Chris' Bloggin' Topics

04 November, 2009

The video

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Famous Daves BBQ, Peoria, AZ

Finally!! Some decent BBQ in Phoenix. After disappointing jaunts to Lovejoy's, Honeybears, the Pits Again; we finally got to a place that has good food.

We've seen and heard about these guys for quite some time but just were never able to get there. So we finally did and we were all very pleased. I had a little of everything (like I always do). And I must admit, I was VERY happy to go to a place that took as much care on their side dishes as they did their meats. I know it is a chain and that makes a difference. The single location places that pride themselves on BBQ seem to basically say "'re here for the meat and not the other stuff." With F.D. being a chain, I think they need to basically have it all.

But their mac-n-cheese was really tasty with their added jalapenos. Their cornbread muffins were the sweet sort of cornbread that I really liked. Even their fries were really good believe it or not.

Ok, enough of that. Let's get to the meats! I started out with their wings because I pretty much have to try anyone's wings if I've never had them before. They were pretty danged good. No complaints on them at all. Smokey and crispy and tasty.

As far as the actual dinner goes; on my plate were ribs, brisket and sausage. Cass had the pulled pork sandwich and lil' Kyle had the chicken. All of it was pretty good. The brisket was SUPER DUPER tender. While it was really tender, there wasn't much "smokey goodness" throughout. I won't say it was cooked in an oven...but it didn't have that slow smoked feel with hints of oak or hickory or anything. It was still good though. I've had enough dry brisket in my day to at least appreciate tender, moist brisket, regardless of how it was cooked.

The ribs were also really tender and definitely had some woody notes in the taste. As did the chicken that I ganked from my son (hey...he's 2 and won't finish a whole big chicken breast!! :-). It reminded me of Rudy's chicken. Rubbed really well but not overpowering and then very moist and tender. The sausage was good but not quite as good as Rudy's. It had a bit of a grainy texture that I have had in several sausages. I'm no sausage maker so I don't know what causes that. But it still tasted decent although it could have been a little hotter (stove hot, not spicy hot).

On to Cass' pulled pork sandwich. In her words, it was good...but yours is better ("yours" being what I do at home - and speaking of...check the video to see my latest batch of pulled pork). Now you'd think she just has to say that because she's my wife...but she doesn't. And I'll also go out on a limb and say that I do feel like I have the best pulled pork in town.

And like a lot of places, Famous Dave's had an array of different sauces. From spicy to sweet. They were all pretty good. None were too hot by any stretch but they had a decent bite.

So...the overall verdict was definitely a thumbs up. However, the only downside I'll say is that for a BBQ spot; it was a little pricey. I'll admit, we probably ordered a little more food than we needed just so we could try different things; but our bill for 2 adults and 3 kids was almost $60. So maybe a coupon or two would help but even so, I think we'll go back. The food was very good.

The last downside is watch out for birthdays. On their cakes they do some sort of huge roman candle sort of thing. Don't expect to breathe for about 7 minutes if the table next to you has a birthday to celebrate. It's especially bad for us because we have twins with respiratory problems. So maybe the next time we're there...we'll all sit outside!!

22 October, 2009

Lon's Cookin' Shack, Provo, UT

Where to start with these...

Well, I guess I should just put it this shouldn't aspire to find great BBQ in Provo, UT. No offense to any Provonians who may read this...but daaaaang; this stuff was bad. I basically got the combo and wings (just cuz I pretty much have an unwavering urge and cannot pass up trying wings at new places).

So starting with the least bad was their sauce. It was basically a hum-drum sauce. It wasn't unique tasting at all. Nothing crazy hints of oaky goodness spiked with fruity notes or anything. It was just sauce.

And unfortunately, it goes down from here. First off, EVERYTHING WAS COLD. If it didn't take so long to get it and if I didn't have a flight to catch and if I weren't already completely woulda gone back. Or actually, I probably would have just asked for my money back and headed over to KFC. Getting past cold ribs and chicken was the brisket. You might could also use the brisket as sandpaper should you be in a pinch for some sandpaper at lunch. But seriously folks, I thought that The Pits Again was my worst place for BBQ but we have a new Bottom Dog. Not only were the ribs cold but they were tough. And the "chef" didn't remove the thin membrane off the backs of the ribs which pretty much means you're taking little bites of wax paper with every gnaw.

