Maybe it’s because I grew up in the South, or maybe it’s because I relish all food. But whatever the reason, I love and celebrate both highbrow and lowbrow food equally!

A few years ago, a journalist interviewed me and asked me what my dirty little food secret was, and I replied honestly, I don’t have one.  If I love something, I am proud to eat it. No matter how trashy or how elegant it may be.  If I were ashamed to eat it, then I wouldn’t eat it!

In this day of aspirational organic, local, vegan, sustainable, nose-to-tail eating, I think a little honesty about eating what tastes good and satisfies the soul is important.  I believe that we should eat as close to the origin of the food as possible but I also believe that we should eat food that makes us happy and satisfies us—the more a food satisfies, the less you eat of it.

My pick for #1 football snack fits this bill—sausage balls!  I re-discovered my Aunt Mert’s Sausage Balls a few years ago when a friend asked me to help her cook an all-pork party.  She called it her “pork drawer” party because she had collected every imaginable pork product during a trip to North Carolina and her “pork drawer” was our pantry for the night.  Of all the delicious food that we made that evening, Aunt Mert’s Sausage Balls was the recipe that stuck—both of us continuing to make them for gatherings.

I made them twice last Thanksgiving for a tony northern crowd and served them along side smoked salmon and caviar.  The sausage balls were scarfed up while the more sophisticated offerings were abandoned.  That made me realize that sausage balls would be a perfect choice for football snacking.  They are hot, savory, salty and full of protein so they are the perfect pairing for the beer that typically flows on Sunday!

The simplest southern sausage ball recipe is three ingredients, bulk hot breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese and Bisquick.  They are so simple that even someone who can’t boil water can make them!  All you need is a bowl and a fork (or clean hands!) to mix everything together and a cookie sheet to bake them on.

You could make your own ‘flour-baking powder-salt’ mixture and you could add all kinds of seasonings like grated onion and jalapeno, but I like to keep it simple and true to my Aunt’s original recipe.

When I can get my hometown Neese’s hot [red pepper] sausage, I only add garlic powder like the recipe calls for but when I am away from North Carolina, I add a pinch of cayenne pepper to whatever bulk sage sausage I can find.  This insures that the sausage is “hot” and you are getting a touch of heat in the sausage balls.  If you don’t like it hot, you can leave it out but I think it helps balance the richness of the balls.  I also use the sharpest cheddar that I can buy and prefer to grate the cheese myself because it seems to melt better.

If you prefer Italian flavors, you can adapt the recipe and use bulk hot Italian sausage and substitute 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for ¼ pound of the cheddar cheese.

And, the best news is that you can make these balls, roll them out and freeze them in advance to get the prep work done so that you can enjoy the game as much as your guests—or to have on hand when company drops by unexpectedly.  When you bake the balls from frozen, you need to plan on an extra 10 minutes to bake.

Fresh or frozen, any way you make it, this simple recipe will make you the winner of the day!

Aunt Mert’s Sausage Balls

2          cups baking mix, I prefer Bisquick

1/2     teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic

¼         teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional

1          pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

1          pound bulk (in a tube or a brick) hot sage sausage such as Neese’s or Jimmy Dean

Preheat oven to 350°F

Whisk together Bisquick, garlic and cayenne.  Set aside.

Combine grated cheese and sausage.  This is easier to do with your hands.  I put on a pair of foodservice gloves and make sure that the cheese and sausage is mixed completely and evenly by kneading and squishing it together.

Add “baking mix” to the sausage-cheese mixture, and mix with your hands or a blending fork.  You will need to make sure that it is evenly mixed, and that you don’t have pockets of the sausage-cheese mixture that doesn’t have any baking mix in it.  This will take a few minutes.

Pinch a gracious spoonful of the mixture and roll between your two hands into 1.5-inch balls. At this point, the sausage balls may be frozen on a cookie sheet and stored for use as needed.

Bake for about 25 minutes from fresh and 35 minutes from a frozen state.  Serve piping hot.

Makes about 48 good size balls

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One of the many things that I love about Thanksgiving is that within a few variations, it is the only meal of the year that the same menu is served and eaten by the entire country.  Sure, Italian families add lasagna and there are regional differences in flavoring ingredients but the basic menu is the same.  It is simply, Turkey, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Dressing (or Stuffing), Mashed Potatoes (or Candied Yams) and Pie.

It’s no secret that my favorite Thanksgiving dish is “My Mother’s Southern Sausage Dressing” and I wrote about that last year, but my second favorite dish is one of the very first recipes that I developed many years ago when I was supervising the public relations side of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.  It is my version of homemade cranberry sauce—I called it Cranberry “Chutney” because it was thick with fruit, spices, a touch of vinegar and it was a condiment good enough to eat off a spoon!  But be forewarned, the flavors are intensely American and bare no resemblance to Indian chutneys.  I have made it and taken it to many Thanksgiving dinners since those first Butterball days.

Creating new recipes for newspaper food editors was a big part of my job and I worked with cookbook authors and chefs to tweak traditional recipes each year—hoping to make the recipes more delicious, but keep them authentic and true to the holiday. No one wants to mess with the essence of Thanksgiving!  It is the one meal where you have to make the same tried-and-true recipes every year—or risk serious mutiny!

Since that is sometimes monotonous for the cook, I suggest making one new recipe (that intrigues the cook) each year.  It may or may not become a tradition—if everyone loves it, they’ll want it back on the menu next year!.

My favorite example of this cooks strategy comes from my good friends, Jeff and Gretchen Belmonti.  They hosted Thanksgiving for their large extended family when they were newly married. Wanting to make it their own, they decided to add backyard ribs to the traditional menu.  Not only did they do such a good job that they have hosted the holiday every since, but everyone loved the ribs so much that competition-style ribs are part of their family Thanksgiving tradition!  In fact, I am pretty sure that their children think ribs are normal Thanksgiving fare!

Although maybe they should, not everyone has ribs for Thanksgiving! But everyone serves cranberries!  Make this the year you add a new cranberry recipe to your menu.  If you are serving canned or store-bought cranberry sauce, which according to the folks at Ocean Spray are a whooping 74% of Americans, try making your own from scratch—it’s so easy and so rewarding!

If you have a “plain jane” recipe, consider making my Cranberry Chutney for a bold flavor-packed change of pace.  The liquid-y “plain jane” cranberry sauce that graces many Thanksgiving tables is what inspired me to create my own.  And, interestingly enough, this loose consistency seems to be an epidemic as the number-1 question posed to the Ocean Spray consumer help-line is how to get the cranberry sauce to gel.

The answer is simple.  Make sure the mixture of cranberries, liquid and sugar reaches a boil, and cooks at a simmer for at least 10 minutes.  That is how long it takes to release the pectin—the natural jelling ingredient—from the fruit.  And, this will never be an issue if you let the cranberries cook long enough to “pop”!

I wanted my new cranberry sauce to be heavy with fruit, like jam; tart and sweet but with a depth of flavor that you can’t get with white sugar alone.  I added dried apricots and dried cherries for their sweetness and the texture they bring and reduced the recommended amount of white sugar.  I used a combination of fresh squeezed orange juice, Port wine and balsamic vinegar instead of water, creating layers of flavor and complexity that would cook down and infuse itself into each of the sour berries.  Once the berries start to pop—my favorite stage of the recipe—I add a pinch of salt and warm autumn spices including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  The fruit-filled cranberry chutney is good hot, room temperature or cold and will brighten any holiday table.  It’s good made up to a week in advance and packed into a pretty glass jar makes a nice homemade food gift all season long.

Elizabeth’s Cranberry Chutney

2          12-ounce bags of fresh cranberries, washed and picked through

Juice and zest of a large orange, about ½ cup

1          tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1          cup of port

1          cup of sugar

1          cup whole dried Turkish apricots, cut into strips

1          cup dried cherries

Pinch salt

¼         teaspoon nutmeg

¼         teaspoon clove

1          teaspoon cinnamon

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, add the cranberries, juice and zest of an orange, balsamic vinegar, port, and sugar.  Bring to low boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add the dried fruit and a pinch of salt.

