31 March 2008

Once More with the Chicken

With my chicken not being up to standards last week, I decided that I needed a little more practice before our first competition. This time, my chicken turned out great. I was able to get more flavor with a little more seasoning applied and I gave it more time to set in on the chicken. The thighs were tender and very juicy, and I was pleased to get a better smoke flavor too.

I'll spend the rest of the week packing up for the first competition of the season this weekend in Clarksville.

30 March 2008

ANCILLARIES: Fried Mac and Cheese

What You Need:

- a dish of homemade Macaroni and Cheese, chilled*
- 1 to 2 cups of whole milk (or half and half) for dredging
- homemade bread crumbs**
- oil or bacon grease for frying

* Make your favorite Macaroni and Cheese - traditional, spicy, Kraft blue box variety, what have you. We start with the delicious baked recipe from Ulika team member, BP. Let the dish chill in the refrigerator as it's easiest to work with the Macaroni when it's cold. This is a perfect way to use your leftovers too.

** For ours, we threw a few slices of white sandwich bread, butter crackers, saltines, pecans and a little flour in the food processor. You could also use panko bread crumbs.

What You Do:

1. Prepare two dredging bowls - one with the milk and the other with breadcrumbs.

2. Make your macaroni bites. Using a spatula, remove the refrigerated macaroni from the dish and cut it into triangles (or squares, rectangular slices, etc.).

3. Dredge each piece through the milk then through the breadcrumb mixture. Let the pieces sit in the breadcrumbs for a minute or two to set up while you get your oil ready for frying.

4. Fry each macaroni bite in oil until it is golden brown on all sides. Sometimes we'll fry the bites in oil in the deep fryer, but tonight, we fried them in a large skillet in bacon grease.

5. Let the bites rest on a wire rack for a few minutes until they are cool enough to handle. Place a paper towel underneath to catch any excess grease.

Serve them while they're hot!

27 March 2008

Make Some Sparks

Ah, Sparks... no, no not the scary beverage love child of Red Bull and Zima. I'm thinking of the band Sparks. After twenty some odd years, this duo is still around making quirky glam-pop records for those who will listen. Despite this longevity, their most critically-applauded album, Kimono My House, came early in their career. That's where you'll find this week's jam, Barbecutie.

Don't worry, it's not about that sub-par BBQ chain we find around Middle Tennessee (and no, I'm not talking about Whitt's - though they do suck just as much). It's an obvious ode to meeting up with sweet young thing at a cookout on a summer's day. While at it's core it has nothing to do with firing up the old Stumps cooker, the last verse does a nice job of accidentally capturing the vibe of a weekend spent at a cooking competition. Dig:

The friends are getting friendly on the lawn
the flies are making enemies of all

Aroma rising from the ancient coals
has turned you into someone very bold

Hell yeah... gets me all excited about competing next weekend in Clarksville and all those fine ladies that flock to these mid-south KCBS events. Hey, more like Barbegroupies!

Finally, let me give props to my homeboy/bandmate Brockford Lee for suggesting this song. He's a prince with a heart of gold and a vice to match.

Hope y'all like this week's jam. Have a lovely weekend and enjoy this weather.

24 March 2008

Ulika Weekend Action

This past weekend was a trial run for a contest that we have in two weeks. It has been six months since our last competition and we needed to knock the rust off. I also needed to get the timing down with the Stumps and the Egg.

Surprisingly, I had no problems with my timing, but I was really off on my chicken and I will probably need to practice some more chicken before Clarksville rolls around. Focusing on the other meats this off-season has caused my chicken to slip a little. However, I should be able to hone in my chicken technique with two weeks left. I was pleased with how the pork turned out and the ribs and brisket were on par. I will need to kick it up a notch or two in Clarksville to get a call in any of the categories. We are really looking forward to getting back on the competition trail and seeing some familiar faces.

