Fire roasted coffee

20160203-coffee-roasting-grillIn my college days, I was often found in a dark corner of a coffee house, sitting on a couch of questionable character, with my face glued to a mug of coffee. I’m talking about unadulterated coffee here, not the sugar-filled-chilled-froufrou-skinny-double-whipped-cocoa variety. Caffeine fueled my studies. Moving to Belgium was like entering rehab. The coffee culture here is completely different and it’s all about the French or Italian roast. Great for espresso, but the beans are so roasted that their origin doesn’t come through. I missed the days of tasting the differences between an Ethiopia Sidamo and a Kenya Bora. Over the past few years though there have been a number of more American style coffee houses/roasters popping up (Thats sounds odd to Belgians because they think that all coffee in the US is watered down truck-stop style coffee). When Mrs. Smokey brought home a bag of beans from the coffee roaster near her office, part of my brain woke up from its coffee coma. After 10 years I was addicted again. The smell of good coffee puts me in a euphoric trance. A complex melange of nuts, chocolate, leather, earth, tobacco, ripe fruit, leaves, and more. When something like that gets a hold of my imagination I want to dive into it.

There are many home-roasters around the world and there are many techniques for doing it. They range from dedicated electric coffee-roasters, popcorn poppers, ovens, to cast iron skillets. After reading a few posts online about turning a rotisserie into a backyard roaster, I knew I wanted to try it out. About a week later, Weber introduced a fine mesh basket for their rotisserie (Only in Europe at the moment). It looked perfect. But would it work?

Weber 22 inch charcoal grill with rotisserie ring and fine-mesh basket

Condensing coffee roasting down to its most basic form you get this:
  • You need high heat
  • You have to keep the beans moving
  • The beans will go through stages of “cracking” (1 or 2 depending on the roast level you want)
  • You want to cool the beans as quickly as possible and remove the chaff
  • Let the coffee beans develop their final aroma and flavor for 48 hours after roasting

 

(in the above video you can hear the end of the First Crack)

On my first attempt, I used the Weber “Steak House” lump charcoal (Quebracho wood from Paraguay) since this is a very hot burning charcoal. I was really happy with the resulting coffee and the color was spot on for a City+ roast. There was a very light “campfire” smoke note on the nose, with a little carry over to the flavor. Some roasters see smoke as a flaw but there are other roasters (both professional and amateur) that roast over wood-fire and are looking for that character. I for one found it a nice, subtle addition.

For the next few roasting sessions I used coconut briquettes just to see if I could make a “clean” coffee without any smokey notes. The resulting coffees were smoke free, but the fire was lower in temperature. This creates some problems. You have to make sure that you get all the heat right under the coffee beans. If the fire is too cool you end up baking the beans rather than roasting them. Then you get a more bready and grainy coffee. The chaff also doesn’t “explode” off the beans like it should giving you some odd looking beans.

Cooling and de-chaffing the beans is pretty simple. Just pour the beans back and forth between two colanders in front of a fan. After that you will have roasted coffee but you’ll notice that the aroma isn’t quite right yet. Let the beans sit and mature for at least 48 hours. The aroma develops further while the acidity and roast notes mellow.

20160203-coffee-before-after

My process (usually going for a City+ to Full City roast):
  • Light a full chimney starter of charcoal. Wait until all the charcoal is well lit, then dump the charcoal into two charcoal baskets.
    • If using high heat lump charcoal, place the two charcoal baskets a little ways from center on either side of where your spit will be turning
    • If using briquettes, place your charcoal baskets back to back in the center of the grill, under where your spit will go.
  • Add your green coffee beans to the Weber Rotisserie basket and place the spit on the rotisserie ring. I usually roast 1 kg at a time but you could probably fit 2 kg in the basket.
  • make sure all vents are fully open on your grill and close the lid. Resist the temptation to lift the lid and peek.
  • After 7-10 minutes you should hear the first crack beginning (if not, next time try to get a hotter fire going).
  • Once first crack seems to be slowing down, you can start taking a quick peek to keep an eye on the color of the beans.
  • When desired roast level is reached pull the spit out and immediately dump the beans into a colander or screen.
  • Cool the beans by pouring them back and forth between two colanders (or screens) in front of a fan. This will remove the chaff too.
  • Put the cooled beans into a container and let them sit for 48 hours (If it is a completely airtight jar, vent it every once in a while during that time).
  • Don’t waste the charcoal. Throw a chicken on the spit for dinner!

