Monday, May 30, 2011

Red Oak...The wood of choice for Santa Maria Style BBQ

I am originally from Santa Maria, California, home of Santa Maria Style BBQ. What makes our BBQ so unique is the wood we use for our Qs. And traditionally we use Red Oak wood. That is because it was the most prevalent wood around back in the day in the Santa Maria area.

Red Oak wood is all over in the hills. Check this picture out:

I took this picture over in the Santa Maria area off of Hwy 135. Those are oaks in them there hills!!!

 And those little dots are cattle.

That green patch in the middle is a vineyard. Santa Maria is located in what is call the Central Coast of California. This area is also known for their grape vineyards that produce award-winning quality wines.

Here is another view of the countryside showing the "scrub" red oaks and more vineyards.

Oakwood is a dense wood, burns hot and long and makes for some good coals that hold their shape.

Here are a few photos of the last time I was in Santa Maria, cutting oak wood for BBQ and firewood. I just want you all to know that my two uncles here are in their 70s. I had a hard time keeping up with these two.

We are pulling in to the site where we are going to cut some trees!!

My Uncle Johnny, who is closing in on 80 when this picture was taken, getting the gear ready.

 He's got his working clothes on and he is gung-ho to go.

That pile of brush in the middle is all the small branches that we cut from the larger limbs. We pile it all to keep the debris in one place. Helps with fire control.

 This shows the scale of the size of the oak trees in the area.

My Uncle Joe is surveying the area to pick out which trees we are going to cut. We just don't go and cut down any tree. We cut the larger ones that may be blocking the sun from the smaller ones. This thinning allows the smaller ones to grow faster.

My Uncle Johnny has his system down pat. He is the "equipment man".

Once everything is ready, then my uncles start cutting.

Gentlemen, start your engines!!!

 Just a couple of cranks should do it.

 First the lower limbs are cut.

 Thar' she goes!!!

Then those fallen limbs are cut to a certain preferred length before we go on to the next cut.

Now for the main trunks. See how my Uncle cut the front notch first. This controls which direction the trunk is going to fall.

 Here's another angle on that same cut.

 She's going down....Timberrrrr.....

 Well, I had to put the camera down and do some work. I couldn't let my uncles have all the fun. I love cutting wood. Here are some of the days results.

 A couple of "young men" in their 70s put in a hell of a days work. I wouldn't challenge these two.

Uncle Joe has his truck all loaded up from wood that was already dried from the last time he cut here. He uses this for firewood in the ole fireplace. I think he has two or three in his house.

 We did do some splitting also. Here I am with my Uncle Johnny.

 Though this is a blurry photo, I still like this photo of my Uncle Joe and me. These are great memories.

My Uncle Joe with his best friend. And you know how Jack Russells are, they never get tired.

Here is a pile of oak wood that we split on this outing. It will be left here to dry and picked up at a later date. Those chairs were for me. These guys don't sit. HeHe!!

 Servicing the splitter before we take off.

And of course, after a full day of cutting red oak, it is time for a little vino.

Hope you enjoyed this little post about cutting the red oak that powers our traditional Santa Maria BBQs. Without the oakwood, it would be just another regular "run of the mill" que.

That's just how it is.

Here are a few web sites about the history of Santa Maria BBQ:

Until next time....

BBQGuam Memorial Day Tribute

BBQGuam Memorial Day Tribute

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute

"Freedom is not Free". Those words are bigger than life. 

There are many of us who have served our country in one manner or another. We have all sacrificed and we have all known the costs associated with someone who has paid the "Ultimate Price". 

This is a special tribute to all those on this Memorial Day, letting them know that we remember them and they will never be forgotten.

Here are some photos from Guam's War in the Pacific National Historic Park, Asan Beach Annex.

The Cost for Freedon is High!!!

God bless our servicemen and women, past, present and future. They are the protectors of our FREEDOMS.

Until next time....
May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

4 Tips for Better Barbeque

My good friend Perry Perkins of Burning Love BBQ - The Blog wrote this great article about making your BBQ better. He gave me the OK to reblog his post on my blog. I just had to share this with you.

To read more of Perry's blogs, which I highly recommend, you can visit his blog site at:

Thanks again Perry.

