Other Cookers I’ve Owned

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the Kamado style grills I own and a little later I spoke about my offset pit smoker. I have several more cookers sitting around that don’t get a lot of use anymore. Most of them are nothing special, just your average plain-Jane charcoal grills. However, I’ll tell you what I think of their quality and durability. Believe it or not, I also have a propane gas grill and I’ll let you in on a couple of secrets that’ll enable your average ol’ gas grill to cook like a world smokin’ champ!

Resting in the Miners Mix World Domination Warehouse, we have a couple of charcoal grills, a Masterbuilt Pro and a Chargriller Professional. The Masterbuilt Pro is a Weber knock off of dubious quality. It looks like your typical 18” diameter Weber, more or less spherical and black. I bought it because it was inexpensive compared to a real Weber and it was lightweight which makes it nicely portable. Basically, the thing is a throw-away. It’s attached to four chrome legs, two of which have wheels so the grill can be rolled around. There’s a pretty much useless wire shelf right near the bottom of the grill. I guess it’s supposed to be for holding charcoal, but it seems to me that having your stash of flammables sitting under the grill, where hot stuff might just fall down and ignite the entire lot, including your icky lighter fluid, is not such a great idea.

I use the Masterbuilt Pro at the warehouse to cook lunches sometimes. We also take it out to play when we need to grill minor stuff at demos. The grill grate has begun to sag downward from the heat of the charcoal fires I’ve burned in it. The plastic handle on the top lid is broken. The whole thing feels cheap, but it does what I need it to do, which is hold burning briquettes and support a cooking grate for grilling. If this thing were used as my main grill, which means pretty much daily use, it would be a one-season wonder and ready for the recycling bin by Christmas, regardless of when it was first pressed into service. No point in spending a whole bunch of money on something that I expected to get dented or worse. Maybe it’ll make an OK planter soon.

The other grill at the World Domination Headquarters is the Chargriller Professional. This one looks kind of like a mini pit smoker except it lacks the firebox hanging off the end. The entire top portion is hinged and opens to reveal a 30” X 21” cooking surface, so it’s pretty large as grills go. On one end, the grill has a panel that you can knock out and it’s predrilled to accept a firebox kit that the company sells to make it into a little offset pit smoker. Mine does not have this option. There are closeable dampers on the end, down where the charcoal does its thing. The cooking grates are cast iron and the coals can be raised or lowered to control heat, both of which are nice touches. The entire grill sits on a stand of square tubing with a couple of wheels at one end for portability. The handles are wooden and the grill has wooden shelves along the front and both ends as well. Although still cheaply-constructed, this grill is made of fairly thick sheet metal and should last for quite a long time if kept out of the weather. If converted to an offset pit smoker, you’d experience the problems with heat distribution in the cook chamber that I discussed in the Offset Pit Smoker discussion. This grill is quite a bit heavier than the Masterbuilt. It requires two of us to get it up into the back of the truck, but for doing long demos, it’s pretty nice. It’s large enough to start the coals on one end, cook for while and then light the other pile of coals at the other end. By the time the one side is pretty much out of fuel, the other side is ready for grilling. The grill is large enough so that it can be set up to cook with indirect heat, which means you light the coals on one end and cook your meat at the other. That way, there are no lit coals right under the meat, which is the best way to roast larger pieces of meat such as whole chickens, ribs, or pork butts. In essence, you can actually make this grill into an offset pit smoker, without buying the firebox kit, just by cooking indirectly.

In general this grill works pretty well. It’s a nice basic charcoal grill that’s large enough to cook lots of stuff and it seems like it’ll last for at least a few years of constant use. You can close the dampers at the bottom of the charcoal chamber and also close the chimney to snuff out the charcoal so it can be used for the next cook.

Along with my Kamado and my offset pit smoker at home, I have a really old Broil-Mate propane gas grill. The grill doesn’t get much use any longer, but it cooks a few things far better than almost anything else I’ve ever used. This dinosaur is probably 25+ years old; long before all those fancy stainless steel grills became all the rage. It’s so old it still uses lava rocks that sit on a grid above the burners, and it has the cast aluminum cooking chamber. It’s nearing the end of its life; parts like burners and rock grates are almost non-existent nowadays. I may have to fabricate new burners out of iron pipe the next time I replace ‘em. It’s that old. However, this ol’ grill makes rotisserie chicken, duck, turkey, and pulled pork better than anything I’ve ever cooked on. Far better than the same stuff coming off the Kamado.

So how can a plain ol’ gas grill do such a great job? How can it impart smoke flavor? Here’s how to make your gas BBQ sing with joy as it gleefully imparts that wonderful smoke flavor to your meats! For true grilled perfection, you must have some way to cook over indirect heat which usually means at least two burners. For poultry you also really need a rotisserie. Put your meat on one side and light the burner on the other side. Use a pan of some kind under the unlit meat side to catch juices and grease; if you don’t collect it, the stuff will drip down all over the inside of your grill, then find some opening at the bottom of the grill, and then run all over your patio. Not a pretty sight and even less so when your wife sees the mess you made! Besides, that liquid stuff that just spilled is liquid gold so save all of it! If you’re doing a chicken on the rotisserie, figure on ½ to ¾ cups of drippings, for a duck count on a cup or more and with a goose figure on two cups plus. I make a foil boat to catch juices. Next thing to do is to make a foil pouch to hold your favorite smoking wood and wrap up a piece or pieces to end up with a packet about 4” diameter by 5” long or so. Up here in the mountains we have lots of almond wood which is a great wood with which to smoke just about anything. Might want to double wrap that wood packet, some aluminum foil is onion-skin thin and some is fairly heavy gage. Poke a couple of pencil-sized holes through the foil on one side and put it hole-side up over the lit burner, on top of the lava rocks, or whatever your undoubtedly fancier grill has that’s better than mine. On my grill, I start with the fire on high and it takes quite a long time, up to 40 min or more for smoke to begin coming out of the holes. Depending on how hot your grill gets, you may want to start at a lower temperature. At any rate, once the packet starts to smoke, I turn down the fire as low as it will go, start the rotisserie turning, close the lid, and let’er go. Chickens take at least 2-3 hrs, sometimes more to get to 165º F.

