Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How to slice tri-tip.

Hey everyone!

When revelation I have had during the preparation and subsequent devouring of  tri-tip is that the way to slice it matter so much. Slicing across the grain is crucial to having tender me, and knowing the grain direction of the meat is necessary if you are going to slice it across the grain. Also, slicing thin makes the meat more tender is well. I put together a YouTube video a while back detailing exactly how I slice and cook tri-tip. Enjoy!

More Santa Maria-Style Tri-tip!

Hey everyone, it's been a while!

I really cut back on the food front, but I still make tri-tip!  My recipe hasn't changed since the last time I posted about it, and it likely never will, because I think I have found something that is nearly perfect to me. I always thought it was strange when my dad would tell me that his favorite restaurant is his house… I can honestly say that this is my favorite piece of meat, without exception.

Here are some pictures of last Saturday's creation.  Cooked at about 300, taken off the grill at 135, rested in foil for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quick Tip: Grated Butter? Yeah, It Rocks.

So, it's been a while!  I thought I'd jump in here and mention an idea that I had a while back that works pretty well.

If you like to use real butter, like I do, you know how difficult it is to slice off and spread onto food when it's cold.  Here's how I get past it:  I put a stick of butter and one of those tower-shaped cheese graters in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.  When I want butter on something like steamed broccoli, a heated skillet, etc., I grate it like cheese directly onto the food/skillet/whatever.  Frozen butter grates like a hard cheese, and if the grater is frozen too, the butter won't melt and stick to it.  When done, shake the butter shavings off and put the grater and the butter back into the bag and into the freezer for next time.  Works great!

This technique also works very well for browned butter. When you make browned butter, all of the moisture leaves the butter, so when I gets cold it's about as hard as candle wax.  Using a grater with it works very well.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Incredibly Good, Fallin' Apart Smoked Pork Roast

On a recent trip to Black Rock Desert for an annual camp-out with friends, I decided to try a recipe I'd never tried before.  It's been passed around on the BBQ Brethren forums as a "great pork shoulder/butt recipe", and I have to agree.  It's a smoked pork roast recipe by Chris Lilly, a champion competition BBQ cook and the corporate pitmaster for Kingsford Charcoal.  I've tried it once out in the desert and once at home, and it makes some INCREDIBLE pulled pork sandwiches.

Unlike some recipes out there, this one takes almost no preparation time.  No marinating, no letting it sit with the rub on it, etc., and it turns out great.  You simply mix up a dry rub, mix up an injection marinade, inject and rub the meat, and toss it on the BBQ.  Total cooking time is about 10-12 hours, but it's a labor of love!  Be sure to wake up at 5 am if you're going to eat this for dinner!

Here, I go through how to cook the roast on a Weber grill.  The second time I cooked it, I used my 55-gallon "Ugly Drum Smoker" (UDS) and it turned out even better!

Here's the recipe.  This is for a 16 pound whole pork shoulder, so you may want to cut it in half for a ~ 6 lb. roast you'd find at the local supermarket.

Anything from a single 4-pound pork shoulder roast to a whole 16-lb pork shoulder.

Rub ingredients:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/3 cup garlic salt
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper

Injection marinade:
3/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup iodized table salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire

Sauce: (this is my contribution)
3 parts Sweet Baby Ray's Original BBQ Sauce
2 parts apple cider vinegar
a dash of cayenne if you want to heat it up a bit

Grill or smoker capable of cooking at 225F for up to 12 hours
Digital thermometer with a wired remote probe for the meat
Accurate thermometer on the grill/smoker (or second probe on your digital meat thermometer)
Heavy set of tongs (you don't want to pierce the meat while it's cooking!
Foil or metal pan bigger than the roast(s) you're cooking (it's a drip pan)
Kingsford Competition charcoal
Applewood chunks for smoke flavor

Let's get this meat ready to cook.
Using a marinade injection syringe, inject the marinade evenly into the roast.  I recommend working out the ratio of the weight of your roast vs. the 16-lb roast that this recipe calls for, and apply that factor to the amount of injection marinade you use.  You could easily over-salt the meat by using too much marinade.

