BBQ Essentials 2.0!

Another year, another BBQ essentials list! Not to say that the items I shared last time are completely obsolete, but I want to add to the previous list. Consider it an addendum to the previous BBQ Essentials list. Check out more products that I love to use when grilling and BBQing!

Thermapen Mk4

Don’t overcook food again!

For those of you that follow me either here on this website or on Instagram, you’ll know how much I swear by using a digital thermometer. I like to cook by temp, not time. Every animal has lived a different life, meaning the meat off of one animal may be tougher than another, which can lead to the same cut of meat cooking longer than another. With that said, I use my Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks on every cook I do. I get fast, accurate temps and backlit, rotating display that changes with the various angles I use to probe. And with how frequent I have used it over the past couple of years, I haven’t even had to change the battery.

You can get your very own Thermapen at the Thermoworks website.

Gloveworks HD Nitrile Gloves

The unique texture on these nitrile gloves helps provide a better grip, even when handling greasy food.

I’m constantly asked what kind of gloves I use in my video posts on social media. In my previous BBQ Essentials post, I mentioned nitrile gloves as a must-have. I still believe this and I have found a brand I have grown to love in Gloveworks HD. They have a great grip and have had some great customer service from these folks, which goes a long way in my book. I love using the black gloves, but they also have other colors such as blue, orange, and neon green.

Check out these Gloveworks HD nitrile gloves on Amazon.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Smoked tri-tip reverse seared in a cast iron skillet is my favorite way to cook this cut of beef.

I love to reverse sear steaks and roasts. While the flame-kissed sear you get directly on the grill grates makes for some beautiful culinary aesthetics, I prefer to sear in a cast iron skillet for two reasons:

  1. I get that seared crust over more of the meat surface in a skillet as compared to only where the grill grates touch
  2. I can add other ingredients such as butter, rosemary, and garlic for the meat to sear in and capture that extra flavor

My Lodge cast iron skillet has been used plenty over the flames and has gotten better with each cook. And for that, I give them my super-duper-important seal of approval! I recommend the 12″ skillet because it can accommodate my tri-tips and other big hunks of meat. I have other sizes of these skillets for cooking other dishes in and love them.

This is the best price I could find a cast iron skillet at online.

Chef Shamy Garlic Butter

That garlic butter from Chef Shamy making these NY Strip steaks more flavorful!

Remember how I talked about using ingredients to throw in the cast iron skillet when searing? I consolidate the butter, herbs, garlic, and parmesan all into one with the Chef Shamy Garlic Butter (wow, that sentence sounded like a paid endorsement. Don’t worry, it’s not). I have made my own compound butter and while it’s fun to do, I also like to how this blend is done and having it readily available at the last minute. The flavors lend themselves great to searing steaks, spreading on poultry, making garlic bread, and other good stuff.

Check out the Chef Shamy butter online at Amazon.

Anova Precision Cooker

Sous vide cooking your steaks before searing on the grill is an excellent way to make your steaks! (pic courtesy of PCmag.com)

One look at this device and you’re probably thinking to yourself: what on Earth does this indoor device have to do with BBQing outside? Well, the sous vide method of cooking is great for getting the food evenly cooked before searing on the grill. There. Tied it in. Seriously though, the Anova Precision Cooker with WiFi (there’s also a Bluetooth version available) will take you from a really good cook to a great one! Wondering what sous vide is? To summarize, its a method of cooking food in a tightly sealed bag submerged in temperature controlled water. The Anova Precision Cooker lets you control the temp of the water it cooks in, so you don’t overcook it.

A few months back I cooked a steak sous vide using the Anova and then seared on the grill afterward. Have you heard of “fork tender” steak before? Try “spoon tender” for this one! That’s right, I straight up cut this one with a spoon!

Check out the Anova Precision Cooker at a great price.

Bratwurst!

 

Bratwurst are a simple, yet very tasty, meat to smoke.
Bratwurst are a simple, yet very tasty, meat to smoke.

