Archive for the ‘Carnivore!’ Category

Since it’s Memorial Day weekend, a grilling blog is in order. And in case of rain, this works indoors as well.

I rarely order beef at a restaurant, because I can usually make a better steak at home. For one thing, I use humanely raised grass-fed beef, something few restaurants offer. And I can cook it for less than a third of the price of a steakhouse. Granted, most steakhouses dry-age their beef, a time-consuming process of taking slabs of beef and keeping them in a fridge for weeks until a certain amount of moisture is sucked out of the meat, intensifying the flavor. I’ve done that at home in my fridge, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

There is one steak that I couldn’t match for the longest time, and that was the Capital Grille’s bone-in Kona crusted dry-aged NY strip. I would have dreams about that steak! It was time to find a way to make something that would satisfy my craving for that amazing steak at home.

Looking at a variety of coffee rub recipes on-line, I started the slow and steady process of combining ingredients in just the right proportions, tasting as I went. What I came up with really accentuated the flavor of the beef I was cooking, better than I had imagined!

 

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3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Combine the ingredients, mixing well, and keep them in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

The secret ingredients are the brown sugar and the cocoa. The brown sugar gives the steak a caramelized crust when cooking, and the cocoa rounds out the flavors and gives the beef an extra “umph!”

When using, sprinkle the seasoning liberally on both sides of the steak before cooking. When cooking indoors, I like to add bacon fat to a hot cast iron skillet, searing the steak on all sides, and then finishing it in the oven. But let’s face it: nothing beats the grill!

 

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Here in Southern New England, the most popular brand of chicken salad is called Willow Tree. They’ve made it for over 50 years, and people crave it like crack. And it’s good: moist and “mayonnaisey”.

But I’ve never been a fan of “secret” ingredients, and Willow Tree is full of ’em, so my task was to make something that was as good as Willow Tree, with known ingredients. I got close…real close! As always, I use pastured chicken and organic veggies when possible. And since I use chicken breasts only, I found that boiling the breasts in stock instead of water keeps the meat more flavorful.

Another option: I like to roast a whole chicken, devouring the dark meat, then using the breast meat for the chicken salad. I use the carcass and scraps for chicken stock. Nothing goes to waste!

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1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 pints salt-free chicken stock (I use home-made)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I live on Hellman’s)
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the chicken stock in a large pot. Bring it to a boil and add the chicken breasts. Bring it to a boil again, then simmer uncovered for about 7 minutes.

Turn the heat off, cover the pot with a lid, and let the breasts sit in the pot for 10 minutes to cool a bit. After 10 minutes, remove the breasts to a cutting board. Save the chicken stock for another use, like soup. (See below.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, celery, onion, brown sugar, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Mix them thoroughly to combine.

When the chicken has cooled, shred or chop the breast meat into bite-sized pieces and then transfer it into the bowl with the mayonnaise mixture. Mix thoroughly and chill before serving.

I love my chicken salad on a Martin’s Long Roll.

 

BONUS: I don’t waste the chicken stock left over in the pot. I chop some carrots, celery and onion and throw them in there. I reserve some of the chicken breast meat–just a bit–and throw it in there, too. I add a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of dried Bouquet Garni. I bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the veggies are al dente. Pasta or potatoes optional. Makes an awesome chicken soup!

If you want to freeze the soup, I would leave the potatoes or pasta out, adding them only when reheating the frozen soup. That keeps them from getting mushy.

This is a rich, delicious, and unusual surf-and-turf, using wild Texas boar (I got it as a gift!) and locally caught Rhode Island scallops. Wild boar is an ingredient usually only found online, so substituting pork belly, which you can find at your local butcher shop, is a great alternative.

 

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For the pork belly…
3 lbs. fresh pork belly
salt and pepper
1–2 tablespoons leaf lard or olive oil
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cups beef stock
1 cup hard cider or apple juice

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Season the belly with salt and pepper. On medium-high heat, melt the leaf lard, then sear the meat on all sides in an oven-proof pot big enough to hold it in one layer. Add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, thyme and peppercorns and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until caramelized.

