Barbecue is a hobby that provides some good times and even better food. These are the things that drive most of us. But when we think of BBQ, cleaning is the last thing to comes to most of our minds. However, the upkeep is necessary to get the maximum performance out of your grills and yield the best food you can. That’s why when I was offered a Pit Hawg to demo, I jumped at the opportunity.
The Pit Hawg BBQ Ash Vacuum is made by Dustless Tools and is a lightweight, handy vacuum that is made with barbecue grills in mind. Also, it can also be used indoors for fireplaces and wood stoves. It is less than two feet tall and only 13 inches wide. It comes with a handle for easy carrying and the hose is about five feet long, so you can have your vacuum up next to you and reach all angles of your grill with the hose (as you may know, grills come in different shapes and sizes). Just a heads-up that the cord is 10 feet long, you may need to plug in an extension for outdoor use.
I usually clean my grills prior to using them (usually because I’m too lazy to do it the same day or the day after). That means I end up vacuuming up cold ash. Some of you may be eager beavers and like to clean soon after. You need to be careful of hot ashes and the air inside the vacuum creating a bellowing effect, which can cause a fire. If you can’t tell the difference between warm and hot ashes (as sometimes that is difficult), the Pit Hawg has a thermal shutdown feature that will turn off the vacuum if it gets too hot. Speaking of the inside, the Pit Hawg is easy to clean out. Simply undo the three latches on the rim of the vacuum, remove the lid, and dispose of the ash inside.
Sometimes when I’m vacuuming with this, the suction isn’t the best. Thankfully the Pit Hawg has a button you can smash when you need more sucking power. It’s a big, yellow button on the top of the device that is fun to pound. Kids and adults in my house have fun smashing this button (the adults more so than the kids…and by “adults” I mean myself). The aluminum nozzle also has a couple of attachments to help better clean your grill, including a rectangular wire brush for grilling grates.
Do I like this thing? Let me tell you that I bought a standard shop vac a couple of months prior to getting this Pit Hawg and my shop vac has sat in storage ever since. I like that this Pit Hawg is lightweight to carry, has good suction, and is easy to clean. The attachments to the hose help get the best clean you can. I like using this and think you would too!
Who doesn’t love a good breakfast? If you’re cooking up breakfast at home and want some sort of pork product to go with your pancakes and eggs, most folks make a choice between sausage or bacon. But why not both? You can have a complete breakfast all-in-one with this epic breakfast fatty! If this concept is new to you, just know I’m not the first to make these. In fact, they seem to be a common staple amongst avid barbecuers. Put a slice of this breakfast log in between a biscuit and you’ve got an even more epic breakfast!
The ingredients used for this breakfast fatty are as follows (in no particular order):
ground sausage (or chorizo if you want to spice it up)
hash browns (cooked)
diced green bell pepper
BBQ sauce (for the last 20 minutes of the cook)
The bacon weave
The outermost layer of the breakfast fatty is a bacon weave. It’s like a tasty safety net for the rest of the ingredients to stay in. Granted, the ground sausage should keep it all in, but is having all that bacon as part of the meat cocoon such a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Anyway, some of you may wonder how to make a bacon weave. To lay it out in a simple way, I’ll do numeric bulletpoints:
Put down a strip of parchment paper or clear plastic wrap
Lay five or six strips of bacon vertically, each strip close to the other
Take the even numbered strips and pull back part way
Lay a new strip of bacon horizontally, across the odd numbered strips of bacon (the ones that aren’t folded back)
Flip the folded over strips back (look! You’ve made the beginnings of the weave!)
Now take the odd numbered vertical strips and lay and pull up to fold over, up by the horizontal strip already weaved in
Lay another horizontal strip down next to the other horizontal one
Pull the flipped over bacon strips back down
Now that you’ve come this far, just alternate between flipping over the even and odd vertical strips to lay down the horizontal ones until the weave is complete!
The next layer: ground sausage
Now that you have woven a blanket o’ bacon (good job, by the way!) take a 16 oz. package of ground sausage and flatten it out in a square-like shape over the bacon weave. If it doesn’t reach the edges of your weave, it’s okay. Just make sure you have flattened it out enough to put your other ingredients in and roll it up. Speaking of…
The rest of the ingredients
For those of you keeping score at home, we have scrambled eggs, hash browns (cooked), cheddar cheese, diced onion, diced green bell pepper, and rub remaining to put in this thing. Lay out these ingredients in a straight line, layering on top of each other. When doing the cheese, you can use either shredded or long, skinny rectangular cubes. The advantage of the long cubes in the log is that the cheese is centered in one spot and has that cheesy, gooey look when it’s sliced and served. And as far as the rub is concerned, you can either apply it on the ground sausage or on the bacon part. I usually apply it on the bacon (because I forget to put it on the sausage).
Rollin’ up a fatty
Remember how I mentioned to lay down a sheet of parchment paper or clear plastic wrap? I hope you did because rolling up this meat cocoon is a lot easier this way. As you have laid the inside ingredients on top of each other in one direction, take the parallel end and start rolling. The goal is to roll as if you want to make one end of the ground sausage touch the other end. No tight rolling, just roll to where when you eventually slice it the meat will have enclosed the inside ingredients.
Pull back the parchment paper or plastic wrap and put toothpicks into the loose bacon tips at the ends of the rolled up fatty to help keep its form rounded on the ends…and to keep stuff from oozing out.
Put it on the grill
When cooking this thing, I put the breakfast fatty in at 275F and leave it in for about 90 minutes. I like to use my digital thermometer to check the temps inside. When it is around 150F, I apply the BBQ sauce on the bacon. Close the lid and then remove the log when the internal temp hits 165F. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Bacon-weaved Breakfast Fatty
Good for breakfast or tailgating, this BBQ staple is great any time of day!
