Friday, November 27, 2009

Maple Brined Smoked Turkey

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. It's hunting season and eating season and I can do those two things with the best of them. Truth be told, I'm getting to the point where I'd rather make something than eat something and derive more pleasure from the compliments of those who eat the food I make than i do from eating the food I make. So, I was tasked to make the Thanksgiving turkey for the family this year. Oven-basted turkeys are fine and quite frankly, deep fried turkeys are fine as well but most everybody is doing those these days. I like to try and give them something different and smoking fits that bill.

One of the keys, in my opinion, in making a truly succulent, moist turkey is the act of brining the bird. Many do not use this step as most store-bought birds are already injected with a brine solution. I prefer not to use those birds but to buy birds without any brine and do it myself. This year, I wanted to go with maple. My good friends, Deb and Kent, gave me a large container of New Hampshire Grade A Maple Syrup, so I decided this year we'd go with a Maple Brine for the turkey. Here's the recipe I used for the brine:

1 gallon of cold water (or more depending on the size of your bird)
1 1/2 cups of kosher salt
1/4 cup coarse black pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced (the original recipe called for 1 1/2 TBS garlic powder but I always like to used fresh garlic whenever possible; I believe the taste is better)
1/4 small onion, minced (again, the original recipe called for 1/2 TBS onion powder but I like the real thing whenever I can)
2 cups pure Grade A maple syrup (the original recipe called for 1/2 oz maple extract; see above on why I use the real stuff)
2-3 bay leaves
2 cloves (or if ground, use to taste)

I simply put this all together in a container that will hold this and the bird. Prior to putting the bird in the brine, stir it up until the salt is dissolved in the water. Then you simply put the bird in the solution, making sure that the entire bird is submerged in the brine. You may need to use a heavy dish to keep the bird submerged but the key is making sure the entire bird is submerged. You can do one of two things at this point. If you have a container that is large enough to hold the brine and the bird and a refrigerator large enough to hold this, simply place the bird and brine in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. If you're like me, you have too much stuff in your refrigerator already. I simply use a cooler large enough to hold the bird and brine and then dump a bunch of ice into the brine. This keeps the bird plenty cold enough to hold it for the 12 hour brining period without any fear of having the bird come down with any nasty organisms.

Once the 12 hour brining period is over, you'll want to thoroughly rinse the bird as well as pat it dry both inside and out. If you have the time, I like to air dry the bird as well for a 8-12 hour period inside the refrigerator. I simply place the bird on a rack and place the bird in the refrigerator. I feel like this helps the skin get crispy when being cooked and this helps with that as the smoking process will make the skin rubbery. Another step I like to do is to place pats of butter and some simple spices under the skin of the bird. The key is to add spices that will compliment your brine.

After you have your bird ready for the smoker, I like to get a piece of cheesecloth that is large enough to cover the bird and then soak it in melted butter. If I know that people also like some spice with their smoke, I like to take 1/4-1/2 cup of tabasco sauce and mix it with the melted butter. Simply take the butter-soaked cheesecloth and drape it over the entire bird. This also works well to keep the skin of the bird crisp as well as add an additional flavor to the bird. I'm also a fan of placing bacon strips over the bird prior to draping it with the cheesecloth. In all reality, we're only limited by our imagination on what we can do to spice up a traditional turkey.

After I've put the amount of smoke that I desire on the bird, I simply remove from the smoker and place in a 325F oven to finish getting the bird to temperature (I take mine to 170F as measured in the thigh of the bird). This last step also serves well to finish crisping up the skin as I enjoy the skin as much as the meat. When you're done, you should find your bird will look just like any bird, but it will have a myriad of flavors that just can't be matched by simply placing it in the oven.

Now, I received many praises from the people who'd never had a home-smoked turkey but it was because of the moistness of the bird. They told me that they were hesitant at first because they believed the smoking process would dry out the bird. To be honest, I believe the brining process will lead you to make the most moist bird you've ever made. I've oven-basted, deep-fried and smoked turkeys and I would have to say that a brined, smoked bird will be as moist or more moist than any bird you've ever had. And even if you're not going to smoke your bird, I highly recommend brining your own bird. The taste dimension it adds will make you top turkey in your clan.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My favorite time of the year

I think if I was pressed to say what my favorite time of the year would be, I'd go with fall. Now, there's something to be said for spring because of the rejuvenation that occurs after winter. But, with fall, there are so many of my favorite things. Fall starts with the turning of the leaves, the beginning of football season and the fishing is excellent. However, the coupe de gras for fall for me is hunting. There is nothing I enjoy more than being out scouting some land or sitting in a tree stand with bow or gun in hand. Some of my best hunts have occurred when no game was taken. Being able to watch nature unfold around you with the animals unaware of your presence can be an extremely satisfying event. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all about harvesting animals because my family uses them for sustenance and there's nothing better than homemade venison sausage, jerky or steaks. If I can get a trophy to mount on the wall, that's an added bonus.

Unfortunately, due to moving from Indiana to Michigan this year, I was unable to bowhunt (which if I had to give up all other forms of hunting to do, I'd gladly do it). But, I am able to deer hunt this year during the gun season and will go out with my trusty muzzleloader. My wife's relatives have some land and so I was able to do some scouting before placing the treestands up with a buddy. Here are some of the sights I saw:

These rubs are located on a major deer path between the woods where the treestands are located and the bedding area the deer are using. When I saw these I figured there might be a decent deer in the area. I KNEW there was a real nice buck in the area when I saw this one:

Whether I harvest a large buck or not, I'm so looking forward to November 15th. There is no better time to be in the woods and I don't plan on missing out.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

May God Bless...........

My thoughts go out to all of those affected by the shooting at Fort Hood. May God be with those who were tragically taken from their families as well as those who were injured. My condolences go out to all affected.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 to catch, great to smoke

So, you've caught some salmon or perhaps found a great deal on them at the supermarket. Now, you've got to decide how to prepare them. There are many great ways to prepare salmon but I like smoked salmon the best for a couple of reasons. First, everything just tastes better smoked. Secondly, smoking salmon allows for a much greater ability to share with your friends and to do it over a long period of time. This method freezes extremely well and I think eating previously frozen smoked salmon actually makes this smoked salmon even better as it gives the smoke time to move throughout the fish and mix with the oils of the fish to provide an incredible smoke flavor in the fish.

