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Friday, November 28, 2014

Makin Bacon

One our projects this year is to come up with a bacon recipe that is competition worthy.  It seems that our butchers bacon right out of the case doesn't cut it with the judges.  So, I stopped by our local spice shop and purchased a bottle of curing salt to start our journey.

This salt above is the same as Prague Powder #1.  You can cure your meats with regular salt alone, but that is risky when you take bacteria formation into account.  The curing salt prevents the formation of bacteria during the curing and smoking process ensuring food safety.  We don't want to get any judges sick, do we?  A quick note here.  The salt is tinted pink so that you can distinguish it from regular table salt.  Do not use this salt as a substitute for regular table salt.

I wanted to try a wet cure this time.  So used the recipe on the back of the label as a basis: 2 oz cure salt, 10 oz salt, 4 oz. sugar, per gallon of cold water.  Instead of all water, we substituted 1/2 gallon of apple cider for half of the water.  For our sugar source, we used turbinado sugar, otherwise known as Sugar in the Raw at your grocery store.

I placed all of the above ingredients into a dutch oven and heated until all of the salt and sugar was dissolved.  Then I chilled over night.

The next day, I place my pork bellies into food safe container and poured the brine on top of the meat.      After ensuring that all surfaces of the pork were covered by the curing liquid, I placed the container in the refrigerator for a seven day nap.  

After seven days, I removed the bellies from the liquid, rinsed thoroughly with cold water, then patted dry.  I placed the meat on a wire rack to dry while I started up my smoker.

I brought the smoker up to a temperature of 225 F, then added smoking wood to the ash pan.  Used a mix of hickory, apple, and pecan.  Once the smoke was thin and blue, I placed the pork bellies on the top rack of my smoker.  My goal was to bring the internal temperature of the meat up to 150 F just to be on the safe side when it comes to bacteria formation.  Remember, once you get above 140 F, bacteria formation quits and the bacteria start to be killed in the process.

Here is the bacon about one hour into smoking:

After the bacon reached 150 F, about three hours, I removed the meat from the smoker and placed it in a refrigerator to cool down.  Cooling helps to firm up your bacon, making it easier to slice.  Hope is the team slicer, she cut the bacon slabs in half, across the grain, so that they would fit in our slicer.  After slicing, we vacuum packed for freezing in one pound packages.

The aroma of smoked bacon was driving us and the dogs crazy.  We took a few pieces and fried them up to taste.  As an experiment that was a baseline for our bacon project, we were quite happy with the results.  Not too salty, not too sweet, just a hint of apple from the cider used in the wet cure.  A great start to our bacon R&D project.  Stay tuned for more as we tinker with the flavors.

Thanks for stopping by,


Monday, November 24, 2014

Smoke Roasted Steelhead with Basil Pesto

After falling to the Sirens call at Costco, this time from the evil end case in the meat department, I found myself in possession of a nice piece of Steelhead for dinner.  I was looking to prepare a dish that was different than the usual rubbed and grilled piece of fish.  After searching the refrigerator, some leftover pesto was just begging to be used.  So, I fired up the smoker and headed to the kitchen.

The pesto we use is a pre-prepared offering that we find in our dairy case.

This product is pretty good for the price.  It has a nice balance of basil, pine nut, and Parmesan cheese and works well in both pasta and pizza dishes.

My reasoning was simple for this recipe.  Wash and dry the Steelhead fillet, coat with the pesto, bring room temperature, then smoke roast at 350 F until the meat was done and the skin was crispy.

Once I applied the pesto, I added a very light seasoning of sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Once my smoker was at 350 F, I added a piece of alder to the ash pan for smoke flavor and them placed the fillet on the top rack with the thick side positioned on the hot side of the smoker chamber.

About 25 minutes later, the fillet was done.  One tell tale sign of your Steelhead being cooked is when the white fat is starting to render from the fillet and the meat starts to become flaky.

