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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BBQ Central Radio Interview

BBQ Central Radio Network

Yours truly was a guest on this past Tuesday's episode (February 28, 2012 ) of Greg Rempe's BBQ Central Radio program. We discussed why I became a KCBS certified BBQ judge, competition BBQ flavor profiles, my tour of the great Texas BBQ restaurants (more on that in later posts), and Virginia barbecue (more on that in later posts too).

You can download or stream the episode by clicking here and is also available on iTunes. My segment starts at about 38 minutes into the two-hour program. There were some technical difficulties but overall it was fun.

The BBQ Central Radio Show is the only live weekly show on ANY kind of radio that talks about the art and sport of barbecue and grilling. I recommend that you tune in at 9 PM EST on Tuesdays and also take advantage of the great episodes in the archives.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crispy Grill Fried Chicken

Crispy Grill "Fried" Chicken

This is a great way to cook "fried" chicken if you want to reduce your fat intake and still enjoy crispy and delicious chicken. In fact, if I didn't tell you, you would never know the chicken was cooked in a smoker rather than a deep fryer.

You will need:


1.) One chicken cut it into pieces. (Use the leftover backbone and the giblets to make chicken soup.)

I prefer to use a 3 1/2 to 4 pound chicken because the smaller pieces cook in about the amount of time it takes for the crust to turn golden brown. Larger pieces of chicken may cause the crust to burn before it's done and smaller pieces may result in under cooked crust by the time the chicken is done.

2.) A smoker or grill using indirect heat warmed up to 350 degrees F. Make sure the fire is burning clean before putting the chicken in the smoker.

3.) Chicken brine made of the following:

1 gallon of water
3/4 cup of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 TBS of Black Pepper
2 TBS Ground Celery Seed
1 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce

Boil 2 cups of water and add the ingredients. Let it simmer until the sugar and salt are well dissolved. Pour the mixture in a container that will hold the entire gallon. Fill the container to the one gallon mark with cold water. Mix and let cool to at least 35 degrees F. I put ice in mine and keep ice in it while the chicken is brining. By the way, I didn't need the whole gallon of brine, but I made a whole gallon never the less.

Once the brine has cooled, put the chicken in a non-salt reactive container and put enough brine in it to cover the chicken. Adding a little ice doesn't hurt either. Place the container of brine and chicken in the fridge and let it sit for 1 1/2 to 3 hours.

After the brine, rinse and dry the chicken pieces with paper towels.

4.) Make a flour and seasoning mixture of:

1 1/2 cups of Wondra flour (Basically bread flour, this is a key ingredient)
1 cup Panko Bread crumbs
2 TBS Black Pepper
1 TBS Sea Salt
1 TBS Granulated Garlic
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a zip lock bag.

5.) Make an egg wash using only the egg whites of 3 eggs and about 1/4 cup of water.

Dip the chicken pieces in the egg wash and then put them one at a time in the zip lock bag and shake it until each piece is well coated with flour. Shake off the excess and set the chicken aside to rest for about 3 minutes maximum which means your smoker should be ready to go before you apply the flour and seasonings to the chicken.

6.) Give the chicken a light spray of Pam spray vegetable oil and put it in the smoker.

7.) Let the chicken cook for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Make sure internal temp is at 180 degrees F minimum in each piece. Use an accurate meat thermometer to check.

Keep in mind, at 180 degrees F internal the chicken will be well done. However, some of it will be a little pink on the inside as that is just what happens when you cook chicken in a BBQ smoker.


8.) Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Zesty Grilled Shrimp Po' Boy

Zesty Shrimp Po' Boy
I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans back in December of 2009. It was a very memorable trip. My wife and I were able to see much of the city and eat at several of the famous and not so famous New Orleans restaurants.
Corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets in
New Orleans
Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA
While we were there the weather was cold and rainy. In fact, it was so rainy that there were several flood watches and fears that pumps throughout the city would fail. During much of our time there we couldn't walk outside without being literally soaked from head to toe.


A view from the Riverwalk in New Orleans

The food was good at some places and not so great at others. In fact, one of the most famous restaurants was quite a disappointment. The best places to eat, it seemed, were the smaller, lesser known restaurants found around the city.

