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Gearing Up for Memorial Day, Pt I

23 May

We can’t get enough of Serious Eats lately, they’ve really settled into a great groove.  I’ve been digging deep, looking for forgotten recipes and old classics.  Like this one.  Look at this gorgeous bird.

Tasty poultry from the grill.

Also a nice write-up on excellent and inexpensive cuts of meat for the grill.

While the photo below shows some winners, including the skirt, hanger and flap steaks, as well as short ribs and the grand daddy West Coast cut called the Tri-Tip.  I think they left out the flat-iron though, which is also a pretty fantastic (and cheap) cut for the grill.  I made some recently in the Korean kalbi style with brown sugar, soy, ginger and green onions.  Yup.  Delicious.

Hungry now indeed....


What are you going to cut all this delectable meat with anyway?  Well, the knives shown in the Serious Eats series above are all from Korin, one of the best Japanese knife shops in the country, but here’s another option:  Ginga Trading.  However, if all of that is just a bit out of your price range…the Victorinox Fibrox series is an exceptional value for butchering knives, especially the flexible boning knife.  I’ve always appreciated the grippy handles and sanitary construction.

Now go get grilling!!


Backyard Accessorizing

23 May

It’s well understood that bugs are anathema to a good cook-out, and fortunately there’s a great way to ward them off while still playing with one of our favorite things:  FIRE.  That’s right, Tiki Torches.

Of course we’ve all seen Tiki torches for, well, just about our entire grilling lives, but recently I fell prey to a Tiki® ad on my Facebook feed and was not expecting to them to have stepped up their game over the years…but hey, these are pretty cool, at least the nicer ones anyway.

Ahh, torché!

Is It Done? High- and Low-Tech Solutions

22 Jul

When is that steak done? And when do you flip it?

Experienced chefs can give the meat a poke and know everything they need to about its degree of doneness. Many of the rest of us need a little more guidance. I love a quick-read meat thermometer, myself. We’ve posted on digital ones with a leave-in probe before. Bottom line: When they work, we like them. Here’s a product that takes the concept one crazy, crazy step beyond, via the This Old House blog.

The Steak Station meat thermometer has color-coded probes attached to two-foot-long heat-resistant cables that let you track the interior temperatures of four steaks (or whatever) simultaneously. It’s available from Amazon and elsewhere for around $20.

For a less tech-y solution, try this tip from the August 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. To tell when it’s time to flip a steak, watch for beads of moisture to appear on the surface — like the meat is just starting to break a sweat. Flip it as soon as you see those, cook for an equal amount of time on the second side, and you should end up with a perfect steak: charred outside, medium-rare within.

Burgers for the Fourth? Grind Your Own!

28 Jun

Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Courtesy of the incomparable Michael Ruhlman, a timely reminder that the best burgers are those for which you grind the meat yourself. If you’re among the 99% of married Americans* who got a Kitchen Aid mixer as a wedding gift, food grinder attachment looks cheap at $43 — and will enable you to burger-ify or make sausage of anything, not just beef, no mystery ingredients guaranteed!

* Phoney statistic


Williams-Sonoma Smoker Box: Good Idea, Half-Smoked Execution

28 Jun

My mother-in-law has figured out that a good gimmicky grill item makes a perfect Father’s Day gift.

A few years back, it was a beer-can chicken cooking stand, which I continue to use regularly. I know of no better way to cook a whole chicken on the grill, absent a rotisserie attachment.

This year, it was the intriguing-looking Stainless Steel Smoker Box from Williams-Sonoma ($40).

It’s fairly small, 14″ x 7″ x 5 1/2″ high. I tested it out on my Vermont Castings gas grill, cooking (at different times) about a dozen marinated chicken wings, a couple of brined  pork chops, and a seasoned wild salmon fillet.

First you fill the bottom tray with wood chips — I used hickory. You can soak the wood first, but I don’t think it’s really necessary since you only need the wood to burn a half hour tops. Set on the rack of the gas grill, with all three burners on high, it took a good 20 minutes before soaked chips were really smoking. At that point, you put whatever you’re smoking on the perforated tray (it should have some oil on it to prevent sticking), lay that over the smoking chips, and cover the unit with the lid.

To keep the wood smoking, you need to leave the  smoker box so that it’s directly above one or more ignited burners. In my setup, the grill’s inside temperature hovered in the 350-375 degree range when the wood was smoking well. So, forget about low and slow cooking — this is a hot smoker that’s best with foods, like poultry or fish, that you’d generally cook quickly. Blogger the Meatist tried to do brisket in the smoker box — you can read his sad tale here.

Wings going into the smoker box

Wings took 20 minutes-plus to firm up and acquire a nice smoky lacquer; I finished them by crisping them up over direct heat for a few minutes, which didn’t dry them out. When checking if I needed to reload wood chips, I discovered one of the smoker box’s design flaws — it’s very difficult to lift the hot perforated tray from the base. The two pieces of metal sit perfectly flush, and it’s very tricky to wedge a spatula or tongs in between them to check your smoke. The tray also buckles quite radically when it heats up, which can make it tough to put the lid back on. These are inconveniences that don’t spoil the fun, but they’d be easy enough to fix in a version 2.o. (We’ll get working on a hack here, too.) One final complaint may have more to do with my grill than the smoker box, but I found that the wood chips burned unevenly in the tray, with those along the perimeter burning well while those in the center barely got smoking.

The pork chops came out nicely with about 10 minutes in the box and a quick turn directly on the grill. The chops had a more pronounced (but not overpowering) smokiness than ones cooked in the grill with a foil pack of chips providing smoke.

The salmon comes out

Salmon in the smoker box was perfect. Cooking fish, I suspect, is this thing’s killer app. First I generously seasoned a really fresh wild salmon fillet (Costco!) with some Hawaiian red sea salt and cracked black pepper. When the chips were smoking, I rubbed the skin side of the salmon with a thin coat of olive oil, put it on the tray, and closed the box. About 15 minutes later, I had awesome fish — smoky, cooked through, but not dry at all. Results were similar to cooking on a cedar plank, but a bit smokier and less dry. I planned to save half to slice and put on a bagel the next morning. It didn’t make it.