Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Coal Wars: Royal Oak Smoked Ribs

Am I a terrible person or what? I have spent the last 3 or so weeks complaining about rain and now that the sun is out and it’s 93°, I’m still not happy (too hot). However, I can finally light the BBQ pit.

One good thing about the heat is that my smoker maintains temperature much longer than when there is snow on the ground. Even better, when ever I fire up the pit on a hot weekend day free beer seems to appear on my porch steps; gifts from hungry neighbors hoping for a taste. I like nothing better than cold beer, compliments and people to eat my barbecue. I figure the least I can do is share since I am in the habit of having the pit lit by 7:30 AM.

On the menu this past weekend were some tasty St. Louis cut pork ribs. The lump charcoal of choice was made by Royal Oak and commercially packaged under the name Nature-Glo. The wood of choice was my special blend of maple and cherry at about a 3(maple) to 1 (cherry) ratio. The rubs of choice were Pork Rubber’s Products, Mary’s Cherry (my favorite commercial blend) and the Pork Powder Dry Rub. Both are excellent and great for those days when you’re just not up to blending your own rub recipe.

I love to mix my own spices and brew my own sauces, but I am often temped by my stock room. Plus I only sell products that I love to eat so it’s hard not to cook with them. Anyway, today’s guest of honor is the Royal Oak lump and I have to say it did not disappoint. There was no visible scrape in the bag and very few chunks smaller than an inch. I started with two unlit chimneys in my pan and ignited those with ¾ lit chimney. It only took 1 and ½ sheets of newspaper to light the stack and about 20 minutes for my smoker to hit 220°-230°.

After about 1 hour the temp spiked up to 260°. I closed my side vents each to half and the temp fell moderately back to around 220°. This temp held for just about 3 more hours. It was more than 4 hours before I had to add more coal; when I did it was only 3 handfuls of unlit. I added water (apple juice and a beer) and some wood at 2 and ½ hours (give or take a few ticks), but that was only because I could hear the water pan sizzling. At about 6 hours I tossed a ½ chimney of lit in just for good measure. The ash was minimal. I never had to clean out my coal pan once during an 8 hour cook.

In the last two hours of cooking I dropped the temp to just over 200° and tried to let the coal burn out. It never did. The Royal Oak has a mild and sweet smelling smoke. I would imagine it imparts a similar favor to the food even without the maple and cherry woods. I figure I burned about 12 pounds in 8 hour, maybe less (there was a considerable amount left in my coal pan). It is definitely the longest lasting lump charcoal I have burned so far.

Overall I couldn’t be happier. Aside from the shipping costs Royal Oak is a great lump charcoal. It was easy to light and burned hot and long. The next charcoal on my list is Wicked Good Charcoal Competition Bend, when it becomes available. I check there site regularly and there has not been an update in a while. Locally stores seem to only have the Weekend Warrior Blend in stock. With this I am done with my research until then, shipping lump charcoal is just too expensive. However if anyone has a lead as to where I can get some Competition Blend it would be much appreciated.

PS. For those of you who care more about the ribs I will post their journey in a day or so and let you know what’s on the menu for this weekend. If you in the area and smell the smoke stop by for a bite and a beverage, there is always plenty of BBQ.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rhode Island BBQ: Wes' Rib House

What a great night. Monday night’s BBQ baseball extravaganza was a blast. Wes’ Rib House was just what a BBQ joint should be. Being from New England we don’t have a plethora of choices when it comes to real barbecue. Many of the joints in and around Boston are fair to good, but Wes’ in Providence Rhode Island is one of the better establishments. A simple place with cold beer, tangy sauce and a casual setting make Wes' a comfortable and relaxing place to dine.

It is hard for me give a valid assessment of the service. Don’t get me wrong the wait staff was spectacular there was never an empty mug on the table and a request never took more than a minute to be satisfied. However, it was a Monday evening and our group of 10, a family of 4 or 5 and few bar clientele were the only patrons. Most importantly, our server and his partner were pleasant, patient and professional.

