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Friday, January 26, 2018

Chasing Holiday Beef

We don't eat a lot of beef in our family. Nothing against cows, but we're pork, chicken and seafood people mostly.

And for some reason Jana wanted Tri-Tip for Christmas. Who am I to blow against the wind, right Paul Simon?

Besides, so many of our Legion of Dragon Knuckle buddies cook a lot of Tri-Tip and do it well. Many of them are South-Westerners and it seems to be a California and Arizona thing.

My parents were in town for the holiday and they recently moved to Arizona, as many retired folks do. They'd asked me for advice on Tri-Tip, although I had no experience with it.

With the help of the DK Community, I was sure I could show them how it was done.

So off to my favorite supermarket a couple days before Christmas to get some supplies. I'd seen Tri-Tip there before, but found none on that day. It must have been summer when I'd seen it previously, because the butcher said it was very seasonal up here in Washington.

Plan B.

So grabbed an 8 pound bone-in beef rib roast. I made one of these a few Christmases ago and it turned out nice. That one was in the oven, but this one I was going to smoke.

As soon as I had it home, I posted a picture of my new buddy on Instagram and asked for guidance. Marinate? Brine? How should I prep this thing?

Common opinion was that I should season it heavily and wrap in plastic wrap. Now I have my own impossible to acquire (don't ask) rub I use for most things, but I recently got a pack of good stuff from 7 Sins BBQ

In the Barbecue and Grilling Community, we share a lot of gifts. Stickers, t-shirts, rubs, sauces, gloves and other gear.

So the most logical seasoning was my new 7 Sins Beef Rub.

After almost two days in the fridge, it was late Christmas morning. All the gifts were open and it was time to get cooking.

I get more excited now about Christmas food than Christmas gifts.

I ran out of charcoal months ago and still use only straight wood in my Big Green Egg, but I'm running low. I sparked a fire with the last of my maple, let it burn down then closed the vents most of the way and let the fire struggle.

Then I wrapped my square patio stone in foil, sprayed it with oil and set it on the grill. I put the meat on the stone, as usual.

I use this trick because with a standard BGE, the fire is right below the meat and will scorch the bottom. With the stone in place, the heat becomes indirect.

I don't know how long things were cooking or truly how hot the barbecue was. I only have a single probe thermometer, which was in the meat.

I should have one of those multi-probe wireless thermometers. Then I could monitor the temp at the upper vent and in the meat at the same time.

Regardless, I cooked it to an internal 130º Fahrenheit, expecting about 10 degrees of carry-over.

My plan was to use the reverse sear technique, which I've never used. I was going to build a campfire, put a grill over it and char the edges.

Yet when I opened the lid it was already barktacular. I wasn't messing with this thing any more. All it needed was a rest, a knife and a fork.

After 20-30 minutes, I went to cut the bones from the roast and found they came off in my hand. I cut one bone off for my dog and saved the rest for soup.

Then it was time to slice.

I'm very pleased with the crust, the doneness and the tenderness. The exterior had a little too much bite from the smoke. Perhaps it was the straight maple.

My resolution for 2018 is to cook with a wider variety of wood. With a little hunting, it's not hard or expensive to find. Here in Washington I should be able to find trimmings from fruit and nut trees. The orchardists my be happy for me to haul them off.

Happy New Year. Your advice is welcome. We're still learning every day.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The New Thanksgiving Tradition: Brown Rice and Bacon Turkey Stuffing

Image via Flickr by Dani and Rob

Some things are just supposed to taste the way Mom made them.

To me, turkey stuffing should be made from cubes of bread, Italian sausage, celery and whatever seasonings Mom always put in hers.

But our first kid has a wheat allergy, so what's a dad to do? Substitute gluten-free bread? Without a gluten structure, the bread would probably reverse-engineer into some kind of rice pudding goo.

Not in our turkey.

So (sorry Mom) I had to scrap that idea and start from scratch. Why not use a hearty brown rice as a base for stuffing?

And what goes great stuffed in, wrapped around or just plain next to everything? Bacon.

I don't have pictures or video for you right now because I won't be making this until the day before Thanksgiving, but I'll give you the playbook.

1 - In a big sauté pan, add lots of chopped bacon. Of course you cannot make too much. Extra bacon will find its way into the potatoes, vegetables, salad or just into your face. Turn on the heat and render the bacon until crisp.

2 - Remove most of the bacon from the pan and drain off the bacon fat. Leave enough fat in the pan to coat it and leave a cup or so of bacon pieces. Meanwhile, boil some water in an electric kettle.

