Memorial Day Brats

Memorial Day Brats

Nothing fancy – just me being happy to get to grill now that it’s finally nice out.

This is a easy technique that gets you both juicy brats but tasty veggies to go with.

5 bratwurst
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
1 cup beer
1 tablespoon olive oil

Set your grill up for a direct cook over medium heat (350°F). On the Big Green Egg I used a raised grate to get a more even heat.

Toss the onion and peppers together in a flame-safe pan (I used a foil 9×13 drip pan). Drizzle the veggies with oil. Put the pan in the grill and cook, turning often, until the peppers have softened and the onions are getting a little brown (about 5 minutes). Add the beer and let the veggies simmer in it for about another 5 minutes.

Memorial Day Brats

Move the pan to the back of the grate and toss the brats on. Grill, flipping often, until brats are firm with a just a little char on the ends (about 15-20 minutes).

Memorial Day Brats

Remove the brats from the grill and arrange them in the veggie pan so that the brats are partially submerged in the beer and veggie goodness.

Let it all simmer for a couple of minutes until everything is heated through and the pan sauce has reduced a bit. Serve with sauerkraut, brown mustard, and some baked beans or potato salad.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Practically perfect – the veggies were soft and flavorful, and the brats had a nice char and snap from the grill while still being juicy on the inside.

Ribs and Wings

Wings and Ribs

I had no use for Valentine’s Day this year, so I made up a batch of man food to drown my sorrows with.

Country-Style Ribs
1 1/2 pounds boneless country-style ribs
Rub of your choice (Dizzy Pig Dizzy Dust here)
Barbecue sauce

Season the ribs heavily on all sides with rub. Cover and stash in the fridge until the grill is ready.

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at 250°F. On the Big Green Egg I didn’t use a plate setter to diffuse the heat, but did use an extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

Add your smoking wood (apple, in this case) to the grill and when the grill reaches 250°F and the smoke has turned blue, arrange the ribs on the cooking grate. Close the lid and let them cook, flipping every hour, until they reach 160°F internal (about 3 hours).

When the ribs hit 160°F internal, move them off to a flame-proof pan (I used a 9×13 roasting pan) and cover with a bout a cup of sauce. Turn ribs to coat and move the pan full of ribs back to the grill. Close the lid and let cook for an hour.

Check the ribs for doneness – they should be around 190°F internal and the meat should fall apart when you poke at it with a fork. Seal the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil and move off to an oven set on the lowest setting while you cook the wings.

Greek-ish Hot Wings
1 1/2 pounds chicken wings
Penzey’s Greek Seasoning
1/2 cup Frank’s hot sauce

Season wings with a good dusting of Greek seasoning and stash in the fridge on a cooling rack in a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan while you get the grill up to 350°F.

On the Big Green Egg I used the same raised direct setup I used for the ribs. But just opened the vents a bit to get the heat up.

When the grill is ready, put the wings on the grate skin side up and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes. Flip back skin side up and cook another 20 minutes until golden and crispy.

Baste the wings on both sides with the sauce. Let them cook for another 10 minutes, then baste again before serving.

The Ribs Verdict: ★★★★☆
Tasty hunks of meat, but they still were a little dry. I think my technique is sound, but the cut of meat might be too lean with not enough connective tissue to break down and get juicy.

The Wings Verdict: ★★★★★
Just straight up Frank’s and some Greek seasoning – nothing fancy but OMG they were good. The unadulterated Frank’s packs a little more heat than most Buffalo sauces I’ve made and that heat makes a big difference.

Music to grill by:

Recommended after dinner viewing:

2 – 1/2 – 1/2 Ribs

The weather over the holiday weekend didn’t exactly cooperate and I found myself with just a short break in the rain to do a rack of ribs. I had been planing to do the rack with the 2-1-1- method, but it didn’t look like I had that kind of time. So I kept the technique, but bumped up the temperature to shorten the cook.

1 rack of baby back ribs
Rub of your choice
Sauce of your choice

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at medium-ish heat (325°F). On the Big Green Egg this meant barely filling the fire ring with lump charcoal and using an extender to raise the cooking grate further from the heat.

While the grill is heating up, dust your ribs generously on both sides with rub (Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust in this case).

When the grill is ready, add your smoking wood (guava this time) and wait until the smoke turns from white (bad) to blue (good). Than arrange your rack on the cooking grate bone side down. Close the lid and let them cook for 2 hours.

Lay out a sheet of heavy-duty foil big enough to wrap the rack in and pour 1/4 cup of barbecue sauce (cheap store brand this time) down the middle of it. Put rack on foil meat side down. Wrap tightly and return to grill for 1/2 hour.

