Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Never buy Pork Chops Again!

In installment #2 of our "trimming meat" series, we will focus on a family favorite- Pork Chops!  Now, this is important because it will

a) Save you money
b) keep you from getting angry when you buy a package of pork chops and they have hidden a couple of really crappy ones under the top ones
c) introduce you to how to trim silver skin from a pork loin.  This is really easy, but if you have never done it you may be a little trepidatious at first.  However, this same skill is used extensively when you trim a Beef Tenderloin into steaks- and it's a lot better to experiment with a pork tenderloin than a $10+/lb beef tenderloin!

Half pork loin, fat cap on top
Ok, first select a pork loin.  Loins are available either whole or halves.  Most warehouse type stores carry whole ones, groceries carry halves.  Usually, they can be purchased for around $2.00/lb, which is significantly less than the $4 to $5/lb for slice pork chops!  Really, the ease of trimming your own is such that it is almost crazy to buy sliced pork chops unless they are on a significant sale.

The two ends of a pork loin are different.  One half will be thicker, with a thin layer of fat and silver skin around a portion of it.  The other half has this layer that runs into the loin and through the middle of it.  When we are purchasing a half loin, we always go for the side with the silver skin- it's easy to trim off and then we don't have to deal with it.

Trimming off silver skin
Open the cryovac and drain.  You can pat the loin dry with a paper towel if you wish. Turn the loin over, the fat cap will basically extend around 3/4 of the loin.  Start by inserting a thin boning or utility knife under the silver skin/fatcap.  Try to get about 1" or so before the knife comes out.  Then, turning the blade so it is angled approximately 45 degrees up, start moving the knife towards one end of the loin.  After you get it trimmed to the end, grasp the cut end and turn the knife around and head back until you remove a whole strip. 

Continue with this and work your way around the loin until the whole fat cap is removed.  The goal here is to leave as much meat on the loin while removing the silver skin. 

After you have removed all of this, you will be left with a beautiful piece of loin.  From this point you can do many things with it.  One favorite of ours is to smoke it (of course season or marinate it first) to an internal temp of 145 degrees, then slice into thick chops and finish on a hot grill with a glaze. 

Nice looking pork chops!
If you would just like to have some pork chops- it is very easy to slice into pork chops of any size.  I normally cut a variety- some thick ones for grilling and some thinner ones for frying/baking. 

One thing we do to chops we are going to grill is JACCARD them.  A Jaccard is a push type tenderizer with 48 tiny knives.  As you press down on the item, the knives extend and cut into the meat.  This helps the product absorb flavors better as well as cook faster and be more tender. 

One trick is to season the outside of the chops and then jaccard it- this helps push the seasonings or flavor into the meat.  These are very inexpensive and are great for tenderizing chops or steaks.

Competition Knives

Our competition knife set-up
Our friend Diva Q wrote about her competition knife set not too long ago, and it got us thinking about ours.  In any culinary endeavor, sharp knives are a must.  However, when you have literally thousands of dollars riding on being able to make the proper cuts, it becomes imperative to have great knives. 

A few notes about knives:  First, it's all about balance.  What feels like an extension of my hand may not work with you- it is very important to hold knives in order to get a sense of the balance.  If you are uncomfortable, the sharpest knife in the world is not going to do you much good.  In the past we have used a mixed bag of knives- mainly Henckel's with some Dexters (a commercial kitchen type), calphalon, or Tridents thrown in the mix.  A lot comes down to selecting the specific line- for example Henckels has several differently priced lines (always avoid anything that says "ever sharp" or something to that effect), some quite cheap and some on the moderately high priced side.  As with anything, you are going to pay more for quality- but with proper care a good knife will last you a lifetime.

A Mac Knife 10" slicer with indentions.  This thing just looks mean!
Anyway, we weren't real happy with our selections so we began looking around, trying several types.  We absolutely love the look of SHUN knives- a higher end Japanese knife.  They are reknown for their sharpness.  However, we never could get happy with the balance.  Perhaps we have been in the commercial kitchens too long or something, but our grip and their knife did not mesh.  We were given a MAC Knife as a present- also a Japanese knife though it has more of a western-style grip and weight (they use bolsters to add to the heft- something a traditional Japanese knife does not).  We were sold! (Full Disclosure here- After a few flattering emails, we actually worked out a deal to add them as one of BBQ sponsors.  The other side of this is we had several offers from cutlery companies to sponsor us, but we really loved Mac Knives).