Add the beef stock and the cider. Cover the pot with a lid or seal it with aluminum foil, and braise the belly in the oven for 3 hours, until tender.

Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove the pork belly, and put it on a plate. Cover it with foil. If you’re cooking earlier in the day, you can place the belly in the fridge at this point.

Strain the leftover braising liquid from the pot and discard the vegetables and thyme. Skim off the excess fat. If you’re starting this dish earlier in the day, you can put this liquid in the fridge and the fat will harden, making it easier to remove.

 

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For the glaze…
braising liquid, strained
1 tablespoon espresso
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the brazing liquid by half, then add the espresso and honey. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready. Set it aside.

For the scallops…
Fresh scallops
salt and pepper

When you’re ready to serve, heat a pan on high heat with a little more leaf lard. Cut the belly into equal pieces and sear them on all sides for about a minute. Place the scallops in the same pan, seasoning with salt and pepper, and sear them on both sides, being careful not to overcook them.

To serve, place the belly on a plate. Top it with a scallop or two. Drizzle the glaze over the top. Season with Fleur de Sel or other finishing salt and serve it immediately.

Before every St. Patty’s Day, supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. But, interestingly, corned beef isn’t really an authentic Irish dish.

The phrase “corned beef” was coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix. That’s what we have today.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in a salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional pink coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat, a bit more appetizing than the gray color it tends to have if you don’t use it.

Saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, so there’s always talk of avoiding it. It’s found in pink curing salt, which is used in small amounts during the curing process. (Not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is just plain salt.) Since I only make my corned beef once a year, I’m OK with it either way. The general rule of thumb is only 1 teaspoon pink curing salt per 5 pounds of meat.

I get my grass-fed New Zealand Angus brisket shipped to my home in 10-pound slabs, but use whatever size you find comfortable. Just don’t go too small, or the brine will make that tiny piece of meat extremely salty.

 

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
1 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt (and optional teaspoon of pink curing salt) in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this. I place a couple of plates on top, which pushes the meat down into the brine.) If there’s just not enough liquid, double the recipe, leaving out the pink salt the second time. Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 12 hours to remove the excess salt. I add ice to the water to keep the meat cold.

At this point, if you want corned beef, most people boil it.

I prefer to lay some aluminum foil down on a sheet pan. Then I coarsely chop carrots, onions, and celery, placing them in a single layer on the foil. Then I lay my brisket on top of the veggies, and wrap the meat tightly in the foil. I place the baking pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for about 3 1/2 hours. (That’s for an 8-pound slab of meat. The cooking time will be less for a smaller cut.)

 

If you want to make pastrami, there are more steps to take…

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind them coarsely. Place them in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the corned beef well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the meat for several hours. (My wood of choice is always hickory.) When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat more tender, and you’ll be steaming it next.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

Delis that serve pastrami go one step further: they steam the meat so that it becomes incredibly tender and easy to slice. I place a baking pan with boiling water in the center of a 350° oven. I put a grate on top of it, placing the pastrami on top of the grate. Then I invert a bowl over the pastrami to keep the steam in. I will cook it this way for at least an hour to steam the meat before slicing and serving.

 

 

Sometimes the happiest of cooking accidents happen with bacon. My original plan was to make Chinese-style honey ribs for dinner. But instead of pulling a nice rack of ribs out of the freezer, I accidentally took out a slab of pork belly. I only realized my mistake after I thawed it, so I decided to use it! The results were pretty damn tasty.

Maple syrup is a great substitute for the honey.

