Thursday, June 30, 2011

Smoked Ribs in the New Smoker!!! First Time Smoking Ever, and it was a TEN!!!

I just went from barbecue hell to barbecue heaven in 4-6 hours. By barbecue hell, I mean Central Virginia, where what passes for barbecue is really the slow painful death of pork as we know it. The barbecue here is just not good. I must say, however, that I am a BBQ snob, having grown up in East Tennessee, where the pork powerhouse Calhoun's restaurant makes the world's best ribs, and I spent four years in Birmingham, Alabama where enlightenment can be achieved with a pulled pork plate from such incredible joints as Full Moon Barbecue, Dreamland and Jim & Nicks. It just has to be a certain way.

I have been thinking a lot about this dilemma lately, and I think my one year old son has been mulling it over as well. Recentlly, he looked at me with a look that clearly said "Hey Dad, it's me, your 13 month old son. The barbecue here sucks, and I am counting on you to do something about it. I don't think I'll thrive in a home where the rub isn't crusty and spicy and the sauce isn't tangy sweet and tomato based. Please don't let me down by continuing to settle for mediocre meat. I expect so much more........and save money for my college. Love, your boy." There was no mistaking it.
So, I gathered my thoughts about what makes barbecue great for me, and I scoured the internet for advice on how to get a decent smoker for a small budget and settled on the Brinkman Vertical Smoker as my weapon of choice.

This smoker has a charcoal pan and a water/drip pan in the bottom cabinet and two grates in the top for the booty. It has adjustable vents on either side of the top and bottom. I followed advice from a forum about this grill and didn't put water in the drip pan, but rather just covered it in tin foil to make it easier to clean. I chose to ignore two other tips that multiple bloggers referred to as "Critical." They didn't sound that important. More on that later.
I asked Preg Leg what type of barbecue she wanted for our maiden voyage, and she gave me a look that clearly said "RIBS." Who am I to argue with that?

We went with Baby Back ribs, due to the shorter cooking time, because we were getting a fairly late start for the day. I rinsed them, peeled off the silver skin (a gross, shiny membrane on the underside that is hard to eat), patted them dry and cut the rack into two pieces that fit the grill. Then it was time for the rub.
I like a sugary, spicy Memphis style rub, so I used the recipe from Stephen Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. I rubbed it on there and let them sit in the fridge for 22 minutes. Rub Recipe at the end.

I tried to let the smoker heat up, but it just wasn't going well. The coals looked good, but the built in thermometer didn't ever read higher than 200 degrees. I needed about 275 at least. I put the ribs in anyways. I know, right? That Justin....he SO crazy. After 45 minutes of watching the temperature drop and drop and drop, I decided to take action. I haven't seen temperature drop so fast since I dispensed Viagra to a 85 year old woman at the pharmacy for her 86 year old husband.
The charcoal pan that came with the smoker was just a bowl. Small, with no ventilation or capability for the ash to fall down. Once the coals burned low, they drowned in their own ash. The forums all said, "Hey stupid! Replace the bowl with a vegetable wok from Lowes. It's perfect!" I had purchased one, but I didn't use it at first, because I don't like being called stupid. Especially from some blogger. Well, when the fire was going out, I wised up. I swapped the pan for the wok (a harrowing experience, considering they were both full of raging inferno brisquettes of fire), and almost instantly, the temp started climbing. Next thing you know, it leveled off at a perfect 300 degrees, the soaked hickory woodchips were making a perfect blanket of smoke, and we were in bidness. I added more chips whenever the smoke stopped, and four hours later, the ribs looked like Cash Money.

We paired the ribs with local corn on the cob, salad and Yuenling beer (me, not Preglociraptor), and our favorite store-bought sauce, Guy Fieri's Kansas City style. I anxiously awaited Pregceratops' verdict, and when she gave me the thumbs up, I knew we had a winner. We have that kind of honest relationship where if it wasn't pleasing to her, she would have spat it out and slapped me backhanded. They were spicy, competition style in firmness, yet effortless to eat, and delicious. Right up there at the top with the best things I have ever cooked. On my first try, too. Ya, be jealous, it's okay.
My boy looked up at me across his disgustingly slimy ear of slobber corn and gave me a little wink that said it all........

