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+++Enter At Your Own Risk+++ At the gentle nudging (I said gentle y'all) of a few friends, I have started these blogs in order to share my culinary goings-on and daily misadventures through my own brand of humor (ok, sarcasm). I just write about stuff! At 50, I have learned that living has gotten in the way of life - and I am going to blaze my own personal trail to fun (hopefully)! If it is feminine, great. If it is not, so much the better! Hopefully fun that does not land me in jail............

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Puff - Puff - Give aka., A Follow-Up on Smoking

Let me start by saying – OH MY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Between the eight hour brine and then smoking, the turkey breasts were great.

Now I need to recap the highlights and lowlights of my virgin smoking extravaganza. Ok, I was not smoking virgins… You know what I am talking about.

Stop laughing.

Picking up where I left off in the brining article…

What I had planned:
  • Get moving at 9am
  • Soak wood chunks and chips
  • Uncover smoker
  • Start fire in the Weber chimney
  • Dump coals in fire box and get smoker up to temp
  • Start smoking those meats
It was smoking

What really happened:   
  • Only finished brine soak at 4pm 
  • I only had 2 chunks of fruit wood to smoke. Not nearly enough. 
  • Had to google how to start fire in Weber Chimney 
  • Had to raid one of those outdoor ‘property for rent paper’ boxes for newspaper 
  • It took 4 tries to get coals fired properly 
  • The grill had not been cleaned from its maiden voyage last month so it was growing things 
  • I could not get the grill up to temp so I had to start another load of charcoal (which went easily I might add) 
  • I had to drop charcoal and chips on the fire every 20 minutes to keep heat up.
Chimney Fire

What I learned: 
  • I need more charcoal 
  • I need more wood chunks 
  • I need to have a store of newspaper handy 
Proof that the fire made it to the firebox

The meats:
  • The slab of bacon was a waste of energy. It did not add much to it.
  • The bologna is always good smoked. I have a small line of people waiting for the next smoking event. 
  • The turkeys turned out great, but there was a surprising event. I wrapped one in aluminum foil and left one exposed. The assumption was the wrapped one would be juicier and slightly less intense. What I got was a dryer and more “well done” breast from the aluminum wrapping and a super juicy breast out of the one that was left exposed in the smoker. After talking to a friend who is well versed in smoking meats, I learned that he was not surprised that the wrapped one cooked faster because the foil and heat cause the breast to sort of steam itself. However, he was surprised that the exposed breast was juicier. He stated that meant I had the temp just right and the breast crusted over and sealed in the juices. Pretty funny since I was SUPPOSED to have the smoker at a constant 250°F but could barely keep it at even 200°F. 
Bottom line:
I will do this again – WITH a cohort in crime. The outcome was well worth the work, but isn’t it always more fun to have a smoking buddy?  Just say'n...

And I did not take a photo of the finished product... Doh..

My grubby hands

Monday, November 28, 2011

What I learned from Brine Time in Tennessee… aka, If there is no light in the fridge, is the turkey really brining?

The best plans can go awry – this scenario was slightly complicated by the fact that I had planned on ‘smoking’ the turkey breasts once they were brined for 8 hours. The smoking process is fairly involved for one person to do – as a super novice. Read is “first time smoker alone”.

Here is a blow-by-blow
My Original Plan Was:
  • Get off work at 12:30PM because that is when my work traditionally sends us home the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
  • Feed the dogs so I do not have to do that after dark – thus lessening the chances for screaming “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.
  • Throw all the ingredients together in a pot and bring to a boil so it can be cooling.
  • Head out to my mom’s for my family’s traditional “day before Thanksgiving” meal.
  • Upon arriving home after Thanksgiving-eve dinner – I would rinse the turkey breasts, toss them into the food grade bucket – pour the brine and ice in and go to bed. Let the dark of night do the work.
I did not get off work until 4:15

New Plan:
  • Gather the ingredients together, loaded the water with the cloves, peppercorns, salt and sugar then brought the start of the brine to a boil.  
  • Feed and water the dogs without incident. 
  • Boil then cool the brine solution.
  • Head to mom’s. 

What Happened:
Came back and realized that if I put the turkey in the brine at 9pm, I would have to be up rinsing it by 5AM. NOT happening.

New Plan Part Deux:
  • Set my alarm for 2AM thinking I will get up – set the brine bucket up and get up at 9AM to start smoking the meat. 
  • Go to eat supper at mom’s. 
  • Rinse and start smoking. 
What happened:
  • Slept through alarm. 
  • Woke up at 8AM, panicked

Plan Part Trois - The Final Destination: 
  • Started brining at 8AM 
  • Called mom – went to eat lunch instead of supper - allowing brine to work. 
  • Came back after 8 hours and rinsed the turkey breasts. 
  • Started the smoking process (another blog entry).