Kind of as an "anything butt" on Friday night, friends Patrick, Sarah and baby Jack stopped by to stir up some stir fry on the Egg. Patrick is an Iron Chef of sorts, and stir fry is one of his specialties. He brought over the wok and we fired up the Egg for a molten hot cooking surface. Our stir fry dish consisted of bok choy, mung bean sprouts, cabbage, shallots, broccoli, carrots, ginger, garlic and scallion for garnish. For our protein, we went with chicken and pork medallions that were tossed in some secret Asian sauces (which he left in my refrigerator...not so secret anymore!). Our starch choices were white rice, fried rice, and lo mein noodles. Check out the Gilliam blog for their side of the story.

Iron Chef Patrick Gilliam cooks up some stir fry as Deezy eagerly awaits

My wife also took the opportunity to practice some dessert entries. On Friday night we were treated to a Bananas Foster. This dish was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and while it was more than excellent, we decided that it wouldn't work with the time delays in a contest setting as the dish would be a puddle of cream by the time it reached the judges. On Saturday, the traditional dessert turn-in time was met with some Banana Pudding. In the south, you will often find this pudding as a primary dessert at bbq restaurants. Its smooth texture with the crunch of the Nilla Wafers makes for a perfect complement to the bbq meats. Sarah snapped a few pictures of the Bananas Foster prep, but by the time we reached for the camera on Saturday, the only pudding image that would have been left was that of Deezy licking the bowl.

When Sunday rolled around, I combined the best of both worlds and made brisket fried rice. It was absolutely fabulous. I have determined that brisket is the most versatile of the four competition meats (considering chicken is limited to the thighs). Brisket works great with eggs, in a taco, with fried rice, on pizza, in beans, with cheese and peppers on a hoagie, and in many more applications.

20 March 2008

How 'bout a hand for the hog?

One of the more amusing ubiquities of barbecue culture, for me, is the personification of the pig. You see it in the logos of competition barbecue teams and on the signs of barbecue restaurants - pigs with sunglasses on, pigs dancing, and my favorite: pigs eating (oh, the irony).

Music has also long embraced the swine as subject matter. From Bill Monroe's "Pig in a Pen" to Kaki King's "Happy as a Dead Pig in the Sunshine," the pig has always had a presence. So today, let's take a look at some of the best "pig songs."

1. "We Are the Pigs" - Suede. This is a quintessential Suede track, both in sound (Bowie-fied Britpop with killer guitar work by original guitarist Bernard Butler) and subject matter (socially scorned misfits, unite and take over).

2. "The Freed Pig" - Sebadoh. We now move from the inclusive first person plural pig reference to the damning second person diss. This classic kiss-off is probably the best thing Sebadoh did.

3. "Pig" - Dave Matthews Band. Typical DMB - alternating between lilting and intense musical passages, singing about dancing, drinking, and the inevitability of death, and of course having lots of violin and saxophone. I think this song is called "Pig" mostly because it decended from "Don't Burn the Pig." Rob can tell you more about that.

4. "Ergo Space Pig" - Guided By Voices. This is a nod to Ulika team mother Natalina, with whom I will forever associate GBV. Not their finest work, but it gets points for imitation of a pig with a wah-wah pedal.

5. "Piggies" - the Beatles. Surely you know this one, right? It's George Harrison's classic metaphorical condemnation of squares, man. And, like so many cartoon pigs in barbecue logos, Harrison's piggies are more than happy to eat their own kind.

6. "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" - Pink Floyd. Also metaphorical, though decidedly less giddy, Floyd's 11 minute opus is the centerpiece of their excellent album, Animals.

7. "Piggy's Adventure" - De Novo Dahl. If I remember correctly, this was actually inspired by lovestruck pop culture pig, Miss Piggy. This is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite Nashville bands.

8. "Hand for the Hog" - John Short. From this list, you'd probably think I'm somewhat of a rocker. But these days, especially around the house, I mostly listen to old country music like the kind they play on 650 WSM-AM. That's where I discovered this little gem.

Anyhow, I hope you've enjoyed this little pork-inspired playlist. I'm sorry I am unable to offer you the mp3s - iTunes can be a cruel dictator.

Until next time...

19 March 2008

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Melinda's Coffee BBQ Sauce

One more post about Memphis and then I promise I'm done talking about it. For now.

Another really fun place to go in Memphis is the A. Schwab General Store on Beale Street. It's a gigantic three story collection of some of the oddest, most random things you can imagine. They sell everything from overalls to old movies to incense to kitchenware. Even if you don't want to buy anything, you can spend an hour or more just browsing through all of the odds and ends for sale.