Prep Time20 minutes
Active Time1 hour30 minutes
Total Time1 hour50 minutes
10-12 strips of bacon
1 lb. ground sausage
2 Tbsp rub
3/4 C hash browns, cooked
3 eggs, scrambled
1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/8 C diced onion
1/8 C diced green bell pepper
3 Tbsp BBQ sauce
Preheat grill to 275F on indirect heat
Lay down sheet of parchment paper and create the bacon weave.
Apply ground sausage on top of bacon weave and spread into a square-like shape. Apply rub onto ground sausage.
Spread cooked hash browns in a horizontal line down the center of the ground sausage. Place scrambled eggs, cheese, onion, and green bell pepper on top in similar fashion.
Take one end of the parchment paper (parallel to the line of hash browns and other ingredients) and loosely roll the fatty. Remove parchment paper and secure ends with toothpicks.
Place on grill (275F at indirect heat) and cook for 70 minutes.
Brush BBQ sauce on the bacon, close lid and cook for another 20 minutes.
Remove, rest for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.
For crispier bacon, turn grill up to 325F during last 20-30 minutes.
If you want to make this spicy, substitute jalapeños for green bell peppers, pepper jack cheese for cheddar cheese, and even add some chorizo.
Cook until the ground sausage has hit a temp of 165F.
Place slice of breakfast fatty in a biscuit or English muffin to make an ultimate breakfast sandwich!
If you’re new to learning how to barbecue (that rhymed), I highly recommend smoking a pork shoulder. Also known as a pork butt or Boston butt, this cut of meat comes from the shoulder of the pig. Hence, I like to call it the pork shoulder. While it is a popular meat at barbecue joints, don’t be intimidated. Pork shoulder is a very forgiving meat in that you can make some mistakes and it will still turn out pretty darn good. I have a simple recipe I use often and it yields incredible results.
One aspect that makes this recipe so easy is the number of ingredients: four. All you need is a pork shoulder, spicy brown mustard (or regular mustard), your favorite bottle of rub, and a can of Dr Pepper for spritzing during the cook.
Is there trimming involved?
Start by taking your pork shoulder out of the packaging. I like to give it a gentle rinse and patting dry with a paper towel before using the other ingredients. Once that’s done, put it on your cutting board or whatever sanitary surface you plan on using. As far as trimming goes, pork shoulders usually come trimmed up pretty well out of the package with no other work to do. There may be a random flap of fat hanging off somewhere and you are free to trim that off and go on your way. Now, you’ll notice a layer of fat on the top part. Every barbecuer I know leaves it on. Some like to score the fat side with cuts about a 1/2 inch deep and do so in a crosshatch pattern (cuts about 1 inch apart) because they feel the fat (and other seasonings on top) will render into the meat better. I am going simple here and leave the fat side alone.
Applying mustard and rub
Next, get your bottle of mustard and start squirting over the meat. Make sure to smooth it over all sides of the shoulder, not just front and back. After you’ve finished rubbing that mustard on, grab your bottle of rub and start shaking, covering all sides of the pork. I like to be a little generous with the rub here as the pork can be bland without it.
The smoking process
Hopefully you’ve had your smoker outside getting up to smoking temps. I like to go 275F, which is on the edge of going from smoking to baking. When smoking pork, I like to use either a fruit wood (such as apple, cherry, or peach) or go with my favorite: pecan. Once I am near temps, I put the pork shoulder on the grill and let the smoke do the rest…and the spritz. Which reminds me…
How often do I spritz?
This is a question that is bound to get a different response from pretty much every barbecuer out there. Some say spritz every hour. Others may say once every two hours. There are folks who don’t spritz at all. Not only that, but you will get feedback of blends to make for your spritzing, usually with the main ingredient of apple juice or apple cider vinegar (I’ve mixed both). Since I’m keeping it simple here, I use a can of Dr Pepper. Not only does it provide a little bit of a sweeter flavor that pork mixes well with, it also gives a richer, darker color to the outside of the meat. I like to spritz about two or three times during the smoke session. TIP: open the can of Dr Pepper a few hours beforehand and let it sit out and get flat. It will spritz better that way.
To wrap or not to wrap?
Some like to wrap their meat in foil when the meat hits around 150-165F range because its usually at that spot that the meat stops progressing in temperature because it starts to sweat to cool down. This phase is commonly known as the stall or Texas crutch. Wrapping helps trap the heat to help the meat cook hotter and faster. I haven’t been wrapping during cooking lately because I am giving myself plenty of time to finish. But do what you want in this regard.
When is it done?
Why do I keep using my headlines as questions? Yep, I asked another question. *insert facepalm here* A lot of recipes give you a set number of hours to tell you the meat is officially done. I don’t buy into that. I’ve had similar sized pork shoulders cooking side by side in the same grill at the same temps and have had one finish before the other. This experience happens to me often. The reason for being is that, as BBQ pro Chad Ward told me once, “every animal has lived a different life.” Meaning that some animals have used their muscles more than others, making their meat tougher. Some may have been fed differently than others, eaten more than others, etc.
There are two ideal ways I can tell when the pork shoulder is done: by internal meat temp, which shredding temp is between 195-205F, or by using the meat thermometer to simply probe the meat. If the probe goes in and out smooth like butter, then it is done.
Rest and serve
When the pork shoulder is done cooking, you will want to let it rest. This helps the juices build up and the meat cool down. Let it rest at least 30 minutes before tearing into it. I like to let it rest and then wrap if I plan on serving it later. I then put it in a well-insulated cooler and remove when I’m ready to eat.