Overall, the fillet turned out well.  Alder always pairs well with fish, especially with a fatty fish such as Steelhead.  I would have liked for more of a pesto flavor.  The pesto taste was their, but not as strong as I would have liked.  Since pesto has an olive oil base, I suspect that during the cooking process the majority of the basil and pine nut flavors were carried away in the olive oil dripped from the fillet during cooking.  I will be trying this again, but I think I will add the pesto at the end of the cooking process, either in the smoker or on the grill.  This was a good start to further develop this recipe.

Thanks for stopping by,


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q - Decatur, Al

A few weeks ago, my travels took me to Decatur Alabama.  While I was there, I had the opportunity to have dinner at one of the better BBQ joints in the USA, Chris Lilly's Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q.

I sat down with great anticipation.  The smell of smoked maestros almost too much to take.  I felt like I was at a BBQ competition, minus the rain.  After scanning the menu, and checking out the bottled sauces at my table, I finally settled on the two meat combo platter.  I choose chicken so that I could try out the Alabama White BBQ sauce and the pulled pork, with collards and cole slaw for my sides.

The slaw was pretty good.  I was a bit surprised to see such a fine consistency as I am used to shredded slaw in these parts.  But, the taste was spot on and the perfect balance to the pork.  The greens were outstanding as well, although I have to admit that Black Strap BBQ in Montreal makes a slightly better collard green.

The chicken was tender and moist.  The white sauce only made it that much better.  How was the pork?  Well, when you have won Memphis in May eight times in pork, I expected nothing short of outstanding.  I was not disappointed.  Great flavor, perfect bark, and good plain or when combined with the tangy vinegar based red sauce.

I finished my meal with a slice of the peanut butter pie, completely wrecking my diet.

Flaky crust, peanut butter cream.  Different than other peanut butter pies that I have had, but different in a good way.

Big Bob Gibson's is a monument to Chris's accomplishments with newspaper articles and awards covering the walls.  He even has his Memphis in May trophies up front, just where I would put them.

So, if you are going to be in the Huntsville/Decatur area and are looking for some good BBQ, Big Bob Gibsons is the place to go.

Thanks for stopping by,


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Crispy Roasted Root Vegetables and Red Potatoes

The root vegetable time of year is upon us.  I never used to like root veggies, but I have learned that roasting these vegetables in the proper manner will provide a nice side dish to any smoked, roasted, or grilled meat.

A few weeks ago when I was making my beer and butter injected pork roast, I decided that some roasted veggies were in order.  The recipe is quick, easy, and you will find yourself fighting the rest of the family for the slightly burnt, crispy remains.  Here is the process.


1 lb of small red potatoes, washed and cubed
1 lb of turnips, washed and cubed
1 lb of carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 ribs of celery, washed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 medium sweet onion, quartered, then separated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp of white vinegar
2 tbsp of kosher salt
1 tsp thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Take the potatoes and turnips and place into a pan large enough to hold the veggies and add enough water to cover.  To this mix, add the white vinegar and kosher salt.  Bring to a boil and cook the potatoes and turnips at a hard boil for five minutes.

After the five minutes of boiling, drain the potatoes and turnips in a colander making sure to shake off all of your excess moisture.  Place the potatoes and turnips into a large mixing bowl with the rest of the vegetables.  Add your olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well.  Sorry about the remaining pictures.  It seems that I had a filter running on my camera and did not know it at the time.

Spread the vegetable mix onto a cookie sheet in one layer.

I placed sheet of vegetables into my smoker at 375 F.  You could easily use your oven set at this temperature as well.

After 20 minutes of cooking time, I flipped the vegetables with a spatula to ensure even roasting for the final product.  Then I cooked for 25 more minutes for a total of 45 minutes of cook time.

I love these veggies.  The onions, garlic, and carrots develop a nice, crispy caramelization that mixes well with that roasted potato and turnip crunch.  Feel free to add in other vegetables as you see fit.  I am going to try this again with some parsnips in the future.  You can also add other spice combinations as you see fit pair with the meat you are serving as well.

One thing that I always forget is how much veggies can shrink during the roasting process.  This recipes is enough for three people.  I would recommend doubling the recipe for a family of four or more.

Thanks for stopping by,