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Friday, July 27, 2012

A New Look at Old Time Barbecue

Staunton Spectator and Vindicator, January 18, 1901
My new article A New Look at Old Time Barbecue is published in the latest issue of Smoke Signals Magazine. The online magazine can be accessed at this URL - http://www.smokesignalsmagazine.com/SSM/Issue9/index .

Smoke Signals Issue 9
In the article, I point out some important details that I believe historians have left out of the barbecue history narrative. For example, I have found records of antebellum barbecue recipes that include ingredients such as sugar, molasses, honey, peach syrup, and even currant jelly. That's a far cry from the claim that early American barbecue was seasoned only with vinegar, salt, black pepper, and hot peppers.

I also bring to light references to 19th century barbecue cooks boiling meat before placing it over the coals to be barbecued. So, anyone who thinks that "real southern barbecue" was never par-boiled needs to re-think that theory.

I even wrote a paragraph or two on the practice of wrapping meat as it barbecues and a few other interesting tid bits.

So, point your browser at Smoke Signals magazine, pull up page 18 and start reading!

This issue also has some other great articles including one featuring Ray Lampe Dr BBQ himself!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Barbecue Secret Number 11 - How to Trim a Brisket

Beef Brisket is the toughest cut of meat on the steer. It takes some finesse to be able to barbecue it so that it is tender, juicy, and delicious. But, before the cooking begins, how does one trim it? And, is trimming even necessary?

A "full packer brisket" is made of two sections: the point (deckle) and the flat. Often, super markets separate the sections and only sell the flat portion as brisket. That's too bad because the point is the best part of the brisket. The point is the portion of the brisket from which cooks nowadays make burnt ends.

As depicted above, you can see that a "full packer brisket" is composed of two different cuts. One is fatty (the point) and the other is more lean (the flat). For best barbecue results, get a packer brisket that comprises both the point and the flat.

Notice the fat between the two muscles? You have a decision to make. You can leave it alone, barbecue the brisket, and remove the fat after it's cooked. Or, you can remove it before the cook. The fat doesn't really add anything to the meat. The stories told by some barbecue cooks that the fat on a brisket bastes the meat as it cooks and makes it moist is just not true in my experience. The fat that is marbled inside the the meat of the brisket is what matters. The fat on the outside doesn't really bring much to the party as far as moisture is concerned. It makes a great heat shield though. 

Personally, I prefer to remove the fat between the point and the flat. Doing so allows me to have more bark (more Maillard reaction going on) on the brisket which, unlike the fat cap, imparts a lot of flavor.

In the photo above, you can see what the brisket should look like once the fat between the point and flat is removed. I tried to remove only the fat without any of the lean meat. I also trimmed up the edges of the brisket.

The next step in the trimming process is to remove all of the fat and membrane from the top of the flat. The fat and membrane on the brisket inhibits the Maillard reaction and the formation of bark. So, I like to remove as much of it as possible. Again, remove only the fat and membrane without removing the lean meat. It will take some practice so don't get discouraged if you remove a little more lean meat than you would like on your first few briskets.

The photo above shows a brisket that has been fully trimmed and ready for seasoning and cooking. One other detail here is, if you look closely you can see that I "roughed" up the surface of the flat using a fork. This makes for more surface area to hold rub and to create more bark which in turn produces more flavor.

Once the brisket has been barbecued and is ready for slicing, you have to make sure you slice it against the grain of the meat. If not, the meat will be stringy. The photo below illustrates the grain of the meat with yellow lines and the direction you should slice the brisket with red lines.

When a properly trimmed and smoked brisket is ready to eat, you have some good barbecue!

So, that's how to trim a brisket. Now, go forth and cook some barbecue!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Que & Cruz 2012, Louisa, VA

The 2012 Que and Cruz 2012 was held this past Saturday in Louisa, VA. This is one of the best barbecue competitions in the state. Over 50 teams assembled to go toe to toe in a no holds barred KCBS barbecue competition.

Judges' Tent
I was a table captain this year and had a great table of judges to work with. We had some pretty good barbecue come to our table. I don't think we had anything that anyone wouldn't rate as very delicious. That's not surprising when you look at the caliber of teams that were competing.

