Chrome Wheels and Offset Smokers

A 1965 Chevy pickup, manual transmission, white over red. Other than our old gray Ford tractor, that is the vehicle my dad used to teach me to drive. That old pickup kind of looked like this, but without the fancy wheels.

Just like the pickup my dad used to teach me driving lessons.

Oh sure, we had another car — automatic transmission and all — he could have used for the driving lesson, but my dad’s main idea was this; if you could learn to drive a crappy old truck with a four-on-the-floor manual transmission, you could pretty much drive anything after that.

A couple of years ago, when the mere thought of trying to smoke meat scared the living bejeebers out of me, I wanted to make sure I could tackle this new pastime without ruining too much meat in the process. I know, I know, our fine farm and ranch families will produce more…but stilll. I also did not want to make a big investment in equipment, just in case smoking meat did not turn out to be my weekend calling.

So…I started out small. You have likely seen my Charcoal Chucker posts about my cheapo offset smoker($89 at Walmart).

Charbroil American Gourmet smoker, aka the cheapo offset firebox smoker.

It served me well for about three years. The price was certainly right. And it

Two pork butts on the cheapo.

Two pork butts on the cheapo.

allowed me to try my luck at the art of meat smoking without making a big investment. Well, the cheapo finally started rusting and I wanted something that could hold heat better, and something that perhaps I would not have to reload with charcoal every two or three hours.

Well, my Charcoal Chucker brothers certainly would recommend to me that I go whole hog and purchase one of the coveted Big Green Egg ceramic cookers. Truth be told, I would have loved to have been able to do this, but I am but a simple Kansas farm boy (with three kids in college to boot) and I just could not get over the mental hurdle of plunking down a stack of greenbacks for a smoker that would leave me unable to buy meat for such a nice smoker (I exaggerate).

So…in the process of scouting out a possible replacement smoker, I was checking out the stock at our local Lowe’s store. A very nice new Char Griller offset firebox smoker caught my eye in the $299 price range. Nice. Very nice. Metal was much thicker than the cheapo and the cooking area was nearly double the size.

The grill of my dreams…well, kind of.

It was almost love at first sight. Almost.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a wink. I did. Off to the side sat a flirty little number that looked very much like the coveted Big Green Egg of my dreams. I strolled up nonchalantly and said in a deep manly voice. “Is your Dad an astronaut? Because someone took the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes.” I fumbled as I reached for her price tag, thinking she was very much out of my league and expecting very bad news. Then, BOOM, a cascade of fireworks. My eyes could not believe what I was seeing. $299. Holy cow. This had the earmarks of a long, lasting relationship. (OK, that’s enough of the creepy old man stuff.)

So…after a bit of research (mainly from John Setzer).  He has a number of videos and blogs devoted to the Char Griller Akorn. I also sought out other feedback, but mostly after my mind was made up. Not long after, I brought her home to meet the family.

Her maiden voyage…after a quick 400 degree heat-up to cure the grate, was two slabs of pork spare ribs and two chickens. I wasn’t sure it was all going to fit, but it did due to the warming basket, which can double as a second tier cooking basket during low-and-slow smoking.

I would have to conclude that overall, the results were very good.

The maiden voyage of the Char Griller Akorn Kooker. Chicken and pork spare ribs.

And judging by the reactions of the consumers of the first yield off the iron grate kamado, this could turn into a great decision. I am so pleased that I have exited the offset firebox highway for a turn down the road toward kamado-style cooking.  And my Charcoal Chucker brothers have led me down that path. the only difference is that I will continue to truck down the road in a triple layer steel and porcelain smoker instead of a ceramic one.  But since I learned how to drive with an offset firebox smoker, I feel like I am riding in style. But you know that if I could find a 1965 white over red, four speed Chevy pickup today, and if I could afford it, I would add some of those fancy chrome wheels to go with it.