Making sure that the cranberries don’t burn on the bottom, continue cooking over a low-medium heat about 10 minutes or until the cranberries start to pop, stirring occasionally. Add the nutmeg, clove and cinnamon and stir well to combine.

Continue cooking on low until thick, about 5-7 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serves 8

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New York Times, Dining & Wine
Dinner’s Journal
By Pete Wells
Published July 9, 2012

When I used to go to Hill Country Barbecue Market as a civilian, I regarded the sides and desserts as unnecessary calories that would keep me from consuming unholy quantities of barbecue. But when I returned as a critic and began to eat my way around the entire menu, I quickly realized that the sides and desserts were often as impressive as the meat, and in a few cases more impressive. Elizabeth Karmel, the restaurant’s executive chef, oversees all the food at Hill Country; I spoke with her by telephone to learn more about three standout dishes from both sides of the operation.

Moist Brisket ($23 a pound)

Because Hill Country uses gas-assisted rotisserie barbecue pits, the pitmasters are able to regulate the temperature precisely. They keep the heat in the pits very low and even, so that much of the meat cooks for as long as 10 or 12 hours before it’s tender. This means that pitmasters are often tending the smokers in the middle of the night so the meat will be ready by lunchtime. (The tradeoff for this extremely tender meat, I think, is a less pronounced smoke flavor than you’d find in an old-fashioned Texas barbecue pit.)

Hill Country rubs the brisket, like all its barbecue, with a mix of salt, cayenne and butcher-grind black pepper, which is coarse-ground pepper with the fine powder sifted out. The restaurant cooks whole brisket, then carves off the deckle and tip; these fatty pieces make the “moist brisket,” while the flat of the brisket is what the restaurant sells as lean brisket. During cooking, the fat cap is left on the brisket. “The brisket really needs to have that fat rendering out and continuing to moisten the whole piece of meat during whole cooking time,” Ms. Karmel said. “That’s the mistake people make when they’re cooking brisket at home. You really need that fat.”

White Shoepeg Corn Pudding ($4.75 for 8 ounces)

At times, I was sure that this peppery corn custard was the best thing on the menu at Hill Country; other times I favored the moist brisket. The corn pudding is Ms. Karmel’s attempt to reverse-engineer and adapt a recipe made by her grandmother, Mary Odom. Ms. Odom, who was born in North Carolina, spent part of her childhood in Georgia and moved to Virginia after she married, made this recipe only in the summer, and only with white corn. “As a true Southerner, she would not eat yellow corn,” Ms. Karmel said. White pepper and nutmeg are spices Ms. Odom relied on frequently; the cayenne and dried chives are Ms. Karmel’s idea.

She shared her recipe, which would make an excellent addition to a Fourth of July celebration. I’d suggest making it in the cool of the morning, though, since the oven needs to be on for more than an hour.

Ingredients
1          teaspoon sugar
½         teaspoon salt
½         teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8       teaspoon cayenne
¼         teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8          cups fresh or frozen corn, preferably white shoepeg, cooked and drained
2          cups heavy cream
2          eggs
¼         cup freeze-dried chopped chives
3          tablespoons butter
1          cup finely chopped shallots
1          cup finely shredded skim-milk Cheddar
1          cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Methods/steps

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sugar, salt, white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg in a small bowl. Purée 6 cups of the corn in a large food processor. Processing until smooth between each new ingredient, add the cream, the eggs, the sugar and spice mixture, and the chives. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. When it starts to bubble, add the shallots and sauté until they are translucent and beginning to brown on the edges. Add the remaining 2 cups of corn and stir until heated through. Add to the mixing bowl with the corn purée and stir. Mix in the cheese until well combined.
  3. Pour the corn pudding into a buttered 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish and set it in a larger baking dish or sheet pan. Pour warm water into the larger dish to a depth of about 1 inch. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until the custard is slightly golden on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve hot or warm.

Banana Pudding

What I love about Hill Country’s banana pudding is that it isn’t a fancified, cheffed-up riff on the original; it more or less turns back the clock to a time before many cooks began to get their pudding out of a box. The pudding is a French-style custard with cream and egg yolks with a bit of banana liqueur but no banana extract and no cornstarch. Once the pudding thickens, it’s layered over sliced bananas and Nilla wafers.

“I really wanted it to taste like your mom made it, or your grandmom made it for you,” Ms. Karmel said.

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How to Make Cow Head Barbacoa

 

“What do you want with a cow head?” asked the farmer selling beef at the Union Square Greenmarket. “We don’t sell cow heads here in New York—they’re illegal.”

Not to be deterred, I got on the phone and called my local butchers. It was the same conversation each time. First, they’d express shock and disgust at my query. And then they would curtly inform me that they could not ever, no way, no how get me a cow head as indeed, they’re illegal to sell in New York by order of the USDA. Something to do with eating cow brains having a connection to possibly getting mad cow’s disease.

So what’s a barbacoa-craving Texan in New York to do? I’ve made lamb barbacoa, but I wanted beef barbacoa. If I were at home, I could pop over to my local Fiesta grocery store and pick up a cow’s head in the meat section, nestled between the ground beef and slabs of brisket. But here my options were more limited, though I was advised that if I became friends with a farmer I’d probably have no problem getting a cow head.

I became friends with Elizabeth Karmel instead.

If you don’t know Elizabeth, she is America’s foremost female grilling expert, creator of Girls at the Grill, author of Soaked, Slathered & Seasoned and Taming the Flame and executive chef at New York’s best barbecue joint, Hill Country. And when she heard about my quest she graciously offered to help me get a cow head so we could make smoke it and make barbacoa.

She did indeed deliver, and last week a small group of us gathered at Hill Country to begin the two-day process of smoking a cow head in Hill Country’s smokers.

 

Back in Texas, a cow head traditionally is slow-cooked in the ground (though that’s a largely extinct practice now due to health departments’ intervention. Today, most cow head’s are cooked in an oven, slow cooker or on the grill). Elizabeth aimed to recreate this experience by wrapping the cow head in banana leaves and then containing the wrapped skull in two hotel pans.

For seasoning and moisture, we sprinkled a simple rub of black pepper, salt and cayenne over the skull and in its crevices, and added a couple of beers to the banana-leaf-lined pan. We also decided to smoke the tongue with the cow head, even though most barbacoa-making instructions call for it to be cooked separately. (Which makes no sense to me, but what do I know—I’m a cow-head-cooking virgin!)

I was struck by how simple the whole procedure was. Sure, the cow head was large and awkward and having three people available to help wrap it was advantageous. But save for a little mishap with one of the smoker’s shelves, there was little drama.

 

There was, however, much curiosity from those at the restaurant who witnessed our preparation. One of the pit masters said he wanted the teeth so he could have dentures made. Another took one look at the cow head and said he would never eat beef again. It was also amusing to note that those of us involved in eating and preparing the cow head were all women (three of us, including Slashfood’s Kat Kinsman and the New York Times’ Jill Santopietro, were even wearing skirts as we pulled the meat from the skull), whereas those who were horrified by the cow head were all men. We were fierce!

The verdict? This was some amazingly tender barbacoa. And if I closed my eyes I could have been at a taco stand in El Paso. As we grabbed the meat from the skull and pulled it apart, you could smell the smoke and feel its moist tenderness. We stuffed the meat into flour tortillas and dressed our tacos with salsas, cilantro and onions. Each bite was a succulent treat. I even dared to try the eyeball— which was squishy and bland, and the brains—which had the smooth texture of sweetbreads.

 

If you have the time and the inclination, and the access to a cow’s head, I highly recommend you try this. Despite the savage-appearance of cooking a cow’s head, this barbacoa was ultimately a delicate treat.

