28 November 2008

Thanksgiving Hangover

So now that you have all that leftover turkey, what are you going to do?



How bout some turkey dumplins?

Maybe you could make a turkey pot pie (a substitute for the chicken).

There is also the gobbler cobbler.

10 good ideas for leftover turkey

10 bad ideas for leftover turkey

Don't have any leftover turkey? Don't worry, the grocery stores are having a fire sale on turkeys and you can get a great deal.

What is your favorite leftover turkey recipe?

I hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving and a successful Black Friday...but hopefully you didn't get caught up in something like this:



Well, it seemed like a good idea to stand in line at 4:00 am in the Wal-Mart parking lot to get one of three DVD players available for $20.

27 November 2008

Music Thursday: The Thanksgiving Song

Thanksgiving must be the most food-centered of all of the holidays, and it all begins with the turkey. While this goofy looking bird isn't the typical protein of choice year-round on the dinner table, approximately 46 million turkeys will be eaten around American tables today (that's about 1/5 of ALL turkeys raised in the U.S. this year).



My job on Thanksgiving has always been the turkey and this will be the first time that I have not fried a turkey in about 10 years. The fried turkey has become a very popular item on the Thanksgiving table, but after several years of it, the novelty has worn off. Now don't get me wrong, I think that the crispy skin that you get from the fried turkey is great, but the leftovers are sub par. So this year, I am going to cook a turkey on the Big Green Egg. This method will create less of a mess and it turns out a good bird. Smoking the turkey will allow me the additional advantage of using a rub on the exterior - when frying a turkey, a rub would just burn off in the hot oil. Currently, my 14 pound bird is sitting in a brine and will be injected and cooked this morning.

We'll also be having the usuals: stuffing, green beans, mac and cheese and what I'm really excited about, them sweet taters. Then we'll finish with some pumpkin and pecan desserts of course.

Whatever you're cooking, I hope everyone out there has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.



Tune in for a post-Thanksgiving post about those turkey leftovers...

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Daddy Sam's Bar-B-Que Sawce



Some sauces are just meant to be in a jar. Daddy Sam's Bar-B-Que Sawce is right at home in the jar. It's hearty and thick, and just needs more girth than a bottle has to offer. As most thicker sauces are, this one is sweet. It's the kind of heady, robust sweetness that only molasses can provide. There are little bits of garlic suspended throughout the thickness that provide a twist and help to segue the sweetness to a feisty, peppery heat.



Grade: B+

24 November 2008

EXPLORING NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 3 - Local Chains



It is a testament to how popular barbecue is in Middle Tennessee, and how ingrained it is in the cultural landscape, that there are several barbecue mini-empires in the area. We have already discussed the most prominent of the local barbecue chains - Whitts. In taking a look at some of the others, I discovered that the influence of Whitts extends even further than I thought.



Bar-B-Cutie
Year opened: 1950
Number of locations: 10

No matter what you think of their product, you have to admit that "Bar-B-Cutie" is a clever name for a barbecue restaurant. And their cowgirl logo is a refreshing change from the cartoon pigs that so often adorn barbecue joints in this town. Bar-B-Cutie is actually the grandaddy of Nashville barbecue chains. They've been around forever, but only recently have they started to get some serious recognition, sweeping the Tennessean's inaugural Toast of Music City awards. Their overwhelming success in those awards was a bit suspicious, considering that they have never even cracked the top 3 of the Nashville Scene's Best of Nashville reader's poll. And on a personal note, I don't believe I've ever met anyone in this city who claims to love Bar-B-Cutie. Conveniently for the Cutie, their accolades come at a time when they are in the midst of an agressive push for national franchising. In addition to their 10 Nashville area stores, they now have locations in Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, with a location coming soon in Delaware.





I kept it closer to home and visited the Nolensville Road location, and was immediately impressed to see a stack of wood behind the restaurant, as well as what appeared to be an old-school cooker made into the side of the building. This was surprising to me, as my most recent Bar-B-Cutie visits have been to the Bellevue location, which is inside of a gas station, and uses an electric cooker. According to the manager on duty at Nolensville Road, they cook with wood. Maybe this is an exception? Franchising and wood pits wouldn't seem to be very compatible. But enough about peripherals...let's get to the food.



