cup and if there is leftover after cooking, toss it.
Oxygen and heat are the natural enemies of freshness, and we all have seen ketchup turn black under the cap from oxidation. So don't let bottles of sauce sit out on the dining table for long, and certainly not on the shelf next to the grill. Again, pour what you need and chuck any unused sauce out.
If a sauce recipe calls for cooking onions, garlic, or spices in oil, then expect shelf life to shorten a bit. Oil can go rancid with time, especially animal fats such as bacon fat and butter. If you want to keep it a long time use a vegetable oil rather than butter. That said, my KC Classic sauce keeps many months and stays wonderful.
American barbecue sauces owe their differences to their colonial histories and can be divided in three basic categories, vinegar based, tomato based, and mustard based. Then there are at least 11 distinct classic American regional barbecue sauce styles and infinite variations (if we stretch the definition of "sauce" to include Memphis dry rub). Click the links for my recipes if you want to make your own. If you want to taste examples of these styles but don't want to make them, click here for a list of my favorite commercial barbecue sauces.

1) Kansas City Sweet Sauce

ribs with kansas city barbecue sauceThe first Kansas City barbecue sauces were hot, probably mostly vinegar and pepper, like the sauces of the Carolinas (below). Evidence is that this was the case for Henry Perry's sauce, and he started it all in 1907 in the city that is best known for barbecue in the world.
The style has evolved to become the iconic classic rich red, tomato-based, sweet-tart sauce with molasses or brown sugar and balanced with the tartness of vinegar. Many have liquid smoke added to help create that outdoor flavor for folks who cannot cook outdoors. They are by far the most popular in the nation and imitated around the country. But beware: Most commercial sauces are waaaaaay too sweet. If you pick up a bottle in the grocery and sugar or high fructose corn syrup are the first ingredients on the label, put it down. KC sauces are, if you study their content lists, is really just amped up ketchup, and many of us love it on fries and burgers instead of ketchup.
arthur bryant's barbecue sauceKC sauces don't penetrate the meat well, and sit on top like frosting. But recipes like my KC Classic, while not the same as KC Masterpiece, is mighty tasty and caramelizes beautifully over a hot fire making a crisp coat. They also burn easily, so coat your meat no sooner than 10 minutes before serving. If this is your favorite sauce, make sure you read my article on saucing strategies.
Now that I've defined the genre, let me point out an important exception to the rule: Arthur Bryant's Original Barbeque Sauce. Arthur Bryant's has been one of the iconic barbecue joints since 1930, perhaps the most holy of them all in the city that means barbecue more than any other, and they have been making a tomato based sauce that is thick, intense, with a solid black pepper and garlic theme. No noticeable sweetness or liquid smoke flavor. Nada. This is probably because the Arthur and Charlie Bryant were disciples of Perry. Not sure why, but they keep a five gallon carboy of the stuff on display in their front window (above).
map of the carolina sauces

2) South Carolina Mustard Sauce

Nowhere are there more regional sauce preferences than in the Carolinas where barbecue is not chicken, burgers, hot dogs, or even ribs. Barbecue is pork, often whole hog, cooked low and slow, chopped or pulled into succulent shards, mixed with sauce, and served either in a pile on a plate or on a bun, often crowned with cole slaw.
The most distinctive sauce, and by far my fave, is the mustard based sauce found in barbecue joints from Columbia to Charleston. Mustard and pork go together like peanut butter and jelly. Early German immigrants in South Carolina knew this and the names of many of the best barbecue joints that serve mustard sauce have German names, like Shealy, Sweatman, Meyer, and Zeigler. The classic SC mustard sauces are a runny mix of yellow mustard, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Simple but very effective. There are also pockets of Georgia where the mustard sauce has taken hold. They are especially good on pulled pork. I offer two recipes, my South Carolina Mustard Sauce is the classic while my personal riff on the theme, Grownup Mustard Sauce, is a more complex, herbal variation on the theme.

