Category Archives: Beef

Smoked Chuck Steak and Vegetable Stew

Cold and drizzly outside, with wet, heavy winds whipping leaves out of trees? That’s stew weather, brother. This past Sunday we broke out the dutch oven and Weber Smokey Mountain to put together a hearty, savory stew that’s rich in flavor and textures.

Inspired by a smoked barbacoa recipe from Steven Raichlen, but knowing my crowd (my wife and kids), I substituted a hefty boneless chuck roast for pulled pork and omitted some of the Mexican elements.


Mirepoix plus garlic

For a base, start with about 2/3 stalk of celery, one big yellow onion, and about a 1/2 lb of baby carrots, all chopped, with a couple minced garlic cloves.


Full veggie assortment

Add in 5-7 peeled and cubed medium red potatoes, two de-seeded diced poblano chilies, and a large can of diced stewed tomatoes (including all the juice). Finely chop half a bunch of cilantro and toss in a couple bay leaves. Season with generous shakes of sea salt and coarse black pepper, a sensible couple dashes of cumin, and a good dose of Italian seasonings. Mince fresh rosemary as well, and top with a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

Add water up to the 2/3 full mark, which was about 1 liter in this Dutch oven with all the veggies.


Chuck steak atop the veggie pot

This particular thick cut boneless chuck steak weighed about 2.75 lbs and got a generous coating of sea salt and coarse pepper on both sides, before getting set right atop the heaping pot of vegetables.

It just happened that the length of the steak aligned nicely with the circumference of the Dutch oven. That harmony was a sign of things to come.


Future stew on the WSM

Put the Dutch oven on the top rack of the smoker, as room allows. I have a 22″ Weber Smokey Mountain, which has a high ceiling lid and permits a tall set up like this.


WSM prepping for smoke

I loaded the smoker with hardwood lump charcoal and several logs of apple wood. No need to fill the deflecting bowl with any water for humidity since the steak would be steamed naturally from the water as it turns to broth.


One hour into the smoke

After an hour of heavy smoking, the steak began to get a rosy smoke color.


Two to three hours in

After nearly three hours, the water level had begun to rise as the meat sank into the veggies and the Dutch oven contents started to soften. A few bubbles percolated from the stew.


Flipping the steak

After three hours, pull off the steak and check the underside. It won’t have any smoke (obviously – it’s been sitting in vegetables and broth). This is a good time to remove the thyme sprigs and stir up the stew. I noticed that my potatoes and carrots were still quite firm and the broth was not boiling consistently.

After adding some more sea salt and stirring things up, I added the thyme back onto the top of the veggies and put the chuck steak back on the stew. This time, though, put the smoked side of the steak down and the “wet” side up. This will get the steak evenly smoked on both sides and will let the smoky, charred side of the steak soak into the broth and add some more flavor to the soup.


Five hours into the smoke

Refueling with charcoal and apple wood as needed, I kept my fire at about 225 Fahrenheit (as read from the lid thermometer) for the first three hours. To get the vegetables to cook and create that rich stew broth, I amped up my smoker temperature to about 275-300 by opening all three bottom vents and letting the fire really get going before closing the front door of the WSM.


Six and a half hours – done!

After six and a half hours, I transferred the Dutch oven to a cooking pan with oven mitts and brought it all in to plate.


Smoked, veggie stock steamed chuck steak

Fabulous color on the chuck steak, served family style on a platter.


Stew veggies and beef broth

To serve, shred off some super tender beef and set in the bottom of a bowl. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the Dutch oven. Ladle a bunch of the pot contents right on top. Serve with fresh biscuits, croissants, or sliced sourdough bread.


Up close with the stew

Great pink color on both sides of the chuck steak, which was beyond juicy. It pulled apart perfectly and had layers of flavor. The poblano peppers, cumin, and cilantro added some depth and a nice Mexican zip as compared to most traditional root veggie stews.

This is a top notch, hearty meal for fall or winter. Labor-intensive with the vegetable prep, but standard grill monitoring thereafter.

We considered adding cubed zucchini and/or butternut squash but, again, decided against because of our audience. My wife suggested mushrooms, but the texture of stewed mushrooms would have thrown this off, in my opinion, relative to all the other ingredients.

Cost-wise, this wasn’t too terribly expensive. The steak was about $10, and all the veggies were another $10 or so, though we had all those laying around the house. Running the WSM hard for 6+ hours did use most of a bag of charcoal and a half bag of apple wood logs, so perhaps another $10+. With a salad and fresh bread, this is a $40 meal that takes 30-45 minutes prep time, 6+ hours to cook.

There was plenty leftover with two adults and four kids eating – enough for two large lunch servings the next day. (It reheats well in the office microwave and the coworkers nuking noodles or frozen stuff will wonder what amazing thing you’re heating up that’s making the kitchen smell so good.)





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Smoked Beef Brisket Pastrami

On a lark, I went to the grocery store to get a brisket to smoke for Halloween, but wound up also grabbing a corned beef brisket knowing that with a little effort it could turn into some tasty pastrami. The brisket was good not great, but I held out hopes for my pastrami experiment.

