Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em…

One of the tastiest methods of preparing food is often avoided by neophytes to the joy of outdoor cooking. Smoking meat appears to be couched in mystery, and the methods thereof whispered like some dark secret held close by the high priests of the craft. In fact, with some simple tools and a modicum of patience, anyone can open the door to a world of delectable flavor.

Virtually any type of protein can be smoked. From a brisket to tofu, from fish to poultry, almost anything can be cooked this way. We will talk here about using smoking as a cooking method. It is also possible to “cold smoke” foods, but this is NOT a cooking method, and is a topic for another post.

The idea of cooking “low and slow”, while applicable to other methods of barbecue is especially essential to smoking. In order to smoke proteins properly, temperature should be held somewhere between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit on indirect or moderately distant heat for a relatively long time. While it is certainly possible to smoke foods on any type of grill or barbeque, in our opinion, the best results come from an appliance designed specifically for smoking. Most smokers are designed either for horizontal use (often called a “pit smoker”) or vertical use (usually called a “drum smoker”).

 File Sep 07, 7 18 26 PM                            File Sep 16, 2 12 57 PM

 As with all things barbeque, if you asked five folks for their thoughts on smoking, you’d get ten different responses! Your style will develop with practice – the more you do it, the better you get at it. There are volumes devoted to this method of cooking, and well we highly recommend that you do some research, there’s certainly not room here to do a deep dive. Having said that, we think we can get you started if you’ll pay attention to a few smoking basics:

  1. Protein. The object of your smoke is certainly important. Well you can smoke most food, it is, in our view, important that you start with good quality, fresh protein. It’s a good idea, we think, to start out with maybe a pork butt or perhaps a chicken. Both are relatively “short” smokes in terms of time.
  2. Temperature. There are two important temperatures to mind here. You need to monitor the internal temperature of your protein, AND the air (or ambient) temperature inside your smoker. Both are absolutely crucial, and you need two separate thermometers to do the job. We recommend a probe thermometer for the internal temperature. Make sure the business part (usually the first quarter inch of the probe) is in or near the center of the protein. Most smokers come with a thermometer for the temperature in the smoker, but beware! There are two potential “gotchas” here. The first is that the thermometer needs to be monitoring the air right above the grill surface. A thermometer mounted very high up (like in the lid!!) may be measuring the wrong spot, and will likely read lower (or higher) than the actual temperature near the grill surface. The other problem is that frankly these mounted thermometers are often pieces of crap. A notable exception is the thermometer in our Big Poppa. We love it! Your ambient temperature needs to be between 200 and 300 degrees (we like 260 for most things), and it needs to stay steady throughout the cook. Use a meat chart like this for your finished (target) protein temperature. There are great two-channel (for both the protein and the ambient temperature) digital thermometers on the market if you discover that your built-in is untrustworthy.
  3. Heat. In our opinion, building your fire out of wood is a great idea. If that’s not practical, use a good quality lump charcoal for the heat, and once your coals are silvered, place a nice chunk (or chunks) of the wood of your choice on top of the coals. Different woods impart different flavors! Don’t be afraid to experiment with fruit and nut woods. Oak is also a nice choice! You probably don’t need to worry about soaking your wood. If you mind the temperature carefully, the wood you choose should smoke instead of burn. On longer burns you may have to add fuel, although some smokers (like the two above) are notoriously stingy burners making a load of fuel last a very long time indeed.
  4. Air flow. You’re probably wondering just how you’re supposed to control the ambient temperature so carefully! The answer is to control the air flow into (and out of) the smoker. That’s what those fancy vents are for. It’s hard to overstate the importance of providing and monitoring the air flow to the heat. Too much air, and your wood will just burn, so it’s important to keep the air flow low – just enough to keep the smolder from going out! The smoker will draw air from the bottom, and expel smoke from the top. A good smoker will have a vent (or vents) both above, and below the location of the heat source, and the bottom vent of vents should be well clear of the ash accumulation. Some folks say the key to heat control is the top vent, some say it’s the bottom. The fact is, you need them both. Work with both sets until the ambient temperature is where you want it. Then monitor carefully to keep the temperature static. We think you’ll find that both sets will end up choked down pretty far. Just don’t completely close either set! A burn set at 200 something is just a sort way from snuffing out altogether so the air flow must be constant! We like to use the vents at the fire box (or below it) to adjust the heat as necessary, but do what feels comfortable.
  5. Time. You cannot rush the smoking process. It takes as long as it takes, and frankly, for most proteins, the longer the smoke the fuller the flavor! Plan for a nice, long smoke – 2 to 12 hours and even more in some cases! As with all really good barbeque, take your time. Enjoy the process. Don’t keep popping of the lid to check the food – all you’ll do is screw up the ambient temperature inside and lengthen (or possibly ruin) the cooking process.
  6. Flavor. The smoke is the major player here, and that’s where your unforgettable flavor comes from. That is NOT to say that you don’t season the food prior to the smoke. This is where a really good rub comes in handy. Obviously we recommend Miners Mix. For pork or beef we’d use Maynard’s Memphis, and for a chicken, duck, goose or turkey we recommend Poultry Perfection. Whichever you choose, rub it liberally all over the protein and let it sit in the fridge for 4 – 24 hours prior to the cook.

