If the mountain doesn’t kill you, something else will. Like eating the way I do when I go home for Christmas. I forgot to take photos of a few meals this time around, but I think the ones below will still give you an adequate sampling.
The last time I barbecued a brisket in New York, I spent $100 or more for what was once considered an inexpensive hunk of meat. Last week, I spent $30 on a brisket at Walmart. It turned out to be one of the best I’ve barbecued to date.
This was to be my first barbecue in Colorado, the first time I had people over, and it was all for the LSU-Alabama game. The game went about as I expected. Thankfully, the meat — brisket, ribs, and chicken — did too, despite a lot of worrying about barbecuing at altitude with variable weather conditions.
As the first two plates of chopped and sliced pork were placed on the table in front of us, accompanied by sides of Ore-Ida-looking French fries and an entire basket of hush puppies, my first thought was, “I hope I can handle a whole week of Carolina barbecue.”
My son Nick and I were at Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina, the first stop on one of our somewhat annual barbecue tours. Our first trip, the Barrage of Brisket Tour back in 2013, took us to the Austin area, where we made five stops. The next tour was 2015’s Madness in Memphis , where we hit six barbecue places (and one fried chicken joint). In 2016, it was Kicking It in Kansas, for seven stops.
That last name is pretty damn awful, and I admit I’m retroactively naming some of these because I dubbed this year’s trip The Meat Sweats Tour.
Behold, the brisket. A beefy beauty, but not the easiest cut of meat to tame. That one there is moist, succulent. It is sporting a sexy little smoke ring and a glossy black bark. But appearances can be deceiving. I’m not going to complain (too much). The brisket was perhaps the juiciest one I’ve ever done. But it wasn’t smoky enough. Neither was it seasoned enough for my liking.
The amount of smoke — or lack thereof — wasn’t a surprise. I was experimenting. I use charcoal plus wood chunks. Even if I wanted to use logs, the practicalities of New York living would make it prohibitively expensive (though I did order some sticks from Smoak). I used a lot less wood this time around to see what would happen — and what happened was perfectly fine barbecue that I wish had gotten a little more wood smoke on it. I also expected it might be on the milder side since the turkey and chops I’d pulled off earlier didn’t get very much smoke on them.
I had a very surreal moment last month. Trying to find something at Trader Joe’s, I overheard a man with a British accent asking a store employee if TJ’s carried something called Tony Shasheer’s.
“Excuse me?” the store employee said.
“Tony Shusheery’s?” the Brit said.
“Say what now?” the employee responded.
“It’s a Louisiana seasoning blend,” the Brit said.
“No,” the employee said.
I should take a moment to point out that, defying centuries of Wheaton genetic coding, I didn’t insert myself into this conversation. One, the first rule of Trader Joe’s is “Get the hell out of Trader Joes.” Two, I knew that TJ’s didn’t have Tony Chachere’s.
But it went off the rails with Commandments Two and Three. I was on board with the spirit of Commandment Two — Thou Shalt Not Use Un-Cajun Sausage — if not the letter of their law (more on that in a bit), but Commandment Three brought me up short: Thou Shalt Not Use Store-Bought Roux.
A quick note: If you came here via search, you don’t need four thousand words about how and why I came to own an Instant Pot and how amazing it is (it’s amazing). You also don’t need three thousand words on the history or science behind boiling eggs.
You a) have an Instant Pot and b) are sick as hell of boiled eggs that are undercooked, overcooked or — worst of all — shredding to pieces when you peel them. You’ve tried every “hack” there is in a regular pot. Screw that. Try this once and you’ll never “boil” eggs any other way ever again (well, until the power grid is destroyed).
How to boil eggs in your Instant Pot:
Get your Instant Pot
Get some eggs
Get a vegetable steamer insert or the trivet that came with the Instant Pot
Get a cup or cup and a half of water
Put the water in the pot
Put the steamer insert or trivet in the pot
Put as many eggs as you want in the pot
Put the lid on the pot
Set the pot to Manual for 5 Minutes (if you have an older one that allows you to set the pressure, set it to high)
Let it do its thing. You go do something else with your time. Wash the dishes or something
For my birthday this year, Cara gave me an Anova Precision Cooker so I could try my hand at sous vide. I was hoping for a man-ring or maybe some sexy underwear*, but alas, another kitchen appliance.
It seems like a neat tool, even if its motto should be, “All the food you like in six times the amount of time you usually need to cook it.”
