Late Night Ramblings

It’s been a tough week. It’s been a tough month. Actually, it’s been a very tough year.

I’ve been away from the fire far too long and last night it got to me. I was reading on Facebook about all the people I know and some I don’t about their experiences at The Jack. I’m happy for everyone’s success, but the walks didn’t keep my attention. What made me melancholy were the posts about just being there. The posts about doing something you love with others who share your passion moved me.

Last night at about 2:00 a.m. I was walking across Sheepshead Bay Road. There were no cars on this usually absurdly crowded street and 95% of the businesses were shut for the night. The night air was redolent with the smell of the ocean and the crispness of fall was in the air. As I walked, my mind took me to the hill in Lynchburg, although I’ve never been. There was something in the air and stillness of the evening that reminded me of getting up to check your fires in the predawn morning of competition. All the air needed was the scent of wood smoke and it would have been perfect.

This morning I awake to face the problems and tasks that have plagued me this year. As I plow into another day of drudgery there’s a little glint in my eye and a spring in my step that hasn’t been there in months. Even though I didn’t light a fire, didn’t rub my meat or even eat any food, for a brief instance last night my mind put an end to all this shit and transported me back to my happy place.

I will light a fire today.

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Unsolicited Advice

Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass
You know his faults, now let the foibles pass
Life is one long enigma, my friend
So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end

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Urban Grilling

Photo Courtesy: - Taken at Grilin' On The Bay - NYC's only sanctioned BBQ contest

Two of my friends were featured today in a great article about urban grilling over at grilling. com. Clint Cantwell interviews Matt Fisher, pitmaster and kitchen manager at Paul Kirk’s RUB BBQ in New York City and Neil Strawder of Bigmista Barbecue in Los Angeles.

Barbecuing in an urban setting does provide some unique challenges. I’m lucky, I have a small yard where I can setup my cookers. But even with that advantage, my neighbors often complain about the smoke. It’s funny, my smokers produce a lot less smoke than my neighbors’ grills. The only real issue I see,  is that when I barbeque, my fire may  last anywhere up to 24 hours.

As Matt says, “Usually if I share with the neighbors, no one complains.”  I hate complaints, so I always share with the neighbors. But, that’s still not enough.

My house is on one of the main pedestrian routes to the subway.  I live in a corner house with a side yard and the aforementioned back yard both adjacent to the main avenue. The yard is surrounded by a three foot tall hurricane fence. There’s absolutely no privacy in my yard.  So, a lot of people pass my yard every day.

Now, that in itself isn’t a problem. The problem lies in the fact that so many people think they know how to barbecue! I’ve gotten all sorts of advice about how to cook from so called “experts” as they pass by. I don’t mind the lookey lous, but the “barbecuers” drive me nuts.  One guy came into the yard and opened up my offset cooker when I was doing 10 racks of ribs! His little “look see” added another 45 minutes to my cook as I worked to get the temperature of the cooker back where I wanted it.

I know what I’m doing thank you, and no I don’t par boil my ribs. Urgh – Keep walking, nothing to see here folks.

So, while Neil and Matt both bemoan the lack of space, my real issue in cooking in an urban setting, is the people. Keep your opinions and hands to yourself people. Just shut up and eat.

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Tuesday Tips: Barbecue Lingo

So you’ve entered into the world of barbecue. You’re cooking up some good shit. Your food has become the talk of the town. People are lining up to eat your ‘cue. Feels pretty good huh?  Sure, you can walk the walk – but can you talk the talk? Can you shoot the shit while working your pit?

Like any profession or hobby, we barbecue gurus – wait that’s probably trade marked – we BBQ pitmsaters have our own ways of speaking. Do you know the lingo?

This first appeared in 1998 in the book,  The Passion of Barbeque by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Don’t worry if some of these definitions contradict other lexicons you’ve seen. Barbecue slang is fluid. Enjoy.

