Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Memorial Day is the day when Americans honor the fallen, and it’s also the unofficial beginning of Summer here. This year, as usual at our house, it was a weekend of cooking outside.

On Friday evening, we had some friends over and I cooked New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes and roasted asparagus on the Weber Genesis. For an appetizer, I baked a wheel of Brie with herbs and a wedge of Havarti with Blackberry Jam on a cedar plank.

Saturday we took a break from cooking and cleared out some of the delicious leftovers. Sunday morning, we drove down to Friends Creek Cemetery where my parents are buried, leaving some flowers. It was nice to see that the place is still well kept.

Sunday afternoon Claudia’s folks joined us for dinner. I used the rotisserie on the Weber Kettle for the first time this year to roast a chicken. It turned out tasty and perfect, with lots of hickory smoke flavor. The drip pan potatoes were a hit, as always, and I also grilled some roastin’ ears on the Genesis.

Monday, it was cowboy cooking. First, there was my wife’s favorite baked beans from her Aunt Nancy’s recipe. Wolfe Pit cole slaw and Hidden Valley potato wedges cooked on the plancha rounded out the side dishes. The more I cook on the plancha, the more I like it. It adds a crispy crust to everything from potatoes to burgers, and it helps to hold the heat steady on the Genesis which is great when you’re using it as an oven.

The star of the show was Grownup Sloppy Joes from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling by Jamie Purviance. This time, I seared then smoked the roast with Cherry and Hickory on the Kettle, and did the braising in a Lodge cast iron dutch oven over on the Genesis.

By the time everything was finished, I’d been on my feet all day and was pretty beat, but a nice glass of Petite Sirah from Lodi served as a fine restorative. The bold flavor was a perfect match to all the smoke and char of the barbecue. The folks joined us again and we had a lovely time. We’d been expecting my sons to join us as well, but they weren’t able to make it. I wish I could have emailed the smoky smell of the patio while the roast was on the Kettle.

The only dish from the entire weekend that needs work is the cole slaw. We eventually added some additional cider vinegar and sugar, because it ended up a little flat and salty tasting. I doubt that it’s the fault of the recipe. I cut it in half, and may have screwed up the proportions along the way.

It’s one of the joys of life to turn out a decent meal to share with people you love, and cooking outdoors is a feast for the senses from start to finish. I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a long weekend.

Rotisserie Chicken on the Genesis

rotisserie-chicken-genesis

We usually light the Weber Kettle for rotisserie chicken, but last week I cooked one on the gas grill and it turned out perfect. I used a couple cups full of hickory chips, which helped. I took the bird off the spit after about an hour, and then put it on a foil pan to finish indirect.

2015 Kettle Rotisserie Inaugural

Yesterday for Sunday Dinner I cooked on the Weber Kettle rotisserie for the first time this year. I didn’t allow for the cooler ambient temperature, so I had to move the chicken and drip pan potatoes over to the Genesis gas grill for about ten minutes at the end to finish them, but everything turned out great.

We especially enjoyed the appetizer: some mini peppers stuffed with cream cheese, herbs de provence and shredded parm that I grilled for a few minutes on the Genesis, using a pepper rack.

We had a bottle of Charles Smith Columbia Valley Chardonnay with the peppers, and a Chilean Chardonnay with the meal. Claudia made crescent rolls and her famous Wulff Salad, and also served corn with the chicken and potatoes. It was cherry pie for dessert.

This rotisserie chicken with drip pan potatoes is one of our favorite meals. I was happy that even though I ran into difficulty because of the weather, I knew how to recover and turn out a decent plate.

Rotisserie Chicken

Rotisserie Chicken

When my wife gave me a rotisserie attachment for our Weber Kettle at Christmas 2012, the first thing I cooked on it was a whole chicken. After a year of experience, I think I’ve finally mastered the process.

I cooked a five pound chicken for Sunday dinner this week, and it turned out better than any I’ve ever made or tasted. I dry brined with salt and pepper on Saturday evening, then sprinkled on some Herbs de Provence and garlic powder before it went on the grill. It took a little over an hour to cook. We served it with drip pan potatoes, salad and green beans.

Learning this recipe changed my entire approach to cooking on the Weber. If you’re interested in the rotisserie, take a look at Mike Vrobel’s blog. His book is the bible on rotisserie cooking outdoors.

So, How’d The Turkey Turn Out?

So, How'd The Turkey Turn Out?

My apologies for not posting this earlier. I’m sure that you’ve been waiting impatiently to hear how our Thanksgiving Turkey turned out on the rotisserie.

I did make some adjustments from the trial run, using a fresh turkey, taking care to properly dry brine and stuff the bird, using hickory wood for smoke, and icing the breast prior to cooking to help keep it rarer. After the charcoal was nearly gone under the rotisserie, I moved the turkey to the gas grill to finish cooking so that I could use a probe thermometer to monitor doneness more easily.