Speaking of salt, here's something I already knew, but hadn't fully thought through:  Different types of salt have different densities, i.e. a cup of a given salt weighs different than a cup of another.  Most recipes in the USA measure salt by volume, and it's safe to assume that the recipe is talking about table salt if it just says "salt".  If you use other kinds of salt like Morton's Kosher, like I do, you have to correct for this.  If we could just measure stuff in grams we'd be much better off, since all salt is the same if measured by weight, but that's not happening anytime soon.  Anyway, here's a comparison of different salts:

Type of Salt Grams per Cup Relative Density If recipe calls for "salt" or "table salt", multiply by…
Morton's Kosher 250 0.83 1.2
Diamond Crystal Kosher 135 0.45 2.2
Table Salt 300 1.00 1.0
Coarse Sea Salt 210 0.70 1.4
Malden Sea Salt 120 0.40 2.5

So, based on this, I used a heaping 1/4 cup of Morton's Kosher, or I could've measured out 75g on my digital scale.

Anyway, back to the pork!

After injecting the marinade, coat the roast evenly and generously with the rub.  Put as much on there as will stick to the meat.  Once that's done, it's ready to cook!

Let's burn some meat.
To cook the pork, if you don't already have and know how to use a smoker, I recommend using a Weber 22.5" grill available at Home Depot for $90.  If you spend $15 on a set of Weber charcoal baskets for indirect cooking and another $15 for a Weber cooking grate that allows you to access those baskets, you'll be set.  I'm going to just tell you how to do it on a Weber, and those who know how to use a smoker will do just fine.

Shown here is the setup.  Using a Weber charcoal starter chimney, start up about half a chimney full of coals.  Dump those coals into a single charcoal holder on one side of the grill... we'll only use one basket for this cook.  Set the foil drip pan on the other side of the grill, as shown above.  Set the roast far away from ghe coals, but at least a few inches from hitting the lid on the far side, and make sure it's above the drip pan.  My roast is shown here in the middle of the grill, because I had a second basket in the grill and didn't end up using it.  Insert a thermometer probe into the very center of the meat in order to monitor the coldest point in the roast.  For grill temperature, I just stuck a second probe through the corner of the roast so the probe tip is suspended in the air, using the roast as a probe holder.  And just for good measure, I stuck a dial-type thermometer in the roast, but it's not needed.  Toss a chunk or two of applewood on the coals as shown, and shut the lid.

Adjust the dampers so the bottom ones are only open about 1/8" at the widest point, and the top ones are open to about 3/16" at the widest point.  Let it sit for at least 20 minutes and check the temperature. We're shooting for anything between 225 and 250, preferably closer to 225.  Adjust the dampers as necessary, but let the grill settle for about 20 minutes between adjustments or you'll overshoot/undershoot the point you're looking for.  If the smoke stops coming out, open the lid and toss in a chunk of apple.  You'll need to add coals every 2 hours or so... just pop the lid off, grab the charcoal holder with tongs and rattle some of the ashes out of it, toss unlit coals into the charcoal holder until it's full to level with the top of the basket, and put the lid back on.  Once it's cruising, the damper settings will regulate the temperature, almost regardless of the amount of charcoal in the holder.

Cook the roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 165.  At that point, take the roast out and close the lid quickly so the temp doesn't spike.  Wrap the roast with HEAVY DUTY foil.  Don't skimp on the heavy duty part.  Use a piece of foil on the bottom and on the top, rolling the edges together so the seam between the two pieces is tight and up high on the roast.  This thing will make a bunch of juice... make sure the seam is up high!  After it's wrapped up, stick the thermometer probe back into the roast and put it back in the grill.  Let it cook until it's at 200 degrees.  (Note: If you'd like to slice it instead of pull it apart, I've heard that you should cook it to 190 and it won't be so "fall-apart tender" and will hold together in slices.)  At that point, take it out of the grill and transfer it to a small ice chest (with no ice in it, obviously) and let it sit there until the internal temp reaches 165.  This is a step referred to as "coolering" by BBQ cooks.