If you’re new to barbecuing like me, you may feel ambitious and want to try smoking some of the bigger meats right away. While that is a noble attempt of us padawans, it is sometimes best to don’t go chasing waterfalls, but to stick to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to. With those wise words from TLC, a simple, yet tasty food to smoke is bratwurst. It’s as simple as throwing them on the smoker for two hours. That’s it. You can stop there. Seriously. But since this is a website dedicated to learning to smoke, I will provide you the dialogue:

Meat: Bratwurst

Wood: Apple

Smoke:  240° F (or 115.556° C for you readers outside the U.S.) for two hours

Grill: Medium-low heat for about five minutes, turning once

When going to the store to buy your brats, a beginner to the ways of smoking might look for the brats that come packaged like this:

"These aren't the brats you're looking for." -Obi-Wan Kenobi, probably
“These aren’t the brats you’re looking for.”
-Obi-Wan Kenobi, probably

These are pre-cooked. You can fire them up on the grill and still be satisfied. But since we are smoking, go for the uncooked bratwurst that come in a package like this:

These are the brats your looking for.
These are what the uncooked bratwurst will come packaged like.

Once your smoking device is at 240° F, put the brats in the smoker for two hours. As far as the wood is concerned, that is a matter of your preference. I’m a sucker for apple wood and I love to use it on pork products. Whatever your preference, knock yourself out. With that said, you may be tempted during the smoke to lift the lid to turn the brats with your tongs, but there’s no need. They will smoke evenly. Also, you don’t want any of that smoky heat to escape, for keeping the chamber door open too long will throw off the temperature and you will lose some of that trapped smoke that is flavoring your food.

Right before the two hours is up, turn on your grill/light up your BBQ pit/heat up the stovetop to a medium-low heat. My grill is right next to the smoker, so I use that. I put them on the grill for a few minutes so they can get those grill marks and cook a little more on the inside just to be safe. Be careful not to keep them on too long or the skins of the brats will break and the juices will pour out. You DO NOT want to lose these juices because this is where the they get their flavor. The purpose of smoking them in the first place is to trap the juices and let the smoke seep into the sausages. With that said, a couple of my brats started to sputter on the grill. I noticed this because the juices dripped down unto the flame and made them burn higher. If you see this, it’s not too late. Pull them off and then you are ready to serve!

In the world of smoking, the end result we all covet is the smoke ring. I’ve smoked brats on a few occasions, but I’ve never noticed a smoke ring until this time. It might be a coincidence, but these are the best bratwurst I’ve ever had!  Each bite was bursting with those flavorful juices with a hint of apple smoke. I try to keep myself to a one-brat limit, but these were too good to eat just one. (Note: the bratwurst may have a crispy outer skin to them, which is caused by the slow smoking process. The insides will be just fine, so don’t worry.)

Ah, that coveted smoke ring.
Ah, that coveted smoke ring.

I hope you try to smoke bratwurst and see how simple and rewarding it can be. This can provide a confidence boost to beginners and fuel your ambition to tackle bigger meat (I hope that last part didn’t sound weird).

 

Smoked Turkey

Note: this smoke originally took place on 11/26/2015 

Smoked Turkeys.
Smoked Turkeys.

I’ve only been smoking for a few months, but foolishly decided to tell my mother-in-law that I will take on making the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. No pressure, just smoke something you’ve never tried for the main dish of the biggest meal of the year. A lot of people have turkey for Christmas as well, so this recipe isn’t just for one day a year. Here’s the recipe I used:

Meat: Two Turkeys  (8.5 lbs. and 14 lbs., respectively)

Brine: 3.5 gallons of water, 2 C kosher salt, 2 C sugar, 2 C apple juice, 1 Jonagold apple (sliced), 2 T rub, 1 T lemon juice; brined in cooler for 24 hours

Wood: Pecan, with a little apple mixed in

Smoke: 260° F for five hours, then had to put in oven at 325° F for 60-90 minutes to reach right internal temp of 165° F.

Since I had never made a turkey before, I learned some things in the prep that you all who are also new to this should know:

1: When shopping for a turkey, look for one with a label that says, “minimally processed” and/or “low solution added”. When talking about low solution, the rule of thumb that experts look for is 8% or less. You get a better quality turkey this way, which means better meat to flavor. If you can’t obtain one of these types of turkeys, it’s not the end of the world. I used one without these labels and it still tasted pretty dang good.

2: The turkey will come frozen from the store, unless you found a fresh one somehow. These things can take a couple of days to thaw out in the fridge (24 hours for each 4-5 lbs.) so be prepared. If you are impatient pressed for time like me, put it in a bucket or sink full of cold water breast side down. Average thawing time is 30 min. per lb. Note: make sure turkey is still in the package while doing this.

