Ribs for Fathers Day 2016

plated-ribs-fathers-day-2016For Fathers Day this year I did another long cook. Our Jewel store had St. Louis Cut Spareribs on sale two racks for the price of one, so ribs it was.

I started the Weber Kettle early in the day, setting it up with ten unlit coals on each side of a foil pan filled about halfway with water. I added four or five lit coals to each side, along with some apple and hickory chunks. One bottom vent was wide open, one completely closed and one open about halfway. Top vent was wide open as well.

Once the temperature stabilized at around 250 F, I put the slabs on a rib rack over the drip pan. I’d seasoned them the night before with my usual rub recipe. From then on it was a matter of monitoring the temperature and spraying the ribs each hour with a mist of apple juice, cider vinegar and coffee. After three hours, I wrapped them in foil and moved them to the Genesis to finish.

kettle-smokingThere’s something magical and Zen-like about a long cook. The smell of the smoke and the sight of it wafting over the patio is an experience unto itself. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve acquired the skill necessary to maintain an even temperature over several hours of cooking, and the other fairly specific skills needed to turn out a perfect plate of ribs. The pace of the cook affords time for relaxation and proper anticipation of the delicious meal to come.

We’re in the Gray Farms CSA this year, and one of the cool things about it is that we get a lot of produce that we likely wouldn’t think to try otherwise. It’s like this lovely surprise package every week. This week, we had both turnips and collards, which neither of us had ever cooked before. We diced the turnips and roasted them on the plancha, and the collards we cooked in a Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven on the Genesis. I cooked up some onions and garlic in the pot for starters, then added the collards, a dried cayenne, some stock and a couple of smoked ham hocks and let them simmer for a long time.

These turned out really delicious and they’re something we’d definitely make again.

I also melted some Brie on a cedar plank with a little blackberry jam drizzled over the top for an appetizer.

It’s always a pleasure to cook for the folks on Sunday, but it was especially fun to do a full day of cooking for my wife’s dad on Fathers Day. Since my own father passed away when I was very young, I feel especially grateful to have a wonderful father-in-law in my life, and appreciate every chance we have to spend time with him.

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.

Argentine Asado Style Sunday Dinner

asado-dinner

This week for Sunday Dinner I had planned to do a long smoke with a less expensive alternative to beef brisket, a chuck roast. Having recently watched an episode of Barbecue Addiction where Bobby Flay did an Argentine cookout, I decided to try Chimmichurri sauce for the first time. The rest of the meal developed from research on typical Asado sides.

On Saturday night, I prepped the 3 pound roast with my usual rub. Since chuck is similar to brisket with a lot of connective tissue, it lends itself to a low and slow cook, so the plan was to cook it the same as I would a pork shoulder, with several hours at around 225 F on the Weber Kettle, than finishing it up wrapped in foil on the Genesis.

I also baked some polenta with parmigiana in a shallow two quart dish that night. It was the first time I’d ever made it, but it turned out great. I used this recipe from Martha Rose Shulman, adding some shredded Parm before the last stir and bake.

On Sunday morning, I set up the kettle with a water pan in the middle of the bottom grate and ten unlit coals on each side of it. Then I added eight lit coals and some Hickory and Cherry chunks.

water-smoker-setup-kettle

Once the Weber was up to 200 F and the top grate was clean, I placed the roast over the water pan, and kept an eye on the temperature, adjusting vents as needed to keep the grill around 225.

smoking-temp

I opened the grill at the end of each hour, adding coals and wood as needed, and checking the internal temp of the roast. I’d planned to take it up to 165 on the kettle, then wrap it in foil and move it to the gas grill to go up to 195, but I was delayed at the grocery store during the third hour and when I got back the coals in the kettle were completely cold. The roast only registered 135, but I wrapped it and moved it anyway.

