Monthly Archives: May 2012

Brewery Restaurant Review: Granite City Brewery

Why not spend a hot St. Louis late-May Wednesday lunch with my father, especially when he likes food and beer about as much as I do?

Simpson BBQ, circa 1978ish

Not sure if including that photo will annoy him or make him laugh. Whatever.

Today we ventured into Creve Coeur, Missouri (French for broken heart, but which we all pronounce Creeve Core) to visit our local Granite City Brewery for lunch and a sampler of craft beers.

First order of business is to peruse the menu. Whoops, they have a Cuban sandwich. Obviously that’s what I order. Pops ordered a large Greek salad (healthy) and a heaping ton of onion rings (not so healthy).

It looked pretty good, though there’s more bread than stuff between the bread.

The sandwich that may force me to change one of my Life Rules

They used turkey instead of ham, and the bread was a very soft white ciabatta with too much flour on it instead of a crispier panini, sourdough, or rye bread. Decent amount of pickles, cheese, and yellow mustard. Significantly more pork was needed. It was good, but not great. In hindsight, I should have paid the buck fifty and stepped up to the waffle fries instead of the shoestring fries.

For the first time I can recall, a Cuban sandwich left me underwhelmed. Hopefully the beer is much better.

Eight little beers

I’m sure as heck not sharing eight little beers with my dad, so we each got our own. As he drank his, he told me that he considered just heading home and finishing the day drinking that we started. Sorry, but I have to get back to the office.

Here’s my quick hits on these beers:

Northern Lights Lager – Light is right. Not much to this beer, either in terms of color, flavor, etc. It needed to be colder or the restaurant needed to be much hotter for me to want a second on this one.

Brother Benedict’s Bock – Mine was kind of flat, even for a bock. Super strong toasted malt flavor, but left quite a bit to be desired. Not something I would buy again.

Two Pull – Basically a half and half of the aforementioned Lager and Bock. All it did was water down the Bock.

Broad Axe Stout – One note stout. Milky, but not too flavorful. Nothing complex going on, like you see with other more popular stouts.  What’s going on with these beers? Augh. Has to get better.

Specialty Beer #1: Some kind of berry fruity wheat beer. Meh. Schlafly’s Raspberry Hefeweizen blows it out of the water.

Specialty Beer #2: A Belgian ale. I hesitate to say this, because it’s a horrible critique of a craft beer, but this was… kind of reminiscent of tongue-tingling medicine. Completely unattractive and I regretted taking my second swig to confirm the unpalatable nature of the first drink.

Finally, I saved what I anticipated to be the best for last. Briefly, though, let me tell you this: I planned to go to this place and lay down good money to buy a growler of beer and put it in the office fridge and then work the rest of the day with full knowledge that fresh craft beer waited for me in the communal kitchen. This has been a frustrating event to say the least.

Higher view of the beers

Wag’s Wheat – Cloudy, but really flat. I was hoping for a little effervescence here! I picked up on the citrus flavor, but it is super faint. I could sit down and drink this cold on a hot day, but it’s not much to speak of by itself in an air conditioned restaurant. I don’t like putting lemon in beer, but this beer needed a lemon. Easily the best of the lot so far, but it’s been a mediocre lot.

Duke of Wellington IPA – Please, please, please don’t let me down IPA, I implored my little two-to-three ounce serving of beer! [sips beer] Doggone it. Well, it tastes like a super-basic IPA. Minimal bitterness, minimal fruitiness, negligible flowery or fruity aromas. It comes off as a building foundation upon which a robust, complex IPA could be built, but the laborers just went on strike and I have to live in a framed-out house of a beer. Frustration!

Here are the two things you need to know about our visit to Granite City Brewery: (1) I bought no to-go beer even though I fully intended to do so before showing up, and (2) not only did my father allow the waitress to bus multiple glasses half full of non-consumed beer, but he also got no to-go beers, even though I was the one buying lunch!

Maybe it was an off day across the board for this place. I went a few months ago with some friends and their flatbread pizzas were great. I had one beer and don’t remember disliking it. Either way, I don’t expect to be laying hard cash there anytime soon, and that’s a damned shame. I bought some Shift on the way home.

