Mar 232011

Spring, sprung. And thankfully, the end of the youth-speak. About time.

In our previous two thrilling installments, we looked at a pair of single-use cookers – a large-capacity direct-heat charcoal grill and a “low and slow” pellet-feed smoker. Both do one job, and they do it very well. But for those of you who don’t have the patio space to keep two big ol’ barrel cookers on your backyard roster, today’s entry is a bona fide triple threat. It grills, it smokes, and it roasts. Hell, it even bakes, but that is four things and pretty much screws up my “triple threat” line so let’s just ignore that for now.

It’s the Big Green Egg and everything you have heard about these things from their legions of fans is absolutely true. These things rock.

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Mar 192011

Two days until spring. As the younger folk say, “I’m not even kidding.”

Yesterday we spent some time with a single-purpose device – the Char-Griller Super Pro. It grills, very well in fact, but that is all it does. And if you are anything but a complete rookie here, you will know that grilling is not cooking barbeque.

Let’s pause for a moment and repeat that: Grilling is not cooking barbeque.

So – with that mantra firmly centered in our minds we are going to hit the other end of the spectrum and visit the evil opposite (as it were) of the Super Pro with the Louisiana Grills Country Smoker CS-680. This is a pure barbeque machine, a wood-fired pellet-feed smoker that will cook giant cuts of meat for hours and hours with low heat and deep penetrating smoke. It’s a serious chunk of iron, and a big investment both in time (when you cook) and money (when you buy one). And like any good investment it will pay dividends over and over again with food that will make you the envy of the neighbourhood. Is it the right investment for you? Keep reading and find out!

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Mar 042011

Let’s be perfectly clear: I generally hate Twitter. But a few people have asked about getting notifications that way, so here we go. You can jam any of the entries here into your feed by clicking on the Twitter link at the end of each item. And you can follow this season’s cooking adventures on Twitter @truenorthbbq. Don’t blame me if it is a terminally boring feed. You’ve been warned.

May 032010

It’s a pretty safe bet that you love a nice meatball sandwich. Why? Because everyone loves a nice meatball sandwich, that’s why. Unless you a vegan or something, in which case you are totally on the wrong web site anyway.

With that in mind, my current project it so make insanely good meatballs specifically for sandwiches. This is the recipe as it stands so far – in a break from the tradition here I am posting the “work in progress” before deeming it 100% complete. If you were so inclined, feel free to give it a whirl and dump in some feedback before I commit this to its final form. This weekend I will repost this with any changes and with the requisite silly pictures. If you want to have your say, do it before then.

Quick and dirty instructions after the jump!

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Jan 252010

So a few people had a few questions about the whole brisket thing. And I thought I would be a helluva guy and take the time to impart some wisdom on the whole subject. You’re welcome.

What is up with cooking to 195 degrees? I thought beef was well done at 160 and after that was a burnt mess?

Yes, those would be accurate statements – for regular old beef for the masses. We are talking about something special here – a cut of meat that has huge ropes of connective tissue running all through it. That connective tissue makes the meat tough – really tough. But, at about 175 degrees fahrenheit, something interesting happens: The collagen in that connective tissue turns into gylcerine, and the fat that surrounds it starts to render into tallow. The combination of glycerine and tallow running through the meat is the magic combination that turns an otherwise leathery chunk of cow into a butter-tender hunk of meat that has more beef flavour than anything you will have in any other way. Getting the meat to this temperature for as long as possible is what lets you violate the universal rule of beef – the tougher the meat, the tastier. In this case the toughest cut of meat on the whole animal retains every bit of its flavour but becomes as tender as the best prime rib.

What is really interesting is that the process of collagen-to-glycerine uses up literally all of the heat energy that you are pumping into the beef mass – at that point in time, there is no energy going into the cooking process at all, and the internal temperature of the meat will “stall” here, sitting at 175-180 degrees for a startlingly long time and sometimes even dropping down despite the heat input remaining constant. This is good, the longer you keep it here the better. Once it crosses this plateau the temperature will run up to 195 pretty quickly, so using a remote thermometer probe is a must.

The only reason we take it to 195, if you were wondering, is to make sure that all of the places where there are little fat pockets inside – which can be somewhat insulated – have a chance to get the full benefit of the process.

So why isn’t all dried out like my mom’s pot roast?

It’s because we protected the meat. First we put a sear on the outside to seal in the moisture, and then we took it through the rest of the roasting process at a temperature that was low enough that we didn’t drive the moisture past this barrier. Low and slow, kids, low and slow. Note that if you are doing the brisket in a real barbeque pit and cooking it with smoke, you dont need the searing step. The natural smoke ring protects the moisture in the same way.

