July 12 – Bachelor Night Dinner

12 Jul

Meat: Top Sirloin. CAB from Piggly Wiggly

Seasoning: Salt, Pepper & Dizzy Dust

Grill: Weber Q320

Temperature: 450

Cooking Time: 8 minutes

Finish Temp: Approx. 120





4th of July a Bit Humdrum this Year: Just Some Chicken Wings

7 Jul

Usually we go to Turk Lake in rural Central Michigan for the week of 4th of July. The 4th of July at Turk Lake my friend Steve and I have, for seven or eight years now, served as the pit masters of Turk Lake. We started out cooking ribs over an open fire pit. We graduated to Weber kettle grills and Boston Butts, then we stepped it up a bit and started cooking butts, ribs and chicken on Weber Smokey Mountain smokers. We both now have added the likes of Big Green Eggs, Kamado Joes, Primo XL Ovals and Traeger Texas grills to our cooker collection. We both judge barbecue contests and talk about getting together a couple time a year to compete. We have endured heat, rain and, one year, a faux-Weber kettle grill with a hinged lid that got caught in a gust of wind with the lid open and skated across the yard like a sailing skiff on white capped water. Two years ago, we endured, on July 3rd, the death of Steve’s father-in-law and my great friend Jerry Wabeke. We look forward to these 4th of July cooks, plan them for months, and discuss for days ahead of time where our meat is going to come from, what kind of fuel we are going to use and the favors of smoke wood we will add to the fire. We contemplate sauce and rubs and, of course, plan the course of beverages for the day. There are other foods, of course: corn, baked beans, squash, zucchini, slaw, maybe a congealed salad or two and desserts. Nice, sure, but the meat is the star of the day, and we are the star-makers.

This year, however, we did not get to Turk Lake. It was nothing bad that kept us away. To the contrary, my beautiful wife has a great new job and it was just too soon for her to take a week off. So the 4th was spent at home, very low-key and simple. Lunch out at a Mexican restaurant (who knew so many Mexican food restaurants would be closed on the 4th of July?), some grilled chicken wings for dinner and some dessert that Missy or Meredith would cook up – brownies or chocolate chip cookies perhaps. Low-key and definitely not Turk Lake. Still, the day took an upturn when Melanie called to say she would be home for dinner and would be spending the night. So, while not sitting on the pontoon in the middle of the lake watching neighbors on opposite sides of the lake shooting fireworks arcs across the lake toward each other, we were nevertheless together as a family.

The wings? This is a cooking blog after all. Marinated in mojo criollo, seasoned with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub, cooked at 375 indirect over lump and pecan then finished direct to add crust, all on the Primo XL Oval cooker. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, too, marinated in the mojo, grilled direct for about 8 minutes a side. Results: wings were demolished, but the better choice was, perhaps, the chicken breasts. The mojo will light up some ordinary chicken.

Highlight of the day, food-wise, was the girls dessert. Using brownie mix, chocolate cookie dough, small Reese’s cups and a muffin tin, they put together a brownie concoction that set my myfitnesspal.com back three weeks.

After the brownies (and a big glass of milk) the girls engaged in their customary loud and rambunctious horse-play. So, while it was not the typical 4th, and while I hated missing out on the big cook and spending the week at the lake, it was a good day.

Still, next year, and the next, and for the next 40 years or so, I DO plan to be cooking barbecue, with Steve, AT Turk Lake!

Wings on the Primo XL Oval:


In Memoriam: Hollis Coffman Smith (1921 – 2012)

24 Jun

On June 16, 2012, my dad Hollis Coffman Smith passed away. He was 90 years old and had been ill for over a year. His passing was not unexpected nor was it un-planned for. My brother, mother and I all had made peace with the inevitability of his death some time ago. Still, his death was sudden and despite the expectations and planning, it still was a shock for my family. When word came from the nursing home were Dad had lived for the past 16 months, my brother and I started scrambling to get from where we were to where we needed to be. I was able to get to the farm late the next afternoon, while my brother made it in the following afternoon, thanks to packed flights and perhaps less than helpful airline personnel. Still, we managed to get to the farm, spend time with Mother, make the arrangements and plan a funeral service, then greet friends and family. It was a long and stressful week. Still, being together in the place we grew up with our respective families was soothing for brother and me.