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2012 Schlafly World Pork Steak Championships

One of the best days of the year for an amateur St. Louis BBQer was yesterday at the Pavilion in Chesterfield’s Central Park: the Annual Schlafly World Pork Steak Championships. I have been practicing for a few weeks on an entree and my pork steaks, and my partner, Mike, has been working on an appetizer. We’ve done this together for four years now and it’s always a blast, despite the fact that we always get too drunk and finish near last.

We got the tent set up around 8:30 or so. Say hello to everyone, Mike! Be sure to look as silly as possible.

Hi, everybody!

Easily one of the coolest CPAs I know…

Mike brought his fancy Weber 22.5″ and I brought the Big Blue smoker.

Where the magic happens

Appetizer due at 2:00pm, entree due at 2:30pm, and pork steaks due at 3:00pm.

Planned Menu:

Appetizer – Balsamic marinaded chicken kebabs, paired with a porter beer

Entree – Smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis, paired with an IPA

Pork Steaks – Smoked for about 2 hours at 200 degrees after a dredging in a mustard/beer/brown sugar paste, followed by a brief sear on each side

Competitor Meeting at 9:30am:

No foreign objects allowed, as in no kebab skewers. Also, you can garnish as much as you want, contrary to what the rules said. Also, beer sales are at 12:00 noon, and apparently you could have brought your own package beer after all. Mike was totally bent out of shape by all of this.

Appetizer: (Sorry, but I didn’t get any photos of this)

With some input from my wife, Mike changed things on the fly to lettuce wraps with the chicken and some grilled veggies. He also changed the beer pairing from a dark beer to a summer lager.

Mike toasted peanuts in a foil pouch, grilled some bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and bell peppers, and grilled his chicken as usual. It was all chopped up and tossed in some large leaf lettuce with peanut sauce and dry asian slaw.

Frankly, the appetizer was delicious. We all liked it, but apparently the judges didn’t find it top ten worthy. It was probably Mike’s best effort to date. Good work.

Entree:

I generally followed the recipe from a few practice sessions ago when we first tried the smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis. Both huge filets were generously covered on the non-skin side with Lawry’s seasoned salt and coarse black pepper.

Simply seasoned fish

Due to some grill space issues, one of the cedar planks had to be put on the Weber 22″ over indirect heat and the other had to go on the smoker where the pork steaks (discussed later) were already in the midst of a hickory wood smoke.

Smoked steelhead trout, skin ready to come off

As entree assembly time approached, only the fish on the smoker grate was ready to go. The one on the Weber was underdone. This would turn out to be a critical piece of fortune.

After about 30-40 minutes of cooking, the skin peeled right off in one piece and the fish was ready for a little more cooking.

Skinned fish filet

The BLTs were assembled with the pre-cooked thick-cut maple bacon, some real mayonnaise, arugula, and vine ripened tomatoes, all on white ciabatta bread rolls.

Set up and ready for fish

After putting generous, massive pieces of fish on each sandwich, I put the assembled sandwiches on the smoker and used a paver brick wrapped in foil as a panini press.

While the sandwiches finished, we tried the remaining filet. Much to our surprise, the flavor was much richer and buttery than it had been in the past. Something about the two wood smoking and the drum smoker as opposed to the Weber improved the fish dramatically.

Then, after each side of the sandwich got a pressing, we pulled them and cut each in half. Six individual servings were required.

Paninied sandwiches

They looked good. They tasted amazing. I felt pretty good about my chances. If nothing else, I made something delicious and was getting excited to make some sandwiches for the group once the other filet finished on the Weber.

I needed to pair it with a beer. What better to go with something sweet and smoky and full of fish than an IPA? I selected the Goose Island IPA as my pairing.

BLT w/ Fish

I turned it in and was pleased… despite the pork steak fiasco. Read on.

Pork Steaks:

The plan was to replicate my prior successes at making pork steaks by dredging them through some paste/mud of mustard, beer, brown sugar, pepper, spice, paprika, etc.