3) East Carolina Mop-Sauce

whole hog barbecueOn the coast of North and South Carolina, a.k.a. "East Carolina" or the "Low Country", the philosophy is "Whole hog and keep the mustard for your hot dogs and the ketchup for your fries." The African slaves of the Scottish settlers in the region pioneered American barbecue and their simple sauces were plain a kiss of hot pepper flakes and ground black pepper in vinegar. And so they remain today, where the sauce is used both as a mop or baste on the meat while it is cooking, and then as a finishing sauce at tableside. Thin and piquant, they are designed to penetrate the meat, not just sit on top as thicker ketchup and mustard sauces do. They do a great job of cutting the fat in lipid-laced pork. There is little or no sugar in the mix, so your kids will hate it. Try my recipe for East Carolina Kiss & Vinegar on just a bit of your chopped pork before your pour it over the whole sandwich, and if don't like it, send the leftovers to me.

4) Lexington Dip (a.k.a. Western Carolina or Piedmont Dip)

pork shoulder with lexington dip barbecue sauceIn Lexington, NC, and in the "Piedmont" hilly areas of the western Carolinas, they prefer to make their barbecue from the pig's shoulder, a rich flavorful clod of meat. In North Carolina, otherwise kindly old men have been moved to fisticuffs over the question of whether barbecue is properly made from whole hog or shoulder. In Lexington and west, they often call their mop-sauce "dip". It is vinegar and pepper based, a lot like the East Carolina mop-sauce, but laced with a hint of tomato sauce or ketchup added, not a lot. The red stuff helps tame the fierceness of the vinegar a bit, and the hint of sweetness counterbalances the acidity. I prefer my recipe for Lexington Dip slightly to the East Carolina style.
There is one other popular style in the Carolinas. In western South Carolina on the Georgia border, the locals are partial to a ketchup based sauce similar to Kansas City sauce.

5) Texas Mop-Sauce

Texas Sauce at Cooper'sIn Texas they barbecue pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, chicken, mutton, goat, and sausage they call "hot guts", but the star of the Lone Star State is beef brisket, an impossibly tough cut from the chest area that is magically converted to buttah-like tenderness with 12 to 18 hours of low and slow smoke roasting.
There are three important culinary influences on Texas barbecue:
1) European immigrants who brought expertise in smoking meats, especially Germans, Czechs, and Hungarians
2) freed slaves from the Southeast, and
3) Mexicans (Texas was, after all, a part of Mexico, and its cuisine leans heavily on Spanish, Mayan, and Aztec cultures).
The old-fashioned classic Texas sauces were fashioned to complement beef brisket first and they were not very sweet. Nowadays they have been influenced by the popularity of Kansas City sauces, and have gotten redder and sweeter.
Some traditional Texas pitmasters use their sauce as both a mop to cool and moisten the meat during direct cooking, and as an optional finishing sauce. Most common are thin, tart mops that are flavored with vinegar, American chili powder or ancho powder, lots of black pepper, cumin, hot sauce, fresh onion, and only a touch of ketchup.
Some of the best sauces have beef drippings, and therefore cannot be bottled. As a result, the stuff served in the traditional old restaurants is vastly different than the stuff sold in bottle. In hallowed joints like Cooper's, in Llano, they often resemble a thin tomato soup with a beef stock base. They penetrate the meat easily rather than sit on top. I prefer them on brisket, not pork. In this picture, the bottled sauce sold at Cooper's is poured into a large pot and is kept warm on the holding pit. Trimmings are tossed in the pot, and when you order, if you ask for sauce, the meat is dipped in the pot. It tastes a LOT different than the bottled sauce served on the tables.
Before the meat is cooked, it is seasoned with a Texas Dry Rub, formulated for brisket with little or no sugar, lots of black pepper, and so they are very different from Memphis and most other rubs. Try my Texas Mop-Sauce for a taste of a real old-fashioned hard to find anymore down on the ranch Texas barbecue mop and sauce.

6) Alabama White Sauce

Developed for chicken by Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, this mayonnaise and vinegar sauce has become so well known among barbecue fans that it has generated many admirers and a handful of imitators. I don't recommend it for pork, and not everyone likes it on chicken, but it is so popular in Alabama it must be considered a regional classic. Chris Lilly (above), of Big Bob's says my attempt to reverse engineer his Alabama White Sauce is "scary close".