  • Baby Back Ribs – the 13 smallest loin end ribs of a slab of pork ribs, the most tender ribs
  • Bamboo Skewers – long pins of wood soaked in water prior to using for kebabs on the grill
  • Banking Coals – stacking charcoal briquettes against the wall of the grill to one side in order to grill using the indirect method of cooking
  • Barbeque – to slowly cook meat/food over coals with aromatic woods in a covered cooker imparting smoke flavor (Boy, could this be argued!)
  • Baste – to pour liquids such as stock, juice, oils or marinades over meats while cooking retain moisture and/or impart flavor
  • Charcoal Chimney – a cylindrical metal container used to start charcoal fires without the use of petroleum products
  • Closed Pit – a covered barbeque grill
  • Dry Rub – a mixture of dry seasonings rubbed into meats prior to grilling or barbequeing
  • Glaze – a finishing sauce applied to meats during the final 15 minutes of cooking
  • Green Wood – usually refers to unseasoned hickory
  • Grilling – cooking over a hot open fire
  • Hardwood Charcoal Briquettes – most commonly made from hardwoods such as oak or hickory
  • Hoi Sin Sauce – also known as Chinese bean sauce, it is sweet and hot, primarily made from black beans
  • Indirect Heat – to cook meat away form the source of heat, i.e., the opposite side of the grill away from the hot coals
  • Indoor Barbequeing – cooking in the oven by broiling under red hot heating unit or slow covered cooking in the oven using barbeque sauce or liquid smoke to imitate outdoor barbecqueing (I think this may by my definition of crap or a travesty!)
  • Injecting Marinades – using a syringe with a needle to insert marinade into meats prior to cooking
  • KCBS Sanctioned Contests – contests that apply for and follow the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s criteria, rules and regulations
  • Mad Dog – insane canine .. moniker for the co-founder of the KCBS (now sadly deceased)
  • Marinate – to place food in an oil-acid mixture to tenderize or add flavor
  • Mop – to use a mop or large brush to apply baste to meat while cooking
  • Nom de Grills – imaginative names used by individuals or teams who compete in barbeque contests, i.e., The Rib Doctor, Baron of Barbeque, Sir Loin, Girll of my Dreams, to name a few. (Hey! They left out WhiteTrash BBQ and BrooklynQ)
  • Pit Barbeque – a large structure for barbequeing large pieces of meat or whole animals that can be closed for smoking. The pit can be a hold dug in the ground or a free standing cement or brick “oven” or a heavy metal structure such as a metal drum
  • Pit Boss – person in charge of the barbeque unit
  • Sear – to brown quickly over a very hot charcoal fire to seal in meat juices
  • Skewer – a long pin of wood or metal on which food is threaded/placed and held in place while cooking. To fasten meat with skewers to keep in shape while cooking
  • Slab of Ribs – most commonly refers to pork ribs (a side or slab of ribs)
  • Waterpan – a vessel for water placed inside covered barbeque units to provide moisture while cooking
  • Water Smoker – commercially manufactured cooking unit where the fire is separated from the meat by a water tray
  • Wood – large chunks of non-resinous wood used as a fuel a source as well as a smoke-flavoring agent. Varieties of woods used for barbequeing include apple, cherry, grape, hickory, mesquite, oak and pecan. (For more information on wood, click here.)
  • Wood Chips – small chips of hardwood or fruit wood added to barbeque fire to impart smoke flavor to meats.

Wow, so many terms there. I’d like to rewrite this list as so many seem to be out of date or confusing to say the least.  Talk to you soon. More lingo to come!

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Where There’s Smoke – There’s Flavor

Alton Brown’s at it again. Interesting little video, but please, PLEASE don’t follow his advice on cooking pork butt.

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Real Cheap Eats

Israeli Couscous from Silver Star Meat Market

What do I do when I’m not manning a BBQ pit? Well, for the past 7 months or so, I’ve been writing a weekly food column called The Bite, over at my favorite hyper-local news site: Sheepshead Bites.

The Bite focuses on one dish at a local food vendor. It’s not about restaurant reviews, it’s not a gotcha column. It’s all about that one dish. I don’t limit myself to restaurants; it’s all about the food available in Southern Brooklyn.

Let me put it this way…

The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

So, what’s that have to do with Real Cheap Eats? Well, James Boo, the Editor-in-Chief and Producer of Real Cheap Eats, choose The Bite for inclusion in NYC’s ultimate guide to food under $10. Be sure to check it out. Look for my writings in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood category.