Memphis Style Rub
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 1/2 teaspoonsful black pepper
3 teaspoonsful dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoonsful salt
1/2 teaspoonful celery salt
1/2 teaspoonful cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoonful garlic powder
1/2 teaspoonful ground cumin

Mix thoroughly and sprinkle onto both sides of ribs. Rub in vigorously, almost to the point of feeling uncomfortable about it. When ribs are about 1/2 to 1 hour away from being done, sprinkle on additional rub.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chile Rubbed Pork Tacos with Cucumber Salsa........This One Needs Work

So. Don't try this recipe. At least, not until I have had more time to practice it. I'm not saying it was a total failure, but it was a masterpiece of mediocrity. To me, the best tacos are pork tacos. Mexican pork is just salty and spicy and awesome. My first attempt at making them on the grill went about as well as my first try at college, which is to say that it was marked by poor choices, a lack of direction, and at the end, a final grade that you race home to intercept in the mail before your mom finds out.
Here's what I did, and how I will redeem myself next time:

This one was loosely based off of a chile rubbed pork loin recipe from The Barbecue Bible by Stephen Raichlen. I used his technique for butterflying the pork loin to make it an even thickness. First, stretch out the loin, then use a sharp knife to slice it down the middle, almost through to the other side. Then open it up and place it flat on a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover it with another sheet and pound it flat until it is about 1/2 inch thick all the way across. I then cut it into four pieces and applied the rub.

For the chile rub, I used canned chipotle peppers, brown sugar and garlic. I smeared the rub on the pork pieces and put them in the fridge for about 6 hours. Now let's take a little time out to clear something up. Chipotles are jalepenos that have been slow roasted. They have a smoky flavor and still retain a good amound of heat. They are a true Mexican treat, but every other person I hear talk about them pronounces them wrong. It is not Chee Pole Tay. It is Chee Pote Lay. Hear the difference? I demand that you say it out loud right now. Now, from here on out, if you pronounce it wrong, I curse all your cooking for a period of six weeks. It will be doomed to taste like these tacos. Glad we got that out of the way. The recipe for the rub will be at the end of the post.

Our salsa was not totally inedible, but still needs work. I added cucumber slivers, reminiscent of the taco salad at the phenomenal Moe's in Birmingham, Alabama. Welcome to Moe's! In the end, it was good stuff, but I held back too much on the heat. Still makes a decent addition to any Mexican meal. Recipe at the end.

We saved the meal by accompanying it with my guacamole, which is unbeatable. It would make any tasteless meal better. I might have a crush on my guacamole. Recipe deserves a post all its own, so stay tuned.

The marinated pork hit the grill for about 4 minutes per side, then I sliced it thin and we wrapped it in toasted corn tortillas, sour cream, cucumber salsa, guacamole, shredded cheese and lime juice.

Sounds good and makes a pretty picture, but it had issues. The flavors were all supposed to "marry" as they say on the Food Network. This marriage was like a drunken drive-thru wedding at Elvis' 24 Hour Chapel of Love in Atlantic City that ended up in illegitimate children, his/her tattoos and an annullment. I didn't add enough salt or heat in the rub. The pork was just bland. I put too much garlic in the salsa. The corn tortillas were mushy and grainy. Flour tortillas are the only way to go. It just wasn't very good. Some of the bites actually tasted like soapy feet.
I did find that if you put all the ingredients on a tortilla chip, and add a few drops of Chollula hot sauce, it actually tasted really good. Who knew? I'll keep working on this recipe and let you know how it goes. I told you in the beginning I was giving you the winners and the losers, so there. I'm not a liar. Happy grilling, from the Jacked Up Grill!

