Christmas Guide 2017

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Every year for the past half dozen or so I’ve either been asked to write a barbecue gift guide or to contribute to other blogs with a few of my recommendations.  This year, I thought about doing things a little differently.  Yes, I know I could just keep every item barbecue related and that would be fine, but I thought why not open up the list a bit more?  Why not just do a list of the things that I love for one reason or another, that I use often or thoroughly enjoy using when I get the chance?  Along the way maybe a better story of who I am and why I do what I do may find its way into being.  Where possible I’ve posted an Amazon link if you decide to add any of the items to your collection.  Obviously not every item will be available via Amazon, in those cases I’ve provided links to sites I trust.

Also as a full disclosure, I’ve had a part in the success of Grilla Grills.  I am proud to be apart of this team and it is one of the most rewarding barbecue relationships I have ever had.  This includes releasing a signature line of sauces and rubs with them and being closely involved in the sourcing and releasing of several accessories.  So it goes without saying that with that much involvement some of these items made this list.  This is not me trying to convince you to buy anything from Grilla, nothing on this list made the cut if it did not meet the criteria mentioned above.


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Lodge Logic Square Skillet – There are a few standards I think every kitchen needs and a classic cast iron pan is one of those things.  From making corn bread to searing steaks they are just invaluable.  This pan was on my list last year and it still is my favorite pan for just about everything.  When I bought mine I knew I’d be using it a lot so I added the silicone handle cover as well.  I wondered if I’d really think the extra $4 (pricing depends on color chosen) was worth it, and I’m glad to say it still is.  Treat cast iron pans right and you have a pan literally for a life time.  In fact one of my wedding presents from my grandmother almost 20yrs ago was a small round cast iron pan that she used for decades before passing it on to me.  There aren’t a great many things that you can buy today that you can pass on to your grandchildren when they get married, but this is one of them.


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Grizzly Coolers 60 – It’s no big secret that I’ve been on a mission for the past year to test a lot of coolers.  I’ve been sent some as test units, paid full price for others and after it was all said and done there was only one left standing and that was the Grizzly line.  Mark Lambert first turned me onto Grizzly and I have to give him credit there.  I liked the line so much I pushed for Grilla Grills to carry them on their site.  One note on sizes as Grizzly has a lot of sizes available.  I really find that the 60qt size works for me.  Some will want larger, some smaller, but if I were on the competition trail I know I could run two 60qt sized coolers and get the job done.

Let’s talk about what I feel Grizzly get’s right.  First has to be price.  Yes, there are cheaper, but in this market segment there are also some two to three times the price for the same sized cooler.  Second has to be the weight.  I really liked several other brands but what kept me coming back to the Grizzly was the size vs weight.  They are not nearly as heavy as some and when you have to lug these things on and off trailers and in and out of the back of trucks, weight starts to matter quickly.  The last thing I feel Grizzly does better than the rest is the drain plug.  You want to dump out the entire liquid contents of the cooler in a minute?  This cooler can do that without having to tip it over.  This was a factor I never considered until I lived with several other brands and it took forever for some of them to drain after I cleaned them.  And when you are doing everything from brining turkeys to hauling adult beverages, ease of clean up and keeping everything safe matters.

Let’s be real here, all the coolers in the roto molded segment keep ice for longer than anyone frankly expects.  So why pay more for the cooler if you don’t have to?  The only cooler that had a few more tricks up is sleeve that I really liked was the Orion.  Their latching system is better, but I just can’t recommend their products due to the pricing.  Orion was one of the heaviest I tested which really became an issue in the long term.

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While we are talking about coolers let me bring up the soft sided cooler that Grizzly makes as well, the Drifter.  I was fortunate enough to get a Drifter 20 for testing earlier this year.  I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but after living with it on several trips and also seeing that I could fit a whole packer brisket in it I was sold.  We took this cooler with us on a trip to Florida (14hrs in the truck) and a trip to Orange Beach, Alabama (10hrs in the truck) and each time I was more impressed with the Drifter 20.  The amount of storage it has and its innovations make it a winner and frankly make it worth the $150 price tag.  Never mind it’s just plain cool (see what I did there), has tons of storage compartments and isn’t just some flabby pouch when empty.  If you’ve been considering a high end soft sider, I definitely recommend giving this one a look.


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Ticwatch S Knight – I hesitated to put this one on the list since I know the world is divided between Apple and Android users, but what the heck it’s my list of favorite things and this definitely is a favorite thing.  I’ve been on the fence about buying a smartwatch for a long long time, which might sound counter intuitive given that I’m a tech guy by day.  I frankly just don’t think that most smartwatches are worth the cost.  I also never really found one that straddled that line between fitness tracker, heart rate monitor AND personal assistant device.  Several months ago while considering buying one for my birthday I ran across the Kickstarter campaign for the Ticwatch S and thought, for $130 why not.  I figured I would be ok at that price and could stomach not loving it for just over a hundred dollars vice spending the $300 I was considering.  Fast forward to just before Thanksgiving and mine was delivered.  Being someone who is constantly reaching for my phone I wanted something to keep me from doing that as much.  After all more times than not I’m covered in grease/fat when I’m cooking and I have about 5 different company emails I have to keep up with so me digging in my pocket for my phone after receiving an alert is never ending.  I’m super glad to say the Ticwatch S has filled this void and I LOVE IT.  For the money it’s definitely worth it, even at non Kickstarter prices.  If you are looking for a great smartwach for a reasonable price check it out, you’ll be glad you did.


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Camelbak Chute 40oz Insulated Bottle – I know this one sounds crazy on this list, but as someone who packs this thing around as religiously as I do my phone I had to include it on the list.  Ask anyone who travels with me and they will tell you this thing has more miles on it than my truck.  I also credit this bottle with helping me keep extra weight off and it was key in getting my health turned around almost two years ago.

How does a water bottle do that?  Well, its about forming habits and replacing bad habits with good ones.  I quit soda cold turkey about two years ago.  I’ve not had even a sip since.  So what I did to replace that urge was carry around my water with me everywhere, and I do mean EVERYWHERE.  I wanted to find a bottle that was easy to clean, could take a beating, kept stuff cold and flowed easily.  The idea was that I needed to drink a gallon of water a day and I didn’t care to be sucking on a straw all day.  Thankfully I found this water bottle and Stur water enhancer at the same time.  I hate to even think how much money I’ve spent on Stur in the last two years, but I go through about 20 of those little bottles a month and for me it’s 100% worth it to not be addicted to soda’s any longer.