The ribs at Bar-B-Cutie come wet or dry. I went with the wet, and even the genrous amount of honey barbcue sauce could not disguise the fact that this was a poor rack of ribs. The meat itself was dry and almost leathery. Frankly, it could have been almost any kind of meat, because the only flavor was coming from the super-sweet barbecue sauce.



The pork sandwich was much better. It came with no sauce or garnishments, and nothing to hide. The pork was tender and juicy, maybe just a tad mushy in places, but mostly well-defined and with some nice bark pieces. The meat had a subtle smokiness, but not much seasoning. This serviceable pulled pork was aided by a warm toasted bun with just the right amount of crunch. I'm surprised to say it, but this is one of the better barbecue sandwiches that I have had so far in these reports. I'm not sure if all Bar-B-Cutie locations serve as good a sandwich, but on this day, the Nolensville Road location got it right.



Stroud's Barbeque
Year opened: 1996
Number of locations: 5

I never knew until now, Dear Reader, that there are Whitts clones in Middle Tennessee. I have always thought that Whitts, with their smoke-free pulled pork, and their mayo and pickle-dressed sandwiches were an anomaly. Not so! As I perused the menu at the Stroud's location in Franklin, I noticed that their pork sandwiches are served with slaw, mayonnaise and pickle!



The pulled pork at Stroud's suffers from the same blandness that plagues Whitts - no discernable smoke flavor whatsoever. Furthermore, Stroud's pork lacks tenderness and juiciness, resulting in a meat that is relatively dry. And the sandwich is not done any favors by the cold bun on which it is served. Overall, a very disppointing sandwich.



If there is a silver lining for Stroud's cloud, it has got to be their barbecue nachos (I realize that the purists are now heartily guffaw-ing). Stroud's version is very unique. There are the requisite tortilla chips and pulled pork, but instead of Cheez Whiz, they use the white queso dip prevalent in Mexican restaurants. And instead of barbecue sauce, the nachos are topped with baked beans. The beans and cheese create a sweet and savory combination that livens up the mediocre pulled pork, and the result is quite tasty.



Rick's Barbecue
Year opened: 1996
Number of locations: 6

Rick's is a lesser known name, as most of their locations are in Southern Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama. Rick's menu (see photo at the top of this report) is a bit more extensive, including things like slaw dogs, fried items, and desserts. Their barbecue sandwich, however...is another Whitts clone! It comes in a little pouch, and it has slaw, mayonnaise and pickles.





The quality of the pulled pork is a little better in this case. It's tender without being mushy, and there are some nice bark pieces in the mix. In the Whitts tradition, though, there is no smoke flavor to be found, nor any smoke ring or evidence of being smoked. Overall, quite mediocre.

Highlights: Bar-B-Cutie pork sandwich (Pretty Good), Stroud's barbecue nachos (Good)

Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.

More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed

23 November 2008

TurBACONducken



Turbaconducken. This would be a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey...then wrapped in bacon.

And you can try this at home! There are complete instructions (5 pounds of bacon required for this recipe) with photos available from the fine folks at Bacon Today: Daily Updates on the World of Sweet, Sweet Bacon.

So, what are you making for Thanksgiving?

20 November 2008

Music Thursday: Can I Get A Damn Coke?

The Mr. and I are currently in the Biggest Little City in the World. Of the many unsettling things about this city, one thing has been rather problematic for us on this trip: no coke. Atleast not the kind that we're looking for.

No Coke, no Diet Coke, no Dr. Pepper or Sprite, certainly no Coke Zero...no Coca Cola products of any kind. And every time I ask for a coke, I get the awww, cute accent remarks and then the dreaded question: Is Pepsi okay?

And perhaps because they don't have it, they don't call it coke out here either. Apparently, we're straight up in the land of soda nomenclature:



*Reno is in the skinny rectangular county of Nevada along the California border

Tennessee, you see, is all about the coke. So for this week's song, I'd like to buy the world a coke. I sure wish I could just buy one out here.

19 November 2008

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Lotta Bull BBQ Sauce



This is another barbecue sauce from one of the legends of the field - a team that is still at the top of their game. Mike and Debbie Davis' Lotta Bull BBQ, out of Marietta, Oklahoma, has been among the most dominant teams in KCBS over the last few years. And they have now reached that level of success where other barbecue cooks will pay money to learn their secrets.