Chile Rub for Pork
4 chipotle peppers chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Mix all ingredients and stir until sugar dissolves. Coat meat and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Cucumber Salsa
1 large tomato chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
1/4 onion (we used white, but red would have been better)
2 jalepeno peppers finely chopped.
1 clove garlic minced
1 cucumber, cut into 1/2 inch slivers
1 lime juiced
Salt to taste

Mix ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain off excess liquid.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

If You Like Grilling, and You Don't Hate Money, Read On..........

Quick tip today. One barrier to cooking restaurant quality food at home is that your house doesn't have a little guy in the back who washes the dishes. Solution: Get a Dish Fairy. At our house, there is a Dish Fairy who cleans up after all my grilling. When I leave in the morning, there are dirty dishes everywhere, and when I come home, they are all clean! I was telling Pregzilla just the other day that we needed to leave out a thank you note for the Dish Fairy, the Laundry Fairy, and the Vacuuming Fairy for their hard work. She threw things. Sharp,heavy things.

Another barrier to cooking high quality at home is the expense of the multiple ingredients, especially fresh herbs and seasonings. Restaurants have tons of fresh ingredients on hand, so the cost per plate is watered down considerably, but if you want to eat that good at home, you have to buy all that stuff yourself, and then it may not keep for another meal.
Solution: Grow your own herbs at home. Seriously. I'm doing it. And making it manly.
I spent $10 just on fresh herbs at the grocery store for the pork chop dinner, and what's left over will be useless by tomorrow. Chimichurri? Loaded with fresh herbs. Almost everything that I cook that is worth not spitting out has fresh herbs. So, I said i was sick of it, and I went to a local nursery and got my grow on.

I got a plastic box to hang of the deck, literally three feet from Meat Blaster's hungry jaws, brackets to hang the box, a small bag of soil, and my very own replenishable crops of sage, rosemary, oregano, basil and thyme. I also got some seeds to grow some flat leaf parsley, my most commonly used herb.
Total cost for my efforts: $30. The herbs will grow fast enough that I should be able to use them exclusively all summer and fall without buying from the Man. Plus, I'll get some Charlottesville street cred with the Farmer crowd and the Unbathed Organic Braid-Your-Own-Clothes-From-Discarded-Hair crowd.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Grilled Pork Chops Stuffed with Bleu Cheese and Fried Prosciutto! Call an Ambulance!!

Sometimes, pork is not "porky" enough, and it takes a little more pork to "porkify" it into submission. This was one of those times. Tonight's meal was chock full of new techniques, and ended in some very high notes and some things I wouldn't do again, so go to the hat store, get yourself a hat, and hold the heck onto it!!!!

Pork chops are awesome. Three of my four coronary arteries are completely occluded from exposure to pork chops over the years. However, there isn't much porky fat on them, so we usually fry them to make them taste worth a poot. Two techniques solve that problem without frying: brining and stuffing.

Here's how tonight went down: I started early this morning with a brine for the extra thick pork chops. Brining means soaking the meat in an extremely hypertonic (very salty) water bath to infuse it with salt and any other herbs you want. It seasons the meat all the way through, and it seals in moisture so it doesn't dry out on the grill. My brine consisted of salt, sugar, parsley, rosemary, basil, lemon and pepper, and let me tell you, it really helped. Brining is the thing that makes the chicken or pork you eat at a nice restaurant taste like a completely different meat than anything you ever cook at home. It's cheap, easy and has a huge payoff, so try it! Recipe and instructions will be at the end of the post.