I’m not advocating anyone necessarily do what I did, but if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, I do advocate for everyone to take a serious look at what they are putting in their bodies, because that is likely the problem.  And believe me when I tell you that your children are watching you and will take their cues from you.  My two boys no longer drink any soda’s either and also drink water about 90% of the time.  They do drink some juices and milk as well, but I was shocked at how much their diets mimicked mine as they started seeing changes in me physically, mentally and emotionally.  Never once did I ask them to make those changes, which was all the better.  My boys even have their own smaller Camelbak Chutes and that is worth way more to me than the cost of the product.


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Perfect Pushup Elite – While I’m harping on health I have to plug these.  Both of my wrists are completely screwed up so it was really limiting me in doing push ups.  One day while visiting with Mark Graham of Grilla Grills I saw these sitting next to his desk and asked if he liked them.  He gave them a glowing review and I thought, “well if its good enough for Mr. Fitness himself I’ll give them a try.”  Well Mark was right, they work and I really love them.  I have an alarm on my phone/smartwatch that tells me to get up and move once an hour.  Since I work at home on a computer all day this is very important to me.  So when my alarm goes off I grab these and bust out as many push ups as I can do then return back to being the sloth that I am.  It’s not that I think these will change your life, its that I think these are apart of changing your life, and that I am all for if you are tired of looking like the “before” picture in a late night infomercial.


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Thermoworks Thermopop – I get asked often, “what’s one thing you will not cook without?”  My answer used to be a Thermoworks Thermapen, now that has changed to the Thermopop.  I still love the Thermapen for sure, but the Thermopop is $30 and it’s much easier for me to recommend.  It’s just as accurate, nearly as fast AND easier to carry around.  There are very few devices that will make you better cook across the board, but this is one of them.  Even if you already have the Thermapen I still recommend you buying one of these.  I have about half a dozen and I keep them literally everywhere I cook and one even stays in the console of my truck and in my knife roll.  I don’t leave home without it and I just don’t think you can find a better thermometer for the money bar none.  Save yourself some headache and just order a couple in various colors because I don’t know anyone in barbecue that has just one of these.


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Meathead The Science of Great Barbecue – seriously is there a better name for a cook book? I really like Meathead’s take on things.  Its one part Good Eats format where the science is the focal point and one part great cook book.  In the end I think we can all agree that Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn and his site AmazingRibs.com has become the encyclopedia of all things barbecue.  I recommend articles from his site weekly and he has made a career of proving scientifically what works and what doesn’t.  Give this book a try, it’s worth the read.

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Extreme Ownership – I stumbled on this book late last year and it changed a lot of things for me.  The past year has been a quest of getting my head right.  If you are looking to be a better leader, make a change in your life or just generally figure out how to be a better human give this book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin a read.  I’ve bought several copies for friends and I just can’t recommend it enough.  Want to hear more of what Jocko has to say?  Subscribe to the Jocko Podcast.  If you are military or former military this podcast should be mandatory.  Start at episode 1 and work from there.  Believe me it’s worth the ride.

 

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Way of the Warrior Kid – Yes, another Jocko Willink book.  This one is for any kid in your life.  I’ve personally bought almost 20 copies of this book and have given to every kid I have coached, mentored or ever worked with.  This book changes things for young people.  It shows them they can make a difference.  They can own their situation.  They do not have to be afraid of working hard.  My 7yr old has read this book and will tell you it is favorite by far.  This story is told through the eyes of Mark a 5th grader.  Mark’s uncle Jake, a Navy SEAL, comes to stay with Mark’s family for the summer and he helps Mark with his fear of water, the school bully, multiplication, memorizing the Presidents and pull ups.  If you have children take the time and read this book right along with them.  It will be worth the time and effort, I cannot recommend it enough.  Our job as parents is not just to love our children always, but to help arm them with the tools and ideas that will make them better humans and citizens.  It all starts at home with you.  There will never be a better time than right now to start making a difference.


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Lodge L410 Hibachi – It seems like everyone is always looking for the best steak searing device and I always wonder why this little jewel doesn’t get recommended more.  It’s compact, you can’t break it and you can get this thing rocket hot for some insane steak searing.  Need some great charcoal you can find in your local big box store?  Check out B&B Hickory Lump, its quickly becoming a favorite of mine.


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Dalstrong Shogun Gyuto – I actually have a few Dalstrong knives now, but I keep coming back to this 8in Gyuto blade.  I just love it.  I’ve tested the Dalstrong Phantom Chef’s knife as well and really enjoyed it for it’s agility and super light weight.  Where the Phantom’s are light and agile the Shogun’s have a weight and strength about them.  I just can’t describe it, but the weight and feel of these knives just feel reassuring in your hand and make you feel more confident.  The pinch on these knives are fantastic and the blades are razor sharp.  I’ve also purchased the Shogun paring and birds beak knives, each phenomenal in their own right.  Dalstrong does a great job of releasing limited run knives and some really interesting options.  Be sure to keep checking them out because if they do not have one that you love right now, give it a month they will.


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Grilla Injector – Let me just say that I love this injector. This is another great example of the partnership between Grilla Grills and I.  At Memphis in May we were cooking whole hog and we had probably 8 injectors on site and throughout the course of injecting both hogs every single one of them failed.  I went to Mark Graham and said “that’s it man, we are going to fix this once and for all and offer it on the website.”  Mark said “lets do it, bring it on.”  Well fast forward a couple of months, a few prototypes I tested and the end result is this behemoth.  It’s heavy, its stainless and I love how the needles thread onto the syringe.  I could wax poetic about this work of art for days, but check out the YouTube video, it pretty much sums it up.  If you don’t have this, GET IT.


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Don Francisco’s Hawaiian Hazelnut Coffee – This is definitely one of my favorite things.  I have one really good cup of coffee a day.  That cup is almost always DF’s Hawaiian Hazelnut.  I know it’s odd to include coffee on a Christmas list, but that should tell you how much I enjoy this coffee.   It’s not always easy to get via Amazon and when it is available I order a couple of tins to make sure I don’t run out.

If you love hazelnut coffee, this one kicks in just a hint of coconut which makes it great black without added sugar.  For me I add the slightest hint of pure Stevia powder and it’s perfect.


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Ion Tailgater Express – I am most definitely 100 percent an audio file.  I don’t do much of anything without music playing.  When it’s not music it’s podcasts.  I bought this earlier this year because I wanted something to take to the pool to listen to with the kids.  It is splash resistant, has a really big built in battery that lasts a long time, has bluetooth and a USB port to allow you to charge your phone.  In addition to all these features, it sounds fantastic.  I like this thing so much that I now travel with this speaker when I go on trips.  If it died tomorrow I would order another immediately.  This little speaker has replaced a Bose unit that I ordered for the kitchen.  I know, crazy right!?!!?  I got the Bose in, unboxed it and listened to it for about 10 minutes and honestly did not feel it sounded significantly better than the Ion so I returned it.  This little box is a strong bang for the buck.