Remove ribs from foil and put back on grill meat side up. Sauce ribs and let cook another 1/2 hour, until meat has pulled back from the ends of the bones and is very tender.

Ribs

Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I was afraid the extra heat would dry out the ribs, but they were tender and tasty. Funny thing is that I was in such a rush to get the ribs on that I forgot to remove the membrane on the bone side. Normally this is a no-no as it can get tough and unpleasant to eat, but the extra heat crisped the membrane to the point that it was almost like skin on a chicken. It gave a nice extra bit of texture and it seemed like it helped to hold the juices in.

I did have to dock myself 1/2 a star for the store-bought sauce. Not a winner.

Country-Style Ribs

Not really ribs, country-style ribs are thick slabs of meaty goodness cut from the shoulder of the of the pig. It’s a complicated cut of meat with lots of fat and connective tissue, so they really lend themselves for a little low and slow smoking followed by by a braise until they melt.

1 pound country-style pork ribs
Barbecue rub of choice
2 cups apple juice
1/2 cup barbecue sauce of choice

Season ribs on all sides with a generous coating of rub (Plowboys Yardbird in the case). Stash in fridge while you set up the grill.

Set the grill up for an indirect cook over medium (300°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg is used the plate settler to diffuse the heat and raise my cooking grate about 4 inches.

Add your smoking wood (apple this time) to the grill and when the grill reaches 300°F and the smoke has turned blue, add a drip pan to the plate setter, and arrange the ribs on the cooking grate. Close the lid and let them cook, flipping every 30 minutes, until they reach 160°F internal (about an hour and a half).

Move the ribs off to a flame-proof pan roasting pan and cover with the apple juice. Turn ribs to coat and move the pan full of ribs back to the grill. Close the lid and let cook for an hour.

Check the ribs for doneness – they should be around 190°F internal and the meat should fall apart when you poke at it with a fork. Remove the ribs to a platter to let them rest. Reserve any juices that are still left in the pan.

country ribsI

Pour reserved juices and barbecue sauce together in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes to thicken.

Serve the ribs with sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
Very tasty – really like the extra sweetness from the apple juice, but not as juicy as I would have liked. I think these might benefit from being sealed in foil for the final part of the cook.

Peach Pork Chops

I used the absolute last peaches of the season to make this sweet and tangy dish. I really like this grill and baste technique to keep the meat moist, particularly with leaner cuts of pork and chicken.

2 pounds thick-cut pork chops
1 pound of peaches, quartered and pitted (2 -3 peaches)
1/2 large red bell pepper, quartered
1 small onion, quartered
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (whatever is in the garden, I used thyme and rosemary)
1/4 – 1/2 cup water
2 cups barbecue sauce (Pomegranate Pig in this case)

Combine peaches, pepper, onion, and herbs in a food processor or blender. Add just enough water to float everybody’s boat and then give it all a whirl until well-combined, but not pureed. You want it a little chunky.

Pour peach mixture into a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until it has reduced by about half (about 10 – 15 minutes depending on how much water you used). It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat. Add the barbecue sauce and stir to combine.

Set your grill up for a direct cook at medium high (400°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg is used an extender to raise the cooking grate a bit to give me a more even heat.

Pour about half the peach barbecue sauce into a shallow, flame-proof pan (a disposable 9×13 foil pan works great). Set the pan on the grill and heat until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and keep warm (I nestle mine right next to the grill).

Season the chops with a little salt and pepper on each side. Grill for about 5 to 10 minutes on each side to give them some nice grill marks and a bit of char.  Remove the chops to the pan and turn to coat each side. Put pan full of chops on the grill and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the chops hit 145°F internal.

Peach Pork Chops

Let rest 5 minutes then serve with remaining sauce on the side.

Damn Near Perfect Pulled Pork

I’ve been playing around quite a bit trying to find the tastiest/fastest/easiest way to do pulled pork. I’ve done the traditional low ‘n’ slow method – 250°F for 16-20 hours until the meat hits 210°F internal and starts to fall apart. The results are always good – smoky and tender with a crispy bark – but I seldom have the time or inclination to do overnight cooks anymore.

I’ve also gone the “turbo butt” route – smoking at 350°F until the butts hit 160°F internal, then wrapping in foil and braising until done. The results have been good and expedient, but the butts seems to come out drier with too much bark.

This time I split the difference and did a slightly hotter and faster cook without any foiling/braising. The end result may very well be the best pulled pork I’ve ever made – tender and juicy with good smoke flavor and plenty of pliable bark.

I scored the fat cap on the butts every inch or so, then seasoned the butts with a heavy coating of Plowboys Yardbird Rub. I stashed them in the fridge while I set up the Big Green Egg for a 8 hour indirect cook at 300°F. This meant filling the firebox with lump and using a plate setter and drip pan to diffuse the heat. When the cooker was up to temp, I added some chucks of apple wood for smoke.

