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Entries in Review (47)

Saturday
May272017

Review: A Fine Swine

Today, I had to run a few errands with my bride and we found ourselves in a rural community that we don't often visit, New Baden, IL.  As we entered town, I spotted a BBQ Joint that I haven't been to before.  So, after we completed our errands, we circled back and had lunch there.

As we parked, I saw 2 Ole Hickory smokers under cover near the front door and there was a smell of hickory smoker in the air.  Both, a very good sign. 

Right off, I noticed a couple of very unique things about this joint.  First, the counter was a converted off-set pit.  I thought that was a very cool touch.

The other thing I noticed is a live feed of a video camera mounted directly over a butcher block table in the kitchen where they are slicing brisket, chopping pork shoulder, etc.  I've never seen this in another BBQ joint and enjoyed watching the staff slice my brisket before brigning it out to my table.

All of this had my expectations pretty high.  I ordered sliced brisket with a side of house chips, and my bride ordered her usual pulled pork sandwich and BBQ beans.  At first glance, it all looked good.  There was a nice smoke ring on the brisket and it had been trimmed enough that there was a just the right amount of fat along one side of the slices.  

The BBQ was decent.  The pulled pork was good, but a little bland.  The brisket was tasty, but a little chewier than I prefer.  The house chips weren't much more than kettle cooked potatoe chips, and my wife described the BBQ beans as "the worst she had ever had".  In fairness, her comments reflect a personal bias.  That is a bias against beans with an overpowering flavor of molasses and apple pie.  They were unique and very sweet, but not my cup of tea either.

Here's how I'd rate my trip to A Fine Swine in New Baden, IL.

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

If you find yourself in the area, I would recommend you give them a try.  i know I will the next time I find myself in New Baden.  

Here's how to find them:

A Fine Swine

423 Hanover St.

New Baden, IL 62265

http://www.afineswine.com

 

Cheers,

Braddog

 

Sunday
May292016

Review: Qwik Trim Brisket Trimmer

I'm a big fan of trimming my brisket before cooking. This gives me a huge surface to apply seasoning and frankly I don't like dealing with the fat on my brisket while eating it. I've been trimming my brisket now for a few years despite incurring a significant injury while doing so. See my previous post "How Not to Trim a Brisket".

 

Rather than risk another injury like this, I jumped at a chance to acquire the new Qwik Trim Brisket Trimmer that promises to simplify the trimming process. I ordered it right away and received it just a few days before I needed to trim a couple of brisket flats for a party.

It's really a pretty simple concept and protects the pitmater from the inadvertent slip of the trimming knife. I rinsed the brisket flats and was eager to get started.

 

You can see the concept in action in this photo.  It turns out that it works great for the large, cold, hard fat on the underside of a brisket.  However, it doesn't work as well on the softer, thinner layers of fat.  I trim both from my brisket, so I still had to use my trimming knife to get the end result that I prefer.

If you're a pitmaster that likes to leave that thinner layer of fat on your brisket, then the Qwik Trim could be a good option for you.  But, if you're a fan of trimming all of the fat you'll still have some work to do with a trimming knife.

Cheers,
Braddog 

 

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

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 

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 

 

 

Thursday
Jun122014

Review: Ro-Man Pork Puller

Awhile ago, I wrote about a prototype pork puller that I created based on a product that I'd seen on the web.  My DIY pork puller worked okay, but the materials weren't all that substation.  I used a rotissiere rod and clamp from a Weber gas grill inserted into a cordless drill.  While that worked fine for light use at home, it just didn't hold up over time.

This is my DIY version

I considered building another one on my own but considering the investment had already made and the cost to do it again, I decided that I'd just spring for the product that my design was based on, the Ro-Man Pork Puller.

To clarify, Santa Claus brought me the Pork Puller and I've used it all spring.  Now that I've had a chance to evaluate it extensively, I thought I'd document my observations.

The significantly more substantial Ro-Man Pork Puller

In short, this thing is WAY better than my DIY model.  The stainless stell tines and the disk that they are welded too are significantly sturdier than my rotissiere based model.  The shaft that is inserted into a cordless drill is also substantial, and it's long enough to easily reach to the bottom of a large stock pot.

Is it worth $68.95?  Well, I'll answer that a couple of ways.  If you cook a lot of pulled pork and have to pull more than 2 at a time, then absolutley.  Secondly, you're talking to a guy that spent $90 on a quick read thermometer.  I've spent this much money on lesser products, that's for sure.  For me, it as well worth the investment and believe that I've gotten my money's worth just using it for the graduation parties that I cooked for this spring.

Check out the videos and links over at http://www.porkpuller.com and pick one up for yourself.  

Cheers,
Braddog

 

 

Monday
May052014

Review: Frontier Lump Charcoal

Charcoal is charcoal, right?  Wrong.  Not only do you have the lump vs. briquette debate, but not all lump (or briquettes for that matter) is made equal.  And lump is all I burn in my Big Green Egg & Bubba Keg.

Now I don't believe in buying Big Green Egg brand lump charcoal.  I think it's pricey and no better than Royal Oak.  But over the weekend, I stumbled upon a huge bag of Frontier Lump Charcoal at Sams Club.  I'd only ever seen mesquite lump at Sams before so I was pleased to see that they were carrying something other than briquettes.  So, a bag came home with me.

However when I fired it up for the first time, I was struck by two things.  First, the pieces were huge!  I mean every bag has a few big pieces, but this was loaded with pieces as big as your fist.

Second, when I put the MAPP torch to the lump it sparked terribly.  It's not uncommon for lump to spark when you light it with a torch, but some sparks worse than others.  This was the.absolute.worst I've ever seen.  Sparks were flying like I had lit fireworks.  I'm lucky that I had a t-shirt on that I wasn't worried about.

Overall, I guess this lump is okay.  But I probably won't buy it again due to how badly it sparks at lighting.

Cheers,

Braddog