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Saturday
Aug292015

Review: Fire-N-Smoke - O'Fallon, IL

I'm going to tip my hand right away and say this about my trip to Fire-N-Smoke.  I don't care if you trim your brisket before or after you cook it, but for the love of BBQ trim it before you serve it.  A litte fat on a brisket is expected, but this was waaaay too much.  Sorry for the rant, now let's talk about the rest of my visit.

Fire-N-Smoke opened recently in a location that has been a couple of different restaurants over the past few years.  Luckily for them, the shopping area round the location seems to have reached critical mass and there's enough traffic flow that they should be able to make a go of it.  Not to mention, the facility lends itself nicely to being a BBQ joint.

IMG_2673

Like most BBQ  joints these days it seems, the menu is a giant chalkboard and orders are placed at the counter.  I was pleased to see that they seemed to have all of the bases covered, as well as having a long list of salads, sandwiches, etc.  I ordered the 2 meat platter (like I normally do when I'm trying a new place), and the Mrs. ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich with baked beans.

IMG_2672

The food was delivered quickly and looked awesome.  I was pleased to seee a nice smoke ring on the brisket and see that the pork was truly pulled and not chopped.  The side dishes were served uniquely in individual sized pie tins, and the whole mess was piled on a large tray covered with butcher paper.  In the case of the platter, bread & butter also accompanied the meal.

IMG_2669

IMG_2670

The brisket was my favorite, despite my earlier comments about it needing to be trimmed.  The pulled pork was good, although it suffered a little from being re-heated.  The Mrs. liked the addition of cole slaw to the sandwich.  That's the way a pulled pork sandwich should be served after all.  The beans were good, if only dressed up canned beans, but the sweet potato dish was outstanding.  There was a thin sauce spread across the meat on the platter and a little bit on the sandwich.  My wife's only complaint was that she'd like to have had a little more sauce, though oddly enough there was no bottle of sauce on the table.  In this day & age, most places overwhelm you with sauce choices so it was odd not to find any at all on the table. Zip, Zilch, Nada.

I was a little surprised at the light crowd at 1:00pm on a Saturday, but I think Fire-N-Smoke should do just fine.  As I said, they definitely have a good location, although there is plenty of competition from other restaurants as well.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to Fire-N-Smoke in O'fallon, IL.

  • BBQ - B-
  • Side Dishes - A
  • Atmosphere - A
  • Value - B
  • Overall – B+

I'd recommend this place and I'm sure I'll eat there again.  Here's the specifics on Fire-N-Smoke.

 

Fire-N-Smoke Wood Fired Kitchen

1214 Central Park Dr.

O'fallon, IL 62269

Open 11:00am-9:00pm

 

 

Cheers,
Braddog

Friday
Aug282015

United Methodist Men's BBQ

I have a friend at church who competes on the BBQ circuit.  He typically mans the grill when the United Methodist Men (UMM) meet during the summer.  Last month, after a succesful meal of grilled pork steaks, the guys decided they'd like to have ribs at the next meeting.

Well, that turned into a two man job.  We decided that we would take the day off and plan to cook at the church.  We also decided to press my Backwoods Pro Jr into service.  Paul and I moved my cooker to church that morning and he trimmed the spare ribs down to St Louis style ribs while I put together 2 pans of my "magic" beans.

Paul uses Code 3 spices when he competes, so we decided to use them for this cook as well.  We roughly followed his competition process, which means we wrapped the ribs in foil with brown sugar and butter, then finished them out of the foil and glazed them with sauce.

We also decided to do the rib tips at the same time, following the same process. It's a good thing we did.  We had a great turn out.  

Here are a few shots of the finished product.

 

UMM BBQ UMM BBQ

 

Everyone enjoyed the meal and fellowship.  Next month, we're frying fish!

Cheers,
Braddog 

Sunday
May172015

Recipe - Chicken Sliders

Seems like we often go to casual gatherings where we take a dish.  I've gotten tired of the same old thing, so I looked for a way to do something a little different while still cooking outside.

Enter, Chicken Sliders.  This was pretty simple.  I simply bought thin sliced chicken breasts at the lcoal grocery store.  I cut each in half and hit them liberally with Plowboy's Yardbird rub.  I grilled a pound of bacon and then  grilled the chicken.  I placed the chicken along with a couple of strips of bacon and a slice of cheddar cheese on Hawaiian rolls to serve.

Here's the process.  First, I grilled a pound of bacon.

 

 

Next, I grilled the half chicken breasts that were sliced thin.

 

And finally, I assmebled the sliders with a slice of cheddar cheese, a couple of strips of bacon, and half a chicken breast on a Hawaiian roll.

