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Friday, August 30, 2013

Don't Wash Your Chicken!

Researchers at Drexel University and New Mexico State University have started a campaign called Don't Wash Your Chicken! "There's no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you're making it any safer," explains Drexel food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan, "and in fact, you're making it less safe." Studies back Quinlan up: The only way to kill the bacteria on chicken is to cook it properly.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barbecue Secret Number 14 - How to Get a Low & Slow Bark on a Hot & Fast Brisket

Blackhawk Brisket

This brisket recipe was inspired by a renowned 19th century Virginia beef barbecue cook named "Blackhawk." Yes, people in Virginia have been barbecuing beef longer than people in any other state including Texas and the tradition goes back to the 17th century. This recipe is my tribute to Blackhawk and all the other great, old time Virginia barbecue cooks that don't get their due.

The biggest problem many have with hot and fast brisket is the bark. The bark on a typical hot and fast brisket just doesn't measure up to the bark of a brisket that has been cooked for 12 to 14 hours at a lower temperature. So, this recipe is my attempt to rectify that situation. I call it Blackhawk brisket.

First, the basics: A good bark is the result of several things going on during the cooking process but one of the most important things is the Maillard reaction. This is where the natural sugars and proteins in the meat begin to brown while cooking. There are several main things that influence this reaction: sugar, protein, heat, and the pH level of the surface of the meat are a few. If you want to read more - try here.  Now, let's get started on how to barbecue a Blackhawk brisket.

Start with a large full packer brisket. I don't usually cook full packer briskets smaller than 12 pounds. Trim it up and remove the excess fat from between the point and the flat. This is done to increase the amount of bark I would have on the burnt ends. Check this post for the details on trimming a brisket. Barbecue Secret Number 11 - How to Trim a Brisket.

For this process to produce the best bark you need to remove all of the silver skin and as much of the fat possible from the top of the brisket flat. Then, using paper towels, dry the top surface of the brisket as much as possible.

Next, instead of keeping the surface of the meat flat and smooth, use a fork to cut some shallow "troughs" in the surface of the meat going in the same direction as the grain as shown in the pic. This is done in order to create more surface area for the bark to adhere to. And, as the great Adam Perry Lang taught us, more meat surface equals more Maillard reaction which means more flavor.

Brisket surface "roughed" up with a fork

The next important part of the process is to use something under the brisket while it cooks that will create a curved or slanted surface. This is important so that juices from the meat don't pool in one spot. The juices pooling will wash the rub off and eliminate any chance of a good bark developing.

Keep the surface of the meat curved to let juices flow off rather than pool.
You can inject the brisket at this point in the process if you choose. Just make sure you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to let the injection work its magic. After an overnight rest, again use paper towels to dry the surface of the brisket. The overnight rest isn't needed if you don't inject the brisket.

Now, let's deal with the pH level of the meat. Sprinkle the top surface of the brisket with about 3 half pinches (just as much as can be picked up with thumb and forefinger) of baking soda. Yes! That's right! Baking soda! Just a light sprinkle all over the top surface of the brisket is needed. Don't use too much.

After the light sprinkle of baking soda, apply a light coat of peanut oil all over the surface of the meat. The last step in this stage is to apply a light coat of molasses. I use the molasses as the base of the bark. It won't make the meat taste sweet. It just sits in the background and turns to caramel as the meat barbecues.

Brisket with baking soda, oil, and molasses

Now, apply the rub. You can use any rub you like. One of my favorites is my Blackhawk rub and is made from the following:

4 TBS Sea Salt
6 TBS Coarse Ground Black Pepper (16 mesh)
3 TBS Fine Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS Fine Ground Cayenne Pepper
2 TBS Granulated Garlic

Apply the rub all over the surface of the meat. Touch it up, if needed, by sprinkling some fine ground black pepper over the brisket to cover any spots that need it.

While the prepped brisket rests, fire up your smoker to 325 degrees F. I use white oak chunks for smoke. Make sure your fire is burning very clean before adding the meat. The smoke coming from the chimney should almost be a clear vapor.