We hope we’ve encouraged you to give it a shot. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun! If you’re stressed, you’re doing it wrong! Don’t expect your first couple of attempts to be perfect – this takes practice! One final word about temperature: when we’re smoking a turkey or even a chicken, we set a slightly higher target temperature (say 290 – 300) to get the meat out of the bacteria danger zone (below 140) as quickly as possible. Remember, smoking is not tough, and the rewards are great indeed!

 

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Miners Mix Tips and Tricks

So you took the leap and stepped up your barbeque game by buying some Miners Mix.  Now you’re thinking, well I’ve got the stuff, but how do I use it?  Read on, McDuff and we’ll share some tried-and-true methods, and some not-so-intuitive tips as well!

Photo Sep 01, 12 45 15 PM  This is one of our most popular products, guys.  This not only makes the best garlic bread you’ll ever put into your mouth, it has a ton of other applications as well!  To make the bread, we recommend you use sliced sour dough.  Yes, it’ll work on any bread, but sour dough makes one incredible taste treat.  Mix the contents of one package with a cup of mayonnaise.  You can use butter if you must, but the mayonnaise is way better.  When you spread the stuff onto the bread slices put it on thin, and push the product into the bread.  Thicker is NOT better.  Pop it under a broiler or into a toaster oven and watch it carefully.  It goes from “done” to “oh, crap” pretty fast.  You can also make some fantastic poppers by mixing the package with a brick of cream cheese.  Split the peppers length wise, clean them out and stuff with the mixture.  Grill on the barbeque until the pepper skin turns black, or mix the package with a cup of sour cream for a great dip, or pop the sour cream mixture into a pot of mashed potatoes!

This stuff makes some really great chorizo!  Using our blend and supplying your own Photo Sep 01, 12 46 05 PMmeat makes for a winning dish – way less greasy than store bought, and adding your own meat gives you control over the dish.  We like using a blend of ground pork (75%) and ground lamb (25%).  Just follow the directions on the box – but avoid lean meats, because chorizo needs some fat to work out well.  Adding this stuff to packaged scalloped potatoes makes for a really good dish, and for those of us who love macaroni and cheese, adding this stuff makes for a delicious change up!  You might also consider adding Chorizo Mix to a large pot of homemade chili.  Which, of course, you eat with OMGarlic Bread!

Our Salmon Marinade is not only fantastic on salmon, but on virtually ANY firm fillet fish – like halibut, tilapia, catfish or sword fish.  You can also get great results using the marinade on pork chops!  Just remember, for fish pop the fillets into the marinade for only 15 minutes or so, and then straight onto the grill.  Marinate longer (a few hours to overnight) for pork.

Photo Sep 01, 12 45 30 PM  Our bean dip will blow you away!  This stuff makes the smoothest, most flavorful bean dip you’ve ever had.  Serve this stuff on game day, and people will be talking about your bean dip for days afterward!  When they ask, just tell ’em it’s an old family recipe!  You can change this up by changing the beans you use.  Our particular favorite is refried black beans!  You can expand on the theme by making a pretty incredible 7-layer dip.  Just follow the directions on the package!

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Of course, Miners Mix has a full line of rubs.  As anyone who cooks outdoors will know, each application requires its own rub!  All Miners Mix products are low salt, and there are no preservatives in anything we make.

Our Steak and Veggie is great for grilling or smoking any cut of red meat, and is fantastic on grilled vegetables!  For meat, simply rub generously, and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.  We like to wrap the meat cut tightly in plastic wrap after we’ve applied the rub.  For those who prefer a marinade to a rub, we recommend blending a generous amount of S&V with olive oil and an acid like wine or a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar, with maybe a dash of hot sauce!  We also like to make a marinade of black coffee and S&V!  For truly phenomenal grilled veggies, we recommend cutting your veggies (potatoes, mushrooms, squash, asparagus, onions, radishes, beets, carrots, yams, parsnips, or any combination thereof!) into one inch pieces.  Pop the vegetables into a gallon sized plastic bag with a quarter cup olive oil and a generous amount of Miners Mix Steak and Veggie, seal and shake vigorously.  Dump the veggies out into a grill basket and slide it onto the grill.  Stir until the vegetables are cooked!  Aside from being an incredible rub, we often use this product in our kitchen instead of salt and pepper!