A couple of things that I'll do differently next time.  First, I think I'll use a tenderizer mallet to flatten the chicken breasts a little mroe.  I also think that the slider would benefit from some other condiment.  BBQ Sauce, mayo, etc.

Other than those few tweaks, this was a success and I'll be doing this again.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Wednesday
Apr012015

Review: Gobble Stop Smokehouse

This is unique.  A BBQ joint that specializes in chicken & turkey.  You won't find pork & brisket on the menu at the Gobble Stop Smokehouse, just poultry.  And darned good poultry too.

I headed over for lunch today after spotting it on Google Maps recently.  I found it in an older shopping plaza, like a lot of good BBQ joints these days.  It's a pretty unassuming place, but behind the counter they're making some magic!

I ordered one of the house specialties, smoked chikcen wings with a side order of BBQ beans at the counter.  A short while later, they delivered a plate of 8 large, meaty wings with sliced white bread, my side of beans, and a side of BBQ sauce to my table.

The wings were meaty, and smokey, and delicious!  They were lightly seasoned and smoked to perfection.  After the first taste, the sauce and sides were nearly forgotten.  However, I did get around to trying both.  The beans?  Well, they were jazzed up beans from a can.  And the sauce?  Probably right out of a bottle.

But I didn't care.  Did I mention how good the wings were?  And the folks running the place were super friendly and took great care of not only me, but the other lunch patrons as well.

Here's my score card for the Gobble Stop Smokehouse:

So here's how I'd rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ - A

  • Side Dishes - C

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - A

  • Service - A
  • Overall - B+

If you get to north-west St Louis county, you can find them here:

 

gobblestopsmokehouse.net
(314) 878-5586

 

Cheers,
Braddog 

 

Saturday
Mar282015

Review: Hill Country BBQ, New York City

I caught a wiff of wood smoke while I was still more than a block away, and my mouth began to water.  You see, I've never eaten BBQ in Texas so this opportunity to eat at Hill Country BBQ in New York City was as close as I've been.  

When work took me to the city, I began to scout for one of the BBQ joints that have sprung up there that I've read about.  Then, I realized that Hill Country BBQ was only a dozen or so blocks from where I was staying.  Immediately, I began to plot a night to myself when I could make the walk for dinner.

Hill Country BBQ - 26th St & 6th Ave - NYC

Hill Country BBQ is a tribute to the central Texas markets that began serving BBQ over the counter, by the pound, wrapped in butcher paper, and served with saltine crackers.  Just like those markets turned BBQ joints, Hill Country serves the BBQ the same way; over the counter and by the pound.

The meat counter at Hill Country BBQ

The menu consisted not only of beef, but also pork, chicken, and sausage from Kreuz Market in Texas.  At Hill Country, you order your meat at the counter and specify the amount (by weight) that you'd like or in the case of ribs, how many bones.  I opted for 1/3 lb. of lean brisket (that's cut from the brisket flat, but you can also order "moist" brisket cut from the point) and a single pork rib.  They cut the meat, weighed it on a butcher scale, wrapped it in brown butcher paper, and handed it over with a half sleeve of saltines.

Then, I headed over to the counter where they served sides.  Sweet Potato Bourbon Mashed caught my eye so I ordered that and a side of green bean casserole.  The server was at my table when I got there and my order was complete with a glass of sweet tea.

I'll cut to the chase and say that the food was excellent.  In fact, this is probably the best brisket (from a restaurant anyway) that I've eaten.  The pork rib was pretty good.  A little tougher than I expected but it had a great flavor.  And the sides?  Fuggetaboutit!  I could go  back and just eat side items.  The sweet potato dish was amazing, and I loved the comfort food style green beans.  There were plenty of other sides as well as desserts, but frankly I can't eat that much.

Really, the only negative comment I have about my experience at Hill Country BBQ is the cost.  I mean, I know I was eating in New York City, but brisket at $26/lb?  That seems excessive.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, my dinner (for only me) was ~$39.  That's with nothing from the bar or dessert.

So here's how I'd rate Hill Country BBQ:

  • BBQ - A

  • Side Dishes - A

  • Atmosphere - A

  • Value - C

  • Service - A
  • Overall - A-

No doubt about it, this is one of the best BBQ joints I've eaten at.  Frankly, I didnt' expect that to be the case.  If you get to New York, here's where you can find Hill Country BBQ:

30 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010

They also have locations in Brooklyn and Washington, DC.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Sunday
Mar012015

Butcher Paper Brisket

Over the past few months, I've been reading about this technique on the interwebs.  I've tried wrapping my brisket in foil before, but frankly I prefer to cook it unwrapped.  Now keep in mind, I'm not cooking for competitions or trying to cook a brisket in a short amount of time (usually).  However, there are times when I'd sure like to be able to do one in less than 12 hours.

