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Review: AFirepuck Starter

I had the opportunity to try out the Afirepuck Fire Starter recently.  Now, I normally light my charcoal with a MAPP torch but have used lots of other methods over the years.  These starter pucks are individually packaged and sealed in tins.  They should store for a long time and travel nicely for tailgates and the like.

I was cooking some pork tenderloin on the Big Green Egg and had lots of time for puck to burn and get my lump charcoal started.  The puck burned for about 15 minutes (as advertised) and left no odor or noticeable waste behind.  

Here's a link to the product page over at  A half dozen pucks will set you back $12.99.  They met my expectations and are certainly effecitve fire starters.




Operation Hickory Smoke IV

It started a couple of years ago. A good friend of mine asked if I had room on the smoker for some pork butts to feed some of the guys at Scott Air Force Base during a fall exercise. I did, so we sent some BBQ to the base for the team. Four years later, it's become a standing order and we've jokingly named the event "Operation: Hickory Smoke".

Every fall, we send some BBQ to the folks involved in this exercise. This year I was able to visit the team and participate in the delivery. It was pretty cool to meet a few of the folks who were going to enjoy the meal. I also received a nice note from one of the officers.

Veteran's Day may be next week, but I'm honored to have shown my appreciation in a small way with this annual event. To the team working the exercise and all those who serve or have served, I say thank you. 






Teed off!

That's what we did on Saturday. As I mentioned in "Que for a Cause - Round 2", I cooked BBQ for a fundraiser this weekend. It's amazing what a group of volunteers can do when they come together for a cause.

On Saturday afternoon, ~90 golfers teed off in a scramble format. The plan was to feed them pulled pork around 5:30 or so. Little did they know that I began the process of feeding them at 2:00am. That's when the pork butts went on the smoker. They were finished and resting in the Cambros by early afternoon. I knew that I'd have the meat done well before serving time, but I also had to allow for travel time and time to pull them when I arrived.

Up until then, the plan was right on track. But when I arrived, I discovered that the golf round was running long. I mean waaaay long. We didn't begin to feed the golfers until nearly 7:00pm. Thankfully, the Cambros did their job and I had piping hot BBQ that was still too hot to handle. Disaster avoided.

Here are a few random shots of the cooking process and the event. Special thanks to my bride for assisting with serving.





BBQ Tip - Freeze the Scraps

If you're a serious backyard BBQ cook like me, you probably cook at home.  In my neighborhood garbage pickup only happens once a week, and to make it worse it's on Friday.  That means this time of year, rib or brisket trimmings can sit in a garbage can in 90 degree heat for an entire week before the trash truck comes.  Trust me, they can get pretty ripe in that time.

So I picked up this tip from some folks I know who are serious boaters.  They have much the same problem when trying to manage garbage while underway for a few days at a time.  It turns out, that all you need to do is make room in your freezer for the garbage that is likely to spoil or smell before it can be disposed of.

I've taken to double (or triple) bagging the trimmings and storing them in the extra refrigerator in my garage.  Works like a champ, and now all I have to do is remember to put them in garbage on trash day.  




Que-for-a-Cause - Round 2

I'm firing up the smoker to cook for a cause again next month.  This one is to benefit a friend of mine whose daughter is battling cancer.  If you're in the area and would like to play in the golf benefit or donate to the cause, the information on the event is below.

Alaina Grace Bickhaus Golf Benefit

Saturday September 21st, 2013

1:30pm Shotgun Start

Norman K. Probstein Golf Course

Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo

314-367-1337 (Golf Course #)

12 noon Registration / 1:30pm Shotgun Start

4 Person Team - 18 Hole Scramble

Best Ball Tournament Format

4 Person 18 hole Scramble Event benefiting Team Alaina Grace Fund to offset treatment expenses associated w/Alaina’s Battle against Ewing’s Sarcoma.

Please show your support for this brave 14 yr old. Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare, malignant bone cancer which often affects the pelvis, humerus, femur and ribs most often in teenagers and young adults. Aggressive Chemotherapy treatment is both prolonged and repetitive as this disease often reoccurs and can cause impairment of growth, hearing, vision and development of the heart and respiratory system. Alaina’s Mom has had to take a leave of absence from her job & the tumors have made it difficult to walk but Alaina battles on during her rounds of chemo.