I cooked the butts for about 7 hours at 300°F, turning occasionally, until they hit 210°F internal.

Pulled Pork

At this point the meat was starting to fall apart and it was all I could do to get the butts off the grill in one piece. I loaded them into a large roasting pan and let them rest for an hour before pulling the meat.

First I broke down the major muscle groups, removing them from the fat and connective tissue. Then I worked the meat over using a pair of bear paws to shred the meat and to remove all the remaining inedible bits. I added a little finishing sauce (50/50 Pomegranate Pig and apple cider vinegar) while  working with the meat to help keep it moist.

Root Beer Ribs

My love for a good root beer goes back to my childhood when we would pull into the only drive-in diner in town and the carhop would bring out a big tray of frosty root beer floats.

2 racks baby back ribs
1 (12-ounce) bottle root beer (get the good stuff without any ingredients that you can’t pronounce)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the root beer to a boil and cook until the volume is reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Add the vinegar, paste, sugar, honey, salt, and Worcestershire. Wisk to combine. Return to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 minute. Taste and adjust for sweetness, acid, umami, and salt.

Turn the heat off and add the paprika, pepper, onion, garlic, chili powder, pepper, and cayenne. Wisk to combine. Bring to a boil again then reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. Reduce heat to lowest setting and let sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Bottle and store in the fridge.

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at low (300°F) heat. I set the Big Green Egg with a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

While the grill is getting up to temp, season both sides of the ribs with your rub of choice. Toss in a chunk of smoking wood (sassafras this time), and when the smoke changes from white (bad) to blue (good), put the ribs on bone side down for an hour.

Flip the ribs bone side down and let them go for another hour. After 2 hours total, start checking for doneness. The slabs should bend and crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat should have also started to pull back from the bones.

Root Beer Ribs

When the ribs are showing signs of being done, sauce the meat side with the Root Beer Barbecue Sauce and let them cook for another 10 minutes. Flip them and sauce the bone side and let them go for another 10 minutes. Flip them meat side up and give them a final coat of sauce and let them cook for a final 10 minutes.

Remove the ribs from the grill and let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving with more sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The sauce is a winner and I really like the way the sassafras added to the anise flavor. The end result was very rich, sweet, and spicy. The bark ended up being a little too thick and dry for my tastes, probably from flare ups caused by cooking directly over the coals.

Pork Steak

I love a good pork steak. It’s one of those foods that has just enough fat in it to fry it in its own juices.

Pork steak is cut from the shoulder (a.k.a. Boston roast). It’s a very active muscle group and not particularly tender.  It does have a lot of marbling and connective tissue, which makes it very flavorful and moist if cooked right.

2 large pork steaks
Season salt and/or Penzey’s Northwoods seasoning

Heavily season both sides of the steaks (about a teaspoon per pound) and stash in the fridge uncovered while you get the grill set up.

Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at medium-high (350°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg, I used an extender ring to raise the cooking grate up away from the heat a bit.

Pork Steak

With the lid open, sear the steaks for about 2 minutes on each side. Close the lid and cook for another 5 minutes per side. Start checking steaks for doneness. The USDA says to cook pork to between 145°F and 160°F internal temp. That’s fine for leaner cuts, but these are some fatty steaks and there is little danger of overcooking them. I like to cook pork steaks closer to 190°F – about another 5 to 10 minutes per side. By then a lot of the fat has rendered out and what’s left has become chicharones-like crispy.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
Crispy, salty, tender, and tasty – everything a pork steak should be.

Polar Ribs

Ribs

Winter has just barely started to loosen its grip in my neck of the woods. I did spot one poor, puffed up robin this morning, so maybe there is hope for spring after all.

Between visits from the Polar Vortex, I managed to cook a batch of ribs. For winter grilling, I like cooking foods that require plenty of time, but little attention – ribs and roasts; or foods that take some attention, but little time – steaks and seafood. The idea is to minimize the total amount of time I spend freezing my butt off. These ribs are a great example of this – no misting, mopping, or foiling – just a straight 5-hour cook with little intervention on my part.

3 racks of baby-back ribs
Fresh-ground sea or kosher salt
Fresh-ground back pepper
Barbecue rub and sauce of your choice

Get a fire going in the fireplace. Assemble winter gear. Get the hot cocoa started.

Boots, parka, and winter gloves on – go outside and shovel path then set up the grill before the warmth from shoveling wears off.

Set up grill up for a direct cook over low (250°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg, I didn’t use a plate setter to diffuse the heat, but did use a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the charcoal. Add a fresh load of charcoal, toss in a Lightning Nuggets Firestarter, hit it with the MAPP torch for 30 seconds or so, then run back inside until the grill gets going.

