Natural Meat Enhancement – Part I

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Up here in the hills in late March / early April it’s park-like, green and beautiful everywhere one looks. The wild turkeys are clumped into flocks here and there with the toms a gobblin’ and a struttin’ and the hens paying no mind, the deer and cattle are surrounded by abundant food and the occasional bald eagle and a variety of hawk species seem to be everywhere. I treasure my drive past these beautiful sights while travelling to and fro the Miners Mix World Domination Warehouse / Headquarters to the ranch. RoadOne can almost feel the life force of all the grasses, red bud, buckeye, poison oak and the trees (at least those not named Ponderosa that survived the onslaught of drought and bark beetles) sporting new vibrant foliage. We are all greatly anticipating a truly epic wildflower season, thanks to late rains, and indeed a few purple Brodiea, lupine, and Chinese Lanterns, orange fiddleneck, poppies and many others have begun to poke their colorful heads through the grass here and there. Because of the late rains, it will remain verdant, likely through mid-June and begin to turn brown later that month. California will morph into the “Golden State” covered with still pretty, golden and very dead grass. Come August and September, when the trees are all wearing dry summertime dust, and the green grass above has long since turned golden, all the seasonal creeks have long since dried to rocks and dirt, and the temperature hovers in the mid 90s+ (yeah, but it’s a “dry” heat), photos like these will be the only thing we have to remind us of just how spectacularly beautiful is springtime here.

On the western edge of the Sierra Nevada it’s all about being natural. Considering this is population-dense California and that we’re not very far from the smoggy central valley, we still have clean air and clean water. We at Miners Mix pride ourselves on the fact that everything we make is 100% natural. The slogan “If it Didn’t Exist in 1850, it Ain’t in Here” is taken very seriously and for us it is a matter of great satisfaction that our products are so good, yet devoid of artificial stuff. Nothing on the warehouse shelves contain flavor enhancers, artificial flavors or colors. The philosophy works well for what we are about, which is great backyard BBQ that will knock the socks off all who taste grilled or smoked meats and veggies seasoned with our stuff.

That being said, we don’t do so well in the KCBS type of rigid competition BBQ events because what wins at hardcore competition BBQ is not what you’d cook in your backyard and serve to friends and family over a beer or three. That’s why I prefer the Big Green Egg EggFest events because it’s far more laid back and you can literally cook anything you want to slap on the grill (heck, I’ve seen Twinkies grilled at these events!). EggFest events are more about creativity and sharing with folks who may be new to BBQ, or are in search of ideas to enhance their grilling knowledge and experience. One can talk with attendees and pick up tips and pointers and savor the foods coming off 20 Eggs or more. In KCBS competition BBQ, all efforts are directed towards only what happens in that judging tent and there’s an unwritten “one bite” mentality that creeps into everything competition BBQ. Pretty much everything and anything is fair game as far as salt, artificial flavorings, flavor enhancers, or other substances that modify the meat in some way and that might give competitors even a slight edge in that judge’s tent.

In most of the competition BBQs, the serious, hard-core competitors inject their meats with MSG, and all manner of flavorings and packaged enhancers that may contain some or all of the following: Hydrolyzed soy protein, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, sodium phosphates, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium inosinate and guanylate, and xanthan gum. FYI: Disodium inosinate causes the meat fibers to swell up so the meat is more juicy and tender; the inosinate, being an amino acid just like glutamate (along with the guanylate, just above), also act as flavor enhancers, though they are not as potent. The competition folks search for the seasoning blend that, in one bite will wow the judges and garner that all important 9 on the scorecard. That’s not what Miners Mix is about.

I’m not one of those “organic” folks who buy “organic” meats and veggies at 2-3 times the regular priced stuff, but I really don’t need, nor want to inject stuff that comes out of a chemistry laboratory into my brisket, tri tip, chickens, turkeys, or anything else I choose to cook. Cooking over fire is, or at least should be, a pure, primal activity. I see no need to bastardize the whole process by injecting the meat with unpronounceable chemicals. I also pride myself on being pretty dang good at the caveman craft of cooking over fire and don’t think I need chemical help to turn out pretty good eats. What I produce might not have that one bite WOW factor that some of the real pros dish up, but I can live with that.

