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 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.

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.

What? Pork without beer?

Yes. I even surprised myself, but it is possible for me to cook without using beer. Searching for ideas the other day, I noticed that there was just a scoche of dark Cuban rum left in the liquor cabinet. Realizing that rum, no matter how good, does not make a complete meal for 6 people, I figured I’d throw together a rum glaze to apply to some pork. It turned out pretty tasty so I’m sharing it here.

The rum was matched up with some dark chestnut honey. Sweet, spicy, smokey and leathery this dark and complex honey pairs well with grilled foods. Wrap all those flavors up with some pecan wood smoke, and you have yourself wonderful piece of pig. Everything melded together very well.

 

Rum and Chestnut Honey glazed pork medallions

  • set up your fire for indirect cooking. Medium heat.
  • take your pork tenderloin (s) and cut into roughly 4cm (2″) thick medaillions
  • Wrap each with a slice of bacon and secure with a tooth-pick
  • in a saucepan combine (rough measurements)
    • 60 ml (1/4 cup) dark rum with
    • 4 tbsp chestnut honey
    • 1 tbsp grain mustard (optional)
  • heat only until the honey is dissolved
  • throw a chunk of pecan wood onto your fire (hickory, apple, cherry would all work well)
  • Sear the pork directly over the fire (about 2 minutes each side) then move to indirect.
  • Brush on the glaze and put the lid on.
  • repeat the glazing every 5 minutes or so until the meat firms up nicely and is done (roughly 20-25 minutes)
To go with the pork we served salad, a couscous and carrot dish, and some delicious grilled zucchini slices. The zucchini was first tossed in equal parts olive oil and cider vinegar (about a tbsp each), seasoned with salt and pepper, then grilled and thrown back into the bowl with the oil and vinegar.
There was also a sauce made with the leftover glaze, a touch more mustard, sauteed onion and a touch of heavy cream…. but the meat was more than confident enough to stand on its own.

Rodenpork Grand Cru

On Sunday I whipped up some more pulled pork. Maybe “whipped up” isn’t the right way to say it since it isn’t exactly the quickest meal to make. Let me re-phrase that… Last Sunday I waited and waited while the glorious combination of wood-smoke, spices, pork and Rodenbach Grand Cru washed over me bringing intense hunger and anticipation. Yeah, thats better.

Last timeI posted about Pulled Pork I used a small portion of a “picnic” (a picnic is basically the shoulder of a pig). This time I used a 6.2kg (almost 14 lb) whole picnic. Well, almost whole, I had the butcher remove part of it so that it would fit in the smoker better. I think it may have been the first time that he had sold such a big hunk of pig like that, but it won’t be the last! I kept everything pretty simple with this cook but in return I was rewarded with an outstanding end product that brought a smile not only to my face but also to Mrs Smokey and Lil’ Smokey. Served with some coleslaw, fries and a Rodenbach BBQ sauce (see below) it was a satisfying meal!I trimmed most of the extraneous fat off of the pork and rubbed it the night before with a new simple pork rub recipe I am trying (see below). The next morning while the family was still in bed I started up the fire and rubbed the pork again. For the fire I loaded up the charcoal ring on my WSM with briquettes. I normally use a good hardwood lump charcoal, but for a long cook like this I went with longer burning briquettes. A few large chunks of both Apple wood and Pecan wood were added throughout the charcoal load. On top of all that a half chimney of lit briquettes got things going.

The pork went in the smoker just before breakfast. Instead of cooking at the normal 95-110°C (roughly 200-225°F) I set the smoker up around 125°C (257°F) because I didn’t want to still be cooking the next morning. The WSM did a beautiful job holding right between 122-128°C without any further assistance from me. After 5 hours in the smoke I started to mop the pork every 2-3 hours with a mixture of Rodenbach Grand Cru and some of the rub.

After 8-9 hours the meat hit the plateau at 75°C (internal meat temp) and stayed there for almost 4 hours. I ended up ramping up the smoker temp to 150°c (300°F) for the last 3 hours of the cook until I reached an internal temp of 88-90°C (190-194°F). In total the cook time was almost 14.5 hours, which for a piece this large isn’t so long. It was also nice that I didn’t have to add any more fuel during the cook. The resulting Rodenbach infused pork was fantastically tasty, succulent and pulled apart with ease! The freezer is now happily stuffed with this treat. The stash should last me a while and allow for some experimentation. One thing I need to try out are Noskos’s Pulled Pork egg-rolls!

Pork Rub:

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

mix together and rub half on the picnic. Refrigerate pork over night and rub again in the morning. Save some rub for the mop and the sauce.