I’ve never tried to make it before, but rarely steers me wrong. I found the “Close to Katz’s” recipe and figured it was worth a shot.

For my first attempt, I only debrined it for a little less than 24 hours, switching the water every 6-8 hours, so (spoiler alert) it wound up too salty.

Debrined corned beef, lathered in olive oi

Debrined corned beef, lathered in olive oil

After all the water soaking, despite dabbing with paper towels, the corned beef was still pretty moist from all the water. You can understand why the recipe called for lathering the brisket with olive oil to get the rub to stick.

Corned beef seasoned with rub

Corned beef seasoned with rub

For the trial run, the rub was less peppery and more on the sugary / seasoned salt side with plenty of onion powder and garlic powder.

Corned beef positioned on my new WSM

Corned beef positioned on my new WSM

I own a lot of BBQ gadgets and thingies, but hadn’t bought myself a nice smoker before. I have made a UDS and used my 22″ Weber kettle regularly, but that was it. Finally my wife was sick of hearing me say not to get me anything for Christmas or Fathers’ Day or my birthday or whatever. She gave me an ultimatum and said that she was going to buy me a smoker for Fathers’ Day with or without my input so I may as well pick it out. Without much hesitation I told her the 22″ Weber Smokey Mountain. This is its first big task.

Cherry wood logs in the WSM

Cherry wood logs in the WSM

Amazing Ribs suggested cherry wood so that’s what I went with, along with some hardwood charcoal.

After several hours of cherry wood smoke...

After several hours of cherry wood smoke…

Love the color and aroma as this thing slow smokes.

And plenty of smoke later, the corned beef is pastrami

And plenty of smoke later, the corned beef is pastrami

A good 12 hours after putting this thing on the WSM my corned beef transformed into pastrami. We pulled it and carved and served it up hot.

I should have checked the internal temperature, but failed to. It was close to dinner time, so I pulled it off for a rest.

Giving the pastrami a nice rest

Giving the pastrami a nice rest

By hot I mean of course after letting it rest for at least 20 minutes.

Well damn I have to say that looks pretty

Well damn I have to say that looks pretty

Carved up, I have to admit this is a gorgeous piece of meat.

Kids crushed it without any complaints – major rarity. My lessons here were: (1) debrine longer, (2) get the actual ingredients for the Katz rub from the Smoking Ribs site, and (3) check that internal temperature.

So… we were invited to a Friendsgiving dinner party. I offered some pastrami to our host and he obliged. Second attempt:

Debrined for 36 hours, with lots of water changes.

Two debrined corned beef briskets

Two debrined corned beef briskets

I was told to expect about 50ish people, with everyone bringing something. Hence the two corned beef hunks, though I probably should have made a third. This is about 6-7 lbs total, including the 30% weight added from the brining.

Unmixed Katz' pastrami rub

Unmixed Katz’ pastrami rub

This time I followed the Katz facsimile rub recipe, but doubled it given the amount of meat.

8 tablespoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper
4 tablespoons coriander powder
2 teaspoon mustard powder
2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoon paprika
4 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons onion powder

Well-rubbed corned beef brisket

Well-rubbed corned beef brisket

All sides got a heaping helpin’ of rub, after a good lube of olive oil (per the recipe). This is a very pepper-heavy rub. Very.

A couple of pickling spice packets

A couple of pickling spice packets

Each corned beef came with a vacuum pack of pickling spice, which Amazing Ribs said to just sprinkle on top of the corned beef on the grill.

Pickling spice applied, smoke ready to go

Pickling spice applied, smoke ready to go

My gifted WSM is up to the challenge. This time I chose pecan wood because… well it’s what they had in log form at Ace instead of cherry or other fruit wood.

Just 2 hours in

Just 2 hours in

I took pic every two hours…

4 hours in...

4 hours in…

6 hours...

6 hours…

8 hours...

8 hours…

10 hours

10 hours

And I checked that internal temperature and found all around that I had hit 205 or above. Smoking Ribs said it could take up to 12 hours but my WSM was running a little warm today.

As this WSM continued to smoke, I found myself checking the fire and temperature regularly. I kept the smoker at about 225-250 degrees, with plenty of pecan logs on the fire. I again used hardwood charcoal as the main fuel.

A few minutes of resting...

A few minutes of resting…

I gave it them a few minutes to rest before checking to see if there were any problems… you know, for scientific purposes.

Turns out this is just fine

Turns out this is just fine

Well this was friggin’ delicious. Kids were picking at it and I had to wrap it up for the dinner party before it got crushed.

After about 20-30 minutes of rest, I wrapped each up tightly in aluminum foil and put it in the fridge.

To carve, just cut perpendicular against the grain with a very sharp knife. I have a very nice custom boning knife gifted to me by a leadfooted friend who have a few too many speeding tickets. I caught someone recklessly slicing bread with it and warned her of the knife sharpness.

I bought a variety of mustards and a jar of sauerkraut, along with some rye bread squares, and served it all up on a carving board. It went quick and was a big hit.

