It started a couple of years ago. A good friend of mine asked if I had room on the smoker for some pork butts to feed some of the guys at Scott Air Force Base during a fall exercise. I did, so we sent some BBQ to the base for the team. Four years later, it’s become a standing order and we’ve jokingly named the event “Operation: Hickory Smoke”.
Every fall, we send some BBQ to the folks involved in this exercise. This year I was able to visit the team and participate in the delivery. It was pretty cool to meet a few of the folks who were going to enjoy the meal. I also received a nice note from one of the officers.
Veteran’s Day may be next week, but I’m honored to have shown my appreciation in a small way with this annual event. To the team working the exercise and all those who serve or have served, I say thank you.
If you’re a serious backyard BBQ cook like me, you probably cook at home. In my neighborhood garbage pickup only happens once a week, and to make it worse it’s on Friday. That means this time of year, rib or brisket trimmings can sit in a garbage can in 90 degree heat for an entire week before the trash truck comes. Trust me, they can get pretty ripe in that time.
So I picked up this tip from some folks I know who are serious boaters. They have much the same problem when trying to manage garbage while underway for a few days at a time. It turns out, that all you need to do is make room in your freezer for the garbage that is likely to spoil or smell before it can be disposed of.
I’ve taken to double (or triple) bagging the trimmings and storing them in the extra refrigerator in my garage. Works like a champ, and now all I have to do is remember to put them in garbage on trash day.
A couple of months ago, we became aware of a tough situation that a friend of one our church members was going through. My wife and I donated BBQ to a fundraising event by way of a silent auction item called “BBQ Feast for 20 People”. Apparently the item was popular and brought a sizeable donation.
This weekend, it was time to honor my end of the deal and cook for the auction winner who was hosting a party. I had committed to ribs, pulled pork, and pit beans for the event. So I was up early and cooking for a 6:00pm delivery time.
In the meantime, I had become aware of a couple of families who’d lost loved ones or were otherwise going through a rough patch. So with plenty of room to spare on the cooker and blessed with the means, we set about making food one less thing for some of these folks to worry about.
I’ve said this before; I don’t compete or cater. But I do get some personal satisfaction from seeing others enjoy the results. This is compounded further when I can help someone who needs a little “BBQ Pick-me-Up”.
Thanks to my friends and family for the assitane this weekend. I’m always ready to “Que-for-a-Cause”.
My family and I are blessed to be part of a growing, thriving church. Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL has grown beyond the capacity of it’s real estate and has begun to sprout new churches in the Metro East area of St. Louis. Our satellite campus in Millstadt, IL recently held a church picnic and I was honored to be able to prepare the BBQ for the event.
They expected 80 for luch, I planned for 100, and we probably had closer to 70. Not to worry, I always travel with zip lock bags so folks can leave with a doggy bag. Heck, I even got to bring some home and feed my own family.
In any event, I fired up the big cooker on Saturday night for pork butts, chuck roasts, and my pit beans. After an all night cook, I had eveything ready around 9:00am. I even fired up the charcoal grill and roasted some hot dogs since I figured some of the kids might prefer that (I was right).
I had everything setup at the park when church let out shortly after 11:00. Folks seemed to enjoy the food, and I felt blessed by their compliments and for the opportunity to cook for my church family.
I’m not a huge fan of chain restaurants, even if they are BBQ joints. Which is why I had not noticed that the Dickey’s BBQ near my office had suddenly been converted to Sugarfire Smokehouse. I figured it was a good sign that they always seemed to be busy at lunch time. In fact, too busy for me to try the place. But this weekend, I happened by there just after they opened and was finally able to try it out.
I was encouraged by the Ole Hickory smoker sitting on the patio right by the front door. Thats an odd place for your pit, but I’ve eaten some really food BBQ out of one of those pits, so i took it as another good sign. There a few remnants of the former Dickey’s, but I was encouraged to see the place rearranged with the kitchen in full view and lots of employees busily prepping for the lunch crowd.
Like a lot of classic BBQ joints, the menu was written in chalk at the order station. That’s not a bad thing, unless you use a lot of unique names for your menu items. There’s no place on the chalkboard to describe what a “Big Muddy” sand which is for example.
Nonetheless, I ordered up the 2 meat platter and watched as the guy at the counter pulled out a large tray covered with butcher paper and piled on pulled pork and freshly sliced brisket. Down the cafeteria-style line I went, adding bbq beans and hand cut fries to my meal. And like any self respecting BBQ joint, sweet tea completed my order.
