Cooking on a Wood Fire at Home.

By, Jim Knepper

While it may sound daunting or a bit difficult to do, cooking on a wood fire at your home is probably easier than you think!  In fact, there have never been more options than there are today for you to easily and with minimal effort, enjoy that same wood fired taste that’s so popular with restaurants in your own kitchen!  Well…you wouldn’t want to start a wood fire in your kitchen (unless you’re lucky enough to have it properly equipped)…so here are some pointers on how to get ‘er done!

Without question the easiest way to accomplish this is to purchase a Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker which are available from a variety of manufacturers in all kinds of shapes MM Q3and sizes!  Wood pellet grills use 100% (food grade) wood pellets with no glue or binders, just pressure to shape them.  They are REAL WOOD and accordingly come in many varieties; Oak, Hickory, Apple, Mesquite, Cherry, Alder..you get the point!  You can even find them with ‘flavors’ added such as Garlic or Onion, however I prefer to control the spices I use by application of rubs, mops and sauces.  As the actual logs would burn, so do the pellets…in other words, Oak burns hot and fast, ‘fruit woods’ not-so-much, etc.  Wood pellet Grills are quite versatile and the air blowing into the fire pot that heats the stove creates a natural convection and even heating.  You can use them to Grill, Smoke or Bake and the results will surprise you!  A whole new dimension of flavor to dishes that you are used to coming off a gas grill for sure!

Another common method of cooking with wood is by using charcoal.  Not Briquettes so Primo OVAL XL Grillmuch, but more commonly ‘Lump Charcoal’ which is actual wood and not highly processed.  There are MANY ways to cook with charcoal from the good old Weber Kettle to the modern Ceramic Grill/Smokers that are commonly found in Green and Black colors.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses.  I would start by suggesting that when using lump charcoal, DO NOT use lighter fluid or for that matter, ANY form of ‘accelerant’ unless that’s all you wish to taste on your food!  This is especially important when using ceramics into which any type of liquid accelerant will soak leaving you with a lifetime of ugly flavor.  There are quite a variety of charcoal lighting tools available today from the common ‘chimney starter’ and ‘Hot Rod’ to the more recent hot air lighting devices.  Cooking on charcoal requires some effort, but you are rewarded with a flavor that is unmistakably good!  Like the wood pellet cookers, the Ceramic Charcoal units are well insulated and retain moisture quite well, so they can Grill, Smoke and Bake quite well!

If you’re looking to drop some BIG BUCKS and go with whole logs and real wood coals, there are a growing number of Freestanding Wood Grill manufacturers out there willing Grillworks42to take your money!  It is the ultimate way to cook over an actual wood fire and typically has a suspended grill with a crank wheel to move the grill up and down so that you can control the heat and cooking process.  This is the real deal and doesn’t deviate very much from the techniques used to cook over a camp fire.  Although, the grills tend to be quite expensive and they do take some time to build up a solid base of ‘hot coals’ to cook on, so they may not be the most convenient!  They are indeed crowd pleasers though both in appearance and taste!

SO…conveniently, if you are looking to learn more about Wood Fired Cooking at home, we are conducting a FREE workshop at our shop in Mechanicsburg next Wednesday night (July 16th) from 7pm until 10pm.  We will review products with demo models for yo to see.  We will also prepare and get to taste some wood fired goodies!  You just bring yourself and a chair (and a beverage if you’d like) and we’ll do the rest…interacting with you and teaching you just how easy it is to cook over a wood fire.  You can join the event on our FaceBook page (https://www.facebook.com/jaktzr#!/events/1509400672609054/) or E-Mail: Jim@GreatQ4U.com to reserve your spot!  The workshop is no cost to you, but limited to 12 people with 4 alternates…so first come, first served!  We also have scheduled some BBQ Classes for August and September on our website: http://www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html if you’d like to go a bit further with your BBQ techniques!

So, either way…think about a wood fired grill at home and don’t hesitate to reach out f we can help!  We’ve got a lot of Primo Ceramic and Myron Mixon Wood Pellet Grills in stock and are always willing to help!

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BBQ Bravado

By, Jim Knepper

There’s NO shortage of it out there these days and it has been amplified by media attention to our art form and it’s most visible purveyors…competitors.  No doubt that in Meat Rakeorder to take a long, laborious task and make it palatable to TV audiences, there has to be drama, conflict and even occasionally resolution, afterall that’s how TV goes.  It’s also present in the Competition Circuit in no short supply…as it should be.  Afterall, if you’re going to compete, you ought to be doing it to win, hence the purpose of competition.  It’s also increasingly become present among folks who cook BBQ as a business either full or part time and sometimes it’s backed up by the products, others it isn’t.