20160203-coffee-roasting-chicken

Roasting coffee in this way is a lot of fun and it’s another excuse to fire up the grill and experiment with flavors. It is also quite easy and quick. Just try it out if you like coffee and have a rotisserie. I was quite surprised how much I liked the slight smoke character when I used the quebracho lump. There are a lot of possibilities playing around with smoke and matching it to specific coffees. Of course there is also the whole question of blending which I haven’t really played with much. Once you get into it there are millions of ways to create new flavors in coffee, and that’s before the geeking out really starts.

 

The beans I’ve been using have been ordered from Fascino Coffee (NL) and Redber Coffee (UK)

The original plan

2015-year-of-change

2015 was penciled in as my return to brewing. The past few years have been chaotic… birth of a second child, fixing up our old house, selling our old house, finding a new house, moving, working, and keeping sane all while trying to be a good husband and daddy. Sure I probably could have scheduled in a brew session here and there, but it just seemed too selfish to block out that much time for something that no one else in the house gets any enjoyment from. I am the type of person that obsesses over details and data so I am completely unavailable while I’m brewing, plus all the planning, transfers, bottling/kegging etc. Then, as life seemed to be smoothing itself out, I started planning my next brew when something unexpected happened. At the not so ripe age of 36, I had a stroke. More precisely a Spontaneous Carotid Artery Dissection that caused a stroke. That put a stop to many things.

What I found really sad was that there was no reason why it happened to me. I did not live a “risky” lifestyle. It was just a bit of bad luck. Part of my carotid artery just decided it would be funny to fail. I’m more or less OK now, but It’s still recovery at the moment. My big problems now are the lack of concentration, patience, and tasks such as writing (It took quite a while to write this short post). Now I just want to get back a little control of my life. Of course there are many things in life more important than grilling and brewing, but this blog is not about those. It is my outlet for all things brewing and grilling related. The situation has made me think about what aspects I like the most about my life, work, and hobbies as well as how they can or can not be combined. Outdoor cooking can continue just as it always has. It’s something that the whole family can enjoy, and it generally doesn’t take too much time. Brewing is different. It takes more planning, more time, and more concentration. Thankfully, the kids are growing up (now 4 and 6) and I know I will be able to find some time to brew. However, I also know it won’t be as often as I’d like. I really need to find some ways to either shorten my brew days or make the process more automated so I am more available while I do it. Something like how my BBQ Guru PartyQ gives me some precious time with my family when I’m smoking a pork shoulder for 15 hours. Any good suggestions will be embraced with open arms.

If you read this post hoping for some sort of amazing conclusion or revelation, you will be disappointed. I didn’t really have a goal for this blog post. It was really just a way of me trying to get back at it. A bit of therapy for myself. Now that I got that out of the way, perhaps I can post something more interesting next time.

… now I really need to spend some time bringing this old ugly blog up to date. I never liked the way it looked.

Daddy’s little helpers

daddyWith two Little Smokies running around it’s hard to find time for the selfish contemplation that is brewing and barbecuing. Brewing takes a good 5 hours from the time I get the supplies out untill everything is cleaned up. Cooking up some pulled pork takes about 15 hours, not to mention the prep time the night before. True, I don’t have to sit next to the smoker for 15 hours, but it’s always on my mind. In my search to be more zen with my barbecuing I’ve found a couple “helpers” to keep my alter ego of Super-Stressed-Out-Action-Man at bay.