4 Tips for Better Barbeque

1 Vote
Taking your Grill-Skill from Tragic to Magic
4 Foundational Tips for Better Barbeque
We’ve all see it…the flaming hot dog, the carbon-crusted hockey-puck that was once a hamburger patty, the black-on-the-outside, frozen-in-the-middle steak that comes off the grill like saddle leather, only with less flavor…
I mean, how hard can it be?
So why do so many well-intentioned grillers turn so much good meat into bad food?
Conversely, what do those smug bastards with their instant-read thermometers, and monogrammed aprons know that WE don’t?
What’s the secret?
Well, like many mysteries in life, there is no one secret to good barbeque*, but rather a number of simple skills that some people are taught, and others aren’t. Like almost everything else, no one is born with the ability to grill great food. It’s a learned skill.
So…let’s do some learnin’!
While there are innumerable tips and tricks that you can (and likely will) learn as you spend more time at the grill, more hours pouring over cookbooks and food Network shows, and more of Junior’s inheritance on shiny new grills and monogrammed aprons, for now, lets look at four very simple, yet foundational principles that can take your grill-skill from tragic to magic, quickly…and without cost.
Just a side note – none of these tips are about the price of the meat. Grilling and, to a greater extent, barbeque, is all about taking the cheap (and sometimes throw-away) cuts, and making them not just edible, but incredible. You don’t need to serve $30-a-steak rib-eyes, or fresh Maine lobster-tails, to make a great meal on the grill…watch and see.
(*Just a note: I know, I know…grilling isn’t barbeque, and barbeque isn’t grilling. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m not going to get into the whole gas vs. briquettes vs. lump coal vs. hardwood vs. smoker vs. hide-lashed caribou-bone grilling platforms – debate. You’ll get there soon enough, or, if you have an extra month…Google it. For this article, the terms “grilling” and “barbeque” are going to be interchangeable and used specifically whenever I feel like it. Hate me if you must…you won’t be the first.)
1. Down to the Briny Depths with ye, Turkey!  
In cooking, brining is a process similar to marinating, in which meat is soaked in brine before cooking. Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue before cooking, via the process of osmosis, and  by allowing the cells to hold on to the water while they are cooked, via the process of denaturation. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)
How long to brine depends on the size and type of meat you’ve got. Larger meats like a whole turkey need more time for the brine to do its magic. Small pieces of seafood like shrimp shouldn’t sit in a brine for more than half an hour, or so.  Be sure not to brine meats that have already been brined before you buy them, such as “extra-tender” pork, which has been treated with sodium phosphate and water to make it juicier.
Meats that improve on the grill with a good brine:
Chicken & turkey (whole or cut)
Rabbit (or any non-red game meat)
Pork (especially boneless picnic ribs)
Fatty meats like beef and lamb are generally not improved by brining.
My basic brine = 1 cup coarse Kosher or sea salt + 1 cup sugar (white or brown) + 1 gallon purified water.
Bring water to a high simmer, add salt and sugar to dissolve, and allow to cool to room temp before adding the meat. You can increase or decrease the amount of brine, as long as you have enough to completely submerse the meat, by modifying the brine ingredients in these proportions.
How much brine do you need?
Here’s a tip: put your meat in the container you’re going to soak it in, and fill it with purified water until completely covered. Remove the meat, and use this water to make your brine. Clever, huh?
One caveat with brining is that whatever you put the meat in, needs to fit in your refrigerator or cooler. Both the meat and brine need to stay below 40F at all times. This isn’t a big deal with a couple of pork chops, but can present some logistical headaches when you’re roasting half-a-dozen turkeys, as I did last Thanksgiving.  In this case, you’re best bet is to sterilize a cooler that’s big enough to fit the meat, brine, and a couple of bags of ice.
General Brining Times
Whole Chicken, Salmon fillets                  4 to 12 hours
Chicken Pieces, Pork Chops                       1 to 1 1/2 hours
Whole Turkey or Pork Shoulder               24 hours
Turkey Breast, Rabbit                                   5 to 8 hours
Cornish Game Hens                                        1 to 2 hours
The beauty of a good brine is you can add whatever you want to it! I often add quartered lemons and chopped garlic to my whole chicken brine, and Chinese 5 Spice to my pork brine. The best flavored brines are often the simplest…citrus juice and dried mint will add a nice Mediterranean flavor to chicken, while cracked black pepper and red wine vinegar provide a rich French flair.
Having said that, the best turkey I’ve ever eaten was roasted by my Burnin’ Love BBQ partner Terry Ramsey, using Alton Brown’s ingredient-heavy brine from his Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe. That was some next-level bird, brutha!
After brining, always rinse your meat and dry it well before cooking. Otherwise, your dinner is going to be super salty, likewise, don’t salt the meat before, during, or after cooking, nor any sauces or gravies you make with the residual broth (which, btw, is freakin’ awesome.)
Lastly, make sure to keep a close eye when grilling meats that have been brined. Brining adds sugar to the meat and can cause it to burn faster, another reason to use a 2-step grilling method.
Which segues nicely into…
2. Direct vs. Indirect: Knowing when to Move Your Butt
What is the difference between grilling over “direct” and “indirect” heat?
Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like:
Direct grilling = the food is cooked “directly” over an even heat source. Most experts will tell you that type of grilling really works best for foods that take less than 20 minutes to cook, such as steaks, chops, boneless chicken breasts, burgers and hot dogs.
Personally, except for maybe the burgers and dogs, I think that direct grilling is nearly always the ‘Step 1″ in the a 2-Step process, used to seal the meat and make those beautiful charred grill marks. Typically, I would then move the meat to indirect heat to finish cooking.  For example, a 2-inch-thick steak, or a well brined chicken breast, can be seared or browned over direct heat for a short period of time, and then moved to the indirect heat area to continue cooking internally without burning.
Indirect grilling = foods are not cooked directly over the heat. With charcoal grilling, the hot coals are moved or “banked” to opposite sides of the grill, this is known as a 2-Zone Fire (here’s a post on how to set up a 2-Zone Fire).  Often a drip pan with water, beer, or juice is placed on the bare grate, below the meat.
When grilling with gas, the burners are all pre-heated, and then one or more are turned off and the meat is placed directly over the “off’ burners.  I do with this chunks of meat as large as pork shoulders (aka Boston Butt) to sear the outside and seal in all the yummy juices.
Take a look at my “Butts on the Grill” recipe (“move you butt” – get it?) for more.
Again, I believe that indirect heat is best used for finishing foods that need to be cooked for a longer time like roasts, whole poultry, ribs and other large cuts of meat. Except for fish and shellfish, if a piece of meat is too thin to grill over direct heat first, it probably shouldn’t be cooked on the grill at all.
Lastly, never take a piece of meat off the grill when it looks done. By then, it’s too late. The time to plate your entrée is a couple of minutes before it’s done. The external heat will continue to cook the insides to meaty perfection. This is especially true of thin meats like hamburger patties.
3. Know when to get Saucy
Many grillers, myself included, either eschew sauce altogether, or serve it on the side.
Too often, all we taste in our bbq is bbq sauce, and I want to enjoy that wonderful flavor of grilled meat! Also, sauce is probably the #1 leading culprit in burned bbq. Many folks don’t realize how much sugar there is in a typical bbq sauce, nor how quickly those sugars will caramelize, and then burn.
The one meat that I do invariably sauce is chicken. I especially like a nice, sticky bbq or teriyaki sauce on a big mess of grilled chicken legs and thighs (in fact, one of my favorite recipes, Lazy Chicken, is included in the Multi-Zone Fire post that I linked to, above.)
The same goes for pork. Beef – not so much. Of course, this is a matter of personal opinion, not religious doctrine, so, to paraphrase one of my favorite foodie personalities, “If it tastes good…sauce it!”
If you do want to sauce your chicken, turkey, or pork, you’ll do it towards the end of the cooking time, and do so after you’ve moved the meat to indirect heat, otherwise you run the risk of the sugars in the sauce burning. One exception to this rule (and of course there’s an exception), is when I’m “finishing” slow roasted ribs. Once they come out of the smoker (or oven), I like to sauce them thinly, and slap them down directly over hot coals for a few seconds, flip, and repeat the process 4-5 times. This layering of charring and saucing, over and over, creates an amazing and complex depth of flavor.
BTW – I do like a good sauce, I’m just a “serve it on the side” kinda guy.
4. Letting your Meat…Loaf
Have you ever gotten a steak or a chicken breast right off the grill, cut into it with asharp knife, and had a gush of hot, steamy juices pour out onto your plate?
Me too.
Did you notice, a few minutes later, that that lovely, juicy piece of glorious cow had turned into sawdust?
Me too.
Once meat is removed from the heat, it’s vital that it be allowed to “rest”, tented loosely in foil. Resting allows the meat to relax and reabsorb its own juices back into the muscle fibers, as they cool. If you cut into that same steak or chicken breast after its rested under a foil tent for 5-10 minutes, you’ll see those same juices bead up on the surface of the meat, but not pour out of you plate. This means that the whole cut is going to stay moist.
With small cuts like steaks and chops, I think that just a few minutes (5-10) is sufficient.
Some larger cuts of meat, like pork shoulders, leg of lamb, or beef brisket, require foiling or wrapping tightly in foil, and coolering for a longer length of time. This allows the internal temp to rise the last few degrees without any additional heat, without the outside of the meat overcooking.
Here are some good general resting times:
Pork shoulders (Butts), & Brisket                                2 Hours
Whole Turkey, Lg Roasts                                                30 minutes
Smaller roasts, Whole Chickens, Turkey breasts  10 – 15 minutes
Steaks, Chops, Chicken Breasts                                     5 – 10 minutes
Always tent the meat loosely in foil to keep the surface temperature from dropping much faster than the internal temp. This can lead to drying, as well.
Oh, and while those steaks are resting…toss some chopped shallots, a cup of Merlot, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and a teaspoon of chopped garlic into a skillet and simmer. Add any drippings from the steak plate, as well, then pour a couple of tablespoons over each steak, just before serving. (You’ll thank me.)
Okay, so that’s it…
4.     LET IT REST
Try these four simple steps and I guarantee that you will see an instant, and significant improvement in your ‘Que. No more wiener flambé, carbonized steaks, or particle-board chicken.
Clear your calendar, you are about to become the grill-god of your family/neighborhood/ office/church.
Welcome to the club…here’s your apron.