I knew on Sunday when I got to the farm, there likely wouldn’t be anything thawed for dinner and there isn’t any place much to eat out in the country near the farm. I also knew that we would need to feed family and friends and that there would be a lot of food delivered to the house over the next few days, there was something I needed to cook. So, on my way to the farm, I grabbed some steaks out of the freezer and stopped to buy a couple of Boston butts.

My plan was to cook the steaks for my Mother and nephew Sunday night, then cook the butts on Monday to have at the house for the rest of the week. Now, one thing I’ve never had to worry about at the farm is having cooking appliances for smoking and grilling. My Dad was a life-long collector of grills and smokers – so I come by my habit honestly. At the farm, there probably are a half dozen grills, at least three smokers in various sizes and of various designs and perhaps a dozen “potential” grills and smokers. These “potential” grills and smokers are large and small metal fabrications that once served another purpose but which my Dad, in his eye, could see the potential for the conversion of the item into a grill or smoker. Add to that about a half-dozen or so “fish cookers” designed to heat oil with propane for frying fish and you get a pretty good idea of the way Hollis collected grills.

To my Dad, no cooking device was beyond salvation. He had for many years two Weber “Smokey Joe” mini-kettle grills that were abandoned in campgrounds because the sockets where the legs attached to the bowl of the grills had rusted out. Dad figured out that the little grills would fit perfectly into metal milk crates that used to be plentiful on the farm, so he sat them into the milk crates and they continued to cook campground dinners as Mom and Dad traveled in one of their Airstreams for years to come. One of my Dad’s smokers, a 30+ year old “bullet” smoker, has a pan in the bottom of the lower section that holds the charcoal. When I went to use it a couple of years ago, I notice that the bottom of the bowl had rusted out. No problem: Dad simply fashioned a replacement bottom out of some ultra- heavy sheet aluminum to cover the rusted out spots in the charcoal bowl and never missed a beat.

From my Dad, I acquired my love of the grill at an early age. I have photos of my Dad grilling steaks in his trademark low-back overalls on a little cast-aluminum kettle grill. I don’t remember the brand-name, but had a chance to buy one out of a lady’s front yard a few years ago and didn’t do it – I wish I had. I loved watching Dad grill steaks – he only turned them once – and burgers. These were the most frequent grilled menu items at our house, and I looked forward to those nights with an anticipation that can hardly be described in any terms other than “drooling.” The steaks were almost always sirloins – and not the “top sirloin” cuts that you see in stores now, but full-cut sirloins, with a piece of tenderloin attached and with bones that ranged from small and circular to perhaps four inches long. The meat nearest the bone was always the most tender, and I loved it when I got to “gnaw” the bone! I also learned from my Dad that steaks should be served medium-rare. Burgers were thick, with plenty of fat and would come off the grill with a crisp and tasty crust, cooked no more than medium. Add a Sunbeam bun, a health slice of sweet onion and fresh tomato from Dad’s garden, and there was little on earth that could compare to that the taste of those burgers.

Indeed, Dad was a grill sergeant. He was confident and poised around a grill, was constantly experimenting and I only recall one – exactly one – grilling disaster, and that was not his fault. George, the white German Shepard that was my constant childhood companion, once swiped a sirloin off Dad’s grill when he came inside to refresh his bourbon. We laughed about that for years to come – although it was not quite so humorous that night when we had to stretch one sirloin to feed the family and a couple of special guests!

Dad also cooked more than his share of Boston butts over the years, often with his greatest of friends Homer Neal Lewis in the carport of the Lewis’ house in Auburn, Alabama the night before an Auburn football game. There weren’t any thermometers on the 55-gallon drum grill that Neal kept on his carport, and nobody owned a Thermapen, either. Everything was done by instinct and feel and smell. The cooking was “hot and fast” and the barbequed pork always had a crisp and tasty bark that softened just enough when tossed with Neal’s wife Eloise’s homemade BBQ sauce. The meat was served on game day – we didn’t tailgate then like we do now – at the Lewis house and a dozen or more guests, family and friends would always rotate through the house before the game and more still would come by after the game. The menu was always the same, was always delicious and there was always plenty to eat.

