May 282014

That’s right – May 28th is National Brisket Day. It is also National Hamburger Day, which is an interesting coincidence since the World’s Best Burger Blend just happens to contain brisket.

Funny how that works.

Sliced Smoked BrisketWhen it comes to smoking beef, brisket has no equal. Period. But you don’t need a smoker to get some serious flavour and value out of the cut. A quick trip to the ol’ True North Barbeque archives will get you started with the simplest of equipment and ingredients. A couple of links:

If you have nothing but an oven (and can get your hands on a big-ass roasting pan) try the “Emergency Brisket” – you still get the big beef flavour and all the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of a traditionally smoked brisket in a fraction of the time. Even if you do have a smoker, this is a great technique to have in your repertoire when time is tight or your cookout plans end up facing last minute changes.

Got a grill, along with the aforementioned oven and big-ass roasting pan? Set yourself up for a big hit of rural Mexican flavour with “Mucho Machaca Beef”. Coated with a super simple three-ingredient rub then charred and then braised, this is a traditional recipe that makes the best damn tacos you will ever have, and lets you use a partial brisket if you don’t have the space or the inclination to use a full cut.

Both make for easy-to-freeze leftovers and have the added bonus of stretching your food budget a long way. Take an afternoon to make one of these and then enjoy quick meals out of the freezer for the next couple of months. Or just invite the neighbourhood over and make a lot of people happy. Enjoy.

May 082013

So yeah. While these pages are here to celebrate and promote the delectable art of cooking barbeque, I have (as mentioned in the past) nothing against grilling. Grilling is not barbeque, but grilling is good. Grilling makes sense for a lot of everyday meals. And grilling is the only way to make fajitas.

I’ve made a lot of fajitas, and I have always used flank steak. It’s the fajita standard. But my butcher recently suggested using flatiron steak instead, and it was a revelation. Flatiron has the same general texture and shape as flank steak, but has a much more desirable marbling of fat. That means you get bigger and deeper beef taste that you ever can with the overly-lean flank. If you haven’t tried working with flatiron steak, now is the time.

There are a couple of things you do need to know. One, not every butcher knows what they are doing here, so ask around. The standard cut of a flatiron has a nasty piece of fascia or sinew running through the entirety of the plate. If you are going to use flatiron for fajitas, your butcher needs to separate the two chunks of muscle and take that “shingle” out of the centre. You end up with two slightly-but-not-much-thinner cuts than the traditional single flank steak. Two, you must cut across the grain when you serve this, but if you have ever made fajitas before you know how this works so there’s no real surprise there.

If you love fajitas, you need to give this a try. Slices of this would also be spectacular in a thai-inspired steak salad, or tossed in a bowl of fresh noodles. In the standard butcher’s beef roster it is listed as cut #1114D, with the official name “Top Blade Steak”. Ask your butcher next time you are shopping for beef and see if you can get yourself into a couple of slabs of this. A standard cut of flatiron is just about 1 kilgram, so after it trimmed of the fascia and split into two it will easily feed four in a regular fajita tortialls-n-fixin’s setup.


Jun 132012

Let’s cut right to the chase: People are intimidated by brine. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Brining is simple, relatively foolproof if you remember one important rule, and makes a massive difference in the quality of your finished meat. So it’s time to cast aside the fear and uncertainty – brining is good, and it’s time you started doing it.

A few ground rules to start: One, brining is generally reserved for poultry and pork. Beef isn’t really going to benefit from this and it is going to be too rough on the texture of fish and seafood. Two, you should always brine your poultry or pork if your cooking method is dry. Three (and this is the super important rule you must remember), your brine needs to be ice cold before the meat is immersed. Cold brine is happy brine. And fourth (and finally), giant-sized Ziploc bags are your best friends.

With these basic thoughts firmly stuck in the back our our minds, let’s begin. The basic brine for both pork and poultry is dead simple. For every half chicken (or equivalent) or every two pork chops (or equivalent) you will need:

1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of brown sugar
50 ml (a scant 1/4 cup) of kosher salt

That’s it. That is the whole shebang. I told you this was simple.

So – dissolve your sugar and your salt into the boiling water in a large bowl. You are going to have to stir this pretty well to get it to completely dissolve, becuase it is right on the edge of how much sugar and salt the water can actually take on. When it is completely dissolved, put the bowl of brine in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry, but see the note below for a caveat or two) and chill it completely.

