Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rub My Boston Butt...

Anthony and I were blending BBQ rubs the other night. We make two or three different mixes depending on what's in the cupboard at any given time. I look forward to the day when I can actually try to market one or two them, but that means taking better notes and I’m not one for writing recipes down. In fact if it wasn’t for eating ugly I would never be able to make the same thing twice. I figure even if no one ever reads it at least Anthony will have a record of our gastronomic adventures. And with him as my muse I am finding motivation and inspiration around every turn. He just makes everything so much fun and talk about a quick study. I know every parent thinks their child is brilliant (at least I hope they do), but my little bug is a culinary prodigy.

Anyway, I store my spice menagerie in a few plastic containers in the cabinet next to Anthony’s. Yes, he has his own cabinet where he stores his personal linens, pots and pans, tongs and BBQ tools. Most of his epicurean toolbox doubles as musical instruments and doggie deterrent devices. We have recently begun putting a few of his favorite salsas, BBQ sauces and snacks in there as well. Preparation for any meal is a Broadway production in my house, especially the nigh before we plan to barbecue.

As “Applier of the Rubs” chef Anthony takes his responsibility very seriously. My job is to help him measure each of the rub components into individual ramekins and tell him the name of everything. He then repeats the name and dumps each portioned spice into his large stainless steel mixing bowl. After a quick whisk in the bowl we transfer the spice blend to a disposable plastic receptacle and he begins the BBQ rub dance. A ceremony he created that involves marching around the kitchen or backyard shaking the spice vessel and drumming on it with his wooden spoon. This ritual could last as long 30 minutes or be as short as 30 seconds. If all goes well and Anthony feels the rub is acceptable we move on to the application process. If in the not so rare instance that Anthony is not satisfied with the rub we call for the Council of the Vacuum and offer a sacrifice of BBQ rub to the Goddess of the Broom Closet. My bride has presently been appointed to this honored rank and as she does not see a ½ pound of BBQ rub spilled on the floor a proper offering she invokes a wrath of awesome proportions when my son is dissatisfied with our rub.

After the BBQ rub is properly blended we begin what originally was a very messy application process. Upon completion of a few collaborative cooking sessions with Chef Anthony I learned a number of tricks that help keep my kitchen clean. First we line the countertops with newspaper and then I put the meat in a large disposable pan. Anthony then picks a spoon from his BBQ toolbox and moves his stepping chair to the edge of the countertop. He spoons the rub onto the meat and then gently rubs it in. While he is rubbing on the rub I lay out a few sheets of plastic wrap (if we are letting it marinate over night). When he is done I tightly wrap the meat and we begin the cleanup. Likewise, if we are cooking it immediately we take the meat directly out the smoker or grill and he lets me put it on. The first order of business when cleaning up is our hands and he never forgets to wash his hands with soap and water. Even when we just pour a bowl of cereal he has to wash his hands before leaving the counter.

Traditionally we tend to mix large quantities of our BBQ rubs which often makes for some very expensive spice blends. I tend to purchase my spices in bulk either online or at my local restaurant supply store. Additionally I like to buy whole spices and grind them at home. I have also, on occasion, found some quality fresh spices at the wholesale club, but their selection can be erratic at best and often bordering on 6 months old. It can prove to be much easier on the wallet to buy commercially blended BBQ rubs, plus there are literally hundreds to choose from on the web. I stock a select few at as I try to only sell what I will cook with and consume.

My rub blends can be a combination of as few as 3 spices to as many as ten or more. Anthony and I often use a hot paprika (generally hot paprika is not hot it is just darker in color) for the rub base. Paprika’s subtle flavor helps distribute the other spices evenly throughout the blend. From there we move to garlic powder, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, chile powder or anything else I find in my collection. I can go on for hours about my philosophies of BBQ rubs and my ideas about what flavors are best for BBQ, but I will leave that for a late night winter post. Today I will just wrap things up with the recipe we used for this weekends Boston Butt and brisket barbecue.

  • 1 Cup Hot Hungarian Paprika
  • 1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/3 Granulated Garlic powder
  • 1/3 Onion Powder
  • 1/3 Cup Ground Cumin (I usually bump this up to ½ Cup)
  • ¼ Cup Favorite Chili Powder
  • ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
  • ¼ Cup Dry Mustard Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon White Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon Savory
  • 1 Tablespoon Chile Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Dry Basil
  • 1 Tablespoon Dry Oregano

If stored in an airtight container the rub keeps for a few months. It probably won’t last that long because it tastes great in everything from beef to fish. The measurements for each ingredient are estimated and I have a heavy hand. Next time I will do my best to accurately keep track of the amounts. However, I will have to get a scale because I use the palm of my hand for a measuring cup. The key ingredient in this recipe is Anthony’s BBQ rub dance. Remember every great recipe has a little superstition surrounding it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Father & Son BBQ: The Brine

So, how is everyone doing? Personally the past few months have been out of control. My day job has been unbelievably busy. I have no time to answer emails or write recipes or search for new products. Luckily, some tasty treats are starting to find there way to my door on their own. I must be doing something right. Anyway, I have recently decided to make more of an effort to BBQ and write. I find these are the only two things that keep me centered on what I consider most important in life, my family.