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Pig Roast

I was asked to do a pig roast for my brother-inlaw’s birthday being that I never cooked a whole pig before I said no problem!!!   I started out by making about 5lbs of my special rub and a couple of gallons of BBQ sauce.  We picked up the pig & the roaster and the following day  my buddy Kurt & I went to work.  Once we had the pig on I started my mopping sauce and we mopped the pig every hour until it was done.  It was a lot of work but it was so much fun!!!  If you’ve never cooked a whole pig try it & let us know how it went!!!

Here’s a couple of side notes:

When ordering the pig figure on a pound per person remember there’s a lot of waste and you do want some leftovers for later.  This is a 2 person job so get your friends to help.  Keep in mind the pig should take about an hour per 10 lbs to cook.  Have the roaster temp about 250 degrees for the first 2 hrs  then bring it up to about 300 to 325 degrees until finished.  I had our roaster a little to high in temp & it made the skin a little dark but it sealed in the juices which worked for us.  Just add some foil to the skin if you want to keep it from burning.  Internal temp for the pig should be 160 to 165 degrees and let it rest before the picking starts.  We used gloves because the even after 45 minutes of resting it was still hot.  Kurt & I picked it apart while my uncle & cousin had 2 cutting stations so all in all it took about 45 minutes to pick a part.

 

Roadkill on the Grill?

It was a fairytale ending; just not the one Bambi had expected.

Slicing tthe smoked venison.

Here in Virginia, like in a lot of other states, there are deer everywhere. They eat our crops, eat our gardens, threaten human life when they jump out in front of our cars.

Well, the latest visitor to a Charcoal Chucker smoker/grill was literally caught off guard — like a deer in headlights. And, quite frankly, it was a delicious way to get even with these garden marauders.

As it turns out, my neighbor Michael is on the call list in our community when deer are killed when they attempt to take on automobiles. Sitting around the evening firepit several weeks ago, the call came. Michael, another neighbor (Gene) and I hopped into Michael’s truck to retrieve the unfortunate victim. Michael is an Air Force guy and Gene is a retired Marine helicopter pilot, so you just know this was going to turn into a quick, but productive mission.

We found the little fella, as directed by our local law enforcement personnel, in a roadside ditch, where he had lost a battle with a passing automobile. We loaded the little guy into the pickup and brought him home, with the pride of hunter gatherers who had dispatched the quarry with our own wile, rather than a passing car’s wheel well.

Now, Michael is one of those guys who could survive in the woods on instinct alone. He’s a hardy Minnesotan and has a wealth of practical knowledge and the ambition to tackle anything and succeed. He dressed and skinned the fawn…and vital to our story today…reserved one of the wee venison hindquarters for my smoker.

The delicious fairytale started by a quick Google search of “how to smoke venison.” The key tips that stuck out to me were these:

  • Venison has very little fat content and can dry out if the heat is too high.
  • Try to stay away from too much salt.
  • And…everything is better with BACON.

Covered with bacon.

I started off by generously rubbing the meat with Mrs. Dash garlic and herb (lots of flavor, no salt). It worked great.

Step two: I took a pound of smoked, unsalted bacon and covered every inch of the little deer ham with bacon held in place with wooden toothpicks. After coating the meat with olive oil, this baby was ready for the smoker.

I took the cooking temperature up to about 250-270 and put the meat on, mopping every 30 minutes with some rose′ wine.

In spite of directions that said to take the internal temp up to a range of 145 to 160, I really did not feel comfortable with that low of a temp for wild game, regardless of how young or tender the meat might be. However, after about four and a half hours on the smoker, and the bacon drippings doing their job, I was surprised to see that the internal temperature had spiked to 180 degrees. I knew I had to act fast or risk a dry outcome.

Bambi came off the smoker with a fine dressing of deep golden bacon. After letting the meat rest for an hour, it was ready to serve around the firepit. The meat carried a moist, smoky flavor, and due to Bambi’s age, was extremely tender.

This fairytale did not have a Disney-esque ending for our furry friend, but for those who had a chance to taste the results, it was an evening with a happily-ever-after ending.