The results of my labors

The results of my labors

I hate to boast but this was as good of a BBQed item as I’ve ever made. The Friendsgiving crowd obliterated the pastrami to rave reviews and I probably should have made a third one. It wasn’t nearly as salty as the first attempt – those extra 12 hours really helped. The rub was extra tasty and peppery – follow the recipe on Amazing Ribs.

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BBQ Joint Review (kind of): Busch Stadium

I spent my afternoon in a Busch Stadium party suite to watch my underachieving Cardinals earn a win over the pitiful Cubs.

A good vantage for complaining about balls and strikes

A good vantage for complaining about balls and strikes

Lunch was the best kind – paid for by someone else. Even better, it was bratwurst, hot dogs, and Busch Stadium’s BBQ brisket. The party room was big enough that there were two buffet lines. I hit up the first and snagged a brat and some brisket.

WTF happened here?

WTF happened here?

… or at least it was once brisket. The tongs struggled to grasp an appropriate amount of the stringy mess of beef. It wasn’t sliced at all – someone just shredded it whole, so there were long strands of meat randomly attached to other long strands of meat via fat and other sinew. I either got one strand of beef or a bird nest of beef. A frustrating buffet experience.

The string beef was not tender at all and had no smoke flavor or colors. Tough, dry beef does not make a good beer/baseball accompaniment. I was sad to report to a friend via text that this was inedible.

How was it made? My guess is someone over-baked it in an oven until they thought it was done and then beat it apart with a wooden spoon before pouring some pan drippings and BBQ sauce on top. Then the chef returned to his regular job of slicing potatoes silently in a dimly lit room under the stern gaze of Bill DeWitt III.

Chugging a Budweiser (also free) in an effort to forget the abomination beef, the guy next to me had a brisket sandwich. He raved, telling me all about how great it was. Rather than insult his malfunctioning palate for being impressed with shoe leather noodles, I just nodded at him. Sure thing, Buddy. He’s probably the same guy that votes for Olive Garden in the annual “best pasta” RFT diner survey.

Back inside, I got another free beer from the other side of the party suite and snagged a sub-par (but free) cookie. Glancing into the brisket tray on that side, something caught my eye…

How did I miss this?

How did I miss this?

More brisket, but (1) it’s sliced, and thinly at that, (2) it has pink smoke color on both sides of the slice, (3) it looks appetizing, and (4) I can recognize it as beef brisket. Can’t say that about the other tray.

How was it? Tender and tasty. No sinewy pull in the bites. It was flavorful and delicate and the sauce balanced well against the meat. Some non-incompetent person made this. An actual BBQ person. Amazing, considering the crud I’d just eaten on the other side of the party suite.

For the sake of comparison:

One good, one... not so good (or worse)

One good [right], one… not so good [left]

Something terrible happened in the BBQ kitchen at Busch. I hope that apprentice who made the fiasco was fired and sent back to whatever menial job he normally has. Sell felt pennants on Clark Avenue – just never touch the food intended for humans again. Clydesdales might even turn their gigantic noses up at that beef.

The well-made brisket was well made and I ate a bunch of it. If this was a restaurant, I’d probably get it again on a future trip. If you find yourself a guest in a party room at Busch, have a keen eye on BOTH buffet lines and don’t settle for bad brisket.

Stuffed Jalapeno Smoked Fatty

Spring is back in STL, which means I’m not grilling/smoking in snow or ice anymore.

On my list of BBQ dishes is the smoked fatty. Some Google searches will reveal that a fatty is a weave of bacon that’s wrapped around a meatloaf that’s stuffed with something. There are as many fatty recipes online as stars in the sky.

I like stuffed jalapenos, so…

Stuffed jalapenos

Stuffed jalapenos

… why not stick them in a fatty?

I took a 50/50 mix of pork salsiccia and ground chuck, plus an egg, totaling just under 2 lbs, and used 1/2 of it to make a boat atop my bacon weave. My stuffed peppers went into that boat.

Pork belly weave

Pork belly weave

Soon to be wrapped...

Stuffed peppers, stuffed in meat…

The boat was itself covered in the rest of the meat.

About to wrap

About to wrap

Once wrapped up, the whole thing was over three pounds. 1 lb. of pork sausage, 1 lb. of ground beef, 1 lb. of bacon, over half a brick of cream cheese (1/3 the fat!), and 5 veggies for health. This is not, uh, what’s the phrase… not good for you. But it’s hopefully yummy.

Maybe all the fat is why it's called a fatty?

Maybe all the fat is why it’s called a fatty?


Indirect heat in the Weber 22″ grill with a few hickory chunks.

Fatty fatty fat

Fatty fatty fat

After barely an hour, the bacon was nicely charred, so it got a 180 degree turn.

It's hard not to pick charred bacon chips off of this

It’s hard not to pick charred bacon chips off of this

After about 3 hours total, I pulled it and was ready to carve.

Fully smoked datty

Fully smoked fatty

A nice slice of fat(ty)

A nice slice of fat(ty)

I got a nice pink from the smoke and bacon, plus the meat stayed juicy from all the basting provided by the pork grease from the bacon. For my first effort, it wasn’t too bad. Probably just a little overdone, and maybe peppers and cream cheese wasn’t the best choice, but it was still pretty good. My picky son who likes some BBQ crushed it.