Sunlite Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce & Dip For Lamb And Mutton7) Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce and Dip

The most obscure of the regional sauces because it can be found in only a small area of Western Kentucky just east of Louisville around Owensboro, this fascinating blend is mostly distilled white vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. It is designed to go with the specialty of the region, slow smoked mutton (mature lamb), but it is also used on chicken and other meats. It is used as a baste on the pit, and then as a finishing sauce. Some places, like the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, the most famous of them all, have two slightly different recipes, one for basting, and one for serving. My Sunlite Kentucky Black Barbecue Sauce & Dip For Lamb And Mutton is both a baste and finishing sauce, and frankly, I think it is better than the Moonlite. Just sayin.

8) Tennessee Whiskey Sauce

Slab with sauceThe Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue is considered by many to be the most prestigious competition in the world. As do many competitions, they have a sauce tasting, but theirs has a twist: Jack Daniels whiskey must be in the blend. Well, just as they planned it, whiskey-laced sauces have spread across the nation.
There are so many that I think it must be considered a legitimate category of barbecue sauce. My recipe for Tennessee Hollerin' Whiskey Sauce is named after the hollow, a lowland by the creek in which it was invented, this rich sauce has a kick, and when you taste it you'll bend over and holler "Kick me!" The secret: Whiskey concentrate.

9) Louisiana Hot Sauce

chose your barbecue sauceIn Louisiana anything that can be put on a grill is called barbecue, from fish to crawfish to nutria (kinda like a rat). The first bottled hot sauces came out of Louisiana, home of Tabasco Sauce and in Louisiana, hot sauce goes on everything. Nowadays there are lots of great hot and spicy barbecue sauces on the market. Some just burn from capsaicin (the active ingredient in chile peppers), but the best are blends of several different kinds of heat, among them: Black pepper, white pepper, mustard, wasabi, several different kinds of chiles, plus an underlying flavor of the meat of the chile pepper. The heat is then usually tempered with tomato sauce, and often countered with sweetness. Bayou Bite, my mildish version of a Louisiana barbecue sauce recipe is a wonderful blend of sweet and hot peppers used as a finishing sauce, after the meat is cooked, or as a dipping sauce served with the meat. Even if you don't like hot stuff, you really should try this one.

10) Memphis Dry Rub

Memphis is second only to Kansas City as a town of barbecue renown. Ribs and pulled pork are the stars, although their local special, perhaps best called their local oddity, is barbecue spaghetti. No, they don't put the pasta on the pit, it's just doused with barbecue sauce.
Alas, there is no distinctive indigenous Memphis sauce style. Around the nation a lot of pit stops call their sauce Memphis style, but they're kidding themselves and us. In fact, many Memphis purists prefer their ribs "dry" with only a spice rub. A restaurant's gotta have confidence in its meat to serve it with spices only and no sauce. Many Memphis restaurants have bowed to public demand and now offer a choice: Dry or wet, with wet usually meaning a Kansas City-style tomato-based sauce perhaps a bit thinner, more vinegary.
Memphis dry rubs are usually paprika based, and typical ingredients are salt, garlic, onion, black pepper, American chili powder, and oregano. Meathead's Memphis Dust is a very versatile recipe perfect for pork, but readers have told me they love it on everything from turkey to salmon.
Perhaps the most revered dry ribs are served at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (called "The Vous" by some of the locals). There are a lot of recipes on the internet that the owners have palmed off on gullible media. They aren't close. I've reversed engineered Rendezvous-style Memphis Dry Rub (that's the Vous above), and my recipe is a LOT closer to the real deal.