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Ladder 8 Steel Grill Brush – This is probably one of the items I get asked about more than any other in the grilling world.  I don’t know why but finding a great grill brush seems to be nearly impossible.  I’ve gone through about 15 different models over the years and this is the only one that I still recommend.  Now before someone comments about the dangers of a bristle breaking off and being digested let me address that right up front.  First off that danger is slim and if you wipe down your grates after brushing them it is virtually eliminated.  Second the material the brush itself is made from will determine how likely the bristles are to break off.  That is why I love this brush.  The bristles are strong and after over a year of use mine still looks new.  If that wasn’t enough every single one of these brushes are backed by a lifetime warranty and a love it or leave it money back guaranty.

All of that is fine and good but how well does it work?  The 4 head design of this brush and the angle of attack built into the handle make all the difference.  There is very little on your grill that this brush won’t take care of in just a few swipes.  If you are looking for your “next” grill brush, order this one, it will be the last one you buy.


Grilla Grills Signature Sauces and Rubs – Before I get into talking about each of the sauces and rubs let me talk about what this product line means to me.  I’ve gone on record as saying this is hands down the best work I have done in my 10yrs in barbecue.  I really do mean that.  My relationship with Grilla is special and there is something about it that has brought what I do to another level.  Everything I do with them I want to be best.  They make me better and I make them better.  It is a rare partnership that works this well.  I was called crazy when I agreed to sign on to help out a company, that at the time was a complete unknown.  I was warned that I would be used for my ideas and kicked to the curb.  I was told that taking a backseat in a larger organization was career suicide.  All I know is that when I sat down with the team at Grilla I knew they were something special and different.  I knew immediately that with someone on board who had been through all the pitfalls in this community that they could be quickly successful.  So I shook the owners hand in that meeting and told him I’d give him everything I’ve got and expected their trust in return to make this company something amazing.

Those ideas and sentiments are what drive me to be the best.  I refuse to release any product before it’s perfect and I refuse to put out any sauce and rub that is not world class.  I have zero doubt that what has come from this partnership is one of the best sauce and rub lines in existence bar none.  That is not said to be cocky, but it is said because I know the amount of time and effort I have put into every single one of these products and I believe that to the very core of my being.  Find another grill company who has sauces and rubs that will say that and can back it up.  It’s a very rare thing indeed.  The core difference is that most grill makers add sauce and rubs and accessories to pad their bottom line.  They just want to make another sale.  They make huge profit margins on those things and frankly do not focus on making them the best they can be.  Mark and I refuse to do that.  Every single product has to be the best we can make it, done so at a reasonable price and delivered as frequently as possible with free shipping.

tbThick & Bold – This started it all and was the basis of the initial partnership with Grilla.  We took this sauce to the World Championships at Memphis in May and tied for first.  It was one heck of a lead off product and is fantastic on everything.  This sauce set the bar really high for me and I knew I could not release anything else unless it was equal in every way.  The thing that makes Thick & Bold special is the balance between the sweet, the tanginess and the way can be used as everything from a dipping sauce to a finishing glaze.  This sauce is as versatile as they come and we have competition teams even using it as part of their brisket program and winning just about every time they cook.

 

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Gold N Bold – I swore for a very long time that I would never do a mustard sauce.  Frankly I didn’t think I had much to say in this genre of sauce and Ron Worby of Susquehanna Blue Smoke had done it as well as it needed to be done.  When I was asked to finally dig in and see what I could do I ordered every mustard sauce I could find.  Frankly most fell into two categories.  Mustard that had some spices added that were very hard to stomach.  Seriously try to eat spoonfuls of mustard and see how that goes.   And then there were what basically were tomato based sauces that had mustard added to make them more tangy.  Neither of these appealed to me.  I wanted to find a mustard sauce that you could eat directly off of the spoon, still top a hot dog/hamburger with it, but had something more going for it flavor wise to make it worthy of doing.  After an insane amount of trying and failing I finally found this sweet spot of balance and I knew I was on to something.  We took this sauce back to Memphis in May and served to the on site judges on our whole hog entry.  When they all freaked out over it and asked where they could buy it I knew it was good.  When the two chef’s on our team told me it was the best they had eaten then I realized it was time to stop messing with it and get it ready for final release.  It took from June until September for the factory to get it dialed in to my requirements, but in the end all that frustration was worth it.  Its a great sauce and even if you think you don’t like mustard sauces you should give it a try.

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Kongo Kick – When it comes to “hot” barbecue sauces I just do not feel there is ever a clear win.  Those that know me well know I will not play if I cannot win.  So when Mark Graham asked me to make one for Grilla I was apprehensive.  The reality is that they are never hot enough for the people who love heat and the mention of heat drives away all other consumers.  Thankfully early on the name for this sauce was decided on and that allowed me to set the tempo for what the sauce should be, a great barbecue sauce with a kick at the end.  I went through about 15 different pepper blends before finding a combination that I felt added a great dynamic to the sauce while also allowing the heat to gradually build as it was being eaten.  Most people are surprised that there is some habanero in this sauce as they assume it would be painfully hot.  I love the flavor of habanero’s but not always their heat.  I was able to find away to add a great robust chili middle flavor profile and use the habanero as the light clear bite at the very end.  Think of a great bass guitar solo where the drummer joins in and ends it all with the crash of a cymbal.  That is exactly what Kongo Kick does and I love this sauce for that reason.  It was yet again me trying to balance all of this flavor chaos like a conductor while not letting any one thing outshine another.  Even if you do not like “hot” barbecue sauces you should give this one a try, it has a whole lot more going for it than just heat.

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AP Rub – All Purpose as a name has been so used and abused in the world of barbecue.  So much so that it’s frankly become a bit of an inside joke.  If you don’t know what you should name your rub, name it All Purpose.  Well when I first came up with AP almost 10 years ago and then revamped it a few years later I wanted something that really lived up to the name.  The balance of salty, sweet, herbs and heat make this great on everything from chicken and ribs to popcorn and veggies.  AP Rub is the first product that I went back and revamped after I really learned how to balance flavors.  That principal has stuck with me ever since and from this product came many successful products after.  There is a reason that Grilla sells out of it…because it simply works.

