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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




Meat America

One of the things that I've tried to make a conscious effort to do is to get better at photography.  So, I've begun listening to some podcasts and following some online resources on the subject.

Someone turned me on to a a website by a photographer named Jared Polin called Fro Knows Photo.  While listening to this week's podcast, I heard about a photo project that sort of blends food and photography.  Another photographer named Dominic Episcopo has a new book coming out soon called Meat America.  

MEAT AMERICA is not just a photo story, art print bonanza and upcoming book by renowned photographer Dominic Episcopo.

MEAT AMERICA is a state of mind, an eye-opening and artery-closing tour of America’s spirit of entrepeneurship, rebellion and positivity.

MEAT AMERICA celebrates our appetite for insurmountable odds, limitless aspiration, and immeasurable success. Actually, just between us;

it’s a way for us to combine a few of our favorite things. Meat. Quotes. Facts. Photography. And the indefinable adjective that is “American.”



Here's a link to one of the pieces.  


It might be a bit of a stretch to link this project to a BBQ blog, but I think it's pretty cool stuff.  

Be sure to check out the Meat America photo book that's due to laucnh soon.







Review: Gary's Sweet for Mama BBQ Rub


I recently had the opportunity to sample the Sweet for Mama BBQ Rub From Gary's Seasonings.  I wasn't familiar with Gary's line of seasonings until now.  So I wasn't really sure what to expect.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with the flavors in the Sweet for Mama Rub.

I have to confess, that I typically try rubs and seasonings first with just a little taste straight from the bottle.  This time was no exception.  When I tasted the rub, I immediately liked it.  In fact, I asked my wife to sample it because there was something familiar about the flavor.  I never did figure out why it seemed familiar, but I liked it.


I also like to sample BBQ rubs and seasonings applied to chicken.  Grilled chicken breasts don't overwhelm the seasonings or sauces that are applied like other meats.  So, I applied Gary's Sweet for Mama rub on some chicken breasts for dinner.  

This is a sweeter rub than I'm used to, with not nearly as much paprika in the blend.  So the rub didn't color the meat as much as a lot of others.  Additionally, the cayenne flavor really comes through.  All in a good way.  My family enjoyed the flavor as did I.  In fact, later that evening I applied some more of Gary's Sweet for Mama to a bowl of popcorn.  Something about the combination of sweet & salty in this rub made me want more and it was awesome as a popcorn seasoning!


Gary's was kind enough to include sample packets of their other seasonings.  I look forward to sampling the other products, including:


  • Gary's Original Blend
  • Hot for Mama
  • Too Hot for Mama


Each of these are available in Salt Free versions as well.  And here's a really cool option for anyone who would like to trial Gary's flavors.  Trial sizes can be had for .39 cents each with free shipping!  I haven't seen anyone else doing this, but I think it's an awesome idea and a great way to market your products.

Check out Gary's Seasonings at or check them out at a variety of west coast locations.  I think you'll like it!




Review: Tasty Licks - Black Bart's Brisket Rub


I have to confess, I've never eaten BBQ in Texas.  So when I read a "Taste of Texas" on the label on Fred Benardo's brisket rub I sort of have to take his word for it.  Now I have had other brisket rubs from Texas and I have to say that this one stacks up pretty well.

I've develped a taste for a peppery rub on brisket and beef in general.  I found Black Bart's Brisket Rub to suit my taste buds nicely.  It's a nice blend of salt, pepper, and paprika, with just a hint of cayenne.  When I'm not trying a new rub, I keep it pretty simple with just garlic salt and black pepepr for my beef.  So the simplicity of this rub really hit the mark as far as I'm concerned.  I've used it a couple of times and really enjoyed it.

If you'd like to give Tasty Licks rubs a try, head over to Tasty Licks BBQ Supply for their line of rubs and seasonings as wella s a variety of other BBQ related products.

If you happen to live in greater Shillington, PA area, tell The Smokin' Guitar Player that I sent you.



Now That's a Knife!


Whether you're just getting started or you've been BBQ'ing for awhile, there comes a time when you need to evaluate the knives you're using.  After all, they're a pretty important tool for the BBQ chef.  I spent the first few years just using whatever fell to hand in the kitchen.  But a few years ago, my wife presented me with a nice set of knives for Christmas.  The difference has been night and day.

So here are a few things to consider if you're in the market for knives.

  • Consider the type of blade and the maintenance.  Some blades are harder to sharpen and some require professional sharpening, like serrated blades.
  • Like buying shoes, you need to try it on.  Pick it up and feel how it fits your hand.
  • Buy individual knives rather than a set and buy the best knife you can afford.  Buying a set is certainly acceptable, but you may find that there are knives in the set that you don't use much.

And here are the knives that I'd recommend you start with.

The Chef's Knife - This is a good all purpose knife that can be used for dicing, mincing, and slicing.  Just be sure to buy one that's comfortable in your hand and not too long.


A utility knife.  This knife is longer than a pairing knife and used for miscellaneous cutting.  Typicaly these knives have blades in the 4-6" range.

The pairing knife.  A short knife typically used for peeling or coring vegetables and smaller food items.  These knives typically are 3-5" long with a straight, sharp edge.

The only other knife that I'd add to get started is a serrated knife for slicing.  Unfortunatley mine is MIA, but that's a whole other blog post.

Sharpening Steel - Sharp knives are the most useful, so make sure you have a sharpening steel or some other tool to keep a good edge on whatever knife you use.

Remember, even when the world is at peace, a gentleman still keeps a blade by his side.



The Smoking Jacket

What?  This isn't what you had in mind?  You thought I meant some sort of silk-lined jacket with a cravat? Well then you don't know me very well.