First off, for the past couple years I have been using terracotta flower pot bases and tin-foil in my water pan instead of water. This is definitely nothing new or groundbreaking, but I finally got around to trying it and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole point of using a water pan is to help keep a steady temperature in your smoker by increasing the thermal mass. Unfortunately water evaporates and needs to be topped up. Then there is the mess of dirty water with all the fat drippings from your meat. Now I just peel away the top sheet of aluminium foil and throw it away.

That alone is not enough to keep the fire under control. Luckily I now have the PartyQ from BBQ Guru. The PartyQ is one of the cheaper Automatic Temperature Controllers on the market. It isn’t the most feature rich ATC but I was looking for a simple set it and forget it solution. I don’t need to see a temperature log on my smartphone. It also runs off of 4 AA batteries, which is good since the nearest electrical socket is far from my smoker. I did read some negative reviews of the PartyQ but those seemed to be coming from people who were trying to use the PartyQ to bring their fire up to temperature. This can take a while, lead to a massive overshoot in temp, and kill your batteries. I have had no problems so far and the temperature in my smoker stays rocksteady. The only time I see a change is when I open the lid to mop the meat, but this is quickly taken care of without any action on my part. The PartyQ has been a dream and if you follow a couple of basic rules then it is a very powerful tool.

The PartyQ has one probe with an alligator clip on it. The clip can be pulled off so that the probe fits through the BBQ guru probe eyelets I installed years ago for my wireless Maverick ET-73. Since I have the Maverick I didn’t need to get an ATC which has a food probe too, and I can still monitor my smoker and meat temps from inside the house.

How I use the PartyQ:

  • Install Maverick ET-73 and PartyQ
  • Start the fire with the Minion Method and assemble the WSM
  • Bottom vents 80% open (Except for where the PartyQ is attached of course. Follow instruction manual for that)
  • When smoker is close to target temp, close bottom vents & switch on PartyQ (if the temp overshoots it can take a while before it comes back down)
  • When the cook is done pull off the PartyQ and insert the kill plug.

now here is a very boring video of the PartyQ in Action

 

Hogtied

Pork tenderloin gets cooked around here quite a lot. Normally its a bit of a no-thought-needed item to throw on the grill. This time I wanted to stir things up a bit. First I decided upon some flavors (apple, pecan, whiskey, maple syrup) and set about figuring out how to combine them. I ended up stuffing the tenderloin with the apple and pecan, and saucing it up with the whiskey and maple syrup. Since it turned out so well I thought I’d share it.

Stuffing:

  • 1-2 slices of bread depending on size (cubed and toasted)
  • 1 large apple
  • 1 small onion
  • 1+ tsp dried sage
  • -1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

For the stuffing, sautee the onion and chopped pecans in a decent amount of butter. After the onion goes translucent add the diced apple and sage. Let that cook till the apple softens a bit and then add the toasted bread cubes. Off the fire, lid on, set aside.

In the meantime slice open the tenderloin in a sort of upside down Y and then open it up. Heap the cooled stuffing onto this sheet of meat, fold it closed, and attempt to lace it up. A third hand can be useful. After that, season the meat with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt. Cook indirect (not above the coals, with the lid closed) and baste several times with a 50/50 mixture of whiskey and maple syrup.

Sauce: as usual I didn’t take notes on the sauce so this is an approximation.

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup whiskey depending on how boozy you want it.
  • 4 tbs maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Pepper and salt to taste

Sautee the onion in a tablespoon or two of butter. Deglaze with the whiskey. Let that reduce to 50% and add the maple syrup and cream. Simmer until its the desired thickness (stir frequently) then run the sauce through a sieve. If you do make it too thick, don’t try diluting it with more whiskey. Don’t ask.

The proof is in the barrel

I’ve had a few chances to play around with the Gueuze barrel chips now and thought I’d share my findings (on both grilling use and beer use).

The Beer side: When I first opened the bag of chips I immediately threw some into starter wort to try and grow up the critters living on the chips. Not surprising, the bugs did get going pretty quickly. Also not surprising it developed some green mold. It looked and smelled decent for about 4 or 5 days and I thought that it might end up being usable. Then the aroma really went down hill and the green monster started growing. Oh well. I still haven’t dumped it out (too afraid) and I was thinking that I could possibly pull some of the beer out from under the mold and try to culture that up… but really, I’m too lazy for all that. Plus I like the reliability of buying pure strains and mixing them myself, or culturing up dregs from bottled beers.