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Grilla Beef – The lore associated with the Beef Rub has been years in the making.  From the days of Draper’s Moo’d Enhancer to us pulling it off of the shelves and getting hate mail to me finally deciding to redo the product and release it Grilla.  Well, its been one heck of a ride.  This single product more than any other I was so afraid to redo.  Moo’d Enhancer was something special.  It was the first time that I really felt I had caught lightening in a bottle so to speak.  It was 1 part intuition, 1 part happy accident and 2 parts stubbornness.  I really wondered for a long time could I recreate it if I had to.  I frankly avoided doing it like the plague.  I knew it would be the place where I had to face whether I still had “it” or not.  For songwriters and composers they are always worried they will somehow anger the God’s and no longer be able to connect with that part of themselves where the lyrics and melodies come from.  It’s no different for me.  I had been told I was done, I couldn’t make magic any more, that I was washed up and that barbecue as an industry had moved on.  In the end I had to gather myself up, ignore all the haters and self doubt and just get back on the horse and get after it.  I’m proud of every product I’ve ever done, but Grilla’s Beef Rub was a defining moment for me where I proved to myself that I still have something to say.  From this lesson Gold N Bold and Kongo Kick were also born.  I still have a lot of miles left in me creativity wise and I’m glad to get to release those ideas with a company like Grilla Grills.  I am blessed beyond measure just from getting to work with such a great team that believes in me.  I try everyday to measure up to that and do my best for them and their customers.


From this dude in Western Kentucky, that for whatever reason people have decided to listen to, I appreciate each and every person who takes the time to read this post.  I am just a guy doing what I love and I am thankful for every friend I have made doing this crazy barbecue thing.

I hope this list gives you some ideas for Christmas, but more than that, I hope it gives you a small insight into me and what I do.  It’s never glamours, always takes more out of me than I expect and is hard on my family and I wake up everyday thankful for another opportunity to share what I love with you and yours.

 

Have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, be blessed my friends and always stay saucy 🙂

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Christmas Recommendations

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Recently, I was asked to create a list of some of my favorite things or things that I would recommend for bbq fans for Christmas.  This list contains items that I love, some I’ve had for many years, some I’ve recently discovered.  The list really isn’t in any particular order and I haven’t really thought about it from a price stand point.  There are cheaper items and there some pricey items.  With all of that out of the way, let’s get started.


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Lodge Logic Square Skillet – There are a few standards I think every kitchen needs and a classic cast iron pan is one of those things.  From making corn bread to searing steaks they are just invaluable.  Most people have the classic round pan, but this year I bought this square version and I have found I prefer it to my round pans and I reach for it more often than the others.  This pan is about $27 on Amazon so it won’t break the bank and it is something that will last a life time if you take care of it.  When I bought mine I knew I’d be using it a lot so I added the silicone handle cover as well.  I wondered if I’d really think the extra $4 (pricing depends on color chosen) was worth it, and I’m glad to say it is.


Kick Ash Basket – I love simple solutions to problems.  To me the simplest solution shows the most genius and that is what I think the Kick Ash Basket is.  There is nothing kickashresize2complicated about it.  It is just a metal basket.  It’s not overly sexy, its not even overly pretty.  It is however built extremely well and the beauty is in its simplicity.  If you have a kamado cooker you need this basket.  This basket will save you charcoal and keep you from fighting your dampers as much because of the amount of air flow that is now able to get to each piece of charcoal.  There have been a hundred reviews of this jewel and you can google them and will find blogs like Nibble Me This, Naked Whiz and Big Green Craig love it.  That is all I needed to know.  For around $60 depending on your kamado model this will change your ceramic grill lovers life.


fb_resizeFlame Boss 200 Wifi – Since we are already kind of talking about kamado cookers let me recommend a product that honestly I did not think I would like very much.  I’ve used about 4 different “pit management” devices during my time competition cooking.  Each of them lost favor with me pretty quickly because for all of their benefit they were just a pain to set up and then got rather annoying shortly there after and frankly the cost was prohibitive.  The other reason I typically do not like them on a kamado is that…well if I’m being honest they take the fun out of cooking.  They make it automatic, easy and remove all the “know how” from the equation.  Now that’s one view from my perspective.  On the flip side of that coin from a new kamado owners perspective they would see this unit as greatly shortening the learning curve that is associated with these cookers.  They would feel more connected to the cooking process and more at ease.  In the end I have found I turn to the FlameBoss 200 Wifi when I knew I don’t have time to really monitor the Grilla Grills Kong or Big Green Egg XL.  The unit is bulletproof and works for controlling your pit no doubt, but that was only half the story.  More than control, I turn to it for data logging of just about every cook I do now (yes even on pellet pits).  That’s the real beauty of this device is that it pushes all the cook data to the cloud and saves it for you.  This can become invaluable if you catalog and really review the data after the cook.  I use this as a verifier of other devices because of its data logging capability.  Now let’s be clear this is a pretty spendy item at around $330, but of the various units I’ve used it is my favorite by a large margin. This is yet another thing that both Nibble Me This and Big Green Craig recommended to me personally that were clear winners.


ThermoWorks Smoke – So you want something that tells you when your food is done or img_20161028_152034209_hdr-2what temp your pit is running but don’t want to drop the coin on the Flame Boss and don’t need the ability to data log?  Then check out the ThermoWorks Smoke.  It’s no secret that I love pretty much everything ThermoWorks has made.  From their Thermapens to the TimeStick Trio, to the ThermoPops they just don’t make any bad products in my opinion.  I could go on and on about the Smoke but you can check out my video review which pretty well sums up everything you need to know.  For right at $100 this is a great unit that can be used for everything from cooking in your oven to any grill/smoker out there.  As a bonus let me further plug the ThermoPop, if you always thought the Thermapen was too pricey do yourself a favor and pick up a few ThermoPops.  They live in my apron pocket and I love them.  For under $30 I think anyone who cooks should have at least one.


81-cg54dxelPremiala Meat Injector – So I have a huge love hate relationship with injectors.  Full disclosure I have about 7 various models laying around ranging from $2 to around $130 (looking at you Chops Power Injector) and every single one has left me high and dry (see what I did there…dry) at one time or another.  They clog too easily, break or just don’t have enough vacuum to pull and inject heavier viscosity fluids (looking at you BDI injector).  I never pack a single injector with me because of this.  I keep coming back to my tried and true back up, the Premiala.  This injector just works, is built well and can be used with one hand.  For $25 it works as it should and comes with spare parts and its own carrying case to keep everything together.  If you inject turkeys, pork butts, chicken, whole hogs (your hand will get tired but at least you know it will work) or briskets this has a needle that will work and it will take a beating.  I’m not the only one who thinks so, check out the review over at BBQ Beat as well.