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Marinade:
¾ cup light soy sauce
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs. pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the marinade ingredients. Set them aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 2 inches square. Place them in a large pot. Cover them with water and bring the pot to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain the water.
Place the pork belly pieces on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Coat them with the marinade. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
Bake the pork belly pieces on the sheet pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start the sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine the lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for about 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn the heat on high, uncover the pot and cook until the sauce has reduced to a glaze that coats the meat. Reduce the heat as the sauce thickens to avoid the sugars in the honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Devour them just like that, or…
Let a piece of pork belly cool, then slice it to your desired thickness and fry it like regular bacon. It’s great with an omelet!
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This is a great way to impress your guests at a holiday dinner or any big celebration.

Buying a large roast is not an inexpensive proposition, so I wanted to be as sure as possible that it was going to come out right. I got to work, researching recipes online and watching every You Tube video I could find. Every chef and home cook had their own ideas of spices and rubs, but the basic methodology was the same: start the roast at very high heat to form a delicious crust on the meat, then bring the oven temperature down and cook it more slowly to bring the roast to a perfect medium rare.

A big 10-lb. roast is going to cost around 150 bucks, so the first step is simple: don’t skimp by buying a cheap cut of meat. You will absolutely regret it. Get the best meat you can afford. The reward you’ll get when you slice it in front of the family, with all those “oohs and ahhhs” will totally be worth it!

 

A perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious roast!

 

The second step is simple but very important: make sure the roast is at room temperature before cooking, and make sure the oven is really pre-heated properly to the right temperature before you put the roast in it. A cold roast will cook unevenly, and you won’t get that beautiful pink all the way through the meat when you slice it. It’ll be raw on the inside and overcooked on the outside. Take the roast out of the fridge for a good 2 hours before cooking…and if it’s frozen, back-time the heck out of it so that it’s truly thawed!

You can already see that back-timing is going to play an important part in a perfect roast. So, for example, if you want to be serving at 7PM, you need a half-hour (at least) for the meat to rest after cooking…about 2 hours of cooking time…and about 2 hours of bringing the roast to room temperature….give or take. Oven temperature settings vary, and roasts can be uneven. You’ll have to keep an eye on this thing.

That brings us to monitoring the temperature. If you have a meat thermometer, you’ll need to jab the roast a couple of times during the cooking process to know what temperature you’re at. I don’t like this method, because it means you’re pulling the roast out of the oven, dropping the oven temperature each time, and jabbing the meat, which releases juices every time you pull the thermometer out. I suggest investing in a probe that goes in the roast from the very beginning, and stays in the roast through the whole cooking process, monitoring the temperature the entire time. When the roast hits the perfect temperature of about 115 degrees, it beeps and lets you know it’s time to remove it from the oven. It’s practically foolproof.

 

My old-school monitoring system. I had it set for 120 degrees, but actually pulled the roast out at 115.

 

The monitor that I have is old-school, but it still works like a charm. I use it at Thanksgiving to get perfectly roasted turkeys on a Weber grill, and it works great here as well. The probe goes into the meat, and it’s connected to a transmitter. It also has a receiver that can be as far away as 100 feet from the roast, and it will signal you when the desired temperature has been reached. That means you don’t have to stare at the roast all the time. You don’t have to open the oven door all the time. You can actually enjoy a cocktail in the company of your guests or family while the meat cooks.

Other monitors are totally wireless. You stick a probe in the roast, and it calls your cell phone when the meat is done. Pretty cool. Amazon’s got whatever you need.

2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery

When it’s time to remove the roast from the fridge to bring it to room temperature, roughly chop the onions, carrots and celery and place them on the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay the roast on top.

The rub that you use on your roast is really a matter of what you like. Use the herbs and seasonings you love, and you can’t go wrong. Here’s my recipe for a 10 to 12-pound roast…

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. You want it to be like a paste or wet sand. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil. Dried oregano and thyme are usually fine the way they are, but because rosemary can be hard like pine needles, I either chop them really fine or I put them in a spice grinder. I have a small rosemary plant growing indoors by my window, so the needles are soft and wonderfully fragrant when I chop them up.

 

Seasoned and ready to cook!