The Missouri style barbecue was tasty and plentiful. The menu has something for every taste and appetite. We did not partake in any appetizers only because we had our eyes on the prize. I have in years past had their chili and it is an excellent blend of well a balanced spices. The dinner combinations range from the Platter with a large portion of one meat to the Show Me Platter with a choice of 4 meats. Other fare includes kabobs, lamb and steak, but we were there for the BBQ. However, one our more wimpy cohorts ordered the 12 oz. sirloin and said it was very good.

Aside from ‘wimpy” the rest of us had BBQ and none were disappointed with the portions. We are big eaters and want big portions. In this department Wes’ does not disappoint. The selections of meats include beef, chicken, chopped BBQ, pork chops, ham and ribs. Not wanting to be out down I ordered the Show Me Platter with double ribs, chopped BBQ and beef.

I have to say I was a little disappointed in the beef, mainly because I am a brisket fan and well, roast beef is just not brisket and needs to be served rare. It was tender, but needed something to jazz it up a bit. The chopped BBQ was great. It had a nice tangy light sauce on it that didn’t take away from the pork. The stars of the day were the ribs (as they should be). They were tender, but still had some integrity. The meat easily came away from the bone and didn’t fall apart. I hate it when I pick up a rack and it falls apart in my hands. They were flavorful with a nice touch of smoke. The ribs like the chopped BBQ needed nothing more in terms of flavor. They had a nice spice and offered a very subtle sweet finish.

On my next trip I will be sure to sample the other barbecued offerings, but judging from the sauce stained shirts of my friends they were good as well. Dollar for dollar and pound for pound Wes’ Rib House offers up some tasty BBQ. I look forward to my next trip there and hope that you too will someday soon stumble into this fine rib shack.

*Picture borrowed from Wes' image gallery (http://www.wesribhouse.com/gallery.html- retrieved 6-13-06)

Monday, June 12, 2006

BBQ, Baseball and Possibly a Hot Dog

The coal wars have turned into the weather wars here in New England. This past weekend was a wash again as on Saturday, my only free day, it poured yet again. Sunday was a wonderful day as we celebrate the birth of my cousin’s second daughter. With no time to fire up the pit I am left with little new BBQ news to share. I did receive my next sample of lump on Friday and am impatiently awaiting an opportunity to light it up. With any luck Mother Nature will allow me outside this weekend. Next in the line up is Royal Oak. Actually, I will be burning their food service label, Nature-Glo.

On a BBQ note tonight is my annual trip to McCoy Stadium for a little Triple-A baseball action. The Pawtucket Red Sox are facing the Richmond Braves for the last game of a homestand. The best part about this trek from Boston is our pre-game dinning ritual held at Wes’ Rib House in Providence, RI. A little Missouri style BBQ is on the menu, which for me means ribs, ribs and more ribs. I will let you know how the meal goes ASAP. If my memory serves me well their fare is pretty good, but it has been a year and I feel some research in needed to be sure.

*Picture borrowed from http://www.wesribhouse.com/index.html (retrieved 6-12-06)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Grilled Fisherman's Feast

I was lucky enough to have been raised in a family who loved to eat. My grandmother would give all of her favorite northern Italian dishes an American twist. And considering she spent much of her childhood in Gloucester Massachusetts many of her dishes involved seafood. I grew up watching her cook, eating her food and during the end of her life listening to her stories. She would often speak of harvesting mussels and periwinkles off the rocks by the jetty and running home to cook them. She would tell me how they sat for hours and ate periwinkles with sewing needles right out of the sauce. One of the best cooking lessons she ever taught (I don’t know if she ever knew how she really taught me about food) me was how to make do with what I had. My favorite meals are always fresh and simple. I think this way I have such an affinity for seafood.