Not surprisingly, their barbecue sauce is a good one. When uncapped, it has a strong smoky aroma. The color is rich burgundy and the consistency is similar to that of condensed milk. Upon first taste, the sauce is surprisingly sweet. The sweetness lingers, but a savory essence of tamarind soon rises beneath, complemented by notes of onion and garlic, finishing with the prickly burn of hot pepper. The heat leaves behind a mellow, smoky burn that grows with each taste.

Grade: B+

17 November 2008

EXPLORING NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 2 - The Chain Gang



National barbecue chains are a relatively new phenomenon. Up until the last decade or so, barbecue restaurants have been almost exclusively mom-and-pop territory. The last ten years have seen a rash of barbecue chains aimed at a national market. And although the trend has cooled somewhat recently, the national chains still do very well in Nashville. This report will take a look at the major players and see how their barbecue stacks up.



Jim 'n Nick's Bar-B-Q
Founded: 1985
Began franchising: does not franchise
Original location: Birmingham, AL
Current number of locations: 26
Parent company: none



Don't be fooled by the aged look of the exterior of Jim 'n Nick's Charlotte Pike location - it was built in 2004. Jim 'n Nick's is a relative newcomer to the Nashville barbecue scene, but has quickly become one of the city's most popular places. And there is certainly a lot to like about the place. It has an ambiance that is somewhere between Cracker Barrel faux-folk and the smart modern feel of J. Alexander's ("vintage" farm supply advertisements and modern light fixtures!). The restaurant has a commitment to freshness, claiming to have no freezers in the restaurant at all. And they are supporters of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which earns them brownie points with me. But how is the barbecue?



The pork spare ribs (served garnished with pickles) are not much to speak of. They do have a nice amount of smoky flavor, but are otherwise bland. And the ribs that I tried had a tough texture, and definitely could have been cooked a few more degrees.



The pulled pork was unfortunately not much better. The meat itself was relatively dry. Like the ribs, the pork definitely had the unmistakable taste of real smoke. If you look in the photo above of the outside of the restaurant, you can see the smokestack and the stacks of wood. Jim 'n Nick's does cook all of their barbecue onsite with real wood, which is commendable for a chain restaurant. But it is very difficult, Dear Reader, to maintain quality control over a product as sensitive as barbecue when you are doing the kind of volume that a reataurant like Jim 'n Nick's is doing.



I have gone out of my way in these reports to keep the focus, food-wise, on the barbecue itself, and not things like sides and desserts. I feel that the true merit of a barbecue restaurant should be its barbecue, and not its potato salad. However, the complementary cheese muffins at Jim 'n Nick's cannot go unmentioned. They are fantastic, especially when they are hot and fresh. Sweet and savory, it's Where God Lives.



Shane's Rib Shack
Founded: 2002
Began franchising: 2004
Original location: McDonough, GA
Current number of locations: 93
Parent company: Raving Brands Inc.



Shane's Rib Shack definitely feels more like a chain restaurant than any of the others in this report - both Nashville area locations (Franklin and Hendersonville) are in strip malls. But despite the massive number of locations, Shane's began as a mom-and-pop joint outside of Atlanta, which is always better than being born as a "concept" in a test kitchen (coughSmokeyBonescough). Anyway, the theme here is "on the road," with mock road signs like "RIB WORK AHEAD" and "SWEET TEA MAY BE ICY". I didn't see anyone but teenagers working there. Are they cooking the barbecue, too?



The namesake ribs here are baby backs. There was little to no smoke flavor here, but they were cooked to perfect tenderness, pulling away from the bone with just a little work. And the sauce, generously applied, gives a nice boost in flavor to a rack of ribs that are otherwise unflavorful.



Shane's calls their pork sandwich the "Big Dad sandwich". It comes overflowing with coarsely chopped pork on grilled Texas toast. The pork , while certainly tender, tastes like it might have been cooked in a crock pot. It has the consistency of pot roast. The sandwich is done a great favor by the grilled Texas toast, though. It may not manage the contents of the sandwich as well as a bun, but buttery grilled Texas toast can make almost anything taste better. Add a squeeze of the house barbecue sauce (a lightly sweet ketchup and mustard based concoction) and the Big Dad sandwich is not bad at all. Not much thanks to the barbecue, though.



Famous Dave's
Founded: 1995
Began franchising: 1998
Original location: Hayward, WI
Current number of locations: 171
Parent company: none

Ah, Famous Dave's. This is about as close as you will come to barbecue in Cool Springs, which is just the kind of location in which Dave's thrives. The theme here is "hunting lodge" (see photo at top). There is a chimney, but I'm not sure it's connected to a cooker.