11) Florida Smoked Fish Sauce

smoked mulletIndigenous Barbecue in Florida is heavily influenced by the original Caribbean Indian barbacoa: Smoked and grilled fish. Mullet, a vegan fish that can only be caught by net in the Gulf of Mexico is the most traditional. It is not a great tasting fish for grilling or other conventional preps, but it soars when smoked. The skin turns an irridescent gold, the loin meat on the back alongside the spine, is delicate and creamy if it is not oversmoked. There are only a handful of places, mostly on the Gulf Coast, that still smoke mullet the old fashioned way, butterflied and seasoned with a flavorful rub, often Old Bay Seasoning straight from the can, often the same seasoning mix they use in crab boils.
Also popular is the smoked mullet spread, sometimes called fish salad, as in tuna salad, made from flaked smoked mullet mixed with mayo or cream cheese or both. It is served on crackers and sandwiches. They smoke other fish in Florida, but they are wise enough to know that fresh local fish don't need smoke, they are best when simply grilled with salt, pepper, and maybe some butter or olive oil.
Both smoked and grilled fish in Florida are served with lemon wedges and perhaps tartar sauce, based on mayo, pickle relish, and other goodies (naturally mine has the other goodies in it). Many folks eat the mullet like they eat ribs in Memphis, with rub only, no sauce. At right, that's Mark Gullet smoking mullet at the wonderful Star Fish Company Seafood Market in Cortez, FL, between St. Pete and Bradenton. The sign in his smokehouse says Mullet by Gullet.

12) Sweet Glazes

ham with apricot barbecue sauceA lot of great sauces are just a mix of sweetener, vinegar, and spices. The sweetener is usually brown sugar and/or molasses, and occasionally maple syrup, which, although wonderful, is too expensive for most commercial sauces. Glazes are shiny so they make the meat glisten, and they are sweet/sour so they complement the pork and cut the fat. In New Mexico there's a legendary pit stop where diners come out glazed over with Danny Gaulden's Legendary Glaze and he has been generous enough to publish the recipe. Jazzy Hog Competition Barbecue Glaze is inspired by the most popular sauce on the competition barbecue circuit, Blues Hog Barbecue Sauce. Another fave is Chris Lilly's Spiced Apricot Sauce, a killer glaze for ham created by the Executive Chef of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur Alabama, and one of the best barbecue cooks I've ever known. He too, has shared his recipe.

13) Flavored Sauces

chocolate chile barbecue sauce on ribsModern chefs are nothing if not creative, and just about anything you can imagine is used to make barbecue sauces. These sauces rarely have regional logic. There are a number of wonderful sauces that start out as start out as basic tomato based barbecue sauces and then are amped up with fruits, jams, and jellies as flavorizers and sweeteners. Raspberry, cherry, and apple are common. The work great with ribs. Eve's KC Pig Paint is a recipe of mine, a rich, sweet, Kansas City-style tomato-based sauce, with a secret ingredient from the Garden of Eden. Long ago I remember tasting a barbecue sauce tinged with cocoa, so I created my own Chocolate Chile Barbecue Sauce recipe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Walk

So Ber has been on me for months about going to get a checkup and talk to my Oncologist, it’s not like I haven’t had the time but I’m one of those people that thinks no news is good news.  If I don’t get a checkup and I feel fine then everything is ok, right?  I was long overdue for my 6 month checkup so today I got blood drawn, got the testicle groped, and got orders to get a chest x-ray …fun, fun, and more fun.

I went to the treatment area while I was waiting and talked to some of the nurses that helped me through my chemo.  It was good to see them again but at the same time looking at the people currently going through it brought back some not-so-fond memories.  Which leads me to the subject of this quick entry.

On April 29th-30th the “Relay for Life” is at Foothill High School from 6pm on the 29th to Noon on the 30th.  For those that don’t know this is a 18 hr fundraiser to raise money for cancer research.  As you can imagine this is something I’m pretty passionate about.   To donate you can go here: My Donation Page 
Amber got a head start on fundraising so I thought I would make something to sell for donations to try and catch up.  So unless I come up with a better idea I will be selling pulled pork sandwich plates with baked beans and slaw that night.  So feel free to come down and support the team, eat and hangout, or walk with us.  It’s a great time, look forward to seeing you there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Redneck home-cook tries fancy french cooking

So if there’s one thing that cancer patients going through chemo need it’s PROTEIN, chicken is a great protein with many other added vitamins that help with the immune system and also help nausea.  In addition it can be cooked using a variety of cooking methods, quick and easy or slow and long…whatever suits you. Today we’re going to talk a little about a great (but expensive) cooking method and how I did it cheap and redneck style. 

