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!

BBQ Lover? Got one in your life? We’ve got ALL you need!

We say Merry Christmas around here!  Just to get that out of the way up front…BUT, that doesn’t mean that we don’t honor ALL the Holidays that are celebrated this time of year every year!  After all, diversity is what has made America the great country that it is and we celebrate THAT every day!  BUT…we only Celebrate the Christmas season ONCE a YEAR and that means LOTS of benefits for YOU!

We recently opened our FIRST EVER retail store at our shop in Mechanicsburg, PA and it is ALL STOCKED UP with American Made Primo Ceramic Grills/Smokers and GQ4U! New Tee BackBBQ Accessories!  We’ve got sauce, rubs and LOTS of GreatQ4U! Gear from hats and shirts to Gift and Loyalty cards that are the PERFECT gift for that hard to shop for Foodie on your list!  NOT ONLY will they receive bonus bucks rewards, they can use the cards on ANYTHING we sell: Catering, BBQ Classes, Consulting, Primo Grills and Accessories, GQ4U! gear and even a 5-Alarm Fire Truck Party!

It IS without question a tough economy and we get it!  In fact we feel it every day as well and we are doing our best to help in LOTS of ways!  We are offering the LOWEST prices of the year on Primo Grills, which are not only Made in the USA, they carry a 20 Primo All-In-One Kamodoyear warranty and in addition to being the LAST Grill you’ll ever need…they are as versatile as it gets!  From smoked meats to ‘Wood Fired’ Pizza that is JUST like in the best Pizza places and even baked goods…the Ceramic Grill produces INCREDIBLE results and we will MAKE sure you know HOW to achieve them before you leave the shop!  Our Primo Kamodo ‘All-In-One’ package includes EVERYTHING you need to get started; Grill/Smoker, Cradle with HD Casters, Shelves and Ash Tool!  AND you can get one before Christmas for UNDER $876!!

Our Catering division has NEVER had more options for our customers from our ‘Real Station QDeal’ Wood-Smoked BBQ to the new addition to our fleet: Fully Fun Featured and Functional Fire Trucks that are DECKED OUT in order to provide an AWESOME party experience!  CO2 dispensing systems, Flat Screen, Satellite TV’s, Gaming Systems and ready to ‘Respond’ to your party needs, provide great food and entertainment and then clean up and roll out!  Book SOON…we’ve had a LOT of interest!  BETTER YET, we are offering our Once A Year sale until December 31st…you can save 5% OFF the TOTAL of ANY size event!  Call us for details: 717-254-1937

Our BBQ Competition Team ended the year in Harrisburg, PA back in October and after a 3 year hiatus, we rolled out with two award calls and a great bunch of memories, we GQ4U! Competition BBQare busy preparing for an ACTIVE (for us) 2014 Season and planning on attending at least 6 major competitions!  Meanwhile, we are offering several options already for our 2014 ‘BBQ Master Class’ series with dates already scheduled and filling up in Jan, Feb and March so far with more to come.  For up to date info on dates and times, visit us online at: www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html

We’ve also got a full service Hospitality Consulting division and are capable of helping you work on everything from building a ‘BBQ Business’ or adding ‘Real’ BBQ to your existing menu to building and optimizing a successful website!  We have helped folks take a look at their operations and streamline to increase margins, customer satisfaction and employee productivity and satisfaction!  No matter your needs, we can help!

SO…there’s PLENTY of time left before Christmas to get on down and see us, we are open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 5:30pm to 9:00pm – Saturday from 10am to 2pm and Sundays from Noon to 4pm – OR by Appointment at your convenience!  We’re located at 105 Texaco Road in Mechanicsburg, PA 171050 and online at www.GreatQ4U.com – not to mention our Twitter and Facebook pages!  For personal attention, call Jim at 717-254-1937 Ext. 1 or E-Mail: Jim@GreatQ4U.com

OK…So Much For Keeping Up the Blog!

By, Jim Knepper

Of course (again), I’ve got several good reasons for not taking the time to sit down and type about any of the following ‘happenings’ in real-time, but in the end I thought it better to wait until all the puzzle pieces were in place…….kind of!

SO, with that said, I CAN say that there’s been a LOT going on around here the past month or so!  We have acquired and are currently retrofitting the ‘BBQ Battlewagon’…our Antique Mack Fire Truck that will not only anchor our 2014 Competition efforts, but serve as a unique way to entertain guests at Parties, Tailgates and Events of all types!

GQ4U BBQ Battlewagon

In order to house the fleet of fully fun featured fire trucks, we’ve added a shop or ‘Station Q’ which whill not only be the new hub of our catering operations, based conveniently in Mechanicsburg, PA…it will serve as a ‘multi-purpose’ facility for tastings, Competition practice, BBQ Classes and more!

Station Q

Speaking of BBQ Classes, the addition of our new shop in Mechanicsburg has allowed us to accelerate scheduling our first round of the ‘BBQ Master Class’ series in 2014 with dates and pricing on the website (http://www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html).  Additionally, we will be adding more classes to the schedule soon!  We are limiting class attendance to the first 15 folks who sign up…so if you’re interested, book soon!

On top of all that, we are offering our Customers and Friends a chance to have Santa show up at your location in our Antique Fire Truck and hand out gifts of your choice to your guests!  For more details on this unique and memorable service and more, please feel free to call or e-mail: 1-855-900-4BBQ or Jim@GreatQ4U.com

GreatQ4U! Status Update…It’s Been A While!

SO….I was doing pretty good with updating the Blog on a regular basis and then, well….LIFE!  Need I explain that as the closer ‘BBQ Season’ gets, the more difficult it becomes to sit down and pound away on a keyboard, which is not to say that nothing’s going on.  In fact…LOTS is going on and I wanted to get the word out for all to hear:

Our Spring, Summer and now Fall catering schedules are about as Full as they are going to get.  We are in the process of making a few changes around here that will limit substantially our ability to help you out this year if you’ve got an event with >100 folks at it!  BUT…we ‘know some guys’…so if you are in or around Central PA and looking to have authentic, wood-smoked BBQ at your upcoming event, give us a call…if we’re not available, we can point you in the direction of some friends who may be able to help and deliver the same quality of service and product that you’ve come to expect from us!

That said, while we are pretty full on the ‘full service’ catering side, we are just winding up a ‘new’ side of the business that allows folks with limited budgets or those just looking to add a TOUCH of something special to their next party!  Our focus on building INCREDIBLE Charcuterie platters and service for Appetizers at parties of all sizes includes access to some of the most INCREDIBLE cured meats and mostly American Artisanal Cheeses!  Additionally, we offer a whole selection of ‘smoked appetizers’ that are the perfect complement to a great party on a limited budget!  We are adding specialties such as ”Armadillo Eggs” and “Bacon Explosions” to our existing Signature Appetizers and new ‘rotisserie cooked’ Chicken Wings!  So…if you’re having a party and simply want an ‘Addition’ to your existing menu that your customers won’t soon forget…e-mail us (info@GreatQ4U.com) or visit us online www.GreatQ4U.com

Our Personal Chef Service continues to grow as well, we will work with clients individually to create menu ‘solutions’ that work for YOU, shop for the ingredients where you typically shop, come to your home and prepare the meals in advance so you can simply ‘Heat & Eat’ in any way that you’d like!  Beyond our customized meal plan options that can accommodate any special needs, we can come teach you Basic or Advanced Knife Skills and allow you to try a wide variety of quality Kitchen Cutlery from some of the top manufacturers in the world.  We can help you learn to bake that recipe you’ve always wanted to perfect or even teach you how to save money by buying whole (primal) cuts of meat or chickens and breaking them down at home.

SO…no shortage of stuff to keep us busy around here.  I’ll do my best to keep updating the Blog but if you’re looking for all we’ve got to offer, the website’s always there 24/7 at www.GreatQ4U.com!  Check us out and see how we can help YOU make your next special event even MORE special!

GQ4U Side

Monday, Monday…

…and I’m not exactly feeling ‘Blogtastic’!  Could be the sun and warm morning (FINALLY) or possibly the stretched tendon in my left thumb that has reared its ugly head again following years of relatively quiet torment…nonetheless…here I am doing my best to type away! 🙂

As with the vast majority of my BBQ Brethren, this time of year REALLY gets my juices flowing!  We clean out the smokers, prepare the outdoor kitchens, work on recipes, disinfect and powerwash the coolers and Cambros and check out the latest in ‘BBQ Gadgets’ on the market!  It’s a BBQ revival and ritual that comes every year, just about this time!

Without question, things are different this time around though…the effects of the Economy evident on the Booking Schedule and in the prices of our raw product!  We are doing MUCH to help out, including creating more cost-effective ways to deliver GreatQ to you and your guests.  We’re expanding menus and adding some incredible options to reach a wider range of customers and we have a REALLY cool chance for folks who want to learn how to do ‘Real Deal’ BBQ to choose a class that meets their specific needs OR take a whole series of classes that will walk you through the whole process!

We are being re-born and can officially call a start to ‘BBQ Season 2013’ and as we approach our 10th Anniversary as a Catering Company…we are thankful for all that we have!  Great customers, incredible followers online, true mentors and of course…Blog readers!  Stay tuned for more thoughts as this ‘Game Keeper’s Thumb’ gets better!  Have a GREAT week and make every day count! – jak

Chuckwagon Catering

WOW…What A Year!!!

First of all, March came in like a LION…and it seems to want to go out as a POLAR BEAR! (Or an ‘Ice Road Trucker’…I can’t decide which!) On top of THAT, the Government almost shut down because they STILL can’t pass a budget and this whole ‘Sequestration Thing’ has everyone’s heads spinning…and may VERY well have a significant impact on my family!  AND…it’s only MARCH!!!  OK, we’ve had enough already, Spring can finally arrive and wash away all this Winter nonsense!

When it does, we WILL be ready for sure!  We’ve been busy working on our menus and Catering options and tuning up the website. (www.GreatQ4U.com)  You’ll find all the latest there, including; Information on our upcoming BBQ Classes, from Basic BBQ to Advanced, Whole Hog and even how to run a successful BBQ Business!  We have created our ‘BBQ Party Packages’ as a way to provide an additional level of economy to folks looking to feed a lot of folks on a ‘budget’…fixed menus and prices cooked to order for you and your guests and delivered right to your location!  We are adding the capability to cook Whole Hogs over Gas with Wood Chips which delivers the same quality that we are known for, but far more cost effectively and much faster…pricing is available on the site.  We are bringing in some INCREDIBLE product from vendors as committed to quality as us, most of which will eventually fall under the title of ‘Charcuterie’ and we are sure that our customers will LOVE it!  Whew…and we’re still awaiting the real arrival of SPRING!

SO…as the phone begins to ring and requests for us to cater events start to fill the inbox, we are ever mindful of our ongoing commitment to quality over quantity!  Regular readers of the Blog will know that it’s a ‘thing’ for me and one that will never waiver!  We have struggled with the current economic conditions and we know that many of our neighbors have as well!  We are doing all that we can to help out by creating more diverse and innovative catering options that are more affordable.  We have LOWERED the prices of the suggested menus in the brochure that you’ll find all over our website and we will work as hard as we can to meet the budget for folks who really want some locally sourced, wood-smoked, cook-to-order BBQ that comes straight to you from the smokers!  BUT…we will never sacrifice quality or our commitment to local suppliers and farms!

If we simply can’t hit your budget for an upcoming event…that doesn’t end our commitment to Customer Service, it just is what it IS and we are always HAPPY to provide additional references for you to reach out to!  I can say that folks are holding off booking their events longer than usual this year (understandably) but when our 400+ square feet of smoker space is filled up…it’s filled up!  SO…if you’re thinking about some GreatQ4U! at an event this year…call soon and lock in your date and space on the smokers…we know you’ll be satisfied with the results!  –  717-254-1937 or online at GreatQ4U.com

Roll Tide

Sticking With A BBQ Theme…

…why not?  We ARE afterall a ‘BBQ Caterer’ which I believe that this week’s posts so far have done a pretty good job of covering.  Although, all this reflection and education has got me to thinking a whole bunch about the evolution of BBQ in my life and how that translates to all we are doing today!  So, if you’ve got the time to oblige…here’s a bit of a retrospective followed by an overview of our capabilities as a ‘BBQ Caterer’!

As a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh, I had a pretty funny perception of what “BBQ” was in contrast to my knowledge today.  Back THEN…I thought of what I now call “BBQ” as “Pulled Pork” because that was all I knew of it!  In my hometown we were fortunate enough to have Isaly’s, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaly’s) which were a Restaurant/Dairy chain that was started in Ohio and they had many outlets in Western PA.  Many folks know of their most famous legacy…the Klondike Bar, which survives today in a variety of forms, all of which are considerably thinner than the originals!  Another thing that Isaly’s was famous for in ‘The Burgh’ was ‘Chipped Ham’…a concept that was entirely foreign when I arrived in Central PA at the turn of the Seventies into the Eighties.  It started with an incredible cooked ‘deli ham’ that was then sliced so thin that it didn’t come off the ‘log’ in full slices…you could also call it ‘shaving’ the meat, but it was ‘chipped’ where I came from.  It took years & a fair amount of migration from Western PA for the groceries in Central PA to learn to do the technique correctly!

SO…why do I spend so much time talking about ‘Chipped Ham’ in a BBQ Blog?  Well…THAT’s what I associated with BBQ until arriving in the Harrisburg area in the early eighties.  You see, ‘Ham BBQ’ was (and still is) an INCREDIBLE treat that comes from starting off with what many would associate with a traditional ‘pan BBQ sauce’ cooked in a pot on the stove using a LOT of ingredients from Western PA.  You start with Heinz Ketchup and then add in whatever ingredients your family used….ours included; brown sugar, Welch’s Grape Jelly, Lemon Juice, Worcestershire sauce and Heinz Sweet Relish.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil and then add in the Chipped Ham.  Cook it all together for a while and the combination of flavors all mix together into a VERY TASTY Ham BBQ which is best served on two slices of white bread.  It’s hot and messy and burns your mouth, but it is a VERY tasty treat and what I knew ‘BBQ’ to be from my youngest years.

Then we moved from Western PA to Central PA and I can still remember the VERY FIRST time that I ordered a ‘BBQ Sandwich’ in a restaurant!  It was a SLOPPY JOE!!!  Ground meat in a sauce that was VERY similar to that mix from a can!  I couldn’t believe that this was considered BBQ and it was perhaps my endoctrination to the regional differences associated with such a simple term!  When you asked for HAM BBQ…people looked at you like you were from another planet! (Same for ‘Chipped Ham’ for many years)  To this day, you will only rarely come across the regional delicacy that I know NOW to be ‘Ham BBQ’ sandwiches.  AND…they STILL call Sloppy Joe’s ‘BBQ’ here in Central PA, although word is spreading that there’s more to it than THAT!

Fast forward many years and more than a few failed ‘BBQ Restaurant’ concepts and I thought I would learn the art of ‘Real Deal’, wood-smoked BBQ!  Why?  Well…because I GQ4U! Pulled Porkcould recall those ‘Pulled Pork’ sandwiches that I used to eat on the way to the beaches of North Carolina when I was a kid and more importantly, I remember specifically the old Pitmaster at the ‘shack’ we would typically stop at and I was ready to see if I could reproduce his product…I am still working at it, but I’ve gotten pretty good! 🙂  It was (at the time) a dying American ‘Art’ and I thought I could help to preserve it!  There were no National BBQ Organizations or Competitions back then and ‘Food TV’ was limited to PBS and folks like Justin Wilson (The Cajun Chef) and Graham Kerr (formerly the Galloping Gourmet) who was WAY ahead of the healthy food curve!

As I chose my equipment and taught myself to ‘do BBQ’, I began with a sauce.  It took nearly two years and TONS of attempts to come up with MY version of an Eastern North Carolina Vinegar sauce that was uniquely my own.  Next I researched smokers and took into consideration the 60+ hours a week that I was working as a Paramedic back then and ultimately chose Pellet Smokers.  Now…here’s where the ‘Stick’ and ‘Coal’ burning BBQ folks like to make fun of me, but once again…that’s a topic for another Blog…I can crank out some REALLY GOOD, wood smoked product from my rigs because I’ve put in the hours and learned how to use them…just like whatever gear you choose to do your BBQ with!

Fast forward to today and a BBQ Catering Operation that finds itself facing the challenges of the current economy and the proliferation of other ‘BBQ Caterers’ and restaurants who have their own approaches to doing BBQ.  I started out doing WAY more Competition that Catering and I loved it because, while that Vinegar sauce rarely earned me respect from the Judges, I always learned a great deal at Competitions from my fellow competitors!  Then…as word got around, folks just started to ask me to cater events and one thing lead to another…so here we are!  We are a ‘Full Service’ BBQ Catering Operation with a LOT to offer customers in and around Central PA and an ever evolving mix of products to put on the table!

No matter what our customers needs, we are committed to listening, understanding and working hard to exceed them!  We have been and always will be committed to sourcing most of our products from local farms and markets and when we do source from outside PA, we do it because of our relationships with incredible sources who are as committed as we are to tradition and quality.  We offer everything from Event Planning, Delivery, Full Service Buffets to our new Whole Hog Roasts (reference yesterday’s post) and Charcuterie catering options that feature all American Meats and Cheeses that rival any of their European counterparts!  We remain committed to each and every customer as if they were our only one and we will NEVER sacrifice the quality of our product in order to make a dollar!

And it ALL started way back when I thought Isaly’s Chipped Ham, mixed in a pot on the stove with a mish mash of ingredients was ‘BBQ’…wow, what a long, strange trip it has been!  Want to know what we can do for you?  Visit us online at www.GreatQ4U.com and we’ll be happy to help any way that we can!