So this past weekend, I decided that I would cook one brisket on Saturday using the butcher paper method.  If that was successful, I'd cook one on Sunday morning for my annual Daytona 500 gathering.  If it wasn't successful, I'd still have time to cook one overnight on the Big Green Egg.  Seemed like a reasonable plan, all except for the $45 practice brisket.

In general, wrapping your brisket (or ribs, etc) after a couple of hours helps the meat finish sooner.  There is some science behind this around how connective tissues break down etc, but frankly if you're reading this because you're looking for the science behind the process you should stop now and move along to another blog.

Most often, you'll see folks wrap brisket in foil.  But recently the notion of wrapping in  butcher paper has become popular. Part of the theory is that the paper provides the same benefit in terms of helping the meat finish sooner, without the braising effect of foil.

So, I prepped my brisket:

Cooked indirect at 325 degrees for 4 hours

At 4 hours, I wrapped in butcher paper.  Didn't check temp, but wrapped when the bark had the right "look" and placed the brisket back on the cooker.

I probed the brisket through the paper and when I thought it felt tender and the temp was 200 degrees plus, I pulled it.  Total cook time was about 6 hours.

Here's the brisket as I unwrapped it:

Sliced.....

The results?  It just wasnt' tender enough.  You could say that I should have cooked it longer.  Maybe, but it was also dry and if I'd cooked it longer it would have been even drier. 

So the jury is still out for me.  I don't think this is a viable option for the Big Green Egg.  I'll try it again on the Backwoods Smoker and see if different cookers have different results.  Stay tuned for more.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Wednesday
Feb112015

Review: The Righteous Pig

I finally had a chance to try one of the newer BBQ joints in my area.  In fairness, they've been there a little while but I've only just had the opportunity to give them a try.

The formula for BBQ joints is pretty predictable these days.  Like most of these places, the menu is on a chalkboard, you order at the counter, self service drink station and so on.  The Righteous Pig is no exception to this formula.  I really like the old building they are in.  Old hardwood floors and exposed brick walls make it a pretty cool place.  

 

The menu items are pretty standard fare at the Righteous Pig.  But, the burnt ends sandwich is the specialty on Friday.  The server at the counter talked me into it, as apparently it's the only day of the week that burnt ends are available.  All I can say is, I shoulda had the pulled pork.

I know that burnt ends are made from the fattier, point of the brisket.  But, I got way more fat than I bargained for.  I was also surprised that the sandwich was served on an onion roll, adding an unexpected flavor to the meal.  Overall, I didn't care for my lunch all that much.

In keeping with the formula, there were a jumble of sauces on the table.  A couple of them were really heavy on the heat, a couple were unique flavor combinations (bacon, peach, beer, etc.).  I don't expect boutique sauces, but prefer more traditional regional varities instead.  

Will I go back?  Sure, I'm willing to try it again.  I'd like to try an everyday menu item and see if my experience was an anomally.

In the meantime, here's my report card for The Righteous Pig:

  • BBQ - C

  • Side Dishes - B

  • Atmosphere - A

  • Value - C

  • Service - A
  • Overall - B-

And, here's the particulars for The Righteous Pig:

The Righteous Pig
124 East Main Street
Belleville, Illinois  62220

http://www.righteouspigbbq.com

Cheers,
Braddog 

 

Monday
Feb092015

Review: Smokeware Vented Chimney Cap for the Big Green Egg

I've been cooking on a Big Green Egg for several years now.  My stand operating procedure (SOP) has always been to place the cast iron vented cap inside the hot grill when I finish and use the solid ceramic cap to extinguish my fire (along with closing the lower vent compeltely).  This allows for the cast iron cap to burn off any build up, while extinguishing the fire more efficiently with the solid ceramic cap.

Alas, I finally did what may others before me have done.  When removing my all weather cover from the egg and table, I inadvertently flipped the solid cerami cap off and busted it on the pavers in my cooking area.

Sure, I could just use the cast iron vented cap to shut the cooker down.  But I know from previous experience that it gets gummed up pretty quickly and becomes hard to use.  I could also break out the JBWeld and try to repair the ceramic.  But I know from previous experience that it would only be a temporary solution.

So I decided to just buy a new cermaic cap.  Much to my surprise, I had a hard time finding one.  Then, I stumbled onto this new SmokeWare SS Vented Chimney Cap from Smokeware.  It looked very interesting and it's affordable enough that I thought, "Why not?".

 

The product shipped quickly and I finally got around to installing it.  First, I had to clean the chimney where the new cap will sit.  I scrubbed it pretty good, but there's some discoloration from years of use that was more stubborn than me.

Then, to ensure that the new cap is airtight a felt gasket is applied.  This is similar to the gasket between the base and lid of the Big Green Egg.