So why do I need the “whole” brisket? What is wrong with the piece that they sell at the supermarket?

The fact that they sell it at the supermarket is the first thing that is wrong with it. Besides giving you the wrong cut, there is a very good chance that they are injecting it full of salt water before they sell it to you. Look for the key word “seasoned” on the sticker. This is not meat you want to cook, and not and industry that you want to support.

However, and to be less preachy about it, you need the full brisket cut (both the point and the flat) because the interface between them is where the biggest share of the above-mentioned collagen is hiding. You need that layer, and you need it to be attached to the two other pieces of meat. This is key.

So quit arguing and get yourself a proper butcher already!

Where the hell am I going to find a butcher?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could search the freaking internet? Sheesh.

What am I going to do with all this meat?

Make friends with your neighbours – you never know when you are going to need a favour, and buying some goodwill with free brisket on a bun never hurt in that regard. After that, slice up some for your own sandwiches and freeze it into individual servings. And take at least a kilo and a half (three pounds for you colonial types) and make it into chili. And yes, I will give you a recipe.

Do you cook it fat up or fat down? Does it matter?

Wow! A good question! Actually, in the long run it doesn’t matter all that much for the overall taste. If you can, cook it fat up so that the fat renders off more evenly and you get a better crust on top without washing all of your rub away. Do that if you are oven roasting or cooking in a smoker where the fire is off to the side in a seperate chamber. BUT – if you are cooking it in a veritcal smoker (where the heat comes from below, like a Weber Smokey Mountain) or in a ceramic cooker like a Big Green Egg or on a grill with the burners on the side turned on, then you should put it fat side down. The fat cap will protect the meat from some of the inevitable hot spots that develop on the bottom side of the meat. Mail me if you aren’t sure which way to go.

Do I have to do that part with it sitting in the foil and wait for it? I’m hungry!

Then eat a carrot or something. You can’t rush this. If you’re in a rush, you are in the wrong place. Close the door on the way out, you heathen.

Jun 062009

Let’s be clear: Grilling isn’t any sort of great evil. Grilling often results in some quick and tasty food, and in some cases (hot dogs, hamburgers*, steaks, yummy vegetables) grilling is pretty much the correct way to cook. So – while I am going to remain pretty hardcore about the fact that grilling is not barbeque, I am also going to be giving grilling it’s proper due … talking about it, doing it, and sharing some ideas. It helps that the Egg is not only a fabulous inderect cooker and smoker, but an incredible grill.

There is no shame in grilling., Just make sure you call it what it is, and don’t use the “b” word when talking about it.

*NOTE: While grilling makes generally excellent hamburgers, I have been using the smoker to take sliders to a whole new level this year. Details and photos to come.

Jun 062009

There are a million bad jokes just ready to be fired off whenever the topic of “rubbing” and “sauce” comes up. I am sure you can fill those in yourselves. In the meantime, this is a serious topic – the essence of barbeque is “low and slow” and if you are going to cook something for any length of time, sauces are verboten until the very very very end. Otherwise they burn and break and generally turn out nasty.

Fortunately (even without slathering sauce all over the place like a grillhead*) there are a number of ways to get ancillary flavours into the food before and during cooking. Brining, marinades, injections, planking, herb beds – these all have their place. But the big daddy of adding flavour for some deep and rich barbeque is the rub. Rubs add flavour, texture, assist in tenderization, and give you a connection to the food that you just don’t get form the end of a brush. You can buy rubs, and there are a lot of good ones out there, but for fun and value you cant beat making your own. I will be posting my three “everyday” rubs here for your edification and enjoyment, and you can use them or modify them as you like. They are “meat specific” – one for pork, one for chicken, and one for beef, although one of them does have a real “all-purpose” flavour – and if you dont want to go to the trouble to mix and keep three different rubs around then I heartily recommend Ted Reader’s “Bone Dust” rub. It works on almost anything, and you can either buy it at your local grilling and barbeque supply store, or you can get the recipe here and mix up a tub or two of it yourself.

*NOTE TO GRILLHEADS: This goes for you, too. Dont be slapping sauce on your meat during the cook. Migrate yourself to rubs and you will see a huge difference in both your flavour and the texture of your stuff when it comes off the grill.

Jun 022009

Yeah, I know – pretty predictable title for the first post. Regardless, this is my new project: A celebration and call to arms for real barbeque in the country of my birth, a land where the glorious traditions of slow cooking with a wood or charcoal fire have become lost, replaced with forgettable food that is grilled over nasty artificial flames. If you want to know more about the “why” of the site, go read the manifesto. If you really don’t care “why” and just want to know “what” then come back whenever you can and see what’s cooking.

Don’t worry, the look will change, this is just some temporary decor.

And remember: Meat, fire, good.