 

Rub the seasonings all over the roast, making sure you get the bottom and the sides as well. Use it all up! You might think it’s too much salt, but remember: it’s a big hunka meat. Some of the seasonings will fall off. Be fearless!

To flavor the meat while cooking, I add a cup of red wine (optional) and 2 cups of beef or chicken stock in the pan with the vegetables. (In some cases, after the roast is cooked, you can use the juices at the bottom of the pan to make gravy. But give it a taste first. If you use a lot of salt on your roast, the juices could be too salty to use in your gravy. Gravy or not, a classic horseradish cream sauce on the side is a great choice. (The recipe is below.)

About a half-hour before you want to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. You really want it hot to start. Roast the meat at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 325 degrees.

This is where many recipes tell you to calculate how much more to cook based on the size of the roast, etc. If you’ve got a probe in the roast, you can see exactly how the temperature changes over time. If you decide that you’re going to “wing it,” you can go by the general math of 15 minutes per pound of meat, including that first 20 minutes. So, if you have a 10-pound roast, multiply that by 15 and you get 150 minutes. Subtract the first 20 minutes from that, and you need to cook the roast another 130 minutes at 325 degrees. This is by no means a guarantee of success, but a very general guideline.

If you have a standard meat thermometer, you know that you can safely leave the roast in the oven at least an hour before taking the first temperature reading. Then play it by ear. (Like I said, you don’t want to be opening the oven door and poking the meat all the time.)

Although I had my probe set at 120 degrees, I took the meat out at 115, removing the roast from the pan, and placing it on a cutting board (or another clean pan.) Then I wrapped the roast with foil, and covered the foil with a clean bath towel, keeping all the heat in, letting the meat rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The meat inside continued to cook and reached a temperature of 130 degrees before it started to slowly cool down. (If you leave the probe in while the meat is wrapped, you’ll actually see the temperature rise.)

After at least 30 minutes of resting, I unwrapped the roast and started slicing!

This is where you can pour off all the pan drippings and make a sauce if your spice mix wasn’t too salty or strong. As I mentioned, the classic horseradish cream sauce is great to serve with it…

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you like it!)
the juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all the ingredients, mixing well. Keep this refrigerated until it’s ready to serve.

 

A previous family dinner with mac & cheese, salad, the amazing rib roast and lobsters from Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, RI!

With Thanksgiving now just weeks away, I’d like to share my recipe for what I consider to be the perfect turkey.

I often get asked if I deep-fry my turkey for Thanksgiving. I think it’s way too messy and time-consuming for nothing better than an “OK-tasting” bird. I lived in the South for a few years, and my friends fried a turkey on several occasions. I wasn’t impressed.

First, you need to find a safe spot in the yard to blast the propane-fueled fryer so you don’t burn your house down. Then you need to stand outside and freeze your butt off while it fries, while your friends and family are all indoors having cocktails. Then you need to get rid of gallons of used oil, and clean up a huge mess at the end of it all. And through all this, you need to make sure the oil is at the right temperature so you don’t get a scorched turkey on the outside and a raw turkey on the inside.

No, thanks.

I get great results by cooking my turkey in my Weber grill. I’ve cooked it this way every Thanksgiving for about 30 years. The standard Weber allows me to cook up to a 15 lb. bird–big enough for my purposes–and it comes out crispy, smokey and delicious. If you’re afraid to try this for the first time at Thanksgiving when it really matters, buy a turkey right now, grill it, and bring a bunch of turkey sandwiches to work to share with your friends….then wait for their reaction.

Or be bold! Go for the gusto the first time around. I did it that way and I never looked back.

 

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

The charcoal chimney with hot coals awaits.

 

Although I’ve stopped using charcoal briquettes for basic grilling a long time ago, and now strictly use natural hardwood charcoal, this recipe works best with Kingsford briquettes. They burn slowly and evenly. I never use lighter fluid…I always start my fire with a few pieces of crumbled newspaper under a charcoal chimney.