Greens Fee are $100 includes golf/2 person per cart, beverages and snacks on course; prizes for long drive, closest to the pin and flight winners; swag bag and picnic dinner immediately following at Mt. Calvary Pavilion Ball Field (9321 Litzsinger Rd  Just east of Tilles Park on Litzsinger in Brentwood). Checks for fees or donations can be made out to “Team Alaina Grace Fund”. For more info please contact John Freund   




A couple of months ago, we became aware of a tough situation that a friend of one our church members was going through.  My wife and I donated BBQ to a fundraising event by way of a silent auction item called "BBQ Feast for 20 People".  Apparently the item was popular and brought a sizeable donation.


This weekend, it was time to honor my end of the deal and cook for the auction winner who was hosting a party.  I had committed to ribs, pulled pork, and pit beans for the event.  So I was up early and cooking for a 6:00pm delivery time.

In the meantime, I had become aware of a couple of families who'd lost loved ones or were otherwise going through a rough patch.  So with plenty of room to spare on the cooker and blessed with the means, we set about making food one less thing for some of these folks to worry about.


I've said this before; I don't compete or cater.  But I do get some personal satisfaction from seeing others enjoy the results.  This is compounded further when I can help someone who needs a little "BBQ Pick-me-Up".

Thanks to my friends and family for the assitane this weekend.  I'm always ready to "Que-for-a-Cause".





On the 7th Day...there was BBQ

My family and I are blessed to be part of a growing, thriving church.  Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL has grown beyond the capacity of it's real estate and has begun to sprout new churches in the Metro East area of St. Louis.  Our satellite campus in Millstadt, IL recently held a church picnic and I was honored to be able to prepare the BBQ for the event.

They expected 80 for luch, I planned for 100, and we probably had closer to 70.  Not to worry, I always travel with zip lock bags so folks can leave with a doggy bag.  Heck, I even got to bring some home and feed my own family.

In any event, I fired up the big cooker on Saturday night for pork butts, chuck roasts, and my pit beans.  After an all night cook, I had eveything ready around 9:00am.  I even fired up the charcoal grill and roasted some hot dogs since I figured some of the kids might prefer that (I was right).

I had everything setup at the park when church let out shortly after 11:00.  Folks seemed to enjoy the food, and I felt blessed by their compliments and for the opportunity to cook for my church family.  

God is good, all the time.




Review - Sugarfire Smokehouse, St. Louis

I'm not a huge fan of chain restaurants, even if they are BBQ joints. Which is why I had not noticed that the Dickey's BBQ near my office had suddenly been converted to Sugarfire Smokehouse. I figured it was a good sign that they always seemed to be busy at lunch time. In fact, too busy for me to try the place. But this weekend, I happened by there just after they opened and was finally able to try it out.

I was encouraged by the Ole Hickory smoker sitting on the patio right by the front door. Thats an odd place for your pit, but I've eaten some really food BBQ out of one of those pits, so i took it as another good sign. There a few remnants of the former Dickey's, but I was encouraged to see the place rearranged with the kitchen in full view and lots of employees busily prepping for the lunch crowd.

Like a lot of classic BBQ joints, the menu was written in chalk at the order station. That's not a bad thing, unless you use a lot of unique names for your menu items. There's no place on the chalkboard to describe what a "Big Muddy" sand which is for example.

Nonetheless, I ordered up the 2 meat platter and watched as the guy at the counter pulled out a large tray covered with butcher paper and piled on pulled pork and freshly sliced brisket. Down the cafeteria-style line I went, adding bbq beans and hand cut fries to my meal. And like any self respecting BBQ joint, sweet tea completed my order.

I grabbed a seat at one of the tables left over from the days as a Dickey's franchise and eyed the four bottles of clearly homemade sauces that seem to be a requirement for any BBQ joint these days. I got what I expected from the Texas Hot, Sweet BBQ, & White Sauces. But I cautiously tried the "Cherry" sauce as indicated (as they all were) by the handwritten masking tape label. Let me just say that I hope that's not a regular sauce and just an experiment, cause it was not good.