When summer hits I seem to find myself with a constant desire for seafood and since there is never enough time during the week to fire up my pit I grill up ocean fare a few times a week. Last night the rain finally stopped long enough for me to fire up the grill and try this new lump charcoal my wife found for me at Wild Oats. We don’t normally shop there, but they have one of the best fish markets in my area and are open later than my regular fishmonger.

For this evening my bride brought home a great piece of yellow fin for me, some scrod for her and Anthony and a couple dozen little necks for the grill. The beauty of really fresh fish is how simply and quickly you can prepare and cook it. I had everything seasoned and prepped before the coal was hot. The entire meal was prepare and cooked within 30 minutes, probably closer to 20. Rachael Ray has some competition when it comes to my week night meals.

Grilled Little Necks (clams)

As Many Little Necks as Will Fit on Your Grill
¼ cup ++ Extra Virgin Oil Olive
3 Tablespoons ++Unsalted Butter
Quality Hot Sauce
Clean, scrub and rinse the clams well. Dip the little necks in water and place on very hot grill. Cover and cook until all of the clams are fully open (discard any that don’t open). In a large bowl put 2 tablespoons of butter and a few shakes of hot sauce. Remove to clams to the bowl (their heat will melt the butter), drizzle with olive oil and carefully toss to coat. Serve with extra hot sauce and melted butter.

Grilled Lemon Lime Scrod
Fillet of Scrod
Pinch of Kosher Salt
2 Twists of Fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 or 3 Pats of Unsalted Butter
2 or 3 Thin Slices of Key Lime
2 or 3 Thin Slices of LemonArrange fish on top a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil (fold up the sides to catch all of the juices). Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, layer fish with lemon and lime slices and butter, place on grill and close cover. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with fresh lemon and lime wedges.

Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna
An 8 or 9 Ounce Tuna Steak
Pinch of Kosher Salt
2 Twists of Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Pinch of Ground Cumin
Pinch of Ground Chipotle Pepper (or other ground pepper seasoning)
Good Quality Soy SauceRub with spices and grill over high heat for 1 ½ minutes per side. Serve immediately with soy sauce on the side.

Eat Hot, Eat Healthy (most of the time) and Always EAT UGLY!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Coal Wars: I Thought Diamonds Were Expensive

In my search for local stores that carry lump charcoal I have come across products brought to market by Whole foods, Williams Sonoma, and Wild Oats. According to the Naked Whiz’s data base the first two are produced by Cowboy and It appears the third follows suit. I have not found evidence to support my Wild Oats theory and I don’t plan on looking for it, but at first glance and use my theory seems sound.

It is proving very difficult to find lump charcoal locally. It seems that Cowboy dominates the market. Some specialty stores carry Wicked Good Weekend Warrior blend and would usually stock the Competition Blend, but there is a production stop. It seems that the woods used in the Competition Blend are no longer available and the company is working in a new version. I can hardly wait to see what they come up considering the WWB is phenomenal. Anyway, as soon as the new blend is available I will let you know.

Finally, I have had to turn to the internet to further my research. I know that those of you in the middle and southern parts of the country have access to a much wider variety of lump that those of us in the northeast, but I need an excuse to keep cooking. So, in the best interest of my readers I have ordered a couple bags of Royal Oak Natural Wood Lump Charcoal. It has a good review from the Naked Whiz, seems to have a loyal following and most importantly was the easiest to order.

I am finding it more difficult than I like to even purchase lump on the web. Plus the cost is really prohibitive; I am paying more to ship than the product is worth. I am often able to justify even the most ludicrous expenses, but even this is a stretch for me. Especially when I have fairly easy access to Wick Good Charcoal, but we will see what the future has in store.

If it doesn’t rain again this weekend I plan to fire up the pit. Mother Nature has been wreaking havoc in my neck of the woods. It has rained over the past two weekends and rumor has it we are in for the same this weekend. I don’t know how much longer I can go with out the smell of smoke at 7 in the morning.

Eat hot, eat healthy (most of the time) and always eat ugly… UG