3 - Add some chopped onion to the hot bacon pan and let that sizzle for a few minutes before adding chopped garlic. Give the garlic a minute or so.

4 - I forget how much rice will fill an average turkey, but again, too much is not a problem. Cooked a second time inside a turkey or not, this stuff is good. Add three or four cups of brown rice to your hot bacon pan. Stir it around to toast and pick up flavor from the pan. Add two cups of boiling water per cup of rice. 

5 - Turn the heat down to low. Add some black pepper and whatever herbs you have, fresh or dried. The bacon may have put enough salt into the environment, so don't add any until you've tasted the finished rice. Let this simmer until almost done. Don't overcook the rice. It's still going to spend some time in a hot turkey, so stop when it still has some bite.

6 - Taste it and add some salt or other seasonings as you like it. Pungent is good here because it will flavor the turkey from the inside. I cook this a day ahead and keep it in the fridge.

7 - When it's turkey time, heat up the stuffing in the microwave if you cooked it ahead of time. It's important to add the stuffing hot. Since you're stuffing it inside a raw turkey, it needs to hit 165ºF to be safe to eat. At the center of the bird, this will take the longest time to hit that temperature. The surrounding poultry will be overcooked by then. So add the stuffing while steaming hot.

Necessity is a mother of an invention. I made this recipe because I had too. Now several Thanksgivings later, this is what turkey stuffing is supposed to taste like around our house.

It's (almost) as good as Mom's.

Friday, November 3, 2017

How to Stuff Pork Right and Wrong

We love pork at Dragon Knuckle. It's cheap, plays well with other flavors and is forgiving to cook. So what's better than pork stuffed with good stuff?

We decided to give it a try. Now, I'm not a butcher so the idea of turning a round piece of meat into a neat rectangle was intimidating. Mess it up and there's no going back. You're making kebabs now.

What cut to use? A loin is best because it's such a uniform tube of meat. A sirloin roast works nice too although it's less regular in shape and will contain more inner fat and connective tissue.

If using a loin, cut it into thirds. The larger, smoother end is the center loin. Use that part and save the rest for other applications.

Get a long knife and make sure it's sharp. Put your pork on a steady cutting board. (I put a damp paper towel underneath and the board won't slide. Guy Fieri learned this trick from someone who learned it from me, maybe.)

Start fat-side down. Make one clean slice not quite all the way through and roll the pork away. Take your time. Keep slicing and rolling. Try to keep the thickness uniform. Before long you'll have turned a cylinder into a rectangle.

Here's a piece of sirloin roast I opened up:

You'll get better with practice. What's the worst thing that can happen? You cut too deep and put a puncture in your neat rectangle. Slice it up and make a stir fry.

What Are We Stuffing It With?

The possibilities are endless. The biggest problem is that once you tie this tight and add heat, your filling may gush out. So consider that.

The same seasoning you'd put on the outside may be plenty. It won't melt and run. You'll get flavor inside and out. Use some fresh herbs too and failure will be harder to achieve.

But you know I tried to get fancy with this. When our garden was going nuts this summer, I made a pesto and halved some cherry tomatoes.

Naturally the tomatoes wanted to squirt out as soon as I applied some twine. Maybe pesto only would have been better.

Next time I blended some cream cheese with dried onion, dried garlic, chives and other seasonings. I grilled it for a while then finished it in the oven.

I'm glad I moved it to a pyrex dish because when the cheese melted, this happened:

Sure, it looks like my pork loin puked, but it tasted good. The cheese picked up some smoke from the fire and turned into a nice spread.

Oh yeah, you'll need some twine. Find a video on how to tie a butcher's knot. Don't squeeze too tight. You only need to keep it shut until you've seared the seem.

How To Cook It? 

I start on the grill or over the fire. Maybe I finish in the oven. I can't tell you how long to cook it. It really depends on the thickness of your roll.

So how to do it right? Use a sharp knife and cut with patience. Stuff it with dry ingredients and tie gently.

How to do it wrong? Think that being a butcher is easy, maul your meat and/or lose a finger. Stuff it with something doomed to melt and ooze into the fire, breaking your heart. Strangle the meat with twine like you were securing a prisoner.

Have fun with it. You'll get better every time. Please share your results. I'm sure you're better at this than me.

Keep it slow and low. - Dragon Knuckle

PS - Ooh, I need to use some dried tomatoes and mushrooms next time.