Google Analytics

Friday, June 18, 2010

Climbing a Fig Tree

Southern Sounds and Sights of Summer

There's something about an ice cream truck, driving through the neighborhood, playing its first song of summer, that gets children excited while making adults reminisce about childhood.

Children came out the door as if ejected by the house; tilted forward, legs and feet churning, trying to catch up to the rest of the child.

When I was a child, it seemed the ice cream truck always came during the evening. I wonder why that was? Maybe parents used it for good behavior, an end of day reward, proving they had successfully negotiated another day?

I never had much money growing up, so I typically didn't buy an ice cream, instead preferring to save my money for comic books - besides, I knew I had ice cream in the refrigerator. But I did like to go near the window and observe the anticipation excitement on the kids faces after they had placed their order. Now it seems as though the younger kids were licking the entire rim of their mouths while they waited!

Some of the vendors appeared to enjoy the job and the children, while others appeared to not be happy in the job at all - in a hurry to get to the next site they wouldn't find any enjoyment in either.

I never saw a woman selling ice cream from a truck. I wonder why that was too.


Cicadas and crickets come out at this time too, playing their songs of summer, along with lightening bugs to intermittently light the way. I have some crickets singing and lightening bugs blinking in my yard as I write this from my back porch.

I used to chase after lightening bugs, placing them when caught, into a mason jar with holes punch in the lid with a fork, in order to have 'air to breath'. Also some carefully placed grass and a small stick to climb - lightening bugs like to climb, you know. I'm not sure what the purpose of the grass was, but it seemed like a good thing to add to make them feel more at home.

Sometimes little fingers would catch an unfortunate lightening bug in the grips of the lid, and separate the bug's tail from his main body, resulting in a continuous emission of light from the tail. I would watch as the glow, which seemed to pulse slightly, gradually faded away. I didn't like it when this would happen, as even young children understood they had killed the lightening bug. But I was on a mission, and lightening bugs had to be caught, so I would endeavor to be more careful next time.

I have read, but can't ascertain the truthfulness, that only the males light up in an attempt to 'call' a female in to mate. I also read a wonderful story (I think it was in 'Guide Post') that there was a valley in North Carolina, where all of the lightening bugs in the entire field, hundreds, if not thousands of them, would 'strobe' on and off at exactly same time.

I hope this made the females feel they were important and desired!

After pondering about it, I don't believe sticking a light bulb in my rear will result in any females coming my way.....

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sittin' on my porch Wed June 9 2010

I just smoked a couple of piece of pork on my Webber Performer grill for dinner - dang, they were great! I had a couple (!) of beers - Steel Reserve High Gravity (6.0%). Buuuuuurp - excuuuuse me!

There is a lonesome Cardinal calling for a mate, sort of like "Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby!") over and over and over. I hope he finds a mate soon or I'll have to abandon the porch!

Daytrading quote that I like

There’s a quote in Dr. Alexander Elder’s ‘Trading for a Living’ that I like:

If eight or ten people place their hands on your head and push you down, your knees will buckle no matter how strong you are. The crowd may be stupid, but they are stronger than you. Crowds have the power to create trends. Never buck a trend. If a trend is up, you should only buy or stand aside. Never sell short because “prices are too high” — never argue with the crowd.You do not have to run with the crowd — but you should never run against it.

Daytrading today - didn't do so well

I entered this morning, and blew it. Later, after 2, I had a good entry that came about, which I had been waiting on for an hour, but it slipped by while I talked with my wife. Dang.

I somewhat managed to redeem myself, but not totaly. I tried to use a indicator pair, but that just got in the way. Only after I quit using it did my trades improve.

But I still lost overall. Dang. My score is now 14:5.


While my current win:loss ratio is good (13:4), I still have some problems that I'm trying to overcome.

In general:
  • Trades I do in the morning don't do well. I do better after 2 PM. This may be because of several influences: - volatility is falling off after the morning's open. - less newsworthy events later in the day. - easier to find today's support and resistance.
  • I tend to get in too late on a trend, then wait too long to get out of a bad trade. This may be because: - I don't use any signals, but I'm researching some. - I don't have a clear exit point, and the support or resistance is too far from the entry point.
I think I would do better if:
  • I was more careful about where the support and resistance was before I opened a trade.
  • I waited until after 2 pm to trade.

Trash Can Smoker?

I was watching a new cooking channel last night (Cooking). I'm glad to see it added to our DishNetwork list of channels because it seems that there are few actual cooking shows anymore on FoodNetwork in the evenings - most are either reviews of restaurants (ala Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), or some sort of competition.