Smoked cow head barbacoa, as prepared by Elizabeth Karmel

Ingredients:
1 cow head
Salt, pepper and cayenne
Two bottles of beer
Long banana leaves

Method:

Sprinkle the salt, pepper and cayenne all over the cow head

Completely wrap the cow head in several layers of banana leaves, securing it with kitchen twine.

In a banana-leaf-lined hotel pan, pour two bottles of beer.

Set the banana-leaf-wrapped cow head into the pan, and fold over pan-lining leaves.

Cover cow head and bottom pan with another hotel pan. Secure tight with kitchen twine.

Smoke for 24 hours, remove meat from head (will have to peel the skin off of the tongue), pull apart and make tacos!

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And a champagne toast for January…

“Happy New Year! May 2014 be the BEST Year Yet!”

 

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Elizabeth’s Holiday Prime Rib with Decadent Horseradish Cream

This recipe is the star of my family’s holiday dinner—but it’s not a fussy star!  The recipe is easy enough for a new cook and so good that you will make it year-after-year.  Make sure to order an untrimmed rib roast from your butcher—the fat and the rib bones still intact—the butcher may fight you on this, but let them know that YOU know what you are asking for! And, be forewarned, if they trim the prime rib and then give you the trimmings to lay over the top, it is not the same at all! The “fat cap” will baste the meat and keep it juicy during the long cooking time and the rib bones will act as a natural roast holder.  I serve the rare prime rib with Decadent Horseradish Cream and a side of sizzling Yorkshire Pudding.

Serves 10

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

 

2          tablespoons black peppercorns

2          tablespoons dried rosemary

2          tablespoons kosher salt

2          tablespoons sweet paprika

2          tablespoons smoky paprika

1          7-rib prime rib roast (16-18 pounds), untrimmed

1          small head garlic, peeled and cut into slivers

6-8       sprigs fresh rosemary, divided

            Olive oil

Preheat grill.

Combine first five ingredients and grind in a spice grinder; set aside.  Using a paring knife, cut a series of slits at least 2 inches apart into the roast. Insert garlic into half the holes and one sprig rosemary into the others.  Coat the roast with a thin layer of olive oil first and then the spice rub.  Place the roast (fat side up) in center of cooking grate on a bed of the remaining rosemary.  Grill until done, 3½ – 4½ hours for medium-rare (11-13 minutes per pound), or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 130°F.  Transfer the roast to a platter and cover loosely with foil.  The meat will continue to cook and will gain 10 degrees to a perfect medium rare temperature at 140ºF. Let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving and serving.

Decadent Horseradish Cream

1          pint heavy whipping cream

1-2       tablespoons refrigerated, white prepared horseradish

            Sea salt

            Zest of ½ meyer or regular lemon

While the roast rests, pour cream in a clean stainless steel bowl.  Using an electric beater, whip on high until the cream forms soft peaks.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish – making sure it is not horseradish cream.  Taste and adjust, adding more if you like it stronger.  Season with sea salt, and lemon zest.  Serve immediately.

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November Thanksgiving Menu 

Nibbles

Fresh Pears with Stilton

Spiced Pecans and Pumpkin Seeds

* * *

Dinner

Renaissance Ribs

Grilled Maple Glazed Turkey

Southern Sausage Dressing

Cider-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Creamed Spinach Casserole

Smashed Potatoes with Caramelized

Pan Gravy

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cornmeal Muffins with Dried Cherries and Walnuts

Cranberry Sauce with Port Wine

* * *

Dessert

Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Baked Apples with Vanilla Ice Cream and Mexican Caramel Sauce

* * *

Introduction to Thanksgiving

Sections:

Turkey 101

Grilled Turkey (basic grilled turkey recipe from site)

Thanksgiving Food Safety

Menu

Recipes

Intro:

It’s hard for the Girls to believe that there are still so many people out there who have yet to experience a Grilled Thanksgiving Turkey!  You might ask yourself why would that come as such a surprise? 

Well, before Elizabeth entered the exciting grill-world, she worked for the public relations agency that (literally) started the #800 trend, and they started it with The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.  She managed the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for seven years and learned more than you could imagine about cooking turkeys.  Each year, Butterball would host “Turkey U.” to train the home economists who answered the hotline on every conceivable way to cook a turkey.  And, not surprisingly, the grilled and smoked turkeys won the taste-test hands down.

So, Elizabeth has been preaching the grilled turkey gospel ever since, nearly 16 years! The best part about grilling a turkey for Thanksgiving is that it is win, win, win!  It tastes great, is never dry, and looks picture-perfect. Even more importantly, it frees up oven space for all those yummy side dishes and pies; the bonus is that the turkey griller spends the day demurely fending off compliment after compliment.   The only thing you might miss is the aroma of the turkey roasting inside, but all the other benefits far outweigh missing the smell of the roasted turkey…just bake another pie and no one will even remember!  

Elizabeth has put together a menu that is easy and balanced with contemporary and traditional recipes.  She’s blended America’s favorites (Southern, Eastern and Midwestern) with old and new recipes and suggestions of many of our grill-friends.  Feel free to pick and choose, adding your own family recipes (or bakery goods) along the way, and if you have any recipes that you’d like to share, e-mail them to us, info@elizabethkarmel.com .

Grill your Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

Turkey 101

It’s much easier than you think, so close your eyes, take a deep breath and get ready for the best turkey you’ve ever eaten (or made!)

“Thanksgiving is the easiest meal of the year.”  So says Elizabeth’s mother.  And, in a way she is right.  The cooking couldn’t be simpler but the expectations make it the most difficult meal of the year.  All the anxiety is directed at the (truly) simplest task:  the turkey.  In fact, it’s so simple that Gretchen also makes ribs, just to give her something to do! (more than that later) to Renaissance Ribs.

Do you suffer from turkey trauma?  If so, read on and follow these steps to rid yourself of the tremors and the trauma.

 Mantra: Repeat this mantra, with conviction and often: Turkey is easy, grilled turkey is even easier!

 Grill the turkey: Forget the oven, preheat the grill!  Save oven space for all your side dishes.

If frozen: thaw, thaw, thaw!  Defrost turkey in the refrigerator on a tray (to catch the drippings) for three days.  That means, on the Monday before Thanksgiving buy the turkey or take it out of the freezer.

Fresh vs. Frozen:  This is the annual debate and Elizabeth contends that a frozen turkey is actually fresher then a “fresh” turkey.  Here’s why, when the turkeys are processed they are immediately flash frozen -  – freezing the freshness of hours-old birds.  Fresh turkeys on the other hand are kept just above freezing for weeks before you actually grill it up for Thanksgiving.  But, the bottom line is to buy the turkey you like best. Brining your turkey or buying a Kosher Turkey (i.e. Empire Brand) helps to insure juiciness.  

Remove the giblets:  When preparing the turkey, remove the giblets and neck (look in both cavities for extra pieces!)  from the turkey.  Look in every hole of the turkey.  More than 50% of first-time (and even some experienced) turkey cooks leave in the bag of giblets only to run from embarrassment during the carving “photo op.”  But don’t toss the bag, use the giblets to make the gravy!

Less is more:  Now that the turkey is prepped, it’s almost ready for the grill.  Stuff the cavity with stalks of celery, carrots and onions and rub a thin coat of olive oil on the skin.  Just before putting on the grill, sprinkle with Kosher salt.  You don’t need a butter-soaked cheese cloth, or to put herb butter under the skin or any other complicated recipe.  Elizabeth has tried it all and has found a little oil and a little salt makes the best grill-roasted turkey.

Disposable Roasting Pans:  Most of us have a really nice roasting pan in our cupboards, well use it for something else.  It’s a “witch” to clean and takes up too much room on the grill.  Instead buy an aluminum-roasting pan from the grocery store.  (If you are roasting an 18+ bird, buy two or else it won’t be sturdy enough.  The aluminum is pliable, which is important because you may have to bend the sides to close the lid of your grill.