Another thing that Schwab has quite a large selection of is hot sauces. And while I don't have the heat tolerance to be a legitimate connoisseur of hot sauces, I did come across a rather unusual barbecue sauce. It's from the Melinda's line of products, which mostly consists of a variety of hot sauces, and is produced by Figurosa Brothers, Inc of Dallas. What we have here is a "Coffee BBQ Sauce." I paid $9.00 for a 14 ounce bottle, which is completely outrageous even by Beale Street standards. You can do slightly better ordering it from the Figurosa website at $6.25 per bottle, but even that is well above the industry average. "Is it worth it?" you ask. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Containing both Melinda's Chipotle Sauce and Melinda's XXX Hot Sauce as ingredients, the sauce does pack quite a peppery punch. But beyond the heat, all of the flavors are disappointingly bland. The tomato paste base is enhanced by an onion-heavy mirepoix - a combination that could be the foundation of something really good. But unfortunately, subsequent ingredients fall flat in their attempt to complement, and the result is a bland, vaguely fruity finish. Oddly, one thing that I cannot taste in this sauce is coffee. A slight coffee aroma is definitely present in the smell of the sauce, but not in the taste.

Grade: C

18 March 2008


Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes with Candied Pecans

What You Need:

- 8 ceramic ramekins (generously buttered and dusted with cocoa)
- 8 ounces of chocolate (6 of milk chocolate, 2 of semi-sweet)
- 1/2 cup of pecans
- 3/4 cup of unsalted butter
- 3 eggs and 3 additional egg yolks
- 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup of white sugar (for the cake)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white sugar (for the pecans)

What You Do:

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl over boiling water in a medium saucepan, sirring constantly. When the two are well-combined and fully melted, remove the bowl from the heat and set the chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.

2. Mix together the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes - until the mixture is firm like cake batter. Add in the flour and mix for another 3 minutes then add in the melted chocolate-butter and mix for 3 minutes more. Scrape down the sides as needed. It has to be very well mixed!

3. Use a spatula to distribute the batter into the prepared ramekins and place them in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

4. While the cake batter cools, candy your pecans with the sugar in a saucepan and leave them to cool on parchment paper.

5. To cook the cakes, set your oven / Big Green Egg and Guru to 475 degrees. Bake the cakes on a place setter or cookie sheet for 12 to 14 minutes. The top will get puffy and the cake should only slightly jiggle in the center. Serve the cakes as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Top each cake with the candied pecans along with whipped cream or chocolate sauce or cocoa powder or vanilla ice cream or all of the above.

17 March 2008

That's a Fatty Biscuit, Bro!

If you are in the bbq community, you are very familiar with the fatty. For the lay person, a fatty is a 1 pound breakfast sausage that is slow-smoked whole.

I have been making fatties since the purchase of my first smoker (NB Bandera). However, a recent discovery of the "New Improved Flavor" of Jimmy Dean has taken the fatty to a whole new level. I don't know what this "new" and "improved" flavor is, but the folks over at Jimmy Dean's have really struck gold. Everyone that has had this sausage has just raved about it. I wish I could take some of the credit, but I will always give credit where credit is due.

If you regularly make fatties, you should try these Jimmy Dean sausages. I sliced my smoked fatty and served the slices on warm biscuits with tomato and mustard:

13 March 2008

Salty & Sweet

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My taste buds seem to get excited by the art of contrast, specifically the mix of salty and sweet. Fruit preserves on a sausage biscuit? Check. Glazed pecans from Priester's Pecans in Fort Deposit, AL? Mmmm... Chocolate covered pretzels? Oh yeah. A little salt on my margarita? Of course. BBQ sauce that's hot but sugary? Yes please. Milkduds in my popcorn at the movies? Only always.

There's just something about how those two parts of the tongue become active by one single bite. It's beautiful. It's mysterious. It's where God lives. Most importantly, it's delicious.

With that, here's something salty and sweet for your ear drums. It's a mashup of "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" by Rapper/ex-music mogul Jay-Z and "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve. The lyrics coming from the former and the music/hook by the latter. Hope you enjoy it.