At any rate, one show last night (Tuesday June 8 2010) included a segment whereby three people made smokers from new galvanized garbage/trash cans. At first I was concerned because several years ago I was making a smoker that had an exhaust pipe that included a galvanized pipe, and the research I did said that, if the temperature gets hot enough, then the galvanized material would burn off, and that the chemicals released could be destructive to our nervous system. However, they are only cooking below 300 degrees, and there is no direct contact with the walls of the cans by anything hot (no charcoal or fire), so the walls never get exposed to temperatures higher then 300 degrees, which is below the point where I've seen the galvanized material released, so in my non-expert opinion, I don't think this is a problem for me. If you consider making one of these, you should research this question for yourself in order to decide if you think this is something you feel safe with.

The setup is very similar to Alton Brown's (FoodNetwork) clay flower-pot smoker: it contains a hotplate resting on the inside-bottom of the can, then a small oven-pan on the hotplate, and wood chips in the oven-pan. Up at the top of the can, three small 'L' bracket supports (metal, about 1-2 inches to a side) are each placed evenly around the insides of the can (e.g., 12 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 8 o'clock). These 'L' bracket supports provide the support for the grill surface (the type found on a standard charcoal grill). If you were looking from the side, then the bracket would be positioned something like the an inverted 'L' - the horizontal part is at the top, and the vertical part is below. This allows the grill to reset on the 'L' bracket, without the vertical part getting in the way of the grill surface.

Measure the inside of the new trash can so you can determine the right grill surface to purchase. Home Depot sells different sizes, or you can order online. You will want a grill surface that is low enough so the meat you are smoking will sit on the grill surface, but the meat not extend up as high as the top (lip) of the can with the lid removed. When using the smoker, you will be placing the lid onto the can, and you don't want the meat to come in contact with the lid.

The 'L' brackets you use should have pre-drilled holes in it to simplify mounting the 'L' bracket to the can interior. Determine the height you want for the grill surface on the interior wall of the can, then measure this point down from the lip - this will be your reference measurement. All 3 'L' bracket holes should be drilled into the can wall at the same height from the top of the can, so the top part of the 'L' brackets will provide a uniform level height for the grill surface to rest on. So the holes are all at the same height from the top of the can, the 'L' brackets are attached to the can side wall, the tops of the 'L' brackets are all at the same height from the top of the can, the grill rests on top of the 'L' brackets, the meat rests on top of the grill surface, and the top of the meat is below the top of the can, and the lid will rest on top of the can without touching the lid.

The electrical cord can either come in from the top, or a hole can be drilled in the side wall of the can, a couple of inches below the bottom of the can - it should be above the bottom but below the top of the hotplate. The side entry is the method I prefer, but if you use this approach, then you will need to protect the hotplate wire from direct contact with the hole side, else the trash can will eventually cut through the insulation, which could cause the trash can to become an electrical and fire hazard to you and your surroundings. A rubber grommet that is placed into the hole side will prevent this, or some other type of non-metal short pipe can help with this. Only use this type of smoker on an electrical outlet that has is on a GFI (ground fault interrupter) to provide some additional safety. For me, I would never bring the wire in from the top.

They didn't show a thermometer on the show, but I would recommend placing one in the side of the can, where it can be viewed on the outside without having to take the lid off. It should be at the same hight above the grill surface as 1/2 the meat you will generally be smoking. For instance, if you are smoking a pork shoulder, and assuming most of those are about 8 inches thick, then 1/2 of the 8 inches would be 4 inches, so you would drill the hole for the thermometer 4 inches up from the grill surface. DO NOT USE A MERCURY THERMOMETER! Use a dial thermometer, with a shaft of about 3 - 4 inches long, so it will project into the area above the grill surface.

The hotplate you use should have an adjustable temperature control on it. You will have to experiment with this adjustment in order to find a temperature that provides you with the correct amount of heat. This will be a slow process to find the correct setting!

Determining the setpoint value for the temperature knob:
  1. Turn the hotplate on.
  2. Place the lid on top of the can
  3. If the temperature stabilizes below your desired temperature (more on this later), then take the lid off and adjust the temperature control knob for higher heat, close the lid and wait. This could take 20 minutes.
  4. If the temperature rises above your desired temperature, then take the lid off and adjust the temperature control knob for lower heat, close the lid and wait. This could take 20 minutes
  5. Continue with steps 3 and 4 until the temperature matches your desired value.