I’ll try another one soon… maybe mushroom and swiss? Philly cheese?

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BBQ Joint Review: Bogarts Smokehouse

Happy Fat Tuesday!

What better way to celebrate than with a lawyer buddy over some BBQ, followed by some beer. My long-overdue trip to Bogart’s Smokehouse in Soulard finally happened.

Line not out the door yet?

Line not out the door yet?

Every time I’ve been by this place, the line has been out the door. Usually it’s midday on a weekend to visit the adjacent Soulard Farmers Market, but on this chilly late STL morning, the line was only about 15-20 people deep.

This place doesn’t need hype from me. Since it opened about three years ago, it’s become regarded my many as the best BBQ in St. Louis. Friends who know I am trying to review all STL BBQ places worth reviewing cannot believe I haven’t yet been to Bogart’s.

Bogarts sits in a typical Soulard corner store with a narrow, colorful, welcoming facade. Like its restaurant cousin, Adam’s Smokehouse, seating is at a premium at Bogart’s.  Apparently burnt ends are a premium, too… at 11:30 in the morning!

Dammit. I love burnt ends.

Dammit. I love burnt ends.

Prices are reasonable for premium BBQ. I like to go with two meat combos so I can maximize my meat sampling.

This is seriously the most difficult part of my day

This is seriously the most difficult part of my day

For my Pick 2, I of course went with the brisket and paired it with more beef – tri-tip sirloin, and selected pit beans and cole slaw as my sides, all with an iced tea.

Lots of good stuff w/ useless bread

Lots of good stuff w/ useless bread

Pardon the blurriness of this photo, but we were packed into seats like sardines. I’m literally elbow-to-elbow with both of my neighbors.

Lunch buddy Pete, who picked up the tab with the promise that he’d turn in the receipt for reimbursement from Mr. Huge STL Law Firm, also went the Pick 2 route, but got tri-tip and pork ribs, and opted for potato salad over slaw.

Good choices

Good choices

Everyone gets a packet of Heinz Horseradish Sauce. Why? There’s four BBQ sauces on the table, and the meat is amazing as a stand alone product. Why take mayo w/ horseradish puree made in a metal vat in Pennsylvania and present it as an accompaniment to handcrafted elite BBQ? Maybe it was put there ironically…

Finally some expertly-made brisket that’s actually BBQ-style brisket (and not the stuff they slung me at Wild Smoke House).

Real beef brisket

Real beef brisket

What can I say but that this was expertly tender and just generally perfect. Exact balance of smoke and spice, amazing color and smoke ring, nice little ribbon of fat, generous portion for a 1/2 serving, reasonably restrained hand at the seasoning. Try this and attempt to appreciate the heightened skill and years of experience that went into making this food.

Bottom line is this is the best brisket in town (that I’ve tried to date, taking into consideration that day-to-day meat sampling may vary, and I haven’t been everywhere yet,  etc.).

The tri-tip was also amazingly epic. I haven’t seen many places serve up BBQ tri-tip, which I’ve only managed to make very, very poorly. Adam’s Smokehouse makes an impressive tri-tip, but Bogart’s is elite. The two are 1 and 1A.

Bogart’s tri-tip was thinly sliced and loaded with ribbons and marbles of fat, nicely pink internally. It cut smoothly and each bite was velvety, buttery. Just a spectacular job on this meat. I need to reinvest myself in making this.

Pit beans were among the best beans I’ve ever had. Sensing a theme here? They were rich and thick, with a hearty spice finish. I got a few nice hunks of brisket as well as lots of little brisket shreds. You can taste the BBQ drippins in these beans. Manly legumes.

Cole slaw… meh. It was creamy but not too rich. I thought it was too sweet for me, but I’m a vinegary slaw fan. This is a personal preference thing, although I think there were cooked chilled apple slices in there? Maybe next time I’ll follow Pete’s lead and get the deviled egg potato salad.

Good Guy Pete passed me a rib. What are friends for?!

I was full... until he handed me one of these

I was full… until he handed me one of these

Perfect tenderness and bite. Excellent flavor, smoke, finishing crust & seasoning. Maybe I’ll just get these next time and really indulge myself. But this was one amazing pork rib.

A truly successful Mardi Gras lunch. How best to finish this gluttonous holiday? Maybe a lead-footed friend who wanted to pay some legal fees?

Legal fees

Legal fees

Urban Chestnut, Rogue, and PBR? I hope this guy keeps speeding all over Rock Hill! I drank a bunch of fees and fell asleep on the couch, which is why I’m posting this on Ash Wednesday and not Fat Tuesday. (And, no, I’m not giving beer or BBQ or anything for Lent.)

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BBQ Joint Review: Wild Smoke House

Is it fair to judge a BBQ joint based on its first day of business? Its first hour of business? Look, you tell everyone on Reddit that there’s a new BBQ place in town and I’m going to show up on opening day.

Is it fair for me to consider ribs and brisket to be a suitable and universal baseline comparison between all BBQ restaurants? Those are the two things that I’ve found require intense levels of skill (based on trips to restaurants and on personal experience), and so those are the two things I try to get at every BBQ joint gauge that joint against all others. Two kinds of meat, two distinct flavors, lots of patience and talent required, etc. If you do both well, you’ve got your act together.