Whether I am sparking up the BBQ pit of preparing a simple week night meal my 2 (almost 3) year old is right there by my side. He makes dinner with me every night. We play on the swings and clean the yard while tending to the smoker together. He has become my official “applier of the rub” and “taster of the sauce”. When I find myself too caught up in work he reminds what’s really important. He knows what cumin is and how to work the peppermill. He understands to take 3 big steps back whenever anyone opens the stove, smoker or grill. Anthony even remembers to keep his hands flat on the counter whenever I am using the “big knife” even though he can’t wait to sneak a taste. The little pit master eats everything and will try anything. He loves to eat onions and mushrooms right off the chopping block and he cries when I put the BBQ sauce away.

He eats BBQ, loves salsa and watches Iron Chef. I think he likes Bobby Flay and I know he has a thing for Giada De Laurentiis. On Sundays we watch the Patriots when they are away and he looks for me in the stands when they are at Gillette. My bride can’t help but smile or forget why she is mad at me when she sees us cooking together. When the three of us sit down for dinner he is the server. He always makes sure that everyone has food on their plate. Heaven forbid not everyone is eating or there is an empty dish on the table. With every sip of water he offers a toast and he always helps with the dishes.

Anthony is so much fun to share food with and he loves BBQ so much that I decided that Eat Ugly will become a BBQ journal just for him. I want to make sure that when he is old enough to cook on his own he will have a record of all our epicurean adventures together. And since recently I have been inundated with questions about pulled pork I will start anew with a little ditty about Boston Butt. Try to contain your excitement son. I know its hard, “butt” we have to start somewhere. Plus it is never too early to start getting embarrassed by my puns. Boston Butt, pork butt, pulled pork, pork shoulder, picnic pork what the butcher calls it is of little importance. All that matters is that I have fun cooking it and you love to eat it. So here is my first lesson just for you (and who ever else may care). The brine…

There are so many different variations on brines that I find it impossible to rely on just one. I just started brining my Boston (pork) butts, chickens and turkeys this year. It’s not a difficult process, “butt” it is a pain in the butt. Anyway, brining makes the meat more tender, moist and flavorful. Basic brines consist on salt, water and sometimes sugar. I usually start with ¾ cup of kosher salt per gallon of water. From there I add what ever I have in the cabinet apple cider, bourbon, spices, herbs, seasoning, brown sugar, molasses, tea, honey, rum or anything else that looks interesting at the time. A major factor that affects most of my cooking is the availability of ingredients. Although I always try to have BBQ staples in our house, inevitably I am missing something that a recipe says we need. Truthfully I never really need anything. I do without or find a replacement. Your great grandmother taught me long ago to make do with what I have within reach, to use ingredients that I have on hand, and keep things simple. My whole keeping it simple mentality is a blog in and of itself. Anyway let’s get to the point, the brine for this particular pork butt adventure.

I prepare the brine using one of two methods, hot or cold. The hot method involves dissolving all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and cooling it over ice. With the cold method I simply just add the ingredients to cold water stir thoroughly and add the meat. I think dissolving the sugars and salts in hot water makes for more flavorful brine, “butt” sometimes time and motivation don’t allow for it. Anyway, for this cook I used the following.

  • 1 Large food grade plastic container (plastic bags work well too)
  • Approximately two quarts of water
  • Ice (I have no idea how much)
  • More water (enough to cover the butt by 1 inch)
  • ½ Cup Brown Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Dark Molasses
  • 1 Cup Kosher Salt
  • ½ Cup my secret rub (your favorite rub)
  • 1 Small Handful Whole Black Pepper Corns
  • 2 or 3 Bay Leaves
  • 1 TBS Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1Cup Jack Daniel’s Whisky
  • 1 Large Spanish Onion Quartered
  • 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic (lightly smashed)

I brought 2 quarts or so of water to a boil. I added the salt, brown sugar, dark molasses, favorite rub, Old Bay, whiskey, and pepper corns. I let everything that would dissolve, dissolve, removed the brew from the heat and added the garlic, onion and bay leaves. I let this steep while I filled a 5 gallon food grade plastic container about one quarter (1/4) full with ice and water. I then added the hot brine and continued to add ice until the brine was cold and the ice stopped melting. I then added my Boston butt and enough water to cover the meat by at least 1 inch. I place a heavy dish on top of the pork butt to help keep it submerged.