Every year from January to March I cook ‘healthy’ because Amber has her company weight-loss challenge.  I have always been meat and potatoes kind of fellow with a little bit of deep-fried anything thrown in for good measure.  This year I got to thinking about my food lifestyle and thought why cook 3 months out of the year like I always should?  Ber and I talked about it and decided that cooking healthy year round wasn’t really a sacrifice.  She likes the dinners I make just as much as any other time of the year and wasn’t missing anything. I’ve found ways to make baked foods with the same texture and feel as deep fried; I’ve found ways to make lean meats taste more like fatty ones.  I’ve started making my own pasta with whole wheat flour.  In general I’ve discovered how to cut down on fat and calories without sacrificing taste and flavor.  So I’m changing things around and trying to shed some of these 40lbs I’ve gained.  One way to do that is chicken, it’s lean, it’s healthy and done right it’s yummy.  The problem is how to make it taste good without it being dry or flavorless.

So in my recent research on chicken breast and the culinary arts I came across a cooking method called ‘sous vide’ which is French for ‘under vacuum’.   This method, now used in all high-end restaurants, involves vacuum packing  then poaching food at VERY precise temperatures that is now the standard for restaurant chicken breasts.   The benefits of this method are consistent, juicy, tender, and uniform cooking that yields very repeatable results with no guesswork. The only problem is that professional sous-vide machines go for $1,500-$2,600 and lower-end “home” versions are about $700.  I love my kitchen gadgets but spending $700 on ANY appliance bothers me a bit unless it’s a robotic sous chef.  So how do I get similar results without selling a lung?

This is the ‘Sous Vide Supreme’, it holds a water bath at a precise temperature within .1 degree..very precise.

This is what I used to replicate that method.

WHAAA???  That’s right kiddo’s no fancy $700 machine here, just a cooler, a digital thermometer, and water…WINNING!  So I brought the water up to the temp I wanted which for chicken breast was 140 degrees and then dumped it into the cooler (which also works as a warmer).  I used a Ziploc bag and a straw to make a vacuum seal then let it cook for an hour and voila ‘Sous Vide Chicken’.  Doing chicken sous vide makes the tenderest, juiciest chicken ever.  The downside is lack of flavor and color.  The color problem I solved by searing it after cooking in a smoking hot pan for about aminute per side.  The flavor problem I solved by putting aromatics in the bag while cooking, I used rosemary and cilantro and it helped a lot. 

I think this method of cooking has a lot of possibilities and is definitely something I want to explore more.  The day after the chicken I did a rib eye steak the same way and it was good, nice full beefy flavor, perfect medium rare and every bite was as good as the last.  That’s the good thing about sous-vide is it’s impossible to overcook, you want a medium-rare steak you put it in at 130 degrees for anytime between 1-5 hours, great for restaurants.  But the good news is it also works for entertaining home cooks because of the wide time variance, guests are an hour late, no problem.

I think eventually I may come up with a way to keep the water temperature more consistent for a longer period of time but for now the cooler works fine for chicken and steak…trying pork chops next.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Rub of it is...

I hear all the time "variety is the spice of life" but I disagree; I think SPICE is the spice of life.  I have a pantry full of spices and a windowsill of herbs, and they add a great amount of flavor to almost anything.  You’d be amazed how a few spices and herbs can turn a bland piece of chicken or pork into something magical.

My love affair with spices and herbs came about during chemo which severely dulls your sense of taste.  I couldn't taste the difference between an apple and a potato.  I did some research on nutrition for cancer patients and discovered that just a tiny bit of salt brought out the natural flavors of the apple and actually allowed me to taste things again.  Without getting into too much detail, researchers have found that salt opens up the taste buds.  If you’ve ever thought that people salting watermelon or other fruits was crazy give it a try.  Now some of you with borderline high blood pressure (like me) may wait till after the food is cooked to add salt thinking you'll use less, DON'T DO IT.  By properly seasoning food at all stages of the cooking process you actually use less than by adding it at the end after the food is cooked.  If you want additional salt and pepper at my house you have to ask for it, there aren’t any shakers on my table.  I will bring them out if requested but the quickest way to not get a return invite to dinner is dumping a bunch of salt on my carefully prepared food without even tasting it first (Rule #3).  One last thing about salt...throw out that iodized stuff we all grew up with, use a good kosher or sea salt and you’ll taste a world of difference, just decrease the amount you use by about 1/3 as it doesn’t take as much to add good flavor.