The Chimmichurri sauce was dead easy. I put one bunch of flat leaf parsley (minus the stems) in a blender, along with some fresh oregano, ten chopped garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup of olive oil, a little diced red onion and some salt and pepper. Once it was blended smooth, I gave it a taste and it was a little hot, so I added about another 1/4 cup of canola (we were out of EVOO) and that tamed it some. I thought that the heat was coming from the garlic and onion, but realized later that it was the oregano. If I make the sauce again, I’d use dried oregano instead.

While the roast continued to cook, I cut the polenta into squares and grilled it on the plancha in the Genesis for three or four minutes per side with a little olive oil spray.

grilled-polenta

I also cut up a red bell pepper, a couple of zucchini and yellow squash, and the rest of the red onion and grilled them in a veggie basket. This mixed grill turned out to be the best thing about the meal, for me. The only seasoning was salt and pepper, but it was really delicious.

I grilled a few Andouille sausages as well, meant to be appetizers, although we ended up eating them with the meal instead.

The final side was a hunk of Provolone cheese, melted in an iron skillet on the Genesis with some Herbs de Provence. It turned out to be a combination of gooey and crispy goodness that we spread on slices of baguette.

provoleta

Mrs. Noe made a nice salad, and I also used some of the Chimmichurri as dressing for that.

The roast was tender and flavorful, although if I’d left it cook just awhile longer it might have been a little better. I’d hoped for fork tender so we could shred it, but settled for slicing into servings and bite-size chunks. In any case there weren’t any complaints around the table.

What Asado would be complete without Malbec? We served a 2011 Alambrado Gran Seleccion that was the perfect pairing – deep and fruity with nice soft tannins.

I’ve not smoked brisket because it’s so damnably expensive, but I can’t imagine it being more flavorful or tender than the chuck roast, at nearly triple the price. Perhaps once I have the technique down pat I’ll be tempted to try one, but in the meantime roast will be my go-to cut of beef for a long cook.

Prime Rib On The Grill for Christmas Dinner

prime-rib-on-the-grill

I made another run at Prime Rib for Christmas Dinner this year. I prepared and cooked it very much as I had the first time, except that I used apple and cherry wood for the smoke, and also I seasoned it the prior night to let it dry brine a bit.

Once again, this had a great flavor, and once again, it was tough in the middle (though cooked to the proper temperature). I can’t blame the cut, as this was from a great butcher shop in our county.

After researching again, I think I would cook lower and slower next time. Many of the instructions I saw online said 350 F, but I’m finding some now that say to cook the cut like you would brisket or pork shoulder.

Due to the cost, it’ll be awhile before I try this again, and I’ll want to experiment with a smaller roast next time. This one was over 13 pounds.

Turkey on the Kettle

This is the third year that I’ve cooked our Thanksgiving turkey on the Weber Kettle. It was the first time that I’ve done it without using the rotisserie attachment, and it turned out beautifully.

We dry brined the bird Wednesday evening with a mixture of kosher salt, cracked black pepper, Turbinado sugar, garlic powder and Herbs de Provence. I stuffed the turkey with onions and Mandarin oranges, then sprayed it with olive oil before placing it on the preheated grill over a drip pan containing a bottle of inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon. Hickory and Cherry chunks provided the smoke.

I started it breast side down, and flipped it over about an hour into cooking. The grill was running more than 400 F to start, and eventually leveled off to around 300. For a 13 pound bird, I’d estimated that it would take around 2 1/2 hours at these temperatures, and that was right on the money. The lowest temp in the breast was around 160 when we brought the turkey in and covered it with a foil tent to rest.

I strained the pan drippings and used them to make a simple gravy, starting with a roux and adding seasonings and some stock.

We served the J. Lohr Cab Sauv with the meal, and it was delicious, but I think I’d go with a Pinot Noir next time.

Smoking Pork Shoulder

For Sunday Dinner this week, we thawed a 5 1/2 pound pork shoulder roast and smoked it.