I am writing this post not to lecture anyone on how to behave as they pursue their love of creating great BBQ nor am I taking a position of me being any better than anyone else, I am instead examining this ‘bravado’ from the perspective of a guy who thinks that the BEST thing about BBQ (next to eating it) are the people who produce it!  Reason for this observation is that recently I’ve connected with some great folks on all ends of the BBQ spectrum via our various social media outlets and have been reminded again just how good BBQ people are in general.  From farmers to butchers and other Pitmasters, large production operations and small outlets of various packaged BBQ products, even BBQ Restaurant and Catering owners who are committed as can be to their art form.

If you’ve never been to a BBQ Competition and you are a fan of the product, I would suggest that you take some time this year and go to one!  You can find one near you on Sam's Tour Richmond 2the Kansas City BBQ Society’s website (www.kcbs.us) and when you go there are a few things you should know.  First of all, there are VERY FEW competitions that will allow the teams to provide you with ‘samples’, primarily because of Health Codes and liability, so you can ask, but don’t be surprised when a team can’t let you taste their goods.  Also, you should know that Friday evening and early Saturday morning are the best times to interact with the teams.  By mid morning on Saturday, things are getting busy and Pitmasters and crew are finishing up ‘turn in boxes’ so they have a pretty focused effort underway.  I think that you’ll find that the folks who compete are in general, a great group of people that are more than willing to answer questions and provide tips.

Another great byproduct of the increasing popularity of BBQ is the amount of folks who are getting ‘into’ the BBQ Business.  From full and quick service restaurants to roadside Roll TideBBQ ‘shacks’ there are LOTS of outlets for authentic smoked BBQ products these days and you should support as many of them as you can if you’re a true fan.  Sure, there will be those you like more than others and you’ll most likely even have a favorite, but every Pitmaster’s got their own twist and signature taste and BBQ isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition.  There are many ways to get to that finished product and the more you cook the better you get.  In my humble opinion there’s too much ‘mine is better than so and so’s’ in our market place, worse there’s never really any need for openly trashing a place that you don’t like as a way of supporting the place (or places) that you do like…it doesn’t really serve any purpose and I think subverts the history of BBQ which is a very communal art.

Lastly (because no one wants to spend their whole Monday morning reading my thoughts) I would say that if you’ve got a local butcher or a farm in your area that pays Embroidered GQ4U Logoclose attention to how they raise their animals or even raises ‘heritage’ breeds of proteins, you should do all that you can to support them.  It’s not only helping the BBQ community to thrive by increasing the availability of product, it’s healthier!  I read somewhere recently that if you buy pre-packaged hamburger meat in a super-store, you could be getting meat from >150 cows in every burger!  You won’t find that at your local butcher or local farmer’s market and it keeps the money you spend in your community.

So, while there is NO shortage of bravado out there in the BBQ world about how mine is better than so-and-so’s or you don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t use MY techniques, there are far more folks in the BBQ community that are willing to commit to their art and their customers.  They talk mostly about their own product and Tuffy and Jimpassionately about where their proteins come from and how they prep and cook them, not about their competitors.  We support each other and we do far better together than we do individually it’s not such a crazy concept.  It’s good to be proud of your BBQ and if there’s a spot you don’t like, don’t go back.  As for the competition circuit, it’s ultimately up to six judges who’ve spent a lot of time learning how to judge and tasting all kinds of different BBQ.  Not everyone wins every time because the palates of the judges changes from competition to competition and table to table and that’s a good thing!

Don’t let the BBQ Bravado throw you off, there are a TON of good people in BBQ and I would say that if you’re interested in consuming, cooking or competing…go out and get some, you’ll find a bunch of great people and a growing number of them making great product!  Of course, I’m always available to ‘talk BBQ’ and we do teach classes, do catering and more!  Visit us at www.GreatQ4U.com or give us a call at 717-254-1937 to learn more about GreatQ4U! – Thanks for reading along and have a GREAT Monday!

What’s the BEST Smoker for Me?

By, Jim Knepper

I get asked this a LOT and while I do have a ‘standard’ response…it would be reckless for me to not point out that our new retail shop sells Primo Ceramic Grill/Smokers Primo Kamodo Grill(which I believe to be the most versatile outdoor cooking ‘system’ available) and will soon be stocking Pit Barrel Smokers (<$300 with all you need to start cooking)!  That said, this is again somewhat of a ‘trap’ question because every BBQ person’s got their own opinions and mine is just one in a cacophony of them.

So, what is the best smoker for you?  One that you USE!  Doesn’t matter what your budget or whether you use wood, charcoal or pellets, how fancy or ‘high tech’ it is or if you made it out of an old 55 gallon drum, if you use it and enjoy doing so, it’s the best smoker for you.  BBQ is a primal concept and as long as you’ve got a fire and the ability to regulate the temperature in the chamber, you’re set!

That said, there are of course a number of factors that make it easier or harder to PBCachieve a consistent temperature in the cooking chamber such as: insulation, air flow (very important), convection and knowledge of the ‘zones’ in your particular smoker.  Much of this can be accomplished with practice and/or some easy to do home modifications.  Less expensive or home made smokers may require a bit more attention, but they can still get the job done!

Alas, it seems a bit of a cop out on a Friday, but just like anything else that you own, the best is the one that you use the most and the more you use your smoker, the better you’ll get.  Smoking adds a whole new dimension to the iGrill 1flavor profiles of just about any food and it’s a worthy endeavor for just about any foodie or home chef.  If you need online resources, there are a LOT of them.  My perennial suggestions are to begin with the Kansas City BBQ Society (www.KCBS.us) and the National BBQ Association (www.nbbqa.org) and then move onto your local or regional BBQ organization…here in PA we are fortunate to have the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association (www.mabbqa.com) and there are TONS of online forums like the BBQ Brethren, a great group of helpful and committed enthusiasts (www.bbq-brethren.com) and the BBQ Backyard (www.bbqbackyard.com) just to name a few.  You’ll find that folks are for the most part, welcoming and more than willing to share information and answer questions!

Of course, if you ever need help or advice, we are online at www.GreatQ4U.com and only a phone call (717-254-1937) or E-Mail: Jim@GreatQ4U.com away! – Smoke on and have a GREAT weekend! 🙂 – jak

Want to Learn How to Do ‘Real Deal’ BBQ?

Well then, we can hook you up!  We’ve still got space in our early Spring and Summer BBQ Classes that will be taught at our shop in Mechanicsburg, PA and we would LOVE to have you!  After a somewhat rocky start with the cancellation of our January classes due to the first of several ‘Snowpocalypses’ and a sub zero cold snap that would have made teaching impractical if not unworthy of the investment, we have got things in gear now!

We are offering courses that range from Basic to Advanced, Whole Hog and even how to start and successfully operate your own BBQ Business either as a Part-Time or Full-Time venture.  Our cooking classes will not focus on how to cook ‘Competition BBQ’ although Chef is a 15+ year member of the Kansas City BBQ Society and a Certified BBQ Judge.  Our reason is that we sell Primo Grills and Smokers which are geared to the home cook AND there are far more folks who cook BBQ at home than to compete.  BUT…if you’re interested in learning how to compete on the ‘BBQ Circuit’, we’ve got LOTS of friends across the country that ARE teaching Competition classes and we can hook you up, just let us know when and where you’re available and we’ll look for a class that meets your needs.

Our Basic BBQ Class will cover everything that the home cook needs to know about cooking BBQ ‘Low & Slow’ over wood or coal.  What cuts to use, how to prepare them, equipment needs and considerations, making spice rubs and sauces and more.  Advanced BBQ will build on those blocks and further explore anatomy, butchery, preparation (including injections and cures), exploration of various time and temperature control devices and different types of smokers and more.  Whole Hog will cover how to source, prepare, season, cook and serve the whole hog at home.  We will cook three hogs total, two by different methods: Indirect smoking and Indirect, Top down roasting in an insulated cooking chamber.  The third hog will be butchered and students will have a chance to see and understand the anatomy and techniques to break down a hog then how to cook each component.

If you’re interested in starting a BBQ Business and can’t make it to the class, we can come to you as full service Hospitality Consultants.  If you’ve already got a business and need help with anything from food costs and profit margins to web site design and development or SEO…we can help you with that too!  We approach every consulting customer as an individual and don’t use any ‘cookie cutter’ solutions!  We listen carefully, watch operation and administration and offer objective advice that will help to improve your operation.

SO…for more info about our BBQ classes, visit our web page at: www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html or if you’d like more info about our Hospitality Consulting visit: http://www.greatq4u.com/Hospitality_Consulting.html OR if you’d just like to talk “Q”…you can call us: 717-254-1937 or E-Mail me: Jim@GreatQ4U.com

Dimples BBQ Sauce – PRODUCT REVIEW

By, Jim Knepper

So…if you’re a customer of ours or a regular reader of the Blog, you’ll no doubt know my thoughts on BBQ Sauce in general (including our own), but in the event that you don’t know…I typically have to turn my head or leave the service line when people begin to smother our Pulled Pork with thick, sweet sauces simply because I personally believe that the essence of the smoke, combined with the spices and crunch of the bark that we work so hard to achieve is what our Pulled Pork is all about!   That said, I am definitely not Anti-BBQ sauce…we make our own of course, but it’s a twist on an Eastern North Carolina Vinegar base and it’s very thin, using dark cider vinegar that is produced locally…when combined with our slaw and pulled pork on a crusty bun, it blends perfectly together!

OK, with that disclaimer aside, I have always loved the name ‘Dimples’ and it still makes me smile every time I say it. (An important part of the BBQ experience in my opinion) So, I was flattered when the fine folks (specifically Richard) at Dimples asked me to review their sauce.  I had read many previous reviews of this North Carolinian product and all were stellar so the chance to get my finger in a bottle, er’ I mean to use some in a few different culinary applications, was more than welcomed.

When I got the sauce, I immediately unpacked it and noticed first and foremost the clean, simple ‘Dimple’ label…nice!  Not pretentious, not a lot of flash, letting the sauce be the ‘star’ of the bottle.  I think this speaks a lot about the confidence of the producer and frankly looks much better.  You be the judge…(while you’re looking, note that the bottle in the front was also opened on it’s way from the box to the block…more on that later) 😉

Dimples

That first dip with my finger let me know that there would be nearly infinite possibilities for this sauce and my mind began to race with menu ideas and applications.  It was thick, but not crazy thick, it was sweet, but not too sweet, it had an obvious tomato base that I got right off the bat to be ketchup (like our own) and there was a smokey finish that wasn’t overpowering.  Overall, first impression was that it was a well balanced sauce that would without question, satisfy the taste buds of the vast majority of our customers…saving them those thick, ‘store bought’ mega-brands!

My first use of the sauce was on Chicken thighs that we grilled up (on our GrillGrates) with a bit of rub during the initial cook and then a liberal application of Dimples during Dimples Thighsthe last few minutes on the heat so as not to burn the sauce.  It came out spectacular…a bit sweet for my personal taste, but just right for my wife who’s got a more sensible palate and one that I trust when it comes to evaluating such things!  Not only did the thighs look good, they tasted even better and the sauce definitely did not overpower the rub or char from the grill.

Dimples ShrimplesSecond night with my Dimples…I couldn’t resist the burning desire to put it on some Shrimples!  I know, I know…I said it and I love saying it; Shrimples with Dimples!  Once again, we prepped with some rub (including a touch of Old Bay) and cooked over hickory at high heat with the Dimples application during the final turn and just as they came off the grill.  This preparation was absolutely incredible and I’m not just sayin’ that…the Shrimp, Rub, Dimples combo was spectacular and not only looked awesome, it tasted even better!

Yesterday, I got a ‘prize package’ that I was fortunate enough to win from the fine folks at Kiolbassa Sausage Dimples KiolbassaCompany and while, not a planned use for this evaluation…the Jalapeno Cheddar sausage went straight from the FedEx truck to my grill and then into my belly with some Dimples on top!  Once again, PERFECT! (excuse the caps 😉 ) Combining the heat of the Jalapeno, smoothness of the cheese and sweet, not too thick Dimples created a sweet heat that could not be beat! I have to admit…I wasn’t planning on that rhyme, but I’ll take it!

I have so many more menu ideas in mind for the Dimples that there’s not enough room to cover all the dishes in writing, but here are a few thoughts: Add it to Soups, Baked Beans and other Sauces to increase it’s appeal and enhance the flavors of your favorite dishes.  It would be really tasty on a thick burger with some smoked Hog Jowl and Blue Cheese too!  Possibilities are endless for this very versatile sauce that in their own words “defies all categories of smokey goodness”!

So, my final answer…go get you some Dimples and experiment on your own!  You won’t regret it and I am sure will find many more uses for it than I have so far.  I would give it two sticky thumbs up, but probably lick them first and that might gross some folks out, so instead I’ll simply recommend that you find a retailer or order some online!  They are at www.DimplesBBQSauce.com where you can find all the information you need to get some!  Why “Dimples” you might ask?  Well, word is that they are a common genetic characteristic in the members of this family owned small business and therefore add their ‘personal’ touch to each and every bottle!

Feel free to post photos or stories of your Dimples applications here on the Blog and look for it SOON in the GreatQ4U! Grill and Smoker shop when you’re in or around Central PA!  For more info about us, visit us online at www.GreatQ4U.com or find us on FaceBook and Twitter!

Planning Events, Booking and Pricing in 2014

By, Jim Knepper

Over the past 4 years, we’ve noticed along with many of our colleagues in the Catering and Event Services businesses that the economic conditions HAVE had many charcuterie-corse-3noticable effects on the way folks book events and event services.  One of the most notable is the shift from planning well in advance and locking in venues, caterers and ‘essential services’ for whatever type of event it is to ‘Just In Time’ Booking.  In other words, waiting until the last few months, or even days to Book.

While it is certainly understandable that poor economic conditions and uncertainty about the future would have these causal factors on the behavior of customers and Event Planners, as with every cause…there is an ‘effect’ and in the case of caterers, at least from our viewpoint, it often results in not getting the caterer that you’d like or perhaps having to scramble at the last moment and take whomever might be available on your date and time.  Either way, it’s never a good idea to wait until the final stages of planning to lock down your venue, caterer and entertainment…no matter who you choose.

Additionally, if you’re planning an event in 2014 and have not yet locked down on a caterer, you should know that for all but the ‘low bid’ folks in this business…we WILL be Pork-In-The-Park 2008seeing significant price increases on everything we use to source, cook and deliver your food.  From the rising costs of ‘commodities’, think Beef and Pork specifically (but just about all food prices are increasing rapidly this year for a number of complicated reasons) to the increasing costs of electricity, fuel for our vehicles and the cost of maintaining our equipment and certifications.  Some of us will absorb as much as we can, but at some point these costs HAVE to be passed along in order for us to stay in business.

I am taking the time to put these thoughts into writing ‘early’ in the season because every year as these months arrive, I find myself having difficult conversations with folks who have received Estimates from us over the past several months and call to Book only to find out that we are no longer available.  I am sympathetic to their situations and when possible, we do all that we can to accomodate…but when our calendar is full on any specific date…it’s full!  SO…no matter who your choosing to host, cater and entertain at your 2014 events, I would suggest BOOKING SOON in order to insure availability, save money and most importantly…save that last minute rush that leads to choosing whoever’s available on your date, which is rarely the best option for you.

Just one guy’s advice, but worth considering I think!  For more information on the many ways that we can help to make your next event memorable, check us out online at www.GreatQ4U.com or give me a call at 717-254-1937 and we will be happy to listen, work with you to build a menu to meet your budget and lock in one incredible experience for you!

Mr. Grill Thermal Heat Resistant Gloves – PRODUCT REVIEW

By, Jim Knepper

Recently, we received a pair of Mr. Grill gloves to try out around the pits and write a Mr. Grill 1review of here on the Blog.  With the ‘Arctic Trough’ that hovers above us and most of the country, I must admit that my ability to use them on the Pits or even the grill has been limited, BUT…we have used them in and around the kitchen and I think are able to provide a fairly comprehensive review.  That said, I will post an update and photos when it this Arctic weather moves out and we can get some better photos!

Mr. Grill 2Mr. Grill gloves are made with Kevlar and are Nomex lined (same stuff that firefighters and race car drivers use to protect them from fire) come in a box of two priced at $29.99 and are available on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EF3YF0Y) or directly from the Mr. Grill Website (http://www.mrgrillproducts.com/).  While there are many similar products on the market, there are a few notable differences that we’ve observed so far:

  • The silicone ‘gripping’ on the gloves is in a webbed pattern that provides significant coverage on the front AND back of the glove which makes the possibility of hot stuff slipping out of your hands minimal.
  • The gloves are ‘One Size fits Most’ which is a normal thing for this type of product, but with my short, chubby fingers required a bit of ‘pulling down’ on the fingers to get a good fit.  Not really an inconvenience given that they will fit just about any adult in the family.
  • You get TWO gloves for what some companies will charge you for only ONE.
  • The company’s claims that the gloves can withstand heat up to 450°F and will endure an open flame are REALLY TRUE!  We used them on several trays of ‘cracklin’s’ that we did at 500°F and never felt the heat from the sheet pans!

So…First Impression of the Mr. Grill gloves is that you get a great deal on a pair of Mr. Grill 3gloves that will serve you both on the smoker/grill and around the kitchen at a price point of about $15 per glove!  They have some distinctive features such as the extensive use of silicone that make them superior to other gloves of this type that we have used for handling hot metals.  While they are NOT impervious to water or BBQ sauce and should not be used when wet…they are awfully handy around the kitchen and Pits!  SO…TWO (gloved) thumbs up for Mr. Grill’s Nomex lined Grill Gloves from us!

Mr. Grill 4