Some folks like to shred the meat with some sort of bear claw-type meat shredding tools. I like to put on two layers of gloves and shred with my hands. The underlying layer is a pair of cheap worker gloves you can get at a gas station or hardware store. The outer layer is a pair of nitrile gloves (I like to use Gloveworks HD). That pair of worker gloves underneath helps acts as a bit of insulation to protect from the heat of the meat. If the meat is done at the ideal temps, then shredding only takes about 30 seconds. Shredding the pork this way is seriously one of my favorite things to do in barbecue! There’s something gratifying about making quick work of something that took hours to finish. Serving soon after shredding is prime time for texture and taste so you and your friends/family/strangers should eat up quick!
If you don’t eat it all, no worries. Another great thing about pulled pork is that it reheats very well, even after freezing. It is the only meat I freeze leftovers of and eat at a later time because it is still quite tasty.
Easy Pulled Pork
Smoked pulled pork is a favorite in the barbecue world and is surprisingly easy to make. Using only three ingredients (four if you count the Dr Pepper for the spritz), this recipe is super easy and yields tasty results!
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time10 hours
Total Time10 hours5 minutes
1 pork shoulder (aka- Boston butt), 6-8 lbs.
1/4 C spicy brown mustard
4 Tbsp rub
OPTIONAL: Dr Pepper for spritzing
Preheat grill/smoker to 275F with indirect heat, using smoking wood of your choice
Place pork shoulder on cutting board and apply spicy brown mustard, then the rub
Move pork shoulder to grill/smoker and cook for about 10 hours, spritzing on occasion with Dr Pepper
Remove when pork hits between 195-203F internal temp
Rest for 20-30 minutes before shredding
For the spritzing, its best to open the can/bottle of Dr Pepper hours beforehand and let it get flat. The soda will spray better this way.
Finishing times for meat can vary. Keep track of temps throughout to make sure it finishes at the temp you want.
While pork is technically edible at 142F, pulled pork needs to be finished cooking around 195-203F to make it more shreddable and still juicy
Regarding smoking wood, I prefer to use pecan or a fruit wood such as apple, peach, or cherry. Pork does well with these flavors.
If you’re a fan of watching reruns of the show Parks and Recreation like I am, you may recall an episode in which Andy Dwyer (played by Chris Pratt) was giving advice to Tom by saying, “‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ I read that one on a can of lemonade. I like to think that it applies to life.” While I’m not going to go that deep in thought on you, I like to think when life gives you pecans, you make pecan pie.
The Best Way to Eat Pecans
As you may recall, I have a recipe for smoked candied pecans here on the website. It’s my second favorite way to eat pecans. My #1 favorite way is to take those smoked candied pecans and make a pecan pie!
I have a not-so-top secret recipe I like to use that involves things like sugar, more sugar, corn syrup, salt, and butter. But don’t worry, there’s also a touch of orange zest in there, so you got your fruit category covered. Seriously, pecan pie isn’t known for being healthy, but it is known for being delicious and now you can see why.
Take a medium mixing bowl and put in brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, corn starch, orange zest, salt, light corn syrup, melted butter, and three eggs. Stir ingredients together.
Lightly grease a pie tin (or pie pan, pie plate, or whatever you prefer to call it)and put your rolled out pie crust in. Make sure pie crust conforms to the pie tin (or pie pan, pie plate…you get the deal here).
Take half of your pecans and scatter them on the pie crust.
Pour ingredients from mixing bowl into the pie crust.
Take remaining pecans and place on top, making sure to spread them around.
Cover pie in foil and put on your grill with the heat at 350°F for 30 minutes, using pecan wood chunks (or pellets of using a pellet grill) for flavor. NOTE: you can always bake this in your oven as an alternative, but keep in mind you won’t get that extra pecan smoke flavor infused.
After 30 minutes, remove foil from pie. Bake uncovered for another 20-25 minutes.
Let rest until pie is at room temperature.
Dive right in!
When zesting the orange, start at one spot and zest lightly on the surface, spiraling around the orange. The reason for this is you get the best zest from the outmost part of the peel. Going further into the peel in one spot makes the zest more tart.
Corn startch helps thicken the pie’s consistency.
When baking the pie, you can tell it is done by giving the side of the pie tin a tap and watching how it moves. If it sloshes around, it needs more time. If it jiggles just a little bit, then it’s done.
I hope you enjoy this pie recipe and serve it up for holidays, parties, family gatherings, Tuesdays, etc.!
I’ve been cooking in a ceramic grill religiously for the past 18 months, mostly going low and slow for barbecue. I’ve been using the Kamado Joe Classic, Classic II, and Joe Jr. I love how these things hold the heat for hours and hours (especially in the wintertime) and how they capture the moisture in at the same time. I’ve used the regular grill grates, cast iron grates, and the half moon griddle. While I recommend using all of these, my favorite accessory to use is the Joetisserie.
What’s in the box?
The Joetisserie works like a regular rotisserie and is fitted for the 18” Classic. The packaging includes a steel spit rod (or skewer), two adjustable forks (or claws) to keep the food firmly in place for spinning, a large, wedge-shaped ring to keep the skewer in place, and the motor for spinning the steel spit rod. The motor comes with a plug because it requires electricity, so you’ll want to make sure your grill is close to a power source. Also worth noting is that the motor is strong enough to spin up to 40 lbs. of food.
To help attach the food to the skewer, one side has a dull point on the end to help move the food down the stick (but not too sharp as to impale…unless you are running full force with it at someone/something). Make sure to first put one claw on the skewer facing the food, then the food itself, and finally the other claw to keep things in place whilst spinning.
