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Sunday, February 26, 2017

American Royal BBQ Pilgrimage: Day 3 - Joe's Kansas City BBQ

Day three of our pilgrimage dawned sunny and warm.  We were hunkered down in an RV park just outside Kansas City for the next few days until we could load into the speedway for the competition.  The plan for the day was to hit Joe's Kansas City BBQ for some lunch.  I had some inside information that Joe's is in the conversation for the best BBQ you can get, period.  I was drooling with anticipation.


There are a few Joe's locations in town, but we went to the original gas station location.  Half convenience store, half BBQ joint.


As we pulled into the parking lot, a person was right by the red car "loosing his lunch" shall we say.  I was a bit worried about right now.  But we chalked up to a night of drinking and carried on like good soldiers.  I went for a quick stroll around the building to check out the large iron pits, cranking out smoke and intoxicating smells while gently cooking their smoky treats within.


We walked inside the door promptly at opening time, 11 am, to a line that was almost outside the door.  A very good sign for any eating establishment.




While the line was long, people dutifully picked up strategically placed copies of the menu for review.  This ensured that the line moved at a steady pace.  So, after about ten minutes of reviewing the menu and checking it twice, I was confronted with making my choice.  Now, I can get pork and ribs in any BBQ joint back home.  It might not be good, but I can get it if I so choose.  Therefore, I found myself drawn to the brisket again.  More specifically, the Z-Man.  Joe's is well known for this sandwich.  Smoked brisket, thinly sliced, served on a toasted kaiser roll, and topped with smoked provolone cheese, onion rings, and a light drizzle of BBQ sauce.  I ordered one and for good measure, I also added a side of smoked chicken gumbo.  I grabbed my tray and my bottle of IPA (hey, I was on vacation and it was noon somewhere) and scurried off to a table to sample my smoky bounty.


I straightened up my Z-Man and took the first bite.  I think I started to hear harp music in the background.  Outside of competition brisket, this was the best brisket I have ever eaten.  It had the right amount of smoke and was perfectly cooked.  Not falling apart and not like a rubber band.  Just perfect.  The toppings did not over power the taste of the brisket, but complimented the overall taste of the sandwich.  Once the Z-Man was dusted off, I turned my attention to the throw in bowl of smoked chicken gumbo.  In the biggest surprise I would have all week, the harp music got louder.  While the Z-Man had the flavor meter at 100%, the gumbo broke the glass on the meter and pegged the needle.  Best chicken gumbo I have ever had, period.  Including any gumbo I have had in New Orleans.  Ladled over a bit of rice this gumbo is rich and flavorful, loaded with tender chunks of smoked chicken and pieces of okra.  Nirvana in a bowl.

So here I stand, Monday afternoon and I have jumped the BBQ shark.  Nothing was going to beat this the rest of the week when it came to BBQ.  If you are in the Kansas City area and you like BBQ, you have to schedule a visit to Joe's Kansas City BBQ.  You will not be disappointed.  Overall rating, 5 stars out of 5.

Thanks for stopping by,

Bill

Sunday, January 8, 2017

American Royal BBQ Pilgrimage: Day 2 - Plowboys BBQ

Day two of the American Royal BBQ pilgrimage started in downtown St. Louis with sunny skies and temperatures made for shorts.  The RV was hitched up and we piled inside for the short jaunt across Missouri to Kansas City.  Along the way we stopped at our next dining establishment, Plowboys BBQ.


Plowboys has won many awards as both a restaurant and as a competition team.  As you can see below, their trophy case is well stocked.  


The menu contains your basic BBQ staples: ribs, chicken, pulled pork, and brisket.  But, they also add some items that I cannot get at a BBQ joint back in Pennsylvania: turkey and hot links come to mind. They are also known for their BBQ Nacho platter.  The platter was so big, I saw one feeding a family consisting of two adults and two children with some leftover.  It looked really delicious as well.  I might have ordered this monstrosity of chips, cheese, jalapeños, and BBQ meat of choice had I saw an example when I walked in the door.  But, based upon having been voted the best burnt ends in KC for 2014, I decided to try the Burnt End Platter with sides of Cheesy Corn and Cole Slaw.  I also picked up an order of their smoked beef sausage for public consumption at our table.  



The slaw was ok.  A little bland, but the cabbage was crispy and not mushy or swimming in dressing.  I am just used to slaw that has a nice and tangy dressing.  The Cheesy Corn is another thing.  Where have you been all my life?  Have you ever made stovetop mac and cheese?  The kind where your boil your macaroni, then dump in back in the saucepan with milk, butter, cheese, and slowly heat and stir until the mixture is melted and combined thoroughly?  This is how I think Cheesy Corn is made.  As a matter of fact, a Cheesy Corn entry won the vegetable category later in the week at the Royal.  I can see why.  

The burnt ends were good, but not life changing.  I had some that were perfectly cooked, some that were a little on the dry side, and some that were a bit rubbery.  That may have been a function of sitting in a warmer behind the counter.  The sausage was on point.  Not too fatty, seasoned well with just the right amount of smoke and the all important snappy skin.  