One of the best known New Orleans foods is the Po' Boy sandwich. There are several accounts of how it was first introduced. There is the story of a restauranteur who fed transients outside his restaurant at night with sandwiches made of foods that were leftover from the day's cook. Then there is the story of how a former streetcar conductor turned restauranteur served his former colleagues free sandwiches during a strike against the streetcar company. And, there is also the story of one restauranteur who looked out of the window of his restaurant and saw a crowd of young men waiting in hope to be picked to work for the railroad that day. He remarked, "Look at all those po' boys!" He decided to create a large sandwich that would last a young man all day and sell it for just $.05 cents.

Regardless of how it came to be, the Po' Boy is a delicious addition to the culinary world. Here is my tribute to the New Orleans Po' Boy.

To make this zesty shrimp Po' Boy you will need:

1 French bread roll
Some fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 TBS Tomato Ketchup
1TBS Hot sauce (Louisiana style or Sriracha)
1 Tomato, sliced
Salt & Pepper, as preferred
Lettuce or mixed salad greens
1 Spanish onion, sliced
1 TBS Mayonnaise (optional)
1/2 cup Olive oil
1 Jalapeno pepper, sliced
2 Cloves chopped garlic
Juice of 1 Lime
Worcestershire sauce

1.) Mix together olive oil, chopped garlic, lime juice, jalapeno pepper slices, salt, and black pepper. Reserve a small amount for basting later. Pour remaining marinade into a large resealable plastic bag with shrimp. Seal, and marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.

2.) Make the zesty sauce. Mix 2 TBS ketchup, 1 TBS hot sauce, and a splash Worcestershire (careful, a little goes a long way). Mix well.

3.) Preheat your grill for medium-low heat. Either use a grill basket or just thread the shrimp on skewers. Discard the marinade.

4.) Lightly oil the grill grate. Cook shrimp for about 3 to 5 minutes per side or until opaque. The time will depend on the size of the shrimp and the temp of your grill. Be careful that you don't overcook the shrimp as it will become tough and chewy. Baste the shrimp with the reserved marinade while it's grilling. Remove shrimp from the grill when done.

5.) Split the french roll and lightly toast it on the grill.

6.) Put some greens on the bottom of the bread (see pic above) and place shrimp on top. Put the sliced tomato and sliced onion on the other half of the french roll. Top with the zesty sauce. Add some mayo to the roll at this point too, if you prefer.

Serve and enjoy!

George Bannister's Barbecued "Charles City Bacon"

Barbecued Charles City Bacon Advertisement - Richmond Dispatch April 25, 1885
I recently ran across this interesting bit of Virginia barbecue history. There was an advertisement in the April 25, 1885 edition of the Richmond Dispatch for a place on 15 N. 13th street (in those days also known as Governor St.) in Richmond, VA run by George Bannister that was selling turtle soup and barbecued Charles City bacon. I was curious about this fellow George Bannister so I dug deeper. I found that Bannister was born in 1852, his father was English and his mother was Irish, and he owned a restaurant/bar and was a caterer in Richmond, VA around the years of 1883 to 1930 and was a fairly prominent Richmond citizen during the last 20 years or so of the 19th century and early 20th century. For a while, he was also the oldest living Confederate veteran in Richmond, VA. He served as a drummer boy for the 48th Virginia Infantry Regiment. George Bannister was in every Civil War memorial parade held in in Richmond until he died in 1949. He also had a reputation for being a character.

According to an article in the Richmond Dispatch from August 04, 1886 Bannister was shot in the arm during a late night scuffle that occurred after he visited a bar where gambling was taking place. In his court testimony, Bannister admitted to gambling that evening. We learn from the January 25, 1887 edition of The Daily Times that Bannister lost the lawsuit against his assailant and it was dismissed. He was also accused several times of selling liquor on Sundays. While most of those cases were dismissed from court due to a lack of witnesses, he was fined $50.00 at least once for the offense.According to a report in The Times January 27, 1901 Bannister bought a building at the corner of Ross and Governor's streets that he planned to convert into a hotel called "Bannister's Place."
 
Richmond Dispatch of December 26, 1893


In spite of his gambling and other issues, George Bannister was apparently a very good employer and was respected by his employees. We are told from a report in the Richmond Dispatch of December 26, 1893 that George Bannister was presented with a Knights of Pythias badge as a token of his employees' appreciation.





Times Dispatch, February 1, 1903
So, what is this "Charles City bacon?" After searching and searching, I finally came across a mention of it in The Times Dispatch dated February 1, 1903. Charles City bacon is actually sturgeon.


