Archive for the ‘Herbology’ Category

A series about BBQ

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I have been reading reviews about BBQ places here in San Diego. I am amazed at some of the comments by folks. Most of them are intelligent and right on the point. Their reviews are fair and unbiased, but others are just down right stupid and wrong. Things that ticked me off are reviews like “The food is great, but I didn’t like the look of the owner” Seriously? How is that a food review?

I thought I would start a series of blogs about BBQ and BBQing. In this series I will attempt to dispel myths and legend and try to offer my “not so humble” opinion on BBQ.

Who am I and why should anyone listen to me? Well, that’s a very good question… I am someone that spent close to 30 years trying to figure out how to cook BBQ. I do not claim to be an expert, but I definitely know what NOT to do. I strongly believe the following quote by Henry Ford:

— Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

I have created amazing disasters trying to produce edible BBQ. Some of it, went straight from the grill to the trash. In 2007, I discovered a BBQ class in San Diego being taught by Pitmaster Konrad Haskins. The class was an all day class taught at the Embassy Suites in La Jolla. Konrad has taught tons of people how to do BBQ correctly. He has even taught some famous people you might know from TLC’s Pitmaster series: Harry Soo of Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ. I would highly recommend take either Konrad’s or Harry’s class. This is money WELL worth it. I am hoping to travel to Texas to take another of his classes this year.

We had 12 student in our class, many of us had the same experience as me. All bad 😉 I leaned some very key lessons that I hope to share over this series. Before I begin, I think it is very important that you understand some ideas.

  1. You can’t learn to cook BBQ from a book. You need to get your hands dirty and fail a few times. You should NOT expect that you will make great BBQ without trying and failing (or succeeding).
  2. BBQ is a style of cooking, not a type of food. BBQ is cooking food over low (indirect) heat for a long period of time.
  3. The average person considers BBQ when cooking over direct heat. This is actually known as grilling. The confusion comes from our age-old tradition of calling our backyard gatherings a BBQ. Most of these gatherings include hamburgers, hot-dogs and grilled chicken. This is a term of an event rather than a style of cooking.
  4. If you start with an inferior product you will get an inferior result. Buy the best quality meat you can find and afford. I will be covering this topic in a blog all its own.
  5. You can BBQ in just about anything. You don’t need expensive equipment to produce good BBQ. although once you start, you will crave it. I have eaten good BBQ cooked inside a 55 oil drum.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, almost everyone out there loves to share their knowledge and techniques. Yes, there are a few arrogant people out there. I just nod my head and smile.
  7. Less is more!
  8. BBQ is done when it’s done. What took six hours one day, might take eight the next time.

Over the next few months, I hope to cover my opinions (that’s why you are reading MY blog right?) about BBQ and what I think is important. My posts will include how-tos, techniques I have been taught, suggestions and most importantly restaurant reviews.

Please remember, I am starting down this path because I am amazed by the reviews I am reading. Many reviews are out of context, incomplete, or in several cases posts by competitors to slander their competition. This is one of the danger of the Internet. Anyone can post comments without any consequences and MANY people will believe them without fact checking. My goal is to educate people on BBQ and help them understand what makes good or bad BBQ. While most of what I will post is my opinion, I will try to educate with facts and figures about cooking BBQ and try to demystify some of the propaganda we have been inundated throughout our lives.

If anyone would like me to review a specific location or topic, please leave me a comment or send me an update. I will do my best to try and accommodate your suggestion.

The ‘Man’ Class.

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Last Monday I attended a cooking class at Great-News cooking school. The class was presented by the owners of Iowa Meat Farms and Seisel’s. The class got it’s name because it’s a lot of manly meats cooked up. Funny thing though, is that half the class was woman.

If you have not taken a class at this school, I recommend it. It’s a great way to learn new things and experience new dishes. I always learn something with every class I took.

Tonight’s class consisted of the following dishes:

Barbecued Ribs (we will get to the name later)
Grilled Steaks
Spaghetti Sauce
and a Ground Meat Patty Comparison

The class started with an introduction of the different parts of the animal and where specific cuts of meat come from. There is also a lot of marketing BS out there to convince you that you are getting something special. The example given is the term Angus Beef. There is no such thing.

The first dish was a Cattleman’s cut of a Top Sirloin Steak served with Horseradish Cream.  The steak was very tasty but was a bit chewy because it was a bit on the rare side. I like it that way, but maybe a little more cooked to make it less chewy.  The Top Sirloin steak is considered an everyday steak and is less expensive. A Top Sirloin is a tough meat (which is why it has great flavor) so you will want to get a thicker (Cattleman) cut. For some reason the thicker the cut, the more tender the meat will be.

The meat was seared in a cast-iron skillet and then cooked in a 450 degree oven (like a roast). I think this is a great way to cook this type of meat. Cook the meat to 130 degrees (internal temp) unless you like a more well done steak. Remember to ALWAYS let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing so that all the juices are re-absorbed into the meat and do not end up on the cutting board or floor.