Dredge paste ready to go

Each of the pork steaks, and the only gave us three this year, was liberally coated.

Pork steaks in their spicy mud bath

Rubber gloves for food safety. After all, the county health inspector is around.

Safety first. Pork hands are not good.

The witches’ brew of hickory smoke billowed from Big Blue. The time for pork steaks is at hand.

Catastrophe coming…

The pork steaks met the smoke about 2 hours before turn in time. We were busy getting the appetizer and entree prepared and they are a low-maintenance dish. Little did I realize that the temperature was climbing, rapidly and dangerously.

Big Blue usually sits at 200 degrees, barely going over 225. Today, however, it rose to 300 then 350. When I finally realized it was at 350, I knew I was screwed.

Oh crap

In the part trial runs, these things were ready for a flip and continued smoke at an hour. After two hours, they were super tender, hyper-moist, and very flavorful. My plan was to give them a brief sear to get some BBQish crispiness on the outside, at about 2 minutes per side or less, after the smoking was over. No point now.

What a nightmare. I was quite dejected, a feeling that passed later for reasons you will read. Eventually, as explained below, I figured out why this happened. Basically this was the low part of the day.

I cut six slices from the least awful pork steak and turned them in with zero expectations of success. The other two were inedible. Time for a shitload of beers and some contemplation how this freak accident happened.

Awards Ceremony:

Whilst we waited for them to announce the awards, we hit the craft beer tent pretty hard.

Beer tent. What a nice way to spend a 95 degree day.

Mike caught up on his summer reading.

Scandalous! Fabulous! OMFG S&M!

They announced the appetizer winners without mentioning us. Damned shame, but better luck next year.

As a quick aside, my expectations were low. While we were prepping our pork steaks, the guy next to us came over and let us try some of his Tri-Tip that he turned in as his entree. Holy MFing Shit, it was amazing. Juicy, flavorful, perfectly cooked. If this is what I am up against, then I’m screwed.

Much to my pleasant surprise, I was announced as the Third Place winner in the entree category!

Third Place is better than nothing!

It was my first BBQ trophy that didn’t involve something that’s apparently unethical, like parboiling pork ribs.

Obviously we were thrilled!

Hooray

Oh, and I didn’t place in the pork steaks. They sucked. I knew they sucked when I made them and turned them in. I seriously messed up, as explained below. Whatever. I was happy to win something for the entree.

Epilogue:

Not to ruin the story, but I was already dead in the water with respect to the pork steaks and I didn’t know it, before ever showing up that morning.

The night before the competition, I thoroughly cleaned out Big Blue. For weeks, I had been practicing with a lining of BBQ drippings, ash, coal, etc. all cemented to the bottom and lower walls of the smoker. It had been performing consistently and in a manner that I could control and predict. I don’t know why I cleaned it out; I just did.

During the competition, the temperature spiked uncontrollably a few times. It went up to 350 out of nowhere and stayed hot. Even after dousing the fire and closing the baffles, it jumped to 400. Two of the three pork steaks dried out and the third was a mediocre shadow of my previous practice successes. A total fiasco that left me puzzled until I had a eureka moment in the middle of the night last night. Dammit. Live and learn.

Still, a great time and a good finish.

Mike was annoyed about the change in the package liquor rules. According to the original entry form, we would be disqualified if we had outside package beer or liquor. Tons of people had outside package beer and liquor, but not us. I mentioned to Mike that every prior year we had gotten blasted and someone had burnt themselves (usually Mike) and we had turned in sub-par food. This year we stayed bright, drank tons of water, and turned in some wonderful food. He begrudgingly agreed.

Now would be a good time for a beer. This one was awesome:

Matilda by Goose Island, my celebratory beer (among many)

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Welcome, Newcomers

Hello and welcome!

A lot of traffic today from the bbq-bretheren website… ridiculing this post on parboiling ribs.

I’m certainly no expert (as those commenters pointed out) and making ribs that way is frowned upon by those who know what they are doing (as those commenters vividly pointed out). My application to the website is pending administrator approval, so this post will have to do as far as responses go.

