Sunday, March 22, 2015

First Time with The Pit Barrel Cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC) has been around for a few years and I recently decided to get one and try it out.  As you can see in the photo above, it's not very big.  It can, however, hold eight racks of ribs hung vertically.

The PBC is a charcoal fueled variant of the Upright (or Ugly) Drum Smoker (UDS).  Unlike most UDSs, it's purpose built and made to be used literally right out of the box.  In the box you get the cooker body with lid, a horseshoe stand, a sturdy charcoal basket, a grill grate, two pieces of rebar, eight hooks, a hook pulling tool, and two jars of seasonings.  You get all that for $300, including Fedex ground shipping.  You can get an optional cover for an additional $30.

To set up the PBC, you just have to take everything out of the box, set the barrel on the stand, fill the basket with charcoal, then add the grill grate or rebars.  The first time, you need to adjust the damper near the bottom to control the airflow.  It's meant to be set once and then left alone.  The size of the gap varies with altitude.

My first attempt with the PBC was a pork shoulder.  I dry brined it overnight.  About an hour before cooking I rubbed it with olive oil and Meathead's Memphis Dust.  I used two hooks, one below the shoulder bone and the other through a thick portion of the meat.  I did not use any twine to tie it up, I just hung it as-is.

This is when I added the pork to the PBC.  You'll note I didn't do the best job of spreading the coals evenly over the unlit charcoal.  This time I put the basket of unlit coals in the bottom and shook the lit ones out of the chimney.  I'll either need more practice at that or to pour the coals outside of the cooker before adding the basket.  You can also see the two probes from my Maverick grill thermometer.  The grill probe is just hanging through the rebar hole on the right.

During the course of the cook, I monitored the grill temperature.  At first it was in the 240-250 range.  Ambient temps were in the 40s with a slight to moderate breeze.  After a couple of hours I readjusted the intake and temperatures went up to 250-260.  An hour later I adjusted it again and started seeing 270.  I final adjustment, after it started getting dark brought the grill temperature up to close to 300.  I'll probably want to back that off a little for my next barbecue.

In total, this ~3 pound pork shoulder took 8:15 to cook.  Some parts measured 207 degrees, some as little as 190.  Most of the meat just fell apart when I used a couple of forks on it.  It had an amazing bark and a good smoke ring.  It was quite delicious.

Lessons learned: I need to get better at setting up the coals.  I need to dial in the air intake.  I probably should have tied the roast up.  That would have resulted in a longer but more even cook.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Hungarian Goulash Variant

I've been slacking on posting here because I haven't been doing any grilling.  I still need to eat, however, and know other ways of cooking.  One of my favorite winter foods is Goulash, a beef stew.

The traditional goulash recipe I learned is as follows:

  1. Chop 1 large onion, saute in 2 Tbsp oil
  2. Season with 1 tsp paprika
  3. Add 1 lb beef cubed, 1 green pepper diced, 1 tomato diced, and a little salt
  4. Steam under a lid until tender
  5. Add 1/4 pound carrots, 1/4 pound parsnip, 3/4 pound potato, and 5 cups water
  6. Cover and simmer until tender
  7. Add homemade egg noodles

Noodles are 1 beaten egg, a pinch of salt and approximately 1/4 pound flour

Some variations I'll use:

  1. Add garlic and black pepper
  2. Substitute 1/2 bag store bought egg noodles for homemade noodles
  3. Substitute barley for noodles, about 1 cup
  4. Add hot paprika or other hot pepper or hot sauce
  5. Double the amount of carrots in lieu of using parsnip
  6. Use some beef stock in place of some of the water
  7. Any of the above but using a slow cooker.  I'll pre-cook the onion and brown the meat before adding those to the cooker
Today's exciting episode of Jim's failure to follow a recipe includes the following:
  1. (Organic unsalted) Canned tomatoes
  2. (Organic Pearled) Barley instead of noodles
  3. Added garlic, oregano, and black pepper
  4. Two New Mexico chiles plus one habanero in lieu of paprika, all seeded
  5. Lightly browned meat in small batches, then deglazed pan and added to cooker
  6. Double carrots instead of carrots and parsnip
  7. Cooked in a slow cooker

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reverse sear for Chuck Roast or other thick beef cuts

I'm a big fan of slow cooking most things on the grill.  The exceptions are burgers, thin steaks and most seafood.  The following method will work for roasts (chuck, round, etc.), steaks at least 1 1/2 inches thick, briskets or any other thick cut of beef.