Anker SoundCore – I know it’s not technically cooking/bbq/grilling related but I seldomanker-1 ever cook without this thing.  It has great sound quality, last for hours and takes a beating.  It goes with me in my backpack right long with my camera and knife roll.  I love this little speaker and frankly I say if you aren’t dancing around the kitchen and enjoying yourself while your cooking then you are missing out.  Much like ThermoWorks, I have yet to find a bad Anker product.  From their battery packs to their charging cables they are all top notch and always 4 star plus rated products on Amazon.  For $40 (I’ve seen these as low as $25 on sale) you have a great unit that pairs with your phone sans cables and keeps your hands and phone free to do the chopping, prepping, etc that you should be enjoying.  There is an updated version of this unit (SoundCore Sport XL) that is supposedly even better and even more rugged but I have not personally tried it so I cannot comment on it, but I don’t doubt that it is equally fantastic but it is more expensive.


pixelGoogle Pixel XL – So while I’m talking tech let me plug the new Pixel from Google.  Earlier this year I invested about $1000 in a Canon Rebel T6i, lenses and a lav mic set up for recording.  I’m glad I did, but about a month ago I also bought a Pixel XL and I am astonished at the pictures and vids that come out of this phone.  For us blogger types or Twitter/Instagram nerds who take a pic of everything we eat before we eat it, this phone is amazing.  I’m not saying it’s for everyone, I’m just saying I love it and even at its $600+ price tag dare I say it was worth it…..yeah I do.   Even though its on Verizon this phone will work with all carriers.  I settled and got the 32GB version and yes it would be nice to have the 128GB version but I have not found the smaller size to be an issue because of the unlimited storage with Google Photo’s.  And let me tell you the phone is one part of the story but the ability to back up, share and easily edit photos within Google Photos makes the phone even better.


Zelite Infinity Knives – This summer I was able to shoot a video with Jack Scalfani of zelite2Cooking with Jack.  His YouTube channel is great and he reviews a ton of kitchen products.  Jack handed me the Zelite Inifinity Chef’s knife and I fell in love instantly.  I am a Miyabi and Victorinox fan and recommend the Victorinox Fibrox line to just about everyone who asks what is a great knife for a great value.  I have to say there are days where I don’t want anything in my hand except the Infinity.  The pinch and balance on it are fantastic and it is crazy sharp because of the angle these knives are sharpened with.  These are not the cheapest knives you will own, but they are not the most expensive either.  They typically run about $120 for the chef’s knife on Amazon but I have seen them with 20% off codes listed from time to time.  The paring knife is awesome in this line as well and it is one the best paring knives I’ve picked up.


griddle2King Kooker Cast Iron Griddle – This piece is great for kamado cookers or any round grill for that matter including the Grilla Grills Grilla.  You can also use it direct over a fire while camping or tailgating.  It absorbs heat like a champ and produces some serious sear marks on a steak or burger with the ribbed side.  You can do pancakes and pizzas with the flat side.  This one is great for the pitmaster who has everything and for $25 you can’t really go wrong.  We have used one for a couple of years now and it still looks like new.


Half Ceramic Stone – If you have a kamado or Weber kettle style cooker you know the value of 2 zone cooking.  Using a half stone like this one makes it much easier to do and stone2manage.  I love using the half stone when cooking something that needs a bit of low and slow but benefits from a higher heat finish.  Chicken wings, chicken leg quarters and chicken halves all fit into this category for me.  Ceramic Grill Store has about everything you need if you have a kamado.  I have my eye on one of their woks as well that fit the Grilla Grills Kong and Big Green Egg.  I haven’t bought one yet so I can’t comment on how good the wok is, but based on reviews I’ve seen they look pretty fun and do a great job over the direct heat of lump charcoal.  I’m betting they would work on a round pellet pit as well with some testing of course.  Looking at you Ceramic Grill Store if you want me to test one those out 🙂  If you buy this half stone (or even two if you want to use it as a full heat diversion system) you will need one of the spiders to hold the stone(s) in place.  One stone and a spider will set you back around $50.


 

silverbac-product-1Grilla Grills Silverbac / Kong – I saved my last two picks for two products that really surprised me this year.  Many of you know that I consult for Grilla Grills and help them with videos, marketing, product testing, etc.  So know that this recommendation comes from two vantage points.  First of course I do receive compensation from them, but that’s not why I recommend these two.  The more important reason I recommend these two is because I have seen all the good and the bad from an insiders perspective and I am still amazed by both these grills.  The Silverbac has been a big surprise to me just how well they have been received and how well they cook.  I frankly thought “great…another barrel shaped pellet smoker” and was not really excited by it, but appreciated the price point that Grilla Grills put on the unit.  For $699 delivered it still represents the best bang for your buck for cooking surface and build quality of any pellet pit out there.  The Kong I also kind of dismissed as an “also ran” product since I have a lotkong of experience with the Big Green Egg XL.  I have to say though from the first time I fired it up, it reminded me why I loved kamado cookers but also why I was so disenchanted by BGE.  Grilla Grills took the time fix my complaints about the BGE (price, assembly and nest) and deliver them to customer at a price ($799) that is nearly half of that of BGE.  You just can’t say enough about that and their commitment to their customers.  I have experienced the company from the inside and I am proud to be associated with them because they are a company that still loves the people they do business with.  They have not lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day the business is about the people and not the bottom line and it shows day in and day out.


That about covers some of my favorites from this year and years past.  There is a fair mix of stuff for just about every type of grill lover on this list.  And if you are still looking for stuff, never underestimate how much us pitmasters love a good cook book.  Diva-Q released a great one this year as well as Meathead Goldwyn.  Both are great and ring in at or around $20 and will provide a whole years worth of recipes and stuff to try out.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year my friends and stay saucy 🙂

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Product Review: ThermoWorks ChefAlarm Cooking Timer

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Full Disclosure, folks – we’re huge fans of ThermoWorks’ signature product, the ThermaPen. We’ve got them in our homes, in the vending trailer, the competition load-out, just about everywhere. Jesse Black of ThermoWorks was kind enough to send us a ChefAlarm to review.

Having a drawer full of timers and temperature alarms, it’s plain that I’m a big believer in accurate temperatures and precision times.  I’ve had thermometers from all the big brands and digital timers by the handfuls.  Each have tried to fill a role in keeping the food I’m preparing on track and as good as it can be.  Some were pretty good, some were laughably bad but not one was a perfect fit.  Too short cords on probe, poor battery life, difficult to use or just lack of durability, they all leave me browsing Amazon for the next one all too often.  So it was with a mix of excitement and a little wariness that I started this review. 

First things first – the feel and look of the ChefAlarm are excellent.  Edge on, the unit carries the same design elements at the ThermaPen.  The ChefAlarm feels substantial without being really heavy.  And like the ThermaPen, the ChefAlarm is splash-resistant.Side-by-sideAll this speaks to the build-quality we’ve come to expect from ThermoWorks.  And the light weight means the two magnets on the back can keep it securely in place.

