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Monday, May 30, 2011

Low Temperature Cooking - Some Safety Considerations

Note: See References below for links.

Cooking safely should be the goal of all of us that cook for ourselves as well as others.  It's easy to assume we cook safe, but unless we use an accurate thermometer, and also know the length of time a food has been cooked, our assumptions may be incorrect.

Low Temperature Cooking
Low temperature cooking offers us a method of cooking that:
  • can tenderize foods.  We can choose cheaper cuts of meat that are tough and make them tender.
  • retain moisture and fat for a more flavorful experience
  • be convenient

Some important concepts
(Note: a lot of the insight in this section is provided by Douglas E. Baldwin's excellent and well researched book A practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking.
  • Heating food: the center of the food should reach at least 130°F (54.4°C) within 6 hours to prevent the toxin producing pathogen Clostridium perfringens from multiplying to dangerous levels.  Your heat should be sufficient, for the size of the cut of food you are cooking, to heat to a temperature of 130 dF, or higher, within 6 hours of removing the food from the cooler.  Since larger pieces of food require the heating temperatures to migrate a bigger distance before reaching the center of the food, larger pieces of food will take longer to reach 130 dF than will smaller pieces of food.  If the size of the meat is so large as to preclude the heat from reaching a temperature at or greater than 130 dF within 6 hours at the center of the food, then a higher cooking temperature must be used, or the food should be cut to smaller thicknesses.    [A practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking]
  • Placing warm, large pieces of food into a refrigerator may take a long time to cool sufficiently to reduce the chance of problem bacterial growth.  Thus, the food should be cooled via a water-ice mixture (50%/50%) in order to quick chill the food.  You can place the food into pouches, such as Zip Lock, removing all or most of the air so the food isn't insulated from the cool water by the air, in order to prevent dilution of the food with the water-ice mixture.
  • Raw or unpasteurized food must never be served to highly susceptible or immune compromised populations. Even for immune competent individuals, it is important that raw and unpasteurized foods are consumed before food pathogens have had time to multiply to harmful levels. With this in mind, the US Food Code requires that such food can only be between 41°F (5°C) and 130°F (54.4°C) for less than 4 hours.  [A practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking]
  • A refrigerator (not the freezer section) should be set to maintain a temperature at or below 38 dF.  Foods held below 41 dF can retard bacterial growth sufficiently so that the food is safe for up to 10 days.  Foods held below 38 dF can retard bacterial growth sufficiently so the food is safe for up to 31 days.[A practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking]

Testing Thermometers (future section)

References (future section)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Learning the names of birds

My wife has transformed our back yard into a bird oasis, and in the process, into a bird watcher's oasis as well.  We enjoy this pastime a lot.

Some time back, I decided it was time to quit fooling around and learn the names of some of the birds we were seeing.  I also wanted to be able to identify the birds by their song.

A conversation at the local store Wild Birds Unlimited made us the proud owners of a bird clock.  This clock didn't have regular hour numerals, instead it had a picture of a bird where the numerals would normally be.  A great feature of this clock was an on/off switch that when on, played a MP3 recording of the bird image pointed to by the hour hand when a new hour occurred.  The only thing missing was the name of the bird next to the image, which I think would have made the clock complete.

At first, when I would hear a bird song on the hour from the bird clock, I would run in to the house and look at the image, and note the bird that sang this song.

Gradually, after a while, I became capable of associating the bird song to the image of the bird.  As you can imagine, I was quite proud of this accomplishment - I was slowly but surely learning the song each bird on the bird clock would sing.

Soon, I was able to look at a bird in the yard and sure enough, I could correctly anticipate the sound this bird was going to make.  

I hope you can understand my proud feelings when a bird, unseen in the trees or bushes, would sing a song, and I could turn to my wife and say with complete confidence: "That's a three o'clock bird."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Connecting the Dots - Insight into Sous Vide Hamburgers

I'm working on a recipe for Hamburgers / Cheeseburgers.  But I wanted to share some interesting insight while I'm testing a recipe.

I already had "one dot" on slow, low temperature cooking - the tenderization of tough foods (think slow cooked BBQ here or stews) through low temperatures for an extended length of time.

I also was aware of "another dot" that allows one to cook to lower temperatures but for longer periods of time in order to pasteurize foods.

What I had failed to do was to connect the "two dots".

In recent years, the USDA has recommended higher cooking temperatures for things like ground beef (hamburgers), eggs, etc, to elevated temperatures of 160 dF or so.  In other words, past well done - think charred little tooth-breakers.  They wanted us to do this in order to pasteurize the meat so it did not represent a health hazard.

Which means we need to talk about pasteurization a little bit - not too much, but a little bit.

To pasteurize is not to sterilize - sterilization means to kill all of the 'bugs', whereas pasteurization means to reduce the amount of them, something like 1 million to 1.  So  to pasteurize is to reduce 'the bugs' to the point where their numbers are able to be handled by our bodies.  So in particular where something is cooked, like ground beef, it is important to pasteurize the food before consuming.

However, in the case of hamburger, cooking at normal temperatures, pasteurization is done by heating the ground beef at a temperature high enough to kill the 'bugs' in the short amount of time the hamburger is cooked.

However, there is more to pasteurization.  The way the 'bugs' are killed is temperature and time.  A very high temperature, for a very short time, will pasteurize the food.  A medium temperature for a medium length of time will also pasteurize the food.  And, a low temperature for a long length of time will also pasteurize the food.

From making sure I was producing safe BBQ, I knew all of this from the research I had done.

The Sous Vide method (the translation means, literally, to cook in a vacuum), at its simplest form, is place the food within pouches, then immerse the pouches into a water-bath with a precisely controlled temperature, then cooked at a low temperature for a time sufficient to pasteurize the food.  Cooking it for a long period of time does not over cook the food, it just brings the food up to that temperature.  Cooking it for an extended length of time, typically way past the point of pasteurization, makes the food very tender.

I have been focused on tenderization of the food as the main benefit of cooking in the Sous Vide style, which requires fairly long times.

The two dots that I failed to connect were the cooking long enough to pasteurize, but no longer, as depending on the food itself, I may not need to tenderize.

So this is where the hamburgers come in (as well as any other food like soft-cooked eggs, etc): I can cook them at rare, medium rare, medium - all that would have been below the USDA's recommendation - but still end up with safe, pasteurized food.

So think about this - safe pasteurized foods attainable at lower temperatures but cooked for longer lengths of time:

  • hamburgers at medium rare.
  • runny eggs.
  • chicken breasts that have juice.
  • pork that has juice (BTW - the new USDA recommended temperatures for pork is 160 dF).
  • home made mayonnaise, which uses raw egg - the eggs can be pasteurized now.
  • turkey breasts that are juicy.
We are cooking our first batch of hamburgers right now using our Sous Vide Supreme, and are using a target temperature of 137 dF - about medium rare.  I'll finish them in an iron skillet to toast them.  A better choice may be to finish on the grill, or if you are lucky enough to have one, a Big Green Egg smoker.

I can't wait!

UPDATE: The hamburgers were moist and very flavorful!  I expect this will be the way we cook hamburger going forward.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

USDA Lowers Pork Cooking Temperature to 145 dF

USDA Revises Recommended Cooking Temperature for All Whole Cuts of Meat, Including Pork, to 145 °F Cooking Temperature for Ground Pork, Beef, Veal, Lamb remains at 160 °F

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Re End of the World Today

Dang.  I took a nap and missed the end of the world.

I looked around and thought at first my sweet wife was gone, but she was busy with dinner, so she's still here.  Not sure why.  Figure she got special dispensation for the weekend, be gone Monday.

Figure it will just be me and a bunch of Democrats.

And maybe Newt.