The entire bucket goes into the refrigerator (4:30 pm) and left overnight. I removed the Boston butt (5:30) the next morning (I wanted to start cooking by 7am the latest). Making sure to rinse it thoroughly I set it an aluminum pan and let it come to room temperature. I do my best to never put cold meat on the smoker. I also don’t like to apply seasonings and rubs to cold meats. The later is a personal preference its origins of which I don’t know. I may have read it somewhere or learned from a TV show.

I am always hesitant to call any of my recipes original or take credit for my methods and philosophies when it comes to cooking. I believe that every recipe is variation of another and every method is derived from a different source. When a person makes a recipe it becomes unique to that person. Foods mimic the style and tastes of the person who prepare them and if this is true all recipes are original.

There was a time (recently) the mom and I couldn’t afford a second refrigerator. Before we had one I would brine all of my meats in a cooler. Continually adding ice kept the solution from warming and the meat from spoiling. Once I used the cooler a few times I figured out how much ice I needed to keep it cold for extended periods of time. Eventually I was able to keep the temperature down for as long as ten hours, even though I rarely left it alone for more the 6. Meat can sit in brine for a little as 4 hours and a long as 72 hours. I usually shoot for overnight. When I am really thinking ahead I will start brining on Thursday night for a Saturday BBQ.

Well I think this is plenty for today and I'm getting hungry. What else is new? Next time I will tell you about our secret family BBQ rub and how to barbecue a pretty darn good Boston Butt. Tonight I think your mom is cooking, which usually means pizza…

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Magic Monster Flaming (Buffalo) Wings.

Did you ever notice how life sometimes gets in the way of living? The past few months have kept me out of the kitchen, away from the BBQ and unable to Eat Ugly. I am realizing now, with winter approaching, just how much I miss cooking and writing. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping. New England is not the ideal place for year round BBQ. Although a little snow has never stopped me from firing up the pit; it does make things a little more difficult. With the cold weather I tend to crave one pot meals. Chili, stew, pot roast and braised beef are always much tastier in the autumn months. Unfortunately, I am not quite ready for these foods. I need BBQ now. Not BBQ from a restaurant; BBQ from my own backyard.

I have been obsessing about how to BBQ on a week night. I am usually unable to get home from work until 3:00 on early days and there is no way Anthony or my bride will wait the six or so hours it takes me to whip up some chicken and ribs. Plus by the time Anthony I travel to and from the meat mongers it would be at least 4:30. Between car seats, trying to explain to the young person behind the counter what I want, and having the real butcher finally recognize me (only to give me grief for buying my meat at the wholesale club) it will be closer to dusk. I am in quite a pickle as Anthony often tries to say. Then, out of no where a bolt of BBQ genius struck from the heavens. It was as if the BBQ muses themselves traveled from Olympus to guide me through my midweek barbecuing dilemma. “What about parking lot BBQ” I chuckled aloud and shook my fists at the clouds like Dr. Frankenstein in triumph.

I dug out my faithful and secret tailgating journal. Ok, it’s a collection of bar napkins and flaps of Sam Adam’s boxes with my favorite football recipes scribbled on them. Some day it will be a book, but for now it’s just my private little collection of BBQ goodness. I began to recall a monster experiment we conduct a few years back with November’s favorite fowl. A staple at all of our tailgating opportunities is always Buffalo wings. A few years ago, around Thanksgiving, I decide (I am sure I was not the first person to think of it, in fact I vaguely recall Bobby Flay in a stadium parking lot somewhere…) to use turkey wings instead of chicken wings to make the spicy snacks. Anyway, why not use a similar method to make some quick week night BBQ. I also just received two new tasty product samples that are begging for the care and nurturing only my smoker can provide.

The prior might just the best thing about owning a website that specializes in BBQ and fiery foods. I have an endless supply of sauces, spices and rubs at my chubby little fingertips. When I don’t have the time or desire to mix up my own I just hit the stock room, the perfect situation for speedy weeknight fare. Anyway, I am starting to “boar” myself, so let me just get to the recipe for my Magic Monster Flaming Fowl Wings.

This recipe combines the best of both worlds as it exists somewhere between grilling, indirect cooking and barbecuing. These mammoth Buffalo wings take about an hour and half from grill to table and manage to pick up a great amount of smoke for such a short time. Plus once they are on the grill they only have to be tended to 3 or 4 times. They practically cook themselves. What is sacrificed is the tenderness that usually comes with true BBQ, but this a small price to pay for flavor that rivals greatness.