RodenMop:

  • 1 33cl. bottle Rodenbach Grand Cru
  • 1 tbsp rub

heat on the stove and use warm

RodenQue Sauce:

  • 1 33cl. bottle Rodenbach Grand Cru
  • 2-3 tbs brown sugar (I like 2 but Mrs. Smokey likes 3)
  • 1/2 cup Ketchup
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree (not concentrate)
  • 1-2 tbs of whatever rub you are using
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder (optional)

Simply combine all the ingredients in a pot and reduce on a medium fire (about 35-45 minutes). Pour the finished sauce back into a cleaned Rodenbach bottle and pop in a cork or stopper.

and finally (recipes)

Ok, this is the last post about the Nocturnal Brew n’ Que at Alvinne. I have had several requests for recipes, so here you go. Recipes for almost everything we served! If you are a homebrewer and would like to look at the recipe we brewed that day, I scaled it down in my previous post.

For European readers 1 cup = 237ml Other useful conversion can be found with this link, or this one

Guacamole:

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • 1/2 – 1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
  • small handful of coriander leaves (cilantro), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
  • 1/2 small red onion finely chopped

Scoop the flesh out of the avocados and coarsely mash with a fork. To maximize the juice from the lime you should place it on your work surface and push down on it with the palm of your had. Now roll it around while pressing. You can then cut it in half and squeeze out that lovely juice. Mix in the remaining ingredients and serve with tortilla chips. It’s best if you let the quacamole rest in the fridge a couple hours before serving.

Salsa:

  • 1 cup seeded and finely diced tomato
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 hot red pepper
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons Alvinne Morpheus Tripel
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Mix together, chill for a couple hours. Serve with tortilla chips.

Alvinno Shrimp:

Simply shrimp marinated in 2-3 parts Alvinno, 1 part olive oil and a dash of Piet Huysentruyt honey-mustard seasoning. Marinate for a couple of hours and then impale them on some skewers. Cook over direct heat on your charcoal grill.

Ribs:

marinade:

  • 70% Alvinne Wild (Rodenbach is an easy to find substitute if you can’t get a hold of the Wild)
  • 30% apple juice

rub: (This makes more than you need but you can store it for a long time)

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweet paprika
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pilli pilli
  • 3/4 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoons cayenne
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Marinate overnight in the fridge with enough liquid to cover all the ribs (if you marinate the ribs in zip-lock bags you don’t need as much marinade). 45 minutes to an hour before placing in the smoker, remove the ribs from the marinade, pat them dry, liberally cover with your favorite rub and let them come up to room temperature. Smoke between 100-120C (210-250F) till done (around 5 hours) with a combination of cherry and pecan wood chunks. Don’t go too high with the temp because the sugar in the rub will burn.

Mop the ribs with some of the marinade a few times during the cook.

Salmon

Simply brush your salmon filet with olive oil, sprinkle with some dill and slap it on the grill.

Pork loin:

  • 1 well-trimmed pork loin (about 1kg or 2lbs.)

marinade:

  • 1 bottle Alvinne Wild (Rodenbach is an easy to find substitute if you can’t get a hold of the Wild)
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey

rub:

  • see rib rub above or use your favorite spice rub

Marinate the pork loin with the Alvinne Wild, apple juice and honey for 2-3 hours in the fridge. about 30-45 minutes before cooking, take the pork out of the marinade, pat dry, dust it with the rub and let it come up to room temperature. Place in your smoker (or grill set up for indirect cooking) at a temperature of around 120-140C (250-280F) with some Cherry and Pecan wood chunks for that smokey goodness (apple, pear, hickory, cherry, and pecan all work well with this). It should take about 60-75 minutes depending on the size of the loin and the temperature. Use a thermometer and take the pork out of the smoker at 65-67C, loosely cover in foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with a touch of Honey-mustard Beercream sauce.

Honey-mustard beercream sauce: (this is a bit of an approximation since I usually don’t measure stuff out when I make sauces)

  • 1/2 small yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 bottle Alvinne Wild
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons grain mustard
  • 2 dl  (3/4-1cup) heavy cream
  • thickener if needed

Sautee the onion in the butter until translucent and then add the beer, apple juice and honey (you can use the marinade here but then you will need to skim off the “fatty foam” that will appear during cooking). Cook this down to about half the volume. Addthe mustard and cream and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. If you desire a thicker sauce then use your tickener of choice (corn starch, maizena, etc.)

Cornbread:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter to a baking dish/pan and set in the oven. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, milk and oil. When ready, add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients and stir together, but don’t over-mix. Just make sure there are no lumps. Take the pan out of the oven and swirl the butter around. Pour the mixture into the hot dish/pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top. Test with a toothpick for doneness.

Coleslaw:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups shredded green cabbage (roughly half a cabbage)
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 finely chopped green onion

Mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Then mix in the cabbage, carrots and onion. Refridgerate for at least two hours.