Maynard’s Memphis Barbeque Rub is formulated for low and slow barbeque!  This stuff is incredible on ribs, butts, chicken and anything else you want to get that real Memphis style flavor on.  A great choice for smoking, this sweet spicy rub will change your barbeque game forever.  Like barbeque sauce?  This rub is perfect as a base for your own unforgettable homemade sauce recipe!  This stuff will set your ‘Q apart, and make you a star!

Poultry Perfection is exactly that!  Every Thanksgiving, our sales of this stuff are off the chart!  Whether your barbequing, roasting or frying your bird, this stuff will give you incredible flavor.  We’ve used it on ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys, always with the same satisfying results!  Anytime poultry is on the menu, this should be your go-to!  It’s also very tasty on pork chops!

XXX Garlic Rub is our secret weapon!  There are three kinds of garlic in this bad boy (hence the XXX!), so it’s all garlic with a distinct beginning, middle and finish.  We use this rub on EVERYTHING!  From grilled tofu to a standing rib, on fish, chicken, veggies or anything else headed for the grill, this garlic rub will provide incredible results!  Used by itself, or in combination with any other Miners Mix rub we believe you’ll become as addicted to this stuff as we are!  Remember those grilled vegetables we talked about?  Substitute XXX for the S&V for a yummy change up!

File Jan 06, 6 50 20 PM  This is our newest rub!  Just recently released this rub was specifically designed for prime rib and roasts of any kind.  It is phenomenal on wild game and lamb as well.  While all of our other rubs are designed to be used on a barbeque, grill or smoker, this rub actually comes into its own in the oven!  To be sure, it can be used outside as well, but if you’re oven roasting a cut of meat, we highly recommend this one!  You will be ecstatic with the result!  This is also great on scrambled eggs, and is very tasty on fish as well.

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Last, but not least are the hots!  These three rubs have a bit of a kick,  Our Chipotle rub is based on smoked jalapeno peppers.  It has a nice smoky, fruity flavor with just a touch of heat, and is great form brining a Mexican flare to any barbeque.  Great on fajitas, carne asada, or to sprinkle a bit into a pot of refried beans!

Both the Hotbanero and the Fire in the Hole were developed for Pepperheads!  These two rubs are seriously hot, so be smart about using them.  Hotbanero is based on the Habanero pepper, and FitH is based upon the Bhut Jolokia (or Ghost Pepper).  Both have a great flavor.  The Hotbanero is fruity and full bodied, with an immediate heat.  The FitH is a more oriental heat.  Slow to arrive, it brings the heat of Asia along with a complex, delightful flavor.

Check our last blog piece for an incredible candy recipe using the Hotbanero rub!  The candy is not particularly, but the rub gives the chocolate a brand new dimension that is really great.

Check our web site for more recipes, and do let us know if you find a yummy way to use our products!  As always, we welcome questions and comments at info@minersmix.com!

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Back in the Saddle Again…

Hot Rub Candy?!

Oh, my it has been a while.  In our defense, be it known that we have been busy indeed!  I see that the last time we talked we were discussing the merits of grass fed (and home raised) beef.  Ribsteak has come and gone, and we find our freezers full yet again of that best of all beeves; grass fed and home raised (though not at OUR home this time).  We’re spoiled now!

In the time since we last were together, we have seen Miners Mix become popular indeed on Amazon here in the US, AND we have “crossed the pond” and are now available with Amazon UK!  Along with all of our old friends, you’ll now find us also available at Hudson Daniel, and featured in a couple of GREAT gifts at Mancrates.

We have also introduced a brand new rubFile Jan 06, 6 50 20 PMOur newest effort is FANTASTIC on Prime Rib, roasts of any kind – including beef, pork, lamb, and all types of wild game.  We want to thank our friends Patrons of the Pit and Auntie Doni for agreeing to be our guinea pigs during development!!  You’ll find it available at MinersMix.com, and on Amazon!

Also, this spring, Miners Mix will be on the road again: you can find us on the Madera Wine Trail at one of our favorite spots: The San Joaquin Wine Company on February 10 and 11, at the Fresno Home and Garden Show on March 2 – 4, and at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas on May 8 – 10.  We’re not sure where we’ll be in April, but keep an eye on our Twitter feed for the latest!