These two things in mind… I present my review of Wild Smoke House in Creve Coeur, MO.

As usual, I phoned my father with news that I needed a BBQ sampling partner and he was all too happy to oblige. On a late Tuesday morning we ventured together to the site of a former Culpepper’s, just west of I-270 on the south side of Olive.

Wild Smoke? I like smoke!

Wild Smoke? I like smoke!

Clearly they spent some cash renovating this place. Things are nice and new and clean. Cloth napkins holding my silverware!

Cloth napkins!

Cloth napkins!

Cowhide (or cowhide prints) for booth seating!

Moo. Ok, maybe no cow actually died for this booth. A bunch died for lunch, though.

Moo. Ok, maybe no cow actually died for this booth. A bunch died for lunch, though.

Woah, some kind of RFID laser-tag system that differentiates my table from the table two feet away? Order and pay first and then take this thing to your seat. Ok, sweet.

Hey, we're No. 1! Also, this is apparently not a coaster.

Hey, we’re No. 1! Also, this is apparently not a coaster.

So a ton of high end stuff went into this place, and it looks literally nothing like the Culpepper’s that was here before. And there’s lots and lots of people working there. And the hostess is unnecessarily hot. But, how is the food?

Background on this place is that it’s owned by winery people who also run Edge Wild in Chesterfield, where their smoked food apparently sells well when on the menu. And they are collaborating with some guys who won a recent chicken wing championship. Great… how about a brisket and pork platter with slaw and an order of onion rings?

It came out VERY quickly after ordering.

My lunch: Brisket ribs and slaw (with pickles)

My lunch: Brisket ribs and slaw (with pickles)

Dad’s a big BBQ chicken fan.

Dad's lunch: chicken ribs and slaw (and also some pickles)

Dad’s lunch: chicken ribs and slaw (and also some pickles)

And we love onion rings.

Ginormous onion rings and sauce

Ginormous onion rings and sauce

And they provided us with a sampling of four home-made BBQ sauces (and also had a squeezy pump of ketchup adjacent thereto).

Shiny new sauce dispensers. None of this "bottles of sauce on the table" shit!

Shiny new sauce dispensers. None of this “bottles of sauce on the table” shit!

Impressive in their diversity.

Four sauces, none like the other

Four sauces, none like the other

On to the food:

Beef Brisket – Very thinly sliced, including a big fat cap you find on untrimmed brisket. I saw some really nice color on a couple slices (see below), but for the most part there was no smoke ring or color.  The ring is a chemical reaction, and the lack of it is not indicative of a lack of smoke, but the ring looks nice.

Wild Smoke's Brisket

Wild Smoke’s Brisket

This is not your typical brisket. When you go to PM BBQ, Pappy’s, Sugar Fire, Hendricks, etc. you get a tender bite of meat sliced a certain way with certain flavors. Variations between those traditional BBQ briskets are rubs, injections, tenderness, color, etc. Wild Smoke gave me ultra-thin slices of brisket that had no detectable smoke flavor and had zero of the tender bite of a normal sliced brisket. Literally unexpected.

I can only describe it as roast beef. Now, this was utterly succulent and tender and juicy and flavorful roast beef, but unless I knew from ordering it and watching them slice it that it was BBQ brisket, I would never ever have guessed as much. Put some jus on this and stick it on a sesame bun, and you’re eating a kickass roast beef sandwich. There was a nice pepper finish to the meat. I just was expecting traditional BBQ brisket.

The rockin’ steak knives that we got were useless with the brisket. The serration depth of the knives was greater than the than the thickness of the cut of the meat, so cutting pieces of the slices was not very effective. Just stringy tearing and shredding; no cutting. The steak knife was effectively another fork. Just a plain old knife would have done fine. And a useful knife would have been nice due to all the fat cap I trimmed. (Yes, the cap adds flavor during smoking, but I don’t want to eat all the fat.)

Baby Back Ribs – With my brisket they gave me three thick but short ribs. Before slicing the slab, they applied some kind of rub that had a nice little heat finish after each bite. Great flavor and some nice pink color.

Great looking ribs

Great looking ribs

The convex arch meat of my first of the ribs had a literally perfect bite. When I sunk my teeth in, there was the most subtle tender tug back but nothing pulled off the bone. It was like biting into a firm yet yielding slice of meat bread. I even photographed it to memorialize.

Great bite of pork!

Great bite of pork!

Sadly that was the only perfect bite. The lateral side bits of rib were not quite so tender and needed some teeth gnashing and tearing. The other two of my ribs were also not particularly tender. It’s a shame because the flavor was spot on and the color looked great. Maybe STL style ribs would have fared better? Maybe something else in the process needed to be controlled more tightly?

The reason I use pork ribs and beef brisket as a baseline is because it’s extremely hard to make them perfectly consistently. My ribs were not consistently perfect, in fact neither consistent nor perfect. Pretty good, but given the local competition in pork ribs, these pale in comparison. The bar is set high. Very high.