Durability was obviously built into the product but ThermoWorks went a step further.  They include what they call a “Padded Zip Wallet” but I call it armor.  It’s a rigid zipper case, molded to cradle the ChefAlarm and store all the accessories.  This is great for the comp cook who needs to keep everything together and well protected on the competition trail.ChefAlarm-Case

Included with the ChefAlarm and case is the temperature probe and a pot clip.  The cord on this probe is a generous 47″ long and can really take the heat.  The maximum temperature the cable can withstand is 700° F, well beyond what most of us would be doing and the probe itself can read temperatures from as low as -58° F to as high as 572° F.  And, of course, being from ThermoWorks, it’s insanely accurate.  It’s good from -4° to 248° F to within 1.8° F. Plan on incinerating something that was once food?  The ChefAlarm is accurate to within about 5° F up to an insane 572° F.  Chances are, if your brisket hits 572°, you’re probably not worried whether it’s actually 568° or 577°.  You’re looking for the fire extinguisher.

Of course it’s not just a thermometer with temperature alerting, it’s also a timer.  You can set this thing up to 99 hours and 59 minutes… into the future.  And you can have the timer running and a high/low temp alert at the same time.  The timer alert is 2 quick beeps, repeating, and the temperature alert is 4 quick beeps, repeating.  This makes it really easy to differentiate between the two.

Regardless of the type of alert, the ChefAlarm will let you know with a nice, loud alarm. And that alarm can get loud, like hear it from outside loud.  Like 92 dB loud.  I

All the controls on the ChefAlarm are clearly marked and easy to use.  The screen is easy to read and, thanks to a backlight feature, even readable during the wee hours of a cook.  The thermometer functions occupy the top portion of the screen while the timer features rest at the bottom.Tilt-up

Finally, a very clever feature, there are two configurations for this thing – the standard flat and also a “laptop mode” where the screen tilts forward toward the keys.  There’s a magnet on the back of each “half” of the unit so it’ll stay on whatever magnet-friendly surface in either configuration.

Overall, the ChefAlarm is packed full of well-executed features.  There’s no sense of compromise anywhere in the ChefAlarm.  ThermoWorks added all the stuff you need without cluttering up the device.  It excels at everything it does and boy, it does a lot.

If you’re in the market for *the* device to keep your cook on track, look no further than the ChefAlarm by ThermoWorks.

And if you want this very ChefAlarm as your very own, enter to win it at Draper’s BBQ’s Facebook page and again at Pap’s Beef Jerky Facebook page.  And if you’re at the Kentucky State BBQ Festival, stop on by and visit with both of us for another opportunity to win this ChefAlarm and a whole boatload of BBQ awesome!

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Draper’s BBQ Contest

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As the world well knows companies can live or die with social media.  We at Draper’s have been solid at social media when we really push at it and frankly terrible at it when we do not.  Case in point, we have over 2500 Twitter followers but only 850 likes on our Facebook page.  You can probably guess from those numbers were we spent our time over the past couple of years.

Given that Mike and I sat down and pitched a few ideas back and forth on how we can convert our Twitter followers into Facebook likes.  We quickly settled on the idea of giving something away as a membership drive of sorts for Facebook.  Everyone likes a good giveaway and honestly we like giving stuff away making people happy.

So from there we came up with a few things that might fit the bill.  I kept thinking back to the question I get asked via email the most “what is the best bbq/smoker on the market for a new team or for my backyard?”  With that in mind Mike and I thought it would be great to give away some sort of “pitmaster in a box” kit where the winner would get essentially everything they needed to either start competition barbecue or at least have a heck of a leg up to starting a team.

The hunt was short for what bbq/smoker/grill would fit the bill.  We naturally went with the one we recommend to 90% of the people who send us that email.  We turned to Pit Barrel Cooker Co and their Pit Barrel Cooker for this contest and new pitmasters.  And here’s why:  First it rings in around $300 which is a solid value given that most complete pieces of bunk from Lowe’s will cost you that much.  Second it has a good cooking capacity.  Third while it is simple to use it does introduce the budding pitmaster to fire and air flow management.  Fourth it helps the cook to learn the valuable trait of trusting time, fire and smoke to do the job without messing with the meat too much.  Fifth, its made in America and I can’t think of another complete functioning pit at this price point that is also made here.

Many people would recommend a pellet pit for a first pit but I just don’t think pellet pits or any device that controls the airflow and fuel for you helps make you a pitmaster.  That’s not to say you can’t create great food on them, but there is no way to learn the essentials of being a pitmaster if you are not actively managing that fire in my opinion.  I know I will get hate mail over that statement, but remember I come from a family who did barbecue for many, many years without the use of a thermometer or fans and burned down wood into coals.  The only tools my grandfather needed to be an amazing pitmaster was his trusty shovel and his old cinder block pit.  Never once saw him use anything else.  His lack of tools (read crutches) helped him develop those instincts that are so crucial to a pitmaster.  That my friends is being a pitmaster to me.

Don’t get me wrong, the PBC is dead easy to use.  Essentially you light the fire and walk away,  but it at least gets the pitmaster introduced to good old charcoal as a fuel and forces them to not rely on a temp gauge or digital control.  PBC will run at 275 degrees for 7hrs on a basket of charcoal without much fuss at all and turns out a fantastic product.

I could go on and on about the PBC and why I recommend it, but I think Meathead Goldwynn over at Amazing Ribs.com does a pretty comprehensive job at covering it:  http://amazingribs.com/bbq_equipment_reviews_ratings/smoker-pizza-oven/pit-barrel-cooker  and John Dawson with Patio Daddio also has wrote extensively about the PBC: http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2012/07/competition-bbq-pit-barrel-style.html

With that we called up Noah and Amber at PBC and placed the order.  They graciously decided to sponsor part of the contest with us.  The ordering process was dead easy and Noah and Amber are great people to work with.

Next to be a pitmaster in training you need a good temperature reading device.  I love my Thermapen even though my grandfather would have quickly laughed at how much I paid.  I now have learned to cook more by feel, but I always check my competition meats with a high accuracy thermometer.  So given that, the fine folks at Thermoworks gave us approval to give away one of their top of the line Chef Alarm units.

I won’t completely steal Mike’s thunder as he is doing a review of the unit as we speak.  But I will tell you this, no tricks were missed in the development of this beauty.  It’s a professional piece of gear all the way and all a budding pitmaster needs to help him dial in that time and temp aspect of cooking.  For $60 its a great value and worth the investment.

After some more discussion Mike and decided we should give away this awesome kit live at the Kentucky State Barbecue Festival in Danville, Ky on September 7th.  This is the last day of the event and we figured it would be fantastic to do the announcement on stage there since it is one of our favorite events each year.  This is our favorite event because we get to feed about 50,000 of our closest friends, fans, family and cook right along side the likes of Brad Simmons, Carey Bringle, Craig Kimmel, Mike Mills, Moe Cason and Shelly Fritch.  All superstars in their own right and we are humbled each year to cook with them.

This planted the next seed of what we should include.  The Danville area is home to one of my favorite snacks, Pap’s Beef Sticks and Pap’s CEO Rick Waldon.  So I called up Rick and asked him if he wanted in.  He was quick to pull the trigger and offered up a bevy of beef snacks to keep any pitmaster satisfied on those long cooks.  Go check out the Meat Maniac on the Pap’s site.  Seriously if you have not tried Pap’s, go order some or go tell your favorite store to carry some.  It’s seriously the best beef jerky around.  My personal favorite is the Pitmasters Barbecue, it is a awesome mix of smoky, sweet and heat.  Not to mention Pap’s ensures only the highest quality US beef is used.  Pap’s is legit and if you win this prize pack you will know why.

By now you have to be asking, well that is all fine and good but what does Draper’s BBQ bring to the table in this contest.  Well, we figure you have the pit to cook on, the thermometer to tell when it is done and even snacks to keep you happy while you cook.  So we are there to fill in the remaining gaps.  You will need some great rubs for your meat, so you get 1lb of our A.P. Rub and 1lb of our Moo’d Enhancer.  You need sauce to top that meat with, so you get a gallon of our Smokin’ Sauce.  But you also need something to keep the sun out of your eyes while you cook, so you also get one of our team caps.  These hats are nice adjustable flex fit hats with our logo embroidered on them so you can be apart of the DBQ crew.  We also toss in enough charcoal for your first several cooks on the PBC.

If you have been keeping up with the prices, this is a prize pack worth over $550 delivered to your door.  If you are within a reasonable driving distance we will deliver the prize pack personally.  All you need now is some meat, some free time, a frosty beverage of your choosing and a lighter and you are ready to start your trek towards pitmaster enlightenment.

So now you have to be wondering how do I enter?  Well, stay tuned.  July 25th at 5pm Central time the contest will go live on the Draper’s BBQ FB page and Mike will post the rules on our blog.  All you have to do to enter is Like our Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/DrapersBBQ  That’s it, we have made it simple.  Because it is so simple we would greatly appreciate it if you shared our page to your friends after you like it.  If you are one of the 830 people who have already liked our page you are already entered but again we would greatly, greatly appreciate you sharing our page as often as you can to help us out.

If this contest successfully generates the results we are looking for we want to do something like this once a quarter.  Mostly because we just like giving stuff away and making people happy, but also because we have LOTS of things coming up including a new video series that Mike and I are ironing out that we want everyone to see.  Draper’s is being reborn and we want to share everything with as many people as possible, so stay tuned!

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Barbecue Live…..Barbecue Legit

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I made the decision last fall that Draper’s BBQ was going to make a run at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Competition in 2015.  Now, some may think that is planning too far ahead.  I can tell you it is not far enough after being a part of a few teams that have competed at MIM it is barely enough time.  Even with a team of seasoned veterans of barbecue, you still need time to come together and learn how to sing and operate in harmony. 

So how does a newly formed team prepare for what many consider the biggest dance in all of barbecue?  First you practice, practice, practice.  Most good teams can get 90+% of what they need through research and trial and error, but even the best team needs a sanity check and some insider info to get that last 5-10%.  That last bit is what separates teams from placing in the middle of the pack at MIM or getting lucky enough to be in the top 10 or if the barbecue God’s smile on your team, make the finals. 

To get that last bit you either have to know some great pitmasters who are willing to mentor you or you have to find a class to gain that information.  Draper’s BBQ has a lot of barbecue friends who have done very well for themselves as far as winning is concerned and have shared lots of info along the way, but to be honest we still wanted to get more info before we take the MIM plunge again. 

Competing at Memphis in May costs literally thousands of dollars.  To be willing to write those checks without sponsorship you better know your team is good and you better have every ounce of information you can get your hands on.  That left me searching for a barbecue class, preferably one put on by some MIM veterans. 

My search was very short thankfully because I knew of Barbecue Live from being friends with Malcom Reed.  It is a relatively new class held by Mark Lambert of Sweet Swine O’ Mine and Malcom and Waylon Reed of Killer Hogs.  Two great teams and both have been on a tear the past few years collecting a lot of trophies.  It is one of the only classes ran by a committee of pitmasters who are willing so share all they know in order to help you bring home that Grand Champion call.  As if working with Mark, Malcom and Waylon weren’t enough they are still only part of the story.    

Barbecue Live also includes special guests at each of their classes.  In my class Danny Montgomery of Tuscumbia River Bottom Barbequers and Patrick Banks of Booty Que were there.  I know these names may not ring many bells so let me clarify just who these men are. 

Danny Montgomery is a personal hero of mine.  He is a legend to be quite honest, although he would never admit to it.  Danny has won ribs at MIM was the 2002 Jack Daniels International Grand Champion and only followed that up with winning Reserve in 2003 and 2004.  He has mentored numerous teams from all over the world and has been instrumental in making countless champions.  Danny, for those in the know, is one of the most sought after coaches in the world and still one of the top whole hog and shoulder cooks around.  Danny Montgomery might not be a household name, but he deserves to be.  He is one the best teachers I have ever met and I am proud to know him.

Patrick Banks is a recent Barbecue Live graduate who just so happened to win ribs at this year’s MIM only to follow that up with numerous KCBC Grand Champions.  To put it bluntly, 2014 has been Patrick’s year and he is quick to let you know that Barbecue Live helped light the fuse.  Patrick is also very active in Operation Barbecue Relief and just an all-around great guy.  Not many cooks would show you their exact recipe that just won them the big trophy at MIM. 

I only talk about Danny and Patrick to highlight just how comprehensive the knowledge base is at Barbecue Live, but it in no way is meant to take anything away from Mark or Malcom and Waylon.  Sweet Swine O’ Mine has won MIM several times and it has been hard to find a contest in recent memory that Killer Hogs entered where they didn’t come home with a trophy.

Knowledge base only matters though if that knowledge can be demonstrated and conveyed in a manner in which it can be learned and remembered.  I am glad to say Barbecue Live did a solid job of this, but even happier that they did it in a way that pushes the student to want to perfect a craft instead of just recreate it. 

What do I mean by that?  Well, I have taken a few classes now and many barbecue classes center themselves on providing you with an exact time line and procedure to perform every step.  Barbecue Live is willing to share this with you but they do not base everything on this.  They are more about arming you with a method of preparing your entries that judges can’t help but score well instead of creating a cookie cutter clone of their process.

Barbecue Live is also one of the very few classes that cover all four KCBS meats plus MBN shoulder and whole hog.  When you stop to think about that you really start to understand how much of a value this class is. 

How can they cover all of this in what amounts to about 18 hours of instruction?  First off this class assumes you can trim ribs, pull silver skin and do the basics.  They also have a squad of cooks who are running pits, assisting with bringing meats in and generally doing anything needed to assist Mark, Malcom and Waylon while they are actually teaching the class. 

