Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pineapple Bourbon Smoked Ham

Most of you already know my affinity towards pork products, which is one reason why I'm a big fan of Easter.  Easter means that I get to eat ham.  

I'll be honest and say I'd never smoked a ham before, but I wanted to try it and I had a pretty clear idea about how I wanted it to taste.  Here's a list of my hamly desires:
  1. A sugary sweet crust, like a Honeybaked Ham
  2. Pineapple.  What can I say? I like ham with my pineapple and pineapple with my ham.
  3. A savory rub to balance and enhance the sweet crust.  I don't smoke meat without a rub.
With this list in mind I had to do some research to work out some of the details. 

I wanted to combine The Prophet's teachings on layering flavors and creating a balanced meat rub with the general methodology and flavor profiles from Alton Brown's City Ham recipe.  However, I had to part ways from Alton's recipe because it wasn't exactly what I was looking for (no pineapple, no rub, and it has gingersnap cookies... you all know I can't bake).

The results were AWESOME and I'm not ashamed to brag about it a bit.  Let's just say that Christ risen from the grave wasn't the only good news I was sharing on Sunday morning.  

No, really, I actually shared it with people.  It was similar to Garth's plan to help Wayne get Cassandra... 

First, Chelsi and I ate it for dinner until we were stuffed the night I made it.  THEN, I ate some for breakfast and lunch the following day.  THEN, I shared the leftovers with twoooo of our neighbors, bounced across town to deliver some to my friend and youth minister from church, came baaaack to our place to have some for a snack, and I still had some leftover for sandwiches on Monday!  

Here's what you'll need.

Now that's a Frickin' ham!

The Food:
  • One "ready-to-eat" ham, either whole or shank end.
  • Pineapple Juice, 2.5 Cups
  • Bourbon, 1/2 Cup
  • Dijon Mustard, 1/2 Cup
  • Dark Brown Sugar, 1 pound bag
  • Ground Allspice, 1 Tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, 1 Tablespoon
  • Black Pepper, 1 Tablespoon
  • Ground Ginger, 1 Teaspoon
The Equipment:
  • Smoker or charcoal grill
  • Disposable foil drip pan
  • Spray Bottle
  • Funnel (optional, but helpful)
  • Pastry/BBQ brush

As I said before, The Prophet teaches that establishing different layers of flavor is the key to great smoked meats.  Here's how I made my ham according to each layer of flavor.

Layer 1: Smoke
Get your smoker up and running with your favorite smoking wood (I prefer apple wood with pork) and hold the temperature steady at 250 degrees.  If you have a charcoal grill, set it up for indirect grilling at 250 degrees (click here and scroll down for some instructions on that).

Rinse and pat dry your ham with paper towels.  

Layer 2: Rub  
No sugar in this rub, that comes later.  Combine, the Salt, Pepper, Allspice, and Ginger together to make a rub and apply it all over the ham.  For best results, you can do this the night before and wrap it plastic wrap.

Layer 3: Pineapple Steam
Pineapple juice in the drip pan will help keep the ham moist while adding some additional flavor.  Pour about 2 cups of pineapple juice into the drip pan.  If you have any leftover rub, throw that in there too and stir it all up.  Place the drip pan under the grill grates.  Put the grates back into the grill and place the ham directly over the drip pan.  Close the lid.

Layer 4: Pineapple and Bourbon Baste
After you put the ham in the smoker, combine 1/2 cup of bourbon with 1/2 cup of pineapple juice into the spray bottle.  A funnel comes in handy when getting the mixture into the spray bottle.  Every 30 minutes, spray the ham with the pineapple and bourbon mixtures.  Be sure to shake the bottle before spraying.
Those spray bottles go for $0.98 a pop at Lowe's and are a necessity when doing anything with charcoal.

Smoke the ham until the interior temperature is about 130 degrees* (3-4 hours).  

1 Hour in.
So, when I was working with this ham, I realized that ham and pulled pork are the exact same cut of pork.
2 Hours in.
I guess I had always known this in my head, but I didn't really put it all together until now.
3 Hours in.
Pretty crazy, huh?  Considering they are both smoked and the exact same part of the pig, pulled pork and ham are extremely different.  How are they so different?  This video will shed a little light on that.

Once the interior temperature of the ham has reached 130 degrees*, remove it from the smoker and place it on pan or cutting board.  Remove any pieces of thick skin that you can pull off.  

Layer 5: Tangy Mustard
If you don't like mustard, don't be afraid!  I am not a big mustard fan, but this is an essential step in the process.  Using your BBQ brush, brush the dijon mustard all over the ham.  You can make this layer as thin or as thick as you'd like, just don't skip it.