Diet - Review after 30 days - 500 days to go!

I'm proud to say I'm still on my diet!  I started on April 18, 2011, so I've been on it for a little longer than 30 days or 1 month.

So far I've lost 9 lbs.  That may not sound like a lot, but here's a comparison: a gallon jug of milk or water weights 8 lbs, and you know how heavy that feels?  Well, I'm not lugging it around now.  I left it behind.  So every step I take, I'm not carrying that gallon jug of water around!

This is not a fast diet, nor was it my goal.  My goal was to lose about 1 lb per week.  The first week is always a lot more weight loss than subsequent weeks.  I now appear to be losing about the 1 lb of weight per week that was my goal.

I'm targeting a loss of 500 calories per day.  Normal caloric consumption for a man in my classification (low energy output) is about 2,000 calories per day.  So I'm targeting about 1,500 calories per day, which is a net loss of 500 calories per day.  7 days at 500 calories lost per day is 3,500 calories, which is the amount of energy in 1 lb of fat.  So 3,500 calories lost per week is 1 lb of weight lost per week.

Faster weight loss is harder on our bodies.  I would be dealing with a lot fewer calories, feeling a lot more hungry and have a lot less energy.  And, a slow weight loss means I'm not on a hunger strike and thus it's a lot easier to stay with the weight loss diet.

My diet (please see posts from April 2011 for insight) uses recommendations from the USDA for a man my age, and incorporates their recommendations on increased fiber, increased fruits and vegetables, decreased fat, decreased protein.

I think the high fiber is helping to keep me from getting hungry.  Hunger has not been an issue, which makes this a stress-free diet, and one that I am confidant I can stay on for the next 1.5 years that it will take me to lose all 76 lbs of weight that I want to drop.  That would be the same as 9.5 gallon jugs of water that I would not be lugging around with each step I take.  I can't imagine what it will be like to not have those strapped to me!  I sometimes imagine that the jugs of water are in my backpack, and every 2 months I get to take one out and leave it behind.

Every day, with a few exceptions, I try to eat 3 meals of 500 calories each.  That has several benefits:

  • I get used to the same portion size for reference.  Since all the meals are about the same caloric size, I find that it's much easier to estimate how much to put onto my plate.
  • My body is only anticipating 500 calories, so when I've had that much, it's not yearning for more calories.
  • Three meals a day are keeping me from getting hungry and preventing the urge to over eat when I do eat.
  • My energy level stays pretty constant, as there aren't big dips.
  • I don't short-cut myself and deny myself a 500 calorie meal.  When I've done that because of some interruption in my day, rather than over eat on the subsequent meals I've just ended up more negative for the day.  On that particular day it's not a problem, but I've notice the next day that I'm much more hungry and it's much more difficult to stay with the diet on that next day, so when that happens, I might have a small snack of nuts later that evening to help out with the next day, and return my daily intake back closer to the 1,500 daily target.
  • Our food bill has gone down since we have cut out a lot of prepackaged meals and are cooking more vegetables and fruits and a lost less protein.
  • Frozen vegetables, when fresh is not available, are pretty good now.  Some brands are better than others, so try some different brands.  I think these are better than canned.
  • Since I'm not eating special foods, like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, I'm confident that when I do come off of the diet I will be successful eating normal food.  I'm also not paying their premium prices for food, and I have the whole world of foods to choose from.
  • I'm only drinking 2 alcoholic drinks per week, as those are a big source of calories, and I'd rather have the food.
I don't avoid any foods, with a few exceptions:
  • I don't eat French Fries.
  • I don't eat biscuits.
  • I don't eat fried chicken.
  • I don't add butter to anything.
  • I cut the fat away from all meats.
  • No gravies.
Some rules of thumb when eating out:

  • I try to be sensitive to what I'm choosing and keep in mind that I'm on a diet, so I look for things that are lower in calories.
  • I avoid all chips at Mexican restaurants, except for 2 or 3 to sample.
  • I ask for a take-home-box to be delivered when my food is delivered, and I place 1/2 into the box when the meal is delivered so I'm not tempted to over eat.
  • If possible and the restaurant posts their calories for each meal, then I use that information to help make a choice.
  • I typically don't eat bread with the meal, even if its part of the meal, so I can avoid those calories when I don't know what the meal calories are going to be.
  • I don't buy any alcoholic beverages, which leaves me more calories for food and reduces the cost of my meal.

So far, I've been very pleased!

See you next month!

Banjo's NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ using the Big Green Egg

Note: after posting this, I found a lot of formatting issues because I copied it from a document. I'm working to correct this problem.  Also, please note: I've realized my post was poorly written previously, and thus caused some confusion regarding temperatures - confusing meat temperature with egg chamber cooking temperature. I'm working to correct that and am sorry for the confusion I have caused.

This isn't an approach to cooking fast BBQ. It's an approach that yields the most flavorful and moist BBQ. This requires extended times at lower temperatures. The times must be extended because the lower temperature takes longer to make the meat tender. Thus this cooking method targets 24 hours at 180 - 190 dF for the egg chamber while maintaining the meat temperature at about 160 dF. Note the USDA (5/24/11) has just recommended 145 dF as a safe temperature for pork - this is the meat temperature, not the egg chamber temperature. I've not cooked it in the Big Green Egg at this meat 145 dF temperature yet, as it would probably take 48 hours to get it both tender and pasteurized at this low a temperature.


You are trying to solve several things when you cook BBQ:
  • Pasteurize the meat.
  • Tenderize the meat
  • Retain moisture
  • Retain fat
  • Smoke the meat to add flavor

This post is designed to produce the most flavorful BBQ while being tender, and higher cooking chamber temperatures don't meet that requirements - it results in dried out BBQ.

Start around 6:00 PM Day 1, Pull Off around 6:00 PM next day. Elapsed time approximately 24 hours.

during cooking time should not be high and/or gusty, as it will cause excessive temperatures.I like 24 hours for personal preference. I find it works well, and the start and stop times are convenient enough I can do it during the week if I want.

Note: This doesn't include a rub, and doesn't include a sauce. If using a rub, put on at least 2 hours before placing meat onto grill. Try tasting all of your BBQ without a sauce. If it needs a sauce, then it hasn't been cooked properly.

Cooking with the BGE:
With the lid closed, the BGE is an OVEN that burns charcoal. Repeat after me: With the lid closed, the BGE is an OVEN! I have a lot of people ask how to cook a turkey on a BGE - I tell them: With the lid closed, the BGE is an OVEN so cook times and temperatures just like you would in your kitchen OVEN.  However, if you have air flowing through the cooking chamber at a high rate, then it functions more as a convection oven than a regular household oven.  Convection ovens, because of the air flow, are moving hotter air by the food all of the time, instead of having it just layered around the food; this can reduce the amount of time necessary to cook some foods.  It can also cause foods to dry out faster than a regular oven.

Hot fires give off a lot if infrared energy, which can be absorbed by the part of the meat facing the hot coals. So usually you will need something to block the infrared from directly reaching the meat - aluminum roasting pans work well. The bottom damper controls the amount of air coming into the BGE. This determines the amount of oxygen allowed to reach the fire and thus the amount of combustion from taking place. Too much air results in a too hot fire. Too little air will result in a too cool fire. Too little air can cause fire to die.

Restarting a fire is a big hassle, and to be avoided - you'll have to take the meat off, the grill off, relight some charcoal - avoid it.

The top damper controls the amount of air leaving the BGE. It too controls combustion. If you have the bottom damper right, but the top too closed, then not enough exhaust air can escape, therefore not enough fresh oxygen can enter, and the BGE can go out.