In short, it turned out really well. Here are just a couple of observations.

1) I’m not sure that I’d spend the money on a fresh bird again. This one turned out better than the trial run bird, but I’m not sure that it can be attributed to a fresh bird. I expected it to be “out of this world” better than any turkey I’d ever tasted, and it just wasn’t. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing notable in texture or taste that is distinctive to it not having been frozen. If a frozen bird is good enough for Alton Brown, I’ll save myself $60 next year.

2) My wife thought this was the best turkey she’d ever tasted. My father-in-law thought that the dark meat was a little dry. I thought that the doneness and texture was perfect, but it was missing a savoriness for me. This may be because I’m used to turkeys that come “pre-basted.” We’ll see if next time the combination of pre-basting for flavor and my own dry brining for additional flavor and texture will strike the right balance. The worst thing you can say about a Butterball or other pre-basted bird is that you’re essentially paying for brine. As cheap as supermaket birds are, I won’t object to that.

Part of the issue may be that I’m comparing the rotisserie turkey to rotisserie chicken, which always seems to turn out mouth-watering delicious. I want the turkey to be like that. Guess we’ll just have to keep working at it.

Or maybe I should cook chickens for Thanksgiving next year.

Boston Butt on the Rotisserie

Pork RoastMy wife brought home a six pound pork roast on Saturday, and we hadn’t planned Sunday Dinner yet, so I decided to roast it on the rotisserie. I adapted the recipe from the Weber iPad App for Rotisserie Pork Roast with Bourbon Mop. As it turns out, I ended up using some leftover apple juice and vinegar for the mopping, but I did use something akin to the rub from the recipe, and it made a beautiful crust.

  • 2 t Black Pepper
  • 2 t Mustard
  • 2 T Turbinado Sugar
  • 1 t Onion Powder
  • 1 t Garlic Powder
  • 1 t Paprika
  • 1 T Kosher Salt

I trussed the roast and then spread the rub on generously, covered with plastic and put it in the fridge overnight. Here’s a shot of the roast, trussed and rubbed.

boston-butt-rubbed

Sunday around Noon, I lit an entire chimney of Kingsford and divided it into two piles on either side of the charcoal grate with an aluminum drip pan in between them. The water from soaking apple chips went in to the pan, along with some apple juice and a bottle of Schlitz. After the grill preheated, I added the chips to the coals, placed the rotisserie spit with the roast in place and started the motor.

After the first hour, I started basting the roast with my apple juice and vinegar solution, giving it a good dousing every twenty minutes or so.

After about two and a half hours, the internal temperature of the meat was around 140 F, and my charcoal was nearly gone, so I moved the roast over to a pan in the middle of the gas grill, with side burners on medium and the center burner off. I kept the temperature of the grill around 370, and once the meat was up to 180 (measured by a dual probe thermometer) I took it off to rest under a foil tent until it was time to serve.

My wife had prepared some red potatoes and some Brussels sprouts for roasting, so once the meat was off I turned up the grill a bit and roasted them with a little olive oil, salt and cracked pepper. A nice fresh salad with Wulff family vinaigrette was the finishing touch to a wonderful meal.

roasted-brussels-sprouts garden-salad-wulff-dressing

It was nice to have my sons joining us for the weekend, and for the meal. I’m hoping that one day if they decide to try their hand at outdoor cooking, I’ll be able to pass along some recipes and techniques. If nothing else, the memories of their dad standing out by a Weber Kettle ought to be fairly vivid.

Pork Loin Char Siu

Pork Loin Char Siu

My Mother-In-Law had brought me a nice pork loin awhile back for cooking on the rotisserie, and this past week we decided to get it out of the deep freeze and cook it for Sunday dinner. I began researching recipes and ran across several for Char Siu, which is a Chinese pork barbecue. The literal translation is “fork roast” meaning roasted on a skewer. This sounded like just what I was after.

After a little refined searching, I found Trader Vic’s recipe for the dish. Although obviously Americanized (the marinade includes ketchup), it seemed easy enough to prepare with ingredients that were readily available to me, and recipes from Vic’s have always pleased my palate in the past.

The loin was about 5 3/4 pounds, so the first problem that presented itself was that I didn’t have anything large enough to marinate it in. I had seen in one of my reference books (Weber’s Way To Grill) that you can tie two pieces of loin together with butcher’s twine to make a properly sized roast for the rotisserie, so I cut the pork in half, removed much of the fat cap, and placed it in a gallon ziplock bag with equal parts ketchup, sugar, Soy Sauce and Hoisin (about half a cup of each). It marinated in the refrigerator overnight.