We’ve all been taught that we taste only four flavors, those being salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. However, in actuality there is a fifth flavor known as umami, which is a savory flavor slightly reminiscent of soy sauce or beef bouillon. The flavor is also found in hydrolyzed or autolyzed yeast or hydrolyzed proteins extracts that you see in the ingredient lists of many products. Umami acts as an intensifier for most flavors but it does have a very subtle flavor of its own. It’s so subtle that most people don’t easily recognize it until they realize that the flavor that they are tasting is not sweet, salty, bitter, or sour and is called umami. The flavor is produced by the same amino acid found in Mono Sodium Glutamate, namely glutamate. I began to do online research to find a flavor enhancer that was all-natural, yet had a low level of salt. There are not many that fit both bills! All the hydrolyzed proteins or the yeast extracts I’ve tried are unbelievably salty. Kikkoman makes a soy-based enhancer that is also all-natural, but again the stuff is saltier than the ocean. Eventually, I stumbled on an enhancer called Takii that’s made from mushrooms and is not nearly as salty as the soy or protein-based enhancers.

Although competition BBQ is not our focus, I thought it might be cool to develop a “competition” line of seasonings that would suffice for the KCBS crowd, yet still maintain the “If it Didn’t Exist in 1850, it Ain’t in Here” philosophy. The ultimate plan is to tinker with a couple of the rubs and incorporate natural glutamate-boosting substances into the recipes in place of the salt.

Being an injection neophyte with zero flavor enhancer or Takii experience, I decided to try my hand at injecting meats as a first step toward incorporation of enhancers into our rub recipes. Injecting stuff into meat is something I had never done in all my years of smoking and grilling. One of the cool things about this business is the chance to mess around with grillin’ stuff that you might not be inclined to buy on your own. One of these items is a meat injector. My wife bought me an injector many years ago, but it sat in the drawer for a decade or so until it was finally broken by something or other being tossed on top of it. So I’ve never really played around with injecting roasts, chickens or pork butts and began to look around at various reviews, I settled on an injector called a SpitJack. gun

This thing is really heavy-duty and well made, right here in the USA! It actually looks like something that belongs next to the wrenches in my roll-away tool box, or with the garden tools, it’s that solid and well made. It comes with a couple of needles, one that is only open at the tip and one with a closed tip but with holes along the sides to inject along the entire length of the needle. The SpitJack is adjustable to inject anywhere from 1-5 mL quantities per squeeze of the handle.

I’m still in the early learning stages of injecting, and don’t have much in the way of results on which to report. However, what I have learned are a couple of things never covered in meat injecting 101. It’s important to not insert the open ended needle so far into the meat so the tip is close to the far surface of the meat. Injecting with the tip close to the surface results in the solution getting shot with considerable force out of the meat and onto whatever is behind the meat, in my case usually the coffee or sugar urn! Also, if you try a checkerboard pattern and get the needle too close to a prior injection site, the solution will shoot right back at you, again with considerable force, out of that previous hole. I learned that multiple injections with small amounts of solution seemed to work better than a few sites injected with a lot of solution. Using the open-ended needle and injecting small amounts at various depths was the best injection strategy, I found. Finally, if there are ANY solids at all in your solution, you cannot use the closed-end needle with holes along the flank. I tried injecting a horribly bland ham with a solution of Better than Bouillon Ham Base thinking I could give the meat some flavor. The holes become plugged and are very difficult to clean. It did not help the ham either, FYI.

I started my mad scientist injection experiments with an amount of Takii that I thought would be appropriate, but after experimenting on poor defenseless hams, turkeys or chickens, I began to think that my injection solution was way too dilute. Takii is a tan, granulated substance that dissolves pretty easily into water.

takaiiInitially, I used about two tablespoons of Takii to 1/2 cup of water. All meats were injected at about 2” intervals with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 mL solution. Although the Takii seemed to increase the intensity of flavors, especially in the turkey, actual Takii flavor could not be detected in the meats after cooking.

The most recent injection trial was a tri tip, rubbed up with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Rub in which I significantly increased the strength of the injection solution to ¼ cup Takii to 1/3 cup water. After grilling, the beef definitely had an umami flavor.  tri 1 I’m not real keen on actually changing the flavor and this tri tip, while definitely good, tasted very different. In retrospect, I think the solution was a little on the concentrated side; it seems to me that the beef flavor should stay the same, but intensify. tri 2I do know we need to try again with a more dilute solution of Takii and that will be detailed in upcoming parts of this meat enhancement topic and ending with incorporation of enhancers into Miners Mix Seasonings.

 

 

 

 

 

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Miners Mix Fried Chicken

(The GENERAL Pulls Rank on the Colonel)

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Few things gastronomical are better than fried chicken. Well, there were those three prime rib roasts we did a while ago, oh and the multitudes of tri tip, and the smoked ribs, and the various ducks, and the smoked Thanksgiving turkeys, and the carne asada, and the salmon, and the grilled burgers… well you get the idea. Those were all pretty dang good, maybe even the equal, but not better. Once you factor in the cream gravy, real mashed red potatoes and the wilted spinach salad, for sure not better. For certain this was the best meal of our week.