After 8 hours of brining, I got the pork out, dried it off, and got down to business. I wanted a tangy, powerful stuffing, so I went with bleu cheese (on sale at the grocery store), fried prosciutto ham (felt guilty about using bacon), and a basil leaf (because if there wasn't something green, our hearts would have exploded). To stuff a pork chop, you use a small sharp knife, and cut a slice into the half way point of the thickness, and open it up all the way through to all the edges, so it's a pork pocket. I crisped up the prosciutto in a skillet, then stuffed the three ingredients into the chops. No need to salt the outside of the chops due to the brining. I closed the holes with three matchsticks. ***Super Tip!!! If you don't have tooth picks, like a normal person, use match sticks. But! For the love of mercy, remove the heads of the matches! I remembered at the last minute**** A light brush with olive oil, and the chops hit the grill. about 5 minutes per side, and they were perfect. Cheese bubbling out the side and nice crust on both sides.

We decided to get wild tonight, or as wild as a pharmacist and a pregnant lady can, anyway, so we added a fancy sauce and side item. I was worried our chops would be bland, so I used the pan with the prosciutto drippings and added butter, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and a dry white wine to make a reduced scampi type sauce. I went with a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Smoking Loon. I feel like a tool saying it like that, because my rationale for picking that one was (1) I know sauvignon blanc is dry, and sweet wine sauce tastes like throw up and (2) it was the cheapest one they had that was American Made (go USA!). I literally know nothing about wine, except that it gives you a headache, and that if you find yourself in an uncomfortable conversation with someone who is an expert, you can fall back on "How bout those reds with their tannins? Mmmmm, I love me some tannins." I have no idea what tannins are, but that one has saved me many times. I put all those things in the skillet and let it reduce until the pork was done, then spooned it over the top. If you are interested, Smoking Loon is available wherever cheap, liver murdering wine is sold. Because I didn't want to disgrace my cooking with it another night, I went ahead and drank the rest of it that didn't go into the sauce. Took one for the team!

The side item adventure we had was to get fresh uncooked pasta and sauce from a cool local place and have Pregpocalypse cook it up for us. Mona Lisa Pasta here in Charlottesville is a ridiculously funky little place that prepares fresh sheets of flavored pasta every day and you go there and pick your cut (garlic parsley fettucine), your sauce (alfredo), and then they give you a paper bag that you take home and cook for a mere 90 seconds. Taste wise, it was pretty good, but the experience of having it cut by hand by a hippy in a refurbished factory downtown was where the value was. If your town isn't pretentious enough to have a fresh pasta place, I highly recommend Buittoni fresh pasta in the cold food aisle of any grocery store. It is excellent and cheap.

Hits tonight were the flavor and texture of the brined pork, the tang of the stuffing, and the addition of hickory wood chips to the smoker box on Meat Blaster. Misses were the taste bud confusion caused by the tangy sauce duking it out with the tangy stuffing, and the fact that our salad wasn't a caesar salad because I forgot caesar dressing. I would use the wine sauce on plain pork chops again, or I would leave the stuffed pork chops alone next time. Overall, it was still a restaurant quality winner, and another one that I would recommend you trying!

Thanks for all of you who "like" our facebook page, and we'll be back soon with more Jacked Up Grilling!

Brining Liquid
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 lemon sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 cup flat leaf or italian parsley (NEVER USE CURLY PARSLEY-TASTES LIKE POOP)
4 Frest Basil leaves, smashed and torn up
lots of ground pepper
6 cups of cold water

Mix salt and sugar in 1 cup water and put in microwave until dissolved. Pour into 6 cups of water, then add 1 cup ice. Squeeze and add lemon slices, herbs and pepper, and drop in pork chops. Make sure they are submerged completely, and cover and place in refrigerator for 8 hours.

Lemon Butter Wine Scampi Sauce
3 cloves garlic,chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup chopped parsley (Flat leaf, we've been through this)
1 cup dry white wine (I go cheap, but that's me on many levels)
 Melt butter, saving 1 big patty to finish the sauce. Add garlic, then lemon juice and wine. Let reduce until thick. At the end, add the parsley, then the last pat of butter. Whip constantly to make it thick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best Burger There Is......I know because I've had them all

I am afraid I have characterized my grilling as much douchier than it really is. I mean, grilled soup??? That kind of fancy stuff represents the minority of what I cook. So tonight, we get back to a Meat Blaster staple, the ULTIMATE BURGER!!!!!!