If you're careful with the roast, you won't have punctured the heavy duty foil by this point in time.  Unroll one end of the foil, use a towel to pick up the foil-wrapped roast, and dump the juice into a bowl.  I got about 2 cups of juice out of a 6-cup roast, and only about the top 1/4" of it was fat!  Save this juice.

Using a good set of tongs and/or a fork, pull the meat apart.  What you see below is an attempt to do this in the desert without a decent set of tongs or sufficient table space... ideally, you'd take a chunk of meat, transfer it to another plate, remove any big chunks of fat, tear it to pieces, and transfer the good stuff into a bowl for serving.  After you've pulled the pork into pieces, taste it, taste the juice that is in the bowl, and pour juice over it to taste.  You'll have a bunch of juice left over, don't worry.

Put this pork on a good quality roll with a vinegary BBQ sauce like the one I've suggested above, toss on some pickles, and you're in hog heaven.  Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Video: Sous Vide Reverse-Seared Ribeye Steak

Hey everyone!

Earlier this year, I put a video on YouTube demonstrating how a great ribeye steak can be cooked via the sous vide method.  Getting in front of a camera sure is a humbling experience, and if I did it again I'd do it differently, but the video turned out okay, despite the corny comments.

Enough jabbering... here's the video!  It was shot and produced entirely on an iPhone 4 with iMovie, and it's viewable in 720p HD on the YouTube site.

I mention that I'm making the "perfect steak", which of course it's not...  It's just by far the best I've ever made.

The sous vide controller used in the video cost me $85 in parts, and the rice cooker was only about $18 back when I bought it. Plus, it's also a rice cooker/vegetable steamer when it's not on sous vide duty, so it's worth the extra expense!

Here's a drawing I did of the controller I built: http://www.creativesparkeng.com/misc/SousVideController.pdf All of the part numbers are in the parts list on the right. The end plates require some creative carving in order to get the tangs on the power inlet/outlet housings to lock in, since those tangs are made for a thinner end plate than this enclosure has... That's the only reason I didn't publish a how-to on building this device. However, instead of using those built-in power connectors, a person could just get a 3-prong extension cable and use each end of it so the power could be passed in and out of the enclosure through a couple of ~5/16" round holes or strain relief grommets.  That way the panel cutouts would be much simpler and it'd be relatively easy to build! Maybe I'll do one like that and publish a how-to. It's been great to use so far! Not shown in the part list on the drawing is the temperature probe I wired up to the connector:

Comments welcome!


BBQ: My Take on Santa Maria Tri-Tip

This is a great way to cook tri-tip if you want the seasonings on the meat to work with the beef flavor, enhancing it rather than dominating over it. It's not quite a perfectly authentic Santa Maria tri-tip recipe, but it's pretty close! In any case, it's really tasty.

1 2-3 lb tri-tip roast (see below for selection tips)
1-1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or just shy of 1 teaspoon of table salt)
1-1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder/granulated garlic (not garlic salt!)
1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice
Can of olive oil cooking spray
~1/2 lb dry manzanita chunks (my favorite for beef) or oak chunks/chips (wine barrel chunks work nicely). Whatever you use, make sure it's been dead and dried for at least a year and doesn't have any kind of treatment done to it.

Selecting a Roast
A tri-tip is triangular in shape, and if the points are too long and thin, they cook much faster. I like a roast that has blunt, rounded points on it, with as consistent a thickness as possible. This way, all of the meat cooks more consistently. That said, those points will get well-done, and if you have someone around who likes their meat well-done (yuck!), there you go! It may make your life easier to get a roast with long, thin tips on it. Also, don't get a roast that is really lean... the marbling of fat makes it taste better. Be sure to get a USDA Choice grade roast, or if you're feeling spendy, get a Prime (likely gonna cost $10/lb or more, but may be worth it to you!) Whatever you do, don't get a "Select" grade roast... it's not worth cooking. I've had great luck with the nicely-marbled roasts at Raley's and Bel Air markets here in Northern California. They seem to be "Choice +" grade. The one shown below is very nice (shown after spices are added). Look for the tiny threads of fat throughout the meat.