Skirt Steak with 4 cheese stuffed peppers & Spanish rice

I’ve been eating skirt steak for years and just learned that there are two types inner & outter.  The inner skirt is used for grilling or griddling & chopped into tiny bits for tacos and the outter skirt you would slice on the bias and serve as a steak.  I always liked the inner until I went to the outter it’s thicker, more tender & very juicy providing you don’t over cook it!!!  Ask you butcher to trim the steak out and give the skirt a couple of slices with a knive on the top & bottom side.   The outter doesn’t  need to be tenderized like the inner (the butcher will run it through a tenderizer machine which puts holes it and makes it more tender.

The prep: I mixed together in a bowl 14 cup olive oil, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, fresh oregano, kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, diced onion, little bit of paprika and chipolte powder to taste and mix well.  Rub over meat and place in fridge for at least 4 hours over night is best.

Set up your grill for the direct method of grilling (meat over the flame) very high grill temp of 450 to 500 degrees and don’t forget to add a nice chunk of oak or hickory wood.  As always get the grill grate hot, clean & well oiled.  When ready place skirt on grill for about 3 minutes or until meat is unstuck to the grill  now give it a quarter turn this will ensure nice grill marks as pictured.  Flip to the other side and do the same.  Steak will cook fast it should read 130 degrees on a thermometer and let it rest.

As for the sides we made 4 cheese stuffed peppers,  spanish rice  roasted tomotillo salsa.  Start by splitting peppers down the side and clean them of seeds place them in a cast iron pan than onto a 350 degree grill for about 30 minutes until soft.  The peppers were filled with a 4 cheese egg souffle  we used queso, blue cheese, sharp cheddar and a  lot of parmesan now place cheese mixture  into peppers and cook in cast iron skillet on an indirect grill at 350 degrees until tender about 20 minutes.

Roasted tomotillo salsa:  Garden picked tomotillos with husk off, 5 garlic cloves skins off, onion and hot peppers roast in hot oven or hot grill for 30 minitues let cool for 15 minutes put in food processsor and whiz with salt, fresh squeezed lime juice and cilantro.

Spanish rice:  Check the back of the package of rice for cooking instructions.  Heat up some oil cook onion, garlic, 2 cups of rice, 3 cups chicken stock tablespoon of tomato paste, oregano & salt to taste let cook.



Marinated Flank Steak & Heirloom Tomatoes with Bacon & Triple Cream Blue Cheese

Marinade the flank steak with soy, garlic, shioxaing wine for at least 4 hours, overnight is best.  Prep grill for direct cooking and wait until the grill grate is 400 to 450 degrees.  Make sure the grate is clean and well oiled.  Place steak on hot grill for about 2 minutes or until the steak can be turned a quarter turn without sticking to the grill.  Now leave it on for another 2 minutes.  This is to ensure nice grill marks.  After a total of 4 or 5 minutes flip steak to the other side and cook until it’s firm to the touch or the internal temp is 130 to 135 for medium rare.  Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting.

Side dish: Heirloom tomatoes with green onions, bacon, olive oil, salt,  pepper and triple cream blue cheese.  The cheese was purchased at Mariano’s Fresh Market.

Wine:  The featured wine is a Pinotage Grinder it has a natural hint of coffee due to the heavily toasted oak it sits in.

Low & slow baby backs

Remove the membrane on the backside.  Coat the ribs with mustard as the binder add your BBQ rub.  If you have the time let them sit overnight if not set up your grill for indirect cooking let the grill get to 225 degrees place ribs on the rack and slow cook.  I make a moppin sauce and mop every 2 hrs.  After 4 hours place ribs in a foil pan with some moppin sauce and cover with foil.  Check after an hour you may want them to go a little longer until fork tender.  Take the ribs out of the pan and char them on the grill add your BBQ sauce or add the moppin sauce and BBQ rub place on the grill if you want Memphis style dry ribs.
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