The top damper should be open slightly more then the bottom damper. This is because air expands when heated, thus the exhaust needs a bigger opening then the inlet damper in order for the same weight of air to move through both dampers. At the temperatures we are cooking in, the dampers are really close to being shut. If you have an old BGE, then your seals around the lid and base units may leak too much, and allow too much oxygen air flow into the BGE, resulting in too much heat. The bottom damper (the whole slide arrangement, top, sides and bottom) in particular needs to be watched for air leaks; if you can't get your temperatures down low enough, the inlet air damper is probably leaking air around the seals. No seals are encountered with the exhaust damper.

Currently, none of the exhaust dampers supplied or purchased from the BGE company will allow you to shut down the exhaust enough. Some, even though they appear to be completely closed, are so constructed that even when they appear completely closed, oxygen air will start to go down one side to feed the fire, and exhaust up the other side with a too high temperature.  For this reason, you need to find something else that isn't combustible, like a flat piece of steel, or a ceramic tile.

When cooking, the outside of the BGE will be too warm to leave your hand on for more then 5 - 10 seconds, but won't burn you just to touch. It will take it a while to reach this temperature, maybe 30 minutes. Calibrate your hand! Do this by moving your hand through the exhaust flow, each time at the same speed and height. Learn to use this instead of a thermometer. The air inside the BGE can become stratified, and thus fool a thermometer; the exhaust is pretty well mixed, and gives a better overall temperature indication. Thermometers can fall out of calibration - your hand never will.

After you've placed your meat on, the temperature should stabilize in about 10 minutes. That's when you would make adjustments. Don't make big adjustments - tiny tiny adjustments. Adjust, wait; adjust, wait. Opening the dampers increases the heat; closing makes lower temperatures. Having too open a top exhaust damper can cause a low pressure in the BGE, causing air to pull in more air through the bottom inlet damper. It will also pull in from leaks around the bottom damper, bottom damper seals and lid seals even though the bottom damper is completely closed. Wind and gusts also cause this same event, so in windy times, close down the inlet damper more then usual. If you've completely closed the bottom damper (with no air coming in, the fire will starve for air and go out - if your seals are good) and the temperature stays too hot, then you've got air leaks.

The BGE is an OVEN. You are cooking in an OVEN. Nothing you are doing here is magic - you can do the exact same thing in your kitchen oven, if you can get the temperatures low enough, but without any smoke flavor. You can cook turkeys here, at the very same temperatures and time as in the kitchen, because both are OVENS.

Learning to Cook BBQ
Get a notebook of some sort - spiral wound small is better. In it, record the date, the environment (windy, temperature, rain, etc), the weight of the meat, the cost of the meat, the starting time, the ending time, how easy/hard it was to pull apart, how much moisture, how much smoke. Use this to troubleshoot and make corrections.

Cooking in strong gusty wind should be avoided, as it will cause big temperature swings as more air is sucked out of the BGE, thus drawing more fresh oxygen air into the combustion chamber.

Never, ever, let your lid stay up causing a hot fire! If you do this, and then close the lid, you have a hot fire that is starving for oxygen. If, at this point, you were to open the lid, the oxygenated air would rush in, the fire would flash and you could get burned! I've lost hair on my hands and arms from this!

If you let the BGE get too hot, it's difficult to bring the temperature down, and will take considerable time. That's because, if you were to shut the dampers down now to cool down the fire, you may starve the fire too much, with the result that it goes out. So you should  step-down-close the dampers - close a little, wait 10 minutes, close down some more. However, you may have already toasted whatever you were trying to cook.

At the start of cooking, when the meat is cold, the meat is more forgiving to temperature swings then if at the end of cooking.

I prefer to use deboned pork so I can put the maximum meat onto the grill surface. It's also a lot less work and faster to prepare after cooking has finished.

On my BGE, there are 4 total ceramic inserts. The bottom most (1), then a small plate with air holes (2), then a larger ring collar (3), then a final ring collar (4). I place charcoal up to the top of the larger ring collar (3) and bottom of the final ring collar (4).

Cooking BBQ:
BBQ is Pork. BBQ is Pork Shoulder (whole shoulder, or split into two pieces, it becomes the 'Butt' and the 'Picnic'). Pork is cooked done at 145 dF per new USDA guidelines, but the references in this post will refer to 160 dF as the internal meat temperature target. At some point I intend to do some testing at the lower temperatures, but have not done so yet.

Use a meat thermometer.

Good BBQ has a lot of moisture. Fat is flavor. Fat renders out at increased temperatures, just like butter out of the fridge - it runs out. Lower temperatures retain more fat. I use very lean pieces of Pork, and need as much of the fat to be retained as possible.

The higher the temperature of the BGE and the longer the cooking time, the higher the internal temperature of the meat. The meat will reach a plateau temperature and will hold there as long as there is enough moisture remaining to wick away heat. As soon as the moisture is gone, the internal meat temperature will start to climb. This is the same way your body functions - moisture wicks away heat, keeping you cooler. If you loose all of your moisture, your internal temperature will climb.

Too low a cooking chamber temperature and without long enough time will result in the meat not being pasteurized, which is dangerous.  Therefore, you need to have the meat come up to the 160 dF temperature for a sufficient length of time to pasteurize it (see USDA for details on this).

The lower the temperature you cook at, the longer it takes the meat to reach the desired temperature and to tenderize. However, cooking for too long dries out the meat. Your goal is pull-apart tender, and maximum moisture. Adjusting temperatures and length of time will affect this. Better meat is always produced at lower temperatures that yield safe pasteurized meat, and will require longer times. Since we want the meat to reach a temperature of at least 160dF, then we need an oven temperature more-then 160 dF.

The meat is muscle; the muscle fibers have a protein wound around them. This protein is tough.

The best BBQ doesn't need any sauce. Learn what it taste like before adding sauce. I recommend leaving sauces and rubs off when just starting out, so you can better judge the quality of your cooking efforts on the meat.

I always take the skin off. I do this because it otherwise adds a lot of grease to the BGE, it keeps the outside 'bark' from forming where the skin is intact, and it keeps the smoke from getting to all sides of the meat.

Moisture that moves from the inside of the meat to the surface (sweating), will dry there (Maillard Browning). There is a lot of flavor here! This is called 'bark', as in 'tree bark'. It will be a little tough, like beef tack or jerky.

Smoke will produce a pink ring on the inside of the meat, just below the surface. This is done; the pink indicates smoking, not rawness.  It is a chemical reaction from the smoke.

Lump charcoal is preferred. Briquettes sometimes have chemical binders to keep it together. You can make your own lump if you want to - ask me how!

Do not use lighter fluid, use olive oil instead, sprayed onto a couple of pieces of paper, balled up and put under a chimney lighter.

When pouring the charcoal into the BGE, try to keep all the fine dust particles out - they inhibit air flow at first until they burn away.

Big pieces of meat don't change temperature real quick, so some temperature excursions can be tolerated without ruining the BBQ. For that same reason, you can also add/subtract time without too much of an impact. For instance, maybe you'd prefer to pull the meat off at 22 hours instead of 24 hours, or go to 25 hours - both should work out fine.

 Take the meat out a couple of hours in advance and leave it on the counter uncovered, placing into a pan or foil 'boat' to capture any runoff. The internal temperature straight out of the refrigerator is around 36dF to 40dF, which is really quite cold to start cooking with. Any bacteria build up during this time will be killed off during the cooking/pasteurization process. I generally avoid punching or pushing holes into the meat for spices, as that would transfer some of the outside bacteria into the inside; however, cooking long enough to pasteurize should prevent a problem if you like to put herbs into the meat, or inject the meat.

I don't like to handle raw meat as you will contaminate everything you touch.  Envision it has having paint on your hands, and everything you touch will have a blot of contaminated paint on it.  I always wear latex gloves. I go through multiple gloves during one cooking session. I never want to touch anything with gloves that have touched raw meat. Sometimes I put on multiple pairs of gloves, other times I just pull off a dirty pair and put on a clean pair. This also keeps the meat clean - I'm not moving some contamination to the meat. 