In defense of that recipe and my post, a few things: (1) I am a total amateur and this blog is a catalog of my learning process, not an authority on BBQing (2) it’s food all of my kids actually eat, something hard to find, and (3) I guess I missed on effectively expressing the irony in my anecdote about the parish competition, though I thought I was laying it on pretty thick.

This is like a stand up comedian who tries out some amateur low-brow material that plays okay for the drunken idiot audience, but bombs as he is booed off stage in front of professional comedy writers.

All that being said, ridicule away; I won’t shy away from it. A lesser man would take down the post or wipe the images or break the link or some other cowardly shit, but I’m sure that’s not the only post where I’ve fucked up for the world to see.

Smoked Steelhead Trout BLTs

Despite the excellence of the BBQ Cuban Sandwiches, the time constraints and grill space of a one day BBQ competition cause me to lean against an all day pork shoulder smoke and towards something less labor-intensive and time-consuming. Fish sandwiches were a hit the last time we tried them, and the total cook time is relatively low.

For these sandwiches, I am going to improve on my prior errors. The walleye and char were both fairly thin fish filets and I want a lot of meat on the sandwiches. What do I find waiting for me at Sam’s Club but this huge, beautiful filet of Steelhead Trout?

Seasoned Steelhead Trout

For pre-BBQ seasoning, I just put on some Lawry’s salt and coarse black pepper. Simple, easy.

I made a few slices in the skin and rested the filet on a wood soaked cedar plank, with the skin side up over semi-direct heat. The Weber 22″ was set up for indirect cooking, but I put the plank over the center of the grill.

Cedar, do your magic

Right across the aisle at Sam’s were some soft whole wheat ciabatta rolls, and further down the meat section I stumbled across thick cut maple bacon. It was all assembled along with a huge heirloom tomato, a fistful of arugula, and some Miracle Whip.

Ready for the tastyfish

One of the sandwiches was tomato-less, with a sub of pepper jack cheese, for my picky wife. Special orders don’t upset us.

After 20 minutes or so, the trout skin was crisping right off of the filet. I peeled the whole thing off with minimal effort. It made some wonderful fish skin bacon for the dog.

Fish skin is a doggie delicacy

Another ten minutes on the grill and a few beers later, and I married the fish onto the sandwiches. Of the three rolls, the wifey one and a normal one went on the grill for some time under a panini brick, whilst the third was cut and served un-paninied for comparison’s sake.

Soon-to-be patent pending panini brick

Though this may hurt my chances at an international patent on the invention, the panini brick is just a bunch of aluminum foil wrapped around a paver stone or red brick. Here you can see the red brick model, soon available for purchase through the future e-commerce section of this site.

How were the results?

Non-paninied sandwich

I would gladly pay money for the non-panini version of this sandwich. The fish was plentiful and moist, full of flavor. Steelhead trout has a salmon flavor, as the color indicates, but it is milder, with a flesh very willing to accept the smokiness of the cedar plank. The maple bacon was a good call, giving crispiness and some sweetness. For ciabatta bread, it was soft and complementary, as opposed to dominating.

The panini version was consumed pre-photograph, so you will just have to take my word for it that it was also delicious. The bread was crispier and the flavors melded a little better. Some people won’t like warm Miracle Whip or having their cold sandwich veggies warmed up.

Both versions were wonderful, and the entire process took an hour (not counting the bacon that I cooked and trimmed earlier in the day). For a BBQ competition, this is a time-effective, flavorful recipe that will almost certainly be a distinct selection over the other entrants in the BBQ entree category.

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Drink this Beer: Pi Common, by Schlafly

Update 05/18/2012: Welcome, StL Hops readers!

Let’s try this WordPress iPhone app. It may look weird and need some editing in Firefox later, but worth a shot now.

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Pi / Schlafly Tap Handle

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Common in a glass

I’m at Pi in the St. Louis Central West End and they have something on tap called Pi Commons.