I have eaten an absurd number of burgers with an almost upsetting variety of toppings at a purely ridiculous number of restaurants, bars, cookouts and cafeterias, and I think I have distilled and collected all of their Goods and avoided or cut out most of their Bads to create the near perfect recipe. Now, let me clarify, flavored or specialty burgers are a class all their own, but here, I'm talking about the good ole American original.

The tale of the perfect burger starts with the pork......ERRRRRKKKKK!!!!! (Car slamming on the brakes sound effect). Did he say the pork? Yes, he did. Credit the awesome Baja Burger restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama for introducing me to pork burgers. Pure beef can just get so dry, that once I started adding a little pork, my burgers were added to the menus of the restaurants in heaven.
I have discovered that the perfect pork to cut the beef is pork sausage. It has great seasoning already, and it is full of fat which means juicy goodness. I use about a pound of 90/10 ground beef and about 1/2 a pound of pork sausage. When mixing, I then add about 3 tablespoons of A-1 sauce and 1 teaspoonful garlic powder and mix. Like any ground meat, don't over mix, because it can get tough. Then, a light brush with olive oil, some salt and pepper, and they are ready for the scorching hot grill.

Cheese selection can make or break the whole thing, so we use two slices of smoked gouda, which is creamy, smoky and slightly tangy. You'll literally abhor the idea of ever using another cheese after you discover a smoked gouda burger. I bet you're in your fridge right now throwing all that cheddar in the trash.
Apply the cheese at the last minute and close the grill lid for a melty finish.

For accoutrements, we add bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and some sweet/spicy habanero bread and butter pickles that Pregceratops made during the fall. Add a fresh potato roll and the perfect burger is complete.

To appease our cardiologist, we had a light tomato cucumber mozzarella salad on the side. Email me at for the recipe for the pickles and the salad.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to like our page on facebook!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day to Me

The lovely and talented Preglicious surprised ms this morning with bacon pancakes (there's bacon IN the pancakes...oh yeah) and this awesome custom magnet for Meat Blaster!!
I love this woman!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chimichurri Chicken Paillard with Grilled Tomato Soup! Prepare to be impressed!

You know what sucks about diets? Your new best friend becomes, wait for it, boneless skinless "grilled" chicken breasts. What a lame best friend. No one wants to eat a best friend like that for your one, tiny, unsatisfying meal per day that's not a protein bar or a bowl of hot water. What is it that makes grilled chicken such a lifeless, empty shell of a protein? I'll tell you. Whatever sauce, marinade or seasoning you put on the outside, typical chicken breasts are usually so dense and fatless, the middle still tastes like nothing. It's like biting into a stack of wet toilet paper. Plus, you are so terrified of leaving it raw in the middle, you scorch it until it is a true misery to eat.
So what do you do? How can boneless, skinless chicken breasts taste good and still remain healthy?
Answer: Beat them into submission with a large, heavy object.....seriously.
A Paillard  is a cut of meat that has been pounded out to a very thin consistency and cooked very quickly. It is a french word, and despite the fact that the they invented surrender and body odor, the French can cook. Wrapping the chicken in plastic wrap and beating it senseless gets rid of that dense middle, gives more surface area for marinade to bind with, and makes it easier to cook without worrying about the salmonella toilet parties.

Personally, I have a feeling the chicken we ate tonight had bad dreams for weeks while it was still alive about the beating I was going to give it after it went to that big processing plant in the sky. I used a rolling pin and went outside where I wouldn't wake the baby and threw that thing the mother of all beatings. After that, our paillards went into a simple marinade of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic for 30 minutes. Then, to the grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, and then top with Chimichurri sauce.