Here’s a video of the unboxing (a re-enactment if you will) and assembly of the Joetisserie:
Using the Joetisserie
You can cook a variety of meats, veggies, and fruits rotisserie style. Two of my personal favorites are chicken and pineapple. I’ve also attempted al pastor and have had some success with it. The advantage to cooking food this way is that as it’s internal temp starts to rise, the juices don’t usually drip off. They keep rolling around as the food spins, meaning the food is basting in its own juices. In fact, the best, most juiciest whole chickens I’ve made have been rotisserie style using my Joetisserie.
One tip I’ve learned after charring the skin on a few of my birds is when lighting the coals, try to keep your hottest ones to the outer portions as opposed to directly under the meat. That way, you can get a more even cook for both the outside and inside of your food. Another option for those with more patience is to let the coals burn past their peak and then use those cooler coals to cook with.
While the Joetisserie is great to use, one super minor issue of how to store it comes after you are finished using it. You could always try to put it back in the original box it came in, but the custom cut styrofoam will eventually come apart. No custom bags or storage bins are available, so you’ll either have to find the right size of box to put it in or be like me and put some parts one place and the rest on top of your fridge in the garage.
With that said, here’s my pros and cons:
* Simple to assemble
* Food becomes self-basting
* Fits most round, 18” ceramic grills (including large Big Green Egg)
* Easy to use
* Limited availability to purchase
* No storage kit available
I could watch the rotisserie spin around all day. It’s a bit hypnotic in a way. If you check my social media posts, you will occasionally see me sharing videos of spinning chickens and other foods. I can’t help it. I could watch those videos on repeat! Even though there are no storage bags available (at the moment), I highly recommend the Joetisserie to add yet another style of cooking to your kamado!
Growing up, I was never much into pecans. I found them too bland to the taste and not as good as a can of salted cashews. As an adult, I have only craved them in pie form thanks to all that sugar and butter at Thanksgiving. I hadn’t thought of trying smoked nuts until one day I was browsing Instagram stories and saw that two of my favorite follows, @emberandvine and @vindulge, had shared pictures of being at an event and selling smoked almonds, among some fine smoked meats like tri-tip. The smoked almonds got me thinking I should be like Sean and smoke nuts too. I like sweet treats and I guess I associate pecans with that due to that delicious pie. So why not make up some recipe combining sweet and smoke? After a few tries (and one burnt offering), I think I got it down!
The recipe and steps are pretty simple. For starters, get your grill going to 275F, using pecan wood. I used pecan wood because I figured since I am smoking pecans I might as well stick to the pecan’s roots.
Shake it up!
Next, simply put the pecans, melted stick of butter, and Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel rub altogether in a gallon-sized ziplock style bag. This dessert rub from Lane’s BBQ is a game changer for desserts! I love this flavor profile! Shake up the bag to mix ingredients together. Once it has been mixed well, pour a half of cup of maple syrup in, reseal, and mix well again.
Spread and smoke
Now that all of the mixing action has taken place, spread the pecans in a single layer on a cookie sheet (I like to lay down a layer of foil for easier cleanup) and take out to the grill/smoker for that pecan smoke bath. I like to leave it in for 25-30 minutes. Be careful of overcooking as the maple syrup and butter can burn to the cookie sheet, as well as burn on the pecans. I only know this because some guy I know told me it happened. Okay, maybe that guy was me. And maybe that guy is now wiser for it.
After 25-30 minutes, remove the pecans and let them cool. It’s important to let them cool for a few hours because it will give the ingredients time to gel onto the pecans and make them less messy and more flavorful.
The YouTube video!
That’s it! You’ve just made pecans into a delicious sweet treat! My teenage self would definitely choose these over that can of cashews!
Being a native St. Louisan, it’s a given that I love St. Louis style ribs. I like the length of the ribs and how meaty they are. I’ve made baby backs before but they just weren’t the same. There’s nothing wrong with baby backs, it’s just my biased preference to go for St. Louis style.
What’s the difference?
Baby back ribs come from the part of the rib cage closest to the spine and have more curve to the bones while shorter in size (hence the “baby” in their name). The meat also tends to be leaner and a little better for you.
St. Louis style ribs are longer and go around more of the belly of the pig. The bones are longer, flatter, and have more fat and meat. They come from spareribs which have some cartilage and breast bone, but cutting that section off and squaring or, in this case, rectangularing (?), takes those portions away and makes it St. Louis style. NOTE: these ribs are also referred to as St. Louis style spareribs.
Now that I’ve dropped some knowledge on you (which some of you probably knew the difference anyway, but still) about St. Louis style ribs, there are various methods on how to cook them. I’ll just give you one simple, easy, delicious recipe and call it good. Cool? Cool.
Simple St. Louis Style Ribs
rack of St. Louis style ribs
4 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard
8 Tablespoons rub (your choice because they’re your taste buds)
a fruit wood for smoke flavor
Get smoker to 250F with pecan wood (or whichever wood you choose)
Rinse ribs and pat dry
Flip ribs to top side down and remove membrane
Apply spicy brown mustard on both sides
Apply rub on both sides
Place ribs in smoker for 4-5 hours (optional: wrap after three hours)
If you want saucy ribs, apply sauce 45 minutes before finished
Remove and let rest about 10-15 minutes before slicing
When removing ribs from the packaging, I like to rinse and pat dry with paper towels. I like to think since the meat has been suffocating in a cryovac bag for who knows how long, they could use a little breather and rinse off the juices they’ve been sitting in.
Removing the membrane
Once I’ve done that, then I remove the membrane from the back side of the ribs. The membrane is that thin, slick white film on the back of the ribs that, if left on, can make for a tough, chewy bite. I’ve actually met a couple of folks who like to leave it on, but only a couple. I like to remove the membrane by taking my digital thermometer probe (in this case, my Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks) to the bone furthest to the edge and start to dig that probe under the membrane and lift up the probe at an angle to which it starts to tear across that bone. Because it is slippery and difficult to grab, I take a paper towel, get a good, wide grip on the membrane, then pull straight across. Ideally, this pulls off in one clean shot. But if you’re like me, then you’ll occasionally need to pull the remaining strips off by grabbing with that paper towel.