Breast side up:  Once the turkey is all oiled up, it’s ready to go!  Place breast side up in the disposable roasting pan sprinkle with Kosher salt and it’s ready to grill-roast.  The turkey never has to be turned over.  It will be golden-brown, picture-perfect and juicy…just by leaving it alone.

Turkey meets the grill: Place the turkey, in the roasting pan, in the center of the cooking grate.  Make sure the grill is set on the indirect method at a medium heat (325 F – 375 F).  Now, close the lid and “forgetaboutit.”

If you are cooking on charcoal , you’ll need to add briquettes every hour.  If  you’re cooking on gas, check the temperature after 2 hours.  No need to baste!           

And don’t peek !

Testing for doneness or instant-read meat thermometer for instant success: The turkey is done when it reads 165 F in the breast and 185 F in the thickest part of the thigh (be careful NOT to hit the thighbone when probing).  Try one of the new thermometers that is designed to keep the probe in the turkey while it cooks and leaves the controls outside the grill so you can check on the doneness without lifting the lid. 

The proof is in the eating:  Once the turkey is done, let it rest for 15-20 minutes so the juices are re-absorbed.  This will insure that your turkey is at its maximum juiciness and gives you time to make the gravy from the pan drippings.

Enjoy and take a Bow for your family’s best turkey ever!

Thanksgiving Food Safety

Thanksgiving is the only holiday that revolves solely around the food, thus giving it the most potential for “indigestion.”  Follow these food safety tips to make sure your indigestion comes from the dinner conversation and not the dinner itself!  With all poultry (turkey and chicken) most “food borne illness” is from cross-contamination-using the same knife or platter or cutting board for the poultry and the uncooked vegetables or bread.

1.         Dispose of turkey juices and packaging immediately.  Wash hands and sink with   hot soapy water.

2.         Wash any cutting boards, knives, or kitchen tools with hot soapy water.  If you      want to be extra careful, use a diluted bleach solution of ¼ cup bleach such as Clorox and 2 cups of water.

3.         Use a separate platter or roasting pan to transport raw food or cooked food.

4.         Cook the turkey until completely done, 165 F in the breast and 185 F in the thickest part of the thigh.

5.         Enjoy, these precautions are just that, no cause for alarm.  Just be food safe.  For any specific questions, call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800 BUTTERBALL.

Grilled Thanksgiving Menu

A coarse-laden meal like Thanksgiving calls for light appetizers or nibbles. Otherwise, the guests fill up on the starters before they even sit down for the main event! 

 Fresh Pears with Stilton

When serving fresh pears, less is always more.  A bit of the best English Stilton or blue cheese and a lightly toasted walnut half covers all the taste points for a satisfying but light appetizer that truly excites the appetite instead of squelching it!

ripe pears

½  pound best-quality Stilton or Saga Blue Cheese

Walnut halves, toasted, about ½ cup

Pick firm but ripe pears.  Wash well.  Using an apple corer, or a knife, remove seeds.  Cut pears in half and then again in thin slices.  Lay on a plate and set aside.  When the Stilton is very cold, cut thin slices with a vegetable peeler.  Put one slice of cheese on top of each pear.  Garnish with a toasted walnut halve and serve at room temperature.

Serves 8 –12

Spiced Pecans and Pumpkin Seeds

In the South, sweet spiced pecans signal the start of the fall holiday season.  We’ve expanded our geography and mixed the sweet tastes of the South with the spicy taste of the Southwest for the best “handful of nuts” we’ve had in a long time.  They are good with a beer, but even better with a glass of champagne!

½  pound pecan halves

½  pound pumpkin seeds, shelled

¼ teaspoon cloves

teaspoon chipolte chile powder, or other chile powder

¼  teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon superfine sugar

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

tablespoon Olive oil

Pick through nuts for shells.  Set aside.  Mix all spices, sugar and salt until well combined.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet and add nuts.  Toast nuts by stirring frequently and coating all nuts with the olive oil.  While nuts are still warm, sprinkle evenly with spice mixture, stirring to coat well. Adjust seasonings and cool nuts on a cookie sheet before serving.

Serves 8 -12

Renaissance Ribs

Our friend Gretchen makes these Italian-spiced baby back ribs for her Italian in-laws every Thanksgiving because her husband couldn’t decide which he liked better, her grilled turkey or her “Renaissance Ribs”, so they have decided to have both as their new tradition for Thanksgiving!  But be forewarned, they are much too good to cook only once a year!

Charcoal: Indirect

Gas: Indirect/Medium heat

4 racks baby back ribs

Juice from 2 lemons

2  cups water

¼ cup Italian seasonings

Favorite barbecue sauce, optional

Remove silver skin from back of ribs.  Combine lemon juice and 2 cups water and set aside.  Rub the juiced lemons over front and back of ribs and place ribs in marinade for 30 minutes.  Remove from marinade and rub front and back with BBQ rub.  Can be done up to one day in advance.

Place ribs in center of the cooking grate or in a rib rack.  Grill 1 to 1 ½ hours or till tender, brushing with sauce if desired during the last 20 minutes of grilling time. 

To serve, cut ribs into 2- or 3-rib portions.


Orange Brine for Grill-Roasted Turkey

Brining helps insure that the turkey stays extra juicy during the roasting process.  This orange brine complements the Maple-Glaze and scents the turkey with Thanksgiving’s favorite seasonings.

6 cups water

cup sugar

2 cups Kosher salt (if using iodized table salt use only 1 cup)

2 oranges, quartered

3 tablespoons whole cloves

3  bay leaves

teaspoons whole peppercorns

12-14 pound turkey, defrosted And cleaned

Olive oil for brushing turkey

Heavy duty foil pan

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Let cool to room temperature.

In a 3-gallon plastic bucket or other food safe container large enough to hold the turkey, combine one gallon of water, the oranges, cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Add the sugar-salt solution and stir.

Submerge the turkey in the brine.  If necessary, add more water to cover turkey and top with a weight to make sure it is completely covered with the liquid.  Refrigerate for 8-12 hours. 

Follow turkey roasting instructions. 

Grilled Maple-Glazed Turkey

The sweet maple syrup combined with the sharp orange citrus and vanilla bourbon notes not only glaze the skin to an ebony sheen but flavor the drippings for extra rich and delicious gravy!  But remember, only glaze during the last 30 minutes of the cooking time to prevent burning.

Charcoal: Indirect

Gas: Indirect/Medium Heat

1 12-14 lb. turkey, defrosted

1  tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Maple Glaze

½  cup real maple syrup

Juice of a small orange

tablespoon Bourbon

Mix all ingredients and set aside.  Brush on turkey only during the last 30 minutes of the cooking time.  Follow basic grilled turkey instructions below:

Remove the neck and giblets; reserve for other uses.  Remove and discard excess fat.  Rinse bird inside and out and pat dry.  Season body cavity with salt and pepper.  Tie legs together and twist wing tips under back.  Brush turkey with oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange turkey breast side up, on the cooking grate over Indirect Medium Heat.  Place lid on grill.  Cook 11-13 minutes per pound or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh (not touching the bone) registers 180 degrees F and the juices run clear.

Transfer turkey to a platter and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Gas Grilling Turkey Tip: Be sure to place the turkey in a foil drip pan when using a gas grill.  About 30 minutes before the bird is done, remove the foil drip pan and place the bird in the center of the cooking grate.  This allows the bottom of the bird to get some color and gives the opportunity to make a gravy from the drippings that have accumulated in the foil drip pan.

 

Makes 12 to 15 servings.

Gravy Note: Please keep the drippings for the gravy for and added burst of flavor in the gravy.