Now, I have to credit the Timberwood Grill in Charlottesville, VA for introducing me to this next critical element. Chimichurri sauce is a Brazilian green steak sauce that goes HUGE with grilled meat. It is a blend of oil, vinegar, herbs, garlic, chilis and honey that tastes like solid gold. I tried it there (our server wrote the recipe down on the back of a ticket) and then experimented with various recipes until I settled on my own concoction, which is incredible. Recipe will be at the end of this post. If you ever make anything you see on this blog, make this sauce. It will set you free... 
Up to this point, even the most amateur  griller would have no problem making the chimichurri or the paillards. Very easy, yet delicious. This next one tested me a little. But, it was wicked worth it. The best grilling cookbook I have found so far is The Barbecue Bible by Stephen Raichlen (the guy from Primal Grill on PBS/APT). His recipe for Fire-Charred Tomato soup was the basis for our soup tonight, and I only slightly deviated from his instructions (because I totally burned the Ancho Chilis until the broth they were in tasted like licking a crematory drain). For copyright’s sake, I won’t include the soup recipe, but if you are interested, email me (  and I’ll tell you where to find it and how I changed it.

With Pregatron’s help (she chopped vegetables, buttered and toasted French bread pieces and babysat the simmering soup pan), we got through the steps, and it was by far, the most awesome tomato soup I’ve ever had.
So that’s it! There is parsley and oregano in both the chimichurri sauce and the soup, so the whole meal tasted cohesive and it was one of my most restaurant-worthy meals to date. This was one for the record books!
Chimichurri Sauce (Green)
1 cup flat leaf parsley (or italian parsley. just don't use "curly" parsley, which is the stuff they garnish your plate with at Shoneys)
1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3 cloves garlic
1 jalepeno or related pepper
salt and pepper to taste.
Separate stems from parsley and oregano, and place in food processor. Add garlic cloves, jalepeno, oil, vinegar and honey, and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grilled Pizza!!!!

I credit my brother for inspiring me to be a better cook and for recommending a good brand of store bought pizza dough mix. I credit Bobby Flay for being a big dork, but cooking food that looks good, including a grilled pizza on some show the other day.

My bro said he and his wife make pizza using Martha White dough mix ($.99, only ingredient needed is hot water, which is even cheaper). I bought 4 packs, in case I ruined several, and they couldn't have been tastier. After following the package instructions for mixing the dough and letting it rise for about ten minutes, I stretched it into a semi-round shape and brushed both sides with olive oil. Then, I slapped it straight on the hot, clean grill. With the lid down, I cooked it for about three minutes per side, and it was perfectly done, including cool looking grill lines. Super easy.

With the help of my beautiful wife, Pregposterous, we then topped one crust with pizza sauce, mozzarella, sliced and cubed pepperoni, and dried oregano. Crust number two got garlic butter, a little mozzarella, sliced ribeye, red bell pepper slices and feta cheese. They then hit a sheet pan and went back on the grill until the toppings got melty and bubbly.
I hit the steak pizza with a little balsamic vinegar dribble, and we dug in.

Both pizzas were excellent. The steak one was the best, but it could have used a little tang, like maybe blue cheese instead of feta, or for the balsamic to reduce a little more. Other than that, it was incredible. You should try this one!!!

Welcome to The Jacked Up Grill!

I am a Man. Some say THE man.......No one says that. The point is, I am a man. And as a man, I have the the desire, nay, the need, to cook meat with fire. The testoterone coursing through my partially clogged arteries demands that I assemble the essential elements of propane, my stainless steel grill (lovingly named "Meat Blaster"), and an ever-expanding assorment of proteins in new and interesting ways.

I have been stepping up my game on the grill for the past year, trying new sauces, marinades, side items and cooking techniques, and this webpage will chronicle my experiments, including victories and horribly burned, inedible failures. I am not a trained cook, but I am a very experienced eater, and it is my mission to make the food my family eats at home taste better than what we get at fancy grilling restaurants like Applebee's and Burger King.

I will include recipes for the dishes that my in-house food critics (pregnant wife and 1 year old son) deem worthy of eating again, and if you are feeling adventurous, give one of them a try.