I used the same rub as usual, but varied the process a little this time. It turned out much easier to maintain a constant temperature between 200 and 250 F.

I put ten unlit charcoal briquettes on each side of a drip pan filled 3/4 with water. Then I lit six briquettes, and put three on each side, along with some apple and hickory chunks. One bottom vent was completely closed, another was about half way open and the third was slightly open. The top vent was wide open this time. I checked the roast every hour, turning it over each time and spraying it with a mop of apple juice, cider vinegar and brewed coffee. I also added some unlit coals and a couple more chunks of wood after about two hours.

After four hours, it was up to around 130 F at the center. I wrapped it tightly in foil and put it on the gas grill over indirect low-medium heat. After another couple hours it was between 195 and 200, and ready to come off and rest for an hour before serving.

This turned out really tender, but not quite as flavorful as usual. I think this was because the roast wasn’t completely thawed until morning on the day of the cook, so I didn’t get a chance to rub it down the day before. It still had a decent bark, but needed some sauce to kick it up a little.

We served it on buns with mustard potato salad, tangy slaw, bean salad and pasta salad as sides. I’d picked up a bottle of J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (on a great sale – only $13) and it paired well with the meal.

I’ve been wanting a Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker for quite awhile, but I’m beginning to think that it’s really not necessary. I’ll be tempted to try a beef brisket again before long.

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.

Smoked Beef Brisket

Smoked Beef Brisket

There are several cuts of meat that are almost synonymous with “barbecue” depending on region. In Texas, they’re known for brisket. Considered by some to be “The Mount Everest of Barbecue,” this was the last of the large cuts that I was determined to cook this Summer. As it turned out, we sat down to Sunday Dinner just as Autumn rolled in for 2013.

I prepared the 7.5 pound flat-cut brisket on Saturday evening, salting it, slathering yellow mustard and Worcestershire Sauce on it and then applying a homemade rub of 2 t paprika, 1 t black pepper, 1 T turbinado sugar, 1 t cumin, 1 t garlic powder, 1 t onion powder, 1 t nutmeg and 1t Herbs de Provence. Come Sunday morning I removed it from the refrigerator and set up the Weber Kettle, putting a foil drip pan full of water on one side of the charcoal rack and spreading a chimney full of unlit charcoal on the other side. I then lit about a third of a chimney of additional coals, and poured them on top of the unlit ones, adding some Hickory and Cherry chunks for smoke.

Once the grill was up to temperature, I put the brisket on over the drip pan, fat side up. Using a dual probe thermometer I received for my birthday, I did my best to keep the temperature in the grill to around 250 F, adjusting the vents as needed during four hours of cooking. Every hour or so, I sprayed the brisket with equal parts brewed coffee, dark beer, apple juice and cider vinegar. I also rotated and turned the meat to ensure even cooking. After four hours the meat was measuring 160 degrees, so I pulled it off, wrapped it in foil and put it in the gas grill on indirect heat (again, at 250) to finish. After another hour-and-a-half, the meat had risen to 195 degrees and was ready to come off. We let it rest inside the foil for another hour prior to serving.

It turned out moist and flavorful, though at this point I made a rookie mistake, cutting it with the grain to serve it. My wife noticed this later as she removed the fat cap to store the rest of the brisket. The part that she carved against the grain was much more tender to chew. She poured the juices that we had reserved from the foil packet over the leftovers. The beef was still delicious today for lunch.

We served the beef with grilled asparagus, and a wonderful green bean & red potato salad with Dijon dressing that she made.

Other than proper carving, next time I would use more smoke, more pepper and more salt. Also, I think I might be tempted to cook it just a bit longer in the foil to get it “melt in your mouth” tender. This was good for a first attempt though, and I wouldn’t be intimidated to cook this cut again.

Alder Smoked Salmon With Bourbon Sauce

Alder Smoked Salmon With Bourbon Sauce | Photo Friday

I’m not sure whence came the recipe for this one, although I suspect that it was one of Jamie Purviance’s books for Weber.