1.  The night before, dry brine the meat.  Sprinkle a fair amount of kosher salt on the top, bottom and sides of the meat.  If you need a measurement, maybe a tablespoon per pound.  I just salt it like I'm salting something I'm going to eat.  Put on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

2.  About an hour before grilling, season and oil the meat.  Seasoning is at your discretion.  Sometimes I use a blend like my Southwestern blend.  Sometimes I just use black pepper.  For oil, I like to spray extra virgin olive oil from a pump sprayer.  Put back in the fridge uncovered.

1.  Preheat grill to 225 degrees for indirect cooking.  Anywhere from 225-250 is ok.  Optionally, add wood for smoking.  I always like mesquite or something milder like apple.  You don't need a lot.  It's best not to overpower the flavor with too much smoke.

2.  Cook on indirect heat until meat reaches 110-115.

3.  Remove meat from the grill and crank up the heat.  When the grill gets hot, put the meat back on for 5-10 minutes per side to sear.  It's usually best to leave the grill open for that.

4.  Use a good instant read thermometer to check for doneness.  135 is a good target for a nice medium-rare.  The outside will be a little more well done.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Slow Smoked Iowa Chops

I found some thick cut pork chops, Iowa Cut, at the Jenifer Street Market.  They were a great candidate for slow cooking.

There are a lot of ways you can go.  The Amazing Ribs guy recommends brining, then slow cooking with sauce on from the get-go.

I did something different.  A few hours before cooking, I sprayed the chops with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed in a light coating of my Southwestern blend.  I used maybe a tablespoon per chop.

I grilled them using indirect heat and hickory smoke to a temperature of 145 degrees in the thickest part.  I think that worked rather well.  The meat was pretty tasty by itself but I used a little sauce on the side.  I like Jenifer Street Market's Sizzling Habanero barbecue sauce which isn't as hot as it sounds.  It has a little spice and a nice sweet flavor.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Southwestern Spice Blend

Everybody has their spice blends.  This is one I use a lot.  It's actually not mine but a slightly customized version of Emeril's that I got from the Food TV web site.

I use some whole ingredients that I grind in an old coffee mill when I mix a batch.  They are: cumin, coriander, black pepper and dried chiles.


2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp coriander
2 dried habaneros or 1 dried ghost pepper, ground
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 large or 2 small chipotles, the dry ones, ground
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

I actually use more black pepper than that.  If you want to try the official Emeril version, delete the habaneros and chipotles and add a teaspoon each of cayenne and crushed red peppers.

I use this blend as-is on steaks and in southwestern type foods like chili and fajitas.  I mix it with brown sugar and use it as a rub for slow cooked ribs.

Friday, May 30, 2014

About My Gear plus a Shout Out

Before I get into the gear, I want to mention a great site,  It has recipes, techniques, and equipment reviews.  What I've learned from this site has taken my grilling skills to a new level.

In no particular order, these are a few of my favorite things for grilling.

Grill Grate ET732 Long Range Wireless Thermometer - It has two probes, one for the grill and one for the meat.  It claims a 300 foot range.  My yard isn't that big but I can use the receiver in my living room with the grill in the back yard.  There's a feature I haven't used that could be useful.  You can program a temperature range that will trigger an alarm if it goes above or below.  The only gripe I have with this is that the food probe is huge.  It's hard to know precisely where the sensor is in the meat.  I prefer to use it only to know when I'm in the ballpark.  I use an instant read thermometer to decide when the meat is cooked.  I can recommend it but for other options, see here.