The tools you need:
A Weber grill, with the dome top
Kingsford charcoal briquettes (don’t t use Match Lite or other pre-soaked briquettes)
A charcoal chimney, easily found at Home Depot or Lowe’s
A heavy-duty disposable aluminum pan
Ingredients:
Whole turkey, up to 15 lbs., thawed and brined (see my previous blog about brining a turkey)
Olive oil (to rub on the turkey)
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
½ lb. (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper

 

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

Spreading the coals away from the center of the grill.

 

If you want stuffing, it’s always wise to make it separately and cook it separately.

Light 8 to 10 lbs. of charcoal in the grill…depending on the size of the turkey and how cold it is outside.

If you brined the turkey first, you’ve already removed the giblets. If you’re not brining, go ahead remove the giblets from the thawed bird now. Place the turkey in the aluminum pan.

In a small bowl, mix the granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt, and pepper. (Definitely add any other seasonings you might like.)

Coarsely chop the onions and celery. Place them in a another bowl. Mix them with the melted butter and 1/3 of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture.

Place a small handful of this onion and celery “stuffing” mixture in the neck cavity of the turkey. Place the rest in the body cavity (where the stuffing would usually go.) You can fasten the bird with turkey skewers if you like. This “stuffing” is strictly to flavor the turkey…you don’t eat it!

 

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

The rubbed, stuffed and seasoned bird.

 

Rub the outside of the entire turkey with the olive oil and sprinkle the rest of the garlic/onion/salt/pepper mixture on the outside of the bird. Make sure you get the bird on the bottom as well.

When the coals in the grill have ashed over, spread them to the outside edges of the Weber grill equally. Put the cooking grill rack in place. Place the aluminum pan with the turkey in the center of the grill, keeping it away from the direct heat of the coals. If you’re using a meat thermometer, insert the probe into the thickest part of the breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Place the lid on the grill. (You may need to bend your aluminum pan a bit.) Open the vents on the bottom of the Weber as well as the vents on the lid. It’s important to get air circulating!

 

My meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! Time for a cocktail!

My old-school meat thermometer calls me from as far as 100 feet away! (Newer thermometers are wireless and talk to your smart phone.) Time to join family and friends for a cocktail!

 

No basting is necessary.

Now here’s the tough part: DO NOT OPEN THE GRILL TO CHECK ON THE TURKEY! (If you must look, shine a flashlight into the vent holes on the lid to take a peek at the pop-up timer, if there is one.) The whole point is to keep the heat inside the kettle. You’ll know your turkey is done when no more smoke or heat rises from the grill, and the turkey inside stops making sizzling noises. The internal meat temperature should be around 165 degrees.

And believe it or not, a 15-lb. turkey will be cooked in about 2 hours!

If you’re using a meat thermometer (recommended), remove the turkey when it hits about 155 degrees, wrap it in foil, leaving the thermometer still in the bird, and let it rest at least 20 minutes. The temperature will go up a bit to 165 or even a little higher, before it starts going down.

 

Beautifully grilled, and perfectly cooked in less than 2 hours!

Beautifully grilled, perfectly cooked!

 

I get requests to publish my holiday recipes every year, so, with the countdown to Turkey Day already ticking, let’s get it started…

No matter what method you prefer to cook your bird, brining it beforehand will make it so much tastier and juicier. You really need to try it…and it’s easy to do.

It’s basic high school science: the brine has a greater concentration of salt and water than the molecules of the protein (in this case, a turkey) that is soaking in it. By simple diffusion, the protein molecules suck up the salty water and keep it. When you cook the meat, some of the water evaporates, but the meat still has far more moisture in it than it would have without the brine soaking, and the result is a moister, more delicious bird.

Some people use giant syringes to inject their turkeys with crazy solutions, but I think that the old way is still the best when it comes to brining. Get a big pot, fill it with the brine, and soak the bird in it. Done.

Here’s my tried-and-true turkey brining recipe. Once the brining is done, you can cook the turkey whatever way you like best. I use a method where I grill it inside a Weber grill with charcoal. It comes out smokey and absolutely amazing. I’ll have that info in my next blog.