It’s worth a try for sure. I like Schlafly and I like Pi. The bartender compared it to Anchor Steam, another quality brew.

It’s got a wonderful brownish amber color and a very mild aroma. It is minimally effervescent and easy to drink, smooth over the tongue.

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Common in another glass. I had a few.

You can pick up on some mild hops, but the star here is the cerealish malt flavors that add a robust flavor. It doesn’t overpower the bitterness or flavor of the hops, but complements it instead. Well done, Schlafly.

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I just think things should work properly

Also at Pi… the crazy powerful Dyson hand driers. Can people buy them for their home bathrooms?

The pizza and salad were excellent, as was the company. My recommendation for Schlafly Pi Commons: Drink This Beer

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Drink This Beer: Shift Pale Lager

I have a zeal for tall boy four packs of beer. Boddington’s Pub Ale, Heineken, Stella Artois, Miller High Life, etc. all come in foursomes of tall beers. Each is welcome in my house.

How surprised was I to see a new entrant into the fraternity! Welcome, Shift Pale Lager!

Respectable Rate Beer Score

How do you get me to buy some beer, other than a $0.30 markdown? (Hurry! Ends July 1st!) Put the Rate Beer rating tag next to the price tag.

You should know New Belgium beer. If you don’t, then get with the damned program.

How about this Shift Pale Lager. Not pale ale, that’s a pale lager. Intriguing in and of itself.

Washing machines make nice photo backgrounds

Now that I see this picture… it looks a hell of a lot like the Red Bull four pack. Tell me I’m wrong.

Red Bull

Back to the beer. Let’s see if it looks like a lager, much less a pale lager, once in a beer glass.

Pale lager in a glass

I have to say, I really enjoyed this beer. A modest 5.0% ABV pairs up with a fairly respectable 29 IBU, at least for a lager.

Probably one of the best near-clear beers I’ve ever drank

You pick up the floral flavors and a hint of coriander… maybe left over from the New Belgium Trippel. Certainly a refreshing, crisp beer worth the $2 per tall can price. You would be thrilled to pay $2 for one of these at the bar.

I may have found a new favorite yard work beer. More flavorful, but lighter, than my yard work standby Boddington’s. My recommendation for New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager: Drink This Beer

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Spambots Love Me

One of the golden nuggets of having a WordPress blog is the amazing site stats. I can learn about the search terms, search engines, referring websites, countries of origin, etc. of the people visiting this site. It’s quite remarkable and I really enjoy this feature. You might not believe the goofy search terms that bring people here.

Yet another amazing feature is something called Akismet. It’s a comment spam prevention thingy that weeds out spambot comments and lets me enjoy the actual, productive comments from humans (like someone referring to my massive Super Bowl BBQ Menu as the Pooper Bowl).

Akismet takes all of these horseshit nonsensical comments written and vomited out onto the internet by a program created by some “search engine optimizing” knuckle-dragging mouthbreather for whom English isn’t even a second language and sequesters them in a queue for my review. I can do nothing and let them be deleted automatically, or I can take the time to review them for anything accidentally caught. To date a single actual comment was caught out of nearly two hundred worthless ones.

Why not share and ridicule the best?

This brilliant insight came from someone with (and this is not a joke) an email at chickenspoultryeggsincubatorsreviews dot com. You can’t make that up. The site is real. This comment on my Smoked Easter Eggs, though, is as legit as the Easter Bunny:

Thanks for your write down Smoked Easter Eggs simpson bbq. I have not considered this before. It can be a wonder what you might learn on the web.

Wow. How insightful, you stupid robot. What’s sad isn’t how horrible the comment is. It’s that this is easily one of the most coherent spam comments I have ever received. I’ll take another hundred “pooper bowl” comments before I publish this trash and give you a back link.

The “key” to search engine optimization for these asshats is putting deplorable, meaningless comments on blogs throughout the internet with a back link to their shitty spam blog. The problem is that takes time. Lots of time if done diligently. So, why not have some shuckster in Bangalore write some code in his free time, when he isn’t answering phones for AT&T Wireless customer service, that automatically defecates worthless, garbled spam into the blogosphere? Sounds like a plan!

