Tag Archives: ribs

Meat stadium

Well, I just had to smile at this. Barry Martin, my amigo at Char-Broil, e-mailed me about his staff building a meat stadium for the Super Bowl. This is not something I would ever attempt as merely consuming the cocktail weenie football players would send me into a coma. However, I admire the creativity and silliness of the whole thing and was very gratified to see at the end of this video that the staff actually ate the thing. And it looked good. If you’re having massive amounts of friends over for a Super Bowl party, you might want to attempt the meat stadium.

As for me, I will be at the concession stand getting another glass of Chardonnay.

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On a desert island

So I have just finished making flat chicken and green noodles for the boy, who is home from college. I just love flat chicken, which is just chicken breasts pounded thin, coated in seasoned bread crumbs and fried in lemon juice, oil and a little butter. I also love green noodles, which are just thin spaghetti noodles tossed with pesto and Parmesan cheese.

But it got me to thinking about that old chestnut of a question: If you could have just one thing on a desert island, what would it be? I cannot choose one thing but I think it is entirely appropriate to pick one item from the four major food groups, at least as we see them here in the South. So here goes.

Vegetables: Macaroni and cheese. Yes, macaroni and cheese is a vegetable in the South. If you doubt this, just look at any menu at a Meat and Three and you will see macaroni and cheese listed every time.

Meat (or as every TV chef now refers to it, protein): Pig. Of course. What other animal provides you with so many different tastes? Bacon. Ham. Pulled pork. Ribs. Fatback. Yes, fatback. That may take this category into my next major food group.

Grease: This is a major food group in the South. Noah learned the answer to this question at an early age: What makes everything taste better? Grease. If I were on a desert island I could probably scare up a fish or two but what would I do with it? If I had grease, there would be no question. And since I have my pig already, I would have bacon grease and fatback.

Dairy: Butter. Does that count as dairy or grease? I’m a little confused on that one. I do not understand people who buy margarine. I just don’t get it. I think I have even converted Bunny on this question. My mother-in-law loves the Parkay squeeze bottle, but I have been over to her house enough lately that I have started sneaking butter into her icebox. This trip, I actually found a box of butter I did not put there. Good girl. But I digress.

So I have my mac and cheese, pork, grease and butter. I think that about covers it. If I ever end up on Survivor, I will be the only contestant to actually gain weight. I think I will go online right now and apply. Does wine count as the one luxury item every player gets to bring? Gosh, I hope so.

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A long way to go for chicken

I am back from my odyssey to become a better chicken cook and I can report to you that I think I will be. So the $367 in airfare, the $125 in rental car fees and the more than $50 I dropped at various food establishments in the Washington,  D.C. area was well worth it.

I am happy to say that from the time I got to Mary Ann’s house until the time I left, we did nothing but talk about food, visit various restaurants and buy various exotic ingredients in ethnic grocery stores. I just love that girl. She knows how to have a good time. Mary Ann introduced me to Peruvian chicken at Edy’s. I would actually buy another plane ticket to D.C. just to return and have some more of that chicken. It’s roasted on a rotisserie and the skin just crackles in your mouth.

But, of course, the main event was the chicken cooking class conducted by Chris Capell, the pitmaster of the Dizzy Pig BBQ team and the owner of the rub company that helps make them award winners. The class was at Chris’s house and that was fortunate because his wife made the most sensational chocolate toffee things involving saltine crackers that I will pass along in a future post.

So I understand you want to know what I learned but you’ll have to take his class. That’s the unwritten rule when you are privy to a pitmaster’s secrets. No passing along secrets to the general public at large. However, I will tell you that I discovered that Chris’s rubs really will change the way you cook. They are made from totally fresh ingredients and they all have unique flavors that I have never tasted in spice blends before. Fortunately for me, he gave us some to take home. But when I run out, I will be ordering from him again. And if you want to know when his classes are, sign up for his newsletter here.


Oh, OK. I will tell you one secret. No I won’t. What am I thinking? I am now back out on my deck in 80 degree weather with a Bloody Mary after spending six hours in that class in freezing temperatures with occasional downpours and hail. I momentarily lost focus.  The next thing you know I’ll be giving out Johnny Trigg’s super-secret rib recipe from the Smokin’ Triggers BBQ team. I have that one, too.

You’d think with all the secret recipes I have, that I would be standing up every week at a contest to receive my next Grand Champion award. But here is the secret I will reveal. It’s not the recipe. It’s the cook. It’s knowing how to come up with a unique flavor that will be universally appreciated. It’s about practicing, sometimes for years, to get that perfect piece of chicken or that delectable rib.