You must brine a thawed bird, so use your favorite method to thaw your turkey so that it’s ready on Thanksgiving morning. Brining can take 4 to 6 hours, so start early!

For this recipe, you’ll need a large pot to boil the brine ingredients, and then a larger pot to hold the turkey submerged in the brine. I use a turkey no bigger than 15 lbs. for two main reasons: there are only 3 people in our family, and the Weber grill I will later use can’t handle anything bigger.

 

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1 gallon of water
2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 cup Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal…see below)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
4 bay leaves
1 gallon of ice water
14–15 lb turkey, thawed

Pour the first gallon of water in a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots and celery (no need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the salt, black peppercorns, brown sugar, allspice, and bay leaves. (I specify Diamond Crystal Kosher salt because it weighs differently than other salts. For example, Morton Kosher salt is much heavier for the same 1-cup measurement, so the brine will be saltier.)

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Remove the giblets from the thawed turkey and place the bird in a container just big enough to hold it and 2 gallons of liquid.

Pour the now-cooled brine over the turkey, then pour in the gallon of ice water.

Make sure the turkey doesn’t float up by placing a plate on top. Put the turkey container in the fridge (or a cold garage or basement) for 4 to 6 hours, flipping the turkey over in the container halfway through.

After 4 to 6 hours, drain the turkey, rinsing off any spices that stuck to it, then pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s ready to cook, using your favorite recipe.

If I’m brining a turkey for Thanksgiving, I do the brining in the morning and the turkey is ready to cook by early afternoon. And grilling it on a Weber grill only takes a couple of hours. It’s fast, requires no basting, and is absolutely delicious! That’s next time…

I’ve got to post this before October ends, since it’s #NationalPorkMonth! Time to get piggish!

Few slabs of meat are as amazing as a pork butt or shoulder, rubbed with a special dry rub, then slow-smoked for 8 hours (or more), pulled and slathered with amazing barbecue sauce. It takes time, but it’s not really that hard to do.

My electric smoker allows me to set the time and temp and walk away.

Here’s how I do it…

First, I get a hunka pork. The kind of pig I get matters to me, so I buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta), from a farm that raises them humanely. I’m willing to pay the extra bucks.

But going to a supermarket or butcher shop for pork is what most people do. The names of the cuts of meat can be a bit confusing. Despite its name, pork butt is not from the back-end of the pig.  (The term “butt” referred to the barrel the meat was stored in when the only method of preservation was salting the meat and storing it in barrels.)

The pork butt is actually the shoulder of the pig. The pork shoulder picnic is a lower cut of the same area. These cuts can also go by the names: Boston shoulder roast, Boston butt, Boston roast, shoulder butt, pork shoulder picnic, and shoulder-blade roast. Whatever the name, these are all nicely marbled hunks of meat that usually weigh in anywhere from 6 to 8 lbs, are easy to find, and are rather inexpensive. Barbecue fanatics claim the bone-in pork butt is more flavorful, but boneless is all you can find, that’ll work, too.

Once I’ve got my slab of pork, I remove the skin if it has any. I want my pork rub to make contact directly with the meat, so I always remove the tough skin. No skin? No problem. But leave the fat on!

Now I need to season it. I’ve found that a simple rub is the best way to go for the sauce I’m going to use later.

After 8 hours in the smoker, the rub makes a crust on the meat that is just fantastic!

BASIC DRY RUB

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper (freshly ground is best)
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion

Place all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up to blend.

Once I’ve made the rub, I generously sprinkle it all over the pork, and rub it in really well. Ideally, I let the pork shoulder sit in the fridge for 24 hours before smoking, bringing it out an hour beforehand to have it come up to room temperature.