I really enjoyed the Horseradish cream for this dish. I normally don’t like it. Here is the recipe for it (I will definitely make this for my Prime Rib Dinner on New Years Eve):

1/3 cup – Sour Cream
1/4 cup – Horseradish (fresh grated or prepared)
1/2 tsp – Worcestershire Sauce
1      tsp – Cider Vinegar
1/2 cup – Heavy Cream
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine the sour cream, horseradish, Worcestershire, and vinegar and mix well
  2. Whip the cream to medium peaks and fold into the sour cream
  3. Sean with salt and pepper and chill until ready to use

Next we talked about the fat content in things like ground beef. The more fat, the better flavor it has. Leaner meats are healthier but have no flavor. They generally need to be seasoned a lot more than fattier meats.

We did a blind taste test of four meats.

Ground Buffalo
Ground Chuck
Ground Sirloin
Ground Venison

The overall winner was the cheapest meat, the ground chuck. It was very easy to tell the difference between the Buffalo (leaner) and the Beef (chuck/sirloin) as it tasted very dry in comparison.

I learned some really good things about ground beef. The most important thing to know is to not use less than 15% fat ground if you are frying or broiling your meat. If you do it will totally dry out and/or burn. You can use leaner meat for everything else.

The amount of fat directly dictates the flavor in the ground beef.

Ground Chuck is the best meat to use for ground beef because of it’s high fat content. It’s also the cheapest cut of meat you can use.

Buffalo are usually grass-fed so they are more lean. Grass feed is not good for well fed animals. It sounds healthy, but it’s not the best food for animals.

The more you mix your ground beef, the firmer the meat gets and it will be tougher. It’s best to not over mix your burgers, but maybe a meat loaf would benefit from this. You should server burgers on Kaiser rolls for better presentation and heartiness rather than a generic white bun. It just tastes better.

We talked about vacuum packed meats and that when you open them you will loose about a pound of liquid. Something interesting I didn’t know was the color of meat is determined by the aging process.

  1. Wet aged meat is purple and starts to turn red immediately when it hits oxygen.
  2. Dry aged meat stays purple when cut and doesn’t change color.

When cooking a steak, the thickness is very important.

  • A thick steak should be cooked on low heat. This prevents the outside from burning while the inside is still cold/uncooked.
  • A thin steak should be cooked on high heat so that you can get a good crust/lines on the steak before it finishes cooking.

The next dish was Venison and Wild Boar Chili. I was a little tentative to try these meats, but the was the purpose of taking this class. I really enjoyed this dish, not so much for the taste of the meats (I could not really tell it was boar or venison), but because of the spice. I thought this was a nice spicy chili that didn’t send you running for milk. But someone else in the room asked for a glass of milk. I am definitely going to try this one, but with a different type of meat.

For those interested, here is the recipe (yields about a gallon):

1         lb – Dried Red Beans, soaked over night
2-3   qts – Venison, trimmed, diced
2       lbs – Wild Boar, trimmed, diced
1/2 Cup – Oil
1.5 lbs  – Onion, diced
3 each – Jalepenos, seeded and chopped (they left the seeds in for the class)
6 cloves – Garlic, Minced
2 ounce – Masa Harina (Corn Flour)
1 ounce – Chili Powder
1 tsp  – Cayenne Pepper
3 Tbl – Ground Cumin
28 ounces – Tomatoes, canned (Whole pealed, diced or crushed)
1 Quart – Veal Stock (or low sodium broth)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Hot Sauce to taste


  1. Place the soaked beans, and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. reduce heat and simmer until the beans are tender. (45 minute to an hour)
  2. Heat a separate pot over medium high heat with the oil. Season the meats with salt and pepper. Brown the venison and wild board in the oil in small batches. Remove and reserve.
  3. Add the onions, jalapeno and garlic to the pan and saute until tender. Add the masa harina, chili, cayenne, and cumin and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, stock or broth, and browned meat and braise on the stovetop or in a 325-degree oven until the meat is tender. About an hour.
  5. Add the cooked beans and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Some things to note about this dish:

  • Use grape seed oil NOT extra virgin olive oil. The EVOO will burn and adds flavor to the meat you don’t want.
  • Chili is a technique of cooking known as stewing.
  • Chili starts as a dry-heat process (searing) and then uses steaming to finish.
  • When searing/browning your meat, it must be dry. Before you start browning (or seasoning) pat each piece of meat dry with a paper towel. (Didn’t you see Julia & Julia?)

