Archive | January, 2012

Grillin’ in Reverse

29 Jan

For years, and years, and years, I was the typically American male-griller. I got my fire as hot as I could, tossed whatever meat I was cooking onto the hot fire, cooked it for however many minutes I thought it would take to get half way to where I wanted it to go, then flipped it over and cooked it that many minutes again. It is remarkable that I managed to get some quantity of edible food to the family’s table, and everybody was too kind to complain, but I am guessing that, by my current standards, I served up a lot of mediocre meat and some that probably was downright bad. Still, we didn’t starve and nobody got food poisoning.

When I got interested in cooking BBQ, I discovered “indirect” cooking – the way most BBQ is cooked. Either the heat source is separated from the cooking chamber by some kind of baffle, or the meat is so far above the coals and the temperature is low enough that the meat isn’t seared in the same manner as it is when cooked directly over high heat.

I figured out over time that the indirect cooking method could be used in grilling, too. When that happened, and I started experimenting with starting my meats directly over my charcoal, then moving it to a cooler part of the grill to finish, the quality of meat that I served my family took a great quantum leap forward! No more crispy chicken barely done in the middle; no more thick steak cooked well done on the edges with just a strip of medium rare meat in the center. Pork tenderloins now come in cooked evenly throughout. It was a epiphany I wish had come many years before.

There are times, however, when I find that this direct/indirect approach works best IN REVERSE! That is, the indirect cooking is done first and then, right at the end of the cook, just before the meat gets to the right finished (on the grill) temperature, the steak, chop, chicken or whatever, gets a quick trip over to the hot side of the grill and a flip to sear off and caramelize all sides of the meat, then off of the grill to rest up before its big entrance to the dinner table.

This method has come to be called the “Reverse Sear” and there probably are as many variations as there are cooks who claim to have invented it.

Some people keep the temperature of the cooker quite low during the indirect phase (say , 275 to 300 degrees) then remove the meat and jack the temperature of the cooker up to 450 – 500 degrees by the introduction of oxygen or additional coals) before searing off the meat.

Others, like me, dampen the temperature slightly in the indirect phase (say to 325 – 350), then open the vents to turn up the heat and finish the meat at around 400 – 425 degrees.

In yet another variation, used for things like whole or half chickens, the direct phase may be only a few minutes or not at all, but after the meat has cooked a low or moderate temperatures until almost the desired degree of doneness, the temperature is increased so that the skin of the chicken can either crisp or the remaining fat lying just under the skin will render out, making the skin tender enough to “bite through.”

All of this to report that tonight, cooking a 2″ thick Certified Angus Brand New York Strip steak on my 1992 Model RED Weber Performer, I was lucky enough to absolutely, positively NAIL the reverse sear. After cooking indirect on one side of the Weber where there were no coals at about 325 degrees for about 25 minutes, the big ole slab of beef was seared off directly over the coals at about 425 degrees for about 4 minutes per side.

The result was a perfectly flavorful crust, aided by a nice dusting of Weber Burgundy Beef Rub before and during the indirect cooking but a perfect medium rare degree all the way from one edge to another, with no sign of gray “banding” indicating that the edges of the steak are overcooked.

I don’t cook chunks of beef this large very often, and about half of this one will make up the main course of tomorrow night’s dinner, but I couldn’t pass this one up a while back while strolling through the Homewood, Alabama Piggly Wiggly. It may be a while before I treat myself to that kind of steak again, but the memory of this one will be enough to last me for a while!

Cook’s Note: Really thick steaks like the one I cooked tonight have to come off the grill earlier than you think, otherwise, the carry over cooking will take you past the temperature at which you want the meat to finish. I like my steaks medium rare, which for me is somewhere around 130 – 135 degrees internal temperature. Tonight’s steak came off the grill at about 122 degrees internal temperature and while I didn’t temp it after it had sat for 5 minutes or so, the color of the meat told me that it had finished right around the target of 130 degrees. I figure that where the finished temperature of the average 1.25 inch think steak will continue to rise about 5 degrees after its removed from the grill, a really thick steak will rise as much as 10 degrees and maybe more. I overcooked a lot of really nice steaks before I figured that one out!


No BBQ tonight…….

24 Jan

NO BBQ tonight. Had to make do with a nice thick pork loin chop marinated in some mojo and Worcestershire sauce, then grilled direct for 4 minutes a side on the mini-Big Green Egg and finished to 140 degrees internal indirect by sitting a small terra cotta flower pot base on the grill grate, then a second grill grate on top of that, with the chop resting on the top grate over the flower pot base. Came out nice, moist and tasty!

This was nothing unusual or exceptional, but there are a couple of good points in this cook. First, I decided to marinate instead of brine this chop. Ordinarily I would brine a pork chop, but this one had a nice band of fat along the outside and looked like it would be tender enough if I handled it correctly. I’m a big fan of Mojo marinade (I used the prepared Publix brand tonight) and Worcestershire sauce and use the combination successfully as part of my rib cooking process (along with some dark Mexican beer, but that’s another post for another day). The combination translated nicely from ribs to loin chops. For some additional flavor, I added some salt and pepper and a dash of Mrs. Dash Onion and Herb rub.

Next, was the cooking method. This was a nice, thick chop, boneless, weighing in at almost 9 ounces. I knew that if I grilled the chop over direct heat until the center was where I wanted it to be, the outside would be dry as dust. This chop called for a combination technique – a mixture of direct and indirect cooking methods.

I stabilized the Mini-BGE at about 425 and grilled the chop on each side for about 4 minutes a side. I had heated the clay saucer and the second grate while the cooker was coming up to temperature and had sat those aside when I put the chop on the Egg. I then sat the chop on the second mini-Egg grate, which was resting on top of a small plate, and using my tongs, sat the clay saucer back on top of the grill grate, then moved the second grate, containing the chop, on top of the clay saucer. I had, in effect, created a plate setter for indirect cooking on the Mini-BGE. I closed the lid on the Egg, the temp climbed quickly back to 425 degrees, and in about 6 more minutes, my chop was showing 138 degrees on my orange Thermapen. Off it came to rest while I fixed my plate with the roasted zucchini boats, stuffed with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes topped with mozzarella.

The result was impressive and tasty. The chop was cooked evenly throughout, and had just the slightest hit of pink. I’ve no doubt that the temperature of the chop climbed to just over 140 degrees during the rest, making it perfectly done under the USDA’s new temperature guidelines for pork chops. This was one of my better pork chop cooks. Too often, chops are dry and tasteless save for whatever condiment they are dipped in. This chop, on the contrary, was moist with a flavorful crust and didn’t need anything save for an additional dash of salt at the  table.  Color me “happy.” At least about dinner!


Steak of the Day: Petite Sirloin

23 Jan

The beef industry has been trying to create more value for sellers by locating parts of the animal that are tender enough to cook like a steak (hot and fast) but which are outside of the traditional areas of the animal from which grilling steaks generally come (the short loin, the rib, the top sirloin). Some of these cuts are really tender and tasty, like chuck-eye steaks. Others are flavorful but maybe not quite as tender, like flat-iron steaks. And yet others are still a mystery, like the petite sirloin steak.

I was at a local grocer’s “warehouse” sale a month or so ago and the store had these steaks on sale for what would be a decent price if they were worth eating, so I took a chance and bought a package of them. The package contained 6 individual steaks and weighed in at just over 6 ounces each on average. Since I’m on a quest to still eat what I want, but to eat more reasonable quantities, I figured they were worth a try.

Tonight was the first cook of one of these little steaks. I am led to believe from that “Petite sirloins are nothing more than a glorified sirloin tip steak off the round.” That tells me that the steaks are a bit chewier than the steak of my childhood, the top sirloin and that they would benefit from a marinade.

Looking through the pantry I had a bottle of Dale’s Seasoning – a soy based meat marinade, heavy on the salt, that seemed to be a good choice for the little steak. I got it in a bath of Dale’s and lit the Mini Big Green Egg.

In a few minutes, the Mini-Egg was cruising at 500 degrees, so the “petite” steak went on the grill. The plan was to do about two minutes on the first side, flip, cook for two minutes on the second side, and repeat, then temp the steak and see where we were. I figured it would take about 8 minutes to get the little steak to my preferred temperature range of 125 to 130 degrees internal.

I cooked the first side for 2 minutes, flipped, and cooked the second side for two minutes, then flipped again, rotating the meat 90 degrees from the first side to get some nice looking grill marks. After about 6 minutes, I got a feelin’ and checked the temperature with my Thermapen. The temp was already north of 130 so off the grill it came.

The result? Chewy, but with nice flavor. The marinade was a little stronger than I had hoped, probably because I let the steak marinade a few minutes longer than normal and the steak was thinner than I normally cook. Not to say that it was bad or unpleasant – to the contrary – it paired nicely with some cheese grits from the night before.

I’ve got five more of these little steaks in the freezer and they will be fun to cook. I will be SURE to get them off the grill between 120 and 125 and I’ll whip up a slightly different marinade, like Mojo seasoning with a touch of Worcestershire sauce. These little steaks also would be quite good sliced thin for fajitas or coarsely chopped for street tacos.

In the lower hierarchy of “value steaks” I put them behind chuck-eye steaks and top sirloin steaks, about on a par with flat-iron steaks from the chuck. Let price be your guide, treat it gently and cook it rare to medium rare and you’ve got yourself a worthwhile meal in my opinion and experience.

Cosmos Restaurant – Orange Beach, AL – BBQ, Esq. Review

16 Jan

I am traveling on business tonight in Orange Beach, AL. At least when I’m away from home, and missing the opportunity to cook and eat Missy’s wonderful cooking, I get to try local restaurants. When I’m at the beach, I try to find places that feature locally harvested seafood and that are something a notch above the usual fried shrimp basket storefronts (not that I don’t love a shrimp po-boy or a basket of fried shrimp!).

Tonight I had dinner and a cold beverage at Cosmos Restaurant in Orange Beach, and posted this review on Yelp.

Cosmos Restaurant Review:

Check out the review and if you are in the area, check out the restaurant. If it is “tourist season” go early – the restaurant is very popular. If you’re here in “snowbird season” go late, after the snow birds have headed home after happy hour!

The Professor’s (Pork) Loin

15 Jan

It’s not that I’ve not been cooking the past week or so. Rather, my cooks haven’t been very exciting – just our weeknight staples: boneless, skinless chicken breasts marinated in mojo, steaks from the freezer, that sort of thing – that aren’t particularly unique. My techniques aren’t anything to blog about, and I’ve been a little tired at the end of the day to write about the particular grill that got chosen for that night’s dinner. So, I’ve been a little lax on updating the blog lately.

This weekend, however, has provided ample blog fodder – this post, which follows the smoking of the Professor’s loin – pork loin that is – and one for later in the week that touches on what NOT to do in a couple of situations. But for now, let’s take a look at the Professor’s loin……..

Earlier in the week, I got a text from my brother (the Professor) telling me that the results of his annual physical was that his sugar was high and this triglycerides were not in whatever range they were supposed to be in. The doctor prescribed some meds, along with “diet and exercise.” Faced with the prospect of making certain lifestyle changes (mainly, watching what he eats and actually walking to his golf ball every day), the Professor did what Smith men always do when staring into the face of something unpleasant – he cooked pork! More precisely, he cooked a bacon-weave wrapped pork loin on his Big Green Egg.

Below is a (slightly edited) blow-by-blow of the process:

Professor (in response to my comment about his diet): What diet? Goin on the Egg at 1:00 p.m.:

Esq: I’d say that looks like a steady diet of PIG! Pull at 140 degrees. What’s your egg temp?

Professor: 250?

Esq: Sure. Anywhere from there to 325 should be good. :Pork Loin will cook pretty fast so don’t get too far from the Egg!

Professor: OK, will report in.

Professor: I gotta get a bigger egg!

Esq: My garage – got a medium for ya! The loan will shrink up a bit. At 250?

Professor: Almost. About 225. May have to pull off the indirect set up and heat her up.

Esq: Nah. A big chunk of mean will cool the cooker down for a while. Be patient and you may want to put some foil under the ends so they don’t cook too fast on the overhang.

Professor: Got some apple juice in a pan under the grate.

Professor: 230 and holding. Will leave alone.

Esq. (90 minutes after the loin went on the Egg): What’s your meat temperature?

Professor: 90.6

Esq: Time to relax with an adult beverage.

Professor: On my 2nd! Should I pull and wrap at 140?

Esq: Yep! Just cover loosely. Don’t wrap too tight. Rest 20 minutes. Will be a bit pink in the middle but still moist and tender.

Professor: OK. I figure 2 hours more.

Esq: Probably not that long. I figure 2.5 hours total; maybe 3. On at 1:00?

Professor: 1:45 before the temperature got right. Will check it at 4:00.

Professor (at 3:00): Meat at 105; Egg at 250. Like the Thermapen! (At 3:20): Meat 115; Egg 250.

Esq: Looking good! Looks like about the meat is going up about 5 degrees every 10 minutes; another 45 to 55 minutes sounds good.

Professor (at 4:10): Ends are at 140; middle at 132.

Esq: Getting close. I might foil the ends while the middle comes up to temp. Won’t be long now.

Professor (a few minutes later):

Bacon wrapped loinon the egg for 3 hours at 230 or so. PERFECT! Now, what to do with a hot Egg?

Esq: You could BBQ a chicken! Done? How did it taste?

Professor: Had a nice smoke ring; tasted smokey and was very tender.

Esq: Good! Did everybody like it?

Professor: YEP!

So there you go – a not so very exciting narrative about my brother’s pork loin! Actually, there is some good stuff in here. First, the pork loin is a large chunk of meat that has very little fat on it or running through it. It benefits mightily from a brine or the addition of some fat for the cooking process. The Professor’s bacon weave helped baste the pork loin during cooking and kept it from drying out. Second, pork loins don’t need “Low and Slow” cooking in the sense that a butt needs that treatment so the connective tissue can break down. Many people cook pork loins at a higher temperature – between 350 and 400. That’s fine, but as the Professor’s results attest, pork loins can do equally well with a lower and slower approach. Still, the time period will be relatively short (like the Professor’s three hour cook). Finally, a pork loin is a tasty treat for an afternoon cook and, as I suggested to the Professor today, the leftovers are wonderful on sandwiches. A quick mix of balsamic and mayo or some Tomato Chutney with a couple slices of pork loin on a soft, toasted bun is a wonderful meal any time of the day. A nice slice of pork loin, with some deli ham, pickles and mustard are the makings of a Cuban sandwich – one of my favorites!

So, not the most exhilarating post, but one that documented a fun afternoon and a wonderfully tasty meal!

Standing Rib Roast on the (Little) Big Green Egg by the Professor!

7 Jan

The title of this blog is “Smitty’s Que Crew” and it purports to follow the grilling and BBQ exploits of the Smith Brothers. So far, in the first twenty or so posts, the only Smith Brother whose exploits have been followed have been mine – the lawyer of the family – hence the handle “BBQ, Esq.” However, there is another Smith Brother who is pretty proficient with a grill, and who recently acquired a small Big Green Egg. He has been experimenting with the Egg and each cook has been better than the one before. The other Smith brother, the elder of the two of us, is a retired college professor, hence the handle I am bestowing upon him, The BBQ Prof.

Over the holidays, each of us bought and froze a couple of standing rib roasts while they were reasonably priced. We each froze one or two and had one or two sliced into steaks and froze the steaks.

Tonight the Professor thawed one of his roast and fired up the BGE. I had armed the Prof with a set of loose instructions or suggestions on how I might approach the SRR on the BGE, and I armed him with a new RED Thermapen at Christmas, but for this cook, he was on his own.

He rubbed up the SRR with a heavy coating of salt and pepper and brought the BGE up to about 300 degrees using the plate setter and the drip pan and on onto the Egg went the SRR.

Through the magic of text messages, I got frequent updates throughout the process:








“On the Egg at 300…”
“Egg temp at 250 and holdin….”
“Meat Temp at 90…. Egg holding steady”

“Meat at 110…..”
From his son, the Production Supervisor for the evening “Meat at 120”
Then, from the Professor – “125. Off and Rest…”
Finally, “AHHHH MAN! Best I ever had. Bar none. I love da egg.”

Sounds like the Professor has graduated the school of basic Eggin and is moving on into advanced Egg Theory!

In the meantime, I was firing up the brother to my brother’s Egg, my own small BGE, for a little contest between a rib-eye and a t-bone.

Here is the t-bone resting while the rib-eye finished up:


After tasting a few ounces of both and considering the taste, tenderness and texture of each, I determined that the winner was ….. ME!

Good night of cooking and Eggin’ for the Smith Brothers!

Chicken Thighs on the Primo: Would Tonight be the Night I Find the Holy Grail?

5 Jan

This little blog experiment was started more as a way for me to journal my smoking and grilling experiences than as a way to reach out into the world. Lord knows, I am no expert – I just am a guy with a passion for smoking and grilling meats and enjoying good BBQ. I don’t compete because I really don’t have the budget for the entry fees, travel, and buy competition meats. I stay close to the competition circuit by judging several contests and year, visiting with my competitor friends whenever I can, and trying – despite my lack of actual competition experience – to cook competition-style and competition-quality meat. I’m producing pretty consistent pork, my briskets at times have been spot on, and the rib recipe and method some of my friends showed me have produced ribs every bit as tasty and attractive as those I see at the competitions I judge.

And then there is chicken. So small, so simple, such a daily staple of our weekly diet. Compared to the imposing size of a packer brisket, a pork butt or shoulder or a slab of spare ribs, waiting to be trimmed down to St. Louis-style, a chicken leg or thigh is such a small thing. Whereas cooking a brisket or butt takes the better part of a day, chicken can be cooked insisde an hour. And yet…..

Chicken can be the most maddening and frustrating of any meat to cook – competition-quality and competition-style, that is. Sure, I can grill chicken breasts and wings that are moist, satisfying and tasty; I can smoke chicken halves that are slightly sweet, savory and smoky in just the right proportions, and I can even cook a rotisserie chicken on my Weber charcoal rotisserie that will make the supermarket and restaurant offerings seem dry and drab. But…that….darn….SKIN on my chicken thighs!!!

The thing is this: in the competition world, the holy grail of cooking chicken is to achieve “bite through” skin. The idea is that when the judge picks up his or her piece of chicken (usually a thigh – but the best chicken I tasted last year was a leg – subject for another day) and takes that one crucial bite, the judge gets all of the flavors the comp cooks pack into their thighs and….and…..and….the thigh comes away from the judge’s mouth leaving a perfectly bite shaped piece of meat and skin missing from the thigh.

The problem is, more often than not, the entire skin comes off, flaps against the judge’s chin and hangs there, leaving the chicken thigh naked and sauce dripping off of the judge’s chin. Aaarrrggghhhh! Out of my six samples of chicken at any given contest, generally 4 or 5 result in a wipe of my entire face with a moist paper towel!

So, with me, as with real competition cooks, the goal – the mission – the quest – the Holy Grail – it that tender, thin, bite-through skin.

Those who regularly achieve bite through skin guard the secrets as closely as the launch codes to the country’s nuclear arsenal. To be sure, there are those souls who dare post methods and procedures to achieve bite-through skin. I know – I’ve tried them all. From a little chicken jacuzzi of liquid margarine to scraping fat from the underside of a piece of chicken skin and sticking it back on the thigh, I’ve done it. At temperatures from 225 degrees to 375 degrees, and beyond, I’ve cooked it. And how did I do? Well, I get my chin slapped with chicken skin about as often at home as I do when I’m judging.

So tonight, it was another try. The cooker: The Primo XL Oval, divided firebox for indirect cooking, temps at 325, lump charcoal (kind of a blend of a couple of different kinds) and a lump of pecan wood. Four Publix Natural chicken thighs (from the freezer), marinated briefly in Goya mojo marinade, then dried off and sprinkled with some Penzy’s Northwood seasoning (this is not my usual spice rub but was what I had on hand). The chicken got a quick spray with some canola oil from an atomizer, and then went on the indirect side of the Primo and started to hang out.

About 40 minutes later, I drizzled on a thin glaze of generic BBQ sauce thinned with some apple juice; let it set up for about 5 minutes, then did it again and let that set up for a couple minutes. The thighs were at about 174 on the Thermapen, so it was time.

These weren’t my usual spices and sauce since this was a weeknight dinner cook, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody and we needed some room in the refrigerator. I knew the thighs would be tasty, the rub and glaze would add a little depth of flavor and the dinner would be enjoyable. And it was.

Oh the skin……….you don’t think I would tell, do you?