Now you apply the spicy brown mustard and rub. I like to apply the mustard on the back side and then the rub right after so I don’t have to flip back and forth because I’m lazy. Once that’s done, then I flip over to the top side and repeat.
Commence the smoking process
The ribs are now ready to hit the grill. Hopefully, you’ve followed instructions and did step one, which is get your smoker ready. Once you are around 250F, place the ribs in, grab a drink or two, and hang out for a few hours. Some like to spritz the ribs occasionally to keep the outside of the ribs from drying out. Sometimes I use apple juice and apple cider vinegar, other times I use Dr Pepper. Either way, spritz once an hour (if you decide to go that route).
If you want to wrap the ribs, I suggest doing so after three hours. Wrapping is usually done to speed up the cooking process and get the meat past the “stall” (point at which the meat stays at temps around 150-165 for what can take hours). Lately I haven’t had any problems with time so I let it ride as is.
Also, if you want your ribs sauced, then wait until the last hour of the cook to sauce them. That way the sauce cooks in just the right amount of time and does not burn on the surface of your meat. It’s all a matter of preference for folks, but to me it all depends on what I’m feeling.
I like to use my Thermoworks digital thermometer, the Thermapen Mk4, to make sure I get the right tips. My ideal finish temp is between 180 to 190°F internal. That provides a clean bite through. Other folks like fall-off-the-bone ribs and if that is your thing then you’ll want to cook to between 190 to 205°F. I know some folks like to do the “bend test” where you pick up the rack of ribs in the middle and see how they fold over when you lift them up. They say they’re done when they bend, don’t break…as in don’t start falling off the bones. But if you want fall off the bone anyway, and that’s probably what you’re looking for.
Rest and slice
Once finished and off the grill, I like to let them rest for about 10 to 15 minutes. I do this because as meat rests, juices start to build up inside and that provides an excellent burst of flavor when you bite into them. Let them rest, enjoy the aroma, and exercise your patience a little longer and you will be rewarded.
As far as slicing goes, I prefer to turn them face side down and and slice parallel between the bones. Turning them upside down I can see where the bones are and don’t have to worry about slicing into them.
I hope this simple, yet detailed, recipe helps you on your journey to becoming a pitmaster. Do you have any tips or tricks you like to share? Feel free to either leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram at @learningtosmoke.
Ever since I first laid eyes on a Santa Maria style grill via the Internet, I’ve wanted to see one in person. The long, rectangular open air grill with the suspension grill surface that can be raised and lowered using a wheeled lever (or pulley depending on the grill) during the process of a cook is fascinating to me. However, finding a grill like that outside of the central coastal region of California, where Santa Maria is located, is a tough find.
Fast forward to present time when I was given the opportunity to visit the region and attend a BBQ Bootcamp at the Alisal Guest Ranch to learn about Santa Maria style grilling. I jumped at the opportunity and counted down the days til my trip. This was my chance to see these grills in action, learn from the experts in the area, and oh yeah, have an excuse to visit Southern California again!
Remember how I said I was going to a ranch In Southern California? Did you think that area was too crowded to have space for a ranch? You’re not alone if you did. While LA and the surrounding cities are one big urban/suburban sprawl that goes for miles on end, there’s a side to Southern California that you don’t see on the TV and movies. There are smaller coastal communities and even wide open spaces where ranches and wineries are aplenty. Simply take the 101 North, drive along that beautiful coast line, and once you get to Santa Barbara and north of it you are in for an experience you wouldn’t expect.
The Alisal Guest Ranch, which hosts this BBQ Bootcamp, is located in the quaint, Danish town of Solvang. While most people who are familiar with the town know it for all of the Danish themed shops and excellent Danish food, one needs only to drive a mile or two away from the town center to experience the rolling hills and vast spaces the area has to offer. This ranch is only two miles away from the city center yet feels like you’ve taken a journey far out yonder. The ranch style guest rooms have that authentic rustic feel, from the brick fireplaces to the exposed wood beams on the ceiling, and not to mention no TVs in the room to encourage getting outside and spending time together. I could go on about the history and amenities (really, I could because I just deleted another long paragraph about it), but let’s get into the experience, shall we?
All of our classes were outside on the property with four Santa Maria style grills, an XL Big Green Egg, and a large cylinder smoker with a rotating grill. The Santa Maria grills were all fueled with red oak wood. Have you ever burned or smoked with red oak before? The smell is intoxicating. And that’s what the whole place smelled like. You could say I was drunk on BBQ.
Anyway, our first class was taught by Chef Anthony Endy and Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post II restaurant in Los Alamos, CA (his restaurant and winery gained international attention when it was featured in the movie Sideways). One of the things Frank said that stood out to me was the method of flipping steaks more than once. If you’re like me, you’ve been taught to only flip meat once. Frank said he flips more than once because the beading juices on the surface that start to show on top of the meat are juices leaving the meat and drying it out. Flipping the meat over more than once, according to him, keeps more juices locked in.
Chef Anthony Endy, executive chef at the Alisal Guest Ranch, prepares some Wagyu tri-tip from Snake River Farms. These massive cuts of tri-tip were SIX POUNDS EACH! To put that in perspective, the average size of a tri-tip is between 1.5-2 lbs. These cuts of meat were rubbed with Santa Maria seasoning and a homemade chimichurri.