Before I even think about starting the coal and prepping the grill I remove the meat from the refrigerator and season it. For these wings I used The Hog’s Tuxedo rub. I rub it only liberally and let it sit in the excess until the grill is ready. Once the turkey wings are properly seasoned I head out to get my Weber kettle started. Oh, reserve the sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

The Grill:

  • 1 full chimney of lump charcoal (briquettes work, but don’t provide the same heat)
  • 2++ large handfuls of dry apple wood chips or 3++ chunks (or your favorite smoking wood)

Once the coal is ready pour/pile it on the left (or right) side of the grill. Add the dry apple wood chips directly to the hot coals. Place the cooking grate back down and place the turkey legs as far away for the heat as possible. Cover the grill making sure the air vents are over the wings.

The Process:

Let the wings cook for about 40 minutes. There is no need to peak or even touch the grill during this time. Cook for about 40 minutes, turn the wings over, cover and cook for another 20 minutes. At the end of the hour brush on a good amount of BBQ sauce, cover, and cook for about 10 more minutes. Turn the wings over, brush again with BBQ sauce, cover and cook for the final 10 minutes. The wings should be done, but I always check the temperature (170˚) when working with poultry. Remove the savory snacks from the heat, let rest for 10 minutes and serve with a sprinkle of rub and the remaining sauce on the side.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Rookie Mistake

Ok, I was planning on spending the day Sunday barbecuing and watching football. The Patriots were away and I was finally going to have 12 hours to just relax and worship the BBQ gods. Butt, (pun intended) Mother Nature didn’t feel I was worthy and dumped a whole bunch of rain on my parade. Anyway, my plan to fire up the smoker and test out my prized discovery of Wicked Good Charcoal Competition Blend will have to wait.

Yes, I said Competition Blend. For those of you who have been following the saga I finally got my paws on a bag of the mythical and magical lump coal blend. How, you ask, did I finally come to possess this rare and wonderful ingredient? It was in my garage. I figure it has been sitting there for about 15 months hidden among all of my good intentions and cobwebs. If I remember correctly the story is somewhat entertaining.

For the Forth of July 2005 my mother decided she wanted to learn how to use a water smoker. You see, for the years prior I would make barbecued ribs and chicken and of course man the grill. In 2005 my mom decided she wanted the glory that real BBQ brings to every backyard chef and I was demoted from pit master to pit crew. Anyway, about a week before the party I helped her buy her very own Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker. I also had her pick up a couple bags of lump charcoal when she purchased the WSM. I didn’t specify what brand and she just bought what ever the store had in stock. At the time I really didn’t understand the whole charcoal thing. In fact I had just started using lump myself.

The night before the party I went to my folk’s house to help mom mix the rub and dry marinate her ribs and chicken. Before I left that evening we carefully recorded the steps of the barbecuing process in her first BBQ journal. She was my first student and possibly the one to blame for this blog. I tried to tell her everything from how to light the charcoal, to what to put in the water pan, to how a "beer timer” works. All was ready to go and I figured I was just down the street if she had any trouble in the morning. I returned home confident and somewhat relieved that I could sleep in. Little did I know we should have practiced lighting the charcoal.

My phone rang for the first time around 6:00 AM. Mom couldn’t get the charcoal to light and dad was about to douse it with lighter fluid. The one thing I forbid them to use was lighter fluid. I explained once again how to use the chimney over the phone and volunteered to head over and help get things started. Mom declined my invitation and I went back to sleep. At 6:30 the phone rang again. They still couldn’t get it lit and were now getting worried that the food wouldn’t be done in time for their guests. Dad was again threatening to use the fluid and didn’t understand why charcoal chimneys and lighter fluids don’t mix. And trust me they don’t.

I arrived in the backyard at around 7:30AM and the smoker was just coming up to temperature. Mom was bringing out the ribs and chicken, a bit tentatively, and dad was walking toward us from the side of the house clutching a bag of briquettes. You know the ones in the blue and white bag. He gave me a smile and informed me about the two bags of lump charcoal already it the back of my truck. Well those two bags ended up on a high shelf in the very back of my garage. It’s amazing how much I have learned about BBQ over the past year. It is even more amazing how much I still have to learn. A rookie mistake over a year ago has allowed me to truly appreciate what I now know is a gift from the BBQ gods.

Anyway, if you’re driving buy and you smell the sweet sweet smoke come on back, say hi and have a taste. There’s always plenty.