Put the brisket on the smoker and let it cook for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, Wrap the brisket with foil but leave some space between the foil and the top of the brisket much like a foil tent.

Blackhawk brisket wrapped in a foil "tent"

Let the brisket continue to cook for about 2 more hours until it probes tender like "butta." I'd say the internal temp will be about 208ish F. But, please don't go by temperature alone. Make sure that if you peirce the meat with your thermometer that it feels like you are putting the thermometer through butter. Once tender, remove the foil and let the brisket rest for 1 hour.

Here are the results. The top pic was cooked using the Blackhawk rub. The 2nd pic was cooked using Smokin' Guns Hot. The burnt end was cooked using Blackhawk rub.

Blackhawk Brisket

Blackhawk Brisket

Blackhawk Brisket Burnt End

Now, there are two main things going on here. The molasses is caramelizing while the surface of the meat is also caramelizing because it is experiencing the Maillard reaction. The baking soda raises the pH level of the surface of the meat. This is important because the higher pH level causes the Maillard reaction to occur quicker which means it will now occur longer than without using the baking soda. This produces a bark that is much closer to a long cook brisket bark than a typical hot and fast cooked brisket.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Great Tip For Removing the Membrane From Ribs

In this video, Greg Rempe of the BBQ Central Radio Show demonstrates how to easily remove the membrane from the back of baby back ribs. It's a great tip and I LOVE the background music!

Pepper Vinegar

Pepper Vinegar

Pepper vinegar is a colonial Virginia condiment. Mary Randolph (Thomas Jefferson's 1st cousin) published the recipe in her 1824 book "The Virginia Housewife." She published many recipes that were regularly used at Monticello in Thomas Jefferson's kitchen.  As the chile peppers in my garden are being harvested now, I decided to make a batch of this tasty treat. In colonial and early 19th century times here in Virginia, they would have used cayenne peppers, fish peppers, or bird peppers. For my version, I used jalapeno peppers. Here is Mary Randolph's recipe and I followed it to the letter.

"Get one dozen pods of pepper when ripe, take out the stems, and cut them in two; put them in a kettle with three pints of vinegar, boil it away to one quart, and strain it through a sieve. A little of this is excellent in gravy of every kind, and gives a flavor greatly superior to black pepper; it is also very fine when added to each of the various catsups for fish sauce."

It isn't as hot or as vinegary as you might expect. It's actually pretty mild and the flavor of the jalapenos really come through.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sauce for Meat in Colonial America

Here is an excessively long post. But, I think it's significant because I think I am uncovering something about colonial American cuisine that has up to now not been known. Here is the short version.

My original plan was to use the book A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin as a primary source for a book that I am writing.

At first read, I assumed that the sauce the writer was mentioning so much was some sort of vinegar and oil (butter, lard) mixture that the English were so fond of using. But, the passage from page 245 about vinegar piqued my interest and made me reevaluate what I was reading. The writer claims that he only had access to vinegar one time and then only a spoonful. Therefore, he couldn't have been writing about a vinegar based sauce. So, I started comparing the passages that mention "sauce" and came to the conclusion that he must have been referring to vegetables or other side dishes to accompany the meat. That all means that the word "sauce" had a much broader meaning in colonial times than it does today.

I am in discussions over this with some friends who are colonial food experts. We should have some conclusions soon. What say, thee?

Page 246

When in the field, and often while in winter quarters, our usual mode of drawing our provisions, (when we did draw any,) was as follows:—a return being made out for all the officers and men, for seven days, we drew four days of meat, and the whole seven days of flour. At the expiration of the four days, the other three days allowance of beef. Now, dear reader, pray consider a moment, how were five men in a mess, five hearty, hungry young men to subsist four days on twenty pounds of fresh beef, (and I might say, twelve or fifteen pounds,) without any vegetables or any other kind of sauce to eke it out. In the hottest season of the year it was the same; though there was not much danger of our provisions putrefying, we had none on hand long enough for that, if it did, we were obliged to eat it, or go without any thing.