This is my "smoking jacket".  It's an old ski coat that I began using to stay warm while tending the smoker in cold weather.  I love the way it smells.  I love the way it feels on a cold morning.  And I love the way it shows the battle scars of my time tending the fire.

My wife doesn't love it nearly as much as I do!  :)





Review: Omaha Steaks Beef Tenderloin


As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm lucky to receive a number of grill and BBQ items for Christmas.  One of those items was a gift package from Omaha Steaks.  I've had some of their items before, but this was the first time that I received a shipment/gift via UPS.  The assortment of steaks and side dishes was packaged in a styrofoam cooler and arrived frozen and perfectly in tact.  


So, for New Year's Eve I grilled up the beef tenderloin steaks for dinner.  I used a very light seasoning and no sauce to let the meat speak for itself.  I grilled them over a ~500 degree grill.  They weren't very thick, so they reached the desired temps pretty quickly.

The family enjoyed the steaks, although for tenderloin they were a little fattier and "chewier" in places than they would have liked.  But the combination of good beef, grilling over a hot charcoal fire, and the dusting of seasoning resulted in a flavorful steak.  Oh, there were no left overs!

I certainly won't look a gift horse in the mouth, but given that I live in a metropolitan area I'm able to get equal or better quality steaks at comparable prices.  So, I won't likely order these on a regular basis.  However, they're certainly worthy of giving or receiving as a gift.

Oh, and their chocolate cake rocks!







Review: Sonny's BBQ Restaurant

I recently visited my folks in Southwest Florida.  They know that I'd rather eat BBQ than just about anything else, and they also like to share their discoveries with me.  So, when it came time to grab lunch they steered us towards the Sonny's BBQ in Cape Coral.  

Sonny's is a BBQ franchise with locations in 9 states.  A quick look at their website find ~125 locations listed.  With that kind of succes, you'd think they must do something right.  Turns out, they do.

The place was pretty nice and business was a bit slow given that we were late for lunch and early for dinner.  Nonetheless, we ordered up some sweet tea and took a look at the menu.  It was extensive.  I opted for a trip to the salad bar and the brisket plate with a couple of sides.  Turns out, I should have skipped the salad bar.  The brisket portion was generous, and the side dishes were large as well.

The brisket was sliced thin and had a good flavor.  I had a little more fat on my plate than I'd prefer, but it was tastey.  There was a variety of sauces on the table, all original Sonny's flavors.  They were all pretty good, but I opted to enjoy my brisket without sauce.  My folks went for the sweet sauce and enjoyed it as well.

They had a decent selection of side dishes.  I opted for cole slaw and green beans since I've been trying to watch my diet a little.  They were both very good, but I was sure wishing for that I'd ordered some of the BBQ beans or baked sweet potato that my folks enjoyed.  They looked great.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to Sonny's:

  • BBQ - B

  • Side Dishes - B

  • Atmosphere - B

  • Value - B

  • Overall - B

Overall, a solid joint that I'd enjoy eating at again.  And, given their growing footprint that's highly likely.




Review: Tommy Bahama Blackberry Brandy BBQ Sauce

It's Christmas time, and as usual there were a couple of BBQ and foodie items under the tree this year.  One of them, was a bottle of Tommy Bahama Blackberry Brandy BBQ Sauce.  The label states is great for pork, so I fired up the grill and grilled up some boneless pork loin chops to give it a try.

The sauce was thinner than I expected it to be.  It was nearly as thin as Worcestershire sauce.  And frankly, it wasn't as flavorful as I'd hoped.  It didn't get sticky and create the glaze I was hoping for.  I did enjoy the flavor, althought I can't say it was necessarily blackberry or brandy flavored.  It turns out, that the sauce was better as a dipping sauce than as a cooking sauce.  

I definitely enoyed it enough to finish the bottle, but I don't think I'll be buying any more of this novelty sauce.




Mini - Pigapalooza

For the past few years, I've manned the BBQ pit in support of Jacob's Ladder and their annual BBQ & music event called Pig-a-Palooza.  The event has a lot of momentum and this year was the best yet.

For the second straight year, we've donated BBQ for a private party as part of a silent auction item.  This year, it was part of an auction package that included a miniature version of the entire Pig-a-Palooza event including side dishes, wine & beer, pulled pork and ribs, and live entertainment.  The lucky winner of this year's auction item selected October 6th for the date of their shindig, and we put the wheels in motion.


So Saturday morning, I was up early stoking the smoker for the BBQ.  Getting pulled pork ready for a couple of dozen people is pretty easy.  Heck, getting ribs ready for a couple of dozen folks is pretty easy.  But, my bride also chose this day as one of her customer appreciation days where we cook ribs for friends, clients, and colleagues of The Bradshaw Property Group.  That means 24+ racks of babyback ribs.  Now that's a lot of work.

 Pork butts went on the cooker by 6:00am and at 10:30am I began the prep of the ribs.  Prepping that many ribs single handedly takes some time.  Did I mention that it's a lot of work?  But I had ribs on the Backwoods by 11:30am.  


My timing was spot on!  I had the butts wrapped by 4:30pm and resting in the Cambro, and I began the process of glazing and finishing the ribs around 4:00pm.  Friends, clients, and colleagues began pickingup thier customer appreciation gifts around 5:00pm, and I headed out to Mini Pig-a-Palooza at 6:00pm with a second Cambro full of BBQ goodness.


We gloved up and served the party goers to rave reviews while a friend of mine, Steve Reeb, entertained the good folks.  My co-pitmaster, Dave Dey, and I took up the guitar for a miniature set of our own while Steve was on break (thanks for being so gracious Steve!).

All in all, we had a great time and look forward to next year's Pig-a-Palooza.