So now that we've covered salt let's talk about spices in general.  Whenever you can, buy whole spices in seed form, not already ground.  You can store whole spices almost indefinitely but once they are ground the essential oils that give them their flavor start to degrade.  Along that subject, just for fun go look at the bottom of your spices, check out the expiration date....I think you'll be surprised at how many of your spices are expired, whoever has the oldest (verifiable, no cheating) spice gets bumped to the top on the dinner invite list.  To grind whole spices I'll usually use a coffee grinder but if it's been a long day and I need to work out some aggression I'll pull out the mortar and pestle and just pound ‘em into powder.

So here are some of my favorite spices and herbs that I always have on hand.  If you have them in your spice rack and they’re not expired open ‘em up, take a whiff and see if they remind you of any dishes, just be careful with the red pepper, you don't want that up your me.

Cumin Seed
Smoked Paprika
Hungarian Paprika
Mustard Seed
Chile Powder
Bay Leaf
Crushed Red Pepper
Allspice Berries

If you've been to our house for one of our 40 person dinners you know that my pulled pork is a staple for every party we have.  There is a couple of reasons for this; no matter how much I make (last time was 15 lbs) it always disappears before any other main dish, even steak.  Second, I love to make it; there's nothing like getting started early in the morning with a cup of coffee and finishing it early in the evening with a glass of bourbon.  Another reason is because I can usually pick up pork shoulder for around $1.50/lb. which makes it ideal for large groups without breaking the bank.  How BBQ places can get away with charging $15-$20/lb. for pulled pork is beyond me.  The final reason is that it gives me a good excuse to use my friends as guinea pigs and tweak my BBQ sauce recipe.  People ask what the secret is to good BBQ pork and it’s pretty simple…it’s the rub.  I’ve tweaked mine many times and I encourage you to do the same but here’s the basic formula I started out with.

½ c. table sugar
½ c. light brown sugar
½ c. dark brown sugar
¼ c. smoked paprika
¼ c. Hungarian paprika
4 T black peppercorns
3 T mustard seed
2 T onion powder
2 T garlic powder
1 t whole allspice
1 t cumin seed
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t chile powder

Grind black peppercorn, mustard seed, allspice, cumin seed, and red pepper flakes in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle, then mix rest of ingredients together and store in an airtight jar for up to 3 months.  I don’t put salt in the rub so I have more flexibility to brine or not brine.  Make sure if you don’t brine you don’t forget the salt.  I use this rub on both pork and chicken. I usually put it on the day before after coating the meat in olive oil (helps penetration) and wrap tightly with plastic wrap to let it permeate the meat.

Early the next day I set up the grill with a smoker box over the ‘ON’ burners and I throw the butts on the grill with no heat underneath at around 200-225 degrees for 10-12 hours or until the internal temperature gets to 190 degrees.  Make sure you check the smoker box every hour or so and replenish with wood as necessary, I prefer hickory but you can use apple or even mesquite.  Once it gets to 190 I wrap it in aluminum foil and stuff it in a cooler lined with towels for 1-3 hours then shred using two forks or chop it like they do in Georgia with two cleavers, serve with sauce on the side, you don’t want to mask the flavors of all your hard work, the meat is the star here.
And there you have it, yummy delicious pulled pork.

Sometimes when I'm not sure what I want to make for dinner I'll just go in the pantry and smell the spices until  I get some inspiration, maybe it's garlic so I make pasta, maybe chile powder so I'll make tacos or empanadas. The smell of smoked paprika ALWAYS makes me think chicken or pork.  So next time you're not sure just go to your spice rack and smell the spice of life until something pops out at you.

Luckily Ber has never caught me in the pantry sniffing containers of spices...I'm afraid she might rethink that 'I do' comment.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How it started

I guess I should start at the beginning, but actually I’m gonna jump around all over the place because it makes more sense.  Back in ’99 when my wife, Amber (or Ber, as I call her), and I first met, I used to joke that sleeping and eating were a waste of time and money…I have since retracted that statement. 