12 March 2008

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Rendezvous Famous Barbecue Sauce

As I mentioned in the last post, I recently made a trip to Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous in Memphis. And while I stand by my opinion that their ribs are overrated, I found myself interested in their barbecue sauce. At $3.50 for an 18-ounce bottle, it was not as expensive I would have expected, given the place's tourist trap status.

The sauce is not very thick - roughly the viscosity of a vinaigrette dressing - lightly coating a dipped toothpick. The consistency of the sauce is smooth, with a plentiful amount of particles suspended in it.

It's tomato-based, as most Memphis sauces are, but not as sweet. It leads with a tangy vinegar punch which slowly recedes to reveal earthy tones of tomato and onion, with an essence of mustard. The sauce finishes with a lingering burn and a trace of smoke.

Grade: B

09 March 2008

BBQ FIELD TRIP: Payne's Bar-B-Q (Memphis, TN)

I went to Memphis this weekend with my future brother-in-law, who has only recently moved to Tennessee and had never been to Memphis. I think I'm a good person to show someone Memphis because I actually like it. I don't know if it's some kind of intrastate rivalry or if it's xenophobia or what, but so many people in Nashville seem to have such a bad attitude about Memphis. I think it's a fun, ultra laid-back city, and it feels so different than Nashville even though it's just three hours away. And oh yeah, they've got some pretty good barbecue, too.

I've been to most of the "big name" barbecue restaurants in Memphis over the years. And while some of them do some things well, I think that to varying degrees, they are coasting on their reputations (and their mail-order profits) at this point. Case in point: future B.I.L. and I made the obligatory visit to Rendezvous this weekend. While I love the atmosphere and think eating at Rendezvous is a great experience, I remain confounded as to why their ribs are considered among the best.

I'm discovering more and more that the heart of Memphis barbecue lies off the beaten path. This weekend, the case for that argument was further strengthened by my visit to one of Memphis' true gems - Payne's Bar-B-Q.

Payne's is in a converted old filling station on Lamar Avenue. The former garage part of the building is the dining area. As we quickly discovered on this chilly day, the dining room is unheated. Though there was a steady flow of carry-out business, we had the dining room to ourselves.

The menu is definitely on the simple side.

I ordered both a sliced pork sandwich and a chopped pork sandwich, because I just couldn't make up my mind, and because I was hungry. When we ordered, the lady working behind the counter pulled a whole shoulder (!) out of the smoker and began cutting off meat for our sandwiches. That was a good sign, and so was the fact the buns were toasted on the grill. The finished products were ready a minute or two later.

Dear reader, as you have probably by now surmised, I eat my share of barbecue. Most of it is okay. Some of it is really good. Some of it is great. But every once in a while, I have something that is so great that it goes in its own category. This is the best barbecue sandwich I have ever had. I really, really wish the photo I took had turned out better so you could fully appreciate it, but if you really want, you can do a Google image search and find some better ones.

While both the sliced and the chopped versions were great, I think the chopped version (on the left) truly takes the sandwich to its greatest height. The pork was very tender, but with plenty of crispy bark pieces in every bite. But the barbecue itself was not what made this sandwich great. In fact, the sandwich is a case study in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The barbecue is good on its own, but not incredible. The same goes for the spicy, sweet barbecue sauce and the unique neon green slaw. But when all of the ingredients are combined on that toasted bun, the resulting onslaught of flavors is bordering on divine. God bless this pork sandwich, God bless Payne's, and God bless Memphis.

Payne's Bar-B-Q
1762 Lamar Ave
Memphis, TN 38114

06 March 2008

Have you ever had Chinese Skycandy?

I've never had any Chinese Skycandy, but this jam band I know has a tune about it.

Character's Chinese Skycandy

I heard a rumor that Character might be doing a reunion show and if there aren't too many hippies there I might go.

04 March 2008

Two New Books

Today, my wife came across two books at the antique store:

The Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook and Smokestack Lightning

I am very excited to start reading Smokestack Lightning. Covering the different styles and practices from different regions of the country, the book is full of pictures and first-hand accounts that display the history and the total experience of bbq. I have seen this book referenced many times in online articles and even on TV shows about bbq. It is also pretty cool that this is a hardcover first edition of the book.