Melon Mint and Feta salad:

  • 1/2 each of 3 different melons (watermelon, gavia, and cavaillon were used here)
  • half a small block of feta (roughly 50 grams)
  • a small handfull of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • dash of pepper

Use a melon baller and scoop out the three melon halves. Break or cut the feta into small bits and add to the melon. Take the mint leaves, stack them, roll into a cigar, finely slice and add to the salad. Just before serving add the oil, vinegar and pepper and toss.

Mocha Bomb Sabayon:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Imperial stout (Struise Black Damnation Mocha Bomb works great!) but it apparently you have to use beer that is above 10%abv

Simply add all ingredients to a pan. Now comes the hard part. Over a very low fire you need to start whipping the mixture with a whisk. Pretend your life depended on it. Oh, and this will take a while. If you stop too soon then your egg mixture will quickly separate. If you have the fire too high, whisk too slow, or cook too long then you will end up with bits of omlette in your sabayon. If you manage to do that right then serve the creamy smooth and frothy mixture with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This recipe should be good for 4 servings.

If you want to see someone making Sabayon check out this video (ignore the ingredients… just watch the process).

Moink balls à la Alvinne:

Take 1 kg (2.2 lbs) “gehakt met kruiden” (ground veal and pork mixture with some herbs that everyone here uses anytime ground meat is needed) and roll into bite-size balls. Ours were perhaps a bit on the large side. Then wrap each with a strip of proscuitto. Secure with a toothpick. Dust with your favorite spice rub or seasoning (we used the above mentioned rub). Place on the smoker and cook for an hour or so. As with the other dishes, we used Cherry and Pecan wood for the smoke. Lastly slather each one with a good amount of BBQ sauce, jam or jelly and cook for another 15 minutes or so. We sort of threw together our own beer based BBQ sauce but no one remembers what exactly was put into it. The recipe will remain a mystery forever.

the more the merrier – part 1 (smoke)

Friday July 2nd was a busy day for the Smoking Bottle. Picobrouwerij Alvinne was having their first (hopefully annual) Nocturnal Brew Session. 30+ friends were invited to join them while they brew a special night brew, opened up a collection of beer from around the world  and served some tasty BBQ. The reason it was so busy for me is because I was asked to provide the beer based BBQ (and more, but thats for Part 2).

the production line and some chips, salsa and guacamole

The prep/cooking started at 10am up in De Proefzolder (The Tasting Attic). An attic is usually not the best place to be on a very hot day, however we pushed on and proceeded to slice, dice, bake, marinate, mix and clean up before guests started arriving at 6pm. Once they did they found themselves greeted by cold beer and tortilla chips with freshly made Salsa and Guacamole. The salsa was very nice and had a touch of Alvinne Tripel thrown in for an extra twist. The Guacamole was also a hit. I’ve been on a mission lately to show the Belgian folk what guacamole is supposed to look and taste like. The jars of radioactive goo that people buy here is a disgrace. It doesn’t even taste like guacamole. The fresh stuff was almost a revelation for some people.

the "outdoor kitchen" and ribs in the smoker

Next we threw Alvinno and olive oil marinated shrimp onto the grill. The tasty shrimp were able to tide people over until the ribs were ready. Almost as fast as I could get the 15 racks of ribs out of the WSM they disappeared. I barley had a taste of them. To be honest I wasn’t all that happy with them but everyone else seemed to like them quite a bit. I think they needed just a little more time on the smoker and less sugar in the rub.

Abracadavre steaming up the attic and pork smoking up outside

After a great performance by brewery friends Abracadavre it was time to for the main course, smoked pork loins. This is basically my go-to grilling recipe but done on the smoker. After being marinated and then smoked for an hour and a quarter (until 66-67C internal temp) with a combination of Cherry and Pecan wood, the pork was served with a honey-mustard-beer-cream sauce, good old Coleslaw, Cornbread, potatoes, and a melon salad with mint and feta. It all turned out really nice. I heard someone say “I didn’t know barbecue could be so good.” Mission accomplished.

Glenn whipping up some Sabayon and Moink balls doing their thing

To finish all that meat off, Glenn made his world famous Sabayon with De Struise Brouwers Mocha Bomb. Sabayon is one of my absolute favorite deserts and the Mocha Bomb suits it so wonderfully. Excellent stuff! But thats not the end. To further feed our caveman like urge for meat and fire we threw together an interesting “Belgianized” version of Moink balls as a late snack. I think that was around 2am… or was it 3am?

I am certainly not used to cooking for large groups, and I tend to over analyze everything, but at the end of the day it was an enjoyable cooking session with great people. If only my wife and baby girl would have been there then It would have been perfect. Fire-cooked food, great beer and good people… what else do you need?

click on the photos above to see more.