Onion Rings – Yes, you only get three, but they are three humongous hemispheres of fried onion. Great crunch of thick batter and perfectly salted, but they were a little greasy. The sauce was… not so good. Too heavy and rich and the flavor didn’t match the salt / crunch of the rings. Just discard the sauce and use the rings to sample the BBQ sauces. Three to an order is plenty for a two person appetizer.

Cole Slaw – What, uh, what the heck is going on in this slaw? It’s loaded with sunflower kernels and white raisins. The veggies are crisp (borderline crunchy) and there’s a little more carrot shred going on here than I’m used to. It’s both creamy and vinegary, instead of just choosing one, and I cannot put my finger on whatever other flavor they tossed in here, or maybe it’s the white raisins.

To steal a rant from Adam Carolla, iced tea is really good and doesn’t need innovation. Lemon wedges were about as innovative as we needed with respect to iced tea. Then some people started putting passion fruit into it (looking at YOU, Schlafly Tap Room), which is needlessly screwing with a wonderful thing that didn’t need abusive tinkering. At least at Schlafly when you order it they say, “Oh, it’s passion fruit iced tea. Is that okay” so you have a chance to say, “No. No, that’s not okay at all. I’ll just have a beer even though it’s 11am and I have to go back to work.” That’s what happened here, but no one said to me, “Listen, we do some goofy stuff with our slaw and you probably actually want the beans. Just a heads up.”

Someone is getting really cute with cole slaw and I just don’t understand why. My dad liked it. Nay, he LOVED it. (He’s hopped up on pain meds these days.) But, I was a little perplexed. You see clever cooking shows where someone reinvents a classic or puts their spin on a popular dish… that happened here, but instead of the judge (me) saying OMG this is amazing, I’m just making a mental note: never get that again.

Pickles – Firm and tart with a great cucumber flavor not overpowered by brine. Reminds me of a home made kosher pickle. I really liked these pickles.

Sauce: Showdown – Super sweet and evocative of an overly patronizing attempt at an STL-style (according to Kraft foods) bottle sauce.

Sauce: Tennessee Zed – Tarter and pepperier than the Showdown sauce, and thankfully less sweet. I guess it’s the best of the lot, which isn’t saying much. The only Zed I know of was in Pulp Fiction and had questionable interests.

Sauce: Carolina Peach – How did this go?

Me: I love yellow Carolina sauces!

(samples sauce)

Me: This is not good.

No, it’s not mustardy at all. It’s kind of tart and sweet and goopy. Really the texture is totally off. It’s got as much in common with a traditional Carolina sauce as maple syrup, which is to say they’re completely unrelated.

Sauce: Root Beer Molasses – Ok please stop. Tasted like a root beer barrel candy with some pepper in it. So odd and it made no sense to me at all. Why?

On a scale of Yuck to Yum, these sauces averaged a Meh, borderline Blah.

Summary: I really really wanted to like this place because I consider myself a meat optimist and I want STL to be a haven to superior BBQ. This place is just different and not my style at all. Maybe it will succeed with flying colors by doing things that are not just outside the box but several dimensions outside the cube.

Don’t go there thinking you will get brisket and slaw and have the BBQ lunch you are used to. You’re getting someone’s attempt to try new things, which I can respect. Those new things just aren’t my thing.

Will I go back? Yes, for a couple reasons. First, it was their first day and there are bound to be kinks that need working out. Second, I will try other things on the menu to see if maybe there are some more traditional BBQ experiences that I might enjoy. There’s enough badass normal BBQ joints in town to satisfy my needs. If you want a totally different experience on BBQ or maybe regular BBQ isn’t your thing and you want to see someone else’s take on it – then this place is for you.

I’ll go once more to (likely) confirm my impressions from this review. In the meantime, this place should probably trade off of its uniqueness. Not for everyone, but maybe it has a home in STL. I’m all for diversity. I sincerely hope they do really well and anchor that shopping strip for years.

Epilogue – Hey, their beer taps look awesome!

Beers (to wash away that slaw flavor)!

Beers (to wash away that slaw flavor)!

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BBQ Joint Review: Adam’s Smokehouse

It’s client appreciation week for my solo LLC law practice, so why not take my longest-standing client and his wife out to a nice meal? In other words, I treated my parents to lunch at a new BBQ place: Adam’s Smokehouse.

Tasty food awaits you inside

Tasty food awaits you inside

We learned an important lesson about eating at relatively new BBQ joints: Don’t show up for lunch the same day a glowing review appears in the local newspaper. The line was out the door by 11:30 and we waited a good 20-25 minutes to place our order.

On the west edge of The Hill, south of where Watson splits off of Hampton (5 minutes from the zoo, for the out-of-towners), Adam’s Smokehouse rests in a small south city storefront strip shared with a dive bar.

As a longtime STL resident, the decor was pretty neat. All the walls were covered in 80s-ish baseball and hockey and olympic nostalgia. All those framed posters surrounded a modest storefront BBQ restaurant with 12-15 tables and minimal seating. It’s been open for two months and ripe for an expansion already.

A diverse chalkboard menu awaited us at the head of the line:

So many choices!

So many choices!