What exactly is Santa Maria seasoning? It mostly consists of kosher salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and dried parsley. I’ve been using it for a few years now and love it! If you’re looking to get a bottle of your own, companies like Susie Q’s sell it online.
If you want to cook smaller items like veggies, shrimp, scallops, etc. on the grill it’s best to use a cookie sheet with small holes in the bottom to let that red oak heat and smoke flow through while not seeing your food fall through the grates and onto the ashes.
We were offered some of the local fare of beers, wines (reds and rosés) and mixed drinks. The award-winning beers from the nearby brewery Firestone Walker featured the popular blonde ale 805 Beer, among other selections. If I drank then I’m sure it would’ve been pleasing to my tastebuds.
With that said, that night we were fed with tri-tip, filet mignon, bacon-wrapped scallops, chicken wings with Alabama white sauce, shrimp, and halibut. All of which were cooked on the Santa Maria style grills. All were cooked to perfection. There were also some veggies, but they weren’t important enough to remember. I was here for the friggin’ barbecue!
The next day was the only full day of the event and it was packed with some fun classes. To start off, we learned about blending spices and were provided with a table featuring over a dozen different spices to blend.
We weren’t told what to do, but advised that most rubs consist of 40 percent kosher salt. With that knowledge, I grabbed a bowl and mixed about nine different spices together and made my own rub. I mixed kosher salt, ground black pepper, Hungarian paprika, ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, ancho chili pepper flakes, and ground mustard. I may have annoyed the chefs conducting the class because I kept asking them to sample my blend and see what I needed to make it better. Overall, I think I did a decent job. Can’t wait to try it on food when I get home!
Next, we had a class on sausage making. I’ve been intrigued by this for quite some time now and was excited to learn the process. To keep from getting too deep in the woods here, just know that ground up pork shoulder was the main ingredient, that the number associated with the casing is the size in millimeters, poke small holes in the casing while pushing meat into it to help the flow and keep air bubbles from forming, and to twist every six inches for bun-sized links…or down twist at all and make a five pound sausage wheel. The sausage was grilled up soon after and we were eating them within minutes.
To finish up the morning, we had Chef Clark Staub from Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA come and teach us about cooking with a wood-fired oven. This was mainly about pizzas and flatbreads. Very, very delicious, eyes-rolling-into-the-back-of-your-head pizzas and flatbreads. Chef Staub, who just might be Stephen Colbert’s doppelgänger, reminded me that quality, local ingredients matter and can taste amazing.
After a relaxing break of sitting in the shade and enjoying the breeze (and charging my phone), we had the last class of the day: desserts. Chef Valerie from the LA-based bakery Valerie Confections taught us how to make caramel in a Dutch oven on the grill. Since it was on a ceramic grill, which I love to use, she definitely had my attention. Did you know that caramel is basically melted sugar and butter? No wonder why it’s so good! We also learned how to make bread pudding and cook it in a cast iron bundt pan, drizzling the caramel on top. I’m not a bread pudding fan, but I was a fan of this.
Dinnertime was epic time! We had smoked beef ribs and smoked salmon (both over red oak), locally caught lobster, tomahawk ribeyes, chicken, quail, and oysters.
Once again there were sides, but all I remember was that there was salad. Seriously, I wish you, the reader (yeah you), could’ve been here to help me eat all of this. I almost felt guilty that I couldn’t eat seconds or thirds because I loaded my plate with samples of everything. I even tried oysters for the first time. Always been nervous to eat them because they are all slimy and remind me of little snot-filled cups. I braved it and it wasn’t bad. Just wish I knew to separate that muscle from the shell.
The last day was a morning event. I took a horseback ride across the hills on the ranch and had breakfast at this old adobe out in the middle of nowhere. Haven’t ridden a horse in years and my butt sure felt it. Totally worth the experience, though.
We were treated to a great spread of pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, and pastries. All you can eat and a pancake as large as Captain America’s shield. Ron Swanson would’ve been jealous.
We had another class from Chef Valerie on making jam in a Dutch oven. Seriously, all of this dessert making in Dutch ovens has inspired me to get into that style of cooking. I’m planning on expanding my horizons and work on making some killer sides and desserts to complete my barbecue meals.
I was seriously bummed to leave the ranch. It was a nice escape from civilization and was had a relaxing, laid back feel the entire time I was there. It was the most chill schedule I’ve participated in and they gave you time to relax and enjoy the experience. I’d love to return someday. In the meantime, I’m not going to wash my clothes just so I can have that smell of red oak smoke there to take me back.
Ever since I got into barbecuing, I’ve wanted to travel to central Texas. More specifically, Austin. It is widely considered one of the barbecue havens of the world. Some folks consider it to be Barbecue Mecca. Either way, I kept talking of going but did nothing about it. That is, until one day I was hanging out with a couple of friends at work who also barbecue and I brought up this trip. We were sitting at our desks at work when one started looking up flights and the other checked hotels/AirBnB and the next thing I knew, we were headed to Austin!
We landed in the late afternoon and we were starving. We had a few places in mind to hit up and first was to drive outside of Austin and go to Driftwood to visit the famous Salt Lick.
SALT LICK (Driftwood)
This place is out of the way and sits on acres of land. It’s pretty much a ranch about 20-30 minutes outside of Austin. You pull up into a big gravel parking lot that has no problem filling up, especially on a Friday night. Between the two indoor dining areas (old side and new), there is an outdoor seating place with benches and a stage for live music. All in all, the place can seat 1,000 people at once!
They have outdoor areas on site for people to have picnics, playgrounds for kids to play on, grass to run around and plenty of trees to take shade on those hot Texas summer days. They also have enough outdoor space to hold events such as weddings.
We sat in the old building where there iconic indoor pit is located. The employees were kind enough to let us come behind the counter and take pictures. Just ask and they will let you back.