While the grill is getting up to temp, season both sides of the ribs with the salt, pepper, and rub. Warm hands in front of fire, sip some cocoa, and clear enough frost off the window to peek at the temperature gauge every so often.

When the grill is up to temp, make a quick dash outside to toss in your smoking wood (apple this time), put your cooking grate in place, and make any adjustments to keep the temp at 250°F. If you’ve got a remote thermometer to watch the grill temp, now is the time to set it up.

Dash back in and keep an eye out for the smoke to change over from white (bad and bitter) to blue (good and sweet).

Boots, parka, grill gloves, ribs – back outside and arrange the ribs on the grate bone side up. Close lid and stand around stamping your feet until it looks like the temperature has settled. Make any adjustments to keep the temp steady.

Back inside – add some Bailey’s to the cocoa and settle in front of the fire. Let ribs cook for an hour, peeking at temperature every so often.

Boots, grill gloves – back outside and flip the ribs bone side down.

Back inside – toss another log on the fire and arrange couch for napping. Add blanket and cats and/or dogs as needed for ideal warmth. Let ribs cook for two hours, peeking in between snoozes.

Ribs

Boots, grill gloves – back outside and flip the ribs end to end (still bone side down).

Back inside to start prepping side dishes. Let ribs cook for another hour.

Boots, parka, grill gloves – go out to start checking for doneness. Ribs are generally done when the meat has pulled back from the bones and a full slab will almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. If ribs aren’t ready yet, get back inside and get the barbecue sauce and basting brush ready.

Let the ribs cook for another 30 minutes.

Boots, parka, grill gloves, sauce, and basting brush – check ribs again for doneness. By now these ribs were getting very close to being done, so gave them a coating of sauce on each side and went back inside and let them cook for another 30 minutes. I made one last foray outside to sauce the ribs again and bring them in.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
I love ribs, and while these weren’t the best I’ve ever made, it was still damn fine to be eating ribs in the middle of winter. 🙂

Brined, Grilled, and Basted Pork Tenderloins

Pork Loin

I have to admit that I’ve never been a big pork tenderloin fan. They’ve always seemed kind of pricy, bland, and finicky. Not qualities I look for in food or friends, so I tend to gravitate to more complex and tasty cuts of pig like shoulder roasts and ribs.

Part of the problem with tenderloins is that pork has gotten leaner and cooking an already lean piece of meat to the old USDA recommend 160°F left you with a pretty dry and flavorless hunk of meat.

Thankfully, the government has seen the error of its ways and since lowered the recommended temp to a pink and juicy 145°F. So when the local MongoMart ran a sale on some nice-looking tenderloins, I decided to give them a try.

Dead Simple Brine
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 cups ice water
2 pork tenderloins (about 1 1/2 pounds each)

Combine the salt, sugar, and un-iced water in a small pan and cook over high heat until salt and sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add the iced water and stir till the ice is dissolved.

Put the tenderloins in a zip-top bag, pour in the cooled brine, squeeze the air out, then seal the bag, Stash in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours.

Rojo Baste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

While the pork is brining, put the oil, butter, garlic, salt, juice, chili powder, cumin, and oregano in a large grill-safe pan (a 9×13 cake pan works fine).

Set up your grill for a raised direct cook over medium-high (400°F) heat. I used a Woo2 extender ring to raise the cooking grate up a bit.

While the grill is heating up, remove the tenderloins from the bag. Pat them dry, then rub them down with a little olive oil and dust them with your favorite rub or seasoning. We’re going south of the border for this meal, so I used Dizzy Pig’s Swamp Venom.

When the grill is ready, put the pan with the baste on the grill grate and heat until the butter melts and the garlic becomes fragrant, then move it off the grill but keep it warm and nearby.

Put the tenderloins on the grill and cook for about 2 minutes per side, until the tenderloins are starting to brown and show grill marks.

Move the tenderloins off the grill and into the basting pan. Roll them in the baste and return them to the grill. Grill them for another 2 minutes per side, then move them back into the basting pan.

Pork Loin

Roll them in the baste then put the whole pan with the tenderloins in it on the grill. Cook the tenderloins in the pan, rolling them in the baste every few minutes, until they hit 140°F internal (about another 6 to 10 minutes).

Pork Loin

Remove the basting pan and tenderloins from the grill and let them rest for 10 minutes. Slice the tenderloins crosswise into 1/2 inch thick medallions and serve drizzled with the remaining baste.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
These were the best tenderloins I think I’ve ever had – rosy-hued and juicy with great flavor. Not as rich (or fatty) as ribs, but they didn’t take hours to cook either. The mild flavor of the pork really benefited from the layers of flavor that the brine, flames, and baste brought to the game.