Decision on Brining:

The meat was tasty and moist. I would not say juicy – but definitely not dry.
The best Turkey I have cooked – and I bought CHEAP BREASTS ($1 hooker breasts, not Playboy model breasts) so this is a huge deal – so to speak.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Smoke that Bird aka., Let Them Eat Meat…

So I was torn as to whether I should post this here or on my “This Gal’s Fishing Adventure” blog. This will be an adventure for sure so should qualify for either blog! Just say’n…

Smoking has been used to preserve red-meats and fish for a long time. I cannot tell you how far back in history smoking goes (and am too lazy to look it up today), but I do remember my GrandPa Garrett smoking meats in a little smoke house at the farm. I wish I had a photo of it for this blog entry.

Apparently absorbed smoke acts as a preservative while adding awesome flavor to the meats.

Now that I have successfully brined pork chops and was successful in smoking several meats (with a partner), I have decided to smoke a whole, bone-in turkey breast. Well, 2 actually. And as to not waste smoker space, I am throwing on 2 each Lay’s Three Little Pigs cracker bolognas and a pound of Lay’s Three Little Pigs thick sliced bacon to smoke from Food City.

There is an art and science to smoking meats and I will NOT cover that because I am so below a ‘smoking novice’ – it isn’t funny. It is my understanding that the following affect flavor intensity, flavor type, and product outcome:
  • Various hardwoods used
  • Various combinations of woods
  • Smoking with one wood and ‘finishing’ with another
  • Type of charcoal
  • Smoker equipment
  • Grade/quality of meats used
  • Herbs and spices (that one is a given)
I assume pre-prep of meat will affect product outcome as well.  

The tough part of smoking any meats is the patience factor. Smoking is a slow going process that requires extended periods of time at temperatures appropriate for the meat being smoked.

In my little solo adventure here, I will use the following general items and give specifics tomorrow:
  • Brined fresh turkey breasts
  • Whatever spices, that I find in my cupboard, to use as a rub
  • One of the smoking woods I have stashed in the garage (assuming the mice have not carried it off)
  • Charcoal 
In my research on this smoking business, I have found the following instructions:
  • Exhibit patience.
  • Heat smoker to a holding temp of 250°F.
  • Buy a better turkey, but a small one. It is better to smoke smaller ones than larger ones.
  • Turkey breasts are better for smoking as you run less risk of drying the meat out.
  • Vertical wet-pan smokers are preferred in this adventure. I have a horizontal smoker with a side fire box. I will add a pan of water to impart moisture however.
  • Get the best charcoal you can buy. Real charcoal if possible. Kingsford Briquettes if not.
  • Never buy “instant light” briquettes. I have Green Egg Charcoal. THAT was expensive.
  • Fruit woods are best with poultry/turkey when smoking.
  • Never use ‘soft woods’ when smoking as many of those are toxic to humans.
  • Use an grill/oven thermometer. OK, mine came with my “$149 on sale at Tractor Supply” smoker. It isn’t quality, but I am going with it. 
  • I have to pick up a new instant read probe thermometer for the turkey. My el’cheap’o died making cannoli.
  • Insulated food gloves are a help, but since I don’t have them and am only doing small breasts, (stop laughing) I will not purchase this go around.
  • Chimney type charcoal starter.
Smoking the turkey is supposed to be enough when it comes to flavor (I am brining so that will help) but you can add a rub over and under the skin and in the cavity. Suggested spices:
• Salt (Kosher preferred)
• Paprika (Hungarian much preferred for best flavor)
• Pepper, black (fresh ground!)
• Chili powder
• Garlic, granulate or powder
• Onion powder
• Cayenne pepper
• Basil
• Poultry seasoning

Prep that Sucker, I Mean Turkey…
  • Start with a thoroughly thawed whole turkey/chicken or turkey breast.  
  • Apply rub under and over skin and inside if you want that extra flavor. Do this at least a few hours to up to 3 days ahead of smoking time. Yea, I don’t have that time now… 
  • Keep turkey at 40°F or below until ready to smoke it. 

While turkey is resting after its obscene rub-down…  
  • Soak about 3-4 c of dry chips/chunks of fruit wood for 30 minutes or so. 
  • Fill your pan in the smoke chamber with water (within an inch of top). I would use one of those throw-away aluminum pans so as to not ruin a good baking pan. 
  • Fire up your charcoal, but do not use petroleum based starter because it will cause a nasty taste in the meats.
  • I am supposed to leave the upper vent wide open and use only the lower vents for controlling heat. We will see how that works out.  
Fire Up the Smoker…

Drain wood and place directly on the hot coals once the inside of the smoker has reached 250°F. This is supposed to be enough for the whole process, even if you add coals. Apparently too much smoke = bitter meat.

Turkey placement options:
  • Directly on the rack 
  • On a baking sheet

Avoid placing IN a roasting pan as that has a tendency to steam the meat. You can place a pan underneath to catch the juices for making gravy later. Add a cup or 2 of water to that puppy.

General Rules:
  • Resist the urge to peek inside over and over. This will cause the temp to fluctuate too much for a bird. 
  • Allow 20-30 minutes per pound of bird for this recipe.
  • Use the meat thermometer to check temp. Thigh internal temp should read 165°F and the breast internal temperature should read 170°F. 
  • Let that bird rest for 15-20 minutes after its smoky spa treatment before carving up and serving. 

Why am I writing all this down?  So I can commit as much to memory as possible before hitting it!

Alrighty then, we will see how this goes tomorrow folks!

It’s Turkey Brine in Tennessee

So, as I recently discovered (this week actually), brining meats is a fabulous technique for ensuring juicy-tender noms. Now I am obsessing on this practice and simply must try this with a turkey. This will be a first. One of several firsts to occur over this holiday.
  1. Brining a turkey
  2. Smoking a turkey
  3. Smoking anything without assistance
  4. Making a Thanksgiving meal that I will probably not share with anyone

I am going to submit this ‘pre-brining’ blog now, so I only have to update how it went after I am done. After all, it is a holiday – and I have my Christmas dress to get sewn together!

Brine for poultry 

As with brining pork, brining chicking, poultry and turkey adds moisture and flavor to meat before cooking so it is juicy, tender and yum after cooking. I figure to smoke a turkey breast, I need to add a lot of moisture. The brining technique will work with a whole turkey, whole chicken or a turkey breast.

Brining solutions start with salt dissolved in water. For me, I am going to add sugar and spices as well. I want F L A V O R !

Note: Start brine solution itself early enough to boil it, remove from heat and chill prior to submersing turkey in it for soaking. Brine solution needs to be at 40°F degrees or lower otherwise it is a haven for growing bacteria (“Food Temperature Danger Zone” is 41°F and 140°F where bacteria thrives). NEVER start brining in room temperature water.

*When thawing a frozen turkey, the preferred method is to place it (still wrapped) in the refrigerator on a deep platter or pan to catch any liquids that might leak out. Allow 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. I suggest when you are buying a turkey, you make sure that it will:

a) Fit in your freezer
b) Fit in your refrigerator

Close to the end of the thawing time you can remove the giblets (heart, liver, gizzard, and neck) from the chest cavity to either dispose of - or cook and add to giblet gravy!

Note: You will need to make sure you have a non-reactive container or food grade clean bucket large enough to hold the turkey/poultry and brine solution to cover meat completely.

Time:  Allow 8.5 hours for soaking and prep. Time needed to cool the brine solution prior to adding ice will vary. Yes, this means I have no clue because I have not done this type of brining before. I did not boil the solution for the pork chops...


Fresh or thoroughly thawed turkey*
1 Gallon water (must cover meat)
1.5c sea/Kosher salt
.5c sugar
1T whole black peppercorns
1T whole allspice
8c Ice


Combine water, salt, sugar, peppercorns and allspice in large stockpot. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar while heating to a boil over fairly high heat.

Remove from heat and cool the brine solution completely.

Add ice to solution along with turkey, place in the refrigerator and allow to soak 8 hours. Make sure ALL of the meat is under water. Weigh it down if you must.

Makes 1½ gallons (after adding the ice) of brine.

Once you are done soaking/brining the meat – remove it from brine solution, rinse inside and out. Prepare to cook however you wish.

Dispose of brine solution.

For me – this takes me to my smoking adventure.

Puff puff give...

Puff puff give...


Monday, November 21, 2011

Brining Pork Chops - or - Taking a Salt Bath

So, for years I made DrY pork chops. I was NOT proud of my ability in cooking them, AT ALL. This weekend I got a wild hair and decided to thaw some pork chops I had frozen and cook them up. Sunday morning I suddenly though – why don’t I brine them and smoke them on the smoker. The upside of smoking pork chops (in my limited experience) is it lends magnificent flavor to the meat. The downside is it dries a dry meat further.

Enter “BRINING” as a tool towards moist, juicy meats.

Brining any meat apparently adds a significant amount of moister/water before the meat is cooked. This gives us a juicier and tenderer end-product. Basically it takes LONGER to cook the water/juices out when there is more water in the meat. Brining adds that water.

Now, as far as it working on “any” meat – I do not know. I have only tried it on pork chops. However, I am feeling rather “special” right now – after my “Porking” success and have decided I WILL brine a small turkey and SMOKE it for Thanksgiving. A nice little treat since I am spending the bulk of the holiday alone again this year. More on that later!

In my reading, the basic brine solution is 1 cup of regular table salt to 1 gallon of water (=1 Tb per 1 cup of water). This is not an overly salt-laden solution so it will be harder to “over-brine” with it. Over brining (adding too much salt to the meat) cannot be undone. The solutions should be salty to taste but not thick. If you use kosher/coarse or sea salt, you will want to go with 1.5 cups per gallon water. The weight by volume is less.

I suggest, for your first try at brining, err on the side of caution and go with less time. Under-brining will not hurt anything. I cannot emphasize enough that over brining (due to longer soaking time or higher salt content) will ruin the meat. There is no way to undo the damage.

• Pork Chops (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick) - 12 to 24 hours
• Whole Pork Tenderloin - 12 hours
• Whole Pork Loin - 2 days

Brining times are not only determined by the weight and thickness of meat but also by the grain of the meat. Pork tenderloin takes less time to brine by weight than do pork chops because the long running grain pulls the brine into the meat.

Now, there are many seasoning options to add to the brine solution. A sweetener being a good idea. Sugar (white/brown), molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, or honey. A good rule of thumb is to add a ½ cup of sweetener per gallon of brine solution.

• When preparing to brine, make sure you pick a container that can handle the meat size and the liquid.
• Make sure you submerge the meat completely. The brining solution only needs to just cover the meat.
• You must refrigerate the meat during brining – OR – pack ice/ice-packs around the meat in a cooler.

Other seasonings can be added from any recipe or for any taste YOU desire. Herbs, peppers, spices garlic and onions will add flavor to pork. Try not to overpower the flavor of the pork. This will take a little practice. Garlic and onions should be minced or chopped to expose the maximum amount of surface area to the brine solution.

***Note: I went with ¼ salt and a ¼ c sugar to 4 cups water, but I will try to go with the 1 Tb salt and 1/2Tb sugar per cup water option next time.

Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops

This is the first time, in my cooking "career", that I made pork chops which I felt were worth eating.  Yes, I have cooked pork chops many times, but they were merely edible. They made a good T.....  Ok, never mind.

I highly suggest you think ahead on this one and brine the pork chops 12-24 hours. I had never made a decent moist pork chop until I brined mine for a paltry 6 hours and it made a HUGE difference in how moist/dry the chops turned out. I cannot imagine what 12 hours in brine would have produced! These pork chops were moist, fairly tender and very tasty using the brine method and the below recipe. I will post the brine recipe as well.
Note: I used 1” thick cut bone-out pork chops and had to add to the cooking time.


• 2 large eggs

• 1 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs (can be regular bread crumbs)

• 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan (I used shaky cheese)

• 4 (1/2 to 3/4-inch thick) center-cut pork loin chops (each about 10 to 12 ounces)

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 6 tablespoons olive oil (or you can use bacon drippings)

• Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions (assuming not brining or after brining is complete)

Preheat 3 tablespoons of oil in a very large skillet over medium heat.

Whisk the eggs and pour into a pie or soup plate. (These plates have higher sides than regular plates to keep contents inside, but a flat bottom unlike a bowl so meat sits flat on contents to aid in complete coating).

Pour the bread crumbs in another pie or soup plate.

Sprinkle the cheese in a third pie or soup plate.

Sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper (to your liking).

Coat the chops completely with the cheese, patting to adhere. If the cheese coating is too thick, it will keep the egg from sticking in the below next step. This part isn’t that big a deal and you will settle into what works best for you on this issue.

Dip the chops into the eggs.

Coat chops completely with the bread crumbs, patting to adhere.

Add pork chops in skillet, in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown and the center reaches 150 degrees, about 6 minutes per side. You may wish to cut into a chop to make sure it is cooked to your liking – especially if you do not have a meat thermometer.

Transfer the chops to plates and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: Lemon wedges add tangy flavor without adding salt after the fact.

I actually used 6 each 1" chops and had plenty of egg left over.  Feel free to add chops to this recipe and still not be required to crack another egg.

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