The next dish was a traditional Italian spaghetti sauce known as “Sunday Gravy”. This dish is a more stew-like than saucy sauce. This dish is meant to be started early in the morning and be ready around late afternoon dinner time. It has lots of textures and a lot of flavor. The recipe follows:

1/2 Cup – Olive Oil
1 lb – Beef Short Ribs
1 lb – Country Style Pork Ribs
1 lb – Beef Chuck Roast
1 lb – Italian Sausage
2 cup – Onion, Diced
1 each – Carrot, finely grated
8 clove – garlic, minced
1 Tbl – Italian Seasoning
2 Tbl – Dried Sweet Basil
2 Tbl – Fennel Seed
1.5 Cup – Red Wine
2 each – Diced Tomato (28 ounce cans)
1 each – Tomato Puree (28 ounce can)
2 cups – Chicken Broth, low sodium
1 each – Tomato paste (6 ounce can)
1/2 cup – Fresh Basil, rough chop
2 Tbl – Parsley, chopped


  1. heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Season the short ribs, country style ribs, and chuck roast with salt and pepper and brown in the oil then remove and set aside.
  2. Add the onions to the pan and saute until they are tender. Add the carrot and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sausage and cook until browned.
  4. Add the dried herbs and spices then deglaze with the red wine.
  5. Add the tomato products and broth to the pan, mix well and bring to a simmer.
  6. Return the meat to the pan lower the heat and simmer stirring often until all the meats are tender and falling off the bones. Or you may cover and place the sauce in a 325-degree oven and braise until the meats are tender.
  7. Finish the sauce with the fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.

A few notes about this recipe:

  • The Trader Joe’s brand of Tomatoes are best for this recipe.
  • You should remove the skin from the sausage casing if you use links instead of ground.
  • Best to cook this in the oven instead of on the stove. Because it will be cooking all day, you will avoid burning the bottom of the pot if you don’t stir it often. Nothing ruins a sauce like this than a burnt pan.

If you want to reduce the acidity of this dish, you can prepare a Gastrique:

3 ounces – sugar
3 ounces – Red Wine Vinegar

  1. Place the sugar in a saute pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown.
  2. Deglaze with the vinegar and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add a small amount to the sauce and taste.

I loved this dish and it reminded me of the Sunday dinner my grandmother used to make when I lived with her.

The final dish served was the BBQ Certified Berkshire St. Louis Style Ribs. A long way to say short ribs 😉 If you have heard of Kobe Beef, Berkshire Pork is the equivalent. Some rib cut lessons:

There are three basic parts to the ribs. There is the spare rib, that is on the bottom of the hog. Next is the chop, or the meat portion of the hog. Sometimes, ribs are left on, or trimmed. the last is the baby back rib that is on the top of the hog.

The St. Luis rib is generally what you get when you order ribs. It starts with the spare-rib and we slice off the “brisket bone” at the top of the spare ribs. From this point is where my opinion of cooking ribs differs from the class. I like to think my way is better and my personal tastes trend towards my way.

This was really the only dish in the class I didn’t like and didn’t finish. The ribs were too spicy masking almost all flavor of the pork. The BBQ sauce contained coffee (yeach). When I prepare my ribs, I “always” remove one of the two membranes off the bottom of the ribs. The guys running the class claim this is not necessary as the the membrane will brake down in the cooking process. This is almost never the case. They claim it needs to be there so that your ribs don’t fall apart. Well I have to say in the 2 years or so I have been doing BBQ and ribs, my ribs have never fallen apart. The ribs I was served were fatty and a little gristly, directly related to the fact the membrane was left on.

The other challenge with this recipe was that I could taste the fact they were steamed or boiled (a very off taste). I think this dish would have been a lot better without the membrane and a less spicy sauce. I question calling this a BBQ dish because it was not cooked either low or slow. The recipe called for a 350 degree oven and a period of 1 – 1.5 hours. They cover with plastic wrap from the beginning (I don’t recommend using plastic wrap in the oven). So this is more of a baked or braised dish. NOT a BBQ dish.

A web site to learn more about Berkshire pork is:

Beef Stew

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I came across this simple beef stew recipe. I recommend you use good stew meat. Preferably some that has not already been chopped. Ask your butcher to cut it fresh.


2 lb. boneless beef cubes
10 c. water
2 tbsp. oil
1 1/2 c. med. barley
3 carrots, diced
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1 c. chopped onion
3 lg. stalks celery, including leaves
1 (16 oz.) can tomatoes, cut up
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper


In a Dutch oven, boil beef in water. Skim off foam. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered 1 hour until meat and barley are tender. Stir occasionally.

Rice Pilaf

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

I love Rice Pilaf and I have never tried to make it myself until recently. I discovered a very simple recipe that tastes wonderful.

Use Orzo pasta (about a 1/2 cup)
Toast the pasta in olive oil
Stir in a cup of white rice and add  two cups of chicken stock
put lid, simmer until done


Pond repair

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I came home to wet ground around my pond 🙁 It turns out that the water level had risen above the liner in several places. While I investigated, I realized I had too many plants in the pond. I started pulling out hyacinths and iris. This allowed the water to flow better and not dam up.

I need to check these things at least once a week during the summer because things are growing so fast. The 1st clue should be they are blooming. Once they start blooming it’s a sign that they are getting confined. Confinment usually means damming of the water.

I probably pulled out over 100 plants so far. If anyone needs plants, please contact me. Some of these cost $4 each at the nursery. So that’s like $400 worth of plants. I only wish I could sell them back.