Perhaps, however, Dad was most skilled at cooking barbequed chicken. There was no shortage of chicken cookers, depending on the size of the crowd he was cooking for. The “pits” ranged from the aforementioned bullet smoker/Weber Smokey Mountain wannabe to a couple of heavy metal “box” pits that Dad had made in the welding shop at the vocational school where he was the director. Those box pits are still in use (and one of them will be the subject of an upcoming post) and could cook a dozen or more chickens at a time. The cooking was low and slow with the chickens. They were cooked in halves and they cooked for about 4 hours over Ole Diz charcoal (always Ole Diz charcoal – I asked him why Old Diz once and he replied “because it’s cheap!”) and near the end of the cook, when the chicken halves were almost ready (when the leg would turn freely in the socket), Dad would take each half chicken and “dunk” it in a large pot containing Momma’s version of Eloise Lewis’ barbeque sauce. The chicken would then go back on the smoker until the sauce set. Sometimes, the chicken would get just the slightest bit of char on the skin, which made it especially tasty. My beautiful wife, Melissa, now a vegetarian (go figure) says to this day the best chicken she has ever eaten was cooked on Daddy’s back porch on the bullet smoker with the assistance of Dad’s longtime friend Dan Lott.

One of my favorite memories of Dad’s barbequed chicken was from my high-school years – more precisely, from my Junior Prom. My date and I both were wearing white. She was wearing a long white dress with some colorful stitching on the front while I was wearing a pure white tuxedo – we were stylin’. Mom and Dad offered to cook dinner for us before the prom and because I was perpetually broke in those days (bagging groceries at Winn-Dixie did not prepare one for a fancy dinner on the town), we quickly accepted. I was so busy making preparations for the prom and working the day of the dance, I didn’t pay any attention to the menu for the evening. When my date and I arrived for dinner, we discovered that Dad had cooked – you guessed it – Barbequed Chicken, just dripping with tomato based barbeque sauce. I think we covered ourselves with t-shirts or football jerseys or something so we wouldn’t end up wearing our dinner to the prom because as anyone who has eaten barbeque chicken can attest, if you aren’t wearing some of it on your clothes afterward, you didn’t do it right.

These stories go on-and-on – sometimes, my wife might say “on-and-on-and-on-and-on” and she might be right. But the memories are precious to me, and from these few stories of my Dad and his grills, you might be able to see where I got my love of grilling and collecting.

God Bless You, Daddy. We love you and we miss you. May you rest in peace and may all the Saints in Heaven enjoy your barbeque chicken with Eloise’s barbeque sauce as much as we did here on earth.

I’m still here….

14 Jun

I haven’t been posting a lot lately, but I’ve not been cooking a lot lately either. From June 2nd through the 10th, I was with the Trinity United Methodist Church Cross & Flame Youth Choir’s Summer 2012 Choir Tour to Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C. My 17 year-old daughter asked me if I would go as a chaperon. How cool is that. I was responsible for four or five high school seniors and recent graduates who I enjoyed being around and the worship services, performances and sights of Washington, D.C. made for a wonderful week. However, going a week without cooking was brutal. I had cooked Papa Murphy’s Pizza on the Kamado Joe just before we left, but it had been over a week since I had cooked when I fired up the Big Green Egg to cook a nice porterhouse and a couple of little “Ranch Steaks” from the chuck sub-primal. The steaks were cooked in “traditional” Big Green Egg style – seared quickly on both sides, then all the vents were shut down completely and the steaks cooked to a nice 120 degree medium rare by the radiant heat generated by the heated ceramic cooker. I got about three great meals out of those steaks!