Layer 6: Sugary Crust
Cover the ham with a thick layer of dark brown sugar.  The thicker you can get it on there, the better.  Once you've piled on the sugar, spray it all down with more of the pineapple bourbon baste to make it stick.

While your applying the mustard and brown sugar, raise the temperature of your smoker to 350 degrees.  Carefully place the ham back into the smoker, making sure not to knock off too much of the sugar.

Smoke at 350 degrees until the interior temperature of the ham is around 140 degrees* (about 1 hour).  Remove it from the smoker and let it rest for 30 minutes.  
Hot off the grill. 
After resting for 30 minutes, you can see that the glaze hardened into a delicious candied crust.

After resting, it's time to carve it up and dig in!

The rub, pineapple juice, bourbon, mustard, and brown sugar all melt together to create an incredible crusty glaze that will have you licking your fingers on your way back for seconds (and thirds).

*A quick note about the temperatures:  The hams we buy at you local half-foods grocery store are precooked, so these temperatures act only as a guideline for serving purposes.  They are not needed for food safety precautions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Great Debate: Brining vs. Basting

November is right around the corner and I'm still undecided.  I've scoured all the typical online resources to help me make my decision.  I've talked to various friends and family to see what opinions they had about it.  I've even tuned into those characters on cable TV to see if they might help me process all of the information.  At the end of the day, I realized that nobody could shoot it to me straight.

So, I decided to take things into my own hands to answer the ultimate question that everyone in America will be asking themselves this November:  Which turkey is better?

Brining and basting are the two most common methods for juicing up your Thanksgiving turkey, but I've never tried them side-by-side.  To resolve this, I smoked up three turkey breasts and invited an unbiased focus group over to see which method they preferred.  One turkey breast was brined, a second was basted, and the third breast was both brined and basted.  Below are the results.

Review of the Literature:
Once again, Jim's Mixed Grill continues to solidify its position as an industry leader with this innovative culinary research.  This marks the very first taste test comparing the two methods of brining and basting.*

Three whole turkey breast were smoked using the indirect grilling method in a Big Green Egg heated between 300 and 325 degrees.  All three breasts were rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before being placed in the smoker.  Apple wood was used for its delicate and subtly sweet flavor.

Turkey A was prepared using a brine recipe provided by The Pioneer Woman.  The brine was prepared the day before and was used to brine Turkey A overnight.  Once placed in the smoker, Turkey A was left alone until its internal temperature reached 160 degrees.

Not technically a brining bag, but it did the trick.
Turkey B was prepared using the "aromatics" portion of Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe.  After being placed in the smoker, olive oil was used to baste Turkey B until there were enough drippings in the drip pan to be used for basting.  The basting continued every 30 minutes until the internal temperature reached 160 degrees.

Turkey C was both brined and basted using the recipes and processes described above.

Each breast was promptly removed upon reaching an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  After cooking, the breasts were allowed to rest for at least 20 minutes to allow the carryover heat to finish the cooking process.

Research Findings:
There were eight (8) total participants in this taste test.  Each participant was asked to rank the turkey breasts as their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd favorite.  The criteria used to judge the turkey breasts included: 1) Moisture, 2) Turkiness, 3) Saltiness, 4) General flavor, and 5) Texture.  Turkiness can be defined as how much actual turkey flavor can be detected.

The votes were tallied and points were awarded to each turkey breast.  Three (3) points were awarded for each 1st place vote, two (2) points were awarded for each 2nd place vote, and one (1) point was awarded for each third place vote.  Here are the results:

It should be pointed out that the focus group was impressed with all three turkey breasts and had a difficult time determining which turkeys were better than the others.  This was made evident by the 1st place votes being fairly evenly distributed, with Turkey A (brined) receiving one less vote than the other two.  However, when the total points are taken into consideration, it is clear that Turkey B (basted), was the overall winner.

Below are some notes taken regarding the 5 criteria used for judging:
  1. Moisture:  Voters noted that all three breasts were pleasantly moist and there were no complaints about dry turkey.  
  2. Turkiness:  It was also noted that Turkey B (basted) did have more turkey flavor, while the two brined turkeys (A and C) had a more muted turkey flavor.  
  3. Saltiness:  Voters also commented that Turkey A was saltier than Turkey B, but that it wasn't overwhelming or unpleasant.  
  4. General Flavor:  The brined turkeys (A and C) had a slight edge in general flavor, despite the muted turkiness.  It was generally accepted that the focus group could taste the flavors from the brine more than the aromatics used to flavor the basted turkey.
  5. Texture:  Texture was a clear toss-up.  None of the turkeys had an unpleasant texture, but there were distinct differences noticed by the voters.  The brined turkeys had a texture that was described as "wet" or "super moist."  On the other hand, Turkey B (basted-only) had a "meatier" texture where the muscle fibers were much more prevalent.