I have a digital smoker at home, which allows me to set the temperature to cook and smoke my pork butt. I place the pork butt on a rack, put a drip pan with water underneath it to catch the grease, and set the smoker for 250 degrees. I cook the pork at 250 for 8 to 10 hours, depending on the size of the meat, adding hickory chips to the smoker every few hours. The marbled fat in the pork butt slowly melts over time and the pork becomes incredibly tender and flavorful.

I remove the pork butt from the smoker and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 20 minutes before pulling it apart with a couple of forks, or chopping it up with a cleaver.

While the pork is cooking and smoking, there’s plenty of time to make two other very important parts of this recipe: a vinegar-based barbecue sauce, and the cole slaw.

Slaw on the side or on the sandwich…up to you!

BARBECUE SAUCE

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool it to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for several weeks.

COLE SLAW

My unusual cole slaw recipe uses an interesting ingredient: pickle juice! Just a splash of juice from your favorite jar of pickles is all you need.

1 package of cole slaw veggies
splash of pickle juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more to taste)
teaspoon celery seed (not salt)
salt and pepper

There are no real specific measurements for cole slaw, because I’ve found that some people like it dry, others wet…some peppery, some not. Play around with it and make it your own. I prefer a more mayonnaise-y cole slaw, and usually err on the wet side.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover it with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, re-mix it, and taste for seasoning before using. Letting it sit overnight before serving is best.

OK…time to make that sandwich!

You can either go Carolina style and place the cole slaw right on top of the pulled pork in the bun, or simply serve the slaw on the side. No rules!

Whether you go through all these steps yourself or not, it’s nice to appreciate a labor of love that is worth every bit of time and trouble invested in it.

It’s never a healthy option to eat fast food. Michael Pollan said it best: “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”

A few years ago, the nephew of Colonel Sanders revealed the 11 secret herbs and spices that made KFC‘s original recipe chicken a worldwide success. He claimed he worked for his uncle for many years and had to make huge batches of the seasoning mix.

For me, KFC is like crack. Although I’m a big proponent of grass-fed this and pastured that, my kryptonite is KFC‘s original recipe chicken. There’s a KFC right next door to a local Home Depot in my area and my car literally drives itself to the pick-up window…I can’t help it. I justify the consumption of this heavenly grease by asking for no sides–no biscuit, no nothing. I get one breast and one thigh, and I drive off, steering my car with my knees as I indulge in my dirty secret, the hot grease dripping down my chin, a roll of paper towels at my side.

Making the KFC chicken recipe at home means I do have some control over product quality. I can use pastured or organic chicken. I can use clean oil. I don’t have the fancy pressure fryer they use at KFC, but I can use the healthier option of oven-frying. That means I fry my chicken in oil until golden brown, then finish the cooking process in the oven.

I have to say, the recipe really works! Maybe if I placed the real KFC side-by-side with my home-made chicken, I’d notice a big difference. But my brain said it was pretty damn close and absolutely delicious! If I could change one thing, I would use smaller chicken pieces next time. I used large pieces and the meat-to-breading ratio was off. Though it was mighty tasty, I was craving more breading per bite.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but if you follow a gluten-free lifestyle, using Cup4Cup GF flour works just as well.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 tablespoon dried mustard
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
5 lbs. chicken pieces…your choice
oil, for frying

Combine the flour and the “11 herbs and spices” in a bowl. Mix well.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk and the egg. Add the chicken pieces to this bowl and let the chicken soak in it for 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour a couple of inches of the oil into a pan with high sides and heat it to 340 degrees, using a thermometer. Don’t fill it with too much oil, because oil expands when hot and it could spill over.

Take the chicken pieces out of the milk and egg mixture and coat them with the seasoning mix one at a time, making sure you coat them well. Carefully place the chicken in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan…work in small batches. Too much chicken could cause the oil to spill over the top.

Fry the chicken pieces just until golden…no need to cook them all the way through. Place the pieces on a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil. When all the chicken has been fried, place the baking sheet in the oven and cook until the chicken pieces reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.

Make a lot! Leftovers are great, and they re-heat really well in the oven! (Don’t use a microwave…the oven is best.)