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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 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:



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.

Massive Butt Cook

24 Apr

As usual, I am way behind on the updates, but am going to try to chronicle a butt cook I am doing tonight for a friend’s church dinner tomorrow night.

After a trip to Sam’s this afternoon to pick up a case of butts (five packages of 2 butts each) weighing in at about 72 lbs, plus two more two-packs for a total of 14 butts weighing in at about 100 lbs, the preparations got started in earnest around 9:30. Here is the first post, which was originally sent as an email to The Professor and a couple of the intended beneficiaries of the butt cook:

Gentlemen – as followers of BBQ, Esq., and being aware of a mammoth butt cook this evening, I wanted to let you know that as of 10:15, all butts have been rubbed and are on their respective smokers.

The final count was 14 butts – about 100 pounds total. 10 of the butts fit on the Traeger and 4 on the WSM.

When I came upstairs, the Traeger was humming along at about 225 on Pecan pellets and the WSM was climbing through 190, assisted by the BBQ Guru Digi-Q DX automatic temperature control device, on its way to 225, fueled with good old Kingsford and flavored with some cherry, apple and pecan wood. Both smokers will hang there over night, with a temperature check to coincide with my nightly “nature call” (BBQ is such a good old man’s sport for this reason), and when the butts reach 160 degrees internal temperature – which I estimate to be about 6 – 7 a.m., they will be wrapped in a double layer of heavy duty foil, a little rub and a splash of liquid added to the foil, and the temps will be bumped to about 275. I estimate that the butts will finish at around 198 degrees between 10 a.m. and noon. They will then be transferred to a cooler, wrapped in towels, and held for pick up by my “customer” about 2:45. EXCEPT that two lucky butts will be reserved for the Smith Family and two special friends (Sorry CPS, you’re family and would have a share except that you are headed west).

We are hoping for a slightly sweet, smoky finish with plenty of moisture and a noticeable but not tough nor chewy crust.

More updates later in the evening.

11:00 p.m update. I usually don’t check my cookers so soon after starting a cook, but I really want to get some sleep and I wanted to know that all was well. The Traeger and the WSM were humming right along at temperature, with a wisp of blue smoke coming from the WSM. The Traeger doesn’t produce much noticeable smoke after the pellets get going, but the smoke taste and smoke ring are there nevertheless.  The butts on the Traeger are going to need rotating at the early morning check to keep the outside edges from getting done too fast. No problem there. So, 11:00 p.m. and all is well. The BBQ, Esq. is off for a few hours of smokey dreams.

1:15 a.m. – Butt check. Temps are holding steady on both the Traeger and the WSM. Butts look pretty much like they’re supposed to after about 3 hours.  Checked fuel in the Traeger. Going back to bed.

5:35 a.m. – I really like automatic temperature controllers! They let me do overnight cooks without worrying about smoker temperatures – not that I worry much about temperatures on the Traeger or the WSM anyway (or the Kamado Joe or Primo XL Oval for that mattter), but still, I sleep better knowing that the technology is doing its job.  Got up and checked the butts this morning and they look great. I did get to the Traeger just in time since it was almost out of pellets. I refilled the hopper and now Traeger is happy again and let out a nice little puff of smoke from the smokestack to let me know. I haven’t checked the butt temps yet this morning because the Thermapen was upstairs and the cookers are downstairs, but judging from the looks of the butts, they are definitely ready to go into foil to finish. Butt first…… coffee…..

7:00 a.m. –  When I took the Thermapen down to the smokers, I found that thee of the butts were just north of 195 degrees internal – they all were on the Traeger and on the “hotter” end of the cooker. They were foiled an slipped into a cooler to hold for a while until the others finish. The biggest butts were on the WSM and they were still in the stall, being in the 160 range. No real surprise there because of their size. All of the butts were wrapped and the 11 that still had some cooking to do were returned to their cookers and the cooker temperatures were bumped to 250.

I will check the butts every 30 minutes or so and as the butts finish, they will go into the cooler. When all are finished, I will put the Traeger into “smoke” mode, which runs about 165 degrees, and hold the butts until my “customer” picks them up after lunch.

Final Update: The butts all finished in due course this morning. As they finished up, they were placed in a cooler and covered with a blanket. The last two to come off of the WSM were designated as mine. I pulled them about 1:30 this afternoon and they were good butts to say the least. Lots of moisture, good bark, very tender (these were pulled at about 200 degrees so they probably finished about 205-210, but they didn’t get mushy). I splashed in some vinegar and pepper sauce just to add a little spice and they were done.