This debate all comes down to how you like your turkey.  Both brining and basting have distinct advantages over their opponent and could each be preferable depending on the circumstances.

For example, if you are a turkey hunter and are wondering how to prepare your trophy, brining would be the clear choice since it was effective at muting the turkiness of the meat.  In the wild game world, this would translate to reducing the turkey's gaminess.  Gaminess is not an issue with store-bought turkey and it might be better to preserve some of the turkey flavor, which would suggest not using a brine.

However, if you're looking to use the meat for sandwiches or plan on reheating the turkey in the microwave, brining might be your better option since it adds so much moisture to the meat.  On a similar note, if you're not using a meat thermometer or tend to overcook your meat, brining would be much more forgiving due to the added moisture inside the meat.

Party favors.
My final thought is this: if you smoke or bake your turkey between 300 and 325 degrees and remove it as soon as the internal temperature hits 160 degrees, I promise you will not be disappointed.  Whether the turkey is brined or basted, the cooking and internal temperatures are really what make a great turkey.

So, before you decide how you want to cook up your big bird this November, go and buy yourself a nice meat thermometer.  You'll need it no matter which method you use.

*This statement is limited in context to smoking turkey breasts on an XL Big Green Egg at 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit with apple wood chips, while using The Pioneer Woman's brine recipe and Alton Brown's aromatic recipe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

OU/Texas: The Red River Rivalry

When I first met my wife, she introduced me to a whole new world of college football.  She and her entire family were Sooner born and Sooner bred and they have always been gracious by inviting me to join in the Oklahoma football festivities.

OU game back in '07.  At this point, I still didn't own any actual OU gear.  This would change.
By far the best Oklahoma football experience, and one of the best sporting events in America, is the Oklahoma/Texas football game (aka The Red River Rivalry) that is held every October in Dallas, Texas.  There are so many aspects of the Red River Rivalry that make it exciting, even to the neutral observer.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Totally worth the wait!

  • The game is held at the Cotton Bowl, which is in the middle of the Texas State Fairgrounds.  Before and after the game, fans clad in Crimson and Burnt Orange explore the car show, eat Fletcher's delicious corny dogs, and display their man-hood by showing off the size of their stuffed animals.
  • These two teams HATE each other.  From the fans, to the coaches, to the players on the field, there isn't anything that these two teams like about each other.  Smack talk is all too common throughout the entire weekend.
  • The Cotton Bowl is split literally right down the middle between OU and Texas fans.  With every play, half of the stadium is erupting with cheers and the other half is turning red and throwing their hats down.  You can only imagine cheers and boo's that come out when each team takes the field.
  • The word of the day is "sucks."  Each team has their own special cheer or verse that proclaim how much the other team "sucks."  It's really a lot of fun.

This year the game was a little lopsided.  I wish I could say Texas played a good game, but they really didn't.  Let's just say that there weren't too many Texas fans who decided to come back after halftime.

If you are a sports fan, you NEED to experience the Red River Rivalry at least once.  It's an incredible atmosphere and I am so thankful that my wife and her family have included me in the fun.  Can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TBDBITL and Goat Cheese Pumpkin Quesadillas

I got to go back to Ohio last weekend to visit family and go to a fantastic football game.  But while the football team was welcoming The Huskers to The Horseshoe with a 63-38 beat-down, The Best Damn Band in the Land (TBDBITL or Ohio State's marching band) also wanted to showoff for the visiting Nebraska Marching Band.

A sweet picture taken at the game by my brother, and photography mentor, Dave.
The show was incredible.  A YouTube video of the halftime show has already gone viral with over 3.7 million views as I'm writing this (check that, 5.2 million after editing).  The whole performance was an homage to some classic video games that we all know too well.

The music and formations start with Space Invaders and Pokemon.  At minute 1:15, the band transitions to TETRIS and Super Mario Bros. before spending a couple minutes playing music from Halo (you can skip the Halo part).  The most incredible part starts just before the 6:00 mark as they play some tunes from Zelda--don't miss this.  They finish things up with Mario and Luigi taking down the M*ch*gan flag at the castle and raising the the Block 'O' flag.  The encore features none-other than Pac-Man.  Follow along in the video below!

All I can say is that Ohio State's marching band really is the best.  If you want to see another highlight from this year, check out their Beach Boys show from Sept. 1st.  Go to minute 4:10 for the best part.