3: When opening the package, you may want to do so over a kitchen sink. That way, all the juices/solution/blood don’t end up all over your counter/floor/self.

4: There’s more to the turkey than meets the eye. It’s what’s on the inside. They shoved the turkey neck and a gravy packet up its butt, so you’ll need to get up in there and pull it out. Also, you will want to get into the north end and find the skin flap that opens to a cavity. Dig your hand in there and you’ll find a hidden packet full of giblets, which is a fancy way of saying liver, heart, and other “edible” innards. Don’t worry, you don’t need these and can throw the packet away. That is, unless, you desire these things. We don’t judge here on this website, so do your thing.

5: Brine the turkey, for goodness sake. I’m not fully sure why, but everywhere I’ve read online and folks I’ve talked to with experience say to do it.

A simple, effective brine is made up of 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, and 1 cup of sugar. In hopes to give it more of an apple flavor, I decided to improvise a little and added apple juice, a sliced Jonagold apple, some lemon juice, and some rub I planned on putting on the turkey afterward.

Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)
Brine ingredients (sans lemon juice)

 Since I didn’t have room in my fridge, nor do I own a second one with extra space, I went the cooler route for the brining. This meant that I needed to add more water to make sure the birds were fully submerged, which also meant that I needed to add more of the ingredients. To keep the water temp cool, I threw in a bunch of ice cubes and put it outside in the cooler weather (which varied from low 40s to upper 20s over the course of 24 hours). The ice cubes stayed frozen and the water didn’t freeze, which I was happy about.

Time to brine.
Time to brine.

After taking the birds out of the brine, I patted them dry with a paper towel. I poured some olive oil on the turkeys and then generously applied Loot N’ Booty BBQ brand Gold Star Chicken Rub. I let them rest for around 30-45 minutes before putting them in the smoker.

Resting birds about 30-45 minutes before smoking.
Resting birds for 30-45 minutes before smoking.

You can tell it’s cold outside when the temperature gauge on the smoker has a little ice on it, even though it was under a tarp the night before.

Frosty smoker.
Frosty smoker.

After adding a bunch of coals, pecan wood, and apple wood, the smoker reached my desired temperature of 260° F and I placed the turkeys inside, breast side up, and left them untouched for the first two hours. Turkey, like most meats, can dry out during the smoking process. You will want to put a bowl of water inside the smoker to help retain the moisture inside the chamber (you will want to find a small, metal bowl that can withstand the higher temperatures). Since white meat can especially get dry, I put a mixture of apple juice and apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the birds about once an hour for the next three hours. Otherwise, you will want to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

After five hours, my turkeys hadn’t reached the desired internal temp of  165° F. In fact, they were down around 120° F. Most recipes I’ve seen show it to be almost done by this time. Maybe my temperature gauge on the smoker is lying to me, maybe it’s the 5,000 ft. elevation I’m at, or maybe a little of both. To get the turkeys to their necessary temperature quicker, I took them off the smoker, placed them in a foil pan, double wrapped with heavy duty aluminum foil, and put them in my oven at 325° F. This isn’t what I had originally planned, but desperate times call for desperate temperatures measures.

In the process of wrapping the poultry, I cut up a couple of pounds of butter and distributed one pound over each of the turkeys. I witnessed Aaron Franklin do this in a YouTube video and he explained that since turkey can be bland, adding butter helps keep it juicy and flavorful.

Butter, baby!
Butter, baby!
Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!
Now THAT is what I call a butter ball turkey!
In baseball terms, my oven is "the closer" when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.
In baseball terms, my oven is “the closer” when it comes to finishing smoking some of the bigger meats. A Mariano Rivera, if you will.

After spending just over an hour in the oven at 325° F, the birds finally reach the internal temperature of 165° F. I unwrapped it, let it rest for about 30 minutes, and then start carving away! I have come to learn that I love cutting the white meat way more than the dark meat. Dark meat has is very sinuous and full of bones and can be difficult to cut and pull the meat off of. Whereas the white meat cuts very well and you don’t have to worry about those extra surprises inside. I think I’d much rather eat the turkey legs and wings off the bone itself instead of having to carve them.

The turkeys were a huge hit and I received tons of compliments from the family members who showed up to devour it! Keep the leftovers (if any remain), because it also makes for a very good chicken noodle soup, substituting smoked turkey for the chicken, of course.

I am welcome to any questions or feedback you may have on this, so feel free to post something in the comments!