In any case, Alder Wood for salmon is one of my favorite smoke pairings.

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.

Farsi Chicken on the Grill

farsi-chicken

This is an incredibly simple recipe that turns out delicious, succulent chicken.

1) Soak chicken pieces in fresh lemon juice for half-an-hour or so.

2) Blot the chicken dry and marinate overnight in plain yogurt.

3) Wipe off the chicken, season lightly with salt and pepper, grill until done.

That’s it.

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!

Cherry Smoked Prime Rib

Rib Roast was on my short list to prepare on the Weber, and I finally got around to cooking one for dinner last Sunday. The approach was simple: rub the roast with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence; cook in a pan over indirect heat on the kettle with some cherry wood chunks; and, make some us jus gravy from the drippings.

I had my butcher cut a three-rib USDA Choice roast (about 7 1/2 pounds). Yes, there was some measure of sticker shock involved.

I’d watched several videos and studied dozens of recipes and blog posts on how to cook the cut, briefly considering the rotisserie. In the end, though, I decided to stick to the basics, setting up the grill for indirect cooking with half a chimney of charcoal split between two baskets, a pan of water in the middle to help moderate the heat, and a few chunks of wood for flavor. Once I got the grill stable at around 350 F, I put the roast in the center of the grill, on top of some soup bones spread out in a foil pan. I took it out of the pan when the internal temp measured 125, and covered with a foil tent to rest and finish coming up to rare.

Now it was time to make the gravy. Again, it was about as basic as you’ll find. I removed the soup bones, cut some shallot into thin slices and added it to the pan (still on the grill), stirring up the drippings until the shallot got melty. Then I added some additional salt, pepper and herbs, a dash or two of Worcestershire Sauce, 2/3 cup of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 1/3 cups of beef broth. I took this over to the gas grill and let it reduce over medium direct heat for awhile. I wouldn’t change anything about it.

The roast, on the other hand, was a little too rare for my taste. It had a wonderful flavor, and a nice crust, but the inside was just a bit chewy and red. If I ever cook this cut again, I’ll be tempted to take it up to 130. Although since I’m using an ancient analog meat thermometer, it’s possible that it was off a bit as well. I also think I would carve the roast a bit thinner next time, despite most recipes calling for half inch slices.

This wasn’t bad for a first attempt, and I wouldn’t change the overall approach next time. Maybe a little searing directly over the coals before placing the roast over indirect heat might have added something. In any case, it’ll be awhile before I feel like shelling out almost sixty bucks for a roast like this again – though it did serve five nicely, and there were leftovers for roast beef on our salads last night, plus a delicious soup made with the bones and unused broth.

St. Louis Style Ribs

St. Louis Style Ribs

Messy to eat and a lot of work to cook, ribs are what many people think of first when you mention the word “barbecue.” The ability to turn out competition quality ribs is what separates the serious outdoor cook from the dabbler. It requires the use of a multitude of techniques, along with precision in timing and temperature control from start to finish during an all-day process. When done correctly, the result is a complex of flavors and texture that cannot be found in any other dish.

I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of ribs. They’re like longhair music to me. I appreciate the artistry, but they’re just too much bother. I’d rather listen to light Chamber Music or Showtunes, and I’d rather eat pulled pork.

Still, the lure of developing the high-specific skills necessary to prepare the dish was too much for me, so I had to give them a try.

I won’t claim that they were the best ribs I’ve ever tasted, but they were certainly in the hunt. The meat came off the bone fairly easily, but it didn’t “fall off.” To me, this is the perfect doneness for ribs (although my wife would have preferred them more done). They were the rib equivalent of “al dente” pasta – tender and yielding to the tooth rather than overdone mush.

As to the flavor, that would be hard to top as well. As you can see from the photo above, there was a nice smoke penetration. They were well-seasoned (even unsauced), although I would use more rub next time and likely add some mustard before the rub to help create a denser bark.