Alright, onto the food!  A few weeks ago, I made some chocolate chip pumpkin quesadillas that were a huge hit.  I hope you didn't mind me calling them quesadillas, despite lacking the central ingredient.  To make up for it, I decided to try a variation of the savory pumpkin recipe I saw in a magazine that includes cheese.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 Cup Libby's canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Chopped pecans
  • Fresh basil, chopped or chiffonade
  • Vegetable oil and a pastry or BBQ brush

Preheat your grill to medium (7-8 mississippi).  Combine the pumpkin and cumin in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste.  
If you're not big into cumin, go with the 1/4 teaspoon, the 1/2 might be a little overpowering.  Spread the pumpkin mixture over half the tortilla and distribute the goat cheese and pecans over the pumpkin.  Fold over the tortilla and brush BOTH sides of the tortilla with vegetable oil.  Grill both sides until their nicely browned and crisp, 3-5 minutes per side.  Cut into wedges and dig in!  This should be enough to make about 6 quesadillas.

I forgot the basil...
Like I said last time, don't skip the vegetable oil.  It takes the texture to the next level.
There it is.
These quesadillas are really great, especially as an appetizer for a grown-up fall party.  The original recipe didn't call for basil, but Chelsi tried it and it turned out sending the whole recipe over the top.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tailgating Recipes: How to Grill Chicken Wings

I love me some chicken wings.  Fried, baked, grilled, steamed, you name it, I love it.  The problem (or, as far as the scale is concerned, the blessing) is that there aren't any legit wing joints where I live.

Remember how I didn't grow up with any great BBQ, but now I'm surrounded by it?  Well, it's the inverse with wings.  I grew up with access to so many great wing joints, but I'm honestly not sure if I now have one within driving distance.

But that's okay, it only makes me appreciate them more.  Anyways, who says you can't make a tasty wing on the grill?  Nobody, that's who.

If you ever find yourself with a hankerin' for wings in Columbus, Ohio.  Make your way to Rooster's.  Just don't do what my father-in-law did and order the Super Killers.  The words, "Let's see what you Yankees call hot!" will live on for at least 2 more generations.  Needless to say, he found out after one bite.
So, I thought I would give it a college try and see what I could come up with.  I tried several different grilling methods, all of which worked pretty well.  My standard grilled chicken technique was good, but there was still too much fat left on the wing for my taste.  I then tried smoking them at 300-325 degrees, which gave an incredible smoky flavor, but it lacked that crispy texture that every wing should have.  It was on my third try when I finally got it.  I'll explain below.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Wings, split with the tips removed
  • Salt, Pepper, or Seasoning
  • Sauce of some kind (depending on how good your rub is, the sauce is optional)
  • A spray bottle filled with water

Preheat your grill to medium-high, but have a "cool zone" on one side of the grill.  This sounds a lot like indirect grilling, but the difference is that the hot zone here will be much hotter (about 100 degrees) than indirect grilling.

If you're using charcoal, fill up a chimney with charcoal and once it's hot'n'ready (in more than 5 minutes), distribute the coals on one half of the grill.  Wait until the coals cool down so you can hold your hand a few inches over the grates for a count of 4-5 mississippi.  If you're using gas, turn all the burners on high for 5-10 minutes.  Once everything is heated up, turn off one burner, and turn the others down to medium-high (4-5 mississippi).  

Season the wings with salt and pepper, or seasoning.  You want to build different layers of flavor, and the seasoning is one of the most important.  I decided to try Alain's Sweet and Spicy Asian Wings, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, so mine got some Chinese Five Spice.  If you're doing a barbecue sauce, throw on your favorite BBQ rub.  Traditional buffalo sauce only needs salt and pepper, but paprika tastes great too.

Toss the wings on the hot side of the grill and spread them out.  No Touching!

Wait about 4 minutes and start checking the wings to see how quickly they're browning.  Some will brown after just 4 minutes, some will take longer.  Once they get golden brown with a bit of char, turn them over.  You will want to move the location of the ones you move first, since they are over a hot spot.  If there are wings that are browning too quickly, move them into the cool zone.

You will encounter flare-ups.  Either use your spray bottle to calm them down, or move the wings away from the flare-up.  Flare-ups char your food, and not in a tasty way.

Grill the wings for 15-18 minutes total.  Throughout this entire time, you will constantly be checking, turning, and the moving the wings to keep them from burning.  This is easily some of the most active grilling I've done in a while.

Remove the wings from grill and place them in a large bowl or tupperware container that has a lid.  

Add the sauce and toss to combine.  

At this point, you're good to go.  However, if you're using a sugary sauce that you'd like to turn into more of a glaze, dump the wings back on the grill for 1-4 minutes, depending on the sauce.  BE CAREFUL!  Those perfectly browned wings can turn black in seconds depending on the sugar content of the sauce and the heat of your grill.

And you're in business!  You can eat them out of the bowl, but your wife will tell you to put them on a plate with a garnish...

Alain's Sweet and Spicy Asian Wings were fantastic.  They are definitely worth trying if you're up for it.  Don't skimp on the Chinese Five Spice, though, it adds a whole new world of flavor.