About an hour before cooking, I removed it from the fridge, trussed it together with the fat toward the outside and put it on the skewer, taking care to get the tines into both pieces of the roast. I cooked it over indirect high heat on the Weber Kettle with some Hickory chips on the charcoal.

Char Siu on Rotisserie

After about 50 minutes, it was getting close to 140 degrees (my target temperature was 140-150). At this point I removed it from the rotisserie, cut off the twine, and placed it fat side down in a 9×13 pan on the gas grill over indirect medium-high heat (about 450). I kept a close eye on the probe thermometer, and when the internal temperature of the meat topped 140, I removed it and brought it in to rest at room temperature. I toasted some sesame seeds and sprinkled them over the top of the roasts as a finishing touch.

We served this with mustard and sweet/sour sauce as condiments, with awesome garlic mashed potatoes and sweet corn that my wife had prepared as side dishes. She said later that it was the best pork she’d ever tasted in her life.

The flavor was quite a bit more subdued than I had anticipated. It was just sweet enough and just savory enough, with none of the strong flavors in the marinade overpowering the dish. The meat was perfectly done, juicy and tender. This is definitely a recipe that I’ll make time and again.

Turkey on the Rotisserie

turkey-on-rotisserie

In preparation for this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner, I roasted a whole turkey on the rotisserie over the weekend. In some ways, this is one of the most challenging things to cook, since it’s difficult to get the dark meat done enough without overcooking the breast.

Overall, it turned out just “alright.” Having done a marvelous job with a turkey breast awhile back, and a series of awesome whole chickens, I expected this to be over-the-top delicious. It certainly wasn’t bad, especially for a first attempt, but there are several things I would do differently next time.

1) Use a fresh turkey. The frozen turkey I cooked was “pre-basted.” This sounds like it would be a good thing, but it’s actually not. The addition of a brine solution prior to freezing actually changes the texture and taste of the bird in a way that is inferior to proper dry brining. For Thanksgiving, I’ll look for a locally raised fresh turkey.

2) Take more care with the seasoning and brining. Because the turkey was pre-basted, I didn’t want to overdo my own seasoning, particularly the salt. I limited my efforts to a little kosher salt, black pepper and herbs de provence rubbed on the skin a couple hours prior to roasting. I also didn’t stuff the cavity, thinking that this was a “dry run” anyway, and the additional aromatics wouldn’t add much. Next time, I’ll take care to properly dry brine a fresh turkey the day before, and to add plenty of citrus, onions, garlic, etc. to the cavity before cooking. My wife usually works some olive oil under the skin just prior to putting the bird in the oven as well. Although the rotisserie helps to keep food moist through self-basting, we may try her trick as well.

3) Choose your smoke wisely. I’ve been on a Cherry wood kick lately, loving the subtly sweet flavor it added to pork ribs and beef roast. In the case of turkey, I think a bolder smoke flavor would have been nice. I’ll likely use Apple, Hickory, or a mixture of the two next time.

4) I need an ice pack. One of the tricks Mike Vrobel suggests when roasting turkey on the rotisserie is to put an ice pack on the breast while it comes to room temperature before going on the grill. This has the effect of increasing the cooking time for the white meat, and allowing the legs and thighs to get up to well done without overcooking the breast. It’s listed as an “optional” step in his instructions, but I’ll definitely use it next time. The breast turned out alright, but the dark meat could have cooked just a bit longer to achieve “fall off the bone” tenderness.

A friend of mine sensed my disappointment in describing the meal as “alright” and commented that every meal doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I suppose that’s right, although as much time and effort as goes into this particular dish, I’ll want to get it perfect next time. I think the adjustments mentioned above will make it worthy of our Thanksgiving table.

Let’s Talk Turkey

For Christmas of 2012, my wife gave me a rotisserie attachment for my Weber Kettle Grill. I’d wanted one for a long time, though the $150 price tag seemed a little too extravagant. The notion of roasting food on a spit, like the honeymoon scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, has always seemed romantic to me, and once the rotisserie arrived I could hardly wait to fire up the coals and roast something amazing with it. There was one problem. I had absolutely no idea how to cook with it.

I mean, of course I knew that the spit goes through what you’re cooking and you turn the motor on and it spins – but I didn’t know anything else about the process or preparing food for the rotisserie, how to set up the grill, how long to cook things, etc.

Luckily, in addition to a book on rotisserie cooking that was also under our tree for me, I did a little online search and found Mike Vrobel’s book Rotisserie Grilling and his site, Dad Cooks Dinner. I’ve come to think of Mike as the authoritative source on the subject, and his are among the first resources I turn to when I am researching something I haven’t cooked before. His dry-brined rotisserie chicken was the very first thing I cooked on my kettle rotisserie, and it’s still one of my favorite dishes.