You’ll need to check that smoke packet every 15 min or so because if it gets too hot, the smoke will ignite and the jet of smoke will become a blow-torch jet of flame. If this happens, that beer in your hand will prove mighty useful; just try to get some of it down into those smoke holes. Once the bird is near that magical 165º F goal, remove the pack of smoke wood and turn up the heat for about 20 min or so to crisp up the skin. The wood in the smoke pack will go out and by the next day, the contents will have magically transformed into charcoal that you can then add to your charcoal grill the next time you fire up that particular cooker.

Miners Mix Poultry Rub is great on birds done this way. Sprinkle it heavily inside the bird, work your fingers around under the skin here and there and get the rub under the skin. If you have rosemary growing, a few sprigs inside the body cavity add a real nice flavor to the final result. I’ve also found that seasoning salt all by itself is a great seasoning for birds done this way. I’m not a salt-a-holic, but I sprinkle as much on as will stick, and that seems to be just about right at the end.

If you’re doing a pork butt, just rub it down with our Maynard’s Memphis Rub and put it on the grill, sans rotisserie, over the unlit side with a catch pan underneath. I try to put the fat side up because I think it bastes the meat as the grease melts off. Smoke it the same way, but it’ll take quite a bit longer. I usually smoke it for three or four hours at least, then take it off and wrap it in foil, place it in a roasting pan and finish in the oven at a low 250 º F. Be sure to use a roasting pan in the oven as well, or you’ll be living with the dog outside for the next few months. The same thing that would happen in the gas grill with chicken will happen in the oven and you’ll get a huge mess! You’ll get lots of drippings this way. Save those drippings from your pork as well!

What to do with those liquid-golden drippings? Breathe deep the heavenly smoky aroma of what’s in your container of drippings. Skim off the fat and pour it into a freezer container. It’ll be nice and orange with real smoke flavoring. The next time you make boxed au gratin potatoes or stove top stuffing, or anything else that calls for butter or margarine, substitute a gob of that smoked grease to give your side dish an unbelievably fantastic smoky flavor. The juice can be frozen as well for use in rice, gravies, sauces, or anything else that you want to enjoy smoky flavored.

One last two cents on gas grills. I’ve read some reviews on some of the stainless steel grills. There are different grades of stainless steel, some that are really stainless (and really expensive), and some that will rust out almost as quickly as regular sheet steel. From what I’ve read, there are problems with some of these grills, rusting out less than a year after purchase. Personally, I’d hate to fork over $500+ for a fancy, shiny grill and have it fall apart in a year. Do read the online reviews and make your decision based on what other people have said about the durability of the grill you’re looking at. I’m happy with my old, black, cast aluminum gas grill and I doubt that I’d even want one of those silver stainless steel grills. There’s a reason why pit smokers, the older gas grills and just about all charcoal BBQ grills are painted black. Heck all those shiny stainless grills are gonna turn all black and nasty-looking in a few months anyway, particularly if you smoke with ‘em like I just told you how to do.

The last few grills I’ve used are for the most part, just charcoal grills. Years and years ago I used to cook on a hibachi. You could find these everywhere back in the 70s and early 80s. I liked this style of cooking a great deal. These things were generally cast iron and had smallish grid surfaces that held a few briquettes above the bottom of the grill. They were fitted with brackets at the top that held the cooking grill at different levels from the fire. What made these things really cool was that there were dampers at the bottom, down below the charcoal grid, so you could control the amount of air going through the coals which means you could control the amount of heat from the fire. These things were very efficient; a few coals generated an amazing amount of heat and they cooked really well. All of the ones I used years ago were poor quality, just rough cast iron, but it would be really nice to use one today of high quality, if such a thing existed. In graduate school I used a variation of a hibachi called a Weber Go Anywhere Charcoal Grill that had the same great features. If I recall, it was about 20” X 10” or so. The coals sat on a grate that was supported off of the bottom of the grill. There were dampers along each long side that could be opened for cooking, or closed when you were finished and wanted to snuff out the coals. The grill came with a lid that was fitted with a moveable damper, so you can actually smoke a little. I remember the thing cooked really well and I liked it a great deal. After 4+ years of nearly constant use, it gave up the ghost and I gave it a decent burial; last I heard it’s now part of a Cadillac in Iowa. Weber makes a propane version of this grill, called a Go Anywhere Gas Grill that’s real easy to find and available at about all the big box stores, but if I could choose between the two, I’d opt for the charcoal version. The charcoal version is difficult to find any more, but it’s still listed on the Weber web site.

