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!