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Entries in Review (47)


Review: iGrill Mini

Over the years, I've tried a variety of wireless thermometers.  But they've always left a lot to be desired in terms of reliability of the connection between the probe and the monitor.  Each time I try one of these gadgets, I'm hopeful that this will be the one.

Well, this may finally be the one.  I received an iGrill Mini for Christmas, but only recently got around to trying it out.  I unboxed it and had it set up in a a matter of minutes.  Man!  This thing is really small.  

Next, I simply downloaded the app from iTunes and powered up the Mini and I was all set.

I inserted the probe in a packer brisket in my Backwoods cooker, and used the magnetic base to stick the sending unit to the side of the pit.  Over the next couple of hours, I wondered around the house while the app on my iPhone kept me up to date on the progres of my brisket.

If I ventured outside of the wireless range, the app quickly re-paired itself to the probe when I got back in range.  This took no action on my part.  The app graphed the progress over time and I was able to set a target temp.  When the brisket hit that temperature, the app alerted me accordingly.

One of the other near things about the app is the ability to see other users of iGrill devices via the iPhones location services.

I only have 2 complaints.  First, although the battery life is stated at 150 hrs, mine died in the middle of my second cook.  Second, I should have waited for the 4 probe version due out later this year.  I'd also be interested in picking up one of the ambient temperature probes to monitor the cooking temp of the pit.

Overall, I'm optimisitc and will continue to use the Mini to see if the battery life continues to be poor.  I'll provide an update as I learn more.



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.




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: 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




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.



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.




Review: Famous Dave's BBQ

I wanted to like it.  Really, I did.  I mean I've seen Famous Dave on TV and really wanted to like my first experience eating at one of his BBQ restaurants.  But unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.  


Okay, I liked a couple of the spicier BBQ sauces on the table, the sweet cornbread muffin, and the complimentary sample of BBQ chips that was served for the purposes of sampling the 5 BBQ sauces on the table.  My wife ordered the smoked salmon spread from the appetizer menu and it was pretty good.

But as for the BBQ, I found it to be medicore.  It wasn't smokey, it didn't seem all that fresh, and unfortunately they served it with a big dose of their house sauce on top.  I had the combo lunch plate with pulled pork and brisket.  I found it to be very bland when I could get a taste around the sauce.

This seems to me like an example of the franchise concept driving the quality of the food to a level less than the founder started with or intended.  At least, I hope so.  

The restaurant itself felt like I'd stepped into an Applebees or a TGI Fridays.  Again, the franchise thing has driven all the originality and uniqueness right out of the place.  If you blindfolded me before I entered and then you handed me a menu from one of the aforementioned franchises, I would've thought that's where I was.  It's kinda sad actually.

Here's my report card:

  • BBQ - C

  • Side Dishes - B

  • Atmosphere - C

  • Value - C

  • Overall - C

Nonetheless, I'd rather eat mediocre, chain-BBQ-restaurant food than a lot of other franchises.  So considering the alternatives in the greater Branson, MO area, I'd probably eat at Famous Dave's again.