I’ve also owned a Brinkman smoker. It did OK on the stuff I cooked with it, but overall the quality was very lacking. When smoking, you need to have pretty tight tolerances to control air flow, and this thing just did not do the job very well. It also didn’t last too long; about two years if I remember correctly.

Finally, I have a home built wood-burner I cobbled together from a couple of old 5 gal propane bottles. Living up here in the hills, we have an abundance of self-pruned oak limbs laying all over the place and I wanted to make use of all this great fuel that’s freely available for the mere effort of bending over. First I made sure that the propane was all gone by leaving the valves open for many weeks. Then I wrenched off the valves and filled the tanks with water to drive out any remaining propane before cutting off the tops where they began to curve, with my cheapo 4.5” grinder. I definitely did not need a kaboom! Next, I welded the two bases together so the thing looked kind of like a 1969 Russian satellite. I don’t weld very well, but I’ve discovered that the process of welding, grinding, welding, grinding, and welding and grinding once more will solve most appearance issues quite satisfactorily. It’s only a BBQ, for heaven’s sake! Next, I laid out a door with a ruler and a Sharpie, then employed that same cheapo grinder to cut it out. The first cut was across the top. I stopped when the top was cut all the way across, then welded a piano hinge across the slice. Then I proceeded to cut the other three sides of the door so it was hinged at the top. I welded an old hammer to the door as a handle and made a cooking grid to fit inside the grill. I also welded one of the tops I’d cut off the propane tanks to the bottom of the grill, where it functions nicely as a stand. I drilled some holes into the bottom for ventilation, so the coals will stay lit, but the finished grill could use additional air via more holes. However, all in all, it’s a cool looking little grill that has seen lots and lots of use. It’s well-made, at least the propane tanks are well-made, and it should outlast me so my kids can fight over it as part of my estate sometime (a long time, I hope) down the road! Somehow, I don’t think the kids will fight over this thing though.

So that’s all the grills I own, remember, or have spent a fair bit of time standing over in the last 40 years or so. I hope you found this trip down memory lane enlightening!

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Meat Smoking, Outdoor Cooking, Spices | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Momentary Hi-Jack of the Ol’ Miner’s Meanderins’ by the staff at Miners Mix…

To our loyal readers:

Miners Mix takes pride in producing 100% natural seasonings and easy-to-prepare mixes and spice blends. Memorable meals are a balance of salt, spices and natural food flavor. Our motto is “If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in here”. Miners Mix seasonings complement the natural flavor; they do not become the primary flavor.  Commercial seasonings tend to be loaded with salt, MSG, and/or preservatives that interfere with flavor balance.  We couldn’t find low salt seasonings that subtly enhance, yet preserve the important flavor balance, so Miners Mix was born.  We have 100% naturally succeeded!

Miners Mix was founded 6 years ago this coming September in the Mother Lode region of California. The distance we’ve come, on a miniscule working capital is an accomplishment of which we’re all extremely proud.

When we started on this journey, we had zero knowledge about the foods business and found no help, despite intensively searching. We sought advice and mentoring from the SBDA and anyone else who might provide insight and input about where to find the needed barcodes, nutrition panels, co-packer to package our products, and label printing and design.  When asked where, and how, etc. for this information, most folks shrugged their shoulders, however, we persevered and found these things on our own.

Today we gladly serve as a resource for all who are looking to start their own foods business and we freely share with them any and all information and advice we’ve gathered and learned over the years.  Just drop us a line with your questions.

Miners Mix has just begun to show profitability and the time has come to begin expanding to locations and markets far beyond those we can service ourselves. We greatly want to expand our presence into the gift basket and gourmet foods industry (you can find us today in Man Crates!).  Gift baskets are a gigantic industry into which our products fit perfectly. To accomplish this goal, we need to wow buyers by sampling and showing Miners Mix at gourmet and gift trade shows in Las Vegas, San Francisco, LA, and/or other regions.

Shows are very expensive.  Registration costs can range to $3,400 for a 10’ X 10’ booth.  Electricity, is additional, often $500 or more for some of these shows.  Most shows extend over several days and the hours are very long, 12-14 hours total per day.  We estimate we’ll likely need at least six people to work the booth during a show.  Lodging and meals for everyone working the booth can run upwards of $7,000 per show.  Shows in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles will require lodging, meals, ground transportation, and show registration, to name a few costs.  Costs will total over $11,000, just to attend one show.

We need help to attend a gift trade show in San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles in order to get in front of buyers for gift baskets and the gourmet foods trade.  None of us associated with Miners Mix have any doubts about the outcome if we can talk to buyers directly at a show.  If you’d like to help us get where we’re going, please click here.

Enough begging!  We now happily return you to the Ol’ Miner himself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Offset Pit Smokers

I have a smallish pit smoker; the cook chamber is about 5’ long and the cooking grates are about 22” wide. Though I prefer not to use racks to hold ribs vertical, my smoker will easily hold enough ribs in racks to feed 25-30 people, plenty big enough for me and what I do. Offset pit smokers like mine are usually trailer-mounted cookers that have a round cylindrical cook chamber with cooking racks inside, a chimney on one end, and a fire box at the other end. Often the cooking chamber is a repurposed propane tank. You can buy similar looking, but smaller smokers at Home Depot, Lowes and other BBQ stores. You can buy larger, custom-made towable pit smokers online from big manufacturers, or you can check places like Craigslist to find the local backyard guys from whence mine came. Some monster smokers look like they’re capable of swallowing a whole steer and require an entire forest to bring it to temperature. One pit, parked not far from our place, looks like a steam locomotive, it’s that big!

