Sunday, March 21, 2010


My mother-in-law is here for a visit. I'm one of her fans, so it's all cool. She brought me a couple bottles of barbecue sauce from North Carolina--which is, in fact, the Mecca of barbecue.
From Ribs

I had found some St. Louis-cut ribs at a restaurant supply store in Tacoma. I'd never found those before, although I've looked for them. So naturally I bought some and threw them into the freezer. My mother-in-law's visit seems a worthy occasion for breaking out those ribs.

Ribs are a serious topic. To get the real low-down, you ought to read Smoky's primer on ribs. But the short version is this: what you generally see in the store is "baby back ribs", which are actually from the pork loin. Those ribs are tender, and you can cook them almost any way you want, because they're an extremely tender cut of meat. But the price of tender, of course, is flavour. Just like with beef, the more tender cut is also the less flavourful cut. If you want flavour, you'll get the side ribs. They're higher in fat, harder to cook, and full of connective tissues.

But you can taste them.

St. Louis cut ribs are the middle of the rack of side ribs: side ribs with each end trimmed off. So they look like a rack of "baby backs", but they've got longer, flatter bones and a lot more fat. So they're like the best of both worlds.

Of course any time you have a tough hunk of meat with a lot of connective tissues and fat, you can deal with it in a couple ways. My preferred technique is to barbecue them. That means, you'll recall, cooking them in woodsmoke at around 200F for long periods of time.

From Ribs

The hardest part is temperature control. I manage that with a good thermometer, careful control of the fire, and adjusting airflow. One invaluable tool has been my 2X4 block to prop open the grill. Propping open the lid really helps keep it cool without choking the fire right down.
From Ribs

We started them slow in the morning, covered them in mustard and some spices, and threw them on the grill. We kept an eye on them all morning, basting them with our home-made basting sauce. Around noon, we broke open one of the bottles of Carolina Treet my mother-in-law brought me. It added a little colour to those bones.
From Ribs

And since it was lunch time, we made some pizza
From Ribs

We kept stoking and basting through the afternoon, until them bones were cooked and it was time to bake something sweet onto them. So we mixed up some off-the-shelf barbecue sauces, some of our own baste, and some of the Carolina Treet to make something red and sweet. That went on those racks, and we left them in the [cooling] grill for another 30 minutes or so.

Then it was time for ribs.
From Ribs

I love ribs! We made up some potato salad from the Red Hot 'n' Blue copycat recipe, Ames threw together some killer beans, and we feasted.

Ah ribs... my mother-in-law should visit more often!

From Ribs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ðē; ðə

For the last year or so I've been observing a strange trend. It has to do with "the". When I was growing up, I learned to say "the" with two pronunciations. When the following noun begins with a consonant, it's pronounced with a short "e": ðə. But when the noun begins with a vowel, it's pronounced with a long "e": ðē.

But recently it seems like the second version (long "e", ðē) is dropping from usage. I hear people say things like "the island" with a short "e". "thuh island". "thuh oven". "thuh arch".

The whole world sounds like a bunch of mouth-breathing, illiterate louts.

But of course, since you can't really blend the "ə" ("uh") sound with a vowel, they insert a glottal stop between the words. That makes it sound a whole lot worse.

I mentioned this to Shan and Mum last time I was home. They both said "I KNOW!" and went on their own diatribes. Shan kept mentioning the glottal stop. I think she just likes to say "glottal stop".

Barbarians are at the gates, I'm telling you.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Redneck Pizza Oven

I've been playing with pizza for several months now. Of course, to really make pizza, you need a brick oven. I've been trying to figure out how to do that for a few months. Then one day, my boss sends me this link, of a guy who turned a Weber 22" grill into a pizza oven.

"Hey," I thought, "I can do something even easier on my grill! If a Weber can make pizza, a real grill can too!"

So I decided to make a redneck pizza oven.

We're on our third pizza stone since July. I bought one by Oneida, and it worked fine until it cracked (about 4 weeks after I bought it). Oneida kindly replaced it (with no questions asked, I might add), but the replacement cracked 6 weeks later. I finally bought the good one: the Williams Sonoma version. So far no cracks.

But since we have two broken pizza stones, I decided to reassemble them, jigsaw-puzzle-style for my pizza oven floor.
From Redneck Pizza Oven

The oven itself is made by placing four landscape bricks on my grill. They prop the lid open and shield the walls to keep heat in.
From Redneck Pizza Oven

So with the landscape bricks in place and the two Oneida stones shoved back together, we have the start of a pizza oven.
From Redneck Pizza Oven

I've found my pizza peel is sticky. I thought that was just my own incompetence until I used a friend's. The thing is, I have a $5 pizza peel, and it's varnished. So I took sandpaper to it. The improvement is indescribable. This afternoon I tried putting some cornmeal on the peel under the pies, and it worked like a charm. Not one pie got folded! I might have used too much cornmeal on the first pie.
From Redneck Pizza Oven

From Redneck Pizza Oven

From Redneck Pizza Oven

We realized with the first pie, the lid is too high. We ended up taking too long to get the top of the pie cooked appropriately. I didn't get any pictures of it, but we solved the problem by putting a reflector atop the bricks. So you can't see it, but there is a secret lid about 6" over the pizza stones under the grill lid.

The first reflector was cardboard. It burst into flames after two pies. Ames suggested we try the vanity cover I took off the front of the grill a couple years back (she is, after all, the brains of the operation). Whaddya know? It fits perfectly, it's steel, and it doesn't sag. The pies got a lot better after that one.

We made half a dozen or so pies. They all had a nice char on them, and a hint of smoke
From Redneck Pizza Oven

I soon realized I needed more heat, so I started shoveling burning charcoal right onto the cooking grates next to the pizza stones. It made the pies a little more ashy, and the effect was fabulous
From Redneck Pizza Oven

From Redneck Pizza Oven

Of course, one of the pizza stone pieces cracked again where one of the coals was touching it.

So the Redneck Pizza Oven worked like a champ.

But of course there are some improvements to be made. We need to find a better cooking surface. Reassembling the pizza stone jigsaw puzzle is going to get old pretty quick, and they're just too small. I'm open for suggestions: I've looked for unglazed tile and quarry stone, but I can't find either around here. I've thought of using a cast iron griddle too. Either way, I have a 19.5" deep grill. I want a cooking surface big enough to make at least 18" pies, if not full 19 inchers.

I'm not convinced our reflector is as good as it could be. I'd like to see if I can get something a little more draping. But Ames' version is a lot better than the cardboard ghetto-lid I had made.

And of course we need more practice.

But all in all, the experiment was a success.

From Redneck Pizza Oven