Later in the week, I fired up the Primo XL Oval to cook some very large boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Seasoned with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub, the breasts were cut into two pieces each and then the thicker of the two pieces from each breast was butterflied to shorten the cooking time. The breasts were cooked indirect by use of a plate setter until just short of 160, then finished over direct heat to get some color on the meat. I also grilled some Texas sweet onions on the Primo to compliment the chicken and some fresh pineapple to give the meal a little sweet-tart quality. It was a good dinner.

More later and there are a couple of big cooks coming up, so I will try to be better about posting more often and including some shots of the festivities.


After School (or Work) Cookin’ on the Kamado Joe

29 May

Used to be that for a school week or work week grillin’, I would come home and fire up the Weber Genesis or the Weber Q220 or Q320. Those are wonderful grills and in 10 minutes, max, they will heat up and be ready to cook.

However, as fond of them as I am, they do not use charcoal and while gas grilled beats pan seared, oven roasted steaks any day, charcoal grilled steaks beat gas grilled steaks hands down (in my humble opinion, lest we start a blog war). The perception is, however, that it takes too long to fire up a charcoal grill. I’m not sure that is true under ordinary, chimney starter charcoal lighting circumstances, but I KNOW that isn’t the case when you happen to have a propane powered torch nearby! With a long handled propane torch ( check in the welding supply area at Lowe’s) or a weed burner ( bigger ) I can have a Kamado Joe full of lump charcoal lot in about 5 minutes.

Tonight I came straight in from work and hit the lump left over from last night’s pizza cook with the propane torch for about 5 minutes, went inside and changed clothes, poured a cold beverage, and came back to the patio. The Kamado Joe was at 500 degrees and ready for some steaks. I am now enjoying that beverage and waiting until 6:10 to put the steaks on so they will have 10 minutes to cook and a few minutes to rest before the announced dinner time of 6:30.

That is just as fast as any of my gas grills and with a lump of pecan tossed in on top of the lump in the Kamado Joe, I will get flavor not possible on my gas grills.

My technique is simple: steaks on for 3 minutes (rotate half way through if you like cross-hatched grill marks), flip, wait three minutes. Then remove the steaks to a platter. I put a 10 inch metal pizza plate on the grill, put the elevated Kamado Joe second grate on the cooker, and put the steaks on the elevated grate, over the pizza plate, and finish the steaks indirect to get a good, even degree of doneness throughout. Start checking temps on 1 1/4 inch steaks after about 4 minutes on the elevated grate. Once the steaks get over 100 degrees internal, the temps rise quickly. I pull the steaks around 120 internal and let them rest for at least 5 minutes then destroy them!

Great way to finish any work day!



3:00 am and all is well

28 May

I am so far behind on chronicling my grilling and BBQ adventures that I may never tell all of the stories of the past month. That, however, is not why I am posting at 3:15 a.m.

Indeed, I am up at this hour because my biological clock had me up at 2:00 a.m. and I took the opportunity to check the temperature on The Professor’s small Big Green Egg, on which we had deposited a decidedly large Boston Butt, 4 hours before after my arrival from Turk Lake, Michigan. The temperatures had dropped below my comfort zone, which was not totally unexpected since the Professor had eschewed the Minion Method of lighting the lump charcoal for this Smith Boy’s Memorial Day Butt Cook, and had instead dumped a chimney starter of lit charcoal into the Egg. So, the charcoal supply in the Egg was exhausted a bit sooner than normal. No problem. I just sat the grill grate on the chimney starter, removed the plate setter with the help of some welding gloves and replenished the charcoal supply with a healthy dose of unlit lump. The temperature inside the Egg quickly recovered, and the Smith Boys are once again on the proper path to BBQ Nirvana.

I am a bit curious where the Professor’s charcoal grate has wandered off to inasmuch as the charcoal is resting on the bottom of the firebox, but the Kamado-style cookers can be very forgiving and versatile tools so the cook appears no worse off at the moment for the absence of the charcoal grate. Still, we need to find that rascal.

Now that I have discovered the iOS app for WordPress, perhaps my adventures can be more timely posted on my humble blog.

So, 3:30 and all is well in the BBQ world. I think I will head back to bed. The Egg has settled back into cooking temperature and that big ole’ butt has a ways to go.