There’s a world of difference between the big-box store mass-market pit smokers and the trailer-mounted variety. One of the most notable differences is cost; you get what you pay for. My smoker is heavy gage steel, all welded construction and even though small compared to most of what the competition guys use, it still weighs quite a bit. My buddy, the guy with the 20 or so Kamado style cookers, built a really nice trailer mounted pit smoker lined with firebrick for insulation, which is a good idea. Apparently, his smoker uses a fraction of the wood that my smoker needs, but he went far too wild with firebrick and his smoker ended up so heavy he actually had to buy a new heavy-duty truck just to pull it around! The mass-market pits are very light gauge sheet metal with rivets and or spot welds holding everything together. They’ll work OK but I doubt that they’ll last for more than a few years, at most.

The whole basis of low-‘n-slow pit smoking is cooking with indirect heat. Basically the cooker is a smoky, wood or charcoal-fired oven. The major drawback to most all pit smokers, is that the fire box almost always is attached on one end with the chimney positioned at the opposite end. The fire box, hanging on the end of the smoker, is positioned a little below the cook chamber. Inside, most fireboxes have a large area open to the bottom of the cook chamber. The heat from the fire is almost directly under the cooking grate at the fire box end. When the fire is going, with smoke and heat wafting from the fire box through the cook chamber and out the chimney at the other end, the cook chamber is always very much hotter at the fire box than it is at the chimney end. Temperatures at the fire box are often equivalent to conventional BBQ grilling temperatures. Such an extreme temperature gradient is a characteristic that makes low ‘n slow difficult

Uneven temperatures in the chamber make it impossible to fill your smoker with meat and expect a nice even cook a few hours later. One has to frequently shift meaty morsels from the fire box end to the chimney end and vice versa. Meaty morsels’ll burn, or at least cook way too rapidly at one other end, while they’ll cook more slowly, as they should, at the chimney end.

The AWESOME Miners Mix Offset Pit Smoker

My smoker, however, is different and very special! One may not notice at first glance, but the chimney is on the same end of the cook chamber as the firebox. How does that work? My special little cooking gem is a reverse-flow pit smoker. It started life as a conventional offset pit smoker with all heat gradient problems detailed, above. I had it modified by welding a false-bottom plate under the cooking grid. The plate seals the fire box from the cook chamber and extends all the way to the opposite end where it stops short a few inches. The heat and smoke travel under the steel plate and up into the cook chamber at the far end, then back over the meats and out the chimney just above the firebox. This design doesn’t completely eliminate the hotter area close to the firebox, but it’s only 25-50° F or so hotter at firebox end than at the other end. With some additional modifications, I could probably reduce this gradient further, but it would take a lot more work. Also, I have a 1” steel pipe mounted in the very center of the cook chamber, protruding out the very bottom of the smoker. The pipe opens at the false bottom plate where it is flush welded. This nifty innovation allows grease dripping from the meat to drain into a bucket under the smoker, or the occasional high pressure wash water to drain out of the smoker. One final modification is a small water tank I had mounted inside the top portion of the fire box. The tank is welded to a pipe that penetrates into the cook chamber, all the way to the far end where it opens. There is a pipe nipple from the tank that extends outside the firebox from which I can fill the water tank to facilitate steam being injected into the cook chamber. Ribs and other meats stay nice and moist with this system.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed with this smoker is that temperatures in the chamber are dependent on the angle of the chamber relative to the fire box. Raising or lowering the far end of the smoker with the trailer jack will actually rapidly change the chamber temperatures as much as 100° F or more, depending on the angle that the smoker is tilted up or down. Makes sense when you consider that heat rises. I strive to keep things on the level, but the ability to rapidly change temperatures just by tilting the chamber is helpful.

For cooking, I live in an area with lots and lots of almond groves, so that’s my wood of choice. I started out using oak, which is also abundant here, but the smoke flavor from oak is very heavy and overpowering. Almost all fruitwood is good for smoking; meats smoked with almond come out with a nice and light fruity smoke flavoring, even when on the smoke for 5 hours or more. There are online links with tables that describe smoking with different woods and the degree of smokiness imparted to the meats. Please be sure to use woods that are safe to smoke with. Never use pines, eucalyptus, or unknown woods as some are toxic.

My smoker, like nearly every other pit smoker ever made, has circular dial-faced thermometers mounted onto the upper portion of the chamber with sensing probes that protrude into the upper portion of the cook chamber. These thermometers do a fine job of measure the temperature of the air, way above the cooking surface. However, no one cares what the air temperature is; all the action happens down below, on the cooking grid. Temperatures, at least on my smoker, average 50° F cooler on the cooking surface than in the air only 5-6” higher. It is for this reason you need one of those digital thermometers with a probe you can mount onto the grill, next to your rack of ribs, so you know what’s going on there rather than the air temperature above.