Wimping out and not wanting to venture out into the rain to start the Kamado and fulfill my Neanderthal cravings to cook over fire, the wife and I opted for cooking something indoors. Having a bunch of chicken thighs in the freezer and a variety of cast iron skillet weapons of war at the ready, we decided on doing fried chicken, which we had not done for many months.

Now I do fried chicken differently than just about all the recipes I’ve read. This is the way my momma used to make it, and like real baked mac n cheese (not that blue box stuff) chicken done this way ranks way up there on my comfort food index. I’ve heard my method is called Maryland fried chicken, but I don’t know for sure. You can call it Miners Mix Fried Chicken or Mariposa Fried Chicken or California Hillbilly Fried Chicken if you must because I don’t care. I know that I like it better than the traditional crispy chicken and it makes dang good gravy too. My chicken comes out full of flavor, all nice and juicy and gooey, not crispy like southern fried chicken.

To start, I make a breading mixture of about ¾ C of flour and ¾ C of Italian style bread crumbs. To that I add 1-2 tablespoons of Miners Mix XXX-Garlic Seasoning, 1-2 platedtablespoons of Original Steak and Veggie Seasoning, plus about 1 tablespoon of Wholly Chipotle. All seasonings can of course, be adjusted to suit your individual tastes. Add a little additional salt and some ground pepper to get the salt balance right, and you’re ready to dredge that chicken. Taste the breading beforehand because the flour mixture needs to be a little salty so the finished chicken is seasoned correctly.

Next, heat about half inch of canola oil in the skillet and when hot, gently place the floured chicken pieces in the skillet to brown. When brown on one side, I turn them and brown the other side.

Once all pieces are browned, I transfer them to a plate and discard the oil, leaving maybe a tablespoon or two of oil in the skillet along with all the browned bits and pieces that fell off the chicken into the oil. Place the chicken back in the skillet, turn the heat to low, cover the skillet and let the chicken simmer/steam in its own juices for the next 30-45 min or so. Sometimes, I’ll flip the chicken over midway through the cooking process, just to keep things nice and even in there. Also, occasionally, I’ll need to add a ¼ C of water if the lid doesn’t seal tightly or the chicken is really lean (breasts) and lacks enough fat.

closeWhen the chicken is all done and comes out of the skillet, it’s wonderfully brown, with a soft gooey crust from the breading and an incomparable flavor.

The chicken juices left in the skillet make fantastic gravy. There will be grease in there from the rendered chicken fat, most of which will need to be drained leaving enough to make a roux for the gravy. In this case, once the roux was made, I added milk and about ½ C of heavy cream we happened to have on-hand. One note: I never use salt in homemade mashed potatoes or gravy; I always use chicken or beef bouillon because it has more flavor than plain ol’ NaCl. Chicken bouillon in chicken gravy makes the gravy absolutely killer good.

My darling wife made the wilted spinach salad by cooking four strips of diced bacon until crisp, and draining most of the grease. To the skillet add two teaspoons brown sugar, ¼ C diced green onions, 1.4 teaspoon salt, 1.5 tablespoons vinegar and ¼ teaspoon dry mustard and bring to a simmer. Once the spinach was ready in the bowl, the mixture was poured over the fresh leaves to wilt them and then it was time to chow down.

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Fortunately we have leftovers for lunches and sandwiches over the next couple of days!

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Better than Sex, well almost…

Growing up in southern California within a stone’s throw of the border; stone’s throw only if you happen to be Cam Newton and that stone has a North Korean rocket attached to it, Mexican food became staple food stuff. Now I love pretty much all cuisines, and growing up where I did, got to sample a fair share of what the world has to offer in ways of applying seasonings and imparting heat energy to a piece of meat. The various regional styles of Chinese, Italian, German, Thai, Indian, even American BBQ, they’re all great, but in truth I couldn’t eat one style 3 X per day, every single day for the rest of my life without a serious case of taco lust. To me, there is absolutely nothing better than a crunchy crispy shredded asadabeef taco or a street vendor style carne asada taco. Mexican food is the one cuisine I could happily eat 3 X per day, every single day, for the rest of my life. My foodie philosophy is, if it can be put on a tortilla, on it will go and enjoy it I will. I really try not to knowingly eat the nasty stuff that Andrew Zimmer eats, no placenta, udders, eyeballs, and pancreas and definitely I steer clear of meat that has one large hole in it, but if it was put on a tortilla with salsa we’d have to see. Salsa can cover up holes.

Way back, just after the turn of the century, our family had the privilege of living in Australia for most of a year, courtesy of a sabbatical via the University of California. Needless to say there were no Mexican restaurants, not even a Taco Bell in sight.

