Thursday, April 10, 2008

Charcoal or Gas? What kind of grill to buy?

Ah, the age old debate. Well maybe not age old, but for some time. I am not sure who made the first gas grill, but according to this timeline, Weber made their first one in 1971. Their first kettle was made in 1952. So, a decision that every grilling guy has had to make since 1971, gas or charcoal?

I have both and don't use either as much as I want to. I do however use them both about the same amount probably over the course of a year.

Let's examine the aspects of grilling and the pros and cons associated with each type.

I'm hungry, let's cook something outside for dinner. Well, how much time do we have? Getting the grill started and ready to cook on takes at least a half an hour or longer to get up to temp. I like to fire up my charcoal in a chimney then when lit transfer to the grill. From there I put the lid on it because I want to sterilize the cooking grate. With the gas grill I turn all the burners on high for about 5 minutes to sterlize the cooking surface and then turn it down to where I want it and voila! The gas grill wins this contest.

Off-set cooking. My gasser has three burners from left to right. I can turn on just the left or both the left and right and cook in the middle at indirect temperatures. My Weber has 2 baskets under the grill that hold a nice pile of lit coals and allow me to cook in the center as well. Both do a great job of off-set cooking so this one is a draw.

Direct cooking Goes pretty much the same way as that is exactly what they were both designed for, so I will give them a draw on that one as well.

Fuel cost. I think right now a 20 pound bag of kingsford goes for around 8 dollars. Depending on what I am cooking on the grill I am probably going to get up to 6 cooks out of that bag. That would be for just some quick grilling. The last time I filled my my propane tanks, I believe the price was 12.50 each. For some quick grilling I am looking at probably in the neighborhood of at least 25 cooks, maybe more off of one tank. So price wise, The gasser wins out in this round. You will have people say bad things about running out of propane, but guess what, you can run out of charcoal as well. I have 5 tanks. When I get down to 3 empty ones, I fill those up.

Here is the big one, the cooked product. You definately get some good flavors coming off of those briquets (or hardwood lump or what ever type of charcoal you are using). To combat this, grill makers are using flavorizer bars or a similar type of item. In essence, it is a plate that gets nice and hot over the fuel source. The drippings from whatever you are cooking hit this and put off smoke that helps to flavor the meat. In my opinion they both put out a pretty good product, but I think I am going to have to give a slight edge to the charcoal grill on this one.

Well, it looks like they stack up fairly close. I'd call it a tie even. Except for one missing category.

Nostalgia. When it comes to nostalgia, the charcoal grill is going to have to win over the gas grill. I don't remember when dad switched to a gas grill, but I do remember him firing up the charcoal grill. I remember an old black plastic container with charcoal in it that we had around the house that had to be fetched when it was time to fire up the grill. If anyone knows where I can find one of these, I would love to know where I can get one. It was designed specifecally for that purpose.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in a rub?

Well, first things first. What IS a rub? From we get the following.

Spice rub is any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of being rubbed on raw food before the food is cooked. The spice rub forms a coat on the food. The food can be marinated in the spice rub for some time for the flavors to incorporate into the food or it can be cooked immediately after it is coated in the rub. The spices are usually coarsely ground. In addition to spices, salt and sugar may be added to the rub, the salt for flavor and the sugar for caramelization. The simplest rub is just coarsely ground black pepper as in Steak au poivre.

Spice rubs can also have ingredients like herbs, crushed garlic or oil added to make a paste. The spice rub can be left on or partially removed before cooking.

OK, now we know what a rub is, let's look into what makes a good rub. When I am doing pulled pork, I use a very basic rub consisting of fairly equal parts salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne. Probably about half a part on the cayenne now that I think about it. I do it this way because we give it a sprinkle of seasoning salt as we make up sandwiches for selling and that completes the complex flavors typically found in a rub.

When I do my ribs I use a very complex rub that has a very nice finish. I don't use sugar in the rub itself, but rather apply a rub of just brown sugar prior to my final rub. For other cuts I tend to use a rub that contains some or all of the following in no particular order. Sugar (a must) salt (just a bit, too easy to over do), celery powder, garlic, onion, cayenne, MSG (yes MSG, it's fantastic stuff), paprika (mainly for color), black pepper (maybe white), thyme, oregano, cinnamon (a must in my rib rub), various dried peppers (depending on how much heat I want), and the list goes on.