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Barbecue Ingredients: Ketchup

Ketchup. Yes, ketchup is probably one of the most common ingredients on the barbecue circuit. You wouldn’t know it from looking around the competition tents, but it is. It forms the basis of many home made and even many store bought barbeque sauces.

Nowadays, most Americans think of ketchup as a tomato based product, but that wasn’t always the case. Hundreds of years ago, the Chinese and Malaysians used the brine from pickled fish as dipping sauces. Known as kachiap, the sauce had a savory taste, flavored by the brine spices and fish. Europe in the 1600s, cooks began experimenting with different ingredients—besides anchovies, mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, and even lemons appeared in various ketchup recipes over the next couple of centuries. Throughout the ages, the only ingredient that remained constant was salt.

In the New World, tomatoes were known to be used in ketchup as early as the 1780s, though the first published recipe for tomato ketchup—created by James Mease, a physician and horticulturist from Philadelphia—dates only from 1812.

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when a Pennsylvania food producer took tomatoes, added vinegar, sugar, onion and some secret spices and bottled it did tomato ketchup take hold. Now, pretty much all ketchup in America is made the same way. Sure, the seasonings vary from brand brand, but to Americans, ketchup is a thick tomato based sauce.

Now when it comes to barbecue sauce and ketchup, well some would say that’s a marriage made in heaven. Do a Google search for “ketchup and barbecue sauce” and you’ll get 1,770,000 hits. Thanks to our friends at Kraft Foods, a thick tomato based sauce, aka Kansas City style, has become the definition of barbecue sauce in the US. Even in Texas, when they do use sauce, ketchup is often the first ingredient.

So, the next time you reach for a bottle of barbeque sauce, remember, you’re just putting doctored up ketchup on your ribs! Enjoy.

Photo of ketchup courtesy 

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Ternera a la Llanera — Wherefore Art Thou?

Photo courtesy of

The above photo was taken at a Lower East Side of Manhattan street fair, sometime in the past. I don’t know which fair. I don’t know when. All I know is I want to be at that fair and I want one of those grills.

According to Wikipedia the guy in the picture is preparing “Ternera a la Llanera,” a dish from the Colombian marshlands. From what I’ve found on the web, thank you Chrome’s instant translation service, Ternera a la Llanera is the cooking of an entire veal. Now, it they’re cooking an entire veal on the streets of NYC – I NEED to be there!

Here’s the process….

Preparation of Veal llanera or “Mammon” is itself a party, this will kill a calf of approximately one year. The most important preparation are the cuts. There are four classics that are the bear, the eels, rays and the heron.

The bear is the part that covers the neck, throat, jaw and tongue, cut from top to bottom, so that will be taking down the dam.

The Shakers are breast meat, which are extruded in long strips.

The line includes the hindquarters, which, cut from the top (legs), including the tail, and part of the thighs. Cut trying to maintain a round shape with the tail like a bay.

The Heron is only the udder.

The cuts were made by cutting the extra skin, wrap the meat with it are exposed. Strips are sewn with the same skin, so that the meat is completely covered in the oven. Once LSTA and only seasoned with salt (including the head) is roasted in clay and brick oven at medium temperature (250 ° C) for 8 to 12 hours.

One way to know when the beef is ready, when the lips, head, shrink, giving it a cheerful expression.

Where this at? Someone, please tell me!

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Best Barbecue Pork Ribs in Manhattan

Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz at Serious Eats

OK. I’ll wait…     Done yet?

C’mon.      Really?

OK, children settle down now. Stop the laughing. Yes – the title of this post is the “Best Barbecue Pork Ribs in Manhattan,” as in New York City. Yes, we do have multiple true barbecue restaurants in Manhattan and even more in Brooklyn. And today, we’ll talk about the “best” pork barbecue ribs in Manhattan. Are they the best in the nation? No one said that, so you Southerners. Relax. We’re not taking the crown just yet.

James Boo, NY’s budding barbecue expert invited me, my buddy Ned Berke of Sheepsheadbites.comEdible Queens blogger and ‘cue enthusiast Joe DiStefano (known in certain circles as “Joey Deckle”) and barbecue ambassador Amy Mills to join the staff and judge Manhattan’s best pork barbecue ribs and the results are surprising.