In doing a 4-5 hour smoke, I strive to maintain the temperature at around 250° F or so at the grill, where the meat is placed. From experience, I know those dial thermometers will indicate about 300° F when my cook grid temperature is 250° F. I regulate the temperature using only the damper on the fire box. I almost never close off the chimney to control temperatures. I don’t know if this is the best way or not, but it works for me. For best results, I’ll spritz the ribs or butts every half hour or so, after the first hour in the cooker with apple or pineapple juice mixed with brown sugar. After a couple of hours, my ribs acquire a beautiful shiny, reddish brown glaze.

Next up: the remainder of my grill arsenal. I’ll even talk about the gas grill I still use!

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Meat Smoking, Outdoor Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Over the next few days I’ll talk about the Cookers I’ve owned (that I can remember anyway)

A few years ago, when my ancestors and your ancestors were quite a bit more hirsute, stank, wore animal skins, and sported names like Gork and Zhug, one Albert Glackstein figured out that if you surrounded burning wood with a ring of rocks, it then became easier to cook your mastodon than just laying that 40 lb rib steak directly onto a burning tree branch. Glackstein’s innovation became the first BBQ cooker, the evolution of which has continued unabated to this very day.

Thanks to Albert Glackstein, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of preparing some wonderful, and some not so wonderful, chow now and then on some of the latest iterations of his invention, all those many years ago. The following is a short description of many of the various cookers I’ve owned over the years, and why I have them,

Currently I have seven grills/smokers in my inventory. Don’t gasp; I have a friend who has over 20 cookers in his backyard! Each cooker has strengths in some areas and other areas in which they are lacking, much like a Crescent wrench used on nuts versus a wrench that’s used in a pinch to beat a bolt into submission. The wrench will work as a hammer, but not all that well.

Kamado (two in my inventory)

My go-to grill nearly 7 days a week (really!) is a Kamado Grill. I have two. Probably the most well-known Kamado grill is the Big Green Egg, of which I own only one, a Big Green Egg Mini (a strange combination of words much like the term “Jumbo Shrimp”). There are lots of on-line forums dedicated to recipes and use of this particular brand, but there are lots of other brands on the market as well such as Primo, Cypress, Kamado Joe, Komodo Kamado, Broil King, Grill Dome, Saffire, Char-Griller, Vision, and Louisiana Grills, just to name a bunch. All of ‘em burn charcoal, however, recently a pellet-burner made by Black Olive has come onto the market as well.

Kamado grills are a ceramic grill with sides up to an inch thick and shaped somewhat like a big egg (guess the color of Big Green Eggs??). Charcoal sits at the bottom and the top portion of the egg is hinged where a cooking grill sits over the charcoal. They hold heat extremely well and tend to be very economical with fuel. All Kamado grills are air-tight and have dampers top and bottom for air to flow upwards through the grill. The ability to precisely regulate air flow through the grill, controlling the burn rate of the fuel and hence the temperature of the cook, is what enables Kamado grills to do such a great job on most, but not all types of meats.

There are a few drawbacks to Kamado grills. Number one is that they’re heavy! Some tip the scales on the far side of 550 lbs meaning you have to be careful when moving the thing or you’ll end up with a pricey big Green, Red, or Black Humpty Dumpty all over your patio. Fortunately, most grills come on casters to facilitate moving them around, albeit carefully. Second, they’re expensive; that same 550 lb grill will set you back over 6 grand, but most are a grand, or less. Still really expensive compared to a Weber, however, the purchase of a Kamado is pretty much a once in a lifetime investment. If the grill is well cared for, you may need to eventually replace the cooking grill, but that’s about all you’ll ever have to do unless the ceramic shell develops cracks.

Of all the brands of Kamado grills, the Big Green Egg is probably the best known due to their widespread advertising, availability in lots of BBQ shops, and local dealers hosting events called EggFest. They also seem to have the widest and best selection of accessories including some that are really essential to Egg cookery such as Plate Setters. Plate setters are ceramic disks with legs that cover most of the entire charcoal mass under the grill so that one can cook with indirect heat, essentially turning the Egg into a charcoal-fired oven.

I’ve had the pleasure of cooking, “competing” and winning People’s Choice multiple times at EggFests in northern CA over the last several years. I won that Mini Egg at one of these events a few years back. EggFests are great events for folks who are thinking of buying a Big Green Egg and want to learn about them. Unlike hard-core competition BBQ events, attendees stroll around and get a chance to talk to the cooks there, ask questions, and see the Eggs in action, which they can purchase at a discount after the event. Plus, they get to EAT; all kinds of fresh off-the-grill goodies. I get asked all the time about temperatures for this or that item on the grill. I’m not much good at that question because I’m old-school so I don’t really pay much attention to what that thermometer says unless I’m doing a long smoke. If the grill is too hot, then turn that meat or fish more frequently. Cook it until it’s cooked to where you want it to be. Not a big deal.

At EggFest, I stick to very “traditional” and most importantly SIMPLE BBQ fare such as grilled mushrooms, grilled pineapple, jalapeno poppers, salmon, fatties, chicken, shrimp etc., however, there are folks who cook up some really outrageous goodies such as cookies, breads, pizza, pies, and paella. I’ve even seen folks grill Twinkies; they were unbelievably, decadently, GOOD!