Preparing the Roast
First, trim the fat pad from the back of the roast, as well as any extraneous chunks of fat or dangling scraps of meat or membrane. You're cooking this meat quickly enough that the fat won't really do anything beneficial... it just renders out and feeds the fire. The roast should have enough marbling to keep things flavorful and moist inside. Next, mix all dry ingredients thoroughly in a small dish to make a "dry rub". Sprinkle the rub all over the roast and either rub in with your hand or the back of a large spoon. Don't forget the edges of the roast.  Next, sprinkle about 3/4 teaspoon of lime juice on each side of the roast.  Toss the roast in a gallon ziploc bag and refrigerate for at least a few hours, preferably overnight. this is very important! The salt will dissolve and soak into the meat, flavoring it throughout, and the lime juice will give it a slight tang that works well with the salty and savory flavors, and "brightens" the taste to offset the deep, "dark" flavor of the smoke.  This is a recent addition to the recipe, and it was the answer to "Hmm... it's kinda missing something..."

Cooking the Roast
The traditional way to cook Santa Maria-style is to use Santa Maria red oak wood as fuel. I don't have any, so I used charcoal instead, with smoking wood chunks to add that great smoke flavor! You're also supposed to serve it with pinquito beans and salsa, but I don't do that either. I usually accompany the meat with artichokes!

Start the cooking process 1.5-2 hours before you plan to serve the meat. Giving the meat plenty of time to rest is essential!

If cooking over coals: I recommend Kingsford Competition briquettes, because they're 100% natural and don't add extra flavors. Fire up some coals (~3/4 chimney, if you have a chimney starter) and take the meat out of the fridge. When the coals are just ashed over, lay them in a single layer, concentrated into about 1/3 of the charcoal grate. Just before cooking, coat both sides of the meat with olive oil cooking spray.  This will help with the browning process, and will help keep the meat from drying out.  Sear the meat directly above the coals, cooking all sides of the meat until brown and crunchy. Use a long pair of metal tongs (nice, sturdy ones) and a heavy leather glove to stand the meat on edge to sear the edges as well. The hotter the fire, the better. If you can lower your cooking grate to just over the coals, it'll work even better. When the meat is seared, put it on the cooking grate on the opposite side of the grill from the coals, so it doesn't see any direct heat. At this point, add the smoking wood chunks. If you set them on the grill directly over the fire, they should get about the right amount of heat to generate smoke... It'll depend on your specific grill. If not, toss 'em right on the coals. Put the lid on the grill, and open the dampers so that the air temperature near the meat is about 300-350 degrees. This is called "offset" or "indirect" cooking, and is similar to a convection oven. If you see the smoke stop coming out, add more smoking wood.

If cooking on a gas grill: Crank up the grill to high on all burners, making sure the drip pan of your grill isn't full of drippings and grime or it may catch on fire. Take the meat out of the fridge. Just before cooking, coat both sides of the meat with olive oil cooking spray.  This will help with the browning process, and will help keep the meat from drying out.  When the grill is rippin' hot, after about 10 minutes of preheating, sear the meat directly above the fire, cooking all sides of the meat until brown and crunchy. Use a long pair of metal tongs (nice, sturdy ones) and a heavy leather glove to stand the meat on edge to sear the edges as well. The hotter the fire, the better. When the meat is seared, put it at one end of the top rack and turn off the burner below it so it doesn't see any direct heat, then turn the other burners to low (or whatever gets you a temperature near the meat of 300-350 degrees). At this point, add the smoking wood chunks. If you set them on the grill directly over the fire, they should get about the right amount of heat... It'll depend on your specific grill. Putting the chips over one burner on high instead of two burners on low might be better, as a burner on low might not burn the chips. Close the lid on the grill and cook. This is called "offset" or "indirect" cooking, and is similar to a convection oven. If you see the smoke stop coming out, add more smoking wood.