In June of 2007 I had a problem…and knew it.  I can use WebMD, I know how it works.  I had narrowed it down to about 3 things, one being cancer.  However, what I didn’t know was how to tell my friends, my family, and my wife.  I agonized for months, I was scared, I was depressed, and I was stupid for waiting.  Finally, in October I could no longer hide my symptoms from her and had no choice but to tell Ber.  I went to my doctor who sent me to a CAT scan the following day.  The two days waiting on the results were some of the longest of my life.  One of the scariest things ever was hearing the doctor say ”yep, it’s cancer”.  Although I was already 99% sure it was, those words just leveled me.   I cried in the hospital parking lot for a good half hour.  Soon after I had my first of 4 surgeries intermingled with 3 months of chemotherapy.    Before cancer I had been 135 pounds for close to 20 years.  During chemo I went down to 120lbs.  Shortly after I finished the chemo treatments, I gained 45 pounds.  So, how’d that happen?

I’m glad you asked…Cancer made me fat!

Chemo, for those of you that don’t know is a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still awful.  Years after, I still have occasional bouts of what Ber calls ‘morning sickness.’  I wake up sick to my stomach because of the numerous poisons (that’s what chemo is) that can stay in your system for up to 7 years.   Nausea, lack of appetite, and a loss of the taste buds are just the beginning - but this is a food blog so we’ll stick with that subject.  I didn’t really experience a huge loss of appetite like some patients.  My problem was even when I wanted to; I couldn’t eat anything that didn’t taste like metal.  That’s attributed to one of the ‘cocktail’ drugs I was given; cisplatin.  I remember calling Ber at work in tears because I was starving and trying to boil an egg to eat and they kept breaking.  That’s when she told me you can’t throw an egg in water that’s already boiling (dozen eggs down the drain).  So here I was, hungry, and can’t find anything to eat that doesn’t repulse me…that’s when I started experimenting with different foods and spices and eventually  it hit me…I love cooking.  The art of making something out of nothing is nothing short of spectacular.

Food has always been a huge part of my life I just never realized it until chemo.  I remember Mom taking us to Sip’n’Dip in the mall and getting a chicken sandwich with a sweet BBQ sauce and lemonade that seemed to be the best thing ever.   I remember her taking my sister and me to Mister Donuts after school and getting this yummy strawberry ├ęclair (I haven’t tasted anything that good since it closed down).  I remember Poncho’s taco sauce, Los Portales chips, and so many other restaurants from my childhood that I no longer have access to.  I remember the smell of shelled peanuts roasted on a cast-iron stove that always greeted me at my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi or the countless holidays spent at my Uncle Charlie’s where there was always such a family feast.  I remember taking the motorcycles with my racing buddies to eat burgers in Henderson, ribs in Dyersburg, or anything at Corky’s or Rendezvous in Memphis.  I remember spending many a night with my friend and mentor Joe over steaks at Lone Star.   For our first date, Ber and I talked over fondue at Melting Pot which has become our anniversary tradition.   There are so many memories and friendships shared over food that I’m ashamed I took for granted.

By far my fondest memories though were supper with my family, always at the table, no TV or distractions (Rule #2), just quality time with people you love.  Mom was by no means a classically trained chef; no lobster or steak au’ poivre.  What Mom did, and did very well, was comfort food: Sheppard’s pie, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, the best stew you’ve ever had…just tons of delicious good stuff. I remember walking in the house every night and the smells and aromas of love filled my nose.  That’s good food.

 When Ber and I left Tennessee and moved to Las Vegas to start our new life, Mom handed me a box filled with all her recipes…they’re good and I use them frequently but somehow it’s just not the same.  What I have realized is that it wasn’t necessarily the food, but rather the company it is shared with. It’s spending time with those that will always be there for you. Fantastic tasting food is great but it’s the people you share it with that matter.   I enjoy spending 12 hours making smoked pulled pork on the grill, but it’s meaningless without friends and family. 

So there’s the beginning. The rest is going to be about things I make, why I make it, and much more upbeat.  I encourage you to take the ideas and play with them, make them your own, add smoked paprika, add saffron, or add escargot, whatever floats your boat…experiment. 

But most importantly…don’t forget to share it with those you care about and make sure you have us over for dinner sometime.