I grabbed a seat at one of the tables left over from the days as a Dickey’s franchise and eyed the four bottles of clearly homemade sauces that seem to be a requirement for any BBQ joint these days. I got what I expected from the Texas Hot, Sweet BBQ, & White Sauces. But I cautiously tried the “Cherry” sauce as indicated (as they all were) by the handwritten masking tape label. Let me just say that I hope that’s not a regular sauce and just an experiment, cause it was not good.
Other than my dislike of the Cherry sauce, I didn’t find another thing that wasn’t good. The pork & brisket were moist and tender, the bark was tasty, and the sides were very good. The portions were very generous, and I found the meal to be a good value overall.
Here’s how I’d rate my visit to Sugarfire Smokehouse:
BBQ – A
Side Dishes –
Atmosphere – B-
Value – A-
Overall – A
I keep a list of the best BBQ joints in St Louis. Since I’m the resident BBQ snob among my friends & family, I’m often asked where to get good BBQ. Sugarfire Smokehouse just made the short list. If you’re interested, here’s their particulars:
I recently visited my folks in Southwest Florida. They know that I’d rather eat BBQ than just about anything else, and they also like to share their discoveries with me. So, when it came time to grab lunch they steered us towards the Sonny’s BBQin Cape Coral.
Sonny’s is a BBQ franchise with locations in 9 states. A quick look at their website find ~125 locations listed. With that kind of succes, you’d think they must do something right. Turns out, they do.
The place was pretty nice and business was a bit slow given that we were late for lunch and early for dinner. Nonetheless, we ordered up some sweet tea and took a look at the menu. It was extensive. I opted for a trip to the salad bar and the brisket plate with a couple of sides. Turns out, I should have skipped the salad bar. The brisket portion was generous, and the side dishes were large as well.
The brisket was sliced thin and had a good flavor. I had a little more fat on my plate than I’d prefer, but it was tastey. There was a variety of sauces on the table, all original Sonny’s flavors. They were all pretty good, but I opted to enjoy my brisket without sauce. My folks went for the sweet sauce and enjoyed it as well.
They had a decent selection of side dishes. I opted for cole slaw and green beans since I’ve been trying to watch my diet a little. They were both very good, but I was sure wishing for that I’d ordered some of the BBQ beans or baked sweet potato that my folks enjoyed. They looked great.
Here’s how I’d rate my trip to Sonny’s:
BBQ – B
Side Dishes – B
Atmosphere – B
Value – B
Overall – B
Overall, a solid joint that I’d enjoy eating at again. And, given their growing footprint that’s highly likely.
For the past few years, I’ve manned the BBQ pit in support of Jacob’s Ladder and their annual BBQ & music event called Pig-a-Palooza. The event has a lot of momentum and this year was the best yet.
For the second straight year, we’ve donated BBQ for a private party as part of a silent auction item. This year, it was part of an auction package that included a miniature version of the entire Pig-a-Palooza event including side dishes, wine & beer, pulled pork and ribs, and live entertainment. The lucky winner of this year’s auction item selected October 6th for the date of their shindig, and we put the wheels in motion.
So Saturday morning, I was up early stoking the smoker for the BBQ. Getting pulled pork ready for a couple of dozen people is pretty easy. Heck, getting ribs ready for a couple of dozen folks is pretty easy. But, my bride also chose this day as one of her customer appreciation days where we cook ribs for friends, clients, and colleagues of The Bradshaw Property Group. That means 24+ racks of babyback ribs. Now that’s a lot of work.
Pork butts went on the cooker by 6:00am and at 10:30am I began the prep of the ribs. Prepping that many ribs single handedly takes some time. Did I mention that it’s a lot of work? But I had ribs on the Backwoods by 11:30am.
My timing was spot on! I had the butts wrapped by 4:30pm and resting in the Cambro, and I began the process of glazing and finishing the ribs around 4:00pm. Friends, clients, and colleagues began pickingup thier customer appreciation gifts around 5:00pm, and I headed out to Mini Pig-a-Palooza at 6:00pm with a second Cambro full of BBQ goodness.
We gloved up and served the party goers to rave reviews while a friend of mine, Steve Reeb, entertained the good folks. My co-pitmaster, Dave Dey, and I took up the guitar for a miniature set of our own while Steve was on break (thanks for being so gracious Steve!).
All in all, we had a great time and look forward to next year’s Pig-a-Palooza.
I’ve written before about holding hot food for significant periods of time before serving. You don’t have to purchase special equipment to acomplish this, while ensuring that your product is safe to serve.