Beef brisket is a good measure of a BBQ joint, and I’ve never eaten tri-tip commercially, so that’s what I ordered (the pick two for $12.99). Amazingly, they were sold out of brisket at 11:45, so we were a good 10 minutes late. Unbelievable. Instead, I ordered the well-reviewed (as of that morning) salami. Sides were pit beans and slaw (which I was assured was homemade), and an unsweetened iced tea.

A person ahead of us asked for french fries, and someone said proudly said that they don’t serve fries. If you want your spuds, it’s going to have to be in the form of potato salad.

Dad reliably ordered ribs (1/2 slab, big boi!) and pulled pork for good measure, as well as beans and slaw, and my mother ordered turkey breast sandwich and slaw and applesauce.

Salami and tri-tip

Salami and tri-tip, with pit beans and slaw

Shredded turkey breast with applesauce and slaw

Shredded turkey breast with applesauce and slaw

Ribs, shredded pork, pit beans, and slaw

Ribs, shredded pork, pit beans, and slaw

As I came back with drinks, my parents were already digging in. Mom tasted her applesauce and fondly said it tasted exactly like her (German) grandma used to make. Dad sampled. He said pretty much the same thing. FYI to nostalgic old tyme apple sauce lovers – come to Adam’s Smokehouse.

On to my plate. I haven’t seen a bowl of beans that appetizing in a while. What a rich, deep color. They had it all in a BBQ bean flavor profile – sweetness, smoke, salt, some molasses and brown sugar. The finish as you swallowed was spice. I could eat a tub of these.

The slaw came in a thin cream base with heartily crisp cabbage and carrots. Whoever made it had a heavy hand with the celery seed, which is fine by me. Very little garlic salt, which I’ve seen in overwhelming proportions in other places’ slaw. I thought it was a nice cool contrast to two hot meats and a hot bowl of beans. Mom didn’t care for it. (“I like creamy slaw; I just prefer Schnucks’ slaw.”)

Tri-tip and I have a strained relationship. I’ve made it twice: once at home for this blog, and another time in a BBQ competition. At home it was decent, but in the field was quite sub-par. I don’t know what they did at Adam’s but this was superb beef. Thinly sliced and lightly pink, they cooked it with a big fat cap on top. Like well-prepared beef from well-fed cows, this was very tender and tasted like butter. It was a revelation, and I wish to goodness that I knew how to make it like this.

Everyone was there for the salami, based on our visual survey of the trays on other tables as we walked in. Our cashier said that it was the star of the aforementioned BBQ review in the newspaper that day.  Having been denied my brisket, I would take this salami as a consolation prize any day.

A quick aside about hot salami. One of my all time sandwiches ever and a Top 10 You Must Eat This In STL foods is the hot salami sandwich at Gioia’s Deli in The Hill neighborhood. I first tasted it in my early 20’s when some girls I new hired me to paint their living and dining rooms in exchange for lunch and beer. Gioia’s was walking distance away and we went there on Monday. I demanded return trips as payment the rest of the week. Recently, Andrew Zimmern and his TV show, Bizarre Foods America, visited St. Louis and stopped by Gioia’s. A somewhat unfortunate behind-the-scenes video explained that the hot salami is really salami de testa… hot tubed head cheese. (There’s a reason you never want to see someone make sausage.)

Gioia’s salami and Adam’s salami have a lot in common, though I’ve only ever had Gioia’s as part of a sandwich. I felt like the Adam’s salami was a little more densely packed, and slightly greasier (maybe they’re the same and the Gioia’s Italian white loaf soaks it up), but it definitely had more complex flavor. You could eat it slice-by-slice, and I must have gotten at least 10 generous slices. I was pretty unprepared for this salami, and anyone who eats it will see why the STL P-D author went nuts for it.

And I stole a couple ribs from Pop.

That's a pretty deep smoke ring

That’s a pretty deep smoke ring

What an impressive smoke ring on those ribs. Deep pink color on both sides. So deep it actually meets at the thin ends of the babybacks. They had a very light bite that pulled the meat in front of your teeth off the rib, but it was smoked well-enough that the remainder of the meat stayed on the bone. I’d consider these perfectly tender, though BBQ competition judges might say they’re just a tad too tender. Whatever. I cleaned those bones and loved every second of it. Get these ribs. I know I will next time.

Our sauce choices weren’t exactly legion like over at Sugarfire, but the three that we had on the table were all really nice and totally distinct from one another.

Tasty triumvirate

Tasty triumvirate

Carolina Vinegar is no lie. It was very thin, a cider vinegar base. It had a great peppery finish and a nice sweet/salt taste. I doused some of my tri-tip and otherwise worthless bread with it and went to town.  Cranberry Cayenne was a thick sauce that balanced sweetness with spice, but I didn’t pick up on any tartness that you might get with cranberries. Nonetheless, it was a nice sauce outside of the mainstream. Sweet Jane Sauce was more like what you’d expect at a local BBQ joint. Nice balance of sweet and spice, with a traditional sauce texture and consistency. My personal bias was towards Carolina Vinegar, but the bottom line of the sauces is that anyone will be happy with at least one of these… or none at all since frankly none of this meat needed sauce.