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Now Australia is a fantastic country with an unbelievable variety of brightly-colored birds, other cool animals like echidnas, platypuses, wombats and kangaroos, along with lots and lots of open space, and we’d all go back there in a heartbeat to live permanently, but after some months of Mexican-food deprivation, I had to teach myself how to make tortillas a3from scratch and resorted to smashing canned pinto beans with a fork to make refried beans. On the grocery shelves there, I did find jars of something reddish called “salsa”, but when the first ingredient on the label is sugar, you know it ain’t remotely like the stuff made in New York city and it’s certainly nothing like what you might expect. The only chile power available was cayenne; Pasilla, Anaheim, or any other chile variety might as well have been moon rocks, so most of my Mexican cookery while there was a scorcher. Even a pot of American chile became almost too spicy to eat.

On a BBQ note, among the many things we found very surprising about Australia was their Barbecue grills. That commercial about throwing the shrimp on the barbie is completely false. First of all, there are no shrimp in Australia, what they have are prawns or yabbies which are sort of a freshwater crayfish. Also, their BBQ grills are pretty much the equivalent of a charcoal-fired frying pan. The BBQs there all have most or all of the surface over the charcoal covered with sheet metal, not open grills like here. Maybe things have changed over the years, but we found it very puzzling to be sure!

Now that spring has sprung and the peach trees are beginning to flower (way too soon, grilled asadaprobably) it is really nice to get back in the BBQ/grilling saddle once again. What better way to reintroduce that Kamado to heat via some lump charcoal than by doing some good ol’ carne asada for tacos!

Richwood, our local meat market, has stuff called “stew meat” and it’s really cheap, under 2 bucks/lb. It’s sold in 10 lb boxes that contain 2 bags each of 5 lbs. Now this stuff is not that tough-as-nails stew meat that you find in grocery stores. Nope! These chunks are trimmings from real steaks, rib, NY, Sirloin, and Porterhouse. They chunks are tender, lean, juicy and flavorful. Richwood trims steaks to make them ideal institutionally shaped and sized steaks and the trimmings go into their “stew meat”. Perfect for carne asada!

Long ago I’d discovered that our Miners Mix Steak and Veggie Rub, along with lemon juice make killer carne asada and it’s great on pork steaks grilled for that purpose. I wanted beef soft TACOS, so I seasoned up about 4 lbs of “stew meat” with Steak and Veggie Rub and squeezed a whole lemon into the meat. Truthfully, it could have used another half a lemon, but the resulting meat still had great flavor.

bowlThe meat was grilled over high heat in a grill basket and stirred off and on until it was mostly done, then into a bowl it went so the next batch could be cooked. Once all was done, all the meat was dumped back into the grill basket to reheat and left to cook longer so some pieces became nice and charred to give additional flavor.

My tortilla-making days are pretty much a thing of the past now, so we used run of the mill store-bought corn tortillas, but they were heated on an authentic Mexican cast iron griddle (from China probably), purchased in an authentic Mexican store. The heated soft corn tortillas were as authentic as we could make them!taco1

I did employ a potato masher to smash canned black beans into smithereens and tossed in a spoon or two of bacon grease for authentic Mexican-style refried black beans. Along with real Mexican avocados, some cheese, a variety of salsas, great friends and too much wine, it was a truly great way to welcome the coming spring!

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Indoor Grillin’ while outside it be a Chillin’ (and a Rainin’)

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According to the calendar it is officially winter and up here in the hills we’re finally getting drops of stuff falling out of the sky, something which we have not seen in far too long of a time. Creeks, some of which have not flowed in a couple of years, once again have water which is very pleasing both to the eye and to the ear. Actually we’re doing pretty well now on rain but the epic drought is not over and it might not be ready have that proverbial fork stuck in it, even with twice the normal amount of rainfall. However, the crucial snowpack, on which CA depends, is above normal for this time of year, so things look pretty good as of the middle of Jan, 2016.

The area has greened up incredibly and the open spaces under scattered oaks now look like a golf course, if you don’t mind putting around the happy cattle. This spring will likely be an epic wildflower season, though there will remain the broad swaths of dead Ponderosa pines and cedars literally everywhere around here. The hillsides, swathed with large areas of golden brown (dead) trees, somewhat resembles New England in fall, particularly during the reddish light of sunset. From our perspective, it looks as though at least 90% of those big majestic Ponderosa pines succumbed to the double whammy of drought and bark beetle. Their skeletons will stand for several years as a reminder of the summer of 2015. Sadly, most of this wood will not be harvested because the sawmills are already packed to the rafters with dead trees. However, those of us with wood-burning stoves have an almost endless source of pine for heat in coming years. Most of the dead trees will eventually end up as rotting logs on the forest floor, which is the natural course of things anyway. However, while standing they present a severe fire danger in the summer and will continue to be a threat for the next decade, perhaps.