I guess I’d better get started. Mary Ann and I boldly decided, after a few glasses of wine (OK, more than a few), that we will concentrate on cooking this year. We will not beat Chris Capell or Johnny Trigg at their own game if we don’t get cracking.

I smell smoke.

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Chicks in crisis

Sometimes it takes that cold third eye to analyze a problem. Inadvertently, Mark became that third eye when he came to College Grove, Tennessee, to snap photos of the Chicks in Charge in action. It wasn’t until I got home and started reviewing the photos that I noticed an alarming trend.

So, here we are at the beginning of turn-in. My category is chicken and I am placing each piece of my entirely overdone chicken, which I know is overdone because it finished cooking an hour and a half before I turned it in, with the precision of a very bad surgeon. You will notice the entire team – Roxanne, Linda and Kim (filling in for Mary Ann) are observing with keen interest. And offering comments.

Now you will start noticing something that has completely escaped me up until now. Here is Rox doing her rib box. And everyone is still there. Offering comments. We each have a category but we don’t all have to be within three inches of the box at all times, do we? All the time offering comments during the most stressful part of the competition. Well, do we?

Apparently we do. It may not have occurred to us that our helpful comments are just muddying the waters of an already silt-laden pond. As Linda puts her pork in the box, do we really need to start a debate about it? We are all Type A women, but do we need to exhibit it at every friggin’ moment? One or two of us should really just step back and have a beer.

But we do not. We are all still here! Now, admittedly Kim was extremely nervous about slicing the brisket because this was her first competitive barbecue contest ever in her life. But perhaps one spiritual adviser would have been enough. The problem with the Chicks is that we do this at every contest I’m now realizing. We do  not allow solo sinking or swimming. We all want to contribute, mostly to our downfall.

I will now start in with the excuses. Yes, it’s true that we only cook one or two contests a year and if we really want to be good we have to cook a lot more. Yes, it’s true that each of us taking a category instead of anointing a pitmaster means that there are four visions of perfection instead of one. Four different visions. From four Type A women who don’t want to lose control. Who want to comment. And, sadly, we visit this upon ourselves by soliciting the comments in the first place. What do you think? It appears to be a dangerous question.

At the end of the day, we finished 30th overall in a field of 36 teams. Not dead last, which is always what we pray will not happen. But not even in the middle of the pack. We sit around with our score sheet and debate the stupidity of the judges. But we actually got far better individual scores than we deserved. When I got home, I looked at Mark’s photos. The next time we cook, I for one will refrain from commenting. Even if asked. I will step away from the table. I will drink a beer. I will not, just for a second or two, be a Type A woman.

Who am I kidding.

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The easy way out for ribs

I am ashamed to admit it, but I took the easy way out. I cheated. It is 95 degrees and sticky. It’s only early June. I made ribs in a stove-top smoker. And I finished them in the oven. I’m so sorry. I truly am. But they were delicious and I didn’t acquire that special “glow” Southern women refer to (instead of saying we sweat like hogs).

I am not much of a gadget collector, but stove-top smokers are are great gadgets. Basically, a stove-stop smoker is a metal box with a tray and a rack inside. You put either wood chips and pellets in the bottom of the box, cover the tray with foil for easy clean-up, put the tray in the box, top it with the rack and add whatever you’re smoking. The heat from the stove causes the wood to smoke and the air-tight lid keeps the smoke inside the box.

Anything you’d normally smoke in a regular smoker works in the stove-top variation. And there are a few things you might not think about right off the bat. Put some tomatoes and red onions in there and let them smoke for about 30 minutes. Then puree them and add to chili. Extraordinary.

So for the ribs, I just used some Head Country rub because I like it a lot. Turned the gas on to low on two burners. Set the stove-top cooker on top and let ‘er rip for about 40 minutes with some orange wood pellets from BBQr’s Delight. If you have not heard of BBQr’s Delight pellets you need to educate yourself. They will rock your world.

I will tell you the honest truth. I had never tried ribs in the stove-top before. I usually do chicken or fish, which cooks pretty quickly. I did not know the long-term effects of having a gas stove on beneath a metal box for four hours. Some sort of explosion kept running through my mind. So I cheated and after the ribs had absorbed the smoke, I wrapped them in foil and put them in a 300-degree oven to finish cooking.

Well, Mark just hated them. He hated each rib individually as he sucked the meat off the bones. And made a dainty little pile on the foil they’d been wrapped in. Here’s another tip, actually. When it’s super hot outside and you don’t want to have stinky trash, wrap things like bones in foil and put them in the freezer. Then put them out on trash day.