What can I say? I'm a sucker for sauce. One thing that I really found interesting was that the server brought out a small plate of french fries and an empty plate and proceeded to "mix together his favorite sauce" for dipping, a la that sauce that they make at P.F. Chang. He mixed half "Sweet & Zesty" and half "Texas Pit", and I have to say it was very good.



Let me just say right off the bat that I have read in more than one place that Famous Dave's boils their ribs. Boiling ribs is not cool, Dear Reader. So I was fully prepared to scoff at what I tasted. But to my surprise, these were clearly the best ribs that I have tasted so far in these reports. They are St Louis style spare ribs and the ones I had were cooked nearly perfectly. Yes, they did have the membrane still attached on the bottom, but how many racks of ribs does this place serve in a day? I can forgive it. Maybe they're smoked and maybe they aren't, but I seemed to detect the taste of hickory smoke, which worked well with the sticky sweet cooked on sauce. If this is not real barbecue, they certainly fooled me.



Unfortunately, the pulled pork failed to impress. It was mealy in texture and lacking any definition in flavor.

Highlights: Famous Dave's ribs (Good)

Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.

P.S. I you are interested in reading more about the concept of national barbecue chains, this is an interesting article.

More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed

13 November 2008

Music Thursday: Highwayman

I came across this song, and remembered just how good it is. It's like four things in one. How can you beat that?

12 November 2008

BBQ SAUCE OF THE WEEK: Billy Bones BBQ Sauce



William Wall, better known as Billy Bones, is one of the barbecue world's legendary characters. One of the Upper Midwest's giants of barbecue, he has parlayed a successful competition career into an even more successful catering empire. And of course, he'll sell you some barbecue sauce, too.

Rugged and smoky, and with a hearty burn in the aftertatste, this is a no-nonsense, no-frills sauce - a man's barbecue sauce, if you will. There is not much sweetness to be found, but there is a virile dose of vinegar, which gives way to a savory spiciness. It's dark brown in color and just barely coats a spoon. This sauce is going to add a kick of tangy, spicy flavor to whatever you use it on.

Grade: B

11 November 2008

EXPLORING NASHVILLE BARBECUE: Part 1 - The Legends



Nashville is not generally known as a great barbecue town. That's not to say that there isn't a lot of barbecue to be found here - there certainly is. But with barbecue meccas like Memphis to the west and North Carolina to the east, the Music City tends to get lost in the shuffle. Our local joints rarely get mentioned when national barbecue best-of lists are compiled. And the mid-state is not often a stop on most foodies' barbecue pilgrimages through the South. So is the barbecue in Nashville inferior, or just underappreciated? After experiencing the best of what Memphis has to offer earlier this year, I set out to see how Nashville stacks up. This will be the first in an ongoing series of reports to discover whether there is truly great barbecue to be found in Middle Tennessee.

For this first report, we could've played it safe and started out slowly, visiting some lesser known places to get warmed up. But you know that's not how we roll. We're going straight to the sacred cows. And in Nashville, as far as the popular vote is concerned, you don't get any more sacred than Whitts.



Whitts has been voted best barbecue in the Nashville Scene's readers poll for about 20 years running. I think the reason for their success is twofold. First, they have over 20 locations in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. No matter where you are, chances are there is a Whitts nearby. So their exposure is immense. Second, they offer a really consistent product. You know that no matter which location you visit, the barbecue will taste the same.



And, as you can see by the sign, if you order a barbecue sandwich, it's going to come dressed with mayonnaise, slaw, and a pickle.



And your sandwich is going to come in a little Whitts bag.



If you think that looks like a tasty sandwich, you're right - it is. The problem is, it doesn't taste like barbecue. Whitts' pulled pork is always tender and juicy (it arrives having already been hit with a thin au jus type sauce), but there is absolutely no trace of smoke flavor on the meat. And there are no discernable outer bark pieces either. I'm fairly confident that this pork has not been smoked at all, but rather cooked in some other manner. Which is okay - like I said, it's a tasty sandwich (and a great deal at $1.25 on Wednesdays). Just don't call it barbecue.



Hog Heaven is a much more charismatic barbecue experience. They only have one location, and it's right off of West End, next to Centennial Park. Although it is just a walk-up window and a couple of picnic tables, their slogan boasts of "outdoor seating for 3,000".



Hog Heaven's pulled pork sandwich is more traditional than Whitts, but does still come garnished with pickles. I'm not sure if pickles on a barbecue sandwich is a "Nashville thing", but I have rarely seen it anywhere else. Thankfully, most places put the pickles on the side so that people like me who don't want them can easily discard.



Whatever Whitts' pork lacks in smoke flavor and bark pieces, Hog Heaven definitely makes up for. Although it is lightly seasoned, smoke is the is the main complement to the natural flavor of the pork, which is tender as can be. The sauce is ketchup based and lightly sweet, but is short on the kind of flavor that could make this sandwich truly transcendent.



A Hog Heaven specialty is pulled smoked chicken served with white sauce à la Big Bob Gibson. The highlight here is definitely the sauce, which is tangy with just a bit of bite. The chicken itself is very dry and lacking any significant flavor.



Another popular item at Nashville area barbecue joints is the rib sandwich. Unlike a McRib, this is definitely not meant to be eaten like a sandwich! It typically consists of 2 to 3 spare ribs perched on a couple of slices of white bread (again garnished with pickles). Hog Heaven's ribs are served without any type of sauce applied. They are cooked to the point that they easily pull away from the bone. The texture tends to be mushy and the flavor rather bland. Dipping the meat in the barbecue sauce that comes on the side helps a bit, but overall these are unimpressive pork ribs.



Jack's Bar-B-Que is perhaps Nashville's best known barbecue joint when it comes to visitors. Their location on lower Broadway downtown does a brisk business, serving tourists cafeteria-style as they prepare for a night of line dancin' and honky tonkin'. I usually visit the Trinity Lane location, just because it's more relaxed and less crowded.



The first thing you notice when you get out of your car is the thick smell of hickory smoke in the air. This is almost always a good sign, Dear Reader. Jack's has a set of large cookers attached to the back of the restaurant.



Apparently, a lot of tourists make it to this location, too, because right when you walk in, they have a guestbook and a globe to mark where you're from (pictured at the top of this report). But they don't forget the locals, with the football schedules for all four local college football teams.



And there are lots of signs around the restaurant to remind you that this is barbecue done the right way.





I think my favorite thing about Jack's is the sauce bar. There are FIVE barbecue sauces to choose from - Tennessee, Texas, Kansas City, Carolina Gold, and XXX-911. What can I say, I'm a sucker for condiments.



But hey, we're not here to compare ambiance or sauce bars...how's the barbecue?



A combo platter comes with a lot of meat. I got ribs, pulled pork and sausage. The sausage was utterly forgettable. The ribs, sitting on top in the above photo, are probably the best thing that Jack's does. They might be cooked just a bit too long (if you glare at them hard enough, the meat falls off the bone), but the flavor is good and they have a nice char on the exterior. They have just the right amount of smoke flavor, and they are well seasoned. They come without sauce, so you can choose your own adventure at the sauce bar. Overall, a very serviceable rack of ribs.



The pulled pork, on the other hand, is not so serviceable. Perhaps I just got part of a bad batch, but on the day I visited, the pork was overwhelmingly smoky, to the point of having an acrid taste. I have never before tasted pulled pork that was TOO smoky, but this certainly was. Not even the Texas Sweet Hot sauce could salvage it.

Highlights: Hog Heaven pulled pork sandwich (Pretty Good), Jack's ribs (Pretty Good)

Disclaimer: Please note that these reports are based on particular servings of barbecue at a particular day and time. Barbecue can be prone to fluctuation. Your experiences may vary.

More reports in this series:
Part 1 - The Legends
Part 2 - The Chain Gang
Part 3 - Local Chains
Part 4 - Jefferson Street
Part 5 - Clarksville Highway
Part 6 - East Nashville
Part 7 - The West Side
Part 8 - Memphis Imports
Part 9 - T for Texas
Part 10 - Williamson County
Part 11 - Murfreesboro
Part 12 - La Vergne & Smyrna
Part 13 - Wilson County
Part 14 - Catching Up in Nashville
Part 15 - Hendersonville & White House
Part 16 - Portland & Gallatin
Part 17 - Robertson County
Part 18 - Dickson County
Part 19 - "Barbecue by any other name..."
Part 20 - Places We Missed
Part 21 - More Places We Missed