It’s good indeed to be back here on the ‘Ol Miner’s Meanderins’!  We want to leave you with somethin’ special for Valentine’s Day.  Here’s a recipe for candy made with… you guessed it: one of our Miners Mix rubs!

Blend by hand:

8 oz creamed cheese, 3 cups melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp Miners mix Hotbanero rub and 1 tbs coconut oil.  Allow to set for 5 – 10 minutes, and then roll into 1/2 inch balls.  Refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Don’t worry about the Hotbanero, most of the heat is absorbed by the chocolate!  Serve these to your Honey, and he/she will be amazed!  Until next time, dine well!

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Ribsteak

Part 1

RibSteak Fulfills his Destiny

It has been far too long a time since the last post and I feel guilty about not keeping things up. This entry was actually written some months ago but essential computer “upgrades”RS prevented me from applying the finishing touches. This summer is proving to be extremely busy for the crew at Miners Mix with lots of big events and trade shows, royally painful computer issues (thank you for that, Windows 10), and other goings-on, in addition to the usual obligations of 4H and husbandly maintenance duties around the house (read that as mowing, weed-eating, drip irrigation repair, building more cages to house yet more chickens, turkeys, rabbits, lizards and other critters, along with myriads of other chores). However, duty continues to call so I’ll try to add entries to the blog as time permits.

Once upon a time, our Miners Mix business partner acquired an Angus cow named Clover. NoseShe bred Clover to a Scottish Highland bull, a union that proved fruitful and resulted in the birth of a calf. The calf was steerified according to our business partner, and when we moved onto our 40 acre spread, Clover, the cow, and RibSteak, the calf, came to live on our ranch. Clover and RibSteak almost lived happily ever after, with pretty much the run of the entire acreage. They kept the grass mowed with only the occasional need to supplement with hay or alfalfa. Unfortunately for RibSteak, he was destined for the freezer from the moment he took his first breath and after about 2 years of contented grass munching, his time was nigh.

Now, Scottish Highland cattle are smallish and RibSteak was petite as well. Once Rib Steak matured though, he became downright dangerous and ornery. I was always very careful to insure that a fence was between him and me, or if chores required us to be together on the same side of said fence, I kept a wary eye on him. RibSteak was also very destructive, pushing down barbed wire fences and he actually seemed to enjoy knocking gates off of their hinges. He’d stand there and butt the gate; we’d sometimes hear him for hours on end at night banging on gates. There were a couple of times when he did escape after knocking a gate off the hinges and we’d find him out by the cars or somewhere else he wasn’t supposed to be. Fortunately he was easy to lure back into the enclosure by following Clover, who happily follows anything good to eat. On one of his forays of temporary freedom, RibSteak proved very destructive in a single evening remaking one of our turkey enclosures into a 25’ long pretzel and utterly destroying it. Getting him back into the pasture after that instance though, proved terrifying because like a Pamplona bull in the ring, he was pawing the ground and looked ready to charge at any moment. Charging would have proven most unfortunate, as there was no place for any of us to hide and we’d have been trampled. Fortunately, Clover was easily bribed by one of the kids with a flake of alfalfa and led through a gate, followed by Rib Steak in tow. In short, RibSteak was just not a nice, warm, huggable creature. He was instead, a well-muscled smallish, evil-tempered tank. He was, well, bullish.

When the future month for Rib Steak to fulfill his destiny had been more or less selected, we began to supplement his diet with lots more sweet-cob to promote fat and weight gain. RibSteak and Clover continued to have free reign of the 30+ acre pasture and ate anything they wanted, but as time wore on, they began to frequent the lower pasture where they could get scoops of wonderful, molasses-infused sweet-cob. As his time drew closer, RibSteak got more and more sweet-cob, eventually consuming well over 400 lbs. of the stuff. He never mellowed, instead he’d attempt to butt me through the fence or charge and stop just short of the fence; it would have meant a hospital or morgue visit to have gotten into the enclosure with him. Despite all that sweet-cob, RibSteak never seemed to get fat and his disposition never changed. He only became increasingly buffed.

Being a steer, it was puzzling why Rib Steak was so dang aggressive. Steers are supposed to be fairly passive, more like cows. Clover, RibSteak’s mother has always been gentle and really doesn’t care at all if people happen to be in the pasture with her.

As fate would have it, the ranch butcher made his appearance on the appointed day. A week or so before, I’d penned up Clover so she would not be able to witness RibSteak meeting his destiny. RibSteak was attached to his mom and having Clover penned also kept him in the lower pasture so things would be easier when the ranch butcher made his appearance.