Here’s what happened, as James tells on Serious Eats…

This tasting focused on smoked pork ribs available for dine-in or take-out in Manhattan. Choices were based on our informal poll on SENY and the Barbecue Bureau’s top choices. We purchased half-racks of spare ribs to-go from each restaurant, with the exception of Rack and Soul, which only serves baby back ribs:

I’ll pick it up from here. We were led into the Serious Eats office and spread out before us was a large conference table with 7 plates of ribs lined up on one side. The only identifiable marking was a purple post-it tag with the numbers of 1 to 7 written on them. We stood around a while discussing how the judging was to take place and finally dove in.

When we sat down I thought I recognized a couple of the ribs, but as I was eating them I honestly lost my preconceived notions. I knew RUB was there. So was Daisy May, Blue Smoke and Hill Country. I saw them on the plates lined up for tasting, but by the time a rib got to my plate I had no idea which restaurant produced it. Joey Deckle was distributing the ribs to the plate and we were all sharing ribs. Trying to figure out where 1/2 a rib came from was a useless pursuit. So my dear readers, this was true blind judging.

I’m not going to re-write James’s post about the whole experience. You should read it over on Serious Eats, but here’s the winners from the panel’s perspective.

  1. Rack and Soul’s BBQ Baby Back Ribs (7.8/10)
  2. Daisy May’s BBQ’s Kansas City Sweet and Sticky Pork Ribs (7.3/10)
  3. Daisy May’s BBQ’s Memphis Dry Rub Pork Ribs(6.8/10)
  4. Hill Country New York’s Pork Spare Ribs (6.3/10)
  5. Dinosaur Barbeque Harlem’s St. Louis Bar-B-Que Spare Ribs (6.1/10)
  6. Blue Smoke’s Kansas City Spare Ribs (5.5/10)
  7. RUB’s St. Louis-Style Long End (4.5/10)

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised by these results. We all discussed our winners and losers and I didn’t leave thinking this was how it would play out. James still had to tally our written votes, with the exception of Rack and Soul being the hands down winner, every other position was still in flux.

My feelings — To me, the top two were Daisy May’s. My winner was the dry rub ribs, followed by Daisy’s sweet and sticky ribs. This really surprised me as my last visits to Daisy May’s proved so disappointing that I wrote a post pleading with Adam Perry Lang to abandon his London restaurants and take care of Daisy. Maybe he listened, but whomever is handling the cookers at Daisy May’s now is doing a great job. I need to get back there and update my comments.

My least favorite in the bunch was Blue Smoke’s Kansas City Style Spare Ribs. They were completely untrimmed, fatty and tasteless. To me, it appeared that the chef  had completely given up. There were no discernible spices, nor bark or smoke on these ribs. Huge chunks of fat dominated them and easily over powered the meat. I wouldn’t have been surprised to be given these ribs from some newlywed’s first attempt at cooking ribs in oven.

Hill Country’s ribs didn’t fare much better. While these ribs were cooked well, the salt, pepper, paprika seasoning just doesn’t cut it for pork. “Hammy” was the most frequently heard comment here. Stick with the beef boys.

As for the others, well it was a mixed bag as under cooking seemed to be the most common mistake.

I can’t wait to do it again!

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Tuesday’s Tips

Photo courtesy of

Today’s Tuesday – so here’s a tip for you. Keep your grill clean. Nothing messes up a good grilling session than a dirty grill. Burnt on food can turn rancid, and scrapping it into your new fire causes an acrid smoke flavor. It can get even worse on a low slow cook of barbecue. Ever bite into a succulent juicy rib, only to be immediately repulsed by the flavor of dirty smoke?  Keep it clean Joe.

PS. I was part of a team of elite foodies and a barbecue legendess (She’s like a princess with her pedigree!) who took part in a super secret pork rib-off of Manhattan’s barbecue restaurants yesterday ins a super secret location.. The very surprising results will be posted soon.

PPS – To all my loyal Jewish friends and readers – Happy Pasach! And sorry for the post about pork. My bad.

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