Sorry that this was just a bit of a run down of events, but I will post all the recipes soon. I don’t want to have a 3000 word post… no one wants to read that. I sure ain’t no good writer.

Barbecook Smoker vs. WSM

Last summer there was a decent amount of traffic coming from people looking for information about the Barbecook smoker, or more importantly comparing the Barbecook Smoker and the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker (WSM). I thought I would finally write a post about this as spring comes around and fire hungry people start contemplating a purchase. Since I have thoroughly used both smokers I’ll try to offer some good comparative information.

price: There is no competition here. The Barbecook smoker retails for 69euros and can sometimes be found for 49euros. The weber retails for 299euros for the 47cm (18″) diameter or 399euros for the 57cm (22.5″) diameter. Clear win for the Barbecook.

assembly: The Barbecook is split up into 4 sections, base, two middle sections and the lid. Assembling the legs, cooking grid hooks, charcoal bowl hooks, handles, vent, and the four hinges on the two doors is a bit of a pain in the ass due to the small size, and high number of nuts and bolts. The original Barbecook smoker had a sort of twist to lock feature that secured the sections together but Barbecook has since replaced this system with some simple clips. A much needed improvement. Moving the smoker with the handles on the side is easy once the sections are locked together.

The WSM is split up into 3 sections, base, middle, and lid. To assemble the WSM you need to attach the three legs to the base and then attach 4 metal straps on the inside of the middle section. This is easliy done in a few minutes. All the bolts are easy to get to and are large enough to handle. The sections just sit on top of each other and do not lock together, and there are no side handles on the unit  so you can not just pick up the smoker and easily move it.

never move either smoker when it is in use!

build quality: The matte-black painted Barbecook Smoker is made from a very thin steel, and is prone to denting. Infact you will most likely dent or bend the sections out-of-round during assembly. The cooking grates are  made from a very small gauge wire and have a cheap looking finish that can scratch off during a good cleaning. After total assembly the unit wobbles quite a bit due to the flimsy leg construction. Most of the nuts and bolts on the unit will quickly rust.

The WSM uses a nice thicker gauge steel with a durable black enamel finish. All of the hardware is rust-resistant, strong and secure. Once the unit is assembled it feels very stable. The Weber is way ahead of the Barbecook in this category.

ease of use: Use of a chimney starter is recommended for getting the Barbecook smoker going. The lit charcoal sits on a grate in the bottom of the charcoal bowl. The only air that can get to the charcoal has to come over the top of the bowl and get sucked underneath the charcoal. Once some ash builds up under the charcoal it starts to choke the fire.  If your cook is under 5 hours or so then you can resonably control the temperature in your Barbecook smoker with the top vent and some good fire tending. If you plan on doing anything longer then you will find yourself in trouble. Unfortunately the Barbecook smoker has no control of the air coming in, only the outgoing smoke on top of the unit. Not the best way to control a fire. Measuring the temperature with the built in thermometer can be a bit misleading. I have seen many reports of the thermometer being way off, 50-100°C!

The WSM also works best when used with a chimney starter. Once the charcoal is started it is pretty easy to maintain the desired temperature by only adjusting the three vents which feed air directly to the charcoal. Under the charcoal there is plenty of room for ash so during a long cook you don’t have to worry about choking your fire. Depending on the type of charcoal you use you should be able to easily get 10-12 hours burn time before needing to add more fuel. On my WSM there is no built in thermometer but on the new models there is one. According to others the thermometer is pretty accurate but could be as far off as 5°C in some cases.

overall: The Weber is hands-down a much beter smoker. It offers great quality and is easy to use. However, it is expensive enough to make you really question purchasing it. The Barbecook Smoker won’t last for years and years but it does work and it won’t hurt your wallet. With some practice and lots of patience you should be able to smoke up some good eats… but you’ll probably have to give up hopes of smoking a whole picnic or butt.

recommendation: If you know that you like smoked food and you are an outdoor cooking nut then the Weber will not disappoint. Ease of use, quality, durability, cooking capacity and flexibility will ensure years of great meals for you and your friends.

If you are not so sure that a smoker will really be something that you’ll enjoy or if you’ll only use it once a year then the Barbecook smoker could be the right choice. It won’t last forever, but if you are careful and patient you can get some good cooks out of it. For those that like to tinker with things, you could easily improve the unit with some careful thought and a trip to the hardware store. You can get inspiration for modding your Barbecook Smoker by checking out the many ECB mods, or Brinkmann mods on the net. The WSM is also prone to be modified by some die-hards, but out of the box it already works wonders.

If you are looking for a bargain and you like to work with your hands you could look into building your own smoker. Its not that difficult. Take a look at Alton Browns smoker. Or for a little more sweat and some grinding you could put together a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker).

Just remember, smoking is good for you!