Other than my dislike of the Cherry sauce, I didn't find another thing that wasn't good. The pork & brisket were moist and tender, the bark was tasty, and the sides were very good. The portions were very generous, and I found the meal to be a good value overall.

Here's how I'd rate my visit to Sugarfire Smokehouse:


Side Dishes -

Atmosphere - B-

Value - A-

Overall - A

I keep a list of the best BBQ joints in St Louis. Since I'm the resident BBQ snob among my friends & family, I'm often asked where to get good BBQ. Sugarfire Smokehouse just made the short list. If you're interested, here's their particulars:

Sugarfire Smokehouse
9200 Olive Blvd.
Olivette, MO 63132
St. Louis, MO, USA

Business Hours:
11am - 9PM Daily




Review: Hutchens BBQ - Benton, KY

Every spring, I head down to Kentucky Lake for some spring fishing with my dad and my brother.  We have a good time fishing, laughing, and eating.  A couple of times, we've stumbled across BBQ joints that I would have never found otherwise.  Such was the case this year when we happened upon Hutchens BBQ in Benton, KY.


This was clearly a local joint serving lots more than BBQ, but BBQ is what we were there for.  There were a good number of locals in the place, but we were welcomed right off and offered up sweet tea while we looked over the menu (I love sweet tea).  I realized that we had arrived only 20 minutes before closing time, so we placed our orders quickly and learned a little about the history of the place.

Company Overview

In 1947, W.C. Hutchens purchased a building in downtown Benton, Kentucky to open a new restaurant. The first menu included a variety of items such as BBQ sandwiches, hamburgers, cokes, fountain drinks, coffee, BLTs, hot ham and cheese, country ham sandwiches, hot dogs, and lots of ice cream and milkshakes.

Since then the restaurant has grown into a full-service dining experience but still values the importance of taste, good service, and hospitality. We still make a world-class BBQ sandwich as well. 

My brother and I ordered the large BBQ sandwich and dad order the turkey.  We were served up really large sandwiches with our choice of mild, medium, or hot BBQ sauce.  I had the the medium.  It was a thin sauce with a nice kick.  The pork was very tender and while it had a definite smoke ring, there was an absence of any other seasoning as far as I could tell.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the BBQ and would recommend the place.

I love finding little BBQ joints like Hutchens in the places that I visit.  These joints have a long history in their communities and are obviously doing something right or they wouldn't last as long as they have.  

Here's how I'd rate my visit to Hutchens BBQ:

  • BBQ - B

  • Side Dishes - A

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - A

  • Overall - A-

If you find yourself in Benton, KY for a little fishing or boating, make your way over to Hutchens BBQ.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  I know I wasn't, and I look forward to stopping in again when we make the trip next year.




Review: Char Crust Seasonings

I recently had the opportunity to sample a couple of seasonings from Char Crust.  I was unaware of the rich history of this family owned business, despite the fact that I'm a fellow Illinoisan.  It seems their line of seasonings is the result of the legacy of their father's steak house in Chicago.  Although the restaurant is no longer there, the seasonings are still available both direclty from their website or through various grocery and specialty stores.

I sampled the All American Barbecue Rub recently.  As I usually do, I sampled the rub straight from the package and then applied it to chicken breast for gilling.  The rub had a nice combination of sweet and salty, but it definitely finished with a kick when I sampled it straight from the package.  Frankly, I was a little worried that the heat might be too much for my family as they don't typically care much for that.  However, the rub really mellowed during the cooking process.  The finished product had a nice BBQ flavor that wasn't at all over powering.

Interesting note here.  The directions on the package suggest dredging the meat thoroughly and then applying a spritz of EVOO or something similar to help bind the seasoning to the meat.  I did not follow these directions primarily because I was a little worried about the kick of the seasoning when I sampled it straight from the package.  Given how much the seasoning mellowed during the cook, I would try following the directions a little more closely next time. 

Overall, I'd recommend these seasonings based on this experience.  I plan to cook with the Hickory & Molasses version next and will provide an update on that effort soon.  

In the meantime, here's how you can get your hands on Char Crust Seasonings.

Char Crust, Inc.

3017 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Phone: 773.528.0600 or 800.311.9884 or 773.CHARCRUST