This idiot spammer really, really likes grilled apples:

I think youve made some truly interesting pitons. [Thanks, though what the hell is a piton?] Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. Im really impressed that theres so much about this subject thats been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. [You’re going to make me blush!] Good one you, man! Really great stuff here.

More gold:

This is one of the best websites that I have ever seen. (Hey, thanks!) Check out [fake sex pill website ending in dot be… where the hell is that?] I’ll folow (sp) your website!

I’ll pass on following your site back. I’m good without the counterfeit, likely toxic crap that would shrivel my genitals and give me cancer.

Anyone else have hollow praise followed by a link to a website full of trojan horses and internet worms? Oh, you in the corner? You have something to say? Go ahead:

This website is realy (sp) awesome! [I appreciate your sincere non-spam compliment!] I just wanna say thank you for sharing this kind of [I swear this is the site: sex-date123 dot nl… again, where in the world is nl?] information with us.

Glad I could help you, Nigerian scammer. No back link for you.

This one is less deplorable:

A magnificent article. I’ll be sure to subscribe to the rest of your posts! Thanks :)

No spammy crap in the post itself, but the back link goes to some sociatnetworkfriends dot net or something like that, with the subpage titled about how to get 5000 friends. I don’t need 5000 friends. Seriously, who does?

More insightful commentary:

Another great site about this stuff you can find over here [shitty spammer site]!!! Let me know what you think about this website and i’ll subscribe to your blog!

So they would like you to visit sex-dating dot co, which is highly relevant to my West Coast IPA post. Nice try, jagoff.

This is a little off-base:

Mark, I saw you at Dragon*Con and we had a brief chat about your wearable light santds. So I borrowed your idea, and made a kit like yours, but in full-on Steampunk style. They’ll be making their debut at MegaCon this weekend. I’ll let you know when I have some photos of the setup, and some taken with the setup.Thanks for the inspiration.- Nathan

Sorry, Nathan, but there’s no Mark here, I’ve never been to Dragon*Con, and I’m sure as hell not going to see your “kit” at MegaCon this weekend. Have a blast without me, though!

The spammers do get a little smarter. This is from a foreign (surprise!) Facebook page, but at least it relates to food:

Ok!Pizza and pasta! I have to check if there is an oven for Pizza.Meg, please post the rciepe of your delicious pasta sauce!I was also thinking of Vegetarian (and also non-vegetarian) Chili. Chili is a must menu for a summer camp. no?I have a rciepe I often use for vegetarian chili. I will scan it and post it soon.I was thinking also to do a Swedish food one time. Maybe a Swedish fish soup. Do anyone have a good rciepe?

And this one, from another scuzball scammer, actually relates to BBQ! Amazing:

hey silz86, beef ribs tend to be fattier so you need to low and slow them at aruond 225f for 4-7 hours(depending on the size of the rack) to render off the fat and get them tender! Serve with a good sauce or gravy -BBQ Pit Boys

Who is “silz86” and who are the “BBQ Pit Boys”? Not horrible advice, though I would pass on the gravy with BBQ beef ribs.

The hot dog and fireworks conspiracy spammers have something to say! Shiny shoes, pointy hats?!

In fact there were something like 90 state and local doitaralcens of independence in the Colonies beginning on Oct. 4, 1774, with the state of Virginia issuing hers in May of 1776. At that point the hugely powerful hot dog and fireworks corporate interests had finally had it: the market for hot dogs and fireworks had become too fragmented and unprofitable, so something had to be done. They hired expensive lobbyists in shiny shoes, wool coats, and fancy pointed hats who strong-armed the Continental Congress into speaking with one voice and passing the final Declaration of Independence.Hot dog and fireworks markets were instantly stabilized and have prospered ever since.