When checking internal meat temperature, always insert the probe into the middle of the meat, at the thickest point of the meat.

  • 2 - 10# bags of lump charcoal. Publix carries Duraflame, which works well, if you prefer briquettes. They also sell lump charcoal. One bag is more then enough.
  • Hickory chunks
  • Olive Oil (used to soak paper placed under chimney starter)
  • Charcoal starter chimney
  • 2 boneless pork shoulders from Costco. About 12 - 15 lbs total weight.  Will cost around $25 - $30. About 1/3 of the weight will be lost during cooking. No skin.
  • Zip-Lock Freezer bags. Quart size recommended.
  • Large aluminum roasting pans from Costco. These are very large, and will need to be collapsed somewhat in order to fit on the BGE.
  • Ceramic tile large enough to use as an exhaust damper.
  • Work gloves that will allow you to work over coals. Preferred length is up to elbows. Can be bought at BBQ Galore store.  
  • Pliers to remove grill from BGE. (optional)
  • Some sort of rack to sit into roasting pan to keep pork from making direct contact with roasting pan.
  • Needle nose pliers to poke some 1/2" holes in roasting pan.
  • Heavy Duty aluminum foil.
  • Chlorox wipes for wiping up counter surfaces where raw pork may have made contact.
  • Very large forks (2) used to pull meat apart after cooking. You can use your hands instead, but it will be very hot. (optional)
  • Large mixing bowl - large enough to hold 10# of meat for mixing in spices and sauce.
  • Chef's large knife used to cut some outside 'bark' as it can sometimes be tough. (optional)
  • Large chopping block
  • Small cooler and ice to hold raw meat for transport from Costco to home. Meat can be held in this for several days if preferred.
  • Enough ice to replenish as it melts. Drain off liquid so meat isn't swimming. Will need to be sanitized afterwards.
  • Hamburger buns.
  • Food tongs.
  • Small, instant read digital meat thermometer for checking internal heat temperature.
  • We are going to be cooking at very low temperatures, with a very low air-flow, so it's important that the BGE be clear of ash to start with so nothing restricts the air flow, except the dampers.
  • The fire will, for the most part, burn in the middle of the charcoal, in an inverted cone shape. As it burns down, some charcoal will fall inwards from outer edges. Hickory chunks should be placed near the center, intermixed with the charcoal from the bottom up.

Cleaning BGE: - completely clean out. Remove grill and all ceramic inserts, then pull out all ash. Does not need to be washed. Reinsert all ceramic components.

 Spread some aluminum foil on your counter, large enough to hold the roasting pan. Form a 'boat' (lip all the way around) so no juices will run out onto counter or floor. Place pan into 'boat'.

Punch 1/2 inch holes all around bottom of aluminum roasting pan (needle nose pliers work well) so heat and smoke can bath meat from bottom up. Put the meat onto the rack in the roasting pan. Make sure the two (2) pieces of meat don't touch each other (or minimize best you can). Don't stack or overlap, as this will slow heat and smoke transfer to meat.

Fill BGE with lump charcoal up to the top of the ceramic first ring collar (3 - see 'Cooking with BGE' above if this isn't clear ). Intermix Hickory wood chunks or shavings as you add charcoal.

Open completely the inlet air damper (bottom of BGE) for starting charcoal. Be sure to slide to almost closed (about 1/4 inch opening) later as temperature starts to climb towards your cooking temperature of 180 - 190 dF.

Remove any exhaust dampers while starting charcoal. Be sure to slide to almost closed (about 1/4 inch opening) later when smoking meat!!!

Place grill onto BGE. Fill chimney starter with charcoal. Loosely ball up 4 - 5 paper towels. Soak paper towels with a small amount of olive oil, then place under starter chimney, placing chimney onto grill towards center of grill. With lid open, light the paper towels. OK to slide towards back if BGE handle is in path of exhaust. After flames die down, it's OK to close the lid of BGE. Leave in chimney with BGE lid closed, checking periodically, until all coals are ignited. It will take about 20 minutes to light all charcoal in chimney. Remove chimney and set on non-flammable surface. Charcoal is still in chimney. Using pliers (grill will be hot), remove grill so you can add charcoal from chimney. Pour lit charcoal into BGE, trying to keep concentrated in center of BGE. Set empty chimney starter aside on non-flammable surface.

Using pliers (grill is still hot), place grill onto BGE. Close lid immediately - your goal now is to keep the charcoal from running away into a high heat, so you want to control the amount of air allowed in to BGE. Close bottom damper, leaving 1/8 to 1/4 inch opening. Close top damper, leaving about 1/4" inch opening. Leave to settle out for about 10 minutes.

Open lid. Quickly place roasting pan with meat onto grill. You may need to collapse in ends of roasting pan to get it to fit. Make sure the BGE lid can completely close. Quickly close lid. Recheck dampers to ensure proper setting: 1/8 to 1/4 open, with exhaust damper slightly more open then inlet damper.

You can put a thermometer in the lid if you like. Temperature should be somewhere in the range of 180 - 200, but not more then this. Some thermometers can get out of adjustment easily. Run your hand through the exhaust to feel the temperature. Always do this, at the same height and speed, so you can 'calibrate' your hand and begin to know what's normal for this style of cooking.

For the first couple of hours, run your hand through the exhaust every hour, to ensure it's not too hot. After 3 - 4 hours, you can pretty much be confident it will work for the remaining time without any further damper adjustments.

Unless the wind changes, you should not need to make adjustments to the dampers after the first hour or two, but sometimes you may need to make an adjustment.

Always make slight adjustments, then wait 10 minutes before determining if this was enough or too much. First thing in the morning, again check your exhaust temperature by running your hand through the exhaust. Adjust dampers as needed. See 'troubleshooting' below if your fire has gone out.

Sometimes, when you place the meat into the BGE, if it's been deboned, smaller pieces can be moved away from the main meat piece. Those will cook quicker, so you can take those off around noon, which would be 18 hours.

At around 6:00 PM, remove roasting pan with meat, quickly close lid and close all dampers tight to preserve charcoal for future use. Your goal here is for the coals to go out, so you want to starve the fire by eliminating inlet oxygen.

Take roasting pan and place into some aluminum foil, otherwise the holes will let grease leak onto everything as you walk to kitchen. Place aluminum wrapped pan onto something in kitchen to keep from direct hot contact with countertop, such as cutting board.  I sometimes put it onto top of stove if stove isn't in use.

Take the internal temperature of the meat and record it in your notebook. It should be at around 160dF. Let it sit for 10 - 20 minutes for meat to cool down some. This reduces internal expansion of hot liquids in the meat, so less fluids will drain out.

Set meat onto large cutting board, one piece at a time. Using two very large forks (salad serving style), one in each hand, pull in forks in opposite direction to separate meat into small sizes suitable for placing onto hamburger buns. Place into very large mixing bowl. After all meat has been pulled apart, add whatever spices and sauces you want on the meat, using forks to pull up from side bottom and onto top of middle, going around the whole bowl several times until thoroughly mixed.

Using food tongs, fill up each Zip Lock Quart bags about 3/4 full with meat, until all meat has been placed into bags. You can keep out any for immediate consumption if preferred. 

Decide how much you want to freeze. On those bags, push meat flat into bag until bag is as flat and wide as possible. This will aid cooling in freezer and allow it to freeze faster. Place bags to freeze into freezer, do not stack on top of each other. Try to arrange so air can touch all sides of bag for fastest freezing.