Oh wait..there was ONE good thing. They served hush puppies and they were actually good. The "homemade" mac&cheese pretty much sucked too. One potentially cool thing could have been that they touted a sort of "sauce bar" with what looked to be a bunch of different types of sauces. If I were to ever go back there...that might be a good idea. Try a new one with a new dish. But fat chance! I'll have a better chance of singing in the next boy band with Justin Timberlake, Mike Tyson and Rod Blagojevic than ever setting foot in that place again.

And here is my other tip. If you stop at ANY barbecue joint on the planet...if you DO NOT SMELL THE SMOKE FROM ABOUT A MILE AWAY....DO NOT STOP!! For some reason, I didn't notice it on the way in. But I sure noticed it on the way out. I didn't smell a thing. Not one hint of hickory, not one waft of pecan...nothing. So there something to pass on to the next generation.

14 August, 2009

Salt Lick BBQ, Driftwood, TX

Well, I finally made it to the Salt Lick after my 5th time in Austin. I guess the last few times I was in Austin, it was tough for me to make the trek to Driftwood after working all day. Well, I won't make that mistake again. I can safely say that the Salt Lick is now my new #1 and overtakes Rudy's in San Antonio. While it is not by a landslide by any means; S.L. is the new champ.

I probably should have figured out how good it was by the time I drove up. I was just past 8:30 PM and the place was still teeming with people all over the whole restaurant area. Luckily, I didn't have to wait but a few minutes for a table. Prior to securing my table, I did grab a couple of cell pics of the pit they use. Then, I get a table with Jon. What can I say about Jon? Very cool guy and didn't make me feel at all bad for being a solo-diner hogging up a table that could have accommodated 6. He was very knowledgeable about the menu and just a downright good dude. But more on that later...let's get to the food.

So I got the all-u-can-eat for $18.95. But, I really wanted to try the chicken, so I got it as a side. The AUCE included the brisket, ribs, sausage and then sides of slaw, tater salad and beans. Ya'll have already heard my rant on sides. These were decent but again...nothing I'd make a trip just for that. And I should note that as far as sides go; Rudy's creamed corn is still the #1 in a true landslide. Ok, but we're not talking sides...we're talking BBQ so let me get back to it.

Everything was pretty much awesome. But it is all predicated on the fact that the sauce from the Salt Lick; which is on EVERYTHING is the best sauce on the planet. So its one of those things that if you are crazy enough to NOT like their sauce, you probably won't like much else. The chicken was smoked and then set to the side of the grill to be basted in the glorious sauce and just caramelize and baste again and cook and man...soooo tasty. Basically, it is all that way. The brisket and ribs had the sauce but you always have your little jar with more sauce at the ready. And if you like it spicy, be sure to ask for the Habanero sauce. Don't be scerrred though. Habanero might freak you out but its not that spicy. It has just the right amount of kick without being too overpowering. It is awesome on the chicken and turkey...well, and the ribs and brisket too.

And I have to get back to the brisket and Jon. So I'm polishing off my first plate from the AUCE (again...all-u-can-eat for the memory impaired), and Jon and I get to talking about all things bar b q. After a conversation of all topics he says to me "so it sounds like you like your bbq and brisket, have you ever tried the burnt ends?" Now we have to go back in time to the Austin episode of Man vs. Food on the travel channel. Adam Richman talks about the burnt ends of the brisket and I'm literally salivating over him eating. I pretty much hog the "burnt ends" of everything I cook. And I don't hate myself for doing cuz it is Chef's prerogative on that one. Pork tenderloin, prime rib...doesn't matter...I get the ends. Anyway, back to the brisket. So Jon asks if I would like that and I had to tell him that I wanted to ask immediately when I sat down. But considering there are only limited amounts of the ends due to the limited real estate on the meat...I figured I had to be Mack Brown or Matthew Mcconaughey in order to be granted some of it. But nope, he said if I wanted would be in my next round. So I scarfed down the bits I had left and Jon came back with a plate of the most wonderful thing that is the burnt ends of the brisket. The only thing we could come up with describe it is how it is the best burnt/sweet taste you'll EVER have. It won't make sense until you have it. Because there is absolutely ZERO actual burnt taste to it. It is just the best piece that combines the taste of the meat, the smoke, the rubs and the sauce all in one bite. It is truly amazing stuff.