A welcome sight to judges. Competition
organizers, take note.
Usually, being in July, the weather at this competition is brutal because of the heat. But, this year we were given a well received break. The temperature didn't get above 85 degrees all day.

In the end, Serial Griller won Grand champion. Congrats!

Tuffy Stone and his Dad.
Tuffy Stone and his team Cool Smoke won Reserve Grand Champion. Congrats, Tuffy!

This contest also marked the end of the 3Eyz Barbecue team's incredible run of five straight grand champion wins.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Gettysburg BBQ Skirmish, Gettysburg, PA - July 13-14, 2012

The battle lines were drawn. The soldiers were ready to fire... their smokers, that is. The first annual Gettysburg Barbecue Cook Off took place this past weekend in Gettysburg, PA.

The Judges' Tent
The weather was just about perfect. There was a little bit of rain early on, but things cleared up early morning and the temperature was mild, especially in the shade.

I was a table captain. My table also had two Master Certified Barbecue Judges. It was a lot of fun to discuss barbecue with those two.

I also had at my table a certified judge that was judging his first competition. We all gave him some pointers and he did a great job.

For the third straight competition, 3EYZ was again grand champion! Way to go Dan Hixon and team! Indeed!

My wife and I also took some time after the competition to tour the Gettysburg battlefields. Wow, what a great day!

Cork & Pork KCBS BBQ Competition, Covington, VA - June 29-30, 2012

The Cork & Pork KCBS sanctioned barbecue competition was a whirlwind of a contest... literally. Friday night at about 9pm, an unexpected storm rolled in with heavy rains and 86 mile per hour winds. Needless to say, there was a lot of damage including wide spread and prolonged power outages. But, none of that stopped the competitors who decided that the competition should continue.

I was a judge sitting at table number 3. We had some great barbecue cooks competing and it was a pleasure to participate.

There was a lot of damage. One team had to pull out because of the damage. Another lost their pork and brisket entries as the wind literally blew their smoker away.

How ironic is the team name Damage Barbecue?

In spite of the damage and power outages, the drive back home offered some great scenery.

I have to give a big salute to the teams, the KCBS reps and the contest organizer Les Balgavy. It took a huge effort to finish the competition after that devastating storm. But, everyone pulled together and it turned out to be a great success. And, best of all, no one was hurt!

3Eyz BBQ won grand champion! This was the team's second GC in a row. Congrats!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Is Your Smoker Big Enough to Smoke a Whole Hog?

Barbecued Pig Picking in Virginia
So, you want to cook a whole hog and don't know if your smoker is big enough? Well, here are some guidelines to estimate the size of a roasting hog based on its carcass weight.

A 10-24 lb hog is 23-30 inches long.

A 25-40 lb hog is 30-36 inches long.

A 41-60 lb hog is 36-44 inches long.

A 61-85 lb hog is 44-48 inches long.

Now, get the right sized hog and start cooking!

The Last Buffalo Barbecue in America

Illustration from The Herald - Los Angeles, CA - January 26, 1898

The National Cattleman's Beef Association's website has a section on the organization's history. Here is an excerpt:
Here is the rest of the story.