Further investigation revealed the report "State of our Bay: Return of the Giant" where it states: "By 1890 or so, they noticed that the typical size of sturgeon, historically 10 to 12 feet, was now more like 8 to 10 feet, so they began ordering nets with 10-inch mesh, instead of 13-inch. But before long the average fish size was closer to six feet. At the time, of course, nobody knew that females didn't reach sexual maturity until they were about six feet. So, without realizing it, they had now begun to eat the seed corn--that is, they were harvesting the last of the spawning stock. At the turn of the 20th century, the inevitable happened: The sturgeon population crashed, up and down the coast, and watermen turned to other species. In 1926, the last sturgeon fishing operation on the Potomac closed down. Gradually, most people forgot about the fish."

Alexandria Gazette, February 23, 1900
I also found where legislation was introduced to prevent the harvesting of young sturgeon because authorities did notice a drop in the sturgeon population, however the legislation introduced in 1900 was aimed at preventing the harvesting of young sturgeon rather than females which didn't reach maturity until at least being six feet long. So, while good intentioned, it was not sufficient to prevent the depletion of Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia's waters. Today, the Atlantic sturgeon is on the endangered species list.

Charles City Bacon is Plentiful
and Everybody is Happy
The Times Dispatch dated June 5, 1904
There are several accounts of 19th century barbecues in Virginia that served barbecued sturgeon. Apparently, it was an important food in the commonwealth especially in the southeastern part of the state as indicated by the report from The Times Dispatch dated June 5, 1904 where it states "When 'Charles City bacon' is plentiful there is more contentment to the square mile than all the rest of the world."

So, why learn so much about George Bannister? The reason is, there are so many unnamed Virginia barbecue cooks. History has been so far fairly silent on the names and stories behind the people that cooked Virginia barbecue in the 18th and 19th centuries. I am going to do all I can to discover as much as I can about those folks and publish their stories.

There was a time before marketing consultants and lazy authors molded our opinions of where the "great regions of American barbecue" are located. In those days and without any organized marketing, Virginia was nationally famous for its barbecue. Over the course of time, I intend to show that Virginia's old time barbecue cooks rivaled men like Henry Perry of Kansas City and were cooking excellent barbecue many decades before Henry opened his barbecue stand in 1908. In fact, Henry Perry was just ten years old when George Bannister advertised his barbecued Charles City bacon.

And, to those who think you can't barbecue fish, all I can say is Native Americans in Virginia were doing it  for hundreds of years before the first Europeans arrived in Jamestown in 1607. In 1705 Robert Beverly wrote about Native American cooking in The History and Present State of Virginia "They have two ways of Broyling, viz. one by laying the Meat itself upon the Coals, the other by laying it upon Sticks rais'd upon Forks at some distance above the live Coals, which heats more gently, and drys up the Gravy; this they, and we also from them, call Barbacueing."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Grilled Roadkill

Grilled Roadkill
I have been waiting since the end of November for tonight's episode of The Walking Dead. The show hasn't had a new episode since November and they left off on a big cliff hanger. So, to celebrate the return of the show, I cooked up some grilled roadkill.

 
I made some quick and easy meatball meat using ground beef, Mrs. Dash herb & garlic seasoning, salt, pepper, eggs, bread crumbs, and red pepper flakes. I formed it into the shape of a road kill critter and fired up the grill for 325F indirect.



I also cooked up some pasta guts, tomato sauce blood, bread stick "tails," a little cheese sauce pus, and rice maggots. It was delicious and a lot of fun.

MOINK Balls

MOINK Balls
 A few years ago "SauceMasterG" over at The BBQ Grail posted a new creation called MOINK balls. The concept was simple; wrap a beef meatball (the MOO part) in bacon (the OINK part) and grill it. Here is my take on the concept.

These MOINK balls are as simple as it gets. All you need is:

Frozen pre-cooked beef meatballs
Bacon
Black Pepper & Cayenne Pepper
Barbecue sauce
Toothpicks
A grill or smoker setup for indirect cooking at 325 degrees F

Cut the bacon into lengths just long enough to make one wrap around the meatballs with a little over hang that will be pierced by the toothpick to hold it in place. Wrap the meatballs with the bacon, stick a toothpick in to hold the bacon in place and season with the black pepper. The cayenne is optional. If you use it, use as little or as much as you like.