Why not finish with this incredible ode from some Arabic Facebook page. This is a verbatim quote from the spam queue, typos and wharlblargl unedited:

Geeze old man, take your rational pills, you’re driitfng again.It’s the story where they invented post colonialism. Then went to the Philippines and sort of forgot it. They rehashed the Ancient Greek Demokrasis idea (without quite so much body oiling or sodomy) but only applied it to male melanin-deficient people. They rejected monarchism, then fawn upon anyone with a title, pedigree, hemophilia &/or a cleft palate. They took a perfectly reasonable economic concept free market economics and fetishised it to the point where 90% of all there is to own is owned by less than 10% of the population. Then they give that 10% tax cuts. They are generous to a boggling degree business & private philanthropy gives squillions to animal welfare, performing & creative arts & heritage, yet they let their countrymen starve & freeze on what they appallingly call welfare and even die of treatable diseases as some kind of bizarre morality lesson. They declare themselves a nation of immigrants yet fear and demonise illegal Latinos. They worship truth & justice yet live comfortably in a stolen land and happily conduct trial by television. (OJ’s glove?) They value hard work & persistence above all else except pointless celebrity like the Kardashians & Paris Hilton. They (literally) broadcast their competitively rabid Christianity, yet reject brotherly love and demand the right to tote lethal, concealable & high velocity death.They are the 20th century’s great innovators and industrial leaders. Except for a couple of noteworthy Scotts, they developed, commercialised & thus bought to the mass market every technology from TV to toaster ovens. Without their moral code & intervention Europe would almost certainly be under the third, or perhaps by now fourth Reich. Yet they created a baker’s dozen of psychopathic despots.They are remarkably, surprisingly, concurrently the best and the worst a nation can be.Happy Birthday America.

WTF?

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BBQ Cuban Sandwiches

I don’t have many solid, 100% rules in life. Here’s a big one: If there’s a Cuban sandwich on the menu, get the Cuban sandwich. Only a Sith deals in absolutes? Not true. It’s never failed me. Let’s try making one on the BBQ.

Cubans are simple in theory. You start with pork two ways: sliced ham and shredded pork. I can get both from a single shoulder. Marry that meat on some ciabatta, with pickles, swiss cheese, and (frequently) some brown mustard. Finish that puppy with a panini-style pressing. That can also be done on a BBQ grill.

Start off with a whole pork shoulder on the 55 gallon smoker. I use a 3/4 chimney full of coals and most of a bag of mesquite wood chunks.

To prep the shoulder, I trimmed off the heavy fat and coated the meat with a bunch of brown sugar-based rub, well mixed with paprika, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic salt.

I am going to set up the whole shoulder for a nice, slow smoke on Sunday morning. Two and a half hours should be good. To kill the time, I am taking the kiddo to see The Avengers.

Pork. Beautiful pork.

Wow. The Avengers was friggin’ awesome. See that damn movie, especially if you have a 6 year old. Hulk kicks ass… all kinds of ass. Worth the price of admission and more.

Three hours of godliness

Anywho, after some serious smoking, I carved off the non-bone half of the shoulder. (Ignore the kids’ beef hot dog lunch on the corner of the grill.) Three hours after putting it on the temp is still about 275. The meat itself has an internal temp of about 150 degrees and smells unbelievably amazing.

The bone-in half will get the foil wrap and some juice/beer to steam. Another two to three hours will get me some epic shredable pork.

Succulent pork!

Steam the bone half with some apple juice and ale for about 2 to 2.5 hours on the smoker. It’s holding steady at about 275.

Wrapped up and ready for a shredable steam

Once all the pork is prepped and the sandwich ingredients are set up on a sandwich, I still need to panini this sando. How do you do this on a BBQ? BBQ Panini Brick is the answer. WTF is that, you ask? Well, you wrap a paver stone in a bunch of aluminum foil and put it back on the grill for some indirect melty, squishy finishing. (I plan to set up an e-commerce section of this site and sell panini BBQ bricks for $20 a pop. )

Squish

In the end, a beautiful creation emerges. Slice it up and consume.

Cuban sandwiches… calling Sr. Castro!