We haven’t done much outdoor cooking recently. Being winter, the days are also shorter and it’s often dark when we return home after a busy day at the sluice boxes here at the Miners Mix World Domination Headquarters. I don’t mind starting the BBQ and grilling in the dark, nor in the rain or even snow, but starting the grill and cooking in the cold and in the dark, while it’s raining is just a plain ol’ chore, and thus is not an appealing task. I’ve done it recently, but that was only because we were all jonesing for a great grilled steak.

Instead, we’ve turned to an old cooking implement I think everyone had at some point years ago, the Farberware Open Hearth indoor grill complete with rotisserie. These things were made until the early 1990s and they can be picked up for a song at many thrift stores. A couple of years ago Miners Mix picked up two for demos at food shows and they’ve been sitting on the shelf in the warehouse. On a whim, I borrowed one and we’ve been putting it through the paces in the kitchen. The grill when used with the rotisserie is sort of the equivalent of a crock pot. It requires a couple of hours at least, but emits fantastic aromas while doing its thing so you have time to develop a real appetite!

Faberware Roasted Chicken

Growing up I used to cook whole chickens on the Faberware rotisserie and they’d be about ready when my mom got home from work. Depending on the size of the chicken and the internal temperature of the bird when you start, it can require as much as 2.5 hrs to achieve 165 degree perfection. I learned that a tent of aluminum foil draped over the grill seemed to reflect the heat back onto the bird to speed things up a bit and also resulted in wonderful crispy skin. Chickens done this way come out juicy and very flavorful. I have to admit that I’d forgotten just how good they taste when done this way.

dustedThis chicken was liberally dusted with Miners Mix Poultry Perfection, positioned on the spit and then wooden skewers were used to prevent the legs and wings from flopping around whist spinning at the mind boggling rate of 5 RPM. After everything was secure, the entire rotisserie was lowered close to the heating element and the entire bird tented with foil as shown.

pair 1 pair 2

For grins, we diced up a few mushrooms and placed them in the drip pan below the bird, then added about a quarter to half cup of cheap red wine. The shrooms seemed to enjoy their wine hot tub as they slowly basted in chicken juice and the small amount of grease that dripped from the bird as it roasted. After about two hours, both the shrooms and chicken were done to perfection!

Various seasonings can be placed into the cavity before cooking. Aromatic spices such as a few sprigs of rosemary and/or some diced onion or garlic works really well. If you don’t do the mushrooms down below, don’t throw away those drippings. They are absolutely wonderful in a stove top type stuffing. Just make it without additional margarine or butter and add the drippings instead.

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Prime Rib

Because the West was not won with ham!

 Rib 1

Here in the far Wild West, placer and hard-rock gold mining remnants are strewn literally everywhere. Of course, one must recognize that all those piles of dirt and gravel alongside the stream beds are in fact placer tailings, or all those fist-sized and smaller chunks of quartz laying all over the place are actually gold ore blasted out of some hard rock mine somewhere nearby. Back in the day, there were mines literally right in the town of Mariposa, and the Princeton Mine, located just outside town, was at various times the largest gold producer in the state. Today, there remain tunnels under parts of the town that are only accessible via the basements of some of the historic old buildings.

This is a place that is literally where the old West lived and breathed, yet strangely it is also the only town and county to be named after a fragile insect; Mariposa – the butterfly. California history lives in this Mother Lode region and despite the zeal that various politically-correct Federal Government agencies pursue their agenda of burying and covering up (literally!) this heritage, their efforts cannot erase it.

That being said and with the Holidays now in the past, it’s time for some REAL food. This area, “The West” was not won on turkey and ham. Beef; it’s what’s for dinner!

Prime Rib #1

My partner in blog-writing crime recently did a prime rib in the oven coated with Miners Mix XXX-Garlic Rub blended with an equal amount of cracked black pepper. Together, over quite a bit of nice wine, we all discovered that the blend produces an absolutely superb crust for prime rib. Later, sitting around in the living room drinking still more wine, we realized way too late that we’d been remiss in our photographic duties. That poor prime rib had perished undocumented!

Shucks! Looks like we’re gonna have to do it all over again just so we can shoot some pictures! A perfect excuse to have another wonderful meal!

Prime Rib #2

The local market happened to have small end rib roast on sale so a 2 rib, smallish roast was purchased to fulfill its prime rib destiny.

Life, intruding into the best laid plans often results in things unforeseen. On the afternoon we’d planned to cook our prime rib, things became quite hectic and we failed to give the wonderful piece of beef the attention it deserved. Although we did rub it with Miners Mix XXX –Garlic and pepper and it came out just as wonderful as Prime Rib #1, the photos failed to do it justice and were not up to my high standards for this blog (sarcasm). Actually the photos ended up looking like the remains of a cave man feast, which it was, but they were just not suitable for women and children.