I cannot take credit for this recipe (as much as I'd like to). This recipe comes from a friend in Alaska that I met on the Bradley Smoker forum. One of the things on my bucket list is to join him up in Alaska, catch some salmon up there and make this recipe with fresh Alaskan salmon. In the interim, I'll just have to continue making it with Lake Michigan salmon.

Now that you've caught your salmon, how do we go about preparing it for the smoke? You can smoke the fish whole if you desire or you can give this a try. I like this method quite a bit because it allows people to eat it without having to mess with the entire fish. First, you'll need to fillet the fish (if you've bought the fish at the grocery store, chances are you've bought it already filleted.

Now, if your trays in your smoker are large enough to handle the fillets, you could definitely smoke the fillets in this state and you'll still have some great smoked salmon. I like to take it a step further to make it easier to get as little or as much as a person would like. Additionally, I like to leave the skin on the fish while smoking but this is not a necessity. If you do leave it on, make sure you scale the fillets or you'll have scales on the meat. While this won't ruin the meat, why deal with scales if you don't have to? Also, you'll want to take the time to get as many bones out as you can as there is nothing worse than having to remove bones while you're eating the fish. The bones are large in this fish and are easily removed. I use my wife's eyebrow pluckers (when she's not looking anyways) and they're easily removed. Most salmon bought at the grocery store is usually de-boned as well.

Here's how I cut up the salmon:

I try to cut up the salmon in strips around 1/2" wide but it isn't an exact science. I just do it this way for ease of eating. You can cut it up anyway you'd desire and still have an excellent product. I leave the skin on because I believe the meat will stay more firm in this state but again, if the skin's not on, you'll still be fine. Now that you've gotten the fish in the form you'd like to smoke it in, you're going to need the ingredients for the brine. This recipe calls for very basic ingredients. Here's what you'll need for this recipe:

1 gallon cold water
1 quart teriyaki or soy sauce (sometimes I feel a little dicey and go 1/2 teriyaki and 1/2 soy)
1 cup pickling salt
2 Lbs brown sugar
2 Tbsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp cayenne pepper

Now, you can add whatever spices you think will add to the flavor of the fish. I've found that 3 Tbsp of cayenne gives it enough kick to satisfy my taste but not too much that the kids won't eat it. Sometimes, I'll leave the cayenne out and add some diced jalapenos for the heat. You're only limited by your imagination on what you can add to this to make it your "special" recipe.

Take your ingredients and place them in a container large enough to handle the fish and the brine. I like to mix up the brine with a handheld electric mixer because it can take a while for this to mix well in the cold water. Once you've got the brine mixed up, simply place the fish in with the brine like so:

After you've got the fish in the brine, you want to let it sit in the brine from 12-24 hours. I usually try to time it so it sits in the brine from 12-18 hours. I then like to place a plate or some other item on top of the fish so that it ensures the fish is completely submerged in the brine. I'll then put the fish into the refrigerator (She Who Should Be Obeyed mandates that I use a different refrigerator than the one in the kitchen) and let it sit soaking up the brine. You can also put the fish in a cooler with the brine and add ice to keep it cold if you desire.

When the designated time you've decided to soak the fish in the brine has come, you'll want to pull the fish out of the brine and have it sit so that it forms a pellicle. This is really nothing more than a glossy shine and the fish will feel tacky on touch. Sometimes my fish will get a pellicle that is easily discernible and sometimes it won't. Generally, this process takes anywhere from 2-4 hours. I simply place the fish on a drying rack and then will turn the fish over a couple of times to help with the process. You want to avoid the pieces touching if you can as this will help with the pellicle forming process. You can also use a fan to aid in the drying process if you desire. The only thing to be concerned about at this point is that the fish isn't in warmer temps so long as to spoil the fish.

Once the pellicle forms and you're ready to start the smoking process, follow this procedure with the smoke rolling the entire time:

100°-120°F for 1-2 hours, then increase to
140° for 2-4 hours, then increase to
175° for 1-2 hours to finish

Use the longer times given for thicker/higher oil content fish. As a general rule, the higher temp you use or the longer you hot smoke, the more the meat cooks the oils out, however, the meat becomes dryer/tougher in the process. The times used are guidelines and I like to inspect the fish to determine when to increase the heat. You really have to try hard to ruin the salmon and leaving them at these temps for a longer period of time will not destroy the fish so if you get sidetracked, don't worry because chances are that your fish will still turn out excellent. The one thing you do want to watch for is if you're doing fish of different sizes. During this smoke process, the steelhead were smaller fish than the king salmon, so you want to watch the smaller fish more closely as they'll get done sooner. Additionally, if you've got a place that's hotter than another in your smoker, you'll want to rotate the fish so that you get some uniformity in temps when smoking. You may find that your fish is developing white "boogers" (didn't want to make this too technical) when smoking. This simply means that you're smoking the fish too hot/too fast. Back the temp off a little and you'll be fine. The boogers won't hurt but will make the final product a little less appealing to they eye but not the palate.

After all of this is complete, you should end up with a delicious treat that looks something like this:

I like to remove the skin after the fish has been smoked because my family prefers not to have the skin on and it makes the skin removal extremely easier after the smoking process than before.

This doesn't take a whole lot of work but the results will make you a hero in the eyes of your friends and family. It does come with a word of caution: If you make this, you won't like the taste of store-bought smoked salmon anymore as this will blow any store-bought smoked salmon out of the water.

Obviously, you can smoke this with any type of smoker, although temperature regulation may be more difficult with a stick smoker versus other types. If you don't have a Bradley Smoker, I highly recommend you take a long hard look at them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bradley Smokers are as close to set it and forget it as you can come. They're perfect for smaller smokes and extremely easy to use. I'm not employed by Bradley and I don't get any type of remuneration from them but I am a huge fan of theirs and believe that if you're new to smoking or you're looking for an easier way to smoke your food, this is the way to go. Additionally, if you're in the market for one, I would only go one place to purchase one: The owners are friends of mine through a smoking website and I've found no one else that provides the type of customer service that they provide. They are a delight to deal with and will give you a great deal to make your smoking process as economical as possible. I will only recommend items and businesses that I would recommend to my family and I guarantee that Yard and Pool will satisfy every smoking need you could have with regards to Bradley Smokers!

I hope you enjoyed this post.....I'm really excited about this time of year. Thanksgiving is coming up soon and that means smoked turkey. Deer season is right around the corner and that means smoked venison sausage. Please check back often as there will be some great recipes to be found!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

There is nothing better........

In my humble opinion, there is nothing better than taking wild game (either animal or fish) from the land or the water to the dining table. I'm a person that enjoys many outdoor activities but my heart belongs to hunting and fishing. Now that I'm living up in Holland, MI, I'm excited about the many outdoor activities that this locale will offer.

This past weekend, I had an awesome opportunity to get out on Lake Michigan with my brother and a friend. The weather was absolutely perfect for November 1st and the fish did not disappoint us. Altogether, we had 8 fish on and were able to boat 4 of the 8. We caught 2 steelhead, a king salmon and a lake trout. The lake trout was out of season so it had to be returned to the water but I was able to keep the steelhead and king salmon as long as I promised to make some smoked salmon. Please enjoy the pics and prepare for a great recipe and way to make smoked salmon!

Here's the lake trout that had to be returned....I'll be back for him when the season opens again. What a beautiful fish and a great fight!

Here's my brother with one of the steelhead that is now being prepared for the smoker!

This last pic is a shameless plug of a picture of the largest walleye I've ever caught. This was actually the very first fish I caught while fishing Devils Lake in North Dakota.

I hope these pics will hold you until my next post, either tonight or tomorrow, on what I believe is the best way to make smoked salmon. It's an excellent recipe and a great way to make a favored treat that is not only delicious fresh but just as good when it's frozen, making this treat an excellent option when you've got some salmon that you're trying to figure how to prepare. Stay tuned for the next post........I promise you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm back, baby!

My life has been kind of tumultuos lately and now I find myself living in Holland, MI. Life has settled somewhat, so it is with great pride that I will begin posting again on a regular basis. I hope you continue to follow my isn't much, but it sure is fun!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Laughter is the best medicine

Unbelievably, my life has been extremely hectic. I've barely had time to log on to my computer let alone write anything here. I was sent this from a friend and thought some might like this. As we get older, I find things like this to be more sad than funny, but it's still pretty funny.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A month and counting

Well, the pups are now about one month old now and growing each and every day. They're developing their own personalities, playing and becoming a little more independent. Steeler is spending less time with them. I guess Steeler is no different than any other mother and sometimes just needs her own space and time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life throws you curves

My digital camera is not working right now. Had so many good smoked foods to show but no pictures. I'll reproduce the smoked foods when I get my camera working again. In the meantime, I thought I'd throw another video update of the pups on here. They are now about 2 1/2 weeks old and getting much bigger. Their eyes are opened up, they've really started discovering their voices and their legs are getting stronger every day. It won't be long before they're running all over the place. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sometimes life just gets in the way........

Life has been extremely busy for me lately. You wouldn't think that an unemployed guy could get busy but, somehow, I've managed to do just that. Just no time to do any of the smoking that I'd like to do. The puppies have kept me pretty busy as have the kids. It could also have to do with playing fantasy baseball. I love playing any type of fantasy sports as it really helps keep my interest all year long on what each individual player is doing. Couple that with the fact that I'm a Pittsburgh Pirates fan (no, they haven't won anything since I was just a kid), and fantasy baseball allows me to keep my interest in the sport. So, I've been doing a lot of fantasy baseball drafts over at ESPN. They're free and you don't win anything (except pride), but free and unemployed work well together like salt and pepper.

I thought I'd update the puppy pictures today. The pups are now 11 days old and getting bigger. We had 9 puppies to start out with and the smallest one didn't survive the first night. Then on Saturday, the next smallest one didn't make it either. It was a sad couple of days but I do believe that Mother Nature knows best and the strongest survive. Fortunately, the 7 puppies left are all doing great. Here's some pics of them at dinner time. Unfortunately for them, there's only one thing on the menu, but there seems to be an endless supply of it.

Now, ordinarily, I like to wait until the pups are a bit older before choosing the one I'd like to keep. However, my wife Tracie (aka She Who Should Be Obeyed) has taken a real liking to one particular female. So, I'm proud to present the little gal who will go by the name of "Tater".

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm a man.......and sometimes I like a good salad!

Sometimes, we, as men, are afraid to admit that we like a good salad from time to time. I'm not sure why. But, like a good piece of meat, it's important what you cover that salad with. If you haven't noticed by now, I like to do things myself. One of my favorite things to make is a good salad dressing. There are a bunch of them out there, but, for my money, an Italian Vinaigrette rises above them all. If you haven't tried making your own, you should. I could probably teach a monkey to make this and it would still taste great. Here's what I use to make mine.

Italian Vinaigrette
3 cups of vegetable oil (you can use olive oil but be careful as it will solidify when refrigerated)
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (no need for an expensive one here)
10 cloves pressed garlic
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons basil
3 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
You can use dried basil and oregano if you want on this but I prefer the flavor of the fresh herbs. The red pepper flakes are optional but I like the little bit of kick it gives to the salad. I especially like salads with red onions in them and this combination is great. I simply place all of the ingredients in my blender and blend away until it is thoroughly mixed. I store this in my refrigerator for about 4 weeks. Be sure to shake up before using on salad.
What I really like about this is that it doubles as an excellent meat marinade or vegetable marinade. To make this a marinade, do this:
2 cups of Italian Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
I really like to use this on just about any type of meat but really like it on pheasant breast or any type of meat that has the opportunity to dry out easily.
Whether you like salad or not, this versatile mixture will add some great flavor to your meals and can really spice up a drab dish.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Steeler and her pups


I've been really getting into glazes lately as I like the finished product that the glaze produces. It doesn't really matter how you get the meat to it's desired internal temp, however, when I use a glaze, I like to use a minimal amount of spices while it's cooking if using a glaze to finish. Most times, I'll use just salt and pepper while cooking and I like to throw the glaze on the meat during the last 30 minutes of the cooking process. If I'm smoking, I'll sometimes throw the glaze on during the last hour of cooking. Here are some of the glazes that I really like. These all come from the book, Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures and Glazes, by Jim Tarantino. If you don't have a copy of this book, I highly recommend getting a copy. It's worth the price by far just for the glazes.

Maple-Bourbon Glaze
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup bourbon or sour mash whiskey
1/2 cup cider vinegar
grated zest and juice of 2 juice oranges (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 cup brown or full-flavored yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (I like to double this for my tastes)
1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce
In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, add the maple syrup, bourbon, vinegar, orange zest and juice, brown sugar, mustard, cayenne and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 30 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Cool the glaze, store in a clean, airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use. The glaze can be made ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. To use the glaze after refrigerating, warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
I like to also add a thickening agent to this (but just a little) to give the glaze more of a sticking quality.
The next glaze that I've been using is a honey-ginger glaze that works well with chicken (or any poultry for that matter) and pork.
Honey-Ginger Glaze
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Combine the lemon zest and juice, honey, mint, ginger and garlic in a blender or food processor and process until all the ingredients are blended. Store in a clean, airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. The glaze can be made ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. To use the glaze after refrigerating, warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
The recipe calls for basting during the last 5 minutes of cooking, however, I like it to be on a little longer when I'm doing my cooking. These are simple, easy to make glazes that will pack a punch of flavor to any meal. Give them a try when you just can't figure what else you might want to do with that meat.

Friday, February 20, 2009

We got our first puppy!

Steeler had her first one at about noon today. Here's a pic of the new one. More to follow as she throws them.

This one sure is a whiny one........but I love that sound!

As of 1:55 pm ET, we now have three! One black and 2 yellows!

More to come, I'm sure!

Well, at about 2:20, I went out there to find another one. This one I found was black. This one looks to be the runt of the litter so far! But, I was in for a surprise. I went out there to find that Steeler had moved the rest of the pups under the heat lamp and moved a towel over them. To my surprise, there was yet another new black puppy with the first three! So, if you're keeping score at home, we have 5 total so far with 3 black and 2 yellow!

Well, I do believe we are done at 9! 5 black and 4 yellow labs. Mom and pups are doing well, but I'm exhausted! Here's the final pic of the day with Steeler and her pups.......and you thought dinner time was tough at your house! :-) I also had to give some shameless plugs for our cats because my daughter said they would feel left out.

This is Ashley. Her and Tiger were rescue cats that someone had left in a dumpster. Now, I'm not that big of a cat fan and neither is my wife. However, these cats have grown on us and my wife hates mice and we live in the country where mice like to live. Hence, in the spirit of La Cosa Smokestra, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Tiger's pic will follow Ashley

On a sad note, the runt of the litter didn't make it through the night. I suppose Mother Nature knows best but it still doesn't make it feel any better.

Take a Stab at Slab........Smoked Homemade Bacon

This post comes with an unusual disclaimer: Do not attempt to make this unless you're willing to forgo store-bought bacon the rest of your natural life. I have a motto: Once you've made belly, the rest seems smelly. I did not heed the warnings when I was told that once I made my own bacon, I would never want store bought bacon again. I'm so glad that this was one time I didn't listen to the warnings. The bacon you can make at home is so much better than what you buy from the grocery store. And, when you do it, you'll look like a hero.

Much like buckboard bacon, there really isn't a lot to it. The hardest part is enduring the waiting period for the cure to do it's job. If you can get past that (and the wait is definitely worth it), you'll be on your way to the best bacon you've ever had.

The first thing you'll need is the centerpiece of the show. Some folks call it belly, some folks call it fresh side. Now, this piece of pork is not readily available at any grocery store that I've been to, so you'll likely have to either get it from a butcher or become friends with the butcher at a grocery store and he or she can probably order it in for you. If you're fortunate enough to live close to a hog farm, you may be able to procure some fresh side there. Either way, get some fresh side. You can get it with skin on (which is how I get it) or skin off. I usually pick it up in 2 pound increments and do about 8-10 pounds at one time.

For those who've never seen fresh side, it's a pretty cut of pork with a lot of fat and meat interwoven. Here are a couple of pieces getting ready to be rubbed down with a dry cure:

The skin is on the underside of this slab and will be left on throughout the curing and smoking process. You can use any spices you want to create any flavor you may be looking for but as with buckboard bacon, you must use 1 tablespoon of Morton's Tender Quick or a basic dry cure per pound of fresh side. For this batch, I'm simply going with 1 tablespoon Morton's Tender Quick and 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar. I really like the dark color achieved when curing with DBS and it's really a sweet bacon flavor. After a couple of days in the cure, I'll also add some grade A dark amber maple syrup to the fresh side to sweeten it up just a bit more. Just like buckboard bacon, you'll want to rub the dry cure in well. Make sure to get the dry rub in contact with every part of the meat. I do not use the dry cure on the skin as I don't believe the dry cure will penetrate the skin. Just use it over every other meaty area and the cure will penetrate all through the bacon.

When it comes to curing the bacon, I like to go a minimum of 10 days with the fresh side tightly wrapped or vac sealed in a refrigerator at 36-40F. With this slab, I went 14 days and could go up to 21 days if I desired. However, two weeks is plenty of time to wait for bacon, so I pulled it from the cure at 14 days. As the slab is curing, you want to flip the bacon every day or every other day to redistribute the juices that will occur during the curing process. Additionally, you'll notice that the bacon will start firming up the longer it's in the cure. That's what you want to happen.

Once the slab is pulled out of the cure, you'll want to rinse off the bacon and pat it dry. I then let it rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight where a sheen will appear on the bacon.

After the rest period, it's time to prepare the smoker for putting some smoke on the bacon. There are many woods that work well for bacon and this is more of a personal preference than anything. The three woods that I use the most for bacon are apple, maple and hickory. So, let's get this slab ready for smoking. When the rest period is over, get it set up on your smoking tray.

You'll want to put the bacon in the smoker for 45 minutes at 150F with no smoke rolling. After 45 minutes, bump the heat up to 200F and let the smoke roll until you reach your desired internal temperature. I take mine to 150F. When the bacon gets to the desired internal temp, I take it out of the smoker and bring it back into the house. The bacon comes out with some incredible coloring to it as seen below.

At this point, when the bacon is cool enough to handle, I remove the skin from the bacon. You can either throw it away or keep it for some pork crackling. I choose the latter. It's a delicious treat. I then vacuum seal the bacon back up for one or two days to let the smoke settle. After that, it's time to slice it up. You can certainly freeze the bacon and it will last a good time if you wrap it up good or vacuum seal it. I cut it up with a meat slicer, but you can cut this up anyway you'd like. I cut some up in long pieces for use as a side dish and then some small pieces for use in BLT's or to use as part of cooking another dish. I like to use the smoked bacon quite a bit in bean dishes as the bacon and smoke add a wonderful component to beans. But, the bacon should look something like this when you've gotten it sliced up:

If you like bacon (and who in their right mind, wouldn't?) and you like doing things yourself, you definitely need to give this a try. It is much better than any store bought bacon I've brought home from the grocery store and works well as giving me another piece of ammunition as to why my wife should keep me around a little bit longer. The biggest difference besides taste is that when cooking up a slice of bacon that you've made, you'll want to do it at a lower temperature than store bought, especially if you use a lot of sugar with your bacon. If you don't, it will burn much easier due to the higher sugar content. However, I'll take a piece of burnt homemade bacon over a piece of properly prepared store bought bacon any day of the week....and twice on Saturdays and Sundays.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Update on Steeler

Steeler should be giving birth around the 23rd of this month (although, who really knows for sure?). I've had some requests for an update on her and thought I'd post some pics. She seems to be rather tired lately as I would be if I were in her condition. And, if I ever were to be in her condition, it would be a medical miracle :-).

Here's some pics of her laying down by herself and with the kids. I'm not really sure who's more excited about this: me or the kids? Either way, you can see for yourself that she's starting to get closer to the big day. You'll also have to forgive me for throwing in a pic of one of her brag walls. These are just a couple of the ribbons she's received from UKC and AKC trials. I know it's shameless but I guess I shouldn't be sorry for being proud of her!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Buckboard Bacon

We, in the states, often like to refer to buckboard bacon as Canadian Bacon. In reality, true Canadian Bacon has a peameal outer edge. What we refer to as Canadian Bacon in the US is actually Buckboard Bacon. Shakespeare may believe there is a lot in a name but I believe the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the bacon. You've probably had some buckboard bacon on a pizza or as a side on a breakfast plate. You can buy this item in the store, but why would you want to if you knew how easy it is to make? I'll try to describe to you as best I can how I go about making buckboard bacon and hopefully, you'll get a hankering to try it yourself. I do have to give my friend from the Bradley Smoker Forum, Habanero Smoker, many props for pointing me in the right direction with this recipe.

First, you want to start with pork loin. I usually wait for the center cut pork loin to go on sale and pick it up when it does. If you think that 4 pounds of this will be enough, buy 8 pounds. It will go that fast. And if you want to get in real good with the in-laws, buy 12 pounds. Mortgage the house, sell a kid, sell a kidney......just make sure you have enough when you make this.

So, now that you've purchased the pork loin, what do you do with it next? You'll want to trim as much fat from it as you can. Here I have 7 pounds of pork loin and as you can see from the picture, I have a lot of fat trimmed off with more to go. It won't hurt if there's a little on there, but you certainly don't want 1/4" of the fat left on the loin.

Once you've got the loin trimmed, it's time to cure the meat. Some folks will do a wet cure but I've always preferred using a dry cure. You can use whatever quantity of whatever spices you'd like but my basic dry cure that I use is as follows:

  • 1 Tablespoon Morton Tender Quick (or Basic Dry Cure; ingredients to follow) per pound

  • 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar per pound

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder per pound

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder per pound

I will usually experiment with other spices on this as well. Sometimes I'll use some homemade chipotle powder or homemade habanero powder if I want to spice it up. Sometimes, I'll use some soy powder or worcestershire powder for a change of pace. If I want it a little sweeter, sometimes I'll go with some maple sugar or molasses powder. The point I'm trying to convey with this is that we are only limited by our imaginations.

If you can't find Morton's Tender Quick locally, you can use a Basic Dry Cure which consists of:

  • 1 pound of pickling salt

  • 8 ounces of granulated sugar

  • 2 ounces pink salt (InstaCure #1; or DQ Powder; or Prague Powder #1; or Cure #1; or TCM)

This will make about 3 1/2 cups of dry cure.

It is really important that when you're making your dry cure that you measure this out carefully because you'll be using this to cure the meat. When dealing with cured meat, if some of the meat is not cured but you treat it as if it were, you'll be doing the hershey hustle at a minimum and in my household, that's never a good thing.

So, you've gotten your ingredients measured out and your pork loin all trimmed. Now, you want to use every bit of the dry cure that you have for your loins. You don't want to treat this as if you're just sprinkling a rub over a steak. You'll want to rub this over every square inch of the loin. Make sure you get it into every nook and cranny on the surface of the meat. If you've ever been to the beach and it came time to take a shower and you wonder how in the world the sand got into every nook and cranny of your body, that's how you want to treat this dry cure. The cure basically starts on the surface but must penetrate down into the center of the meat. It may sound strange, but you really want to give the loin the complete shiatsu massage. Belive me, your tummy will thank you when you do and it will curse you if you don't.

Now that you've gotten your cure on the loins, I like to take some butcher's twine and tie it up about every two to three inches. This is not a necessary step but I feel like it gives the bacon a better shape and it also helps with the curing if the bacon is generally of the same shape. With this bacon, I wanted it a little sweeter for breakfast and lunch meats, so after tying it up, I added some pure maple syrup for added flavor. If you do this, I highly recommend using Pure Grade A Maple Syrup. Stay away from the Aunt Jemima or other pancake syrup if you can afford it. The Aunt Jemima will work, but the real syrup is much better in my opinion. Once you have the pork loins ready to go, you can either place in a zip loc bag (remove as much air as possible) or even put them into a vacuum sealed bag. Generally, I use the vac sealer however I was out of bags when I made this bacon, so the zip loc will work just fine.

To allow the pork loins to cure properly, you'll want to store these in the refrigerator at a temperature of 36F-40F. Any lower and you'll slow down the curing process. Above 40F and you're into the "danger zone" of meat (I try not to keep my meat in the danger zone of 40F-140F any longer than possible). It generally takes about 2 days per inch of thickness of meat for it to cure. With these loins, I went 7 days in the dry cure. I always try to turn the meat over every day. If you notice there is some liquid that has been expelled from the meat, that is okay. Try to keep the meat in contact with the liquid and massage it through the plastic into the meat. Because of the amount of salt in the dry cure, the salt will draw some moisture out, but it should get reabsorbed back into the meat. Be sure to let it go the entire period as you want the entire piece of meat to be cured. Patience is certainly a virtue and an important virtue in making bacon.

Well, you've made it through the curing process and wondering what to do next. The next step is to remove the pork loins from the storage bags and rinse it out good under cold running water. When you've got it rinsed good, you'll want to put it in a cold water bath for about 30 minutes. What you'll be accomplishing in this step is removing the salt (or as much as you can). After thirty minutes, I like to take a small piece and fry it up to ensure it isn't too salty. If it is, I let it sit in the cold water batch and will check it every half hour. Once you deem it isn't too salty, I pull it out of the bath, pat dry and then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, uncovered. This will help it to form a pellicle on the surface of the meat.

The next day, I place the bacon in my smoker at 225F and apply maple smoke to it until an internal temperature of 140F is achieved. You can take it to 150F, if you desire but I find there is less moisture in the bacon than when I pull it at 140F. I then tent foil the bacon until they are cool enough to be handled by hand. I will then place the bacon back into a vac sealed bag or double wrap in plastic wrap and let the bacon rest for two days. This is the second hardest period of making the bacon. You'll want to rip right into it, but trust me when I say the wait is worth it.

After you've gone through the process and the two day rest period is over, you can then cut it up and eat. I have a meat slicer and like to slice it up in varying thicknesses. I like about 1/4 inch for frying in a pan, 1/8th inch for eating with smoked cheese and crackers and try to get it as thin as possible when slicing for sandwiches. Here are a couple of pics that show some of the finished products. Some may call it Canadian Bacon and some may call it Buckboard Bacon. Whatever you want to call it, I call it delicious!

Maple Turkey Jerky....Can healthy really be this good?

Okay, so maybe it isn't as healthy as it could be. But it is turkey and that right there makes it healthier than most things I make. When I first read this recipe from Jim Tarantino's Book, Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures and Glazes, I wasn't sure I wanted to try it in it's current form. After all, I'm sometimes one of those cave man types that wants his jerky to either be beef or some sort of game meat. However, I figured that I am getting up there in age (well, I'm in my 40's) and a little healthy meat couldn't hurt, so I gave it a try. As men, we're not programmed to admit when we're wrong (although the fairer sex has done an awesome job on working with us on this point). I was flat wrong about this recipe. It was beyond my expectations and I highly suggest you give it a try.

The first thing you'll need is 2 pounds of turkey breast. Cut it up any way you like but try to get it at 1/4" thick at the most. I cut mine up to the width I would use if I was making a scallopini recipe. Here's how it looked when I was finished cutting it up.

Once you get it sliced up, it's time to put it into the brine. I suggest a minimum of 8 hours in the brine and I like to go 12 hours in the brine.

Maple Bourbon Brine

3 quarts water (recipe calls for 6 quarts but I find 3 quarts works well and covers the turkey)

1 cup kosher salt

1 1/2 cups maple syrup

1 cup bourbon (keep an extra cup off to the side for the jerky maker)

2 Tablespoons ground mustard
2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

2 Tablespoons chopped rosemary

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the water, salt, maple syrup, bourbon, ground mustard, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and rosemary. Bring to a boil, and stir to dissolve. Decrease the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to brew the ingredients. Remove from the heat and let the brine cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to 40F before adding the turkey.

Simply place the sliced turkey breast into the brine and refrigerate overnight.

When you take the turkey out of the brine, rinse the meat under cool running water and pat dry with paper towels.

Prepare your smoker or covered grill and smoke the jerky using either fruit wood or hickory (I use hickory) at 140F for about 2 hours. During the last 1/2 hour, add the following glaze to the turkey.

Maple Bourbon Glaze

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup bourbon or sour mash whiskey

1/2 cup cider vinegar

grated zest and juice of 2 juice oranges (about 1/2 cup)

1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/4 cup brown or full-flavored yellow mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, add the maple syrup, bourbon, vinegar, orange zest and juice, brown sugar, mustard, cayenne and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 30 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Cool the glaze, store in a clean, airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use. The glaze can be made ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks. To use the glaze after refrigerating, warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

After the turkey has been smoked, preheat the oven or dehydrator to 140F. Transfer the jerky to your oven or dehydrator and continue drying until the jerky is stiff and pliable, 6 to 8 hours.

I highly suggest you give this jerky a try. You won't be sorry you did. If it weren't for my friends from the Bradley Smoker forum, Nepas and Gizmo, I would never had an opportunity to try this. There is nothing fowl about this jerky. In fact, it was gobbled right up (OK, I never promised no lame jokes). If you don't have Jim Tarantino's book, I also suggest saving some coin and purchasing it. It's worth every penny.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bradley Smokers....... An Overview

I've yet to find anyone that's told me they don't like smoked foods. I suppose they're out there somewhere but I've yet to find them. Many like to eat, fewer like to smoke the food themselves. I suppose that's because many feel it is either very time consuming (which it can be) or very difficult (it sure doesn't have to be) or they just don't have the resources in which to smoke the food (probably most folks fall into this category).

When one thinks of smoking foods, most think about the old stickburners made out of an old propane tank or 55 gallon drum. The stickburners (particularly the larger ones) are awesome ways to smoke meat, particularly if you're smoking food for a large gathering. If I've got to feed 100 people, it's definitely the way to go. However, what do you do if you just want some smoked food for your immediate family? Well, there are many ways you can go about this. There are many type of smaller smokers available that can do the job that you need it to do. There's the Green Egg, Little Chief, Bradley Smoker and a multitude of others that all work to some degree. Some work better than others. Some, not as well as others. However, all of them can produce decent smoked foods. The smoker I use to feed my family or a small gathering is the Bradley. I believe that it offers the opportunity for me to produce the most consistent smoked foods with a minimal investement of time and effort. (Disclaimer: I do not work for Bradley Smokers, nor do I have any financial investments or ties with Bradley. Just a very happy owner of two Bradley Smokers.) This post will speak on the Bradley Smokers and why I prefer them.

Bradley offers different types of smokers. The bulk of their smokers are electric smokers, however, they also offer a propane smoker which is ideal for smoking on the road or at a tailgate party. I do not own one nor do I have any personal experience with one. I do have a friend who owns one and he has produced some mighty fine smoked foods with it. I've even seen a smoked turkey he's produced with it and it looked incredible. I do have extensive experience with the electrical models. Bradley offers an Original Bradley Smoker which includes a tower and smoke generator and has 4 racks in which the food can be smoked. The temperature is controlled manually by a slider which allows you to adjust the temp at which you can smoke your food. Below is a picture of an Original Bradley Smoker. The smoke generator is on the left hand side with the tower on the right.

Bradley also offers a smoker in a digital version. The digital version comes in a 4 or 6 rack model. I've found that 4 racks is plenty of space for what I need to do for my family but friends tell me the 6 rack is nice as well. The temperature for the Digital Bradley Smoker is controlled on the face of the smoke generator and allows a little more pinpoint accuracy than the Original Bradley for the new smoker. However, if you have any experience at all with the Original, you can pinpoint the temperatures pretty easily with that unit as well. The only downfall that I see with the Digital Bradley Smoker is that it has a time limit of 9 hours and 40 minutes. If your timer is not reset within that period, the smoker will automatically turn off. This is easily overcome by simply resetting the timer before the 9:40 time limit. However, it would be nice to see them fix this simple problem. Having dealt with the Bradley folks, I assume they have to be working on this. This is what the Digital looks like:

The method by which the Bradley delivers the smoke is the bisquettes that can be seen in the tube on top of the smoke generator. These bisquettes are fed one at a time to a burner which sits at the end of the smoke generator. Each bisquette will burn for a period of twenty minutes until another bisquette is pushed onto the burner plate and the one that has been burnt is pushed into the water bowl which sits underneath the burner plate. How the Bradley differs from other smokers is in it's smoke delivery system. Generally, when you smoke foods, you want to introduce the smoke to the food over a very long period of time. The best way I can describe the smoking process of the Bradley is to consider the smoke that the Bradley produces to that of olive oil. There are different types of olive oils. You can get plain old olive oil or you can get extra virgin olive oil which is considered the creme de la creme of olive oil. The smoke that the Bradley produces from the bisquettes in the 20 minutes they are burning are the best part of the smoke and it provides a very potent smoke to the foods. If you burn them any longer, you can get what I consider an acridic smoke and leave the food tasting ashen. In this photo, I'm doing a cold smoke with cheese which is why I have ice in the bowl. As you can see from the photo, the bisquettes are lined up and the bisquette on the right is on the burner tray. After it has burned for 20 minutes, it will be pushed off by the one next to it and into the awaiting water bowl. Because of the intensity of the smoke, I generally do not apply smoke for more than 4 hours when smoking foods in the Bradley. This is not to say that the foods will only be in the smoker for 4 hours and your food is done. The food will be done when you've reached the internal temperature you want, depending on what you're smoking. However, I very rarely apply more than 4 hours of smoke.

So, where does the Bradley have it's advantages over other smokers? I can produce awesome (well, family and friends say so anyways) smoked foods with a smoker that is about as "set it and forget it" as a smoker gets. We live in a world where we are constantly on the go. Not many have the time or the patience to tend to a traditional stickburner smoker. Many times, the foods we smoke need 15-plus hours in order to reach the internal temperature desired. Because the Bradley allows you to load the smoker with bisquettes and the smoke generator automatically moves the bisquettes for you, I simply set the temp I want the smoker to produce and the amount of smoke I want the smoker to produce. I can even sleep through the night without having to get up and check the smoker or tend to the fire. It surely makes it easier than traditional smokers and the food I produce from this smoker is as good as anything else I've done with other types of smokers.

The Bradley also offers a very easy way to do some cold-smoking. This is another advantage I believe that the Bradley Smoker differs from other smokers. Whether you want to cold-smoke cheese, sausage, steaks or anything else. It can be accomplished very easily. If the ambient temperature is very low, it can be done by simply not turning on the heat to the tower and only using the smoke generator. The beauty of the Bradley is that it can also be configured rather easily to set the smoker up in a permanent cold smoke setup but still allow you to hot smoke in the cold smoke setup. I have a very good friend by the name of Mike McRitchie who lives in Moose Jaw, SK. He's pretty much what I consider the Tim Taylor of Bradley Smokers. Since his ambient tempartures get rather low in the winter, he's configured his Bradley in his heated garage and keeps his in a permanent cold smoke setup which allows him to cold smoke or hot smoke during any time of the year. Here's his setup:

As you can see, the smoke generator is seperated from the tower and run into a cold smoke box (Mike's is pretty eleborate; you can even use a cardboard box to generate the same results). The smoke is then run into tower to the awaiting food. He also has a PVC tube atop the smoker vent concentrating the smoke into his awaiting oven hood which pushes the smoke outside. Most folks will use their smoker outside but I don't blame Mike a bit for having his indoors. He experienced some extremely bitter winter conditions this year but was able to smoke all he desired because of the Bradley. This is another reason I believe Bradley to be better than others. Try bringing different smokers into the garage and not having the smoke fill up your garage.

These are just some of the reasons I choose Bradley. Most of my smokes that will be documented on this blog will take place in the Bradley. I hope you enjoy smoking foods along with me. If you've never tried smoking foods because you thought the process was too difficult or too time consuming, I invite you to try out a Bradley. My good friend, Bryan, at can hook anyone up. He has great customer service and is always willing to go the extra mile to get someone started. You can also check out the Bradley Smoker Forums at There are some really good folks there and you can see what you're missing out on there.

The Surgeon General was right when he said that smoking was addictive. However, this one addiction that adds to your life rather than take away from it. Give it a try and see if I'm right.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Steel Town

I grew up in Pittsburgh during the 1970's. If you're not from that area, it's hard to understand but you grow up loving two things: football and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's just no other way around it. I've lived in many areas since the time I grew up there but just can't find it in my heart to root for anyone else but Pittsburgh. I was raised Black and Gold and will die Black and Gold. In honor of the Steeler's 6th Super Bowl victory, I bring you this video. A tribute to what got us there all of those times. (This is dedicated to my brother who's been there celebrating with me every step of the way and a shout out to my friends, LQ and Pens. You have to know that the Steelers are the best). Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sell the Sizzle or the Steak?

Some folks go through life selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Here's why the steak is so much more important than the sizzle.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Building A Whelping Box

I'm very biased about many things. One of my core beliefs that I will not waiver on is that the Labrador Retriever is the best breed of dog. Now, my black lab, Steeler (as seen above), is a family pet but she's much more than that. She's a constant companion and does a great job retrieving the ducks and pheasants my friends and I harvest. She's very understanding and the old adage, "May I be half the man my dog thinks I am," rings true with her.

As it turns out, she's due for her first litter of pups on February 23rd. Now, Steeler is 4 years old. The name Steeler is something I also will not waiver on as I feel they are the best football organization in the history of the NFL. Some folks will make an argument for other teams and a pretty good argument can be made. However, my beliefs are my beliefs and I'll never waiver from them. With this being her first litter of pups, I needed to build a whelping box for her to deliver them in.

There's really not much in the way of building them and I refuse to pay for something that I can build. Additionally, being unemployed limits my opportunities to do any buying of much. But, I was not going to let my current work situation affect the quality of care that Steeler deserves. One of my best friends, Tim, brought up some supplies that he thought would help in my quest of building a functional whelping box for Steeler. (On a side note, if you have a friend like Tim, guard him. They don't come along very often and a great friend is an invaluable gift)

I was really more concerned with function than form on building this box, however, I knew the pups would be spending a lot of time and thought the bigger I could build it, the better for them.

The first step in building the box was basically to frame out the bottom of the box. I wanted this whelping box to be 6' x 6' so it was large enough to accommodate the pups but still small enough that I could fit it into a cramped, heated garage. This time of year the weather is so unpredictable in northern Indiana and I did not want the pups to be born outside.

I started with two 4' x 8' pieces of tongued plywood. I cut the plywood to specifications and joined them together with the tongued end. I secured the two pieces together with some scrap wood so that the plywood would stay joined and then took some scrap pine that was 1" x 12" and boxed in the plywood so that the base of the box looked like this:

After framing it out (you want to make sure there are no sharp objects anywhere on the inside of the box), it's time to add some posts to all four corners as well as to frame out a door. Now, with the sides of the box being 12" high, I'm not afraid of the pups being able to get out of the box for quite some time. However, I plan on fencing this all in as once the weather gets better, I'll move the box and place it outside for the pups to spend some time outdoors. I'll also cover it at that time to keep a beating sun or any other weather off of the pups.

Here is the box with the posts (the posts were basically 1/2" x 3" pieces of wood that were 8' in length. I cut these down to 5'-2" in length as the fence material I had was 4' and with the height of the side walls being 12", this would allow a little length left over.

Once this is done, it's time to fence it all in. This was the hardest part of building the box. I recommend having someone around to help as the fencing can be extremely difficult to handle by yourself. My 10 year old son (Cayden) and 8 year old daughter (Kennadee) helped but really two adults would have made this much easier. It was fun building the box with them and describing how things were going to be happening with Steeler soon, though. I simply used staples (hard-core staples; not your office supply type) to attach the fencing to the posts.

I simply wrapped the fencing all the way around the box and stapled the fencing both to the posts as well as the box to ensure there weren't any openings. The fencing material is simply caging that could be used for a chicken coop. After attaching the last piece of the fencing to the last door post, I simply rolled out more fencing to fit the door opening and attached a handle to the piece of fencing that would act as the door. I then attached a latch to the door allowing it to stay tightly closed when latched.

As I wanted to keep the cost down to a minimum, I decided to use pine shavings as the base to keep it warmer and soft for the pups. I contemplated cedar shavings as I felt that would help keep the odor down some but thought that pine would act better in absorbing puppy messes. I still may get a small bag of cedar to add to help with odors.

The last item I wanted in there was a heat lamp. Now, my garage is heated and with the pups being out of the wind, I'm not really that concerned with the temperature as the dogs will be kept warm by Momma. However, I'm the type that would rather have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. I simply hung the lamp from a hook in the ceiling of my garage.

I don't think this box is the prettiest or the best that's ever been made. I was certainly more worried about function over form. However, I think this whelping box is great for its intended purpose. I am nowhere close to being a construction-type of guy and if I can do it, I believe it can be done by anyone. Now, all I have to do is sit and wait for nature to take its course. There definitely is something about the circle of life that makes this part of the circle extremely exciting.