Put the MOINK balls on your grill or smoker and close the lid. Let the MOINK balls cook until the bacon is done and is as crispy as you like. Using a basting brush, apply a little barbecue sauce to the MOINK balls and let them cook for about another 5 minutes to allow the barbecue sauce to caramelize. Once that's done, remove from the grill and serve. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Picnic Fries

Picnic Fries

Nothing goes better with a good hamburger or pulled pork BBQ than a side of french fries. By the same token, nothing can ruin a good hamburger or good pulled pork BBQ worse than a side of bad french fries. It's a simple concept; good fries are delicious and bad fries are just horrendously bad.

It's easy to cook bad french fries, I guess. You just slice some potatoes or buy some already sliced up for you from the freezer section of your grocer, put them in some hot fat and cook them until they turn brown. Yes, that is easy. But, to cook perfect french fries takes a labor of love. It doesn't happen by accident and it does take some trial and error.

To me, bad fries fall into three basic categories: greasy flimsy, chip crunchy, and crunchy hollow. The greasy flimsy fries are the ones that have no crunch and are usually greasy. They are kind of like little grease sponges that have absorbed ample quantities of fat that causes them to droop under their own weight. Chip crunchy fries are more like thick potato chips. They look good on the outside but when you bite into one of them it's dry and crunchy all the way through. The crunchy hollow fries are the worst of the worst. You pick up a crispy fry thinking that it is going to be really good, you bite it and it shatters between your teeth because all of the potato on the inside has been cooked out of it.

To me, perfect french fries are not greasy. They are deliciously crispy on the outside and have a pillow of fluffy potato goodness on the inside. And, most importantly, they stay crunchy the whole time I am eating my meal. I guess you could say that I want my french fries to have everything. I want them to be light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside even after they have cooled down and are cold.

I cooked a lot of potatoes in my journey to produce my perfect french fries. The recipe and method I list here is the closest I have come to cooking them. This recipe yields a delightfully crispy fry on the outside and a fluffy inside of potato goodness. And, the best part is, they stay crispy and light even after they turn cold. To me, they would be the perfect fries to take on a picnic. They hold up that well. But, they are so tasty while hot it will be very hard to make a batch last long enough to cool down. Now, on to the recipe.

You will need russet potatoes, cold water, apple cider vinegar, canola oil (or your favorite deep frying oil), and kosher salt. Start by peeling the potatoes and slice them into about 1/4" square strips. It's important to make sure the strips are as uniformly sized as possible as this helps to ensure they all cook evenly. If you have a french fry slicer, all the better.

Once the potatoes are peeled, rinsed, and sliced, submerge them in cold water mixed with apple cider vinegar. The proportion of vinegar I use is 2 TBS of vinegar to 3 cups of water. Make sure you have enough of the water/vinegar mixture to cover the potato strips. Let the potatoes soak in the water/vinegar mixture for 30 minutes. I have let the potatoes soak longer but I don't think it brings anything to the party to do so.

About 10 minutes before the potatoes will finish soaking start to bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt for every 4 cups of water you are boiling. When the potatoes have soaked for 30 minutes put them in the boiling water, wait for the water to start boiling again and boil them for exactly 10 minutes. Now would be a good time to start bringing the oil in your fryer up to 325 degrees F.

After 10 minutes of boiling, remove the potato strips from the boiling water and let them dry on paper towels. At this stage you can refrigerate the fries to be deep fried later or just go straight to the deep fryer AFTER YOU DRY THEM WELL. You don't ever want to put water in your hot deep fryer. That's very dangerous.

Now, you will need to double fry the potatoes. Fry them for about 3 to 4 minutes at 325 degrees F. You don't want them to start to brown at this stage. Remove them from the oil and let them drain on a rack. Bring the oil up to about 360 to 375 degrees F and fry the potatoes again until they reach a medium brown color. You can experiment with the color to find what you prefer.

When the fries are done, place them on a rack to drain and sprinkle them with kosher salt to taste and enjoy. And, if you have the will power, let some hang out and cool down and give them a try. You will be surprised how delicious and crispy they remain even after they are cold.

Crispy outside, fluffy inside even after they cool down.

By the way, the Sweet & Smokey Dipping Sauce shown in the photo goes perfectly with these fries. Click here for the recipe.

On a side note, "French fried" potatoes in Virginia go back much further than what we are generally told. The story goes that the recipe for french fries was brought back to America by soldiers who fought in France and Belgium in WWI.