Then the lower part of the 2-piece stainless steel vent cap sits firmly agains the egg.

And finally, the adjustable cap fits on top of that.

Here are my initial thoughts on the SmokeWare SS Vented Chimney Cap .

Pros:

  • It's affordable, yet well-made
  • It solves both the need to control air flow and the need to cover the chimney for extinguishing the fire and storing the egg
  • It's build like the flue on your chimney such that it won't allow rain/water into the system.  I've cooked under an umbrella and other unique arrangements to avoid this.
  • It sealed tight enough that I don't think it'll come off easily

 Cons: 

  • It's stainless steel and it does get hot.  I wish the tab to control the size of the opening was a little longer/bigger.  If you're not careful you'll burn your hand, trust me I know.
  • I wish the sliding vent control had a stops for fully open and fully closed.  As it is, the vent control can move 360 degrees.  You have to be sure to position it exactly right to fully close off the air flow.

All in all, I think it's a winner.  Check out the folks over at Smokeware.net for this and other BBQ accessories.

Cheers,
Braddog 

Saturday
Feb072015

Review: Randy's House of BBQ

So while attending an event with my kids, I spotted a "BBQ" sign in a strip mall near the event.

Once I had everyone squared away, I headed over for some lunch at Randy's House of BBQ. The waitress told me snoots were the specialty of the day, but since they aren't my cup of tea I opted for a more traditional pulled pork sandwich.

Randy's is a small place, decorated in an automotive theme. That's a little unique for a BBQ joint, but aside from that it's your typical joint. Order at the counter, menu on the chalkboard, and an assortment of sauces on the table.  You get the picture

My food came out very quickly. I was surprised that the BBQ chips on the menu were a bag of Lays. I guess I assumed they would be made in house. My bad. The BBQ beans were nothing special either. However, I was far from disappointed with the pulled pork. It was very good.  It had the right amount of smoke and seasoning, it was moist and tender, and there was a generous serving on a simple bun.  I enjoyed it with the house "competition" sauce.

No doubt about, the pork and the sauce were the highlight of my visit.  And, I'm always happy to see someone who has taken the time to create their own flavor profile, and bottle it.  The have their sauces and seasonings bottled, as they should.

Here is how I'd rate my trip to Randy's House of BBQ:

  • BBQ - A

  • Side Dishes - C

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - A

  • Service - B
  • Overall - B+

Definitely worth the trip.  And, if I find myself in that area again I'll definitely be back.  Who knows, maybe I'll even try the snoots next time.

Here's their location & contact info:

Troy, Illinois
Intersection of 
Rt 40 and Troy O'Fallon Road 
618-667-RBBQ
618-667-7227 

Highland, Illinois
2649 Northtown Way 
618-654-1800

http://www.randysbbq.com/

Cheers,
Braddog 

Friday
Jan162015

Review: Beast Craft BBQ

BBQ joints seem to be opening every other week in my area.  Recently, Beast Craft BBQ opened up in the location of a former diner.  I've been anxious to try it out, and today I finally had a chance.  

A friend and I agreed to meet for lunch at 11:30.  The parking lot was pretty full when we arrived and when we went inside, the line was 20+ people long and there were no empty tables.  I figured this was a good sign.  However, nearly every table in one of the dining areas were waiting for their food and the line hardly moved.  In fact, more than a few potential customers in line behind and ahead of us chose to go elsewhere based on the slow service.

All that aside, how was the BBQ?  Pretty darned good.  I had the brisket sandwich and hand cut fries, while my lunch mate had the pulled pork sandwich and corn on the cob.  All the items were very tasty.  The brisket sandwich was served with grilled onions and a house mustard.  The pulled pork was served with slaw on the sandwich (as it should be).

Brisket Sandwich with Hand-cut Fries

Pulled Pork Sandwich w/Slaw & Grilled Corn

Beast Craft is bucking one of the most common trends in BBQ joints these days.  There was "1", count 'em, "1" bottle of BBQ sauce on the table.  And, it was very good.  In fact, it might be my favorite part of the meal.  I saw no evidence that they're bottling and selling this sauce, but they should.

I also like that they are selling soft drinks from a local bottler and not the big guys.  However, no self-respecting BBQ joint should ever sell sweet tea that is mango flavored.  That's just wrong.

If they can address their customer flow and service issues (and lose the mango flavored tea), I believe that they'll do just fine.  Here's my report card for my visit to Beast Craft BBQ:

  • BBQ - B+

  • Side Dishes - B

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - B

  • Service - C
  • Overall - B-

And, here's their location & contact info:

Beast Craft BBQ

20 S Belt W Belleville, IL 

Give 'em a shot, I think you'll like it,

Cheers,
Braddog