I can't wait to go back next week!!!

And then another note about just the nicest atmosphere...Jon took me to the open part of the pit behind the counters and all and me and a couple other guys talked about bbq for probably 15-20 minutes. That was really cool and really cool of them to let me, just a regular joe who is nuts about cooking go back there. I saw the wall of oak wood and the soaking pecan shells (interestingly enough, my own shed is stacked with pecan and oak...I guess great minds do think alike). Hopefully, those guys will be there next week for more bbq fun!

04 August, 2009

Ironworks, Austin, TX

So I finally made it to Ironworks. They decided not to close during dinner time for some private party this time around.

For some reason, and I don't know why, I was expecting a fancy type of restaurant with a name like Ironworks. It was actually a corner dive. Not that that is a bad thing but I just wasn't expecting an 'order at the counter' type of place. Of course that ended up working out for me considering I just got my big bag of food to go instead of eating there.

What did I eat? Pretty much a little bit of everything. At least most of the main courses. And it was pretty tasty. This was good bar b q they way I like it. I even had beef ribs which not many places serve. They have good sauce. It is the traditional tangy sauce everyone thinks about.

But to the meats...they were cooked very well. The backs of the ribs didn't have that thin membrane that I hate so much (see Ruby's review). Both the pork baby back ribs and the beef ribs were extremely tender and moist. The beef ribs should be since they are pretty fatty in general. Good smokey flavor that isn't too overpowering. The sauce complemented both very well but next time I will probably order them dry to see what they taste like sans sauce. I wasn't aware that when you order with sauce; it is slathered all over and not put "on the side."

Then came the sausage. It was pretty good. Better than most but still have to put Rudy's (with a D) up in the #1 hole. Then of course, smoked turkey and brisket. Here is where I was disappointed. Both were pretty dry. I even lucked out and got a "burnt end" piece of brisket which I love because it is usually covered in spices. But alas, both were pretty dry and unimpressive. The sauce helped but I would have hoped for more some better quality. I think next time, I'll stick with ribs and try the 1/2 chicken.

Of course that means that I will be going back. The ribs were really good. And I also go back to how I found out about the place to begin with. When I asked the front desk guy, he mentioned that Ironworks is known for the ribs. So chalk this one up for a good recommendation instead of getting hosed by a crappy rec.

17 July, 2009

Recipe for a Steak Marinade

One recipe I've had in my arsenal for quite a while is my steak marinade. It always works and is always good on just about any cut of beef. And it is really simple.

It pretty much consists of
Soy Sauce
Wooosterchestershire Sauce
Peppercorns (of your choice...doesn't have to be just black)
Crushed Garlic
Pineapple Juice

The kicker is of much of each. Well, that is all going to depend on how many steaks your doing. For anyone who knows me...I'm an eyeball it kinda guy.

So for about 4 steaks, I'd say about 3/4 cup of Soy Sauce, 2 mini-cans of pineapple juice, a handful of crushed garlic cloves (don't waste time fine chopping or mincing...just toss 'em in a ziplock baggie and take a brick or the back of a pot to 'em), 3/4 of a can of beer (I'd say any lager or ale you like...probably just not a stout) and a tablespoon of peppercorns.

The beauty of this stuff is that after a couple of hours you can still put a rub of your choice on the steaks if you go that route. Enjoy.