Some considerations:
  • Larger cans require bigger hot plates and more energy to heat to your desired temperature. The highest temperature possible in a large can will be lower then the highest temperature possible in a small can.
  • Smaller cans will come to desired temperature quicker.
  • Smaller cans will mean flare-ups can become self inducing and cause the temperature to greatly increase, while larger cans will be less affected by this.
  • The amount of wood chips will determine the amount of smoke flavor. This is more important at the start then later on. The pan containing the wood chips should be directly on the hotplate. Smaller, thinner wood chips will work better then big chunks, but big chunks will last longer, so you might want to try some of both and experiment. If you have trouble getting the chips to smoke, try a smaller and/or thinner pan. If that still fails, you may need a hotter (more watts) hotplate.
  • BBQ is generally cooked at or below 250 degrees. The lower the temperature, the longer it will take to cook the meat, but the meat will contain more moisture. Some smoke their BBQ for 20 - 24 hours at 180 degrees. If you are inexperienced, then a good target to start with is 225.
  • You will not be able to sear the sides of the meat in this smoker, so if you desire this, you will have to do it inside on your stove in a pan.
  • I don't generally test for how done it is, because I feel that, if I can pull it apart without resistance, then it cooked for long enough and reached a high enough temperature for me. I would recommend the use of a meat thermometer, and obtain proper pork temperatures from the pork association web site. Older cookbooks will contain temperatures that are too high and will result in dried out meat, so you should get the latest from the pork association.
  • Generally, this should be considered indirect heat, unless you have the grill surface very close to the hotplate and wood chips, and it is prone to self-sustaining flareups.
  • On the show, they show the lid opened slightly on one side to let the smoke out. This also lets heat out and fresh air in, which will drop the temperature, which will cause the hotplate to come on, heating the wood chips more, and new fresh smoke. Keeping the can lid on will mean the temperature stays more uniform, the hotplate won't cycle so much, and once the oxygen is used up by the wood chips, the wood chips won't smoke anymore, since they need oxygen to smoke. However, since the smoke is trapped in the can when the lid is on tight, I don't know that this matters. So experiment!
  • Per The Other White Meat site (below), a note on temperature (Note: this information may no longer be current so check directly with their site for the latest temperature recommendations): Pork today is very lean and shouldn’t be overcooked. The best test of doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your pork. We recommend cooking pork chops, roasts and tenderloins to 160 degrees F., which leaves the center pink and juicy.* Less tender cuts, like pork shoulder (butt) and ribs can be cooked long and slow, to render them tender. * For larger cuts of pork, such as roasts, cook to 150° F; remove from the oven or grill and allow to set for 10 minutes before slicing. The temperature of the roast will continue to rise to 160° and the pork juices will redistribute throughout the roast before slicing. If marked above by **, the cut should be cooked until tender.
Some useful links

Monday, June 7, 2010

Which BBQ Smoker?

A friend wrote and asked me about buying a smoker. He said he and his wife wanted to get into more healthy eating, and wanted to make those foods more interesting, so they were going to add a smoker to their cooking. His question was which smoker should he buy. He said the Big Green Egg (Egg) was nice but very expensive, and was there a cheaper smoker that he could consider, or should he save up for an Egg. He said they would be cooking 'chickens and other cuts of meat'.

Like a lot of things, the answer depends. Here's what I'm replying with:

Which smoker can do the job for you depends, in general, on the following things:
  • How much convenience are you wanting to buy?
  • Is price a consideration?
  • Are you frequently trying to cook traditional pork BBQ, which comes from a tough cut of meat (pork shoulder)? Same for beef brisket.
  • Are you going to competition grade pork shoulder BBQ, which means flavor, tender and moist.
From the standpoint of traditional pork shoulder BBQ, the big benefit to the Egg is the convenience. When I make BBQ, my goal is to have the most flavorful, most moist BBQ I can produce. This is competition grade BBQ, not restaurant grade - a restaurant can't take the time to produce competition grade BBQ, or they would go out of business, because people that flood their BBQ with sauce aren't going to be able to tell the difference anyway.

My cooking temperature has (while still remaining safe) a goal of around 185- 190 degrees. This allows me to retain a lot of the moisture (water and fat), but it also means I've got to have a smoker that allows me to accurately maintain the temperature within a few degrees, so the smoker has to be fairly air-tight, because you are controlling the temperature by the amount of fresh-air you let in for combustion, and the amount of exhaust you let out. If you have a leaky-air smoker, then you will have temperature swings with each and every gust of air that comes along.

Since the temperature you cook at determines the amount of fat (and thus flavor) that is retained by the meat (higher temperatures renders the fat out) it thus directly influences the flavor. And since the temperature determines the amount of time necessary before the meat becomes tender, time and temperature directly control the tenderness of the finished piece of meat.