All that was left was refuse and a sundry half bun. My meal made me quite full, but adding those two ribs got me up to nearly uncomfortably full. I needed a nap badly about 1/2 hour after leaving.

BBQ wreckage

BBQ wreckage

I liked that they served the food, by the way, in a plastic basket lined with a high gauge white Kraft paper instead of butcher paper or something else that either soaks up BBQ meat grease and/or cuts under the serration of my plastic cutlery. A nice touch that enhances the dining experience.

Overall this was a very pleasant BBQ joint experience, and they’ve only been open two months. They need to buy the place next door and knock down a wall for new seating, because it seems like demand is high enough for it. Of course I recommend eating here. I’ll be back soon.

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BBQ Joint Review Follow Up: Sugarfire Smokehouse

Fifteen years ago today I was a college sophomore, and my roommate and I (and two other guys) were initiated into our social fraternity. He and I live in STL and try to get together for lunch / dinner / beer / etc. every November 20th. Today it was a return to SugarFire Smokehouse.

Well-written menu

Well-written menu

Bright red posterboard grabbed my attention. The food description kept it.

One side? My ass. I’ll be having the Firewalker, plus the brisket chili (oh my god) AND an order of the polenta cakes with pork belly and cheddar (oh my flippin god).


Lunch. EPIC lunch.

Brisket Chili – Wonder of wonders. I need to make this. Peppers, onions, huge chunks and shreds of brisket, thin sauce, chickpeas(?), a bunch of other great stuff.

Polenta Cakes – With cheddar and pork belly. Oodles of pork belly chunks, and well-mingled cheesiness. I love polenta, and this was awesome.

Firewalker – Pepper jack gravy is a new thing for me. So are flaming hot cheetos onion rings. All together, mushed with bread and hot sauce and, oh yeah, a load of pulled pork. It was as messy and gluttonous and epic as you might think. Not healthy. Worth every calorie.

Well played, SugarFire.

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Stuffed Smoked Wrapped Boneless Beef Short Ribs

Having not experimented with anything off the cuff recently, an affordable package of boneless beef short ribs adjacent in the store to the brisket I was planning to smoke anyway presented me with an opportunity.

Each rather large short rib, slightly smaller than my clenched fist, was lightly rolled with a rub comprising: brown sugar, paprika, garlic salt, seasoned salt, powdered sage, cayenne pepper, ground coffee, and coarse black pepper.

Those and the three medium sized brisket pieces (having received the same treatment) were put on the 55 gallon drum smoker, fat sides up, with ample hickory smoke for seven hours at about 190-200 Fahrenheit.

Big Blue back in action!

Big Blue back in action!

I've got all day to smoke these. On the grill at 8am!

I’ve got all day to smoke these. On the grill at 8am!

Hours and hours later (7, to be exact), and a few beers later (not quite 7), the ribs had smoked thoroughly.

Brisket looks pretty good, too.

Brisket looks pretty good, too.

Not even close to done, though

Not even close to done, though

A BBQ ace told me to cook beef with the fat up so as to continuously baste the meat. I never flipped them or the brisket pieces, yet each time I checked on the meat or added coals and wood, it still looked damp from the molten beef fat softening and oozing over the sides of the flesh.

Having learned from my past mistakes, I eased up on both the amount of brown sugar in the rub (by ratio) and the amount of rub total on the meat. This left less char and permitted more smoke penetration.

I pulled the short ribs to let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cutting board. Why rest? So that the hot and excited juices don’t escape and dry out the meat!

Resting. Exhausted from a long day of smoking.

Resting. Exhausted from a long day of smoking.

Once relaxed, the ribs were sliced substantially in half, leaving a hinge at the back.

Tender; smells great

Tender; smells great

I had a half carton of blue cheese left over from some steak salad I had made a few days before, and I put half of my remainder inside each short rib.

Feeling stuffed...

Feeling stuffed…

And since I like to smoke a bunch of bacon as a brisket sandwich topping, why not wrap each of these with three large thick cut slices of pork bacon. Sorry to my Hebrew readership, but this went from unkosher to exceptionally unkosher in just minutes.

Oy vey

Oy vey

Back on the UDS for two more hours of hickory smoke at about 200 degrees.

The finished product is worth the fuss.

9+ hours of effort. Will it be worth it?

9+ hours of effort. Will it be worth it?

Each short rib gave me 3 or 4 generous slices for the in-law family pre-JV football dinner.

Yes, it was worth it!

Yes, it was worth it!

The beef was incredibly tender and had solid smoke color penetration. The blue cheese was present in just the right amount. Unfortunately, the bacon didn’t quite crisp, but no one complained. My father in law said, “Simpson, you should enter this in a BBQ contest. It was great.” As I basked in this compliment, he added, “Although I do love anything with cheese in it.” I’ll take what I can get.

This was a super-simple recipe. Anyone can make this if you have all damn day to cook. Luckily I could work from home that day and I have a large upright smoker. Forgiving that, you could probably make this on a Weber kettle with a keen eye towards temperature control.  Regardless, simple technique and ingredients made a succulent experiment.

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