Kamado grills EXCELL at the long slow cooks necessary for great brisket and pork butts. I can close the top and bottom dampers to a sliver and mine will happily idle along at 250° F for well over 12 hours. After these cooks, there’s enough charcoal remaining in the grill to cook several more nights worth of steaks or chickens before reloading! I put a brisket on at 8PM or so (covered with either our Steak and Veggie Rub augmented with lots of additional granulated garlic, onion, and black pepper, or our Maynards Memphis Rub), and it’s ready the next morning. Briskets could not be any easier. Kamado grills also work well for steaks and just about all other typical grilling fare. With the ability to open up the bottom and top vents and get lots of air to the burn, you can get the temperatures up over 700° F, searing heat that Albert Glackstein couldn’t dream of, back in his day.

What I’ve found that Kamado grills do not do well is impart much of a smoke flavor to the meat. Folks will dispute me on this topic, but when you compare pork butts from a Kamado to those from an offset pit smoker, there is absolutely zero comparison. Even my brisket, on the grill for 10-12 hours does not have much of a smoke flavor despite the addition of large chunks of almond or even oak wood to the top and to the bottom of the charcoal load prior to lighting the grill. The brisket comes out great; moist, tender, with great bark, and it looks like you’d expect it to look after 10 h on the smoke, but it just does not have the flavor one would expect after that long over coals. My buddy, the one with the 20 cookers (most of which are Kamado style), mentioned to me, after he had his offset pit smoker built, that the flavor from his pit is far superior to that from the Kamado. I’ve done whole turkeys, chickens, pork butts, and brisket on both, and the offset pit is far superior. The Kamado is FAR easier, however, and I do really like my sleep come 2AM when that brisket is on the smoker.

Despite the shortcomings above, would I buy another Kamado? An unequivocal YES. The ease of long smokes and versatility of the grill make it worthwhile despite the high cost of admission.

Next….Offset Pit Smokers

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Outdoor Cooking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBQ Tools

After 45 years or so of standing in front of a great variety of grills and pit smokers, cooking at EggFest events and in competition BBQ, this is my take on what’s needed and what’s not necessary as far as tools for grillin’ and BBQin’. Most of the bells and whistle stuff that’s presented as packaged tools for BBQ are pretty much useless, as far as I’m concerned. I’d never buy most of that stuff.

Grilling is a simple primeval endeavor. It boils down to fire and meat, for the most part. Our ancestors used sticks or perhaps leg bones from last night’s dinner to move meat around in the fire. If the concept is really THAT simple, then why do we need BBQ tool sets that look like Roman weapons of war? Who needs a fork that’s about 14 ft long that would make a Knight of the Templar green with envy, or a spatula that rivals Thor’s Hammer? You’re only flipping patties for the most part.

Some tool sets claim to be super heavy duty, some come in a zippered pouch or a nice aluminum briefcase enclosure (yep, I’m gonna put that greasy, nasty fork back in that nice clean pouch), some come with cool looking wood handles that preclude the tools ever being put into the dishwasher (comments escape me on this topic), and some tools even fold up! In the time I spent researching tools online, I even found one set in which each tool was individually handcrafted by a master cutler. These tools come with rosewood handles and are made in France (a bastion of hard core grilling expertise for sure; how in the world do they grill that foi gras without it falling through the grill?!) and all for only $600! However, you do get a roll up leather pouch and a certificate of authenticity. Well Hold Me Back! It’s clear to me that, like fishing lures, the aim here is to catch people, not necessarily fish.

What I look for in grilling tools is this: is the tool well-made and not some cheapo tool from China or Pakistan? Does it have good heft and is the metal thick and of good quality? Is the tool rigid so it’ll hold up or flimsy? Will the tool stand up to years of abuse and neglect, hanging on the hooks by the grill in rain, snow, or summer heat for years on end? Does it really fill a need, or is it actually a useless doodad; in other words have you ever had to run into the kitchen to get that same tool in order to finish your cook? Can it be put into the dishwasher (VERY important)?

For tools, I’d suggest buying them a la carte from a nice kitchen gadget store. You can pick and choose your spatulas, tongs, basting brush, etc and select the best ones for the money. They won’t match and they won’t impress your BBQ-neophyte friends, but what the hey, they’re better than using that leg bone from last night’s dinner, right?

Let’s start with the basics as I see ‘em. Fork. You really don’t need a BBQ fork and you most certainly don’t need one of those BBQ forks with the digital thermometer. Every set of tools, even that $600 handmade European set, has a fork. Go figure! Get a $20 sturdy set of tongs that have a lock so that they stay closed while they’re in the dishwasher. I prefer really well-made tongs that are about 12-18” long. Check how the grasping part closes together. Does it close so that you can pick up small bits? Is the steel nice and thick? Does the spring that opens the tongs feel too stiff or too soft? Good tongs are one of the most useful tools you can ever put into your hand.

For big hunks of meat like tri tip or pork butts I use a meat hook. A meat hook is usually at least 18” or longer, with a handle on one end and a sharpened, somewhat twisted hook on the business end. Often old golf club handles are used to make meat hooks. Hooks are great for turning large hunks of meat that are too heavy for tongs. Check them out online. Highly recommended!

Spatula. All you really need a spatula for is to flip burgers. Even if it’s a Flintstones era Bronto-Burger, just about any ol’ spatula will work as long as its stainless steel, well-made, sturdy, dishwasher-safe, and over 12” long. One important consideration is to look for spatulas that have flat business ends and are not convex like most spatulas. The reason you want a flat business end is that when you angle the spatula to go under the patty, the end is flat against the grill across the entire width of the spatula, while the curved variety will end up with a very small contact patch in the center of the spatula against grill surface. Not conducive to manipulating sometimes fragile beef patties so that they remain in one piece.