However, in The Virginia House-Wife By Mary Randolph published in 1836, Mrs. Randolph gives us a recipe "To Fry Sliced Potatoes" where she tells us to peel potatoes, slice them about 1/4" thick, and fry them in lard or dripping" (hello duck fat) and to "keep them moving until crisp; take them up and lay them to drain on a sieve; send them up with very little salt sprinkled on them."

I think Mrs. Randolph would approve of my picnic fries.

Deep frying food can be dangerous. Please observe all precautions.

Sweet & Smokey Dipping Sauce

Sweet & Smokey Dipping Sauce

Here is a recipe for a delicious dipping sauce that's good for dipping chicken nuggets, wings, fries, or just about anything else. It's also a pretty good clone of Chick-fil-A's dipping sauce. You will need the following:

3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
1 Tablespoon of yellow mustard
Sugar to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together except the sugar. You need to hold off on the sugar until you have everything mixed and you taste test it because the barbecue sauce you used just may have provided the right amount of sweetness. I think Kraft Original barbecue sauce goes well in this recipe but use whatever sauce you prefer. If you think it needs more sugar, add it. If not, don't add. This is also a good time to adjust for tanginess. Does it need more vinegar? Add some. Is it too tangy? Add some mayonnaise. How about some hot sauce or red pepper flakes? Experiment until you get the flavor you like. This is the only thing I use Kraft original barbecue sauce for. I think it fits well in this recipe.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Spamosaurus Rex

Spamosaurus Rex
Spam! Some people love it. Some people hate it. And some people think it's just OK. Personally, I'm in the "it's just OK" camp. When I was a kid, my parents kept it in the pantry. My older brothers would eat it most of the time. In those days each can came with a "key" that was used to open it. There was a little tab on the end of a metal "band" made into the can. The "key" had a slot on the end. You had to put the metal tab in the slot of the key and start winding the metal "band" around the "key" until you removed the entire band from all around the can. I remember one time the band broke after only a few twists of the "key." No small panic broke out among my brothers. Then one blamed the other for breaking the band. Then they started pushing each other. It was like the legendary battles I imagined that were fought by tyrannosaurs and triceratopses. Then my Mother stepped in to stop a fight. My oldest brother started thinking the problem over to find a solution to free the trapped Spam from its prison. He tried a can opener but it didn't work. He tried a screw driver to pry the metal band away from the can. That didn't work. Next, he pulled out a butcher knife. Fortunately he didn't cut off any fingers. But the Spam was still trapped. The final solution to release the succulent salty loaf of ground pork was to use some tin snips to cut through the can. Personally, I would have just ate an apple. It was bad enough to have to eat Spam but to work that hard to eat Spam was going a bit extreme, in my opinion.

Looking over the canned meats at a local supermarket I noticed cans of Spam on the shelves. I picked up a can and noticed that they no longer have that infernal "tab and key" can opening mechanism. They have put pull rings on the cans. Nice update. I also noticed that they now have a lower fat and low sodium option. That can't hurt. Holding the can of reduced sodium Spam I thought back to the great Spam jail break episode. Then I wondered if there was anything I could do with the can of reduced sodium pork fragments. Once I got home, I made a list of Spam possibilities. That's where I got the idea for Spamosaurus Rex.

First, I drew some dinosaur patterns on paper and cut them out. Then, I used the paper patterns as guides to cut the shapes out of a sheet of aluminum foil. I sliced the Spam into "sheets." I put one of the foil patterns on a sheet of Spam and used an impeccably clean X-acto knife to follow the outline of each foil pattern as I cut the shape out of the Spam.

I made up some gluten free macaroni and cheese (recipe to come in a later post), fired up the grill and grilled the Spam. I dished up the mac & cheese, placed the Spamosaurs on top and Spamosaurus Rex was done.

I suppose you are wondering how it tasted? It tasted like grilled Spam with mac & cheese. The mac & cheese was delicious.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Easy, Fast, Barbecue Brisket

Barbecue Brisket
Looking over the menu of the typical barbecue restaurant nowadays one would think that barbecue joints have been cooking briskets for hundreds of years. However, according to Edgar Black, Jr., the owner of Blacks' BBQ in Lockhart, TX, very few barbecue restaurants were cooking briskets when Black's BBQ first opened in 1932. That being said, brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of the cow and it supports about 60% of the cow's body weight. Therefore, it is a tough cut of meat with a lot of connective tissue. And, that is why brisket is a great cut of meat to barbecue. Barbecuing brisket breaks down the connective tissues and leaves a tender and juicy product.