The seating, from what I observed, is mostly long wood benches. The walls are made of rock and cement with both normal ceiling fan lights and white Christmas lights draped throughout. This place holds true to their heritage and gives you an authentic experience.
The servers were friendly and fast with bringing out our food, even with it being a busy Friday night. My buddy Corey inquired about their sweet tea and a server named Dixon came and brought him a medium sized cup filled for a sample (not one of those tiny, smaller than Dixie kids cup types). He then asked about lemonade (to make an Arnold Palmer) and Dixon said they didn’t have any but that he would make him a fresh batch because “all I do is mix water, lemons, and sugar.” Excellent customer service!
We had brisket, pulled pork, sausage, Burnt Ends, pork rib, and turkey for meat. The sides were potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, pickles and onions. The potato salad stood out because they used their signature yellow sauce in the mix. It was divine and I don’t like potato salad that much.
Have I mentioned the place smells like barbecue inside and out? This ambiance, food, and customer service made it feel like barbecue heaven. I would fly back to Austin just to come to Salt Lick!
Us BBQ enthusiasts know all about Franklin Barbecue: the meats, the long lines, the reputation of Aaron Franklin himself. For those who aren’t familiar, Franklin Barbecue has quickly become the Mt. Everest of BBQ joints. It’s quality of barbecue, the limited, four hour window of time it is open (11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Tues-Sun), downtown location, and coolness of the pit master himself all drive the demand and make people wait outside in long lines for hours for this stuff.
Being from out of town and connoisseurs of fine barbecue ourselves, we’ve been chomping at the bit to try this place. To ensure we had a chance of getting to eat here, we showed up at 7:30 a.m. and there were already over 100 people in line! The people at the front of the line said they got there at 5:30 a.m.! Remember, this place opens at 11:00. I felt good about our chances of eating here and that was confirmed when an employee came out and starting sizing up the line, giving estimates as to when we were anticipated to eat. Our spot in line was given a 1-1:30 p.m. window. That will make SIX HOURS of waiting! Man, this place better be worth it.
Most people in line were smart and planned ahead by bringing camping chairs and coolers full of drinks. We, the out-of-towners, brought comfy shoes to stand in. While we couldn’t magically produce chairs for our wait in line, if you need a drink there’s a little coffee shack on premise and the inside of Franklin Barbecue opens for beverage and souvenir sales at 8:30, so you can get your drinks and swag while you wait. There are also port-a-potty’s outside and you can use the bathrooms inside before lunchtime.
A little later in the morning the same worker came out to ask people in line what they planned on ordering so they could set expectations. We said brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, and sausage. She didn’t shoot us down, so I think we have a shot at getting all the stuff we want.
Our time in line was quite enjoyable due to the local folks waiting around us. We talked for hours about everything and even played card games with them. Maybe it’s that Texas hospitality, maybe the bond of barbecue, maybe both. Either way, the long wait wasn’t that bad.
Once we got inside the door, we had another 25 minutes to wait before our turn at the counter. You order your food and you get it right there. Then you pay and find a table. Wasn’t hard to find a table because some folks just took their food and left. The seven of us found a table just fine (we sat with the new friends we made in line).
Here it is: the moment of truth! The years of hype, the 1,400 miles traveled, the six hours of waiting in line, and now we get to FINALLY sink our teeth into the glorious barbecue we’ve been hearing all about. Truth be told? It was worth it! The brisket was the best I’ve ever had, both the point and the flat! In fact, their flat beats out other BBQ joints’ point. The pulled pork was incredible, too. I also think this was the best I’ve tasted. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone style and very juicy. The turkey and sausage were okay. Same with the sides. But their key lime pie was excellent!
Turns out I have a follower on Instagram named Bin who works at Franklin Barbecue and even though he wasn’t working during lunch hours he alerted one of his fellow pit crew that I was there. Braun was kind enough to give me and my friends a tour behind the scenes! How cool is that?
They have three 1,000 gallon propane tanks that have all been repurposed as offset smokers. They are already working on the meats for the next day, so these bad boys keep pumping out that white oak smoke around the clock. Braun told us they do 72 briskets a day! Serving up that many briskets in a four hour window is insane (especially when you remember they sometimes run out sooner than that).
This had already been one of the greatest barbecue experiences of my life, but what made it even better was that I go to meet the man, the myth, the legend: Aaron Franklin!
Aaron was very down to earth and easy to talk to. He’s a busy man but still makes time to come out from behind the scenes occasionally and chat up customers (and even agree to photo ops with fans who geek out like myself).
Was it worth waiting in line for six hours? Yes. Not sure how often I would do that, but you must experience the greatest brisket and pulled pork at least once in your life.
After hanging out on 6th St for a little bit, I convinced my friends we should eat barbecue again and this time try Stiles Switch for dinner. When we first pulled up, it was dark in the parking lot and didn’t seem well lit by the restaurant, either. There were plain, rusty metal doors labeled “ENTRANCE” and my buddy Corey said it looked like the entrance to a strip club. We were a bit skeptical going in, but the inside ambiance was the total opposite of outside. It was a lively, down home rustic feel with wood walls, some neon lights, and the aroma of smoked meats.
The line wasn’t too bad and we got our food quickly. It is the same style as Franklin where they give you your food at the counter and pay there. My buddy and I decided to split a three-meat plate of brisket, ribs, and pulled pork…and a jalapeño sausage on the side. With two sides to choose from, the guy in front of us recommended one called corn casserole. We got that and the pinto beans w/ brisket.
The brisket was pretty solid and the ribs were the best I’ve had. The pulled pork was pretty good. While I appreciate the concept of the different flavor of sausage, it was a bit too spicy for me.