If you are interested in making your own rubs I would suggest getting a book with lots of rub recipes as a starting point. It will give you a good idea of what goes good together and what spices compliment what meats. And may save you time and money rather than completely throwing out batches and starting over again. Start with something very basic and build from there. You will have your very own signature rub before you know it.

These days there is no shortage of rubs available to the consumer who knows where to look. I usually have a handful of these in my kitchen at all times, because I know how good they are and will get consistant results with them. What's on my counter right now that gets lots of use? Spicewine's Hen and Hog dust, Spicewines Heffer dust, and Plowboy's yardbird rub to name a few. There are others, but I know these guys, their product is good, and I'll get a plug in for them whenever I can.

Applying a rub. Well, there are two types of rubs. Wet and dry. Wet normally is the consistancy of paste to much thinner and you simply slather it on and rub it in. Such as this Walker's Wood jerk seasoning. I was in Jamaica in January and had the pleasure of visiting their factory. It is a great set up. Most of the ingredients come from a co-op of local farmers and they put out some great product.

Dry rubs are just like they sound. A mixture of dry spices and ingredients. In many cases you can sprinkle on evenly or pour it on and rub it in. You can also apply a wet ingredient before applying the rub. I typically don't do this, but occasionally will slop something on there first. With ribs I will use a splash of cider vinegar. Brisket I may use a little terriyaki, a pork butt may benefit from some pineapple juice. These can be slathered on first, or mixed with the dry rub and then applied in essence making a wet rub. Other slathers that I have heard of being used may include mayonnaise, salad dressing, olive oil, mustard or a whole slew of other imaginative compounds. I recommend against the mustard. Some say they can't taste it, but I can taste when it was used and I don't like mustard.

Thanks for looking.

Monday, April 7, 2008

More fun food facts

The strongest any liquor can be is 190 proof. This means the drink is a little more than 97 percent alcohol.

The original filling in Twinkies was banana. It was replaced by vanilla-flavored cream during World War II, when the United States experienced a banana shortage.

If Jell-O is hooked up to an EEG (heart monitor), it registers movements virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult.

Honey is believed to be the only food that does not spoil. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs has been tasted by archaeologists and found to still be edible.

Popcorn has been a food product for over 6,000 years.

A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continually from the bottom of the glass to the top.

The French cooked fish soup in a kettle called a chaudière, and from it comes the word chowder.

The above is all from

FROZEN PIZZAThe earliest print reference we find to manufactured frozen pizza (in the USA) is patent 2,688,117, "Method for Making Frozen Pizza," filed by Jo Bucci, Philadelphia PA, August 10, 1950. We also find evidence of refrigerated pizza products penetrating grocery stores. It was just a matter of time before frozen pizzas were competing with TV Dinners for space on the consumer's ubiquitous living room feeding tray. Source: The food timeline

Who would have guessed that the idea for "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies was born in the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War? Legend has it that on a trip to Spain, Forrest Mars Sr. encountered soldiers who were eating pellets of chocolate that were encased in a hard sugary coating to prevent them from melting. Inspired by this idea, Mr. Mars went back to his kitchen and invented the recipe for "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies.
First sold to the public in 1941, "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies became a favorite of American GIs serving in World War II. Packaged in cardboard tubes, "M&M's"® Plain Chocolate Candies were sold to the military as a convenient snack that traveled well in any climate. By the late 1940's, they became widely available to the public, who gave them an excellent reception. In 1948, the packaging changed from a tube form to the characteristic brown pouch known today.
Source: M&M


Well I did a mess of ribs yesterday. Forgot to get any pictures until they were ready for wrapping in foil. The next time I do some I will get more pictures and do a step by step.

I now have a photobucket account and can include more pics with any stories or instructionals.

I definately have a learning curve on this new cooker and I will need to get that straightened out before I can reliably use it for any potential catering jobs. I figure one more time should get me pretty close.

I used my signature rib rub on these and for some reason, the flavor did not come out as strong as it normally does. I'm going to have to figure that one out. I just mixed up the batch from all fresh ingredients. I am thinking that it is quite possible that the temperatures were higher than I am used to and it may have changed the flavor profile of my rub. I know it went higher than I usually try to maintain a few times and for longer than I cared to.

I smoked them over apple wood. The apple wood came through very nice and lent a pleasant sweet smoke to the end product.