It's best when hot off of the smoker. If you would like to reheat, place onto platter, put into microwave, heat at 20% - 30% power, so you don't heat up too fast. This allows maximum moisture retention, which is your goal.

If you've redone several times and it's getting dry, then you can add a little bit of melted butter or bacon grease - better would be to throw it away and cook up another batch! Figure on 1/3# per person, twice that amount for active teenage boys.

Bottom of meat is rock hard - over cooked: Too many holes in roasting pan, fire too hot, fire too near roasting pan.

Meat is dry: Take meat off sooner, or cook at lower temperature, or both. Cooked at too hot and/or too long, or both.

Meat doesn't fall apart. Not cooked long enough or cooked at too low a
temperature or both.

If you've overcooked and it's dry, throw it away and start over. If you can't do that, add melted butter (better yet is bacon fat grease) and mix it in prior to adding spices and sauces.
Meat has a bitter taste on the outside. This is creosote, and if whole chunks of wood are used, is caused by not allowing enough air to feed the fire. Use less wood chunks, or burn the fire hotter.

Everything was OK when I went in for the night, but on checking in the morning, the BGE exhaust was cold - my fire had gone out (I've only had this happen once). Well, this won't be your best BBQ, but you will want to try and salvage it. Close all dampers. Open the lid, using the meat thermometer, read the temperature of the meat. If the temperature is very low (say around 100 or lower), you may want to refire the grill using the methods above,
starting with lighting charcoal in the starter chimney, or move to a kitchen oven at finish at 325dF. If the meat is at 120 or more, then I would probably move it into the kitchen and finish in the kitchen oven at a lower temperature setting.

If you use the kitchen oven and your goal is still to make pulled pork BBQ, then set the thermostat for the lowest setting, and place an oven thermometer onto the same shelf as the meat so you can get an idea how it's cooking.  I would set it for at least 220dF, as kitchen ovens can vary around a lot - sometimes as much as 50dF. You may not end up with pullable BBQ; you may have to slice it or chop it instead. Continue to heat until you get the internal temperature to 160dF, then take off and prepare. Higher temperatures will cook quicker, but I would suggest not exceeding 275 or 325, depending on how big a hurry you are in. I can't give you any estimated times, as there are too many questions about how long it may have already cooked before the fire went out.  If the temperature was below 100dF and you don't want to wait, then set the temperature to 325dF, and cook until meat thermometer indicates 160dF, at which point you can take off and chop the
meat. The longer you can leave the meat cooking at 220dF, the more tender it will be, being careful not to dry the meat out (internal meat temperature will start to climb without oven
temperature being any higher).

Banjo's Recipe - Traditional Sauce for NC Pulled Pork BBQ

Banjo's Recipe - Traditional Sauce for NC Pulled Pork BBQ

We use this as a table sauce, as well as adding it to the pork in the bowl when we are pulling it apart.

1 cup apple-cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes

1 Tbsp dark brown sugar or molasses.
1/4 tsp black pepper

Place into small bottle and shake throughly.

This will become more mellow as time passes.  Because of the high acidity from the vinegar, it will keep for a good while.....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Banjo's Recipe NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ - Sous Vide Experiment #1

Last updated: 5/21/11 3:15 PM. Final Edition.

This Method
This method will make use of skinless, boneless, Boston Butt Pork,  a Sous Vide Supreme (SVS) for initial cooking, a charcoal grill (with a dome) for finishing, and some wood chips.  Please refer to previous posts regarding making NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ for other methods (see references at the bottom of this blog entry).

I have been making NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ since 1987. I have used many different tools to make BBQ in the 22 years I have been making it. Some of my approaches:
  • Using a gas grill (this was my first attempt)
  • Using a Weber Bullet style charcoal smoker.
  • Using an offset Brickman Hondo smoker.
  • Using a barrel smoker that I built
  • Using a Big Green Egg
  • Welding a large smoker and using it in competition at the Big Pig Jig at Vienna GA.
  • Designing my own computer controlled inlet air damper smoker.
  • Building a 'flower-pot' smoker designed by Alton Brown.
  • Designing my own low temperature oven using a heat lamp, Arduino microcontroller.
  • Using a flower pot and a thermocouple controller on a hot plate
  • Using a regular household oven as the cooking chamber, a heat-light-bulb (150 watts) for a heat source, and controlled by an Arduino.
So you can see I've done a few experiments!

Today I'm trying out the SVS to make NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ.  I've used the SVS to cook a lot of items, but this is the first attempt at BBQ!

Now some of you may say that's not the right way to make BBQ. And from a purest standpoint, I guess you'd be right. But I've done the purest form for years and this is what I want to try now! I like experimenting and I am searching for the best BBQ, and I don't care what I do to find it!  Besides - unless you take whole wood and burn it down to coals in a separate fire, then gather the coals and spread them underneath the pork, and continue to do this for 24 hours or more, you aren't doing it in the purest method either!  Offset smokers of any kind are not traditional  and purest!

  • A package of Boneless Boston Butt Pork Shoulder purchased at Costco.  Their packages of butt come in 12 - 18 lb with two butts per package.  This particular package weight 13.5 lbs.  For this test, I'll be using one of the two butts, and it weights about 6 lbs.  The other butt I've rewrapped and placed into the refrigerator for Experiment #2 to come in the next couple of days - it will also be posted here.  Costco's butt is boneless and already has the skin (AKA rind) removed so it is very lean, therefore you may need to add some additional fat to the final product to boost the flavor, but that's up to you.  When I add any fat, I prefer rendered bacon fat, but you can use any kind, although I would use butter if bacon is not available.
  • A small amount of vegetable oil for brushing onto the meat surface after it comes out of the SVS and being finished on the grill.
  • A charcoal grill with a dome, with a large enough surface area so you can position the pork on the side opposite the charcoal (you want to avoid placing the pork directly over the coals).  This is for finishing the BBQ.
  • Lump Charcoal for the grill.  I never use regular briquettes!  They use many different ingredients to bind the briquettes together.  Always use Lump (sometimes called 'natural') charcoal.  They burn hotter and do not impart any off flavors to the BBQ.  Do not use charcoal lighter fluid to start the fire, as it too may impart an off flavor to the BBQ!  Use a chimney to start the lump charcoal.
  • Some wood chips for adding smoke flavor to the cooked pork.
  • Some aluminum foil for wrapping the wood chips in for smoking on the charcoal grill.
  • A good cigar.  This is for me while I write this.  
  • Talisker Single Malt Scotch.  Unfortunately, I'm on a diet, so I'm not having any Talisker today.  See my other blog posts from April 2011 for diet information.
  1. Obtain a skinless, boneless, Boston butt.  If you use Costco, then remove one butt, and rewrapp the other and place back into the refrigerator, as two whole butts are probably too big for a SVS to cook at a single time.
  2. Cut the butt into strips about 2 - 3 inches wide, and as deep as it comes from the package.
  3. Package into pouches using your preferred method (vacuum food sealer, vacuum chamber, ziplock).  For my single 6 lb butt, I ended up with 6 - 7 strips, which I packaged into two separate pouches, ensuring no overlap between slices of pork.
  4. For this experiment, I used a temperature of 160 dF.  For me, the results of this experiment was the pork was dried out too much so the temperature was too high. For the next Experiment #2 I will use a different temperature, but I wanted to post the results of this experiment as I prepared it.  See Experiment #2 (future - in next couple of days) for the results of that experiment.
  5. Cook the pork for about 24 hours.  The exact amount of time is not critical, but you are trying to achieve a balance between two things: sterilization and tenderness.  You want to ensure your time of cooking will allow the pork to sterilize, and the amount of tenderness you want will also reflect the time used.  Please see references below for additional insight on this topic.
  6. 15 minutes prior to removing from the SVS, start the charcoal, as it will need about 20 -30 minutes to come entirely up to temperature.  You want a hot fire so you end up with a dome temperature of 400 - 450 dF, so use a good amount of charcoal.  Only you know the characteristics of your grill, so you will need to use your best judgement on this. 
  7. Wrap your wood chips in aluminum foil, forming an air tight pouch, and punch a few holes in the top of the foil.   I use a couple of handfuls of chips.  I do not soak my chips in water.  I prepare multiple packets in case I want to add more chips.  Soaking chips can lead to creosote problems which will make the meat taste bitter.  I use any of the following: Oak, Hickory, Mesquite.  I used Hickory for this test.  Oak, which has a stronger flavor, may be a better choice since we are adding smoke at the end of the smoking period when it is tougher to get the smoke onto the meat.  At some future experiment I intend to smoke prior to pouching and placing into the SVS, but for this experiment I smoked afterwards.
  8. At the end of your cooking period, remove the pork from the SVS but do not yet remove from the pouches.  Allow the meat to rest in its juices to reabsorb some of the moisture - about 15 minutes.  At this point, it should have resulted in your charcoal being up to temperature and ready to go.
  9. At the end of the rest period, remove the pork from the pouches.  Blot dry.
  10. Lightly brush the pork with vegetable oil.  This will serve two different purposes: it will allow the pork to absorb more smoke flavor, and it will help brown the meat.
  11. Place the pork onto the grill surface so it is not directly over the hot coals.  
  12. Adjust the air dampers so the coals will stay hot.  You should start seeing some blue tinted smoke from your chips.  You want a temperature in the dome of 400 - 450 dF.  This will brown the outside of the meat while evaporating some of the moisture at the surface of the meat, which will give it a slight crunch.  The pork is already cooked, so you are just interested in toasting the meat, and a hot fire is the best approach as it will allow you to toast quickly.  If your fire is not hot enough, then it will take a long time to toast the meat which will over cook the meat and dry it out.
  13. Heat the cooked pork until it takes on a dark tan color, much like a correctly cooked Thanksgiving Turkey.  This could be anywhere from 10 - 30 minutes.  I let mine go for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove from the gill and place into a bowl to shred.  I use two very large forks.
  15. Taste the meat.  If it needs some additional fat (you were using very lean meat), add some bacon fat (butter if none available).  The meat should have a slight glisten to it when enough fat has been added.  For 6 lbs of pork, I would add about 3 ounces as a starting point.  You can add more, but you can't take any away once added!
  16. If done correctly, the BBQ should have a slight crunch to it at this point from being indirectly heated in the hot, dry grill dome.  Shred the pork with any added fat.  I use two very large forks to pull it apart, mixing it up good.
  17. If you know that everyone likes their NC Pulled Pork BBQ with the same sauce, you can add some now, but don't over do it - people can add more sauce at the table, but again - they can't take it away.