The area where Stiles Switch really shines is their sides! That corn casserole was by far the best side I’ve had. Unlike the usual sides of potato salad, beans, and cole slaw, this corn casserole stands alone and had me scraping my plate for every last morsel I could find. My buddy Matt had the potato salad and he loved it. The pinto beans w/ brisket were pretty good, too.
Unlike most BBQ joints that offer sauces that all look and taste somewhat similar, Stiles Switch goes out of their way to offer flavors unique from each other in style and appearance.The sauce they give you at the counter for dipping your food in is excellent. It’s a little runny, but pretty good flavor. They have a molasses sauce that was really good in small dosages. The mustard sauce was definitely mustard tasting. They had a peach habanero sauce that I wasn’t in the mood to try, but can appreciate that they were going for sauces that stand out from each other.
My buddies and I decided that Stiles Switch is a great place to go for an overall great barbecue meal.
BLACK’S BARBECUE (Lockhart)
While documenting this barbecue trip on Instagram, I received a lot of recommendations to head to Lockhart, TX which is about 30-40 minutes away. It’s a small Texas town with authentic, rustic charm and is known for its barbecue. There are more than a few barbecue places in this town and we decided to go to Black’s. We chose Black’s because it is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas and has quite the reputation. It’s in an old building on an old Main Street looking road, probably been there since they opened.
You walk in and it feels like a barbecue dining establishment that hasn’t changed much over the years. They have the red checkered picnic cloth table tops but covered in old plastic (kinda like how your grandparents cover their furniture in plastic covers, you know?), stained wood walls with pictures of family and celebrities who’ve come by, and traditional country music blaring. I loved how authentic this place felt and almost felt like a true time warp to 30-40 years ago, but in a good way.
As far as the food goes, the brisket was really good (which seems to be a common theme down here in central Texas). The ribs were okay, pork was good, and the chicken (I got white meat) was flavorful but a little dry. We only had one type of sauce on our table, which was good. The pecan pie was also good, not great. Sides were pretty good (potato salad, mac n cheese, beans, slaw). Overall, it might have been my least favorite barbecue place to eat in central Texas, but still better than most places that aren’t in central Texas.
To sum things up, this was a dream trip for me. Austin has a ton to offer and wish I could’ve stayed longer than three nights. Also wish we could’ve hit up more places because I received so many recommendations of other BBQ joints out here. For what I was able to experience, I hope I was able to give you all a glimpse of what barbecue is like in central Texas and the places we hit up. I love the passion they have for BBQ there. Til next time, Austin.
I’ve had my @learningtosmoke account on Instagram for over two years now and have seen my share of highs and lows. I’ve had posts that have done really well and others that get overlooked, I’ve been trolled and praised, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with some cool companies and critiqued on pretty much every aspect of BBQ that I can think of. And with one viral post, all of these things happened at once.
I recently posted a video of me showing how to properly slice a tri-tip. This isn’t the first tri-tip slicing video I’ve done. I have at least two or three others on my account and have seen some moderate success in views. On average, a good video (for me) will get about 10,000 views in the first 24 hours. Not bad, but still not getting the reach I hope for. The tri-tip video you see in the screen shot above was shared on 4/2/2018 ended up getting over 320,000 views in 24 hours! I was shocked. I don’t understand why this video, out of all of the videos I have posted up to this point, has far and away gained more attention than I could’ve imagined. It doesn’t make sense to me: I shared it on a Monday night. I wasn’t doing a giveaway. It wasn’t the first time sharing a tri-tip slicing video, either. No fancy cameras were used. No elaborate background or sound effects. Just me using my iPhone, a cutting board, knife, and of course, the meat.
At first, I was thrilled. Seeing my work being viewed all around the IG barbecue world was a dream come true. I finally made a video that was getting a lot of attention. I was famous. Internet famous. Instagram famous. If only for a few minutes. I felt on top of the world, but then I learned that there are two sides to fame. I was getting a lot of positive comments from friends and followers and seeing my new followers grow more in 24 hours than I typically see in two weeks. It seemed unreal! And then, the ugly side of social media reared it’s head.
As the video went viral, it continued to expand its reach to more and more Instagrammers. And when a post goes viral, the trolls come to pay a visit. After my followers within the BBQ community had made their encouraging comments and moved on, others started coming in and critiquing every little thing I was doing. It seemed like the negative comments were pouring in one after another. I was being trolled by vegans and carnivores alike. I way overcooked it. I didn’t cook it long enough. I should’ve used a Japanese style knife to cut meat and not the European one I had used. I used the fork wrong. I shouldn’t have used a fork at all. Meat is murder. I’m going to get cancer from eating meat. I shouldn’t use a wood cutting board for meat. It felt like every little move I had made in the video was getting scrutinized. I ended up deleting some comments and blocking a few people (which I maybe block one person a year). After being proud of the video, I was now growing frustrated with it. I actually debated whether or not to delete it. I love to engage with my followers and strive to reply to every comment. In this case, I didn’t feel like I had to justify everything I did to every negative commenter, nor should I have to. The video is what it is and I’m proud of it so I have kept it up.
I try to be a positive person and created my website and social media pages to encourage and help others not feel inadequate in their barbecue journey. But the incessant trolling on my page was making me wish I could kick a comment in the nuts. But that isn’t me. If I let them get to me, then I become like them. I would lose my identity I have worked hard to create and they win.
The reason I share this with you is because most of us using social media strive to have our posts be recognized by others and we hope our hard work reaches the masses, but we sometimes overlook the downside of going viral. Just remember that its you who is in control of how you react. Keep working hard for your success and don’t let the haters discourage you from you goals. Remember (again): haters gonna hate while winners keep winning.