16 July, 2009

BBQ Review - Stubb's, Austin, TX

Ok. This isn't a review of my local grocery store. But yes, this is a review of Stubb's BBQ. If any of you are into sauces and rubs, then you'll likely know this guy. He's the black dude in a cowboy hat on his bottles. I wasn't actually sure if it was the same dude or not but decided to check it out anyway.

It also didn't hurt that I had my heart set on going to Ironworks for ribs...but they closed at 5 the day I was there for a private party (Curses...foiled again!).

At any rate, the menu is just like any really good BBQ joint should be. Fairly limited. I don't think Gordon Ramsey will be in to simplify an over-complicated menu any time soon. They basically had different sorts of plates but I opted for the $17.95 "family style" which was basically all you can eat of your choice of 3 meats - from pork ribs, chicken, sausage, turkey and brisket. I went with ribs, chicken and sausage.

We'll start with the bad first. Sausage was certainly nothing to write home about. One things I've come to expect in my jaunts to TX is a wide variety of sausages. Most are good - this was just so-so. Actually, I sort of didn't like it. It sort of tasted mushy as funny as that may sound speaking about sausage. Oh well, I should have just ordered a link on the side rather than having it be one of my meats.

Then we get to side orders. Although there are other sides available like fried okra and mac-n-cheese, the family style comes with beans and tater salad. Again, nothing special about them in particular. Nothing beats Rudy's creamed corn. I love a place that doesn't think of their sides as an afterthought. Unfortunately, for the tater salad and beans...they were an afterthought. Oh, and cornbread was an extra 75 cents and I have no idea why they charge extra. It wasn't that great either. If someone wants cornbread ya'll...just give it to them. Sheeesh.

I'm not 100% sure if I've ever actually purchased Stubb's mainline bbq sauce. I know I've gotten various rubs and marinades that I usually doctor up after-market style. But I don't recall ever getting just the standard bbq sauce. What was on the table was also simply, ok. It tasted like any bbq sauce you can get at a thousand restaurants all over the country. Nothing really stood out about it.

Now to the good stuff. The chicken was really good. It was fall off the bone done and the breast meat was very moist. The smokey flavor was not overpowering although I can't stand as much as can be dished out. I ended up having all parts of the chicken and they were really good.

Ribs. They were not babyback ribs but they were excellently prepared. Basically, the same as the chicken...fall off the bone done. Very moist and very tender. The rubs lended great flavor to the meat and I could easily eat it without any sauce; just as the chicken.

They were pretty crowded too but service was still pretty good. My server didn't shine me because I was a solo-diner but you could tell she was busy. I did find two things pretty ghetto though. At a table next to me, a kid was waiting for his check. He wasn't dawdling or lollygagging around, he was waiting for the check. Still, one of the hostesses asked if he was done and before he could explain that he was waiting on them...she said "I have people waiting, can I use your table?" Personally, that's bush league. Communicate with your people and understand that he's waiting on your staff member. What's 3 more minutes. Secondly, it was really funny when they tried to cram 8 people at a 4-person table. I know that group was full of good-hearted fun-natured people; but I would have told the hostess to bite me if she tried to pull that on me. I mean they were elbow to elbow and had 4 actually sitting pretty much on top of each corner of the table. I sort of felt like going over and saying that everything looked rosey now...but wait till your plates arrive. Good luck. I didn't say anything as I figured they eventually figure it out on their own.

So, this begs the questions...would I go back? Yes, I would. I know I'd order differently but I can respect the main pieces of the BBQ experience were done right. I love well cooked ribs and chicken and they certainly had that. I'll try some different sides next time that I know you can't mess up (like okra).

13 July, 2009

BBQ Review - The Pits Again, Phoenix, AZ

So rolling through my memory banks, I come across another place but this time; local to me. We stopped by The Pits Again around 57th and Bell in Phoenix. I looked like a former 5 and Diner but I don't care what a place looks like because it is all about the food.

I think the place fell under my "disappointing" category to say the least. This was about the time where I was venturing to all of the local BBQ joints to see what I'd be up against if I started a restaurant. I don't think I'd be worried about this one at all. Maybe I caught them on a bad day but I do recall some dry food. I have distinct quality control memory of the pulled pork being so dry that you could visibly see the drying 'crystalization' of the meat. Not too good in my book. Funnier because there are all these photos of winning "whole hog" and other competitions.