Update: the butt went into the foil at 5:30. The internal temp was about 185, which was higher than I would have estimated for a butt of that size, but Thermapens tell no tales. At 7:30, the butt was at 202, and the Thermapen probe fell into the meat. “Done!” The Egg is steady at 180 after closing down the vents, so we are using it as a cambro until time to pull the pork. Happy Memorial Day to all, and especially to our “cousin” Capt. Kate Hinds, USAF. Come home soon, Kate.

“EPIC (Shrimp Burger) FAIL!”

28 Apr

Coming off of the week’s “Massive Butt Cook” – chronicled here earlier in the week – I was ready to get a grill fired up tonight. We had some buns left over from the BBQ sharing and I had a hankerin’ for some good hamburgers. When I suggested hamburgers for tonight’s dinner, Melissa countered with Shrimp Burgers. It was a good idea. After all, Meredith likes Shrimp Burgers and and Melissa eats shrimp as part of her vegetarian regime. Shrimp Burgers are healthier for us than the 80/20 Ground Chuck hamburgers that I prefer, and there is a saying I’ve heard somewhere that goes something like “Happy Wife! Happy Life!” So, Shrimp Burgers it was.

Now, here’s the problem: shrimp do not particularly like to be formed into patties! They require some cajoling, some binding and some luck to stay together on the grill. Whereas 80/20 ground chuck pretty much hangs in there for the duration of the cookeration, Shrimp Burgers are always a bit of a mystery. I have a basic recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling special edition from a couple of years ago, and on the surface, it seems simple: 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp, bread crumbs, 1/4 cup mayo, salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon zest, scallions, some parsley if its available. Toss the shrimp into the food processor, roughly chop, then transfer to a bowl, blend in other ingredients and form into patties. Yeah, so simple. And yet….

I knew I was in trouble when I formed up the patties and they didn’t stick to my hand like they normally do. Instead they were a bit moist – well, wet actually. I was hoping that they would “set up” a bit in the freezer before they went onto the grill, but I should have tossed them all back into the bowl, added some more bread crumbs and started over, but noooooooo…… that would have made too much sense.

Instead, I fired up the Kamado Joe – damn good cooker it is – and got the temp to 400 degrees, where I wanted it. The squash, zucchini and onion skewers went on and off the grill nicely, charring up on the edges just like they should. Seasoned with salt, pepper and Cavender’s Greek seasoning, they had a nice, satisfying spicy taste and a little carmelization and char to boot.

Then it was time for the shrimp burgers. I was able to get them onto my grill grate without any incident thanks, it appears, to the patties being about half frozen from hanging out in the freezer for about half an hour. So far so good. A little pause for some refreshment, and it was time to flip.

And the trouble began. The first patty I tried to flip started to fall apart as I picked it up. It was just too damned moist. I got it flipped and then waited a bit before trying to flip the others. The flip of those patties did NOT go well. While I was able to get them turned over without the patties coming completely apart, the “burgers” now looked more like “loose meat sandwich filling.” At this point, I probably should have cut my losses, shut down the Kamado Joe and loaded the family into the Smith Family Truckster and headed off to the nearest Mexican establishment, but no….we went forward.

The “patties” were eaten, and when the bun was topped with the “filling” (formerly known as shimp patties) along with a Pepper Place fresh tomato slice, some leaf lettuce, a slice of purple onion, and a dash of mayo, prepared horseradish and Alecia’s Tomato Chutney (my redneck version of tomato chutney aioli), they were indeed tasty.

However, the effort was, due to the disastrous nature of the “patties,” an epic fail” – as the current vernacular calls a calamity of the scale of this cook. I do like Shrimp Burgers, but the next time they are on the menu at our house, Melissa will have to do the honors of making the patties. I will man the grill.

As it stands now, I can’t let the weekend grilling end on that note. Tomorrow night will indeed involve firing up the Kamado Joe and cooking something that I can pull off successfully…..maybe those nice 80/20 ground chuck burgers will get cooked this weekend after all!