Cold brine is happy brine.

Once the brine is nicely chilled, you can add your meat. Grab a Ziploc bag that is large enough to hold both your meat and all of the brine you made, carefully pour the brine into it, and then add the meat. Adding the meat last helps you avoid pouring disasters, trust me. Now pop it back into the fridge, with the following list of times in mind:

Chicken or any game hen – 1 hour
Pork chops or ribs – 2 hours
Pork loin – 4 hours
Pork shoulder – overnight
Turkey drums or breast – overnight
Full turkey – 24 hours

When your time is up remove the meat from the brine and pat it completely dry (inside and out!) before you start to season or cook it. For pork, be sure to let the meat rest at room temperature so it can warm up before you start to cook, but poultry can hit the roaster / grill / smoker / whatever right away.

A Note About The Freezer: If you are in a hurry and need to chill your brine in the freezer instead of the fridge, be sure to cover it with a sheet of waxed paper so you dont get a tiny blizzard of crystals in your ice box.

And that is pretty much it. Roast or grill or smoke your brined and dried meat excatly as you would have before. Your actual cooking technique will not change, but your results definitely will. Once you get going with this you can start to add some flavour to the brine – orange zest, sage and cloves for roast turkey; juniper berries, garlic and rosemary for grilled pork; lemon zest, garlic and tarragon for roast chicken and other small fowl; garlic, crushed peppercorns, and ginger for grilled bird. Play with it, the possibilites are endless. Just remember: Add these things after the brine has cooled, otherwise you risk getting a nasty bitter note in your food.

And did I mention that cold brine is happy brine? Yes? Good.

Play with it. Experiment. Have fun. But most of all, do this. Every time.

Feb 032012

One of the more interesting things about brisket is the “Costco effect” – the bigger your go, the better the price. You see partial points in the grocery store, things that look about the size of a badass steak, but you pay literally twice as much per kilogram for that as you do when you but the whole shebang. This is what we call good value.

The downside, of course, is the ol’ “what the hell do I do with all this meat” problem. Generally you want to cook brisket whole to take advantage of the natural flavoring that comes out of the connective tissue, but unless you happen to have 38 of your closest friends and neighbours over for dinner, it can be a little overwhelming. So how about something to do with half of a brisket? You can slice a full slab in half, cook half now and either freeze the second half for a future project or grind it up for the World’s Best Burger Blend.

So here we go. A simplified take on a very traditional Mexican beef preparation called machaca. Big rich beefy goodness tempered with cinnamon and coffee and ancho chilies. This version takes minimal effort, packs huge flavour, and makes the best damn tacos on the planet. If you can find the time, make this either the morning of your meal or the day before so you can let the meat cool in the liquid before you shred and serve it. Now keep reading and get ready to make some magic.

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Nov 152011

I’ve been kicking around a few ideas on how to deal with quick food ideas that don’t really rate a full “recipe post” treatment. This is what I have come up with – if you like it, let me know and I will make it a regular feature. If you don’t like it, let me know that too, and I’ll deep-six the whole idea. Thanks!
Vietnamese Beef Tortilla Bites
Pro Tip: Click on the image for a full-sized view!

Jul 182011

A couple of people had some Really Good Questions regarding the secret steakhouse double-grilling method. Shall we?

What about other seasonings? Steak houses use that Montreal spice stuff, AFAIK.

Not so much any more, actually. Beef quality (and fat content) has increased a lot over the years, and good steaks now taste like they should, rich and full. The bland piece of generic protein that was passed off as a steak in the bad old days of the 1980s is mostly gone, and decent steaks (and indeed pretty much all cuts of beef) taste like they did in our grandparents’ day. So there is less call for a lot of flavour boosting and/or camouflage. ‘

However, flavour is a very personal thing, and if you do crave the admittedly-great taste of Montreal steak spice, feel free to use it. The trick, though, is to apply it to the steak after the initial searing. After you put the steaks through the first ninety-seconds-per-side trial by fire, apply your spice five mintues into the twenty minute resting period. You don’t want to do it right away, you risk pulling some moisture through the crust via the salt in the spice, and you don’t want to do it just before you put the steaks back onto the fire, you will just cook the flavour off.

If you aren’t a big fan of the Montreal spice but you still want a little extra flavour, do what I do on occastion: Use granulated garlic. Not garlic salt, not garlic powder, it has to be granulated garlic.