We are told that to cook delicious barbecue brisket it should be cooked for 12 to 14 hours over a low and slow fire. Having visited the central Texas barbecue brisket "Meccas" including Kreuz Market, Smitty's Market, Black's BBQ and Snow's BBQ, I can tell you that none of them cook brisket for 14 hours. Now, they may hold it in a warmer for several hours after cooking it and the cook time plus the warmer time could be as much 14 hours. But, truth be told, you only need five hours to cook a delicious, tender, mouth watering barbecue brisket and here is how to do it.

First of all, you need a BBQ smoker that can maintain a temperature of about 325 degrees F with indirect heat. Second, you need a full packer brisket. A full packer brisket is a brisket that comprises the point and the flat.  It's made up of two muscles separated by a thick layer of fat, as seen in the photo to the left.

Once you have a good cut of meat which is either a choice (very good) or a select (OK cut), you need to season it. Mix up about 1/4 cup of paprika with a tablespoon (TBS) of black pepper, TBS of salt, a TBS of granulated garlic, and a TBS of chili powder. See the little "slit" in the upper right corner of the brisket? That is a small cut I put there against the grain of the meat to serve as a guide when I slice it after it's done.

 Now, let the seasoned brisket hang out on your kitchen counter for about 1/2 an hour to an hour while you fire up your smoker. Bring the smoker up to a temperature of about 325 degrees Fahrenheit with indirect heat. I use Kingsford charcoal with a couple of golf ball sized chunks of white oak for smoke. When the smoker is up to temp and the smoke has reached the sweet blue stage, put the brisket in the smoker with the fat cap facing the heat source. In this smoker, the heat is on the bottom so I cooked it fat cap down.

Let it cook for about two hours. Then, put the brisket in a pan and wrap it tightly in foil.Let the brisket continue to cook at about 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit until a knife or ice pick stuck in the meat goes in without any resistance. It should be about 2.5 hours after foiling.

Once the brisket probes like butter, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in a blanket. Let it sit in the blanket for at least one hour. After at least one hour, remove the brisket from the pan, pour the pan juices into a defatting cup, and begin slicing the brisket.


Separate the flat from the point and then remove all of the excess fat that you don't want to eat.





Now, slice the brisket against the grain (that part is very important), put it in a serving dish, pour the de-fatted au jus over it, and serve it with sauce or without sauce. But the brisket will be so good you won't need sauce. In fact, Kreuz Market doesn't offer barbecue sauce at all. They serve brisket with avocado, cheese, sauerkraut, white bread, and a plastic knife and it's delicious.

Creamy Grilled Eggs

Creamy Grilled Eggs
Did you know that chickens can fly? Growing up, my Dad raised chickens all the time. We kept a coop full of laying hens and also raised chickens during the summer to eat. There is nothing like a fried chicken that you raise yourself. They are so much better than what you can buy in stores nowadays. Anyway, back to the flying chicken thing. The chickens that I helped my Dad raise when I was a kid were fed well. They were a little too chubby to fly more than a few feet. That's why I was so surprised the first time I saw a rooster take off into the air, fly about 25 yards and about 20 feet high and light on a tree limb. That chicken was fast too! He wasn't exactly a majestic eagle, but he could sure fly surprisingly far and high.

I was out deer hunting looking for a spot to settle in for the day's hunt. I stopped at a spot in the woods where there was a little clearing. I heard some noise in nearby brush so I decided to investigate. I couldn't believe it. It was a flock of chickens. I wanted to get a better look so I moved closer. Apparently, I got too close because the whole flock scattered and most of them flew away. I was startled and wondered if those birds really were chickens. I was particularly impressed by the black rooster that flew so far and so high into a tree. I went over to the tree, looked up and there he was. Yep, they were chickens. After investigating further, I realized that I had wondered into an old abandoned home site. Apparently, the chickens were left behind years before when the home was abandoned. When I found the house, there was nothing left of it but a couple of crumbling walls. Those flying chickens had been living in the wild their whole lives and their diet of whatever they could scratch up in the wild had kept them lean, strong and scrappy.

Speaking of chickens, here is a great egg recipe for the grill: Creamy Grilled Eggs. Agents of culinary oppression (food cops) beware of this one! You will need a grill that's been setup to provide a hot and warm zone, a small (5 1/2" - 6" diameter) cast iron skillet, two eggs, some sliced scallions, a pinch of thyme, some bacon, a couple of slices of crusty bread, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some half & half. A couple of cherry tomatoes go well with this too.


Put the skillet over the hot zone of your grill and let it heat up. When the skillet is ready, fry the bacon. When the bacon is done, remove it but leave the grease to use to cook the scallions. Add the scallions and the thyme to the skillet and let them cook until the onions just turn translucent. Don't let them brown or burn.

Smell those scallions and thyme cooking? Is there anything that smells better than that? Now, remove the scallions and put the skillet over the warm zone on your grill.  Crack the eggs into the skillet and pour just enough half & half in the skillet to cover the egg whites. Chop the bacon and sprinkle a little over the egg whites along with the scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put some slices of crusty bread on the grill to toast and also put on the tomatoes that have been sliced in half and seasoned with salt and pepper. Let the eggs cook until the whites are done but the yolk is still soft. Place the tomato slices on the eggs then remove the toast and the skillet full of creamy egg glory from the grill and enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where My Barbecue Obsession was Born - Allman's Bar-B-Q

Mr. White - Owner of Allman's until he sold the business in 1986. (Photo courtesy of The Free Lance Star.)


Kenny Merrill making pulled pork sandwiches at
Allman's Bar-B-Q (~1977).
In 1954 "Pappy" Allman opened Allman's Bar-B-Q in Fredericksburg, VA. In a short time, Allman's Bar-B-Q became one of the three legendary food destinations in the town. The other two destinations were Carl's "Ice Cream" Stand (Carl's actually serves a delicious frozen confection that looks and tastes like ice cream but can't legally be called ice cream), and "the Pool Room" which made the most delectable chili dogs in the history of the world. By the time I was hired to work at Allman's in 1977 while a sophomore in high school, Pappy's son in law, Pete White (Mr. White is what I called him), was the owner and was running the business. I wasn't hired to cook. My role was to clean, keep the drink coolers stocked (in those days Allman's only served soft drinks in bottles including the old bottled six ounce Coca-Colas), take phone orders and serve customers sitting at the counter. I was also responsible for wrapping all of the take out sandwiches and applying sauce on them and only on a few occasions did I ever actually make barbecue sandwiches for customers. Even so, I watched, listened, and learned several lessons about what people loved about visiting Allman's until I resigned in 1981 because of the demands of college.



Chalk Drawing from 1985 of Allman's Bar-B-Q
by Nathan Horner (http://www.nathanhorner.com/) as
it appeared when I worked there
The barbecue at Allman's was whole pork shoulder. Every night at about 8:30 PM (except Tuesday nights because Allman's was closed on Wednesdays back then) a delivery truck straight from the meat packers would deliver about 35 to 40 whole fresh pork shoulders. On occasion I would assist in loading up the cooker. The shoulders would come four in a box. We would remove them from the boxes and place them directly in the cooker fat side down. There was no trimming or seasoning of the meat at all. Once the cooker was loaded up, the shoulders would cook at about 225 degrees Fahrenheit until opening time at 11 AM the next morning. We had an employee, Fred Ross, whose only job was to come in every night and baby sit the cooker.

It was common to have a line of people waiting to get into the restaurant before it opened at 11 AM on weekdays and Saturdays and 1 PM on Sundays. By lunch time the little building was buzzing with activity. Mr. White would be chatting with customers sitting at the counter while manning the sandwich making station behind the center of the counter. As the wait staff took orders from customers filling the tables, Mr. White would be pulling warm, juicy, tender pork barbecue from the shoulders, filling fresh hamburger buns with it and heating it in a "griddle press." That's what I called it anyway. It was an electric device with a hot griddle on the bottom and another on top. The bottom bun halves with meat on them would be placed on the griddle along with the top half of the buns beside them and the handle on the top griddle would be pulled down and the meat and bread was gently pressed between both hot griddles like they were in a clothes press or a vice. The device was about 18" square. Once the meat and bread was hot, Mr. White would put the top bun halves on the sandwiches and he would press it down again. That's why Allman's barbecue sandwiches always had a flat surface on the top bun. The bread wasn't smashed, but the part that touched the griddles did have a flat surface.