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BBQ season and Mama Dean

It is BBQ season again, bless the Lord. About ten years ago, I got invited to my first competition BBQ contest by my friend, Arlie Bragg. I had never heard of a BBQ contest but I liked BBQ so I went. There were all these people of every age and size wearing little silver name tags. They all seemed to know each other. When we sat down to judge, a nice man explained the rules. Rules? Yes, rules.

After the rule explaining, the eating commenced. Everything I tasted was utterly fantastic – chicken, ribs, pork butt and brisket. I ate liberally. When would I ever get to have this again? Who were these people and how often did they come to Nashville? That afternoon, I probably ate two and a half pounds of meat. I was on protein overload and didn’t touch anything but vegetables for the next three weeks.

Well, I figured out who all those people were with the silver name tags. They were members of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which now sanctions contests from coast to coast. I joined. I got certified as a judge and got my own silver name tag. I progressed to becoming a master judge, of which I’m quite proud. I learned that it is a “tasting” contest not an “eating” contest. I consume more moderate amounts now.

The boxes are things of beauty. Just look at this brisket? Isn’t it sumptuous? Can you see why I just salivate at the beginning of BBQ season? Judging is serious business because competing is serious business and you give the cooks respect by carefully considering each entry. Some judges are called “super judges” because they get a little too serious and nitpick at every little thing. And I’ll say it here: The best reason to judge a competition contest is that you will never eat better. I am a little piggy and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Now, the part about that first contest and everybody seeming to know each other. Well, that’s because they did. As in many social organizations, the members become friends. That’s how I hooked up with my boyfriend, Terrell (who turned 75 the other day – Happy Birthday, boyfriend!). I count many of my BBQ buddies as close friends, including my Chicks in Charge teammates Linda and Roxanne Gould and Mary Ann Francis.

And that friendship brings me to Mama Dean. Her real name was Ada, but everyone called her Mama Dean. She was married to Tony Stone, an icon in the BBQ community who has been both president of KCBS and a contest organizer and cook. Mama Dean loved everybody. You hear that about a lot of people, particularly in the South. But Mama Dean really did love everybody. Hugs were mandatory. Good cheer was required. Loving concern was spread around liberally. She and Tony hosted a big party in their home before the start of his contest in Cookeville in September. I could never go because of work. Now I regret that.

Mama Dean passed on Saturday. We all are heartbroken for Tony and his family. Her funeral was today and I’ll bet it was the best damn attended funeral in the state of Tennessee. Had Mama Dean been there, she would have been presiding over the funeral food for which all Southern women are legendary.

My first contest of the year is this Saturday in Winchester, Tennessee. Mama Dean had hoped to be there, Linda tells me. We would have done this year what we’ve done every year for as long as I can remember. Mama Dean sitting outside the judging area, visiting with old friends and making new ones. She never knew a stranger. I’ll miss her.

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Mushroom stuffed pork loin

I have an oil painting in my bedroom. It sums up my feelings about the pleasure of the table.

This painting, which I paid far too much for a long time ago but now don’t even remember how much it cost, combines my two favorite things: Pork and wine. Taken together or separately. In fact, I’m sitting here now having a glass of Pinot Noir as I am about to discuss pork.

There’s a BBQ joint outside Nashville called Carl’s Perfect Pig and I think that just says it all nicely. The pig is perfect. No other animal yields so many completely different tasting meats. You have bacon, of course, which to me tastes better than caviar. You have ham, country or city depending on how you cure it. You have ribs. I don’t need to say anything more about that. You have pork butt or picnic shoulder, which is what you make real BBQ from. And you have the loin and tenderloin, what some people call “the other white meat.”

A lot of people say pigs are really smart, but I don’t want to know about that. It kind of ruins the moment.

I believe my love affair with pork began at an early age when my father fried bacon for Louise and me. He was the perfect bacon fryer. He took it slow so that the bacon browned nicely in its own fat but didn’t curl up. It is one of the few things I vividly remember watching him do. He had a heart attack when I was four years old and never ate bacon again. But he would fry it up for his girls. That’s true love.

I learned to truly love country ham while Mark and I were living in Reno because we couldn’t get it there. I’d ask anyone traveling East to pick some up at the grocery store. They were flummoxed when I told them not to look in the refrigerated meat case. It would be at room temperature packaged in heavy plastic. They thought that was unsanitary. Westerners don’t really have a good bead on country ham.

Tonight we are going to zero in on pork loin, which should not be confused with pork tenderloin. Pork loin is the full cut of meat along the back of the pig. Pork tenderloin is just the meat closest to the spine. For now, let’s just talk about pork loin. A lot of people roast it whole and that’s fine. But I like to butterfly and stuff it.