 Rib 2 

Prime Rib #3

Another excuse for a great meal. I’m down with that!

Fortunately, the local market still had the rib roast on sale, so another great piece of marbled beef goodness was promptly procured with the intention of doing things completely right this time. Prime rib #3 was lightly coated in olive oil, and then coveredRib 3 with Miners Mix XXX-Garlic rub and an equal amount of cracked black pepper. The rubbed roast was tucked into a large plastic bag with the intention of roasting the next day. However, life intruded again for the next two days, so prime rib#3 ended up sleeping the fridge for three days, all covered in garlicky olive-oiled goodness. Because fat is flavor and olive oil, being a fat, can diffuse into meat fat, I often use olive oil in conjunction with the rubs. When you don’t have a lot of time to let rubbed meats sit, olive oil seems to greatly speed up the process of getting the rub flavor into the meat.

Roasting Procedure

At least 24 hours before cooking, lovingly caress the roast with olive oil and season with equal parts of Miners Mix XXX-Garlic and 1 part freshly cracked black pepper.

CrustSeal the rubbed roast in a large Ziploc bag and stash in refrigerator overnight or longer (up to 3-4 days).

At least 1 hour before cooking, let the meat come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 F

Put the roast in shallow roasting pan, using ribs as a natural rack

Roast uncovered at 450 F for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 F. Continue to roast for about 15 min per lb. of meat until it reaches the correct internal temperature: 115 for rare, 120-130 for med and 140-150 for well done. Normal finished temperatures are about 10 degrees higher than these above because the meat will continue to cook as it rests.

Sliced rib

Once meat reaches correct temperature, remove from oven and cover with a tent of foil, and let rest for 20 min.

The higher initial heat causes the rub to form a crust which tastes simply amazing. This is about the best prime rib any of us have ever eaten; highly recommended!

We’ve also used this same rub recipe, XXX-Garlic rub and cracked black pepper on rolled sirloin roast cooked on a rotisserie on an electric grill. This too came out amazingly good!

The combination of rub and cracked pepper is truly one of the best non-grill uses we’ve found for Miners Mix. Certainly in the list of top five!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Brined and Smoked Turkey Day!

WildThis magnificent wild fellah was shot (by camera only) a few years ago on our property. This is what the Pilgrims supposedly ate. This guy was in absolutely magnificent physical condition and hopefully he’s still strutting around to this very day.

Before I get to brining and smoking, first a little turkey biology: All the different kinds of birds that folks know as “turkeys”, commercial broad-breasted white, broad-breasted bronze, wild, and heritage are all the same species: Meleagris gallopavo. The name literally means guineafowl chicken-peacock.

Commercial, “grocery store” broad-breasted turkeys are similar to the commercial meat chickens I wrote about in a prior blog in that they are man-made creations. They grow abnormally fast, are extremely efficient converters of feed to body mass and are ready to harvest in only a few months. Broad-breasted turkeys emphasize to the extreme broad meaty breasts with abundant white meat. This variety of bird would not survive without the assistance of people far kinder than me because these birdsheritage - Copy cannot mate naturally. All broad-breasted birds have to be artificially inseminated, a job that I can unequivocally state that I do not want. The toms have way too much “stuff” hanging down in their fronts and are too heavy to perform as male birds are supposed to perform.

We’ve been raising a different type of turkey, namely heritage turkeys such as Blue Slate, Narragansett, Sweet Grass, and Royal Palm varieties for some time now. These turkeys have longer legs, grow much more slowly, can (and do) fly and roost at night, and can (and do) reproduce without human assistance. Heritage and wild turkeys are also quite intelligent, personable, and very inquisitive compared to their broad-breasted, dim-witted cousins. Once the broad-breasted birds appeared onto the turkey scene they dominated the market which caused heritage breeds to almost completely disappear. Thankfully, heritage breeds of all kinds of animals including turkeys are now making a comeback. For a lot more info on heritage turkeys, check out Porters Rare Turkeys online to see great photos of all the different color variations of these wonderful birds.

Plucked - CopyWhen plucked, heritage birds are more narrow than the commercial breed; their breasts are sharply V-shaped as opposed to the round “butterball” shape we’ve all come to know. Next to a commercial bird of the same weight, the heritage bird may actually look somewhat emaciated, but in actual fact, there is a nice thick layer of fat under the skin covering the breast, so meat from heritage birds is far less likely to turn out dry. Commercial birds lack that thick layer of fat just under the skin, and we all know fat is flavor! Dark meat from heritage birds is darker and also more flavorful than the same meat from a commercial bird.