The Fire side: The chips have been used to add some smoke to pork, fish, and numerous chickens. Result… Shocker, the smoke flavor is just like oak! Well, to be fair I think there may be a slight difference that I haven’t yet been able to nail down, but unless you are going to do a side by side oak vs gueuze barrel (made from oak) smoke test, I don’t think anyone would pick up on a difference. I actually do plan on doing that some time though (Bourbon barrel chips vs Gueuze barrel chips).

That being said I do actually like using these chips. In general, they are chipped quite small and don’t need to be soaked too long before throwing on your fire. That makes them ideal for quickly adding smoke to items that aren’t slow-cooked for 60 hours. Also handy if you are “planning-challenged” like me and realize that you forgot to soak your chips as you’re about to throw the meat on the grill.

Conclusion:

  • Gueuze Barrel chips are great for a quick burst of smoke when grilling
  • Don’t bother using them for long smokes
  • Keep them out of your homebrew (just culture up dregs from a bottle if you must)

I wonder if barrel chips from a good kriek would offer anything extra? Hey,Peter De Clercq,  how about that? I’ll help test them out for you.!

can’t spell Birthday without R I B S… wait

Spelling aside, I turned a year wiser. Ok, it was actually a couple months ago but let’s not get carried away with details. To celebrate I decided to cook up some Ribs. Realizing I have never written a real post about ribs, I thought I’d throw this one out there.

First the meat: In Belgium there is only one type of rib, the Baby Back rib (bottom of the photo to the left). Strangely enough on menus all across the kingdom they are always called Spare ribs (top of the photo to the left) . After some discussion with my local butcher I finally figured out what real Spare ribs are called here, Vleesribben (or “Meat ribs”). They are usually cooked and served as individual rib bones here, but I wanted full racks of course. Armed with this new knowledge I ordered up three racks of meat ribs for my birthday.

The racks were cut a bit taller than what you typically get back in the US, but not as long. I trimmed the ribs St. Louis style and rubbed them with the latest version of my evolving rib and butt rub.

Rub:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup paprika
  • 1/3 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh ground black pepper (I may up this a touch next time)
  • 4 tsp. dry mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper

The ribs went into the smoker at 100C (212F). The minion-method fire was made up of coconut shell briquettes with 4 large chunks of hickory and apple wood buried throughout. The smoker stayed right between 100 and 110 (212F to 230F) for 5 hours until I ramped it up to around 130C (265F) for two more hours. None of that 3-2-1 nonsense, just a well controlled smoker and some good meat. I was using water in the water-pan but plan on doing it with a clay-saucer next time to compare. The ribs were mopped twice during the cook with straight apple juice but one rack did also get a slathering of RodenQue sauce 30 minutes before pulling them off. The meal was complete with a whole grilled chicken, cornbread, coleslaw, salad, RodenQue sauce, and one of Ribs best friends… beer.

These were my finest ribs yet. They were nicely smokey and tore away from the bone cleanly, but weren’t so tender that they were mushy (like in a lot of restaurants). I’m still dialing in the rub and the process, but these meat sticks made me darn proud. This cook reignited my love of ribs. I’ll have to start cooking them more regularly from now on.

taking it for a spin

Roasting a chicken on the grill has never been a real problem, but I always felt that it could be done better. The skin was never crisp enough, some parts were more juicy than others, and you have to tend the meat quite a lot. I wanted better results with less work. Thanks to a recent birthday I now have the tool to allow me to achieve this, the Weber rotisserie. It’s a real “set it and forget it” solution to perfectly done poultry… and non-feathered meats too.

The reason a rotisserie makes a difference is because you can evenly and easily cook a large hunk of meat at a higher temperature without worrying about burning one side of the meat. If you tried that temperature with a normal indirect steup then you would have to watch your chicken like a hawk, constantly open up the lid to turn your chicken, losing all the heat and therefore not getting crisp skin.