Page 18

I was brought to an allowance of provisions, which, while we lay in New-York was not bad: if there was any deficiency it could in some measure be supplied by procuring some kind of sauce; but I was a stranger to such living; I began soon to miss grandsire’s table and cellar. However, I reconciled myself to my condition as well as I could; it was my own seeking, I had had no compulsion.

Page 28

We continued here some days to guard the flour. We were forbidden by our officers to use any of it, except our daily allowance; we used, however, to purloin some of it to eat and exchange with the inhabitants for milk, sauce, and such small matters as we could get for it, of them.

Page 46

One day, after roll-call, one of my messmates with me, sat off upon a little jaunt into the country to get some sauce of some kind or other. We soon came to a field of English turnips; but the owner was there, and we could not get any of them without paying for them in some way or other. We soon agreed with the man to pull and cut off the tops of the turnips at the halves, until we got as many as we needed. After the good man had sat us to work, and chatted with us a few minutes, he went off and left us. After he was gone, and we had pulled and cut as many as we wanted, we packed them up and decamped, leaving the owner of the turnips to pull his share himself.

Page 91

we were put into the kitchen; we had a snug room and a comfortable fire, and we began to think about cooking some of our fat beef; one of the men proposed to the landlady to sell her a shirt for some sauce; she very readily took the shirt, which was worth a dollar at least,—she might have given us a mess of sauce, for I think she would not have suffered poverty by so doing, as she seemed to have a plenty of all things.

Page 149 - This quote is pretty straight forward, I think.

pound of lean fresh beef and a gill of wheat for each man, whether we had any salt to season so delicious a morsel, I have forgotten, but I am sure we had no bread, (except the wheat,) but I will assure the reader that we had the best of sauce; that is, we had keen appetites.

Page 215

The first night of our expedition, we boiled our meat; and I asked the landlady for a little sauce, she told me to go to the garden and take as much cabbage as I pleased, and that, boiled with the meat, was all we could eat.

Page 245

One pound of good and wholesome fresh or salt beef, or three fourths of a pound of good salt pork, a pound of good flour, soft or hard bread, a quart of salt to every hundred pounds of fresh beef, quart of vinegar to a hundred rations, a gill of rum, brandy or whiskey per day; some little soap and candles, I have forgot how much, for I had so little of these two articles, that I never knew the quantity. And as to the article of vinegar, I do not recollect of ever having any except a spoonful at the famous rice and vinegar thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, in the year 1777.

I also found another source that uses the word "sauce" in the same way. In a letter written by Jabez Huntington to Joshua Huntington on August 6, 1776 the author wrote "These Comes per your Schooner Capt. Ingraham with sundry Artickles for the Army I understood per Letter from Colo. Huntington that it was verry difficult to Obtain green Sase (sauce) in N York so orderd a Box filled with Betes, Carriots, Puttatoes, and Turnups directed to your Care to be divided between your Self and Brothors in Camp".

FOLLOW UP - Continuing my review of the literature around this subject here is what I found on 8/15/13.

I have discovered that, in fact, veggies were called sauce when used to accompany meat. It is not well known, even among colonial food historians apparently, but, in the book Food in Colonial and Federal America:

"Vegetables' place in the diet is revealed by the description of them as garden sauce, or "sass," and accompaniment to meat." (pg. 55) The book also mentions that "pumpkin was boiled and used as a sauce to accompany meat." (pg 23)

So, there you go!

Monday, August 12, 2013

1955 Allman's Bar-B-Q Newspaper Ad

Allman's Bar-B-Q ad, Fredericksburg, VA, from the April 22, 1955 Free Lance Star. Allman's had been in business just about a year when this ad was run. "The Home of the Happy Hogs" was a great tag line, if you ask me.

Allman's BBQ Ad - The Free Lance-Star - April 22, 1955