One thing I do remember from the sampler platter was either the St. Louis Ribs or short ribs. Whatever they were...they were really good. I remember the beans being nothing special as well as other less than kicked up side orders.

11 July, 2009

BBQ Review - Rodizio, Salt Lake City, UT

While this one doesn't fall under your normal category of traditional American barbecue...well, it shouldn't. It's Brazilian. But it is one of the best places I've ever eaten! Anything...not just meats.

First can't go wrong with a place that basically feeds you until you tell them to stop bringing large skewers of various grilled meats, fruits and vegetables. This type of place has a green and red little wooden dowel thingy that as long as the green side is up...folks will stop by with grub.

Also, I've been to several of these Brazilian "Steak Houses" or Churrwatever they call them. Rodizio in SLC is by far the best. They don't skewer your wallet on the price and they are by no means stuffy. Every other one I have been to charge about $40 to $50 for the all u can eat. This place is about $24.95. They also have "exotic meat Wednesdays" with crazier stuff like Buffalo, Alligator just have to ask what they've got that night if you're there on a Wednesday. And as far as the atmosphere goes...let's just put it this way. Rodizio is the only restaurant on the planet where I would allow them to sing happy birthday to me. It isn't your typical TGIFridays' group not wanting to be there and singing some lame version of H.B.T.Y. They break out the drums and tambourines like you're at a soccer match and sing in Portuguese. Of course they could be singing a bunch of curse words at you...but it sounds like they're happy.

Back to the food!! They've got everything from various types of Sirloin (Garlic Sirloin, Parmesan Sirloin, Plain Grilled Sirloin - which are all very different and very fantastic), chicken wrapped in bacon, spicy chicken thighs, sausages, pineapple, pot roast, fish and a buffet spread that will knock you on your ass there's so much. And if you're from the south and know collard greens...mmm, their Brazilian version is pretty freakin' good. I always feel bad for the dude who has to carry around the skewer of chicken hearts though but as my wife pointed out...he was the cute one. Maybe they think he can push more of the hearts out...who knows?

I guess what amazes me most about the places is how you can cook the same cut of meat in so many different and flavorful ways (ie see Sirloin). Be sure to come hungry to this place.

And if you're looking for an adult beverage of any kind...remember it is Salt Lake. You'll have to ask them. They won't ask you.

BBQ Review - Ruby's, Austin, TX

Ok, first off, keep in mind this is Ruby's with a B and not the one and only Rudy's born in San Antonio. Ok, its only an hour and a half from SAT to Austin but it is still a totally different place.

After getting in to a crazy, in-depth restaurant conversation with a guy at my hotel; I settled on Ruby's. The place is a small "dive-ish" sort of place but I don't mind those. Some of my favorite places are greasy spoons (I wonder if Rocky and Carlos' is still in Chalmette, LA).

At any rate, it was less than 2 miles from my hotel so I went.

I would put my "It was OK" label on this place. It definitely isn't the worst place I've been but I had a big problem with one thing in particular. When you cook babyback ribs, in my opinion you have no choice but to clean off the membrane on the back of each rack. If you don't, and you don't cook them long enough; that membrane turns into basically a piece of wax paper on each and every rib you eat. Granted, it could have been the rack they missed but every rib I had bugged the crap out of me because it still had that membrane.

Their side orders were also just ok. The mac and cheese was just so-so although it was made from scratch.

Their main sauce that is provided in a styrofoam container was also just so-so. It didn't knock me out like "wow...this is a dang good sauce." It was a little spicier than the usual Cattleman's sauce most restaurants seem to serve which was nice.

One positive did stand out. I got a lot of food for about $20. And I didn't try the cobbler that was allegedly pretty good.

10 July, 2009

BBQ Review - Rudy's, San Antonio

Wow. I really am particular about my bbq and haven't found any good ones in Phoenix besides my house. But Rudy's is the diggity!