One final, important difference between heritage birds and broad-breasted birds: Grocery stores frequently offer major promotions on commercial turkeys. They sometimes end up free or nearly so, with a set amount grocery purchase. Heritage birds are an altogether different story; they’re somewhat difficult to find and once found, be prepared to pay a hefty price, sometimes exceeding $200 each.

Some years ago, Miners Mix acquired a really nifty off-set pit smoker. In actual fact, this thing is nothing more than a giant wood-fired oven that has proven extremely useful when preparing food for a large crowd. The smoker is fantastic for turkeys, hams, roasts, stuffing, yams, pies, (all at the same time too!) and just about anything else that requires baking and might also benefit from the addition of a tad bit of smoke flavor.

Like most folks, we usually have a big crowd at Thanksgiving and the centerpiece is always turkey. Sure, we also sometimes do geese, ham or roasts, or other things as well, but they’re always second fiddle to the turkey (unless you’re my daughter who can’t stand the stuff). We sometimes still cook the mundane broad-breasted commercial variety turkey in the oven, but lately have been using our own heritage turkeys and smoking them in the pit smoker.

Many commercial turkeys are pre-brined or injected with a solution of salt and flavorings. Because we use our own birds, we brine before smoking and have been very happy with the results. The following buttermilk brine recipe was originally found on Smoking-Meat.com, a website from which I’ve gleaned many useful tidbits over the years. I’ve altered the proportions somewhat to impart more flavor, but the original recipe produced great results as well. Here is my slightly modified version:

Ingredients:

2.5 gallons buttermilk

1 gallon water

2 cups kosher salt

 

Directions:

Mix the water and buttermilk together and slowly add the salt. Stir well until all the salt is dissolved. We like to add about ½-3/4 cup of Miners Mix Maynard’s Memphis Rub to the brine as well.

We prepare the bird by sprinkling Maynard’s Memphis Rub under the skin where possible. On heritage birds, the skin is not nearly as loose as with a commercial bird, so not a lot of rub can actually be placed under the skin of the turkey.

Usually we place the bird in a new plastic trash bag which then goes into a large cooler. The brine mixture then gets poured into the bag and after as much air as possible is removed, the bag gets tied off and topped with sufficient ice to keep things nice and cold for about 24 hours, or at least overnight. It is critical to keep things cold. You need a big enough cooler to hold sufficient ice so the bird stays below 39F. It may be advisable to check the bird after several hours to insure there remains sufficient ice to last through the night and into morning.

PreppedThe next morning, remove the bird from the trash bag and rinse well. It won’t need any additional salt, but we usually season the cavity with more Maynard’s and quite a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, along with half of an onion and/or perhaps part of an apple.

SmokingI like to make a paste of Maynard’s and a stick of butter, then rub the uppermost part of the bird. Not a pretty sight, but it does result in a flavorful end result! This time I cooked it breast side down and rubbed the back of the turkey. Next time I’ll try breast up. I like rubbing the breast with Maynard’s.

Into a pan to hold juices, then into the almond wood-fueled smoker went the bird. When smoking, it’s important to leave the bird unstuffed, so that it will heat up above 140F as rapidly as possible. Getting the bird above this threshold rapidly is important to hold in check those nasty bacterial buggers that want to over-run things and make everyone sick. Stuffing greatly increases the heating time which increases the danger of food poisoning, particularly when using lower temperatures for smoking compared to normal oven temperatures.

I smoked this bird at a little higher temperature than is optimal, about Done300F or so. This bird was probably about 15 lbs. and I think it reached 165F in about 4 hrs.

This is what it looked like when taken out of the smoker and onto the platter.   Sorry I don’t have a photo of the turkey beautifully carved, there was just no time to waste because of the hungry horde awaiting their smoked turkey dinner! However, trust me that it turned out fantastic, moist, and with a beautiful smoke turkey flavor that exceeded any store-bought broad-breasted bird I’ve ever sampled. My daughter refused to taste it. Oh well, more for everybody else.

Even if cooking in the oven this year, give the buttermilk brine a try. Buttermilk is one of the standards if you peruse any of the old time southern fried chicken recipes. It works wonders for chicken and also for turkey!

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Wine Trails

It’s been some time since my last effort on blogland here. There’ve been quite a few business distractions lately, plus we’ve done little of note that honestly, is either worthy of documentation or your effort to read.

Miners Mix just finished the Madera Wine Trails event that was held Nov 7 and 8. The Madera Vintners Association holds these events thrice/year and they’re well worth the booth       visit. We’ve been at the same winery, San Joaquin Wine Company, for the last several years. Being overly fond of really good wine and better people, this is one of the events to which all of us look forward to working. All the wineries in Madera are far less pretentious than wineries in Napa or Sonoma, and the wines, especially those from San Joaquin Wine Company are pretty much the equal of anything from those better known regions at 25% or less of the price of your average Napa bottle. This place is an absolute winner all around in our collective humble opinion.