I’ll update the original post to include the details on adding more seasoning – thanks for the catch!

Every thing I read about steaks or see on TV about steaks says to let them rest after cooking. But when I get a steak in a restaurant the thing is usually sizzling hot. So are all you big-brain food guys lying, or are restaurants somehow staying in business despite doing it wrong (according to you).

Ah, the old sizzle. I remember when that nasty Ruth’s Chris place used to have commercials touting the fact that their steaks came to your table “sizzling”. The dirty little secret of the sizzling steak at a restaurant is usually a combination of two things: Steak butter and a salamander. After they let the steak rest, the slather it with steak butter (usually butter infused with garlic and super-finely ground thyme or caraway) and then stick it under the salamander for 20 seconds. Its the butter that is sizzling, not the steak.

Which, quite frankly, is not the worst thing in the world. Steak butter (there is your internet search project of the day) is pretty awesome and it’s hard to say anything bad about sizzling hot butter on steak, But they are running a bit of a con, there, so enjoy the sizzle but don’t be fooled.

Until next time – fire and meat, baby, fire and meat.

Jun 232011

I learned a valuable lesson this week: Never ever declare anything to be completely done. If you do, and then you post that into some semi-permanent form like, oh, a cooking blog, and then you have to change it or update it later … you look like a tool. So, yeah, gaze upon me in all my tool-ness as I completely contradict the finality of my “Best Burger Blend Period” and offer you up a superior variant. Burger 2.0. The evolution of a really great burger into a stupidly awesome burger. And the best grilled burger you will ever eat. Until, of course, I come up with the next one.

As before, you want to hike yourself off to your favourite butcher. And as before, you want to ask said butcher to grind you up some brisket and some boneless short ribs. But unlike before, you also want to get yourself some ground bacon. Double-smoked if you can get it. You want two parts ground brisket, two parts ground short ribs, and one part ground bacon. Be sure to let your meat guru know that this is for burgers so that he gives you the correct grind.

When you get home you can make patties from the blend as is, or you can add in some seasoned bread crumbs, it’s totally up to you. Normally I am loathe to use any filler or binder in a burger blend, but in this case it helps to soak up all that delicious bacon fat as it renders out and keep it in the patty instead of in the pit of your grill. If you feel empirical about the whole thing, make half one way and half the other and then decide which way you want to use going forward. It’s not like you aren’t going to enjoy eating the loser.

Remember: Butcher, two parts ground brisket, two parts ground short ribs, one part ground bacon. patties, grill, eat. The best freaking burger blend you will ever have.

For now.

May 262011

I wanted to call this post “Classic Steak House Grilling” or better yet “Vintage Steak House Grilling” but I went with the more pedestrian title in deference to the various search engines out there. I’m pretty sure that most people are going to be typing “how to grill perfect steaks” or “how do I grill perfect steaks” into the search box because they don’t realize that the old-school steakhouse method is the thing they really want to find.

And yes, this is definitely grilling. You can smoke a steak, you can roast a steak, but when you want to do it right a steak needs direct heat. Grillheads rejoice, this is one time when your way is the best way. Crack a beer and pat yourself on the back.

This method (or “The Method” if you want to be dramatic about it) was revealed to me when I was visiting the butcher one day. I got to talking to another customer who is was a line cook at one of the last 1970s-style steakhouses in my area. We talked about steaks and as the topic wandered from the best cuts to the best thickness he was nice enough to pass along the secrets of the Lost Art Of The Steakhouse Grill.

And now, like that old guy in the original Kung Fu series, I impart the sacred wisdom on to you. Keep reading, grasshopper.

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May 252011

Wow – the charcoals just keep on coming! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do use all of these regularly. Different tools for different tasks – picking the right charcoal for the job is just as important as the right cut of meat or the right rub.

Now then. Today is another quick entry, because it is another special-purpose lump. Mesquite charcoal is heavily aromatic and most of them are far too harsh for anything but grilling the thickest cuts of meat. The mesquite lump from Nature’s, however, is one of the mildest I have ever used and definitely a keeper. I generally reserve my use of this for steaks, beef rib cuts, and tri-tip, but you could use it to cook anything with four legs and be generally happy with it.

When push comes to shove, though, this is all about making beef sing. Read on to get the whole aria.

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