Santuko and Utility knife from Mac Knives.  Both VERY sharp!
 A quick note about our competitions.  Our set is made with both Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis BBQ Network competitions in mind.  For example, if we were just doing KCBS we would need far less knives.  With MBN, you have more meat to cut as well as on-site judging, which requires clean knives for each judge in some categories and frankly we don't have time to clean BBQ sauce off of each knife during judging.  We just take extra and clean them all after.

Start with a Steel and a good sharpener.  A steel aligns your blade, not really sharpening it.  It may feel sharper because it has been straightened however.  We use a "rollsharp" from Fiskars as our main sharpener at contests.  Whatever you do, please be careful when sharpening knives!  Next, we carry 2 10" slicers, one with a "granton" edge and one without.  The granton is a series of small indentations in the side of the knife that helps it move through the product.  Basically at a contest the only use for these is when we are doing Brisket.  For trimming meat, we carry 6" filet knives (we carry a stiff and a flexible).  These are for trimming pork shoulders, whole hog, etc.  A 4" paring knife for helping with garnish.  We carry five 6" utility knives for MBN contests- slicing ribs for a blind box, and slicing meat for the judges in the whole hog category.  We keep a 8" chef knife in there because you never know when you will need it!

For the house, one knife that we have fallen in love with lately is a 6" Santuko knife.  It it truly an awesome knife and frankly I'm kind of mad I've never used one much before recently. 

Chef's choice model #120
 A couple of other notes- we do have an electric sharpener- it is a Chef's Choice model 120.  We don't use it for our Mac Knives, but it does an excellent job on Henckels and everyday knives. 

For Competion knives, we use a knife satchel.  They can be found for around $40 online (we use a Dexter we bought from our local restaurant supply company).  We use a 14 knife model- always go for the bigger holders because you will eventually fill them up!  For our home knives, we have a cherry wood Henckel Knife block.  Sorry, Mac doesn't make one yet!

The long and short of it- spend a few extra dollars on a really good knife now and you will get a lifetime of return for it. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trimming your own Steaks

Both my husband and I worked for years as managers and owners in the restaurant industry.  Aside from the long hours and servers having meltdowns, you tend to learn a lot about food and how to handle it.  One of the best skills we ever picked up was in cutting our own steaks! 

There are several advantages to cutting your own steaks.  First is price.  On a similar quality and weight steak, you should save around 2 to 3 dollars PER STEAK by cutting your own.  Second is quality- when you buy a whole ribeye for example, you will know what grade your steaks are, the fat content, etc.  Third of course is being able to control the fat content and size of your steaks.  Want a huge steak for the big game- no problem, just cut it!

We are going to start with Ribeyes because we consider them the easiest from which to hand-cut great steaks.  Later, we will go through filets (beef tenderloin) as well.

The first thing to do is select your ribeye .  Typically, we purchase whole ribeyes (aka loin) from wholesale clubs like Sam's or Costco.  Grocery stores sometimes carry them also, but we have not found them to be of the same quality, even though they may be the same grade (choice, for example).  When buying a ribeye, remember- the bigger the loin, the bigger the cow, this sometimes can mean tougher.  We like to stay in the 14-16 pound range for loins.  Only buy Choice or better, period.  One trick we do is hold it buy both ends and shake it- the more  "give" it has in the middle  of the loin the less external fat it will have.  We like to select one that is kind of in the middle in terms of this give- too much and the loin is too lean (which also shows up in the marbling of the beef- thus determining its grade), too little give and we are probably going to be trimming a lot of excess fat away (thus reducing our yield).  I won't bore you with actual yield determination- basically, we like to hit 83-84% yield on our ribeyes- the amount of actual weight of steaks compared to raw weight of the loin.  Anything above 70% would mean you were saving money over buying steaks at the butcher shop.

a 6" boning knife, 12" scimiitar, 12" slicer
So we have selected our ribeye- what tools do we need?  First, a large cutting board with a non-slip liner (very important!).  If you don't have a rubber mat designed for this simply dampen a kitchen towel and place it under the cutting board.  Pretty easy.  Next, knives- we use a 6" utility knife and a meat "scimitar".  This is not a common knife- mainly used in commercial kitchens and butcher shops.  If you don't have one, use a long slicer-10 to 12".  For cutting one ribeye it will work fine, if you were doing 20 loins a day it would fatigue your arm quickly though!  Just make sure anything you use is super sharp.

 Next, cut open the cryovac and drain the ribeye.  You can pat it dry with paper towels if you want, though we usually skip that step.  First, there is a fatty covering going from the fat-cap around the curve of the loin.  We usually trim this down being very careful not to cut into the meat.  If you want to skip this, at least run you fingers across this- sometimes there are bone chips embedded here- you will definitely want to remove them.  Then, examine your ribeye looking at both sides.  One side will have a line of fat running through it.  Steaks from this side will be more tender, but also more fatty.  The terminolgy we always used for steaks from this side was a "delmonico" steak.  As we cut from our right to our left, we arrange this side to our left- this is just a preferance thing and not a necessity. Using a modified sawing motion-i.e. "saw" as little as possible- cut your first steak.  The first one or two steaks you cut from this side of the loin are far more similar to a strip steak or sirloin in texture than the rest of the ribeye.  After cutting a steak, we trim off the fat from the tail, shaping the steak into the classic ribeye shape.

After cutting through about half the loin, you will notice the fat line turn into a "C".  At this point we trim off the "tail" (the fat at the bottom of the loin).  The rest of the steaks have a higher fat content and are thus more tender.  We have always called this cut the "delmonico" steak. 

A couple of other notes:  don't worry about being exact on your cuts- utlize the differences in sizes for different people in your family when you are packing the steaks for the freezer.  If you have an ounce scale, this will help you get your steaks more even.

The great thing about cutting your own steaks is controlling the size and the quality.  We will typically cut a 15lb ribeye into about 18 steaks.  We then pack steaks into ziploc freezer bags, label and date and freeze.  You can use a vacuum packer if you have one, but if you will eat them in the next 4 months or so it is not necessary.  Enjoy!
"Delmonico's" above, classic ribeyes below

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So where to eat BBQ in Memphis.....

Being that Memphis is known for its' BBQ, we frequently get asked by out of town visitors where they should go sample the wares, so to speak.  After an audible groan on our part, we argue, we plead, even beg on bended knee and ask that they not follow through with their plans for a BBQ-vacation in Memphis.  Dissappointment will surely follow.

  If you have ever eaten good BBQ before, please ignore the "Memphis is a BBQ Legend" thing and eat something else- We have some good fried chicken! Or some very nice restaurants- we will give you many recommendations for those. But BBQ in Memphis?

 It constantly amazes us how Memphis grew to a be so entwined with BBQ- most of the commercial BBQ is pretty bad. But, as 95% just have to prove that we are wrong, here are our recommendations:

The Big Names:
Corky's, Rendevous.  Ok, if you are not familiar with BBQ that much, Corky's isn't bad.  They are very, very busy so at least the products are freshly prepared.  The tamales are good! The Rendevous is a tricky one- we don't consider it BBQ, and they (the restaurant) really don't either- it's "charcoal-grilled" ribs and pulled pork.  The Sausage and cheese plate is very good and if you like a very tough rib you will be ok here.  The atmosphere is one of the coolest hole-in-the-wall joints around, and the rude waiters are a tradition.  Both of these restaurants serve mind-boggling amounts of ribs and pork so go on and try them- at least your friends back home will have probably heard of them.

Neely's Interstate BBQ- avoid at all costs.  And that is all I will say on this.

The less-well-known places:
Cozy Corner- Nice, family run small restaurant.  Try the cornish game hen- awesome.
The BBQ Shoppe-Ok, tried this place recently.  Did not like it.  At all. 
Central BBQ-This would have been my  "hands down, it's actually pretty damn good" choice a couple of weeks ago.  Then we ate at their second location where the food was pretty bad.  I think if you go to the original space on Central Ave. in Midtown Memphis, it's about the closest representation of good BBQ the city has to offer.  They make a nice sausage/cheese plate, the BBQ Nacho's are good (if you are unfamiliar with this Memphis classic it's worth your time!) and the pulled pork is as good as it gets in a commercial environment.  Worth trying.

More later.....

Friday, January 21, 2011

Memphis In May

our Memphis in May Booth for 2009
 It's getting close to application time for this year's Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest (MIM)!  Deadline to enter is Feb 28, 2011.  Follow this link to get an application for the contest.  A few things to consider:

1.  The entry fees are just the start of it!  MIM costs a lot of money to enter, even for the smaller size areas,  which starts at $500 for a 18x20 foot area and goes up to $3600 for a 36x50.  This fee lets you rent that amount of dirt and gives you entry into 1 category (more about that later).  Other fees you will add- clean up deposit, electrical, fire permit, porto-john rental, and of course cooking supplies and food for both the contest and your team.  By the time you add in transportation, hotels if needed, booth decor, flooring and tents (if you don't have your own you need to rent them- MIM is notoriously muddy) and other misc. costs, plan on spending at least $7000 for a medium size spot for the weekend and feeding a few friends.  If you want to host a full-fledged party start adding in more money.  Some teams spend over $75,000 for the week- scaffolding, painted fronts of their buildings, lots and lots of food and alcohol- it gets crazy.  There is a lot of "catering" and sponsorship involved with MIM- and most teams use this to offset their expenses.  Moral of the story- save up your pennies or find a sponsor.

2.   Categories- the main categories are Whole Hog, Shoulder and Ribs.  There are also quite a few "ancillary" contests such as beef, exotic meat, seafood, sauces, etc.  The ancillary contests do not count towards the Grand Champion award, only the main ones.  So, the question is "How do I choose which category to enter?"  This really comes down to you and your skills.  The average entries per category are Hog-40, Shoulders 60 to 70, Ribs 110+.  GENERALLY SPEAKING, there are not as many "party teams" in Hog, so the competition is stronger.  So the numbers don't really tell the full story-  just enter what you believe is your best category.

3.  How much to cook for each category?  The MINIMUM we would ever think about cooking would be 1 Hog, 8 shoulders and 15 Ribs.  This is the standard amount of meat we cook at a normal Memphis-style contest.  At MIM, we would probably double the category amount (since you are only cooking 1 category, you should have more space to cook- for example if we were in Shoulders- we would cook 12 to 16 shoulders.  Overkill?  Maybe, but we wouldn't want to lose out on a shot at the World Championship because we didn't buy enough shoulders).

4.  What do I need for my booth and where do I get it?  Ok, this gets more dependant upon you and the purpose of you cooking MIM.  Assuming you are a COMPETITIVE team coming down to enter and test your skills against the Worlds' Best BBQ-ers, here is what you need:  Obviously, you will need your smokers and general cooking utensils-knives, cutting boards, etc.  You WILL need a tent- if you don't have a good looking one or it's too small, you may rent one.  You would be very smart to plan on flooring-either bring your own or rent.  MIM is very specific about flooring, you are not allowed to just lay down plywood, it must be framed so it is not crushing the grass (if there is any left after the Music Festival!).  High up on the suggestion list is a fan(s).  It tends to get pretty hot.  For On-Site Presentations, you must have a table to feed the judges along with plates, etc.  MIM usually has an agreement with a local rental agency where you can rent almost all of your needs (a list of rental items will be sent to you in your acceptance packet- portajohns, power agreement, etc).
     A local meat company delivers meat on Wedn-Friday to your booth.  You must advance order to get this, but they have just about anything you need.  Sams Clubs also basically puts in a store at the festival where you can get slaw, buns, or just about anything you could need.  Ditto for the local Beer Company!
    All of these conveniences are there to aid out-of-town or even out-of-the-country teams that enter here every year.  Either rent or bring a 2-wheeler!
    MIM itself will also put you in touch with whoever you need if you are an out-of-towner.  They are very nice to work with as they want a successful contest. 

In future posts, we will talk more about what to do to help your chances at MIM, places to visit if you are just coming in town to judge or visit, and many other things.  Check Back Soon!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting Started

Thanks for checking us out.  We travel the Nation cooking in BBQ contests, teaching classes, giving seminars, checking out new products and generally immersing ourselves in our BBQ world.  We will talk about our travels, give you some reviews for some great (and not-so-great) products, and just talk BBQ.

Please check back often, and please tell your friends!

Melissa and Pete Cookston
Yazoo's Delta Q BBQ Team
2010 World BBQ Champions