I like to grill fish. On the grill over the coals; not on aluminum foil or on some fancy wooden shingle. Try it! The fish will be the best you’ve ever tasted! The only real He-Man BBQ tool I own is my fish spatula. This thing is a monster; the business end is about 10” wide and the handle is about 20” long. I found it in an upscale closeout store and it originally had a convex business end. After quite a bit of time on the grinder, it is now flat. The way to grill fish is to carefully maneuver the spatula under the entire piece of fish and GENTLY roll it over so the other side of the fish hits the grill as a single flat surface, all at the same time. You have be aware to maneuver the spatula along the wires (parallel), and not across (perpendicular to) the wires that make up the grill surface. Without my wide spatula, you need two flat spatulas, one at each end of the fillet, and two hands to accomplish the same task. I used this technique for years and years before I stumbled across my fish spatula.

Grill basket. This is a really useful item that most grillers forget to mention. With a grill basket, you can grill mushrooms, shrimp, scallops, all kinds of veggies and other fragile stuff. All the stuff you’d normally have to put on a skewer, you can stir-fry in a grill basket. You haven’t lived until you’ve had Camerones al mojo de ajo over charcoal! After those shrimp are done, dump ‘em in a bowl, then drizzle with melted butter and Miners Mix XXX-Garlic. Heavenly! I doubt that a grill basket would work with foi gras, however. Maybe we need to use one made in France.

Thermometer. I have a thermometer that uses two temperature probes, one that you can stick into the meat and the other has a clip to attach it to the grill surface. My unit also has a handy wireless remote that enables you to keep tabs on what’s going on inside the grill or smoker while you’re sucking down that cold beer in the shade of that tree over there. The grill surface probe is extremely useful when you’re doing low and slow pit smoking for long time periods. Those dial thermometers with which all the pit smokers are outfitted are usually inaccurate and/or the air temperature above your ribs is a lot hotter than the temperature on the grid surface, where your meat is actually sitting. If you don’t have a fancy electronic thermometer, get one of those dial thermometer units from a commercial kitchen supply store that professional chefs always have in their white undies pocket. Just be sure to calibrate any thermometer by comparing readings from boiling water and also iced water with ice actually floating in it.

Electric BBQ Starter. For me, this is the absolute best way to start your charcoal. These things are available from Lowes or Home Depot or most any well-equipped hardware or BBQ store. They start fires quickly and, most importantly, they don’t leave a paint thinner flavor on your meat. I even use this thing to start my wood burning stove, it’s that handy! If you’re in a place without electricity, you may need that fire-starter juice, but be sure to let the coals ash-over before spreading them out into a layer and putting the cooking grill over them. Personally, I’ve never used one of those charcoal starter baskets, so I have no opinion about them.

Basting Brush. DO NOT buy one of those cheap paint brush types that have bristles for basting your ribs or whatever. It seems that some to many of those bristles ALWAYS come out and stick to the meat to give an impression of cat or dog hair on your wonderful ribs. YUCCH! Spring for one of those silicone brushes, preferable one with a handle that’s at least 12” long and if you can find it, one with an angled handle. When you’re done with basting, toss the thing into the dishwasher and forget about it.

Squirt Bottle. This falls under the category of useful, but not terribly necessary. I use a squirt bottle of apple juice to spritz my ribs, turkey, or whatever, about every half hour so they stay nice and moist when doing a 4-5 hour smoke, or longer. Not really necessary for grilling though.

Grill lifters. A useful tool. There are several varieties. I’ve found that a pair of pliers or channel-locks, or even that nice set of tongs work just fine for lifting the grill when needed. Don’t use that $600 fork from France though!

Marinade Injectors.   I’ve never used them. I know folks swear by them, and they’re used in competition BBQ events but I guess I’m too old school.

Grilling Mats. I don’t even know what those are for…

Grill Cleaning Brushes. I know many of the BBQ gurus talk about cleaning the grill after use, but really?? You put the grill over the hot coals and the grill becomes sterile when it gets hot. All the old grease will burn off, so why bother to clean the grill? I’ve also noticed that foods don’t stick as much on a grubby, black, well-used grill compared to a brand new shiny grill used for the first time. Personally, I think the BBQ gurus just might have a vested interest in promoting clean grills so they can sell everybody their nifty BBQ grill brushes. All the commercial BBQ guys cook over well-seasoned grubby grills; they sure don’t bother cleaning them. Besides, just what chemicals are in that grill degreaser you’re using anyway? Ever think about that? Do I want that residue on my food? NOPE!

In the past, I’ve occasionally cleaned grills with elbow grease. It seems all I accomplished was making the brush incredibly filthy along with myself, and then ended up tossing the hopelessly gummed up and destroyed brush into the trash. A losing proposition! I don’t clean any of my grills besides scraping the goop off the next time I fire them up.

Happy Grilling!

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Outdoor Cooking, Spices | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Stuff

As a founding member and honorary Past President of the CIA, that being the Carnivory Institute of America I am, and all the rest of us at Miners Mix are hard core carnivores and look upon just about all green stuff placed on plates as merely a rest stop on the way to the compost pile out back. About the only veggies that are approved and sanctioned by the CIA are potatoes in their various forms such as French fries, hash-browns, Tater Tots, and chips, and once in a while, corn but just so long as it’s still attached to the cob. On rare occasions, unfortunately, asparagus or broccoli might sneak by as well. In general though, if it’s green, it’s gone.