One of the next things I tried was a turkey breast, and it was so delicious that my wife decided I should be responsible for our Thanksgiving turkey this year. Since a whole turkey involves a lot of special setup and variables, we figured it would require a test run, so that’s what I’m doing this coming Sunday.

Vrobel’s step-by-step advice on the matter will obviously be the game plan for the day, beginning with his demonstration of how to truss and spit the bird. Since I’ve had good luck with chickens and with the turkey breast, I’m expecting the whole turkey to be wonderful, but there is one further thing I have to learn between now and Sunday – how to carve.

I know. One might expect that at 56 years of age a guy would know how to carve a turkey, but through the years we always seemed to travel to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, and over the last decade or so, my wife’s father was always with us to carve. Honestly, I’ve been a bit timid in the face of the pressure. So I never learned. In fact, even for more pedestrian fare, I tend to shove off the carving duties onto my wife. Lack of confidence is an awful thing.

Finally I am determined to do it despite my insecurities, and (thankfully) I ran across this video from the New York Times a few years ago, and happened to have logged the URL. They make it look simple.

Wish me luck!

The Kentucky Hot Brown

Kentucky Hot Brown SandwichFor Sunday Dinner each week we do our best to prepare a special meal and usually invite my wife’s parents to join us. After seeing a recent Throwdown episode where Bobby Flay traveled to Louisville, I decided to try my hand at Kentucky Hot Browns this past weekend, and to cook as much of the dish as possible on the grill.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Hot Brown, it’s an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich with Mornay Sauce that originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. It’s since taken its place alongside such regional delights gone large as The Manhattan, The Monte Cristo, The Reuben and The Horseshoe which are all now legendary sandwiches around the world. In fact, Flay notes that it’s one of his own most favorite sandwiches.

Here’s how I prepared our version.

I started with a seven-and-a-half-pound turkey breast, cooking it on the rotisserie atop my Weber Kettle grill, using skills and methods I learned from the authoritative book on the subject, Rotisserie Grilling by Mike Vrobel. I would highly recommend that you read the book, but you can get the short course on rotisserie turkey breast over on his Website.

I used Mike’s basic process and recipe, then added some Herbs de Provence to the bird before grilling and a cup of Hickory chips to the coals. The smell of the smoke and charcoal, and the sound of drippings vaporizing as they hit the drip pan were marvelous as I enjoyed my Sunday morning coffee.

Once the breast was off the spit and resting, I warmed up the Weber Genesis gas grill to cook some thick cut bacon. I’d never tried it on the grill before, but it worked out perfectly. I used a large foil roasting pan that we had left over from last Thanksgiving, arranging the bacon across the bottom, and cooking it over medium-high indirect heat (side burners on medium-high, middle burner off, and the pan in the middle of the grill). I watched the bacon pretty carefully, turning it every few minutes with tongs until it was done.

Now it was time for the cheese sauce. One of our favorite pasta dishes is Giada De Laurentis’ Baked Rigatoni with Béchamel Sauce, and I decided to borrow the sauce from that recipe. It’s actually a Mornay sauce, since you add grated cheese to the Béchamel. In this case, I used a wedge of Fontinella that happened to be on hand. My wife helped to tend the sauce while I grilled some thick tomato slices (a little olive oil, pepper and kosher salt) and warmed up some Texas Toast on the Genesis.

Since I’m terrible at carving — I know, it’s a character flaw — she also sliced some nice thick cuts of the turkey breast, and we were ready to assemble our Hot Browns. We split a piece of toast diagonally for each plate, heaped the turkey on top along with two of the tomato slices, covered it all with the Mornay Sauce and then added a couple of the crisp bacon rashers criss-crossing over the whole mess.

The result was one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. The turkey was done to perfection. I had checked the temperature a little early while it was grilling, and that was fortunate because it had already hit 160 degrees, which is where you want it for the peak of juicy tenderness. The cheese sauce was incredibly rich and thick, the tomatoes added a bright counterpoint to the other savory flavors, and the bacon…oh, my.

We served these with some green beans and onions that were also cooked on the grill (in a foil packet with some of the bacon grease) and a wonderful salad with my wife’s family recipe vinaigrette.

There are a couple of things that I might do differently the next time I make Hot Browns (which will likely be standard fare in our home on Derby Day in the years to come). Firstly, a little cayenne in the cheese sauce might have been nice. Secondly, I think the whole dish could benefit from just a few moments under the broiler after assembly to get the cheese bubbling and bring all the flavors together. I reckon that these two additions ought to take the recipe about as far as it can go, as it was awfully good without them.

The only downside to the whole experience is that my wife liked the turkey so much, she asked again when I’m going to practice with a whole turkey on the rotisserie in anticipation of this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Help! Mike!