Southern Sausage Dressing

This very simple dressing is based on the one that Elizabeth’s mother makes.  It is her family’s favorite side dish, and the only recipe that absolutely can’t be omitted or changed.  And it really is essential to use the Pepperidge Farm (blue bag) herb-seasoned stuffing mix!

large package Pepperidge Farm, herb-seasoned stuffing

½  loaf of favorite bread, crumbled

pound bulk sausage (hot) (preferably Neese’s brand)

1 bunch celery, chopped

yellow onions, chopped

1 stick butter, melted

can low-salt no-fat chicken broth or homemade stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix package of stuffing mix and fresh bread crumbs and set aside, tossing occasionally so all crumbs dry out.  Meanwhile, cook sausage in a skillet until completely cooked through and drain on paper towels.  Remove excess grease.  In the same skillet, sauté

celery and onions until soft and onions begin to caramelize.  Mix vegetables, sausage and melted butter in with the bread crumbs until well combined.  Moisten with chicken broth until stuffing holds together but is not too wet.  Place in a buttered casserole dish and bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until top is browned.  (Alternately you can stuff the turkey just before cooking but this will make it stuffing.  “Dressing” is the preferred lingo in the South and it is always on the side!

Cider-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

The tart-sweet-savory combination of apple cider, vinegar and olive oil brings out the natural sweetness and contemporizes sweet potatoes—and we promise no one will miss the marshmallows! The recipe is written for the grill, but it can also be roasted in a 400 F oven for the same cooking time.

Cooking Method: Indirect/Medium High Heat

6 medium-sized sweet potatoes, preferably “Garnet” variety (about 5 pounds)

½ cup apple cider

1 tablespoon Olive oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

tablespoon dark brown sugar

Sea Salt

Peel and cut sweet potatoes in 2-inch wedges or chunks.  Whisk the next four ingredients together and toss with sweet potatoes.  Place potatoes and liquid in a large shallow roasting pan and roast in the center of the grill or in an oven for about 45-60 minutes stirring occasionally or until browned on the edges, soft on the inside and all the liquid has evaporated. 

While still hot, season to taste with sea salt.  Serve warm.

Serves 6-8

Creamed Spinach Casserole

This recipe comes straight from Popeye’s dreamland.  Spinach lovers, finally, here is a “creamed” spinach recipe with just a touch of cream and a whole lot of green!  If you miss the extra cream, just add more and adjust the seasonings but the Girls like it on the drier side.  This dish can easily be made the day before.

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

4 packages frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained

2 tablespoons butter

2 shallots, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon Pernod

1 tablespoon flour

1/2-2/3 cup half and half

Freshly ground nutmeg

Freshly ground pepper

Drizzle of Truffle oil (about 2 teaspoons)

Sea salt or Fleur de Sel to taste

Make sure as much of the water as possible is removed from spinach by pressing the cooled spinach tightly with the back of a spoon.  Set aside. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, add shallots and cook until soft and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.  Add Pernod, stir and add flour.  Whisk for 2-3 minutes or until flour is slightly browned (this eliminates the raw flour taste).  Stir in half and half until heated through and season with a pinch of ground nutmeg, fresh pepper, the truffle oil and salt.  Mix well.  Place in an oven-proof casserole dish and cook in the grill over Indirect/Medium heat until hot and bubbly. 

Note: Can be made in advance and heated in the grill or an oven (375 F) for 30-40 minutes, just before serving.

Serves 4

Smashed Potatoes with Caramelized Garlic

This is an updated version of classic mashed potatoes.  The skin is crisped in the grill and left on when “smashed” with the sweet caramelized garlic and olive oil.  Try it for Thanksgiving and you’ll end up making the recipe all year long!

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

2 heads of garlic, roasted
¼ cup olive oil or more to taste
24 new potatoes, cleaned
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove the loose, papery outer skin from the head of garlic. Cut about ½ inch off the top to expose the cloves. Place on a large square of aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the cloves. Fold up the foil sides and seal to make a packet, leaving a little room for the expansion of steam. Grill over Indirect Medium heat until the cloves are soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the garlic from the grill and allow to cool. Squeeze the garlic from the individual cloves into a small bowl.

Brush the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the center of the cooking grate over Indirect Medium heat and roast for 25-30 minutes or until done. While still warm, either put the potatoes through a potato ricer or place in a large bowl and mash with a fork. Add the garlic into the potatoes and continue to mash, adding the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6

Pan Gravy

This gravy is enhanced by white wine and the pan drippings.  To make the gravy process less stressful, follow the directions up to the pan drippings and set aside.  As the turkey “sits,” resume the gravy and it’ll come together in a matter of minutes.  If you are making the Maple-Glazed Turkey, use any extra glaze…or better yet, make another batch for the gravy and omit the white wine!

Giblets and neck bone from turkey

2  pieces of celery with leaves, cut into 2 inch pieces

small onion, cut into a eighths

Drippings from the roast pan

¼ cup flour, approximately

½ cup, white wine, optional

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Place neck bone, giblets, celery and onion in a saucepan with 2 cups of water.  Let simmer 1 ½ hours.  Strain and retain liquid, discarding vegetables and giblets, set aside.  Heat turkey pan drippings in a sauté pan over medium heat, add a little of the liquid and the flour and whisk for 3-5 minutes until flour is browned (this eliminates the raw flour taste).  Stir in the wine (or leftover maple glaze) and a little more of the giblet liquid until the consistency is smooth and thick.  Adjust seasonings and serve with smashed potatoes, Southern Sausage Dressing and turkey.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cornmeal Muffins with Dried Cherries & Walnuts

These muffins are much more savory than sweet and are a nice wholesome accompaniment to turkey and trimmings.  Be sure to save a few extra because they really shine when split and used for leftover turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches!

 

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup white sugar

4 eggs

15 ounce can solid pumpkin, unsweetened

½ cup milk

cup whole wheat flour

½ cup unbleached white flour

cup white or yellow cornmeal

teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoons cinnamon

Pinch of salt

½ cup dried cherries

½ cup toasted walnut pieces

Pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 F .

In a large bowl, using a hand-mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and pumpkin, mixing well.  Alternate milk and sifted flour mixture, ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix in cherries and walnuts.  Spoon the batter into a greased or lined muffin pans and bake 25-30 minutes or until batter pulls away from the side and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 regular or 48 mini muffins

Cranberry Sauce with Port Wine

If you’re still opening a can for this ubiquitous side dish, give it up and try this ultra easy recipe for fresh cranberry sauce.  The fresh cranberries almost cook themselves and the port and orange juice give them a depth of flavor that you’ll never get from the canned variety.  To balance the tartness, try adding chopped Granny Smith apples at the beginning of the cooking time.

12 ounce package fresh cranberries, cleaned

¾  cup sugar

¼  cup orange juice

½  cup water

½  cup port wine

Pinch of salt

2 granny smith apples, chopped, optional

Rinse cranberries discarding any over-ripe berries.  Set aside.  Mix sugar and liquids in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, add a pinch of salt and stir.  Add cranberries (and apples if using) and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature.  Best made the day (or days) before.

Makes about 2 cups.

 

Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

The Girls’ favorite part of Pumpkin Pie is the Bourbon Whipped Cream, so we either make the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pure pumpkin can or have a guest bring the pie, but we always make the whipped cream.  It is amazing what a difference a little Bourbon makes to the flavor of the whipped cream—and the pie!  But make sure you use the best quality Bourbon you can find.  If you are not normally a Bourbon drinker, go to the Liquor store and purchase an “airplane” bottle of the finest brand that they sell, it’ll cost very little but make a big impact on your recipe.  This tip goes for any alcohol that is called for that you might not ordinarily have on hand.

Store-bought or favorite pumpkin pie recipe (the back of the Libby’s can has a reliable recipe.)

Bourbon Whipped Cream

To make bourbon whipped cream, add 1 tablespoon super-fine sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon to cream as it is being whipped.  Beat until stiff and serve immediately. Refrigerate any unused cream.