  • We are experienced BBQ smokers and tasters!  
  • We very much enjoyed the BBQ made using this method.
  • We would have preferred more smoke.  I hope to correct this in Experiment #2.
  • We enjoyed the toasted pork, and particularly enjoyed the crunch!
  • The BBQ did not have enough fat on it.  We did not have any bacon, so we had to use butter.  I do not like the taste of butter on BBQ as much as bacon, but in a pinch.....
  • It was overly dry.  It lacked both moisture as well as fat.  
  • I may cook the next experiment at 135 dF (still debating next temperature for experiment, but no higher than 145 dF), leaving it in the SVS long enough to ensure it is sterilized.
Banjo's Recipe - Sauce for NC Style Pulled Pork BBQ
Which BBQ Smoker?
BBQ Smoker - Trash Can Smoker?
Sous Vide Cooking - Harold McGee
More Sous Vide Cooking
BBQ and Low Temperature Cooking
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - #2
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - #3
BBQ cooking via a low temperature oven - Final

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Banjo's Fruit Smoothie

I know some of you enjoy fruit smoothies, so we thought you might enjoy this.

I got the basis for this from an Alton Brown show (GoodEats) on Foodtv. I've made a few changes.

I've made some smoothies in the past, but they took a while and were somewhat expensive. However, the Alton Brown approach has made it much easier and less expensive at the same time, and produces a really good smoothie.

We have been making 2 or so a week using our blender primarily for breakfast. We buy frozen fruits in the plastic bags, from Publix - they are the Publix brand. We get Blueberries, Blackberries, Strawberries, and Cherries. Since they are frozen, we don't have to worry about fresh fruit going bad if we don't use all of it at once; we can just use how much we want and meanwhile keep the frozen bags in the freezer for the next batch.

The night before, I put about 1/2 cup of each into our blender. I then pour in 1.5 cups of fatfree milk, 1 container of fruit yogart (ours are Publix too, and about 5 oz or so), and a banana cut into 1/4s. Most times I also add 1/2 cup of grapes. Put the lid on and place into the refrigerator over night. This will give the fruit time to thaw out before we blend.

This will pretty much fill up our blender. Overnight, once the fruit has thawed, it will slide down further into the blender so there will be more space at the top than when you first put it in.

This will make about 4 servings of 1 cup each. We each drink 1, so that's 2 day's worth. I wouldn't hold it in the refrigerator longer than that as the yogart, fruits and grapes may start to dance on ya.

Next morning we blend until smooth.

Then we pour and party party party till our lips are purple!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Banjo's Adobo Recipe for Carne Asada

Adobo can either be a paste-like marinade, or a thinner sauce made with the same ingredients used to stew meats.

In making Banjo's Sous Vide Skirt Steak Carne Asada, I use the paste-like version, which is what will be shown below.

The dried chiles that make up this recipe, can be difficult to locate, so I'll post some links below where you can order them. I was able to find two (2) varieties at a local Whole Foods, so those are the two (2) that I show in this recipe.

It took me about 1 hour to make this but it was the first time I ever made it, so I was slow. Hopefully, you'll be able to do it in 20 minutes!

Sauce Quantity
This will make enough sauce for 2 - 3 lbs of meat.

HEAT: Mild to Medium, maybe 4 on 1 - 10, with 1 being no heat and 10 being Habanero. A tad less heat than Texas Pete hot sauce, and a lot less heat than Tabasco sauce. I think it is comparable in flavor to Tabasco Chipotle sauce, but a little less spicy.

Dried Chile Peppers
3 New Mexico Chiles
3 Ancho Chiles

Other Ingredients
1/2 cup of water
1 tsp ground cumin
5 allspice berries
2 cloves
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick (or 2 tsp powdered)
5 garlic cloves
1 tsp black pepper

1. Remove stems and seeds from chiles.
1.1. Slice one side of all chiles open from stem to end.
1.2. Pull stem and all seeds out and discard.
2. For each chile, open chile out flat and place into medium heated iron skillet. Work with one chile at a time until all are done. Use wooden spoons or tongs to hold in contact with skillet. Try to keep flat. Toast fully on one side before flipping to other side. Starting with the inside heat in pan - it will turn a lighter brown. Heat all of this side this way. Take a peek now and then to make sure it's not over heating and burning or charring. Flip over to toast the outside face down. It will show bubbles on the inside face when it is about done. You will need to gather experience over time on this step so you can get an estimate of your preference - the flavor will change depending on the amount of toasting, just like toasted bread.
3. Once all chiles have been toasted, place chiles and all other ingredients into a blender.
4. Blend until smooth.

Your adobo is now ready to be placed onto meat for grilling!

If you don't want to make your own, here's a link to a commercial product. I haven't tried it, so I can't speak for it's quality. This site also ships other spices such as dried chile peppers.
Dried Chile Peppers

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Local Restaurant Price Increases 17% and 24%!

Frontera, a local Mexican restaurant has greatly increased their prices.

Today, we ordered the same items as three weeks ago for takeout. When I went to pay, I realized it had increased quite a bit!

We have the new take-out menu and the one from three weeks ago to compare: Carne Asada was $10.25, today it was $11.99, an increase of $1.74, or 17% increase! Tampiquena Steak was $11.25, today it was $13.99, an increase of $2.74, or 24% increase!

The take-out menu and main menu are the same as far as price is concerned.


Banjo's Recipe - Sous Vide Skirt Steak Carne Asada

Last Update: 5/16/11, 7:38 PM

I an in the process of developing this recipe to cook, so this post will be modified several times over the next several hours/days before the full, final version is posted, so keep checking back.

Prep Time Sauce
1. If making your own adobo sauce from my recipes, then use suggested prep time from there. Wherever you obtain the adobo sauce/paste, you will need about 1 cup of adobo sauce/paste. If you prefer to buy your adobo, see references and links below.

Prep Time Meat about 15 mins
- 15 minutes for Sous Vide to come up to temperature of 135 dF.
- 10 minutes to get meat cut and bagged, done while Sous Vide coming up to temperature.

Sous Vide Cooking Time
24 hours at 135 dF.

Grill Time
- 30 minutes to start and charcoal to become fully lit.
- 5 - 10 minutes for meat on the grill depending on your grill and your preferences of toasting to meat.

1 1-gallon size zip lock bag
charcoal and grill
1.5 - 3 pounds of skirt steak depending on your desired portion sizes and number of people. 1.5 pounds should be about right for 2 people.
1 cup of adobo sauce paste for 1.5 pounds of skirt steak. 1.5 - 2 cups for 3 pounds.

Steps (partial - evolving. See 'Big Picture' below)
1. Cut skirt steak into serving portion size, and place into a 1-gallon zip lock bag, remove air, zip lock closed, and place into refrigerator.
2. Add water to Sous Vide and adjust setpoint to 135 dF. Place lid on Sous Vide.
3. Prepare Adobo sauce using this link.
4. Obtain bagged skirt steak from refrigerator, open up zip lock and pour in adobo sauce.
5. Remove air from zip lock, zip lock closed. Try to spread the meat around so it isn't overlapping, but some overlap is OK.
6. Place into Sous Vide at 135 dF.
7. Cook for 24 hours. The meat will be cooked in an hour or so, but the additional time will make the meat more tender. Work with whatever is convenient for you. If it would be more convenient to go to 30 hours, then that is OK. If more convenient to go to 8 hours, then that is OK too. Anywhere in a range of 8 hours - 30 hours is OK; the longer it stays in, the more tender it will become, but you don't want much! We like the tender/resistance at 24 hours.
8. 20-30 minutes prior to taking bagged meat out of Sous Vide, start up your charcoal grill. This will allow the charcoal to take be completely started and at maximum temperature before using. Place grate onto grill to get hot.
9. Use a wire brush to remove any carbon from previous cooking.
10. At alloted time for cooking meat in Sous Vide, remove meat from Sous Vide and place onto plate to take to grill. Because the meat is cooked, you don't have to worry about cross contamination from raw food, so you can use this plate to take out to the grill and to bring back in from the grill.
11. Place all meat onto grill surface directly over hot coals. it won't be here long! (see below for additional insight)
12. Toast the meat on a side until finished before flipping to other side. You will only turn once. To judge when to flip, lightly lift meat with tongs to examine heated side. When it looks like your desired amount of toasting has taken place, flip. Do not re-flip!
13. When both sides have been toasted to your desired doneness, plate the meat and take to serving area.
14. If desired, you can remove some of the liquid from the bag and place into a bowl and microwave to bring up to a temperature for use as a dipping sauce.
15. Any leftover meat can be kept in the sauce and rezipped and returned to refrigerator for use in the next couple of days.
16. If reheating within a couple of days, bring the Sous Vide back up to 135 dF. Once at temperature has come to setpoint, place the bagged meat into Sous Vide and warm back up to desired temperature. Allow 1 hour or more for this step. Do not overlap meat or you will have to go for a longer time. You want to ensure all meat has come up to 135 dF before consuming. It is OK to return to the grill at this point or to a skillet if desired, but be careful of obtaining too much toasting as it may make it bitter.

Big Picture
1. DoneI'm going to purchase Skirt Steak. I don't know what the standard sizes are yet at the supermarket, so not sure how much I will be buying.
2. DoneI'm going to marinate the skirt steak in a marinate suitable for Carne Asada. TBD: how long to marinate, and what will the marinate be.
3. DoneI'm going to cook the skirt steak via Sous Vide Supreme. I'm going to target 135 dF. TBD: How long I will cook the skirt steak in the Sous Vide Supreme
4. Charcoal Method - DoneI'm going to brown the meat. I will split the meat into two (2) servings so I can brown one (1) piece in the skillet while browning the other on the grill.

4.1 Cast Iron Skillet browning. Important: Pat the meat dry with a paper towel prior to placing into the skillet. This is important because water and hot oil can cause serious burns from splatter when the water on the marinated skirt steak hits hot oil. When browning in a skillet, it is important for all of the meat to make contact with the skillet, and for heat to transfer from the skillet to the meat. It's also very important for the skillet to be very, very hot. Usually, you don't cook items in a pan on high heat because it is difficult to get the heat to transfer fast enough from the outer edges to the middle of the meat without over cooking the exterior, or under cooking the middle. However, since the meat has already been cooked to the proper temperature via Sous Vide method, this is not a worry. Instead, you now have the opposite worry - you want to brown the outside while not transferring any additional heat into the middle because the middle is already at the perfect temperature via the Sous Vide. Therefore, you want high heat to brown the outside fast for a short amount of time so the transfer of heat into the middle of the meat is at a minimum.

Several methods are commonly used to assist in transferring heat from the skillet to the meat. Since liquids are of higher density than air, the amount of energy that is contained within liquid at a specific temperature is higher than the amount of energy in air at the same temperature. Also, heat migrates, or transfers, faster in liquids than in air. This all means that cooking in liquids will result in the food being cooked faster in liquids than in air. The Sous Vide method makes use of a water bath for this reason, instead of being an air enclosing oven.
- Water: Since water boils at 212 dF (at sealevel, lower temperatures at higher altitudes), the maximum amount of heat that can be transfered
- Oil: The temperature of oil is limited only by its smoke point. Some common oils have smoke points from 200 - 500 dF. (see references below)

Oil to use: Because the food will not be absorbing much oil, the fat content of the oil is not an issue in this cooking method.

Maximum Flavor: Because I'm after the maximum flavor, if I can obtain it, I intend to use Lard. However, if that's not available, then I intend to use Crisco. I would prefer not to use this oil because it has been hydrogenated, which results in the type of fats that the USDA deems least desirable. Lard has a smoke point of about 370 dF.

4.2 Grill Method. I use a Weber grill. I will place enough Lump Charcoal (this is not briquettes) to provide an area bigger in diameter than the meat it will be cooking. Since the meat will not cover the whole surface of my grill, I will not place charcoal under the whole surface of the grill; only the area where the skirt steaks will cook. I start the fire (my Weber grill has a propane starting lighter), then allow about 20 - 30 minutes for the charcoal to get very hot. I place the grill over the charcoal during this time so it burns off any residue and sterilizes the grill surface. I use a wire brush to remove any carbonized material from the grill in the area that will be cooked. Once the charcoal has reached the desired cooking stage, I use the palm of my hand to quickly glide over and above the grill area to determine the hottest points of the grill. I place the meat directly onto the grill, directly over the hottest point of the grill.
I will leave the meat here, occasionally lifting to observe the amount of browning. When the desired amount of browning has taken place (for your desires), I flip the meat over and repeat for the other side. I do not flip other than the one time. Depending on how hot your charcoal is and the distance from the charcoal to the grill surface, the time can vary. However, expect anywhere from 2 - 8 minutes per side. Since the meat has already been cooked, the plate it was brought on to the grill should not have had any raw meat on it and can be used to place the meat on to bring it back inside. Note: since the meat has already been cooked via Sous Vide, you are NOT trying to cook the meat through - you are trying to brown the exterior only.

Recipe Steps
- Under development. Check back for updates.

- Under development. Check back for updates.

Suggested Changes
- Under development. Check back for updates.

References and Useful Links
Banjo's Recipe for Adobo for this Carne Asada
Commercial Adobo
A good web site.

An excellent web site for Sous Vide cooking

Reference: Oil Smoke Points

Reference: Oil Smoke Points


Lump Charcoal

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to light a cigar

How to light a cigar

Occasionally one of my friends will come over to have a cigar. Sometimes, it may be the first time they've ever had a cigar, or they say they don't know how to light a cigar.

Here's a good method - it assumes you have the following hardware:
- a cigar!
- a lighter of some sort (matches, butane torch, other heat source)
- a cigar trimmer (Yes, this is important in order to properly cut the end off. Not using one may damage your cigar.) This method assumes you are not using a punch.

Cutting the cigar
- The goal here is to take off the part of the cigar end without damaging the cigar.
- Take the time to look at the end of the cigar you are going to cut off. If you aren't sure, because sometimes some cigars are closed on both ends, it will be the end near the band (paper label).
- In looking at this, you will see that the side of the cigar runs, in an even side, from the end you will light to the end you are going to cut.
- At the end you are going to cut, it transitions from the straight side to the final rounded end point. This transition area is known as the shoulder.
- Your goal is to cut into the shoulder and remove the end, but still leave a part of the shoulder on the cigar. This will help prevent the cigar from unraveling, so it is a worthwhile goal.
- Using your cigar trimmer, remove the shoulder. Once cut, you want to have an opening that is about 2/3rds open, from the center of the opening, to the shoulder. In other words, as measured from the center of end of the cigar, you want to leave about 1/3rd of the shoulder and remove 2/3rd of the shoulder.
- Once you have made your cut, you can examine it to remove, either with the trimmer or your fingers, any loose tobacco from the end to keep them from getting onto your tongue.

Lighting the cigar
- I like to pre-toast the cigar.
- Extend down at a 45 degree angle. If you aren't sure what this angle is, then using a non-digital clock as an example, from the center of the hands, the cigar would be pointing down to 4:30. It's not critical that this be exact.
- Holding your source of heat, with it ignited, place the end of the cigar just above the top of the open flame. The bottom edge of the cigar should be just above the open flame, so the heat will interact with the cigar edge, then flow up the face of the end of the cigar.
- Slowly rotate the cigar to expose all edges of the cigar to the flame. If it catches fire, then pull the cigar up a little to reduce the amount of heat being applied to the cigar.
- Insert the cigar into your mouth, and adjust to the same angle as previously.
- Place the flame in the same position as before.
- Draw air through the cigar and into your mouth, but not into your lungs or into your throat.
- Continue to rotate the cigar while drawing and maintaining the angle.
- When you feel you have the cigar lit, remove it from your mouth to examine the lit end.
- Blow air onto the end of the lit cigar to examine the lit end - this will make the lit end glow red. Examine it to ensure you have a uniform lit end, all around the end of the cigar.
- If some areas are not red but are dark, those dark areas are unlit, and may make your cigar burn unevenly if not lit. If you have dark areas that aren't lit, then rotate the cigar so these dark areas are at the bottom of the cigar where the flame will be, and ignite these areas using the same methods outlined above. Repeat until you have an even lit end.

- You only draw cigar smoke into your mouth.
- How you draw on the cigar will greatly influence the overall taste of your cigar. You want to draw lightly enough to obtain a good mouthfull of smoke, but without doing it with such vigor that you cause the smoke to be hot.
- If you find your smoke is hot, then you may be drawing too forcefully (the cigar may also not have been stored properly at too low a humidity, which will make a cigar burn hot).
- A good cigar will have uniform ash, and can grow to 1 inch or so. I like to drop mine ashes at about 3/4 inch. To drop your ash, it is easiest to do so after just taking a draw when the end is hot, then tap it over the ash tray - it will fall off.
- if you begin to taste a bitter taste, then your cigar is finished. If it appears you have a lot of cigar left, then it's probably turned bitter because you were drawing too heavily. Trying drawing more gently, and this will help prevent the early build up of tars that make it bitter.

- When you begin to taste a change in the taste of the cigar, it is time to quit that cigar!
- Never grind out your cigar like some do with cigarettes! Always place them onto the ash tray and let them extinguish themselves. Otherwise, you will be greeted with a terrible smell!


Banjo's Sous Vide Pork Chops with Sauce

Banjo's Sous Vide Pork Chops

- please read these instructions all the way through before starting.

Total Elapsed Time: 3.5 hours
- .25 hours (15 minutes) for preparation
- 3 hours in sous vide machine
- .25 hours (15 minutes) on grill or skillet
- Note: this will produce cooked pork to the precise desired temperature, but it will have normal toughness for a pork chop. If you want to make it tender, then leave it in the Sous Vide for 24 hours.

- Sous Vide machine
- Pork Chops
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Olive Oil
- Lemon Juice
- Charcoal grill (optional)

Prep time:
- 15 minutes for preparation of pork and sous vide machine
- 20 minutes for sauce (prepared while pork chops are in sous vide machine)
- 10 - 15 minutes on grill or hot iron skillet (depends on how much heat and maillard browning you desire)

1 cup of balsamic vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice

Pork Chops
2 large thick cut pork chops

Sous Vide:
- Set temperature for 140dF and let it come up to temperature
- Prepare pork chops with salt/pepper and place into plastic pouch. If both in the same pouch, make sure they don't touch so the heat can surround pork on all sides.

Instructions at elapsed hour:minute
0:0 - 0:15
Prep sous vide
- Fill sous vide with water, and set for 140dF.
- Place pork chops into pouch

Pouches to Sous Vide
- When sous vide comes up to temperature (approx 15 minutes), add pork chop pouches to sous vide. Cover with lid.

0:15 - 3:15 (3 hours)
Cooking in Sous vide
- pork chops cooking in pouches

2:45 (30 minutes prior to pork chops being ready)
Prepare charcoal grill
- Start charcoal. Allow 30 minutes for coals to come up to maximum temperature.

2:50 - 3:15 (complete before taking pork chops out)
Sauce Prep
- Pour balsamic vinegar into sauce pan.
- Bring to boil, then reduce to high simmer.
- Stir frequently
- Continue until balsamic vinegar reduced by 2/3rd (you want about 1/3 cup of reduced balsamic vinegar)
- Whisk in olive oil
- Whisk in lemon juice
- Lower temperature to low simmer (or off heat and warm in microwave later)

3:15 - 3:30 (everything ready, waiting to complete browning on grill)
Grilling Pork Chops for browning
- remove pork chops from sous vide machine and pouches. They are cooked, now you are going to brown them for additional flavor. If using skillet, place just enough olive oil in pan to prevent pork chops from sticking, and bring up to temperature just below oil smoke point.
- transfer pork chops to hot charcoal grill
- heat, without flipping, on one side until they reach your desired browness. Lift edge up to observe, but do not flip until this side is complete.
- when this side has reached level of browning you desire, flip to other side.
- heat until this side reaches browning you desire.

- Plate pork chops, and pour 1/4 of sauce on each pork chop (or in a dipping bowl), for total of 1/2 of sauce.
- 1/2 of sauce will remain for additional coatings if desired.


Please send me a message of how this worked for you!