The butcher was extremely proficient at what he did. RibSteak was happily chewing on some tasty alfalfa right at the fence when he was introduced to a .22 cal bullet. His end was instantaneous and very humane; he was stone dead before he hit the ground. There was no last breath, no last kick or any other movement at all after being shot. His end was far better than what commercial cattle experience. As a city boy, I have to say that the entire process of killing, skinning and ending up with two sides of beef hanging from the truck’s crane in about 45 min, all with very little blood or gore, was very impressive.

After beginning the skinning process, it soon became apparent why RibSteak had been so ill-tempered and incredibly muscular, with very little fat. There they were, two football-shaped testicles nestled inside, just under his skin. He had not been steerified after all, and was in fact, a full-on, but sac-less bull. My business partner had swung and missed, only taking Rib Steak’s sac, which probably made RibSteak even angrier towards humans.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

1Now I make a point of trying real hard not to eat stuff that I think should normally be thrown away or fed to dogs, and I’ve read the stories, told the jokes, and watched the cooking shows dealing with rocky mountain oysters. However, since I had a couple of them that happened to be VERY fresh, and was planning on doing chicken fried steaks the next evening anyway, I decided what the hay, let’s give it a whirl.

2Never having cooked anything with the moniker of prairie oyster, calf fries, huevos del toros (which is literally “bulls’ eggs” in Spanish), cowboy caviar, Montana tendergroins, swinging beef, rocky mountain oysters, or any other euphemism for testicle, I had to do some online research to learn how. Basically all the 3recipes I found were very similar and all involved frying. There must be some recipes out there for grilling ‘em, but none were found and frankly, after eating these, I really doubt I’ll be cooking them again.

This is pretty much the process I used, from a food.com recipe:

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  • Split the tough skin-like muscle that surrounds each “oyster” (use a sharp knife). You can also remove the skin easily if the meat is frozen and then peeled while thawing. They are NOT kidding about the skin or membrane. Peeling proved very difficult perhaps because the two I had were fresh, but these things are TOUGH to peel! 
  • Soak in a pan of salt water one hour; drain.
  • Transfer to a large pot and add enough water to float the meat.
  • Add the vinegar to the pot.
  • Parboil, drain and rinse.
  • Let cool and slice each oyster into 1/4 inch thick ovals.
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of sliced oyster to taste.
  • Combine flour, cornmeal and some garlic powder to taste.
  • Roll each slice into flour mixture.
  • Dip into milk.
  • Roll again into flour mixture. We seasoned the flour with a mixture of Miners Mix Steak and Veggie along with some XXX-Garlic
  • Dip into wine. I did not do this, preferring instead to use copious amounts of wine in a far more therapeutic way. 
  • (repeat the procedure for a thicker crust).
  • Fry in hot oil or fat seasoned with the bottled hot sauce to taste (be careful, it will sizzle when you add the hot sauce); fry until golden brown.
  • Drain on paper towels.

So, how’d they taste? Well, for starters, both my son and I agreed there was very little actual flavor, which, in hindsight was probably a good thing. I mean they’re balls! All we really tasted was the Miners Mix in the breading. What was most off-putting, however, was the texture. The slices, as well as the intact huevo, were not mushy or soft and tender, as I thought they’d be. Instead the chicken fried oyster had a texture similar to that of a very crisp hot dog. Sometimes gourmet hot dogs with a thick casing almost seem to “pop” when you bite them and the slices of oyster did just that. Overall it was very strange and a bit unsettling. FYI: No one else in the family nor any friends would even consider giving them a try.

All in all, growing up in a city and never having killed any food animal except fish (of which I’ve killed and eaten more than my share), no wistful thoughts of RibSteak and his demise exist within any of us. Being the nasty dangerous creature he was, it is good to be rid of him. Leaving the house in the morning and stumbling upon him as you make your way to the car could totally ruin your day and potentially put you in the hospital or far worse. Some animals would be personally difficult to introduce to the ranch butcher. For instance, most goats have fairly endearing personalities and I’d feel a little bad about processing one. Clover the cow would be difficult as well. Even turkeys are difficult for me, but RibSteak, like the meat chickens we also raise, failed to elicit any of those misgivings at all.

In part 2 of this epic, I’ll cover the return home of RibSteak, albeit in white, paper-wrapped packages, and the marvelous flavor of true grass-fed beef which is unlike anything I’ve ever bought in a store. I’ve eaten grass-fed beef, but the flavor is not close to what we have in our freezer.

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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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