Serves 4

Baked Apples with Vanilla Ice Cream and Mexican Caramel Sauce

Mmmm Good.  This is a little different from the traditional pies of Thanksgiving but it is equally delicious—all the flavors of a warm caramel apple a la mode!  And the added value is that it is easy to make for a crowd, even if you don’t ordinarily bake. The Mexican Caramel sauce can be made several days in advance and the apples are a snap if you have an apple corer, if not, perhaps now is a good time to invest in one!

granny smith or favorite cooking apple, cored and rubbed with lemon juice

1/2-3/4 cup apple cider or undiluted apple juice concentrate

2 cinnamon sticks, broken into large pieces

tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons sugar in the raw

2 tablespoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch of Salt

Place apples in a non-reactive glass or stainless steel pan, making sure all apples touch.  If an apple will not stand up, slice a piece off the bottom to level it.  Pour liquid over apples, making sure a little goes inside the cored apples.  Distribute cinnamon sticks evenly in the bottom of the pan make sure the liquid comes up about ½ inch of the side of the pan, if it doesn’t add more cider.  Mix the remaining ingredients and divide equally between the apples, filling the core.

Place pan in the center of the cooking grate (or in a 375 F oven) for 45 minutes or until liquid has reduced and apples are tender.  Serve at room temperature with a scoop of Vanilla ice cream and a generous drizzle the Mexican Caramel Sauce.

Homemade Mexican Caramel Sauce (Dulce de Leche)

14oz sweetened condensed milk

Remove label from can, place in a 4 quart heavy-duty saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 ½ – 3 hours making sure the can is covered by water the entire time.  You will need to add water several times during the cooking process.  The milk will slowly caramelize during this process.  Remove can from water with tongs and a mitt as the can will be very hot and let cool.  Serve room temperature over baked apples.  One can makes enough for 12-15 servings.

Note: This method of making Dulce de Leche has been done in Mexico for years and years.  If you are uncomfortable with the method, pour condensed milk into a heavy-duty saucepan and cook very slowly, stirring constantly until the milk is reduced and caramelized.

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Salt and Pepper Shrimp with Lemon Saffron Aioli

Black-and-Blue Sashimi Tuna Steaks with Wasabi-Soy Dipping Sauce

Grilled Vegetables

It’s Indian summer and I look forward to the days of “feels like summer” every fall. Besides being the most beautiful time of year, it allows me at least one more night of grilling out seafood and lighter fare before I go whole hog into squash and pumpkins and sage.

This menu has 3 of my favorite things.  Grilled shrimp with a rich garlicky aioli dipping sauce, a “Black & Blue” rare in the inside tuna steak and the end-of-summer/early fall Greenmarket vegetables—all you need is olive oil, salt and pepper and the magic of the grill to make the best grilled veggies that anyone has ever tasted!  Buy what you like and follow the simple instructions to great grilling—and I won’t say a word if you sneak in some early delicata squash or some new apples!

Happy Fall!

Salt and Pepper Shrimp with Lemon Saffron Aioli

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat

Aioli:

Juice and zest from 1 large lemon about 3 tablespoons

¼             teaspoon saffron stems, crumbled and dissolved in a little lemon juice

6              large cloves garlic, roughly chopped about ¼ cup

1              heaping tablespoonDijonmustard

1              whole egg

1              egg yolk

1 ½         cups vegetable oil, plus a little extra if needed

1              cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

½             teaspoon kosher salt

Shrimp:

24           Jumbo shrimp in the shell, not E-Z Peel shrimp

2              tablespoons Olive oil

2              tablespoons Morton Kosher salt or use coarse sea salt

1 ½      teaspoons coarse ground pepper, preferably freshly ground

 

Make the Aioli: In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine lemon juice, saffron and garlic and pulse until garlic is pureed and saffron is dissolved (about 15 seconds).  Add the mustard and pulse again until combined.  Add the egg, egg yolks and lemon zest and process for 10 seconds, (if you are concerned about the raw eggs, use pasteurized eggs). Very slowly add the oil in a trickle through the feeding tube of the food processor until sauce is thick and well combined (emulsified).  As the aioli becomes thicker, the machine sounds more like a purr than a whirr and you know it is done.  If you like a firmer texture, add a little more oil, if you like your sauce softer, stop at the 2 ½ cups.  Add the salt and process until well combined.   If the aioli seems like it needs a little salt, resist the urge because the shrimp will more than compensate.  Set aside.  Note:  You may have some leftover aioli but once you’ve tasted it, you’ll want to slather it on everything from grilled asparagus to a ham sandwich!  It will keep for 2 weeks refrigerated.

Meanwhile, prepare the shrimp.  If frozen, thaw in cold running water just before cooking.  Blot shrimp dry and place in a large non-reactive bowl.  Toss with the olive oil to coat lightly all over. Just before putting on the grill, mix the salt and pepper together and sprinkle evenly over the shrimp and toss well to make sure each shrimp is thoroughly coated in a crust of salt and pepper.

Place the shrimp in the center of the cooking grate, 3 to 4 minutes per side or until the shrimp is pink and the flesh is opaque (white).   When cool enough to touch, peel shells with fingers and serve immediately with aioli.

Serves 4-6

Fishmonger tip: It is important that you use the largest shrimp you can buy.  The difference in price is only a couple of dollars a pound.  The larger shrimp will be more tender, and large enough to benefit from this crusting technique.  With smaller shrimp, you run the risk of disturbing the balance between salt and shrimp meat. 

Black-and-Blue Sashimi Tuna Steaks with Wasabi-Soy Dipping Sauce

Grilling Method: Direct/High Heat

1          tablespoon dark brown sugar
1          teaspoon dried ginger
1          teaspoon kosher salt
2          cloves garlic, minced or pureed
4          2-inch thick sashimi-grade tuna, toro or yellowtail  fillets (cut from center piece of             tuna)
Olive Oil
Fresh Ground Pepper

Dipping Sauce:

1          tablespoon Wasabi powder
1          tablespoon fresh grated ginger

½         cup low-sodium soy sauce
Zest and Juice of one orange

Combine sugar, garlic, ginger and salt to make a rub. Set aside. Coat fish with olive oil and rub liberally with spice mixture. Let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce by combining all the ingredients and mix well. Set aside. Place fish directly on the cooking grates and grill for 5-10 minutes, about 3 minutes on each side.  If the tuna pieces are shaped more like a cube, sear on all the sides that are exposed. Ideally, remove the fish when it is seared on the outside and still a bit cool in the center, about 5 minutes total cooking time.  Cook longer if you prefer it more done.

Remove from grill and serve with Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce.

Serves 4

Grilled Greenmarket Vegetables

1.  Slice all vegetables at least ½ -inch thick.  If the vegetables are small, grill whole and chop after they have been grilled or thread on a soaked bamboo skewer before grilling.

2.  Coat the vegetables with a thin layer of olive oil.  Use my plastic bag trick to do the job quickly and efficiently.  Plastic Bag Trick:  Place the sliced vegetables in a re-closeable plastic bag; only fill the bag half-way full.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the vegetables, about 1-2 tablespoons.  Seal the bag and massage the vegetables to coat with oil.

3.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, if desired.  The salt is essential since it will help to draw out the natural sugars and promote caramelization.  I prefer Morton kosher salt for grilled food because it is larger grained and it doesn’t melt as quickly as Diamond Crystal kosher salt.

4.  Preheat your gas grill or wait until your charcoal is covered with gray ash; and reduce the heat to medium or else the vegetables will burn on the outside and be raw on the inside.  Make sure your cooking grates are clean.

5.  Place vegetables on the grill going the opposite direction of the cooking grates.  This will prevent the veggies from falling through the grates.

6.  Turn with a pair of locking chef tongs, I recommend the 12-inch OXO tongs.  Slide the tongs gently under the center of the food in the thickest part when turning.

7.  Turn only once halfway through the cooking time.

8.  Remove veggies when they are crisp tender, they will continue to cook a little once they come off the grill

9.  Taste the grilled vegetables while still hot and if they need more salt, add a bit while still warm.  Do not try to season the vegetables once they have cooled.

10.  Experiment with all kinds of vegetables.  Even Brussels sprouts taste better from the grill.

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 September Blog:

Tumbled Tomatoes

Fire-Roasted Corn with Smokey-Paprika Butter

The Cook’s Ribs

     If someone asked me to capture the end-of-summer in three words, the three words would be tomatoes, corn and ribs! So, it should come as no surprise that my favorite “end-of-summer” menu features these three ingredients.  Often times, the best tomatoes appear in the market in September.  They have been soaking up the heat of the summer and are sweet and tart, not watery like some early summer tomatoes.

This is a menu to make and to savor when time is on your side—when you have nothing pressing and nothing better to do than spend the day in the backyard barbecuing The Cook’s Ribs.

Because the ribs need the luxury of time, the rest of the menu is quick and easy.  The Tumbled Tomatoes are best made the day before you serve them because the longer they sit in the fridge, the better the salt and herb crust gets.  They are at their best when the crust is completely dry on the outside skin of the tomatoes. I wash cherry tomatoes with cold water and grind a mixture of sea salt, dehydrated garlic and herbes de Provence over them as I tumble them—hence the name—in a bowl.  The trick is to make the herb mixture and place it in it’s own salt grinder.  Grinding a fine layer of the seasoning over the tomatoes allows the mixture to dry easily and form the essential flavor crust on the outside of the tomato.

In the summer, I buy the heirloom cherry tomatoes so that my bowl of tumbled tomatoes is a rainbow of color and shapes.  If you can’t find them, the recipe is equally good made with any grape or cherry tomato.  These tomatoes are addictive!  But, hey, it’s a healthy addiction! They might look plain but they pack a flavor punch and every time I serve them, I am asked for the recipe.  In fact, I suggest you make twice what you think you need because no one can eat just oneJ.  And, this is one recipe that I make all year long with the readily available and very flavorful grape tomatoes.

While you are in the kitchen tumbling the tomatoes, it’s the perfect time to whip up the Smoked Paprika Butter for the Fire-Roasted Corn.  This three ingredient compound butter is a perfect example of how a little effort can up your eating ante.  We all put butter on our corn, and it is good.  Add a little smoked paprika and garlic salt to the butter and it is GREAT!  The butter can be mashed and mixed together the day before and stored in the fridge until ready to use. You can make a roll for slicing out of the butter; store it in a small bowl or if you are ambitious, shape it in a butter or candy mold. Anyway you serve it, once it melts on the fire-roasted corn, it will make the dish.

But the real reason for this menu is the ribs.  You’ll start the night before, seasoning the ribs and placing them in the refrigerator.  Early the next day, you’ll build your charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill.  Yes, you can make these on a gas grill!  I do it all the time with a smoker box and real wood chips.  I like using apple or hickory wood but you can use what ever wood you like except for mesquite, which is too acrid for the long, slow smoking time.  Once the chips are smoking, make sure the fire is low, between 250° -225° F.  The ribs will take about 6 hours to make—this is the original slow food and sooooo worth it.  You can make baby-back ribs in 1/3 of the time, and they are good, but these are really special.

I learned to make these ribs when I was a member of the Memphis in May competition barbecue team, Swine and Dine.  The two head “cooks” made these ribs for themselves—thus the name.  Once they’d feed their team with hundreds of racks of ribs, they’d sit back, pop a cold one and keep cooking “The Cooks’ Ribs,” until the magic of a marinade “bath,” honey and 2 more hours produced mind-blowingly great ‘cue.  The ribs are smoked slowly and “bathed” in a hot marinade every hour to build up layers of flavor and create the most intense barbecued “bark” of any ribs that I have ever eaten. The outside “bark” will be very dark, almost black, and will be sweet and savory, slightly chewy with perfectly tender-to-the-bone, smoke-ring pink meat on the inside.  It’s well worth the time, and well worth the wait!

About 2 hours before you eat, the racks of ribs are drizzled with honey and sprinkled with a little more rub before being wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil for the final journey to rib nirvana.  This step is crucial as my barbecue buddy, Gary Pantlik, one of the former Swine and Dine head cooks says about competition barbecue, “If you aren’t wrappin,’ you’re either lyin’ or losin!”

Tumbled Tomatoes

1          tablespoon Herbes de Provence

1          teaspoon coarse sea salt

½         teaspoon dehydrated garlic

2          pints cherry or grape tomatoes

Mix herbs, put in a salt grinder or pulverize slightly in a mortar and pestle.  If you don’t have either, just skip that step.

Wash tomatoes in cold water and remove all excess water, but do not dry.  Tumble/toss tomatoes with herbs until it is evenly mixed.  Refrigerate uncovered until all water is evaporated from the skin of the tomatoes, tossing tomatoes in bowl occasionally until herb and salt mixture has formed a crust on the tomatoes.

Serve Chilled

Serves 4-6

Fire-Roasted Corn with Smoked-Paprika Butter

Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat

4          tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-½      teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
½         teaspoon garlic salt

6          ears corn, husked
Olive oil
Sea salt

Lime wedges

In a small mixing bowl, mash together the butter, paprika and garlic salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.  You can make a log of compound butter, or place in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let soften before serving.

Brush the ears of corn lightly all over with olive oil. Place directly on the cooking grate over Direct Medium heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until the kernels are lightly browned and blistered all over, 8 to 10 minutes.

While still hot, spread the Smoked-Paprika Butter evenly over all ears of corn.  Season with a pinch of sea salt and squirt with lime just before eating.

Serves 6

The Cooks’ Ribs

Grilling Method: Indirect/Low Heat

4-24     slabs of baby back ribs, about 2 pounds each
½         gallon Wicker’s (vinegar-based marinade) or Lexington-style Vinegar Sauce (see below)
4          cups (2 bottles) favorite Italian dressing, such as Newman’s Own
1 ½      cups Willingham’s WHAM dry rub or Classic BBQ Rub (see below), divided (link to BBQProshop.com)
1          8-ounce jar of clover honey

Smoker Box with favorite wood chips—I likeApple and Hickory wood

The Overnight “Prep”
Prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back and generously rub them down. Once rubbed, take each slab and cut in half. Bag them and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to cook, remove ribs from refrigerator and allow them to reach room temperature. Light the grill and get the temperature up to 250ºF degrees.

The “Bath”
This recipe replaces basting with bathing. In a large disposable aluminum loaf pan, mix the Wicker’s, and the Italian dressing with about ¼ cup of rub. Place the pan on the grill to keep warm.

Once the grill has reached 250ºF degrees, place all the ribs on the grill in a rib rack and let the smokin’ begin! The temperature will drop a bit, but that’s OK. Maintain a temperature of 225ºF degrees. After an hour has passed, the ribs will be ready for their first bath. Using a sturdy pair of locking chef tongs, submerge each slab in the “bath.”  Give them all a good dousing and return them to the heat. Repeat this process each hour until the ribs have been on the grill for 3-4 hours.

The “Finish”
At this point, take each half-slab and give it one last “bath”. Place on aluminum foil for wrapping. Drizzle honey on slab and finish off with one last dash of dry rub. Repeat process for each slab. Stack 3 to 4 slabs on top of each other per foil package and wrap tightly. After all the ribs have been wrapped, place them back on the grill for 1 ½ more hours. Let them continue to slowly cook in the foil packages on indirect low heat, about 225º F. These ribs will take a total of 4 ½- 5-½ hours to cook. Remove foil packages from grill as needed and serve.

Serves between 8 and 48, depending on appetite and number of racks cooked.

 

Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce—you will need to double this recipe for The Cook’s Ribs

2          cups cider vinegar

½         cup ketchup

¼         cup brown sugar

2          tablespoons white sugar
1          tablespoon sea salt
1          tablespoon ground white pepper
½-1      tablespoon red pepper flakes (the more, the hotter the sauce)
1/2       teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and let sit 10 minutes. Add to chopped barbecue when hot to season the meat and keep it from drying out.

Makes

Classic BBQ Rub—you will need to double this recipe for The Cook’s Ribs

This rub has all the classic barbecue notes: salt, spice, sweet and smoky. It is particularly great on ribs but works with pork chops and tenderloin, chicken and even catfish for a beautifully authentic low ‘n slow barbecued flavor.

2          tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
2          tablespoons kosher salt
2          tablespoons Sugar in the Raw
2          tablespoons dark brown sugar
1          tablespoon cumin
1          tablespoon chili powder
1          tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1          tablespoon dehydrated onion
1          tablespoon dehydrated garlic
½         tablespoon cayenne pepper

Combine paprika, salt, sugar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, pepper, dehydrated onion and garlic, and cayenne in bowl; mix well. For a smoother rub, puree ingredients in a spice grinder until well combined and all pieces are uniform (the rub will be very fine and tan in color).

Extra rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.

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August Menu:

Grilled Corn in the Husk

North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich

Lexington Coleslaw

I have taught many a foodie my recipe for pulled pork and my barbecue buddy, Steven Raichlen generously paid homage to my recipe in his tome, The Barbecue Bible.

 “My friend and barbecue buddy, Elizabeth Karmel, makes the best pork shoulder I’ve tasted.  Elizabeth comes from Greensboro, North Carolina, where she grew up on pulled pork.  Her secret is to cook the pork to an internal temperature of 195 F—higher than is recommended in most books.  But this is the temperature needed for the pork to separate easily into the fine, moist, tender shreds characteristic of true Carolina barbecue.”

North Carolina Barbecue : the personal story    

I fell in love with North Carolina Barbecue but then the unthinkable happened…I moved out of state and a barbecue sandwich was only available when I made the trek home to visit.  Being homesick for barbecue called for drastic measures so, one day, about 13 years ago, I decided that I was going to try and make North Carolina Barbecue at home.  This doesn’t sound so preposterous today, but when I was growing up and even 10 years ago, no one made barbecue in their backyard—you bought barbecue at a BBQ pit or joint or shack or even restaurant.

For my barbecue experiment, I bought the biggest Boston Butt I could find—and going on memory alone—I generously seasoned it with salt and pepper and put it on my gas grill over indirect heat.  Six hours later, I lifted the lid and saw the most beautiful piece of barbecued meat; all the fat had slowly rendered out leaving a deeply caramelized, crisp, crunchy exterior with meltingly tender interior meat.  The butt pulled apart “like butter.”   Once again, going from memory, I made the vinegar sauce remembering notes of sour, sweet, salt and a bit of heat.  I concocted a sauce that was almost identical to the one I make today after perfecting my recipe for 13 years.  I couldn’t believe how good that first bite of homemade North Carolina Barbecue was!

Since that fateful afternoon, I have made it my business to learn from the Pitmasters from all over the South and parts of the Midwest.  It is interesting that my honed and extensively researched technique is almost exactly the same as my first attempt at barbecue—that’s another nod to how simple it is to make meltingly tender barbecue at home.

The secret to my success is cooking slowly over low heat, or “low and slow” as the saying goes—and that means indirect heat.  And the trick that is never written into most (home) cook recipes is to let the meat reach 195 F.  This internal temperature is higher than most books recommend, but trust me, I’m right!  It is the temperature needed to be able to separate or pull the pork into perfect tender strands, and melt all the tough connective tissue that is found on these traditionally tough cuts of meat.   There is no other cooking method that has such a high flavor return for such a low investment of hands-on time.  Slow-cooking with indirect heat couldn’t be easier or more hands-off! Basically, you put it on the grill and forget about it for hours until the smoke, indirect heat and the natural fat and flavors inherent in the meat work the magic.

Grilled Corn in the Husk

Grilling Method:  Direct/Medium Heat

6          ears of corn, unshucked

Butter

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Lime wedges, optional

Trim the silk ends of the corn with a pair of scissors.  Fill the sink or bucket with cold water and soak corn, husk and all for 30 minutes.  Shake excess water off of corn and take to grill.

Place corn directly on the cooking grate and grill for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the outside is slightly charred and the inside is teamed and tender.  The fresher the corn, the less time it will take to cook.  Field-fresh corn will only take between 4-5 minutes to cook and fresh grocery-store corn will take closer to 10 minutes.

Remove from grill, serve in the husk and let everyone shuck their own corn.  Serve with butter, salt and pepper and optional lime wedges, if desired.

North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork Sandwich

Barbecue is a noun and in North Carolina it is defined as pulled pork with a distinctive tangy vinegar sauce—no sweet tomato sauce allowed!  The pork is either “pulled” into pieces or chopped with a meat clever, dressed with the sauce and served on a cheap white hamburger bun topped with slaw that is simply chopped green cabbage dressed with the same vinegar sauce.

Grilling Method: Indirect/Low Heat

Hickorywood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes

1                Pork Butt, Boston Butt or untrimmed end-cut pork shoulder roast, 7 to 9 pounds

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil

Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce (see below)

North Carolina Coleslaw (see below)

1                package plain white hamburger buns

Prepare either a charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking.

Remove pork from wrapper.  Do not trim any excess fat off the meat, this fat will naturally baste the meat and keep it moist during the long cooking time.  Brush pork with a thin coating of Olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.   Set aside on a clean tray until ready to cook.

Before placing the meat on the grill, add soaked wood chips.  Place chips directly on white-gray ash briquettes or in the smoking box of your gas grill.  For more tips on smoking on a gas grill, see sidebar.  If using a charcoal grill, you will need to add charcoal every hour to maintain the heat.

Place pork in the center of the cooking grate fat-side up.  Cook slowly for 4 to 5 hours at 325-350°F, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the pork registers 190°F-200°F.  The meat should be very tender and falling apart.  If there is a bone in the meat, it should come out smooth and clean with no meat clinging to it. (This is the real test for doneness on the barbecue circuit.)  Remember, there is no need to turn the meat during the entire cooking time.

Let meat rest for 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle.  Using rubber food-service gloves, pull meat from the skin, bones and fat.  Set aside any crispy bits (fat) that has been completely rendered and looks almost burned.  Working quickly, shred the chunks of meat with two forks by crossing the forks and “pulling” the meat into small pieces from the roast.  Alternately, you can chop the meat with a cleaver if you prefer.  Chop the reserved crispy bits and mix into the pulled pork. While the meat is still warm, mix with enough Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce (recipe follows) to moisten and season the meat, about ¾ cup.  The recipe can be made in advance up to this point and reheated with about ¼ cup additional sauce in a double boiler.

Serve sandwich style on a white hamburger bun and top with North Carolina Coleslaw (recipe follows).  Serve additional sauce on the side, if desired.

Serves 10

Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce:

2                    cups cider vinegar

1                    tablespoon kosher salt

1                    tablespoon ground white pepper

½-1              tablespoon red pepper flakes (the more flakes, the hotter the sauce*)

2                    tablespoons white sugar

¼                  cup brown sugar

½                  teaspoon black pepper

½                  cup ketchup

Mix all ingredients together and let sit at least 10 minutes or almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.  (*Note, the longer the sauce sits, the hotter it gets since the heat from the red pepper flakes is brought out by the vinegar. Start with ½ tablespoon red pepper flakes and then add more to taste. )

Lexington (North Carolina Slaw)

1 ½      cups Lexington-style BBQ sauce

1           medium head green cabbage, chopped

Mix sauce and cabbage together until well mixed and not quite wet.  Refrigerate.  Let sit 2 hours or overnight.

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