First review was from my friend JST. A self-described picky eater, he gave it his seal of approval. Results in from the church also were good, so we’re calling it a success!

14 Butts – biggest cook to date!

So far so good – with only some minor min-cook adjusting.

Costco Traegers – My Traeger Story

10 Mar

There was a post on the Weber Virtual Bullet forums (a fantastic resource for all grilling and smoking interests, not just the ubiquitous yet wonderful Weber Smokey Mountain Smokier) about the sale of Traeger pellet cookers at Costco stores. I have a Traeger, which I was able to purchase at a substantial discount, although not from Costco, and the local Traeger dealer is my friend. I posted on the forum about the interplay between dealers and big box stores and considerations when deciding between a discount store purchase and a dealer purchase. I thought somebody might enjoy reading it here, so here is my response:

I have a Traeger BBQ 075 “Texas Grill” smoker/grill that I’ve cooked on for about 10 months. I bought mine from an employee of a Traeger supplier who gets to buy a couple a year at a steeply discounted price, so I didn’t pay retail.

I use mine regularly and have had no problems thus far, despite the flurry of comments that the quality went south after the company began production in China. I had clearly rather have a product Made in the USA, but these days, who knows what that really is or if it truly exists.

I can put 8 butts on my Traeger or a bunch of chickens or, with the rib rack, a bunch of ribs. etc. The level of “smokiness” in the meat depends more on the temperature at which the meat is cooked. Because less smokey flavor is much less pronounced when I cook at 325+ than when I cook at 275 or below. Max temp on my Traeger runs between 450 and 500.

I prefer to use BBQer’s Delight pellets. They are oak blended with the flavor wood of choice and burn particularly clean and give excellent flavor to the meat when smoking. They also produce some charcoal pellets if you don’t want any more smoke flavor than you would get with a bag of Kingsford or Royal Oak.

All of that being said, I would be a bit skeptical of the Costco Models. I would compare the models offered at Costco to the models on display at a local dealer’s shop and ask questions of the dealer – nobody will know at Costco. Also, when you buy it at Costco, it’s yours – for better or worse – there isn’t going to be any dealer support there. On the other hand, you’re going to pay more at the dealer but you’re going to be getting the dealer service, including warranty service, that is going to be vapor at Costco. (And I’m not picking on Costco – I’m a member at the one nearby, but don’t go there very often – Sam’s is closer to my house but the same analysis going for name brand items purchased at Sam’s). Despite what the manufacturer might say or imply, I am not convinced that the goods sold through the dealer network and the goods sold under the same brand at the big box discounters are, indeed, the same product.

Finally, consider where you want your dollars going: to the big box retailer or a local dealer who probably lives and supports your local community. Price is always a consideration, but my time is valuable, so service after the sale and customer support also is important to me. If I can get a great deal on what I know is an equivalent product, I go to my local dealer and ask him about the price and the product I’m considering. My local dealer and his staff will be honest with me. If I decide to buy the “deal” I then ask them if they will give me support on the product if I buy my fuel and accessories from them and pay them for service at a fair rate. The folks I work with (Mike and Winfred at Alabama Gas Light & Grill for my Traeger, Primo and Kamado Joe products) are wonderful folks who work with me on whatever I need. In return, I am a loyal customer for fuel and accessories and I never try to take advantage of them or their time. I think it is a good arrangement for us.

Rambling post to say: Look before you leap, decide what is truly important to your cooking experience, and get to know your local dealer.


Been a while – but pork butts were delivered….

5 Feb

It is the middle of “show choir” season in the Smith house. For those who are not familiar with this obsession, show choir is a popular musical performance genre for high school students – very talented high school students – in which they perform in a group of singers and dancers – 35 to 50 in number – in a high energy, over the top, dazzling display of vocal and physical gymnastics. Think Broadway Musical meets Le Cirque. It is “Glee” amped up a few notches. Our daughter is a member of Homewood High School’s “The Network” – a “Large Mixed Group (Boys and Girls together)” show choir, which currently is one of the top-ranked show choirs in the country. Am I a little proud? Nope – I am a LOT proud. The contest days start early to mid-morning on Saturday with a drive of anywhere from 90 minutes to 7 hours to the contest site and end whenever we manage to drag ourselves home in the wee to not-so-wee hours of Sunday morning. Since this week’s contest was only about 90 minutes away, we managed to get home at the relatively early hour of 1:30 a.m. As for the contest, The Network won Best Vocals, Best Choreography and Grand Champion with some VERY stiff competition from other groups of equally talented and well-directed high school kids from around the Southeast. This is a very entertaining obsession.

But then again, so is BBQ! This week was not without BBQ activities! Older daughter is a junior at Auburn University where she is Director of Community Outreach for the AU Student Government Association. Sometimes I think she is majoring in Student Government Association. In any event, this weekend, daughter and her staff of other over-achieving, energetic and community-minded students organized Auburn University’s inaugural AU Dance Marathon benefiting the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Darling Daughter “volunteered” me to provide BBQ for the hospitality room set up for members of families that were benefiting from the funds raised by the dance marathon. It was a pretty straightforward and simple order – pulled pork BBQ for about 40 folks.

I decided that three nice eight pound butts would be enough, along with some simple sides and dessert, so I picked up two-two packs of butts at the local Sam’s Club on Thursday afternoon after work. I have a friend just finishing up radiation and chemo who needs some nourishment and needed something to “snack” on during today’s Super Bowl, so the fourth butt would round out the cook. The cooker is going to be fired up so might as well fill it up!

The butts were prepared with my usual “catering” treatment: a slather of yellow mustard followed by a healthy coating and rubdown with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub. I like Bad Byron’s because it has a nice spicy bite, seems to promote a tasty “crust” and I can buy it locally in large bottles at an affordable price. Occasionally, I will mix up a large batch of “Big Bob Gibson’s” rub from Chris Lilly’s excellent “Big Bob Gibson’s Cookbook” but since this was an overnight, during-the-week cook, I opted for the commercial rub.

I fired up the Traeger Texas Grill Elite (BBQ 075) about 6:30 in the afternoon and let the pellets get fired up and the temperature come up to about 200 degrees (a good smoke temperature for the Traeger, I’ve found – no fear, the temp get’s bumped up later). At 7:00 p.m., the butts went on the Traeger and I went about my business. About 10:00 p.m., I topped off the pellet hopper and bumped the temps to 225 for the overnight cook. I used BBQr’s Delight’s excellent Pecan Pellets for this cook and near the end, added some BBQr’s Delight charcoal pellets to continue the heat.

I checked on the butts about 2:00 and they were looking, well, like butts. When I got up at 5:30, they were in the 180s and looking, well, like butts. I bumped the temp on the Traeger to 250. After coffee and my morning social networking, they had come up in temps to the low 190’s by about 7:00. I wrapped the butts in foil and got dressed for work. By 7:45, they were all north of 195 degrees, so I put them all in a cooler with some bar towels and went to work.

At lunch, I came home and pulled the four butts. These were the nicest looking butts I’ve cooked on the Traeger. The combination of the Pecan pellets and the long, low smoke on the front end resulted in a wonderful, dark pink smoke ring and the butts had held plenty of moisture without being greasy. Lunch on Friday was my “samples” from the pulled butts – got to sample each one for quality control purposes!

I pull each butt apart into a foil half-sized hotel pan then I sprinkle in a healthy dose of Saw’s BBQ Sauce. Saw’s is the product of Birmingham resident Mike Wilson (proprietor of the EXCELLENT Saw’s BBQ on Oxmoor Road in Homewood, Alabama – I mean, this guy knows how to do it and does it right. Quite possibly the best commercial BBQ I’ve ever eaten). Saw’s is a vinegar-based sauce with just the right balance of vinegar, sugar and tomato and brings a mild but tangy acidic bite and a hint of sweetness to the pork that perfectly compliments the BBQ.

The pork was delivered on ice to daughter Friday night with instructions for re-heating – which essentially was “give this to your sorority sister who is going to culinary school and ask her to re-heat it. She’ll know what to do.”

The report from the AU Dance Marathon was that the event broke the national record for first-year CMN events by raising over $65,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network and that the BBQ went over VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY well.

So, it was a good weekend for our Smith daughters – a show choir win, and a big win for the Children’s Miracle Network. And I’ve still got two pounds of that pulled pork for the Super Bowl!

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!