We served these with a delicious cole slaw that my wife made, roasted garlic bread from Grammy, and some Texas Baked Beans that I made on the grill (my wife’s Aunt Nancy’s recipe).

What would I change? Not much. Other than the change with the rub mentioned above, I might leave them to braise a few minutes longer next time. I also might try my hand at making my own sauce.

I doubt that these ribs would win any medals, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve them to the champs. Not only that, the process itself was a pleasure. It’s hard to beat a cool, bright day spent with the sound of the Allman Brothers Band and the smell of Cherry wood drifting over the patio.

racks-of-ribs

My Plan For Ribs

Many, many years ago, I used to cook on a water smoker. It was a Brinkman Sportsman model, if memory serves. In addition to smoked salmon (caught on fishing trips to Lake Michigan), I liked to smoke a ham and a turkey on it for New Year’s Eve. The ham would go on the top rack, and its drippings would baste the turkey on the lower rack.

Since my wife is not a huge fan of smoked foods (nor of the smell of the smoking process) I haven’t replaced the smoker, which I abandoned in a move for various reasons more than a decade ago. Although either a Komado style ceramic smoker or a Weber Smokey Mountain is on my short list for future barbecue equipment purchases, since I decided to smoke some St. Louis Rib racks this weekend, I’ll have to cook them on my trusty Weber Kettle.

Here are the challenges.

1) I have no experience with the cut of meat. Other than the advice people give to cook them “low and slow” there are a lot of other parts of the process that seem shrouded in mystery, including “secret rub” recipes, methods with names like “minion” and “3/2/1” – and almost too many recipes and techniques out there to fathom. Should I slather the ribs with mustard before putting on the rub? Should I mop them, or not? Researching and sorting through the volumes of information on how to cook “championship” ribs has occupied most of my non-work waking hours for nearly two weeks.

2) By far, it looks like the biggest challenge will be that of controlling the heat on my Kettle to keep it in the 225 to 250 degree range, which most folks seem to agree is essential to cooking tender, mouth watering ribs. A water smoker would make this easier, but I’ll have to make do.

Here’s the plan.

1) I settled on a rub recipe based on dozens or so that I found in research. It includes paprika, black pepper, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, nutmeg, turbinado sugar and a little cayenne. I’ll salt the ribs and let them rest awhile before rubbing. I also may put some brown mustard on them to add flavor and help to adhere the rub.

2) I’ll spray the racks every hour or thereabouts with a combination of port wine and apple cider vinegar.

3) The grill setup will be a pile of charcoal on each side, with a drip pan full of water in the middle. I’ll start with four lit coals on each side, and let them ignite the others throughout the five or six hour cook time. This is the “minion” method mentioned above. I’ll also have to close the vents on the bottom of the kettle most of the way in order to slow the flow of oxygen to the fuel and keep the temperature low. Cherry wood chunks will provide the smoke, and I have a simple (analog) thermometer that I can place in a vent hole on the top of the kettle to monitor the temp. I figured that using the old style thermometer would help keep me from constantly fidgeting and tweaking over two-tenths of a degree here or there.

4) After three hours of cooking, I’ll get the ribs into some foil with a little dribble of the mop sauce and let them mostly finish cooking that way. I’ll take them back out and sauce them (with Sweet Baby Ray’s, of course) for the last 30 minutes or hour of cooking. Our friend, Ken, who turns out the tastiest rib tips I’ve ever eaten, says that I should put some chopped onions in the coals toward the end to help flavor the meat as well.

If it all goes well, Sunday dinner this week ought to be grand. We’ll have baked beans, slaw, and roastin’ ears as sides, and I suspect that I’ll be consuming a bit of a certain beverage brewed with hops.

I’ll likely be posting pictures of the process over on Instagram and Flickr, and will definitely have a full update here after we see how they turn out.

Wish me luck!