Butterflying pork loin is easy. You basically make two cuts and lay it out flat. Here’s a nifty demonstration I found on the web. Once you stuff the pork loin, you just roll it up, tie it and roast it fat side up so the fat gets nice and crispy and you want to just eat that and be done with it.

People will think you worked slavishly at this for hours upon hours. As we say in the South, it makes a pretty presentation.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Loin

1 pork loin, about two pounds

1 box pork stuffing mix

1 8-ounce container sliced mushrooms

3 shallots

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup Madeira

Salt and pepper

Butterfly the pork so that it lays flat on the cutting board, fat side down. Season with salt and pepper.

Prepare the stuffing according to package directions. In a food processor, process the mushrooms, shallots and garlic until minced. Saute in the butter until browned. Deglaze the pan with the Madeira. Mix the mushrooms with half the stuffing mix (reserving the rest for another use). Chill.

Spread the cooled mushroom mixture on the pork, leaving about a half inch at the edges. Roll the pork up. Tie with kitchen twine. Salt and pepper the outside of the pork roll. Roast on a rack at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the pork is 140 degrees.

Some of the stuffing will fall out during the roasting process and will be browned and yummy. Make sure you eat it while nobody’s looking.


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Chicks In Crisis

chicks in gallatin

Well, it just went terribly wrong. Terribly wrong. Friday afternoon, the sky was blue, the breezes warm and we were happy. Here’s Linda, Rox, and Debby Gage, our newest Chick (Rox called her a CIT – Chick in Training, and ordered her about unmercifully but in the nicest possible way as only Rox can). We hadn’t even started drinking yet, but we knew we had big things in store for us!

Friday night went without a hitch. Mostly because we hadn’t put the meat on yet. I was chicken and brisket. Rox was ribs. Linda was butt. We told her she had a nice butt and laughed hilariously. We’re so funny. Debby made this terrific Asian coleslaw and salmon marinated in bourbon for supper. Recipes will be coming as soon as she e-mails them to me (actually it’s her husband, Bill’s, salmon recipe but she cooked it so she gets the credit).

Poor Linda pulled the “stay up all night in a lawn chair” shift. So the rest of us went off to the hotel for some shuteye and came back early the next morning. We thought we all had it under control. But control is an illusion, now isn’t it? First off, the chicken. Well, I’ll get to the chicken in a minute because it’s the saddest story of all. Rox’s ribs. She’d made a practice bunch the night before and they were perfect. But she worried over her competition ribs. You know when you worry over something and you chew it so hard the taste just goes out of it? Well, the taste just went out of her ribs.DSCN0469

Here’s Rox testing them. You can just see that she is not happy. All of the Chicks have cried at one time or another and we’re not ashamed to admit it. Rox got close to crying but she held it in.

Then Linda pulled out the pork butts. They had been “resting” – a term used by barbecue people for putting your meat in a cooler and DSCN0477wrapping it up with towels for hours on end – since four in the morning. She was really worried about whether they’d turned mushy, which most people would like but barbecue judges do not. Well, she apparently worried all the taste out of those butts as well. At least that’s what the judges thought.  She doesn’t look too awfully happy here either, does she?

My ugly brisket? It actually turned out better than I thought it would and it was our highest scoring entry of the day. But don’t get too excited. I am using “highest score” as a relative term.

My chicken. My chicken. It’s been our best-scoring category and I mean we do well at it. It’s usually in the top ten and often in the top five. I was supremely confident. What an idiot.

So it’s time for the awards. We’re always hopeful. Catherine and Debbie in GallatinHere’s a photo of Debby and me at awards. Don’t we look happy? Richard Preston, one of the contest reps, snapped this, probably as a cruel joke since he already knew we were minutes away from cardiac arrest. So here are the results from a contest with 21 teams: Brisket came in 15th, ribs came in 17th, pork came in 18th and chicken came in DAL – dead-ass last. Last! Had I laced it with cyanide? What? I will say that one of the judges scored it perfect – 9-9-9. But some jerk, uh, I mean discerning judge, scored it 6-6-6. You probably know the biblical implications of that. Pride does goeth before a fall.

We  may be down, but we’re not out. One of the things I love about barbecue contests is that all the teams treat us like we know what we’re doing. And Debby said she learned a lot by becoming a CIT over the weekend. She was also unfailingly enthusiastic, which counts for a lot with our group. We’ll be back next year and we’ll get it right somehow. Oh, and we gave all the leftover meat to Debby to take home. Hee-hee.