Hard to describe the awesomeness of this…

Now… a critical part of this competition is to pair this sandwich with some kind of craft beer. I’m open to suggestions, but let’s start with the flavors in the sandwich. Sweet, smoky pork, the salty tartness of pickles, the strong flavors of swiss cheese… you can go crisp and fresh like a lager or go in the polar opposite direction for some kind of porter/stout. Ale doesn’t sound right. Pilsner could work here.

Regardless, this pork shoulder sandwich experiment was highly successful. I have a ton of shredded shoulder left over. We have a great potential entree for the BBQ competition. All who attended the practice were thrilled. Give this a shot. You won’t be sorry.

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BBQ Walleye & Bacon Sliders / BBQ Salmon Cousin BLT Hoagie

Fish on a cedar plank… hard to go wrong with that. Strong flavor, moist fish, easy to make. Why mess with something that’s not broken?

For our BBQ pork steak competition, my team not only needs to come up with an appetizer paired with craft beer in addition to some epic pork steaks, but we also need to put together a winning entree paired with a(nother) craft beer. How about fish sandwiches two ways?

First, let’s start with a hard-to-miss Tastyfish: Walleye.

Yummy

I skinned then cut the large walleye filet into seven little square chunks, about 1.5″ squares, and positioned them on their own wood soaked cedar plank. The plan is to put these on some split and toasted King’s Hawaiian mini buns along with some provolone cheese, dill pickles, and crispy bacon to make fish sliders.

Second, I wanted some salmon on a BLT-type of sandwich. I found some vine-ripened tomatoes in late April (probably from Central or South America), swapped out arugula for the deplorable iceberg lettuce, and used the rest of the crispy bacon. My goal is to get all of this stacked up on a toasted sourdough mini-loaf from Schnuck’s and smear on a heapin’ helpin’ of Miracle Whip. Who’s on board with this?

Except… salmon isn’t my thing. It’s usually too fishy for me, even on a cedar plank. The guy at Bob’s Seafood in U. City recommended [name of fish that I forgot]. A quick plug for Bob’s, who gave me nothing in consideration for this plug: They are (1) incredibly helpful, (2) have a massive selection, vastly superior to any local grocer, (3) gave my kid a balloon for no reason other than the fact that she was with me in the seafood market, and (4) gave me some free lemons because I was going to make some fish that night. Go there. Be wowed.

I’m really annoyed that I didn’t write down the name of the fish. It is salmon-colored and apparently in the same family, but it is a little milder. It is farm raised, though I prefer wild, but whatever. Salmon cousin went on the wood soaked cedar plank skin side up (easier to scrape the skin off after a smoke), with a few slices in the skin and the free lemon sliced on top.

[Updated May 4th at 9:30am – It was Arctic Char. I called the guy at Bob’s Seafood.]

Smoking: Bad for you in cigarettes, great in fish

After about 30 minutes of indirect heat and cedar smoke, things look great and smell even better. I toasted all of the bread, sliced up the tomatoes, and chopped up some bacon and cheese. Sando time:

Full of good protein… plus a bunch of bacon

The sliders turned out really good, but could have been so much better. Next time I will melt the cheese on the grill, possibly with the bacon between the cheese and the fish. As good as they were, it’s rough having unmelted cheese on a slider. I frickin’ love walleye, too, so having missed an opportunity to make something epic is annoying. Plus, eat them fast. They will cool off quickly.

The salmon cousin  arctic char BLT, though, was amazing.

You knew bacon would have to be a part of this dish

With this sandwich, you get it all: rich, flavorful, flaky, smoky fish, a hearty slice of tomato with the complement of crisp arugula, the zing of Miracle Whip, and of course the crisp crunch of some bacon, all on a fresh, toasty sourdough hoagie bun. This sandwich was devoured by the taste testers. I would do nothing different.

As for beer pairings, we were running the full gamut at the BBQ. Schlafly mixer, Dr. Funky Bunch’s Brown Ale homebrew, Boddington’s, Schlafly Summer Helles, Bud Select, Newcastle. Jeez. I guess I would pick a refreshing beer, like the Schlafly Kölsh.

Next week’s entree trial (hold onto your hats for this one): Smoked Pork Shoulder Cuban Panini

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