Allman's also offered chopped pork. However, we never called it chopped. We called it minced. The scraps of meat that were left over from a shoulder that were too small to put on a pulled pork sandwich and the "outside" meat, that's what the bark was called at Allman's, that was too hard for a pulled pork sandwich were chopped and served on minced barbecue sandwiches. But, there were also some regular customers who specifically requested outside meat on their pulled pork sandwiches. And, by the way, the pulled pork sandwiches were referred to as sliced pork. This is because even though the meat was pulled, Mr. White used a sharp butcher knife to slice the large chunks of pulled pork into pieces that would easily fit on a bun.

In the days that I worked at Allman's, we didn't serve ribs and there was no one there we called "mom" as they claim nowadays. The whole "mom" thing is a fiction created after the restaurant was sold by Mr. White. The person they now refer to as "mom" was the kitchen cook. She never cooked barbecue or made barbecue sandwiches. She also didn't cook the sauce. Mrs. White mixed the spices while the late Hazel Jordan came in on Wednesdays to cook the sauce. Hazel only knew the wet ingredients and no one but Mr. & Mrs. White knew all the ingredients in the sauce. Also, Fred Ross came in around 9pm to watch to cooker. Mary (Mom) never did. He stayed all night until Mr. White arrived early in the morning.

Mary cooked burgers (she cooked a delicious cheeseburger), fries, made the slaw, hot dogs, etc. She would sometimes cook up some very tasty liver and onions but that was just for the staff and not served to customers. The only barbecue served was pork shoulder either on a sandwich or about 3/4 of a pound of it on a plate with fries, slaw, and a roll which was listed on the menu as the barbecue "Plate." The "Deluxe" was a barbecue sandwich (sliced or minced) with fries and slaw. The sandwiches were served without any seasonings or sauce. Seasoning and sauce was up to the customer. Cole slaw was optional and Mr. White would put it on the sandwich at the customer's request for an extra .05 cents. Even though the meat wasn't seasoned, I can tell you that it was still delicious. It's amazing how delicious all natural slow cooked pork tastes. The fact that it was so fresh and served without being cooled and reheated made all the difference in flavor. My favorite way to eat the sandwiches was with pulled pork, slaw, Texas Pete and Allman's barbecue sauce.

Speaking of Allman's barbecue sauce, it was made in house. There was one employee (Hazel Jordan) whose only job was to make the sauce. She knew the liquid ingredients and Mr. White would mix up the dry ingredients. She would come in on Wednesdays, when the restaurant was closed, to make it. It was vinegar based with a little tomato. It was sweet and spicy. I have seen several customers ask for a glass of ice just so they could fill it with the sauce and drink the stuff. I'm serious, I saw that happen on several occasions. I also had customers who ordered milkshakes made with vanilla ice cream and the barbecue sauce. And, Allman's barbecue sauce is no North Carolina sauce either. It can only be called what it is: Old Virginia barbecue sauce. Case in point, there was one fellow who lived in North Carolina who made frequent business trips to Fredericksburg. Mr. White discretely kept a bottle of Scott's North Carolina sauce behind the counter just for him because that's what he preferred. I remember finding the bottle of Scott's sauce one time. I pulled it out from behind the counter and asked Mr. White what it was doing there. He quickly took it from my hands and put back and told the me about the fellow he kept it for. It was a secret between him and the customer, apparently.

Allman's didn't sell barbecue by the pound in those days. Mr. White didn't have enough room to expand his cooker and even though he was cooking about 700 pounds of pork a day it was still barely enough meat for a whole day's service. He refused to freeze or refrigerate meat days before it was reheated and sold. All of the meat served in those days was freshly cooked. In fact, there were many days when Mr. White would tell me to put up the closed sign at about 4 PM because we had run out of meat. We had customers from all over the country and many who would commute for hours every week to visit. Of all the things I learned, the most important was that barbecue isn't just a cuisine. It's much more. It transcends the barriers that society has built. When I worked at Allman's I would see people from all walks of life standing in the same line in order to all eat the same barbecue.  Nowadays every time I barbecue a pork shoulder I fondly reminisce about those days working at Allman's and Mr. White and the place where my barbecue obsession was born.

Sadly, Mr. White retired and sold Allman's in 1986 and passed away not long after. The barbecue at Allman's was never the same after it was sold.