In my opinion, one of the most useless of plant pieces regarded as a vegetable that your mom made you eat as a kid is the zucchini squash. About the only legitimate use for this thing is when it’s grated and made into bread or cakes where, through some kind of alchemy, it transmutes like lead into gold, from a vegetable to edible, which just happens to be CIA-Approved! Recently, however, astounding developments have shaken things up and begun to blur the lines between CIA-Approved and CIA-Non-Approved foods.

This disconcerting turn of events came about when my wife began to high-heat roast cauliflower (which because it’s white means that it’s 10X more yucky than green stuff). Somehow this heat treatment turns white cauliflower into crispy golden brown nuggets of meaty flavor that are actually…quite…good. Here’s the recipe for roasting cauliflower. I’ve found that I can eat pretty much a whole head of the stuff once it’s been heat-treated into crunchy meaty-like morsels.

As a born experimenter, my wife began to apply this mysterious heat-treating process to other green things and we’ve found that zucchini are especially amenable to this transmutation. The process changes that pallid whitish inner goop held within the green rinds, into golden, sometimes crispy wafers that are unbelievably tasty and meet strict CIA standards of gastronomy.

First one must slice the Zuke into about ¼” thick slices.  Next, put the slices in a Ziploc bag with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then season with a tablespoon or two of Miners Mix Original Steak and Veggie rub and shake well.

Sliced Zukes compressedZukes with Steak compressed

Next, arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet or stone and bake at 350°F. Arranging zukes compressed

Check the oven in about 20 minutes and turn the cookie sheet or stone 180° and bake another 20 minutes. Check one more time and go another 10-20 minutes until the slices have been transformed into dark, golden brown wafers of goodness.

Zukes done compressed

Recently we’ve tried this mysterious procedure on unsuspecting carrots, mushrooms, and apples with pretty good results. I have to say that the carrots come out fantastically, with kind of a sweetish potato chip flavor that’s even better than the zucchini. The mushrooms end up with kind of a parmesan cheese flavor quality that’s very unique and very good. We plan to try in the near future rutabagas, turnips, plantains, bananas, and pears. Whatever vegetable we use will surely be dusted with our Miners Mix Original Steal and Veggie Rub; it seems to be magical on just about everything under the sun. Come football season this stuff is going to be on the snack menu for sure!

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Outdoor Cooking, Spices | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Salt!

One of two reasons I started Miners Mix was because of a molecule. How many other businesses can say they were started partly because of a molecule? Just that fact alone makes us unique! Sodium Chloride, NaCl, or table salt, it’s all the same thing and it is the stuff with which most commercial rubs are loaded. Salt is cheap and it’s heavy so large, heavy jars of seasonings packed with salt can be sold cheaply!

Salt occupies an important place in the realm of seasonings. Its main function is, or should be anyway, as a flavor enhancer. Trouble is that often whatever salt-packed rub you use soon becomes the predominant flavor on your steak or Tri Tip roast after even light dusting. Most of those commercial seasonings should be more properly labeled as “Seasoned Salt” because that’s what they are. Much like well-done steaks, I think over-salted foods is a crime that the food police should pursue vigorously.   Over-salting is a conditioned and learned behavior that, I think, stems from people not really knowing anything about seasonings or how to use them. Actually tasting one’s food is one of the great and underappreciated joys of life that many folks miss out on.

I’ve had lifelong cigarette smokers tell me that they’re amazed at how good food tastes once they quit smoking and their taste buds wake up after all those nasty toxins get expunged from their bodies. There is a similar awakening that happens for salt-addicts. After reducing the salt intake, for a while everything tastes bland, but they soon notice that the foods actually have their own unique flavors. All of the memorable steaks, chops, poultry, or other foods that I’ve eaten actually taste like a real critter such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, duck, alligator, woodchuck, fish, etc, but not a single one tasted like salt.

Real, honest-to-God spices are expensive compared to plain ol’ salt which is why massive amounts of salt are prevalent in seasoning rubs. Miners Mix, was begun partly out of that dissatisfaction with the excessive salt present in just about all rubs and seasonings on the market. I’m confident that we nailed the blends on all of our products. Basically, if something we make doesn’t get an eye-roll and an OMG! response when we sample it out, then it doesn’t become a Miners Mix product. That eye-roll and OMG response are a Miners Mix requirement!

Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Rub contains less salt than Pappy’s “Low Sodium” and with Miners Mix, you can actually taste the meat, not just salt. Our flavors are subtle and complement the meat; they don’t overpower it with salt. There’s also a hint of sugar in there that caramelizes to make a great bark on the surface of the food while grilling. The Veggie part of the Steak and Veggie came to be after we discovered how incredible the seasoning was on grilled mushrooms. It’s also fantastic when used in lieu of salt and pepper on hash-brown potatoes, herbed potatoes in the oven, and making zucchini or carrot chips in the oven, just to name a few favorites. How many other steak seasoning rubs can claim that honor? If anyone wants recipes for any of our “stupid simple” concoctions, just stop by the web site and fill out the contact form! We’d love to hear from you.

Posted in Barbeque, Cooking, Food, Outdoor Cooking, Spices | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment