Cowboy Pintos

So, have ya’ll missed me? I’ve sure missed you. Owning a restaurant can, and does, consume your life and time. Smokin’ Will’s opened May 6th and started selling BBQ on June 13th. Right now we have Brisket, Pulled Pork, and Smoked Chicken Breast sandwiches and salads with your choice of meat and dressing. We’ll be adding a Texas Sausage, Baby Back and St Louis cut ribs, and whole Smoked Chicken soon.

We’re also adding sides to the menu. We’ve added coleslaw, sweet potato fries, and Cowboy Pintos. We’ll be adding potato salad soon and might be adding corn bread. We’ve kept french fries and all the possible combinations like cheese fries or chili fries.

What I want to talk about right now is Cowboy Pintos. The beans, not the horse or the car. Okay, so ya’ll get the horse, right? But, car, Will? Huh? Remember the Ford Pinto? It was an underpowered, but somewhat sporty compact from Ford, trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Mustang. They made lots of ’em. Okay, so what does this have to do with Cowboy Pintos, you ask? Well, just like Ford, we make Pintos, Cowboy Pintos, and we make a lot of them. And like the Ford, our Pintos are sporty and have some zip.

Honestly, when we started adding BBQ to our menu, I couldn’t wait to add these beans. They belong with BBQ. When I think of the perfect BBQ meal, I think of Brisket or Pulled Pork on a good bun, creamy coleslaw or potato salad, and beans. Beans show up everywhere with BBQ.

There are tons of bean recipes out there. Some use kidney beans, black beans, white beans, and combinations of the above. There are many styles of beans, as well. We call ours Cowboy Pintos, because they’re very simple and very much like the mess of beans you might have been served on a cattle drive. Simple and filling, with lots of flavor, and not like any other beans you’ll find out there.

Now, some of you love beans but they don’t love you. You know who you are and you know what I mean. Well, our beans don’t produce much of that infamous side effect because we know how to cook them properly. Beans contain oligosaccrides, very complex sugars that don’t break down very well until they hit your large intestine, where bacteria break them down, producing, as a by-product, gas. There are commercial products that can be ingested with beans to counter the gas, but the best, and simplest way is to cook them properly in the first place.

To cook beans properly is very simple: put beans in a large container with water to cover by 4 inches , soak over night in the refrigerator. Pour water off and add as much water as recipe calls for. The important thing to remember is to pour off the water you soaked them in. That water contains a very large percentage of the oligosaccrides and you sure don’t want to use it to cook in.

Cowboy Pintos


1 lb dried Pinto beans, soaked overnight and then drained

8 cups cold water

12 oz Dr. Pepper (okay so on a trail drive this would be molasses, but I love Dr. Pepper)

14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 medium onions, chopped

4-5 slices thick cut, smokey bacon, chopped

3 Tbsp Chili Powder

2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tbsp Ground Cumin

4 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 fresh serranos or jalapenos, or combination, chopped

Burnt-ends of Brisket (that wonderful, dark, crunchy part of the brisket with so much smokey/beefy flavor) to taste

Salt to taste


Soak beans over night in the refrigerator. Drain beans and discard water

Add everything but salt to pot, heat to boil, reduce to simmer. Reduce until thickened, but still soupy, adding salt toward end of cooking time.

These beans are great right out of the pot the first day, but for the best results cool them overnight and reheat the next day. You’ll be glad you did, since all the flavors combine and meld together overnight. They’re a perfect accompaniment to your summer grilling or any time of year. Easy to make and great tasting. Or, perhaps you want these Cowboy Pintos but don’t want to go through the hassle. Come on over to Smokin’ Will’s, we’ve usually got a pot of these ready to go.


Carolina Style Mustard BBQ Sauce

Let me see some hands! Who’s ever had Pulled Pork in South Carolina, or parts of Georgia? Okay, raise those hands high! So those of you who did, what’s the most distinctive difference between Carolina Pulled Pork and everywhere else? You! Way in the back! Speak up I can’t hear you. What? Bingo!!! That’s right, South Carolina and parts Georgia use a yellow mustard based BBQ sauce.

Mustard based BBQ sauces were developed by German immigrants who came to the region in the 18th Century. They were used to that type sauce back in Germany, so they brought it with them. Well, everyone in that part of the country cooks a lot of pork. I mean a lot of pork. And those German immigrants combined their mustard sauces with the pulled pork and an amazing transformation occurred! That smoke cooked pork, already an amazing taste treat by itself, moved up to an alternate plane of existence! The bite of the mustard and the fruitiness of the apple cider vinegar combined to make an awesome sauce that made the pork shine like gold, okay the yellow mustard accounts for the gold color, but it still shines!

Our sauce is based on several recipes. I couldn’t find one I really liked, so I combined two. It’s sweet, tangy, and has a bit of a bite to it. This stuff was designed specifically for Pulled Pork, but is pretty good on anything you would put mustard on. We have people who put it on hot dogs and rave about it. There is also a growing number that dip their french fries in it. But, seriously, it doesn’t matter what you put on, it’s just plain good!

Caroline Style Mustard BBQ Sauce

Makes 2 cups

1 cup yellow mustard, any inexpensive yellow mustard will work

¼ cup honey

¼ cup dark brown sugar

¼ cup apple cider  vinegar

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

¼ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Combine everything in a sauce pan large enough to hold it. Whisk everything together until well combined and put on heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 10 minutes or until reduced by 25%. Cool, bottle in a squeeze bottle, and refrigerate. Avoid the temptation to use it for 24 hours, so the flavors can blend together.

If the sauce sounds like something you want to try, but you don’t want to make it yourself, come on in and you can put it on anything on our menu!

Smokin’ Will’s

821 N Roselle Road

Roselle, IL 60172

Phone – (630) 980-2333

Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

So, today we added Pulled Pork sandwiches to our menu here at Smokin’ Will’s. Wait! What? What’s Smokin’ Will’s? Where’s Smokin’ Will’s? Why am I just hearing about Smokin’ Will’s now?

Smokin’ Will’s is a hybrid Hot Dog Joint/BBQ Shack. We’ve only owned the place since May 6, 2011 and we’ve been feeling our way about, since. Smokin’ Will’s is the start of fulfilling my dream to serve BBQ to the masses! Hear that, masses? I expect you all to be lining up in long lines to just get a whiff of the BBQ! You’re just hearing about it now because things are starting to fall into place for us. We have  Facebook page (Smokin’ Will’s. Go ahead & push like. You know you want to) and a website soon to follow. Tee-shirts have been designed and a menu is being written to incorporate the BBQ to the Hot Dog menu. It’ll be completed shortly.

Okay, back to the Pulled Pork sandwich special.  You get a large Pulled Pork sandwich, large fries and large soda for $7.49. Very good price, if you check around, and it’s a good sandwich (modesty keeps me from telling you that it’s AWESOME). I’ll tell you how to cook the pork later because I want to tell you how to make the sauce. This is really good sauce. It’s sweet, smokey, thick, and spicy. And it’s made right here at Smokin’ Will’s!

There are several types of BBQ sauce that work well with pulled pork: Golden Mustard style (made with, you guessed it, yellow mustard), Vinegar based, and Kansas City style.

Odds are that if you like real BBQ, then the sauce you’ve put on your Q has been a Kansas City (henceforth simply KC) style sauce. Do you like KC Masterpiece? How about Sweetbaby Ray’s? Ever eat at Famous Dave’s? If you like those sauces then you like KC style sauces. They are, by far, the most popular type of sauce. You can go to the store and pick up a bottle of KC style sauce cheap, but you’re reading this because cheap and easy isn’t really fun, is it?

You’ll need to assemble some spices and a nice sauce pot to make this lovely stuff. The ingredient list is below:

Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

2 cup ketchup

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons molasses

4 tablespoons dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon minced onions

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pot large enough to hold them. Put on heat and cook until reduced by 1/3. Cool and refrigerate before using.

There, wasn’t that simple? The only thing that’s more simple than that is driving over to Smokin’ Will’s, where the sauce is already made and there’s pulled pork to put it on!

Southern Bar-B-Que where?

Approximately 460 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line (which while it was 1st surveyed between 1763-1767 and was used as the border separating Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and W. Virginia, was also used as the dividing line between Slave holding and Free states under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it is now seen as the line  dividing Yankee culture and Southern Culture) lies the little village of Egg Harbor, WI. The town has 250 permanent  residents and quite a few restaurants. It’s also where my wife and I have been staying since Saturday, November 22. As I’ve said, Egg Harbor is home to a number of restaurants. The one I want to tell you about is Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse.

Now, Casey’s is one of the places I’ve had my sights set on since we arrived here. I love Bar-B-Que! Almost nothing I’d rather eat, in fact. Okay, the real truth is that if you cut me I bleed BBQ sauce. I love BBQ so much that i went to a classic French culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago) to help me make better BBQ. BBQ and the side dishes that go with it is what I enjoy cooking the most. I don’t own a Backyard Grill, I own a Treager pellet fed Smoker. It’s just a notch below commercial quality; it smokes as low as 160 F and when it’s cranked up high will approach 500 F. So it’ll grill and smoke.

There has been a great amount written about the origins of BBQ and I won’t repeat it here. If you are curious about it just Google BBQ and you’ll come up with 40 million + hits. That’s right, 40,000,000 hits. That’s a lot no matter how you count it. So, I won’t go into history and origins. I will, however, go into a short definition of BBQ. BBQ is a technique of cooking meats at a low temperature (200-275 F) for a long time. Low and slow, as we like to say. But that’s not all there is to it. There needs to be wood smoke added to the cooking environment. Lots of smoke. In fact the best BBQ is cooked over wood burning “pits”. A wood burning pit is nothing more than a contained cooking chamber that is heated with indirect heat and direct smoke. Complicated sounding? Well, your grill can become a pit. Cook the meat over indirect heat (your owner’s manual will show you how) and put a small fireproof container over the direct heat, fill it with wood chips, sawdust, or chunks. Oh, right! Remember to only use hardwoods like Oak, Maple, Apple, or Hickory, cause softwoods like pine will give the meat a resinous taste. Anyway, set your grill for low heat and check it to make sure it doesn’t get above 275 F.  Simple. And there are many good books or websites that’ll tell you how to BBQ.

In the grand world of BBQ the beef brisket is King. Brisket is the cut of meat on the cow that is in-between the two front legs. You know, that pointy bit right there in front. Anyway, brisket is a very well used muscle. And usage/exercise equals tough. Real tough. As a matter of fact the way most people eat brisket is in corned beef. That’s right, that pinkish red meat that’s so good sliced thin and put on rye bread with some good mustard, or that’s boiled with potatoes and cabbage for St. Paddy’s day. The object of cooking or corning (which refers to curing the brisket in a spicy brine for days) is to make the brisket tender. Brining then boiling makes it tender. So does cooking it with wood smoke at a low temp for a long time. The best BBQ cooks will set their smokers for 225 F and put the brisket in. They cook brisket for 1-1.5 hours per pound. So, the average brisket weights in at around 8 lbs. So that brisket should cook at least 8 ours and at best around 12 hours. That’s only part of why brisket is so difficult to cook properly.

Brisket isn’t just tough, it’s also fatty. Part of the reason for cooking brisket low and slow is because of that fat. Brisket has a large cap of fat on top and layers of fat through out. Now, fat is for some people the enemy. If you like good BBQ Brisket, however, fat is your friend. See cooking the meat for that long tends to dry it out, and the fat dripping through it keeps it nice and moist. So while you can trim some of that fat cap off, don’t trim it all off. Another thing that helps tenderize the brisket is a good rub. A rub is a mixture of salt and spices that gives the brisket some additional flavor aside from smoke. The rub also does something else; see, you put the rub on the brisket at least 12 hours before starting to smoke it. And since one of the largest components of the rub is salt you start to cure the meat before it even gets a hint of smoke. Remember that corned beef is brisket that’s sat in a salt brine for many days. Well, that 12 hours of curing with the rub helps start the tenderizing process.

Well, thanks, Will, for the lesson on BBQ, but you were going to tell us about Casey’s BBQ and Smokehouse. Oh, yeah, right! I guess I got carried away about brisket. It does that to me. Back to Casey’s! Casey’s is a typical Wisconsin “supper club”, for those of you who know what that means. It’s a bar with stools around the bar, video poker machines around the walls, hightop tables with stools at the front windows, and a dining room that’s only open for dinner. This is the northern variation on the southern BBQ shack.

We walked in at 1:15 PM, slightly after lunch for most places and there was only one other person in the place aside from the bartender. We sat at the middle of 3 hightops at the front windows and the bartender gave us our menus and took drink orders. So I’m looking at the menu at all the BBQ available: brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken, and prime rib to name a few. You could get any of them as a sandwich, served on either a kaiser roll or Texas toast, or as a plate. The difference is the number of sides you get with the meal. Sandwiches come with coleslaw, pickles, and potato chips with a side added for $3.00. The plate comes with the chips, coleslaw, pickle spear, and choice of 2 sides. Choice of sides included red beans and rice (which I got), pork & beans, french fries, mac & cheese, and sweet potato fries (which Margaret got). I know I’m getting the brisket and Margaret decides to get the pulled pork (another tough cut of meat that also cooks for hours).

Short wait and the food comes. So, the first thing I do is look at both plates. Everything looks good! Nice pink smoke ring around the brisket, the beans and rice look good. And Margaret has a mound of pulled pork and sweet potato fries large enough to choke a pig!

Casey's Beef Brisket Sandwich & sides

Casey's pulled Pork sandwich

I cut a piece off the brisket and tasted it without any sauce, cause I figure good brisket can stand out without sauce. Same thing with pulled pork. So I taste both of them nekked (that’s how they say naked down south). I mean without sauce, not without my clothes on! I pronounce them very good. Then I slather some of their homemade sauce on the brisket. The sauce adds to the flavor and doesn’t overpower. See, I don’t care what that Ray fellow says, the meat is the Boss! The sauce is just there to bring out some “hidden” flavors. That guy Ray has 2 stores near where I live and he’s living of the flavor of the sauce and not the meat. Top it all off, the red beans & rice taste great and the coleslaw is good, as well. The pickle spear is crisp, garlickey, and a little sweet. This was a 4 napkin meal! The sauce dripping off the sandwich, the juice from the pickle spear. Everything was very good. Oh, and Margaret’s pulled pork was outstanding with the sauce. And the sweet potato fries were good, even cold.

It’s irritating for me! I had to drive 5 hours north of my house into Door County, WI to get good BBQ. Like I say, there are 2 of Ray’s places within 30 minute of my house, there’s a guy who thinks he’s famous about 10 minutes away, and then there’s a new place that I’ve already talked about. Four BBQ places within 30 minutes of my house and the best BBQ I’ve had in a while is 5 hours north.

If you’re up in Door County you owe it to yourself to stop in to Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse. You won’t be disappointed!

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 12:57 am  Comments (1)  

Cracklin Cornbread

I love cornbread! Well, I love really good cornbread! Bad cornbread isn’t fit for anything. I’d rather not have any cornbread than bad cornbread. You know what I’m talking about: cakey, pale yellow (a sign of too little corn meal), dry and crumbly, and flat tasting.The bad cornbread seems to be much more prevalent than the good stuff. I’m not sure why, cause cornbread was once quite the staple in most home cooks bag of tricks. It has everything going for it: it’s cheap to make, when it’s made correctly it tastes great, it goes with quite a few dishes like chili or beans and rice, or my favorite, Bar-B-Que! It’s also very easy to make and it doesn’t take long to make or bake. So, like I said, great little quick bread in the old bag of tricks! It was, that is, until people got lazy. They started using mixes for cornbread. Most of the box mixes produce something on the wrong side of tasty. They’re flat tasting. There is something missing from them that no amount of fiddling can cure. The exception to this seems to be Jiffy mix. This produces, right out of the box, an acceptable cornbread. Nothing to write home about, to be sure, but not bad. I must confess that when I want cornbread quick I turn to Jiffy mix. Oh, and as a base to start from it works very well. You can tweak this stuff and it’ll come out better. Jiffy mix is almost always on the shelf in my pantry.

This blog, however, isn’t about Jiffy mix. It’s about scratch made cornbread. Made the old-fashioned way: in a cast-iron skillet! Oh, yeah! And if you look closely at the name of this recipe it’s Cracklin Cornbread. Oh, yeah!! Cracklins! Oh, wait! Most of you aren’t steeped in southern cooking culture and so might not know what cracklins are. Southern cooking uses lard in quite a few recipes. Actually, cooks in general used lard in many places before the fat police declared lard bad. Lard, or rendered pig fat, is truly amazing! Do you want the flakey-ist pie dough? Use lard. Want the tenderest biscuits  possible? Use lard! Fried eggs, either sunnyside up or over benefit from cooking in lard. Lard, unlike bacon grease, has a very delicate flavor. So delicate, in fact that some of the best cake frosting used lard.

Okay, you ask, what does lard really have to do with anything? Well, cracklins are whats left over after you render lard. The best fat for lard lies under the skin. So, to render out the lard you cut the fat and skin into fairly small pieces, put them in a heavy pot, turn the heat up, and watch the fat melt off the skin. And you do need to watch it as you don’t want the lard and cracklins to burn.  Now, I know most of you aren’t going to render out your own lard and so aren’t going to have homemade cracklins. I don’t even do that. Well, not very often, anyway. It’s just a lot of trouble. So, Will, what do you use for cracklins for your Cracklin Cornbread? The very next best thing! Right, bacon. Bacon is made from the pork belly, usually has a high fat to meat ratio, and tastes great.  So in our recipe we will use bacon grease and crispy fried bacon pieces.

So, are you ready to tackle Cracklin Cornbread? I was this morning. I made 2 different types of cornbread to have friends evaluate for me. This recipe won. Hands down. Okay, so here it is:

Cracklin Cornbread


6 slices thick cut bacon, chopped into small pieces

1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal, stone ground if you can get it

1/2 cup AP (all-purpose) flour

3 tbsp granulated sugar, or more depending how sweet you like your cornbread

1 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups buttermilk, or 1 3/4 cups for  wetter corn bread

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

leftover bacon grease from cooking bacon


1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees

2. In a cast-iron skillet fry bacon over medium-low heat until very crisp. Using a slotted spoon set bacon aside to drain. Remove all grease but 3 tbsp, or enough to cover the bottom. Keep the skillet warm.

3. In a mixing bowl, stir all of the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk and beaten eggs and mix by hand (I use a fork for this) until lightly blended. Stir in bacon pieces and melted butter. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. There will be some lumps, that’s okay.

4. Pour batter into skillet and put into oven. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cornbread’s edges are brown and the top is golden. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come clean. Serve warm.

So, that’ll make up some great cornbread. Feel free to fiddle with it as much as you like. Add a cup of kernel corn. Or dice fine some jalapenos (I like the ones pickled in brine, but you could use fresh) and make that cornbread zippy. Leave out the bacon. Dice up red bell peppers and mix them in. The possibilities and variations are really only limited by your imagination. Oh, and it’ll work as a side dish for any number of entrees. Again, limited by your own imagination!

Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Blowing Smoke Rings!

This morning(Tuesday 8, September) I had a very important errand to run. I needed to have my knives sharpened. This is a big deal, cause without sharp knives it becomes difficult for me to earn my living. Chefs live and die by their knives. Figuratively speaking, hopefully!

Anyway, I take my knives down to 810 Lake Street, Chicago. Home to Northwest Cutlery. They will sharpen knives for a reasonable price ($3.00 each) and after having sharpened them myself all of July and August, it was time to have them done by the pros.

I get there via the Eisenhower, which, as we all know, ids under construction. So I waited until 9:30 to head out, thinking traffic would be better, which it was. Knives sharpened and back home around 1:15. Hungry, cause I only had a piece of bread for breakfast. And I remembered being told about a new Bar-B-Que place that opened close by.

So I went to check it out. You know I can’t resist good Bar-B-Que. I also wanted to check out how they did their Q.

The name of the place is Hickory River, and I found out that it is a small franchise, having 6 locations. One is in Ohio and the rest are in Illinois. Very interesting, since they call themselves “Real Texas Barbecue”. For those of you familiar with the Roselle/Bloomingdale/Glendale Hgts. area, it’s in the old Baker’s Square building at Bloomingdale Rd and Army Trail. This is about 3.3 miles or 10 minutes away from me, and I thought if the Bar-B-Que was any good it would be very nice.

So, in I go and 1st thing I notice is they have narrowed the doorway and closed things in. Okay, no big deal, just looks weird. Anyway, I walk in and it’s set up to go up, order and pay for your food and pick it up. Then you find a seat. No problem, I just wonder where they learned traffic flow. See, you walk in and right in front of you is the carryout pickup window. You walk 25 feet to your right, place your order & pay for it, then walk back to the left to pick up your food. Awkward and backwards. The menu is up on the wall above the cash register and is fairly extensive, and different from most Bar-B-Que places I been to. It has Brisket, Pulled Pork, and Baby Back Ribs. It also has Pork Loin, Country Ham, Low Fat Turkey, Chicken, and Polish Sausage. Typical Texas Bar-B-Que? Right. Usual sides, with cottage cheese thrown in. Cottage cheese? Really? Texas Bar-B-Que?

I order the Sliced brisket plate, which comes with 2 sides and cornbread. I order the ranch beans and the coleslaw. I walk to the left to pick up my food and find a seat. Food comes on a plastic tray, with a real dish for the brisket, and real knife and fork. The beans and slaw come in little plastic cups. No cornbread. They’re out of cornbread. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon. Still lunch time. They’re out of cornbread. Okay, I take a good look at the rest of my meal. The brisket is a nice color and has a great looking smoke ring (that pink ring of meat that occurs during smoking, the only way to tell if the meat has really been smoked or just had liquid smoke added to it). They have put quite a bit of sauce on the brisket. Okay, I should have said sauce on the side, but it’s not going to ruin my lunch.

The beans are pintos and they have used some of the brisket to season it with. That’s the way to do beans in my book. The coleslaw is vinegar based and appears to be the standard bagged coleslaw mix with a vinegar dressing on it. That’s okay, I really didn’t expect hand sliced cabbage. And no cornbread. I think I mentioned that.

The taste test: I try the beans first. They aren’t too bad. Beans are sort of mushy and over cooked, but not too bad. I try the coleslaw next. I really can’t taste the vinegar much. One of the purposes of coleslaw, vinegar based especially, in my book it to cut through the rich flavors of the beans and the meat. Not too much zip to this. Just like my knives needed sharpening, the coleslaw needs sharpening up. A little vinegar.

Now I try the brisket, which is what it’s all really about. Now, if you don’t cook bar-b-que I’ll give you a quick lesson. Bar-B-Que isn’t what you do on your charcoal or propane grill. That’s grilling. High heat and fast cooking times. Bar-B-Que is all about low temperatures and long cooking times. Or, as we like to say, low and slow. Temps run from 225-250 and cooking time for a beef brisket is usually 10 hours or more, depending on the size. Brisket is tough and needs the long cooking time to make it tender. It’s also easy to dry out, even though it is a fatty piece of meat. See, the fat is primarily on top, although there is a fair amount in the meat. So, long, low heat is the ticket. Otherwise its either tough as rawhide or dry as dust. Also, a good rub needs to be applied 12-24 hours before you smoke it. The rub gives it some flavor and starts to “cure” the meat some. The salt in the rub should form a crust on the outside of the meat that keeps bacteria at bay and adds some color to the meat. The combination of the salt in the rub curing the meat and the reaction of the meat to the smoke is what produces the “smoke ring”. The deeper and more pronounced the smoke ring, the better the flavor of the brisket.

This brisket had a fairly nice smoke ring! I’m thinking to myself: self, this is going to be some pretty good brisket. I figure that if you can do brisket well you can do any Bar-B-Que well. This looks good. Not stringy or dry. So, I stick the fork into a big piece, expecting brisket heaven. What happens is the brisket sort of shatters. It breaks into chunks, small chunks. I start chasing the chunks around my plate. Finally corral some on the fork and plop it into my mouth before it breaks into any smaller pieces.

It tastes like pot roast. Pot roast, for goodness sakes! Pot roast! Now, don’t get me wrong, I love pot roast. One of my favorite meals is pot roast with potatoes and carrots. I just don’t want pot roast when I’m expecting Texas style brisket. Argh! Then all I taste after the pot roast taste is the sauce. Okay, I’m a sauce snob. I think the purpose of the sauce is to enhance the flavor of the meat, not cover it up. I have a friend who makes her own sauce, and targets it to the meat she’s cooking or eating. Not a generic sauce that goes over everything. Well, this is apparently a combination of their 2 sauces, mild and hot. It’s just sort of hot.

That’s another thing about sauce: it should have a nice flavor and not be just hot. It shouldn’t be the only thing you taste. And it should never be used to cover up the meat. It should enhance the meat’s taste. The very best brisket I’ve had hasn’t needed sauce, it was that good. Well, in this case the brisket wasn’t very good and the sauce wasn’t very good, either.

All in all a very disappointing meal. It started out with a great deal of promise, what with the nice smoke ring on the briske and the chunks of brisket in the beans. It was a great let down. Once again I’m back to only a few places whose bar-b-que I really enjoy, and none of them are close.

The smoke ring wasn’t a very good indicator of quality this time! Two thumbs down on Hickory River! maybe I should have tried that old Texas favorite: Polish Sausage, instead?

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 3:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Smoque ’em if you got ’em!

This posting was lost in space for quite some time. Sorry about the delay.

On Tuesday March 30, 2010 I took a little trip to what has been touted as the very best Bar-B-Que in the Chicago area. 40 years ago that would be saying something, even as recently as 25 years ago that would be something to really boast about. See, Chicago was home to hundreds of bar-b-que joints and everyone did things differently. Some just did ribs, either baby-backs or St. Louis cut spareribs. some did just chicken, or pulled pork sandwiches. Some did it all. Oh, and they all had amazing sides: bbq beans, coleslaw, potato salad, greens, fried okra, corn on the cob, you name it (as long as it was a southern comfort food staple) and you could find some joint selling it.

When you looked for bar-b-que, you looked on the southside of the city. Bar-b-que in Chicago was usually whipped up by African-Americans, and the Southside is where they were.

So, I took this little jaunt to This place does one thing, bar-b-que, and it does it very, very well. They’re located at the corner of Grace and Pulaski. The address is 3800 North Pulaski. Easy to get to, just Google Map it. This place has this amazing reputation among Bar-B-Que freaks as the very best in Chicago, so since BBQ is my very favorite way of cooking, I had to go.

The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is how small the place is. There are long tables pushed together so you can wind up eating with strangers, there are also some small, 2 person, tables as well (I opted for one of these). Remember I said it was small? Well it seats maybe 40 people. Maybe.

You place and pay for your order and they ask your name so they can call you when your food is ready. No PA system needed here. Just a little louder voice than normal conversational tones and everyone can hear. Well, I ordered beef brisket (perhaps the most difficult meat to Bar-B-Que properly), a Texas sausage (their hot link), coleslaw, baked beans, and fries.

Look at all that good stuff! Tastes better than it looks!

Another view of my lunch. Look at that brisket! Perfection!

Now, as some of you know I cook Bar-B-Que, like to think of it as my specialty. I also like to think my Q is pretty good. Well, after having lunch at Smoque, I have to say I have a lot to learn. The brisket was moist, with a little crunch to the outside. Great smoke ring. Cooked to perfection. The Texas sausage was spicy, but with great flavor. The baked pinto beans use the “burnt ends” of the brisket as the meat. Burnt ends, for those of you who aren’t as immersed in Bar-B-Que as I am comes from the top of the brisket. See, brisket has a thin layer of meat on top, a thick layer of fat under that, and a thick layer of meat.  Some people (me included) cook the whole brisket as is, with the top layer of meat attached. At Smoque they remove it and cook that piece by itself. And use it to season the beans. The taste it imparts to the beans is indescribable.

The coleslaw is a vinegar based, green cabbage delight. Crisp and tangy, itreally cuts through the fat of the Q, getting your mouth ready for for another bite. The fries were very good. They are fresh cut, blanched until parcooked and then cooked to a nice crispy outside and a fluffy potatoey inside.

This is one lunch I will remember for quite some time.

Other things about this place:one of the owners (there are 5) is right there walking around the little room, asking how the food is. They were very busy. As I said, they seat around 40 people, well it was a constant 40 people. Diners would leave and more would take their place. And the takeout business is just as steady. I asked the owner if it was always like this and he said it was a little slow, being Tuesday, buy yeah, usually this busy or more so.

The owner was very friendly and willing to answer all my questions. I told him I wanted to do the same type of restaurant in the suburbs, and he showed me around the kitchen. They have some awesome Southern Pride smokers that I would love to have. They run on electric but are heated by wood, they are rotisserie smokers, with swinging shelves that move around inside, giving everything a nice even exposure to all that delightful smoke. He asked me if I had read their Bar-B-Que manifesto. I said no I hadn’t. He said it was their philosopy of Baq-B-Que. It’s on their website, which is

If you get a hankering for the best Q around then Smoque is the place to o. Hey, if you’re going call me and I’ll go along with you. Or at least give you my order.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 5:27 am  Comments (2)  

Pulled Pork

Last Saturday, August 7th, I had some friends (including Little Miss Maple, aka Karen) over for pulled pork and pictures. Little Miss Maple wanted some pictures of a pulled pork sandwich with her GREAT!!!!! maple based bar-b-que sauce and carrot/fennel slaw to post on her blog. A byproduct of that was I got some great photos of my pulled pork as well.

So, after you drool over these great photos by Nate Kauffman, you can read the recipes for yourselves and produce some awesome pulled pork.

Nice Bark!!

Look at the lovely smoke ring (the pink ring just under the Bark)

Add some Baked Beans and you'll have a great meal.

Creating awesome pulled pork is really simple: select a good pork shoulder (bone-in or boneless, doesn’t matter much), cover it in a good rub (my #1 go to rub recipe follows), refrigerate, covered or in a large plastic bag, for at least 12 hours (24 is better). If you have a smoker, fire it up and get it to cooking temp of 225-250 degrees, add wood chips after smoker has  been at temp for 30 minutes or so.

While smoker is getting up to temp, remove pork from fridge and let it sit at room temp until smoker is ready. Put pork in smoker and smoke/cook for 10-14 hours, depending on size of meat. Keep smoke going for as long as you can. You are looking to develop whats known as bark (that brown/black crust composed of rub, meat juices bubbling to the surface, smoke and some char.  The pork shoulder will need to cook for 10-16 hours depending on the size.

If you don’t have a smoker and you have a grill, either propane or charcoal, the process is similar, soak wood chips in water for an hour, place in an aluminum pan, cover tightly with foil, poke holes in foil for smoke to escape, and place on coals or burner. Check every so often and replenish wood for smoke as needed.

You can also cook the pork in the oven, but you will have to baste the pork several times in at the end with liquid smoke to get that smoky flavor.

Once the pork is cooked to an internal temp of 165 degrees  (The pork shoulder will need to cook for 10-16 hours depending on the size) it is ready to pull out. Remove from heat and let sit for 30-45 minutes; just long enough for the pork to cook enough for you to use your gloved hands to pull the pork apart. You can use 2 forks if you like, but pulling with your hands gives better control. If you feel the need to chop your pork after it’s cooled go ahead, just don’t tell me, please!

The pork shoulder will need to cook for 10-16 hours depending on the size.

Okay, here’s the #1 rub recipe I use for pork:

Will’s Smokin Bar-b-que #1 Rub

3/4 cup smoked Spanish Paprika

1/4 cup freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup kosher salt or coarse grind sea salt

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 Tbsp chili powder

2 Tbsp garlic powder

2 Tbsp onion powder  (for those of you allergic to onion substitute Asafoetida Powder (available at Indian/Pakistani markets))

2 Tsp cayenne

Place everything in a bowl and stir together with a fork until mixed.

When putting rub onto meat, ware gloves as the paprika and chili powder will stain your hands red!

So, there you have it: awesome pulled pork a la Will. Simple to make, and really good eats.