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Barbecue Day

O.K., today’s the day. Barbecue day. Linda and Rox are already on the road and I’m packing everything up. If you’ve never cooked in a competition barbecue contest, you have no idea what it takes to get ready.DSCN0463 Here’s just part of my list.  You have to make sure you have everything you can possibly cram in your car because you’re going to be cooking in a parking lot or an open field where you can’t just reach in the cupboard for that spice rub you forgot. Oh, the litter and cat food isn’t for the contest. I had to make sure the cats were taken care of, too.  The wine is – it’s already in the trunk. First things first.DSCN0461

So here’s just a little of what I’m taking to Gallatin. All my secrets are here but since we don’t win very much I guess it really doesn’t matter, does it? If any barbecue cook wants to steal from me he’s already in a sorry mess. I have my orange wood pellets for the chicken. I have my mesquite for the brisket.You know, it’s actually a big deal that I have this wood out already. I can’t tell you how many times the Chicks get all our meat on the smoker, sit back to enjoy a tall one and then realize we’ve forgotten to put the wood on!

I have my really grungy gloves that have a ripped lining but I love them. I have my rubs and I have the single thing that will separate us from every other team this weekend – pink latex gloves! I was at the dentist the other day and noticed that the hygienist had on these pink gloves and talked her out of a box.

Every barbecue contest is like a mini-city. Everyone brings tents and chairs and decorations. People you may not have met before become your instant neighbors. Most of us like each other. If you need help, it’s only a few feet away. The Chicks don’t like to ask for help because we’re proud, you know. What’s that song? Too Proud To Beg? That’s us. So I’m gong to be signing off here for a couple days.

The great thing about cooking contests is that when you start out you have these great expectations. You can almost hear your name getting called to the stage. Before you light the cooker, the brisket is perfect, the pork succulent, the ribs in that perfect zone of pull away from the bone, not fall off of it. That’s where I am right now. In that good mojo place.

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Faucon Salad

Generally speaking, having a good time at work is preferable to keeping that old nose to the grindstone, don’t you think? There used to be a lot of fun to be had in journalism before the bottom fell out. In the way olden days, when I was the restaurant critic for the Charlotte Observer, I used to sit over at Bobby Redd’s restaurant every afternoon drinking wine and talking about food trends. I could actually justify that as work. I really hit the jackpot when we moved to Reno and I became the features editor at the Gazette-Journal. Those people in Reno know how to have a good time. Caviar tasting at the Blue Bounty? I can choke down a few fish eggs for the cause.  Judging the Best in the West Rib Cook-Off at the Nugget? Oh, please, I couldn’t eat another bite.

Perhaps the greatest food-related score I managed to relate to work, though, was at the Tennessean. We used to have these things called Management By Objectives, which back in the good old days was pretty much a vehicle to pay us bonuses, which I appreciated more than I can say.  So us Gannettoids would sit around and think up projects that would theoretically help the newspaper and help us grow as managers.  And one of the ones my good friend, Gail Kerr, and I thought up was meeting real newsmakers, face-to-face, up close and personal. And this is where the Faucon Salad comes in.

A Faucon Salad is unique to Nashville, or at least the name is. It’s an iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing, bacon bits and hard-boiled eggs. There were only a few places that served it. The Belle Meade Country Club did, but I can tell you the Belle Meade Country Club was never going to have me as a member and I don’t blame them. Jimmy Kelly’s did, but Jimmy Kelly’s was where the white people sat down and the black people stood up and I did not love a Faucon Salad enough to eat one there. And the third place was the Cumberland Club, a private club on top of a skyscraper. So in thinking about where Gail and I would meet all these important newsmakers who would feed us news tips and make us journalistic legends of reportage, I actually convinced my boss that a membership to the Cumberland Club was an essential component of reaching my Management By Objective.

Well, long story short, Gail and I ate a lot of Faucon Salads over the next year or so at the Cumberland Club. Gail is a good girl. She is as interested in food as I am and she’s always willing to take one for the team. She’s still at the Tennessean and will deny any knowledge of this scheme I alone perpetrated in the name of having a good time at work. As well she should.

Now that I’m making my own Faucon Salad at home, having fallen on harder times and having no objectives to manage, I make my own blue cheese dressing because, well, it’s just better than anything in a bottle. You all know how to cut a head of iceberg lettuce into wedges, boil some eggs and fry some bacon. But here’s the dressing recipe.

Blue Cheese Dressing

3 heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s or Hellmann’s

1 heaping tablespoon sour cream

Juice from half a lemon

Liberal grinding of pepper

1 4-ounce container of crumbled blue cheese

Milk to thin

Mix everything but the milk together. Thin the dressing out to the consistency you like with the milk. Refrigerate at least two hours for all the flavors to blend together.


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