There were four sauces to choose from on the table.  I focused on the Sweet 180 and the KC Sauce.  The sweet sauce was a little too sweet for my taste, but I was drawn to their KC Sauce.  A hint of smoke with a good balance of tangyness and sweet.  It paired very well with both the burnt ends and the sausage.  

This visit to Plowboys was a good start to our BBQ tour.  The service was friendly and efficient.  The food was good, but not outstanding.  If I lived in the area, I would come here once a month for lunch. But, I don't think I would drive out way of my way for the burnt ends.  Maybe for the sausage though.  Overall rating, 3.5 out of 5 stars.  

Thanks for stopping by,

Bill

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Caramelized Onion Smoked Meatloaf, Finished on the Grill

The balmy winter of 2015-16 is a thing of the past.  The 2016-17 winter is shaping up to be like any other winter around here.  Windy, cold, and snowy.  This year I have plowed and shoveled as much if not more than I did last year.  Time to think about some comfort food.  

One dish that I have not had in a very long time is meatloaf.  I had a craving for some on a recent cold and windy Saturday.  I have been wanting to try cooking one on the smoker for quite some time now.  With the Girls baking Christmas cookies in the kitchen on this day, making this meal on the smoker and grill kept me out of the kitchen.  A plan came together.

Caramelized Onion Smoked Meatloaf

2 lb ground chuck.  I used the 80:20 as I was going to lose fat during the smoking and I didn't want to dry it out on the grill
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese.  Used as a binder for a gluten challenged friend.
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
Olive oil for caramelizing the onion

First, I diced the onion and slowly caramelized the over low heat until half of the onions were caramelized and half were still tendercrisp.  Then I placed the ground meat and the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and incorporated the onions.  Next, I placed the mixture into a well greased loaf pan.  Once the loaf was formed, I placed the pan outside into the 20 F weather for about 40 minutes to firm up the meat so it would slide out of the pan in one piece.  


I set up my smoker to run at 300 F and added some pecan chunks to the firebox for some smoke.  I slid the meatloaf out of the pan onto a cookie sheet, then I placed the cookie sheet into the smoker.  


I was shooting for 135 F as an internal temperature for the meatloaf.  After an hour, the temperature was 140 F.  So, I removed the cookie sheet and let it sit outside in the cold weather to firm up for slicing.  While I was waiting on the meatloaf to cool, I fired up a chimney of lump charcoal to grill off my slices.  

I apparently did not get all of the air out of my meatloaf before cooking as I did have some splitting after the smoking.  


But, I was still able to get some slices out of the loaf.  As you can see, it was still pink in the middle.  Just was I was shooting for.


I then took the slices of meatloaf out to the grill for a quick sear.  The fire had gone down in intensity a bit, so I ended up grilling them off for about 4 minutes a side.  Yes, the picture is not the best...


I served the meatloaf with some gravy, roasted garlic, dill, and feta mashed potatoes, and some oven roasted broccoli.  


I decided on the grilling step as I generally do not like smoked ground beef.  It has a tendency to dry out and have a grainy mouth feel as well as become over smoked.  But, this meatloaf was good stuff.     The smoke flavor was not overpowering.  The taste was a blend of the taste you remember from the meatloaf you had as a child, along with that good char you get from the grill.  I need to tweak the spices in the meat.  But, I deem this a successful first pass.  How do I know?  The leftovers were gone the next day.  

Thanks for stopping by,

Bill


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Imo's Pizza - St. Louis Style Pizza

This past October, Hope and I were lucky enough to be invited to travel to Kansas City, KS with our good friends from Red Valley BBQ to help them compete in this years American Royal World Series of BBQ.  It was a week long adventure with numerous culinary adventures.  The trip out to Kansas City started early one Saturday morning and was broken up over two days.  We spent the first night in St. Louis.



I told everyone that I did not care where we ate during the whole trip.  But, I wanted to try out this St. Louis Style Pizza that I had read about on the Internet.  So, on night one of the great BBQ tour, we had pizza for dinner.  Go figure.

What is a a St. Louis Style pizza you ask?  Well, it is a pizza made with a dough that does not contain  yeast.  Also, when they slice the pizza, it is done so by cutting squares out of a round pie.  Crazy.  After some consultation with some BBQ friends that used to live in St. Louis, we were steered towards Imo's Pizza, a local chain of some renown.

Other than the dough, the St. Louis pizza is just like any other pie.  Red sauce and any topping that your heart desires.  For one pizza, I chose bacon and hot banana peppers.


The other pizza was a traditional pepperoni and sausage.  


The sauce was perfect.  Savory with just a hint of sweet.  Almost like Pizza Hut from my younger years before they changed their recipe and added a boat load of sugar.  As for the crust, this pizza is the ultimate thin crust.  Very crisp, very tasty. The topping to dough ratio is about 50:50.  Due to the lack of dough, you could probably down a whole pie on your own.  You definitely do not feel bloated  walking away from the table after eating this pizza.  The best description of this pizza I heard was that it was like eating a pizza made on a saltine crust.  Overall, I give Imo's and the St. Louis pizza experience four stars out of five.  

Stay tuned over the next few weeks.  We will be reviewing some of the traditional hot spots on the Kansas City culinary scene.  

Thanks for stopping by,

Bill