However, there are products targeted at the catering and food service business that make this simple and they’ve beome quite popular among competition BBQ teams. Now I don’t compete, nor do I cater. But I do find myself cooking large quantities for a variety of charitable functions.
It was this activity (and my insatiable need to acquire new gear) that led me to acquire a couple of Cambro Food Carriers . I’d priced these through a variety of restaurant supply websites and stores, but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money for a new one. Enter, Craigslist. I kept a eye out for awhile and finally my patience was rewarded. I was able to acquire 2 slightly used Cambro’s for the the cost of one new one.
The cool thing about these warming cabinets is that they have rails along the sides that will support food pans. The disposable aluminum pans that I typiclally use fit just fine also, although the lip of the disposable pans won’t support much weight if you overload them. The cabinets are polythylene (that’s a fancy word for plastic) and insulated to keep heat loss to just a couple of degrees/hr. The doors are gasketed and the latches ensure a tight seal.
I’ve been very happy with these and use them quite often. I’ve held pork butt for 4+ hours, and transported BBQ all over the midwest. So, if you’re looking for a way to hold and transport hot food you can’t go wrong with a Cambro Food Carriers
Wow, I thought I had documented this but realized that I hadn’t. I’ve been asked this question a few times, and it’s one of the most common questions asked over on the Backwoods Forum. Nonetheless, it’s worth covering for the pursposed of the readers here on GrllandBarrel.com.
Here are the steps that I follow:
Load ‘er up! I won’t get into the benefits of briquettes vs. lump in this post, but suffice to say that I burn briquettes only in my Backwoods smoker(s). That’s right, just the plain ‘ol blue bag from the good folks at Kingsford. I find I get a much more consistent and longer burn (in this cooker) with briquettes.
Open both sliding vents and the top vent completely. Top door shoudl be copletely closed.
I light the charcoal with a MAPP Gas Torch in the right front corner of the charcoal pan. There are lots of ways to light the charcoal, but I find that a torch held in one spot for 60 seconds or so is enough to get it going.
I then shut the firebox door, but I do not latch it. This leaves it slightly ajar and allows for more air flow.
I leave it like this until the temperature reaches 200 degrees. This can take 30-45 minutes.
Then I add water to the water pan, shut the left rear vent completely, close the firebox door, and close the right front vent 1/2 way.
If you’re adding wood chips or chunks, do it now.
In this configuration, the smoker will be completely up to temp in 60-75 minutes.
A couple of thins to note. My Pro Jr takes longer to come up to temp than my Fatboy used to, but that’s to be expected given that it’s much larger. Additionally on the Pro Jr, I close the exhaust vent 3/4 of the way to maintain cooking temps at ~250 degrees. With the Fatboy, I left the exhaust wide open at all times.
That’s how I do it. But there are debates about adding water before lighting, type of charcoal, source of ignition, etc. Find what works for you and stick with it. It’s important that you get some kind of routine down that’s repeatable, even if it isn’t this one. That way, you’ll be able to plan for start times when you cook.
I wanted to like it. Really, I did. I mean I’ve seen Famous Dave on TV and really wanted to like my first experience eating at one of his BBQ restaurants. But unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.
Okay, I liked a couple of the spicier BBQ sauces on the table, the sweet cornbread muffin, and the complimentary sample of BBQ chips that was served for the purposes of sampling the 5 BBQ sauces on the table. My wife ordered the smoked salmon spread from the appetizer menu and it was pretty good.
But as for the BBQ, I found it to be medicore. It wasn’t smokey, it didn’t seem all that fresh, and unfortunately they served it with a big dose of their house sauce on top. I had the combo lunch plate with pulled pork and brisket. I found it to be very bland when I could get a taste around the sauce.
This seems to me like an example of the franchise concept driving the quality of the food to a level less than the founder started with or intended. At least, I hope so.
The restaurant itself felt like I’d stepped into an Applebees or a TGI Fridays. Again, the franchise thing has driven all the originality and uniqueness right out of the place. If you blindfolded me before I entered and then you handed me a menu from one of the aforementioned franchises, I would’ve thought that’s where I was. It’s kinda sad actually.
Here’s my report card:
BBQ – C
Side Dishes – B
Atmosphere – C
Value – C
Overall – C
Nonetheless, I’d rather eat mediocre, chain-BBQ-restaurant food than a lot of other franchises. So considering the alternatives in the greater Branson, MO area, I’d probably eat at Famous Dave’s again.