I can pretty much eat my weight in their creamed corn too. But I love the idea of buying meat by the racks or pounds (not this measly 1/4 piece of this crap).

It's funny too because they put a big piece of wax paper down in a plastic drink crate and then you just go to town on whatever you're ordering. My only question is why does the lady ask me "and how many plates will you need sir?" after my crate is filled to the brim with smokey goodness.

A negative though is that it seems like they do run out of food pretty often. I've been several times and have either had to wait on chicken or just totally skip on baby back ribs. That's a shame because sometimes you just know what you're in the mood for.

From my various visits, I've had just about everything on the menu at some point. The smoked sausage is THE JUNK! Sooooo good. The 1/2 chicken is always tender but every now and again can have a propane aftertaste to it. Their babybacks aren't the most meaty but they are usually pretty darn good. I think I can only remember one instance where they were dry. The spareribs are usually good and haven't been dry either. They have 2 kinds of brisket as do a lot of places in Texas. Lean and moist. Moist is obviously fattier but more flavorful. I've had both and it just depends on what your flavor is. They are both pretty good. The smoked turkey has never been dry either. Always really good.

They've got a pretty dang good sauce too. I always just my meat by how much sauce I "need" and their sauce by how much I "want." If I "need" sauce, your meat probably isn't all that great but if I "want" sauce...that means both are really good. At Rudy's, I definitely don't "need" sauce but I really like their sauces. It's probably in my top 3 sauces in the country.

One potential negative is the cobbler. Man, I hate cobbler served cold. I like hot or at least warmed through cobbler. Rudy's serves theirs cold. As far as their other sides...sorry, I haven't been able to make it past the creamed corn. I've heard other friends who like the tater salad and beans...but after a pint of corn every time I go...I haven't had room for anything else.

All and all though...I would say it is one of my absolute FAVORITE places in San Antonio. I will not miss a trip to Leone Springs to eat there.

My Smoker from Klose Pits

I think my first post should definitely be about my smoker from Klose Pits. I've named him Bear Grills (get it?!?!) and am pretty comfortable in knowing I'll never have to buy another grill as long as I live.

It may be big for some folks but it is just right for me. Smoking 6 or 8 pork butts is just another weekend for me. Or maybe I'll do 3 or 4 spatchcocked chickens and a few racks or ribs.

At any rate, I've had Bear since about March of 2009 and he was definitely worth the wait. The craftsmanship is second-to-none and the way it cooks...well, let's just say it speaks for itself but you'll have to come here to find out.

The first time I used Bear was for 3 racks of baby back ribs and 2 chickens. Of course that isn't a huge undertaking but I just wanted to get things started right. Even though it was my first attempt; those ribs still might be the best I've ever cooked. They fell off the bone. I smoked them for about 4 hours or so. Then I put my mom's famous sauce on them and let that cook for a little while longer. Since I had plenty of room and plenty of heat, the sauce cooked perfectly. On my old small grill I ran into problems with the garlic not getting cooked enough during the basting. Or the sugar would burn a little because I had to transfer the ribs over to the fire box since that's where all the heat was. Well, with Bear, I don't have that problem anymore. The smoke chamber retains heat for pretty much ever.

I should probably mention that to even get Bear; I went through more than you'd think. Basically, if you're getting serious smokers you need to have them specially made. There are quite a few vendors out there and even manufacturers who'll be happy to make one for a price. The problem with that is you never know how it is going to cook if they've never made one themselves. That is pretty much why I ended up going through Dave and Dana at Klose. They have a method to their madness that can't be beat. You may have seen them on the Travel Channel or the Food Network. There are plenty of places that can make you those HUGE catering rigs but there aren't many places that can make good backyard versions for the regular guy who doesn't do the competition circuit (maybe some day). And you can't honestly do any real serious cooking on those little versions from Home Depot. Those ones that are like 1/32" thick of steel may as well be a tailgating habachi. So when you're looking around and they are all either waaaaay too big or way too small; you know where to go.