A full chimney of lit charcoal was divided on two sides of the grill and a drip pan nestled inbetween. The zwarte hoevekip (black “farm chicken”) was then skewered, seasoned and set in place. The chicken seemed dwarfed by the whole setup but was soon having fun pirouetting over the hot coals. The rotisserie’s electric motor was very quiet and I found myself looking for signs of movement to make sure it was still running. When the meat looked like it was almost done, I applied a light glaze. This was more for looks than anything else. It does add flavor to the skin but it doesn’t really give the meat underneath anyting extra. The chicken received three layers of glaze in the last 10 minutes. Total cook time was a quick 35-40 minutes. Thats pretty quick.

  • Seasoning: grey sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and a decent dash of ginger powder.
  • Glaze: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup orange juice and the juice of one lemon.

The resulting chicken was very tasty. I probably could have left it on a couple minutes longer since not all of the skin had crisped up yet but none the less the skin was much better than usual. The maple and citrus glaze was a great addition and next time I will try injecting some of that into the meat before cooking rather than glazing. All in all I am very happy with my new grilling gadget and can’t wait to get some other meats spinning!

stick your wood in it

Belgium can be a bit of an outdoor-cooking wasteland. When the sun comes out everyone does love to run out in the back yard and blacken some meat, but it is rarely taken seriously and is never combined with the idea of high quality food. Often if I talk about cooking a very nice cut of meat on the grill I get the response “Aww, thats a shame.” Because of this attitude it is rare that Belgium offers something unique to the outdoor-cooking world. Perhaps it was born from a pure marketing idea or perhaps it came from a genuine search for new flavors, but never the less, woodchips made from Gueuze-barrels is an interesting and uniquely Belgian product.

I was surprised to find these wood-chips but I was flabbergasted that they were at my local grocery store, not some obscure online barbecue specialty store. Peter De Clercq, Belgiums one and only outdoor-chef, has been trying to bring grilling to a higher level here and is the man behind this new idea. Thanks Peter! Now I just need to see if they are any good. Hmmm, what would go well with Gueuze smoke?

Not only am I excited to throw these chips onto the fire but I am also wondering if I can inoculate some beer with them. According to the package the chips come from barrels at Timmermans that were either at the end of their life, or broken. I am not sure of the conditions in which the wood was “chipped” but I tossed a handfull into some starter wort to see what happens. The chips should be full of brettanomyces, pediococcus, kloekera and hopefully saccharomyces (among many other critters). I flushed the starter with CO2 to try to prevent any acetobacter from taking hold. As long as I don’t get any black or green mold I should be able to start up a useable culture, or at least make some interesting vinegar. Of course it would be a lot easier, and probably more fruitful, just to use the dregs from a bottle of Gueuze… but then I couldn’t say that I stuck my wood in it.

boy meets plank

Cooking on a wooden plank has been popular amongst the grilling kind for a while. For some reason I have only now gotten around to trying it, but I now know what many others already discovered, cedar planked salmon is damn tasty!

The plank was soaked for an hour in water, with a coffee mug on top to keep it under water. When the fire was ready for indirect cooking (fire to one side) I placed the salmon on the plank and smeared a Lemon/Dill/Garlic butter mixture on top. The plank went directly over the fire to warm up, about 3 minutes, then it was moved to the cool side of the fire. Lid went on and the fished cooked about 20 minutes.

Garlic, Dill, Lemon schmear

  • 3tbsp butter
  • one clove of garlic – chopped
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • leaves off two sprigs of fresh dill
  • a good pinch of sea salt

I suggest using a blender for mixing this up or else you will have a heck of a time getting the lemon juice to incorporate into the butter (as in never gonna happen)

The cedar flavor was more subtle than I thought it would be, so it had some trouble showing through the garlic, but the overall flavor and aroma was fantastic! Looks like cedar planks will have to get some more use around here. Its always nice to add another tool/flavor to the grilling toolbox. Now I’d like to try out some planks from other woods, and perhaps even a salt “plank