The KCBS book - The Kansas City Barbecue Society Presents "Barbecue...It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore" - provides a history of the society along with equipment discussion, tools, techniques, and of course, recipes. With some of the group's big names as contributors, this should have some pretty interesting info.

Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning (the inspiration for the title)

"In the real world, most people don't know a brisket from a butt and feel not the least bit impoverished by their ignorance. But like Trekkies or bungee jumpers or Civil War re-enactors, competitive barbecuers spend weekends in their own orbit. They worship their own gods, they speak their own language, and they think the ability to distinguish a brisket from a butt is no less basic to a civilized existence than are lounge chairs and chilled beer."
- Lolis Eric Elie, Smokestack Lightning

01 March 2008


I love the Nashville Farmer's Market. As anyone who's been there knows, it's much more than simply a farmer's market. It's also a flea market (on the weekends). And it's adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall, which is The Smallest State Park In Tennessee. And right in the middle of the farmer's market is a food court, with both restaurants and food shops hawking the ethnic and the bizarre. It all opened in 1996 (the bicenTENNial) and since has provided many hours of amusement and cheap dates. When I was a courier, I ate lunch at the food court on a pretty regular basis, because it's always had such an interesting variety of things to eat. Parco Cafe used to be in the Farmer's Market, and in my opinion, it's never been quite the same since it moved to Printer's Alley. There is a Swett's. There is a Jamaican place. There is a Chinese place. There used to be a great hot dog stand that served a hot dog with hot chow-chow on it that was out of this world. Anyway, as great as the Farmer's Market has been, no one's ever accused it of being too crowded or too popular. But now there's a movement to change that and raise the profile. They've got themselves a website. And they're renovating the whole place.

With those renovations have come new tenants, and one of those new tenants is B&C Market BBQ. The "B&C" stands for "Bacon & Caviar," which is the name of the catering company which spawned the barbecue restaurant. While barbecue has been a part of the three year old catering company's offerings, owners Ed Smith and Paul Johnson recently decided to make it more of a focus and open the restaurant.

The restaurant is a little different than most in the food court in that it's not a booth or a counter - you can actually step inside. The simple menu is written on a blackboard on the wall. On the day I visited, they had pulled pork and pulled chicken. Normally, they also have smoked salmon (!) and pork ribs. Sides are the usual BBQ joint suspects - baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, mac-and-cheese - plus corn pudding and a chipotle corn salad. I went for a pulled pork plate with baked beans and potato salad.

One of the results of being a member of Team Ulika is that I have developed exceptionally high standards for pulled pork. So believe me when I tell you that B&C's pulled pork was very, very good. It was seasoned just right, resulting in exceptional flavor, especially in the plentiful bark pieces. It could have been just a bit more moist, but I think it may have suffered from being on a serving tray for too long. It came sans sauce, and really didn't need any, but I tried some anyway. It was an excellent sauce, definitely more interesting than the "slightly enhanced ketchup" which passes for barbecue sauce so often in this area. The mild version which I tried had quite a kick to it, and reminded me a lot of Gate's sauce with its unique chili flavor.

The sides were somewhat less impressive, but still not bad. The baked beans came off as kind of bland on first taste, though there was an interesting spicy-sweet flavor buried in the mix. Perhaps that flavor could be turned up? The potato salad, which B&C calls "baked potato salad" again showed potential. The potatoes were cooked perfectly, not too firm and not too mushy. But the flavor was a bit too mayonnaise-heavy. Just a dabbling of complementary flavors could take it from good to great. Also, I want to say just a few words about the cornbread. It's definitely more of a corn light bread, but even that doesn't accurately describe it. It was definitely sweet, but it was not crumbly at all. In fact, it was closer to the texture of angel food cake - very interesting, and, might I say, a very refreshing alternative.

The potential is there for this to be a successful restaurant. If they can consistently turn out a product that is as good as what I tasted, they will have a shot. What remains to be seen is whether the Farmer's Market location will be a benefit or a bane. Until next time...