On January 27, 1898 the National Stock Growers held what was billed as the last buffalo barbecue to be held in America to end their three day national convention held in Denver, Colorado. They planned a "monster barbecue" at the Union Stock Yards with a huge attendance of 12,000 people and 200 waiters. To feed the large crowd they ordered 10,000 pickles, 1000 pounds of cheese, 3000 loaves of bread, 200 "possums," 35 barrels of hams, 30 sheep, 2 bears, 15 antelope, 4 elk, the hind quarters of 16 beeves (steers), and 5 buffalo (American bison). There may have been as many as 10 buffalo barbecued; sources conflict on the number. They also constructed 1200 feet of tables. (As reported by the Omaha Daily Bee, Jan. 6, 1898.) The Daily Public Ledger of Jan. 15, 1898 added that they were also serving 35 barrels of yams and 300 kegs of beer. The St. Paul Globe of January 28, 1898 reported that mutton was also served. In addition to the barbecue there were also bull fights and rough riding tournaments.
New York Tribune - Jan. 28, 1898
The Albuquerque Daily Citizen of January 27, 1898 reported that "thousands" attended the event and mentioned that Secretary Wallace of New Mexico read an exhaustive history of the sheep industry in the United States. (That sounds pretty boring.) The article goes on to report the adoption of resolutions and leaves the reader with the impression that the event was a great success. The Herald of January 28, 1898 and the Fergus County Argus of February 28, 1898 also reported that the barbecue and the convention were both successes. However, there are numerous other reports that the barbecue was a disaster. For example, The Kansas City Journal of January 28, 1898 reported that trains and street cars transported 25,000 to 30,000 people to attend the barbecue. "So great was the crowd that the six tons of meat served was hardly enough to satisfy all, and before the crowds could be served the tables against which they were surging broke away, and, brushing aside police and military guards, the crowd overran the grounds, helping themselves to what was in sight." The report goes on to say that while the crowd was "good-natured" there was no chance of restoring order and management declared the barbecue over. The author of the article blamed the barbecue's organizing committee claiming that they gave out 35,000 tickets and that was just too many. Numerous other papers also reprinted the article.

The January 28, 1898 Roanoke Times ran a story with the headline "Disorderly Barbecue. Thirty Thousand People Scramble for the Edibles." The story goes on to report that, unlike the Kansas City Journal that stated it was a "good-natured crowd," the crowd was in an "ugly mood" and police charged the "mob" and "clubbed many, but were overpowered and pelted with bread, chunks of beef and other missiles. Many women fainted and were borne away." The story claims that many were wounded, one seriously, and another person died.

Salt Lake Herald
January 28, 1898
The January 28, 1898 Salt Lake Herald ran the headline "Barbecue Ends Disgracefully" and the crowd rushed "like an immense pack of wolves upon the provisions." The writer went on to write about the "stampede of humanity that carried everything before it" and "cleaned up the barbecue in 15 minutes."

An eyewitness account of the barbecue was published in the February 11, 1898 edition of the Kansas City Journal. In that report E. E. Richardson, secretary of the Live Stock exchange, is quoted as saying:
"I never saw anything like it in my life. The trouble arose in the first instance over the mistake in issuing 40,000 tickets to a 10,000 [person] barbecue. Then, a little free beer aggravated the situation and when the first row of people had crowded around the tables loaded with venison, elk, antelope, buffalo, bear, etc., there was a simultaneous rush by the crowd that could not be accommodated. Before half a dozen bites could be taken, the mob was on the tables and then there was a really disgraceful scene. Well dressed young men grabbed great dripping platters and hid them under their coats. Finely dress women caught up all the tin cups they could carry and lugged them off as souvenirs. The people seemed to be crazy and the delegates to the convention, who were the real guests of the occasion, didn't get a smell of all the costly meats and other provisions."
The January 31, 1898 edition of the Salt Lake Herald has a one line comment about the barbecue: "That barbecue has become a nightmare to Denver."

"Riot at a Barbecue"
Chicago Eagle February 5, 1898
The Chicago Eagle of February 5, 1898 called the barbecue "a wild scene" saying that "Facilities not being sufficient to accomodate the throng, there was much delay and the tables were finally stormed by hungry visitors. The efforts of fifty policemen and a detachment of militia to keep order were laughed at."

The barbecue was controversial from the start. Killing and serving buffalo was against the law at certain times of the year in Colorado in 1898. Several newspapers, including the January 22, 1898 edition of The Salt Lake Herald, reported:

"Game Warden Swan of Colorado has announced in the most positive terms that any attempt to carry out the program of serving buffalo at the live stock banquet will result in the confiscation of the game and the arrest of all those responsible in the matter, even if he has to call out the state militia. The management of the barbecue, on the other hand, declare that the game is already in cold storage, and will be served regardless of the game warden."
There is no word on whatever happened to the first official Colorado State Commissioner of Forest, Game, and Fish J. S. Swan, who is referred to as "Game Warden Swan" in the article, and his plan to arrest the organizers of the barbecue. He did have strong feelings about saving the bison. In his biennial report on the State Forest, Game and Fish to the governor of Colorado for the years 1897 - 1898 Swan stated "The killing of any buffalo should be made a penal offense, with a proper reward to any one furnishing evidence on which a conviction is secured." Swan was appointed Commissioner in 1897. The Rocky Mountain News, April 6, 1897 edition states that he was a "newspaper man by profession." I find it interesting that a "newspaper man" was appointed by the governor to be the state commissioner of Forestry, Game, and Fish. As a side note, On April 16, 1897, Colorado Governor Alva Adams signed House Bill 129, to create the Department of Forestry, Game and Fish.  Immediately afterward, the governor appointed J.S. Swan to be the state’s first official State Forest, Game, and Fish Commissioner.  This legislation established a comprehensive framework for protecting the state’s wildlife.  Over the next century, this newly established agency would evolve to become the Colorado Division of Wildlife, as we know it today. (Colorado Division of Wildlife Handbook, 2010 - PDF)

Either way, the three day convention was significant because it was the first successful attempt to unite live stock organizations from all around the United States. There is no doubt that the political influence the organizations gained by uniting together was great. That fact may explain why some newspapers reported that the barbecue was a failed event filled with angry mobs and others called it a great success. Like today, don't expect to read much impartial reporting in a 19th century newspaper. The Wichita Daily Eagle of February 4, 1898 reported that the Denver Chamber of Commerce adopted a resolution stating:
"The directors desire, as representing the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade, to deprecate and condemn the unwarranted, untruthful, and slanderous statements sent out by some irresponsible and sensational correspondents of certain eastern newspapers, which statement concerning the last day's entertainment of the visiting delegates, consisting of a barbecue held at the Union Stockyards, was untruthful, highly sensational and not warranted by the facts. There was no riot, no bloodshed, no conflict between crowds and police, nor the military, nor was the strong arm of the law called upon to quell any mob, for the reason that there was no such occasion for any such display of authority."
The same resolution praised some other newspapers and the Associated Press for their "incalculable benefit."

Still even today, it seems that some in Denver don't want to talk about "that Denver barbecue." The Historic Denver website blames free beer for the riot and that's about all they say about the entire event and the website doesn't mention that it was a barbecue.

The photos below are of a large public barbecue held in Colorado in 1906 and illustrate how tables were arranged at Colorado barbecues of that era in order to serve the large crowds.
A 1906 Free Barbecue at a Town Lot Auction Sale in Swink, Otero County, CO
Photo courtesy of Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library
The aftermath of a successful 1906 Free Barbecue at a Town Lot Auction Sale in Swink, Otero County, CO
Photo courtesy of Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library
The Washington Times July 23, 1904
Well, as we all know, this wasn't the last buffalo barbecue, thank goodness. Though, it's easy to see why many thought it would be. In 1800, there were approximately 50 million bison living in North America. By 1889, there were less than 900 bison left alive in the United States. This fact boggles the mind. What's worse is, why would anyone want to kill any of the few bison that remained?

Richmond Dispatch March 30, 1902
The Stock Growers weren't the only ones who barbecued the scarce bison in those days. The Confederate Veterans Association barbecued bison at their reunion dinner held at Dallas, TX in April of 1902.

In The Extermination of the American Bison, by William T. Hornaday, the author writes:
In 1871 there were more Bison/Buffalo than people in North America. Historical accounts vary as to precise dates and numbers, but it is quite accurate to say that the American Bison or Buffalo was almost entirely gone from North America by 1900. The proud, stalwart and beautiful beast that was sacred to the New World's Native Peoples for thousands of years, and roamed in herds of tens of thousands (an estimated 60 million once occupied the Great Plains), was virtually decimated within just a few years when the U. S. Government decided that the "Indian" could be "discouraged" (official term) by eliminating its sacred animal. In 1867 the famed General Sheridan had declared "Kill the buffalo, and you kill the Indians." This became official policy.
Fortunately, the American bison was saved and today there are about 500,000 bison in North America. Fewer than 20,000 are free ranging. Other interesting facts about bison include:

  1. Bison can gallop at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and are good swimmers.
  2. The largest populations of wild, free-ranging bison are found in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. and Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park.
  3. By its first birthday, a bison may weigh more than 400 pounds.
  4. Over 90 percent of bison today are under private ownership and are raised like cows for bison meat.
  5. Bison meat has 70% to 90% less fat than beef and 50% less cholesterol.
I think the take away from all of this is just the fact that bison meat tastes good! It's also a healthier choice than beef. Here is a recipe for grilled bison burgers.

Separate 1 pound of ground bison meat into four equal size balls. Form each into a patty and season with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and a pinch of cayenne. Handle the meat as little as possible. The less handling of the meat you do the better its texture will be.

Fire up you grill to a medium heat. Because bison meat is so lean, you don't want to cook it over a really hot fire like you can cook beef burgers. The medium heat will slowly cook the meat without burning the outside before the inside is done.

When the burgers reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, they are done. Enjoy them with the toppings of your choice.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Barbecue Secret Number 10 - The Propane Torch - a.k.a. The Weed Burner

While, in my opinion, propane is an abomination when it comes to cooking barbecue, it does make a great grill cleaner and fire starter. I use propane and a weed burner to start the fires in my smokers and grills. I can start a grill full of charcoal in 90 seconds with my weed burner. I can start my Jambo pit smoker using all white oak wood in less than 5 minutes. It's a great tool.

In the photo above, I am firing up my little Smokey Joe grill using the weed burner. The weed burner also serves double duty. Notice in the photo to the left how clean the grill grates are after burning off the debris using the weed burner as I was lighting the fuel. Now, that's a great barbecue tool!

A weed burner can also be used to cook food. Here, I "char" up some chili peppers.

Once the chili peppers were charred up nicely, I put them in a plastic bag and let them steam from their own heat for about 15 minutes. Then, I scraped off the charred skin, removed the stems, removed the seeds, and sliced them into little cubes.

Once the peppers were chopped, I sauteed them in a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

I use the peppers to top hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, soups, etc.

Barbecue Secret Number 10 - The Weed Burner. Just be really careful and follow all manufacturer's instructions.

Read about more barbecue secrets here!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bacon Powder!

If you are a bacon fan, I'm sure you've had those times when you were eating something and thought that it would be better with bacon. Actually, as a bacon fan, you have probably thought that when eating just about everything. But, how do you wrap bacon around popcorn? How about corn on the cob? What if you wanted bacon on your potato chips? Well, to provide that kind of flexibility with the delicious flavor of bacon, you need bacon powder. Here is how to make it.

According the molecular gastronomy experts, to turn a fat into a powder you need a stabilizer with a very low bulk density that will completely dissolve when added to any aqueous medium. Sounds like a job for N-ZORBIT M (a.k.a. Tapioca Maltodextrin or TM).

According to the manufacturer's directions for turning a fat into a powder using TM, fats should be liquefied, chilled, and mixed with a starting ratio of 60 percent fat to 40 percent TM. Puree together in a Robot Coupe and pass through a tamis for a fluffier powder. OK, I get the idea. I don't have a "Robot Coupe" or a tamis. So, here is what I did to make bacon powder with the tools I have on hand.

1.) First, the 60/40 ratio of TM and fat is a weight ratio not a volume ratio. So, you will need a kitchen scale. It turns out that I needed about 3/4 cup of TM and about 1.5 ounces of bacon fat.

2.) I used a fork to mix the bacon fat into 1/2 cup of TM. I added additional TM as needed until I got a mixture that was about the consistency of a thick biscuit dough. Once well incorporated together, I put the mixture in the refrigerator and let it chill.

3.) Once the mixture was chilled, I pressed it through a fine strainer and, voilĂ , I had bacon powder!

I tried it first on some melon. It tasted like melon with bacon on it. The TM doesn't alter the flavor of the bacon fat. I then tried a little on a toasted tomato sandwich.

The applications for this powder are only limited by your imagination.