Since I want the best BBQ I can produce, I'm going to be cooking for a very long time, since low temperatures on big heavy pieces of meat (a Shoulder Butt boneless will come in around 8 lbs or so) require a long time to cook. At the temperatures I'm cooking at, it will take 20 to 24 hours to cook - and that's where the convenience comes in. I can load up the Egg once with lump-charcoal, get the temperatures balanced out, and leave it alone for 24 hours. My older smokers required me to make a temperature adjustment every 30 - 45 minutes, add charcoal, etc. I therefore only cooked BBQ on long weekends since I had to stay up all night!

So the Egg meets the requirements of:
  • Competition grade BBQ
  • Ability to accurately control low-temperature smoking, even on gusty days.
  • Convenience for cooking for 24 hours without having to adjust the air-damper controls and replenish charcoal.
  • It will allow you to cook any piece of meat you want to cook, at any temperature you want to cook it at (chicken, brisket, steak).
If competition grade isn't a big requirement, and you just want to make BBQ as good as most of the better BBQ restaurants, then I would suggest something along the lines of a Weber grill with a dome lid, with a diameter of 22.5" or bigger. I have a Weber Performer that I really like, but this too is somewhat expensive at $300, but I bought some convenience. It burns charcoal, but has a side gas lighter that starts the charcoal for you (convenience and avoiding lighter fluid), a work table and a nice cart, none of which matters to the BBQ. However, the diameter, at 22.5" is a major consideration. For smoking meats in this type of grill, I wouldn't get anything small, as you are going to put your charcoal on one side for browning (where your meat is directly over your charcoal), and then rotate the grill (or move the meat) so the meat is not directly over the coals for smoking - smaller grills make this difficult as you can't get far enough away from the coals. It does mean you will have to accept higher temperatures, less moisture and quicker cooking times, with more temperature excursions from wind gusts. You will be producing BBQ in 6 hours or so, at temperatures of 250 - 300. You will also be adding charcoal every 30 minutes or so. This means you would like the grill surface to have the ability to open so you can add charcoal without having to lift the meat out - the Weber Performer has this capability, but I think you can find a lot that will.

I'm really impressed with the charcoal grills with a large grill surface and a big dome. By the way - the purpose of the dome is to turn your grill into an oven - most people don't realize this. So you brown the meat over the hot coals, then move it to the other side to cook 'in the oven' until the internal meat temperatures come up to a safe point.

Hope this helps!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What cigar I'm smoking: Excalibur, by Hoyo de Monterrey Ltd Ed

What I'm drinking: a glass of Pinot Noir 2009, Lindeman's Bin 99

What's happening: it's lightly raining, I'm sitting on my porch, listening to Blues.

I just grilled a Flank Steak for my wife and I on a new grill - Webber Performer, which I'm impressed with. It's one of 2 charcoal grills I have, sharing space and duties with a cabinet smoker (for sausages), a Big Green Egg, a 'flower pot' smoker (ala Alton Brown), and a gas grill. My wife cooked fried okra, corn (from corn I put up yesterday after blanching and cutting off of the cob), and field peas, along with some pickles we made. I'm looking forward to fresh strawberries on pound cake later!

As soon as I've finished my cigar, I'll go inside to join my wife in watching a movie from Netflixs.

I've been researching 'pork shoulder bacon', along with 'pork butt steak' and 'pork butt on-a-stick' (PBOS). I had the PBOS at the Florida State Fair about 3 years ago, and it was great! Apparently it's made from Pork Butt, which is the upper half of a pork shoulder. I just bought 16 LBs of Pork Shoulder from Costco to make BBQ (smoking it on the Big Green Egg, where I make NC style, smoking it for 24 hours). I think I'll try making some of that bacon an steak from a cut off of it this week! My week is tangled up right now, because I may have jury duty Tuesday, hoping to find out Monday night that I don't have to go!

Guess that's it for tonight - I hear a movie wanting to start.

Blog starting.....

BBQ and Banjos - two things dear to my heart. Both represent Southern traditions.

I felt too constrained using facebook, so I thought I'd try a blog for a while.

I anticipate that this blog will have frequent posts on the following:

  • BBQ (cooking it, restaurants, and other things related (e.g, smoker designs)
  • Bluegrass Music (I'm learning the banjo)
  • Scotch Whisky, Cigars, Wine
  • Stocks - Investing and trading
  • Beach stuff
  • Dining
  • Marriage
  • Life