Dyna-Glo DGE Series 5 burner gas grill - It's not perfect but overall I'm happy with it.  5 burners help to control the temperature, especially for indirect grilling.  The burners themselves run front to back and they are pretty equally spaced side to side.  I run 2 or 3 burners for indirect cooking leaving around 1/3 to 1/2 of the grilling surface available.  If I have a gripe it's that there is an opening in the back that runs the length (width?) of the grill and is about 3" high below the lid.  That lets a lot of heat out but does let you peek without opening the lid.  Overall, I think it's a pretty good buy for less than $400.

Smoker Box and an assortment of wood chips.  No recommendations here.  I spent $20 on one that's maybe 3" wide by 7-8" long and 1" deep.  You could easily make foil pouches for your wood chips.  So far I've used apple, hickory, and mesquite chips.  I find this to be a pretty good selection.  Traditionally apple or cherry is what you would use for chicken, hickory for pork and mesquite for beef.  I find hickory can work for chicken and some also swear by mesquite.  I do like hickory for pork and mesquite for beef but use whatever you like.  You have to eat it.

There will probably be a part two to this at some point.  There are a few things I want to try.

Smoked Tandoori Style Chicken on a Gas Grill

Welcome to my newly created food blog.  I intend to write mainly about recipes and techniques but anything food related is fair game.  Since the weather is pretty nice, I expect the first few posts to be a bit grilling-centric.  I'm going to jump right in with Tandoori Chicken that I made the other night.

Tandoori Chicken

chicken parts - whatever you like, I used legs and thighs, breasts work, a whole cut up chicken would be good too
tandoori masala - get this at an Indian grocery store or ethnic food section, 1 to 2 heaping tablespoons per pound of chicken
ginger root - you want roughly 1/2 to 1 tablespoon each of garlic and ginger per pound of chicken
yogurt - 1 to 2 heaping tablespoons per pound of chicken
oil - I've used extra virgin olive, corn and safflower, enough to lightly coat

gas grill set up for indirect heating
smoker box with wood chips, hickory worked for me
grill thermometer - I use the Grill Grates wireless thermometer.  Once you use something like it, you'll wonder how you lived without it.
instant read thermometer - another essential grilling tool
disposable vinyl gloves - for the prep stage, easier than scrubbing with a fingernail brush later
oil sprayer - not essential but nice to have

Prep 15 minutes/Cooking 60 minutes - these are approximate

The first step is to prepare the chicken and let it marinate in the refrigerator for an hour (or overnight).  Mince garlic and ginger root.  Here's where you'll want the gloves.  Pat the chicken parts dry with paper towels and put in a bowl large enough to hold them.  Add minced garlic and ginger and mix by hand so all the pieces are coated.  Add masala and again mix to coat all the pieces.  Try to get everything as red as possible.  Add a thin coating of oil to all the pieces.  An oil sprayer is nice but you could just pour in a couple of tablespoons and mix.  Add yogurt and mix.  Gloves keep the masala out from under your fingernails.

Set up grill for indirect cooking and preheat to 325F.  Anything from 250-325 will work just changes the cooking time.  As you put the chicken on, add the smoker box with wood chips.  You can improvise by putting chips in a heavy foil pouch and poking holes.  I don't advocate soaking the wood chips.  It doesn't buy you anything.  Keep an eye on your temperatures and cook until all pieces reach an internal temperature of 165F.

My wireless thermometer has two leads, one for the grill itself and one for the food.  The food probe on mine is huge and I don't rely on it except to see when I'm in the ballpark.  I use an instant read thermometer to determine when the food is done.  The Thermapen is the gold standard for instant read thermometers.  I use a much cheaper CDN model that is pretty good.

Edit: I should mention that I don't use a lot of wood chips, maybe a handful.  Chicken doesn't need a lot of smoke.