At one event this past Feb. which was a chocolate-themed event, we went out on a limb and made three versions of chocolate truffles containing our Fire in the Hole Ghost Pepper Rub, Pepperhead’s Hotbanero Rub, and Wholly Chipotle Rub. The truffles were such a smashing success that we decided to make them again. The candy was simply a vehicle to sample our hot rubs, but we had so many folks actually asking where they could buy them that we may actually explore production and marketing options!

The truffles were wonderful tools that enabled folks to try the hot rubs and experience the different burns from the different chiles in the rubs. There was not enough chile in the recipe to really light folks up, yet one could still experience the different heats and relative intensities of the chiles in the rubs. Chipotle imparted almost no heat at all; at the most the Wholly Chipotle rub yielded a smoky chocolate and a very, very slight tingle. Hotbanero seemed to promote a more forward and immediate heat while Fire in the Hole imparted a slower burn that intensified over a few seconds and was more noticeable in the rear of one’s mouth. A great thing about using truffles for sampling was that the heat was all gone in a few seconds.

These truffles are stupid simple to make. FYI: Stupid simple is at the very core of the entire cooking philosophy of Miners Mix. If you’re reading this blog hoping to see some pictures of beautiful presentations and haute cuisine, it ain’t gonna happen!

Miners Mix stupid simple truffle recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, melted
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla (or your favorite alcohol – rum, brandy and bourbon all work well)
  • 1 tablespoon of Miners Mix Fire in the Hole, HotBanero, or Wholly Chipotle rub.

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Stir in melted chocolate, vanilla and the hot rub until no streaks remain. Refrigerate for about 1 hour. Shape into small balls. We color coded the balls with red sugar sprinkles being Fire in the Hole, powdered sugar being HotBanero, and cocoa being Wholly Chipotle.

Fire in the Hole TrufflesFITH

HotBanero TrufflesHB

Wholly Chipotle TrufflesWC

We usually try to highlight one rub or another at these events, so I always drag a BBQ grill to set up out back. Besides the staple Miners Mix signature garlic bread demo tidbit, we’ve done salmon and tilapia with our Miners Mix Salmon Marinade, shrimp with the Miners Mix XXX-Garlic Rub, Miners Mix Bean Dip, Miners Mix Chorizo, Mexican Au Gratin potatoes with Miners Mix Chorizo Blend, Mushrooms with Miners Mix Steak and Veggie, marinated chicken pieces with Ranch dressing and Miners Mix Kit’s K.C. Rub, and pineapple dusted with Miners Mix Wholly Chipotle. All of these get the customary Miners Mix eye roll along with an OMG! nearly 98% of the time. You can browse the full line of Miners Mix products here.

We had never done anything with Miners Mix Maynard’s Memphis Rub before, even though we all feel it’s one of our best products. Ribs or pork butts require many hours to PB1do properly, and serving samples out to a thousand or so people can become problematic. Oh well, time to suck it up and jump into the fire, er smoke!

For this last Wine Trail event, I decided to smoke a bunch of Maynard’s-rubbed butts on the famed Miners Mix reverse-flow offset pit smoker and then bag and freeze them for a few days before the wine trails event. The butts were slow-smoked with almond wood at about 230F for about five hours. I like to finish them in aluminum roasting pans covered with foil and baked in the oven for anotherPB3 five to eight hours at 275 F or so. The roasting pans catch all the good smoked grease and PB2juice that can be separated and then frozen for later use in many other dishes to impart smoky goodness.

The night before Wine Trails, I set the butts out to thaw, then the next morning into the coolers and off to the event they went.

Once the BBQ grill was up to temperature, into the trusty grill basket went each butt, one by one, or depending on size, half butt by half butt. The pork was turned and stirred in the basket and dusted with additional Maynard’s Memphis Rub, and the pulled pork became crispy smoky pulled pork carnitas goodness.GBPB

Look at those pieces of red smoke-ring!

I love pulled pork done this way. My son calls traditional pulled pork “string cheese pork” because it usually has the consistency of string cheese, or worse. Using a grill basket facilitates occurrence of a Maillard reaction in the same way that a seared steak tastes superior to one that has been boiled. The pieces become crispy which intensifies the flavor and provides a mouth-feel character that is not present in traditional, soggy pulled pork. Even slathered with sauce, the crispiness of pork from a grill basket is still noticeable and the flavor is a great addition. Highly recommend the stir friend carnitas pulled pork!

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