Using either method: Cook until the internal temperature reaches about 135 (should take about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and immediately wrap in foil. Use heavyweight foil so holes won't get poked in it, and make sure all seams are up high, since this tri-tip will make about 1/4 cup of au jus (drippings). You want to keep the au jus... it's like friggin' GOLD. Place the foil-wrapped tri-tip in a 6-pack ice chest (without ice... this is to keep it warm). You can put it in a ziploc bag after wrapping with foil if you'd like, to avoid spilling juice everywhere, but it's not necessary if you're careful. Draping a dish towel over the foil-wrapped roast is a good idea too, in order to keep more heat in. Of course, close the lid on the ice chest. Let the meat rest like this for at least 20 minutes, or until you serve it... it'll stay plenty warm for about 2 hours. During this time, the meat will be getting slightly more tender as some of the proteins break down, and the juices will be redistributing throughout the meat.

Carving the Roast
When it's time to eat, take the foil-wrapped roast out of the cooler. Carefully peel back one corner of the foil to form a spout, and pour off the au jus into a small bowl. Be sure to get it all! Put the roast on a cutting board and get a very sharp, straight-edge chef or carving knife. Find the grain direction of the roast by digging into it with a fork, and slice only ACROSS the grain, so you can see the ends of the grains in the slices, just like the end of a wooden log. This is essential, and is the best way to end up with tender meat! Holding the roast with a meat fork, slice the meat as thin as you can (1/8" is good, 1/16" is better). Be sure to keep track of the grain of the roast as you cut. A little planning goes a long way here.

After carving, put the slices with the edges up on a serving plate or in a shallow dish and pour the au jus over the top, so it wicks in between the slices. Sneak the best looking slice for yourself, dangle it over your mouth and eat it in one bite like a true carnivore, making sure to taunt the people around you.

Alternatively, if you let it rest for a couple hours and then put it in the refrigerator, you can slice it VERY thin after it's cooled. These slices can then be reheated very quickly by tossing them into a hot skillet for about 15 seconds... Just warm 'em up; don't over cook 'em! They taste great by themselves or on a sandwich, and are even really good cold, if you like that kind of thing (like I do).


Recommended Equipment
I strongly recommend this thermometer:
It has dual probes: One that clamps to the cooking grate and one that goes into the food, and it has a wireless base unit that you can put inside the house and watch what's going on in the grill. This is a great way to ensure that your meat is seeing the right air temperatures around it, and lets you know when your meat is done. This thermometer (and the ET-7) have been incredibly useful for me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Low-Temperature Sous Vide Chicken Breast

Chicken must be cooked to 165 or else it can harbor salmonella, right? WRONG. I found this to be interesting as well! In a post on Kenji Alt's column on Serious Eats, I was introduced to the concept of cooking chicken to a temperature of less than 165 (i.e. well-done) in order to preserve moisture and improve flavor. Sound familiar? Sound like something that we do with steak all the time? Yep!

So, here's the low-down: Killing bacteria in chicken is not simply a function of temperature reached, but also the time spent at that temperature. Here is a graph based on data found here that shows the amount of time that chicken (10% fat, worst-case scenario) must spend at a given temperature to achieve a 7-log(10) lethality of any salmonella present. In other words, by USDA's standards, it's clean.

You'll notice that the time necessary at 165 degrees is next to zero. This is the recommended done temperature for chicken because it's easy to achieve. The way you use this graph is first look at the desired temperature (on the left axis), follow the horizontal line toward the right until you hit the red curve, and then trace a line downward from that point on the curve to find the minimum hold time at that temperature. Want to play it safe? Don't get it hotter, just hold it longer! The meat will get a bit more tender as a result, but won't get any dryer. DISCLAIMER TIME: Cook chicken at a temperature lower than 165 at your own risk! I've given the link to USDA's data, and that is what you should refer to. My graph is simply a visual aid!

Alright... let's try some "not quite done, but perfectly safe-to-eat" chicken!

We'll be cooking this chicken with the sous vide method. If you're hearing this term for the first time, please read my other posts on the subject as well as the pages I link to. Although Kenji Alt cooked his to 140, I'm gonna go for 150, which should be nice and juicy without being medium rare. I'm not as hardcore as he is. ;-) The plan is to cook the chicken to the desired doneness in the crock pot, then sear the chicken in a hot pan of olive oil.

First off, I've found a nice new way to cook sous vide, other than the expensive option or the do-it-yourself method. It's not foolproof, but it's pretty good.

My buddy Scott Derham turned me on to a really nice crock pot that he has, made by Hamilton Beach, which is sold at Wal-Mart for less than $50. It includes a temperature probe for heating food to a programmable temperature. When used in the proper mode, the crock pot can heat up quickly to whatever temperature you set, and then it goes into "warm" mode where it will more or less hold temperature over time. It's meant to control cooking based on the internal temperature of a roast, chicken, etc., but when you fill the crock pot with water and just put the probe into that water, you have a temperature-controlled water bath. It works well, as long as you don't want to go lower than 140, because that's the minimum temperature setpoint. Here it is:

At the point when it reaches target temperature and goes into "warm" mode, it's really not reading temperature anymore, but is actually just heating at a constant power level. I've found that, with about half a crock full of water, it'll maintain about 137 degrees with no lid and 162 degrees with the lid on (while in a ~72 degree room). I had the lid on so that one side was latched down and the other side had about a 1/4" gap under the gasket, and it maintained 150.

I cooked four fresh chicken breasts seasoned with dried thyme, garlic powder and kosher salt. I seasoned the meat before putting it in the bag, which I've found re-constitutes dried herbs and spices. Desired? Sure, why not?

Once the chicken is in the bag, it's lowered into the water with the zipper open. I pushed on the bag with a plastic spoon to force the air pockets out and to make sure the chicken was laying in the bag in a single layer. Once the weight of the water has pushed all of the significant air pockets out of the bag, it might as well be vacuum sealed (but a lot cheaper!) I then zipped the bag up and folded it over inside the crock pot.

By the time I put the chicken into the crock pot it was at about 135, because I had started it up before I washed, trimmed and seasoned the chicken. I left it in there for 2 hours, even though I'm pretty sure it only took about 45 minutes or so for the chicken to reach temperature. According to my graph, it only needs to spend 3 minutes at 150, so I think this is PLENTY of overkill to play it safe. To keep the temperature regulated, I just adjusted the amount of gap between the lid and the crock on the left side. Pretty straightforward!

2 hours later, and we have some pretty ugly chicken! Notice the reconstituted herbs and spices. Yes, that's right, I turned back thyme. Sorry... that was really bad. Anyway, here are the pics:

We need to add some flavor and color to these plain-looking pieces of chicken. I got a 10" skillet with ~1 tbsp of olive oil smokin' hot and put some color on 'em, making sure to cook as hot as I could in order to minimize time on the heat and any further cooking of the fillet. The thyme and garlic caramelized/charred a bit, which added some additional flavor.

As you can see, this chicken turned out so moist! The texture was smooth, and you could almost chew it with your tongue!

I'll definitely be doing this again!

I also did a tri-tip a few days ago in this crock pot, and it turned out very well too. I just didn't take any pictures. The vacuum-sealed tri-tips from Costco can simply be tossed directly into the water and cooked in the package, then removed and pan-seared or grilled to get some extra flavor. Worked out very well!

I've ordered the parts to build my own sous vide temperature-controlled water bath, so keep an eye out in a couple weeks for my first runs with this setup. Also coming up is a writeup on the construction of my Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS).