Apr 222013

Once again our old friend spring has, well, sprung. You’ve probably already wandered out to the garage or shed and looked at your stock of cooking supplies and said to yourself “Damn, I’m going to need charcoal.” Before you head to the store, take a few minutes and revisit the reviews of some of my favourite charcoals from the last couple of seasons:

Wicked Good Weekend Warrior Blend – My favourite all-purpose lump

Charcos – A startlingly-good cocoanut charcoal brick

Basque’s Sugar Maple Lump – A sweet maple grilling charcoal

Nature’s Mesquite – The friendliest all-mesquite charcoal lump

Now get out there and get cooking!

Feb 212012

The Big Green Egg is famous for holding constant temperatures for long periods of time with minimal attention and fuss. This is a good thing. But what if you want to change the temperature in a hurry? If you need to cool things off, there isn’t a lot you can do but close the dampers and wait. But if you need to raise the temperature a couple of hundred degrees – or just want to get your Egg up to ludicrous levels of heat for a steakhouse style sear without waiting around – you need to get your hands on a secret weapon.

You need to buy a blow dryer.

Watch the sales and pick yourself up a compact blow dryer when you see one on the cheap. Shop smart and you can find a decent one for around ten bucks. You don’t care about the heat output, just how much air it can move. Compact dryers generally have a shorter, wider barrel that shoves a lot of volume down the pipe and they are easy to tuck away with the rest of your tools.

Now, whenever you need to build some big heat in a hurry just remove the daisy wheel from the top of the egg, open up the bottom damper all the way, and blast your hair dryer into the now-gaping bottom vent. It will only take a couple of minutes to go from “low and slow” to “flaming death”.

You have a month or two before the barbecue season starts again in earnest, so start combing the sale flyers each weekend and get yourself one of these little gems while you wait. It’s a pro tool that you need to have.

Aug 172011

Yes, pliers. If you don’t have a pair of pliers set aside for food use in the kitchen you need to get down to your hardware vendor of choice and get a pair right now. Buy a serviceable pair with non-slip grips, put them in the utensil drawer, and use them. I was pulling the membranes from beef ribs today – you would be surprised at how many people don’t think to do it for beef ribs – and it occurred to me that without my trusty kitchen pliers it would be a miserable job.

They help with everything from skewering to threading to picking bones to removing membranes and silverskin. And a bucketful of other things besides. A quality pair will set you back less than 10 bucks, they will last you forever, and you will thank me every time you use them.

See you at the hardware store.

Jul 112011

Let’s get right to the point: Bear Mountain BBQ pellets are awesome. Period. There is no sense dragging it out, because any review of pellets is going to be short anyway. Once you get past the burn quality and the flavour – both of which are top-notch – there isn’t really much else to say. If you want you can stop reading right now, add “Bear Mountain” to your shopping list for the next time you head to the barbeque store, and be done with it.

The problem, of course, is that your local barbeque store might not have them. See, pellet smoking is still kind of new – or, I suspect, completely unknown – to most canucks. This isn’t terrible in itself, but it does mean that supplies are sometimes limited. The vast majority of stores in the Great White North that do sell BBQ pellets carry Traeger, maybe Louisiana, and a whole lot of nothing else. This is a shame, because the Bear Mountain stuff knocks them flat.

The big difference is that they are made from 100% hardwood, period. Most pellet manufacturers (including the two above) use flavoured oils to get the necessary aroma and taste from their pellets. Many also use wax or resin as a binder to form the pellets. The upshot is that the Bear Mountain pellets burn hotter and cleaner than either of the “typical” brands you can get around here. You use less for every cook, and you have virtually no ash to clean up afterwards. And the flavour that transfers to the food is real traditional hardwood flavour, with big bright aromas. In fact, as soon as you turn on your smoker and the first wisps of smoke hit your nose you can tell that this is something different – and better – than the brands you have been using.

If you live in Calgary or Hamilton-Burlington-Oakville, you can now get these pellets at Barbeques Galore. Otherwise, you are going to have to ask around. But if local BBQ store isn’t carrying Bear Mountain, then you owe it to yourself – and your food – to ask them why. Bug them incessantly if you have to. This is a product that is worth the effort.

Jun 072011

And so, with great fanfare and much ado, we come to the end of the Great Spring 2011 Charcoal Review Festival. In the tradition of the great showmen of days past – Houdini, P.T. Barnum, Dennis DeYoung – I have saved the best for last. Or at least my favourite, anyway.

Its the “Weekend Warrior Blend” from Wicked Good Charcoal and it is my number-one go-to all-purpose lump. WIth that many hyphens, you know it’s got to be good.

Continue reading »

May 292011

There is a certain mystique about the Egg. Not only is it the number one search engine item that lands people on the pages of this blog, it also seems to generate more questions from readers on an ongoing basis than anything else. So for those of you with questions, here are you sage and timeless answers.

What size of Big Green Egg should I buy?

This is the question that I get more than any other. Although it is often phrased “should I buy the large or XL Big Green Egg” meaning people have dismissed the smaller sizes out of hand, which is interesting because the one size I would not buy is the large. If you have the budget and the space, your number one choice should be the XL. It does take longer to come up to temperature than the other Eggs, but the gains you make in flexibility and capacity are worth it. If you can’t swing the extra large, then I would suggest the medium. There is just not enough of a gain in capacity to justify the large, and the medium is probably the most efficient of all the sizes when it comes to heating time and fuel usage. In fact, more than a few of the Egg owners I know have both the XL and the medium, giving them a full spread of speed and capacity.
Go big or go home. And if you can’t do that, go medium.

How are I supposed to clean it?

You don’t, really. The only thing you need to do is clean out the ashes from the catch area under the fire ring. Use the provided ash tool to scrape them to the door and then suck ’em up with a shop vac. Cleaning the actual ceramic of the Egg itself is not something you actually want to do. The insides darken over time but the ceramic is actually self-cleaning as you cook, and scrubbing it may actually shorten the lifespan of the body. Let it darken, and let it be. If you are the kind who gets anal about the staining and blackening, perhaps you should be cooking some sterile and flavour-impaired stainless gas grill instead.

Does the outside get hot?

Yes, it does. Not “sear your hand” hot like the typical gas grill, but hot enough that you wouldn’t want to keep your hand on it for any length of time. It won’t burn you, which is nice, but you should still keep an eye on any progeny you might have underfoot during your cooking. You best bet is to probably lock the little buggers in the shed so you can concentrate on the zen of the fire instead of worrying about your grubby rug rats.

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.

Continue reading »

May 232011

Hey! Another day, another charcoal! Fortunately for anyone trying to take care of their Monday morning reading in a hurry and get on with the last day of the long weekend, this one will be short and generally sweet. This is a simple hardwood lump with a nice flavour and very few drawbacks. Which is about all anyone can really ask for. You could go out and buy this right now and be perfectly happy with it, but if you want a few more details grab yourself a coffee and keep reading.

Continue reading »

May 172011

First things first: I have always told people (and in the most righteous way possible) to never ever use charcoal briquettes. Never. Ever.


So what do we have here? A briquette, that’s what, formed from carbonized cocoanut shell powder. And I am going to (warning! spoiler coming!) give it an almost unqualified thumbs-up recommendation. Which means that I am a tool. Or was, anyway. Charcos is good stuff. Environmentally sound, easy to work handle and store, easy to clean up, and definitely delivers on the heat.

Continue reading »

May 162011

When talking about ways to get going with barbeque on the cheap, a reader wanted to know what kinds of charcoal I am using. Ask and ye shall receive! I have settled on four kinds of charcoal – Charcos Cocoanut, Basques Sugar Maple, Nature’s Mesquite, and Wicked Good “Weekend Warrior” blend.

Each has a different kind of performance, and together they cover off pretty much any cooking (or grilling!) situation you might come across. I’ll give you all a quick look at all three this week. Stay tuned!