For those of you unfamiliar with sous vide, it’s the process by which you place your food in a plastic bag — typically vacuum-sealed (but it doesn’t have to be) — and then place the bag into a bath of water. The water is heated to the desired target temperature of your food. Medium-rare steak, for example, is somewhere in the 130-degree area. So you set your sous-vide to heat the water to 130, put the steak in a bag, draw the air out of the bag, seal it, plop it in the water and leave the steak in there for about an hour or longer (depending on thickness). You don’t have to worry about overcooking with sous vide, so you get very tender meat that is uniform all the way through. Just take it out the bag and sear it and voila! With the Anova Precision Cooker, all you need is a tub and water. You don’t have to do it anywhere near the stove. (Is “That’s what she said” still a thing?)
But instead of farting around with steak or chicken or pork chops, I figured I’d jump right in and start with a suckling pig.
I’ve got a tub big enough and the Food Saver that my good friend Shawn Adamson gave us as a wedding present came with a roll of bagging material sufficient to create a properly sized bag. As for the pig, it turns out you can find anything in Brooklyn.
But here’s where the problems start.
Getting the pig into the bag and getting the bag sealed. The pig didn’t seem to mind getting a marinade massage (Pro tip: Just steer clear of his eyes and snout!), but all hell broke loose when I tried to cram it into the bag. That damn piglet wasn’t remotely cooperative with getting into the bag. The squealing upset the dogs and, I’d assume, the neighbors. (Pro tip: If you have a landlord who lives downstairs, be sure to try this only when he’s at work.)
But mama didn’t raise no quitter. Eventually, the pig was bagged and the bag sealed.
The size of the tub. Although I knew it would take forever to heat the water with the wand, I thought a bigger tub would be better. (Pro tip: You can cheat by heating water on the stove to get it closer to temperature faster.) I figured it would allow the water to circulate better. But the bigger tub also allowed the pig to thrash around like crazy. I don’t know why I was surprised. I’ve boiled crawfish and crabs before, and they’ve never been happy about hitting the water. Who hasn’t lost at least one crawfish that managed to vault itself out of the pot before you clamp the lid down? But there’s no lid involved in sous vide, sadly. I guess part of me thought since the water wasn’t actually boiling, the pig wouldn’t mind as much. But boy did it?! And I ended up with water all over the kitchen. All I can say is thank god I didn’t do this on the living room table so I could watch TV while cooking. (Pro tip: Even though you CAN sous vide anywhere in the house, you should keep it in the kitchen for just this reason. (Another Pro tip: Make sure your spouse isn’t home.))**
The sealed bag did restrict the pig’s movement some, but not as much as I would have liked. Maybe I need an industrial sealer. On the upside, I think the struggling did exhaust what little oxygen was still in the bag and he quieted down soon enough.
The mess. But before he finally quieted down and even though I’d removed any excess space in the bag, the pig managed to “leak” quite a bit. Thankfully, the bag held strong. Unfortunately, I had to throw the whole thing away.
Now look, you’re probably saying, “Duh, Ken. You have to clean an animal before you cook it like that.” But cooking is all about experimentation. You want to make the same scrambled eggs the same way your entire life, be my guest.
Besides, I thought maybe all the internal stuff would add flavor. It works with shrimp, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t it work with a pig? Maybe next time I should purge the pig like people do with crawfish. But I’d like to avoid any harsh laxatives. Adding drugs or chemicals to the process defeats the whole purpose, right?
Anyway, if any of you have tried this and have had success, let me know!
*That’s a joke, yall.
** Ugh. Double parentheses. Do I even have the period in the right place on that one?
It was time again for me to host the annual company barbecue. That meant 30 or more people coming over to the apartment in Brooklyn. That meant pounds and pound of meat. It meant bags and bags of charcoal. It meant hours and hours of work.
All of which is to say I was excited! And agitated. And nervous. A lot could go wrong, starting with the annual prediction of 60% chance of rain. I have a back yard just big enough for 30-some-odd people. I have an apartment that is smaller than the back yard. So, you do the math. But the chance of rain diminished throughout the week until the weather on the day of the actual event looked like it was supposed to be sunshine and lollipops. The day of cooking, on the other hand, looked to be a steady fall of rain.
Oh, yes. This is a two-day cooking affair. Three days if you include shopping. But it was all under control. I’ve done this before. Even if I haven’t mastered my brisket (shut up) just yet, I have the process down to a science.