Then there is Mrs. Rachelle Reed, I could spend a whole page telling you the enumerable things she does to make the class a success.  Chelle not only did the chicken trimming demonstration and parsley box builds, she was in constant motion prepping lunch, ensuring there was plenty to drink available and generally making everyone feel at home.  Rachelle is truly the matriarch of Barbecue Live and a force to be recognized.

I can’t say enough how valuable this support cast is to the overall success of the class.  They operate as an army providing meats to the instructors so they can demo every stage of the cooking process.  The timeline and attention to detail to make this possible is nearly mind boggling.   

While I won’t go into detail on the information covered I think it is important to give you an idea what each day is like at Barbecue Live.  Don’t mistake my lack of detail as lack of information, I do this strictly out of respect for the class.  Barbecue Live answers any and all questions and shows you everything, nothing hidden or reserved. 

The class didn’t officially start until 7:45am on Saturday, but Malcom and crew did something very nice on Friday.  They had a Meet and Greet on Friday evening that was a great old fashioned southern fish fry.  The Meet and Greet was a nice touch and the first glimpse of how useless my diet was going to be for the weekend.

 Day 1

The next morning everyone got registered grabbed a seat and settled in.  I will say this right off the bat, Saturday is a long, long day of information.  It is packed full but a great day.  Chicken is covered first and you barely get the first cup of coffee down before you get to try a piece of chicken.  Ribs are up next and in both cases it was very nice to compare and contrast how Killer Hogs does their entry vs Sweet Swine O’ Mine vs Booty Que.  You really come to understand that while each of the pitmasters do very similar things overall, they each have their own unique and identifiable flavor profile. 

In intermission of ribs lunch was served.  You will find a theme from this point forward concerning food.  The theme….no corners cut.  Every meal provided was awesome and done with care.  Lunch consisted of some awesome sides and headlined by Gus’s World Famous Chicken.  Gus’s is seriously the only place I stop at every time I am in the Memphis area.  Nope, not barbecue, Gus’s.  Gus’s isn’t the cheapest place on the block and it was very nice to have it brought in for the class instead of pizza. 

After lunch the remainder of ribs is covered along with getting to eat them.  Then it is on to whole hog prep, which was great.  Being a future whole hog team at MIM I can tell you even after cooking several and being mentored by some of the best, we learned some amazing tips from Mark Lambert.  I don’t think there is another person on the planet that knows the intramuscular structure of the hog better.  Mark is a credit to the barbecue world and does a great job covering the topic.

Next up is trimming of butts and shoulders.  Again, you typically will not get both in the same class and it was great.  Many times I found myself thinking that this really was two classes for the price of one.  There was so much covered between the butts and shoulders and all of it valuable. 

Then we moved into the first part of brisket.  Again, seeing how each pitmaster differed between their prep and products used was nice.  Better than that though was knowing that we would get to taste the two side by side to compare and contrast. 

Dinner is one of the last things on the docket for the day.   It was comprised of an amazing smoked skirt steak, smoked pork loin and sides.  To say it was fantastic is again an understatement.  I have never in my life been so sick from eating so much in a given day, but so happy at the same time.   We all had eaten so many of the ribs tasting the difference between Compart Duroc pork vs regular pork that dinner was nearly an afterthought for most of us.  That did not deter us from enjoying a great dinner though. 

After dinner there was a recap of the day along with a final Q&A.  I would like to say we all went out and had a beer after that, but seriously we all went straight to the hotel and tried to sleep off the food coma.  

After about 12 hours sleeping off the food coma and information overload from the previous day we started again at 8am.  Before I really get into Day 2 let me side track for a minute and highlight something that I really liked.  Barbecue Live used a camera focused on the presenter’s hands and this was shown on a 40in television.  This was great because in some classes a gaggle of students cram around the presenter and only those in the first row or two get to see precisely what is going on.  In this set up people could also sit back and check out the television which lessened the need to be shoulder to shoulder with the presenter.  That’s not to say you couldn’t literally stand next to Malcom and Mark during the whole class, you could, the camera set up just allowed a fair view for all.  So often times many would gather up close to the television as well, it was really neat to see. 

Day 2

First up was the wrapping of butts and briskets, followed by building of parsley boxes.  As with all previous topics everything was well covered and all questions answered including injection and mop recipes. 

Next pork blind boxes were covered in depth.  I will say this is yet another topic where the quote “we will show you how to build boxes that judges can’t help but score well” rang true.  Waylon spent a long time going over every aspect of exactly how he perfects his box and it was great to see firsthand the level of care that goes into that box. 

Whole hog presentation was next.  Mark went through basically a MBN presentation explaining where he would pull from and why.  He even managed to show me some cuts deep inside the hams that I never really noticed before.  Again, demonstrating his amazing knowledge of the anatomy of the hog and proving why he has won MIM a few times.

Lunch consisted of the whole hog and if you’ve never bellied up to a whole hog you are missing out.  To me it is still the pentacle of pork and why we cook whole hog.  It was awesome to contrast our flavor profiles with Mark’s and get a good feel for where we stand.  That piece of info alone was worth the cost of admission for us. 

The class concluded with barbecue business and marketing.  It was interesting to hear how different the paths to success were for Killer Hogs and Sweet Swine O’ Mine.  Again all questions were answered all things good, bad and ugly were discussed.  This info would be invaluable to new teams or a budding sauce/rub company.  This section alone if expanded on could be a complete day and honestly I would love to see it expanded and a few more sauce and rub companies invited to the table to add even more diversity to the conversation.  I for one would make the trek in a heartbeat to be a part of that panel. 

Conclusion

So what is the take away on Barbecue Live?  Honestly, it is one of the best classes in the country bar none.  While it may be a newer class, it is done right and doesn’t miss anything.  If I knew absolutely nothing about barbecue I might find the class, perhaps, a little advanced.  But if I knew that little about barbecue I would honestly be spending my time on the internet watching videos from How To BBQ Right, researching, reading forums and putting into practice what I found before I was willing to part with my money for an experience like this.  On the flip side of that coin, this class would put a fair pitmaster over the top and on the winning track quickly.  Some may find the level of information off putting since it is so in depth, but as someone who has done this for a long time I still found many tidbits of information that were well worth the cost.  The class does not pretend to make you a Killer Hogs or Sweet Swine O’ Mine clone, but they do promise to help you become the best pitmaster you can be and I think they more than deliver on that promise.  So hit up the website and sign up, you won’t be disappointed. 

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Product Review: GMG Fruitwood Blend Pellets

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pellets

Our good friends at Green Mountain Grills supplied me with a 28 lb. bag of their new Premium Fruitwood Blend Pellets to try out and give a review on.  Now fans of Drapers BBQ know that we are huge GMG fans.  We love our Daniel Boone’s and our Jim Bowie’s.  I personally have held off using GMG’s branded pellets for 2 reasons.  Number one is there is not a dealer close to me and pellets are like propane when you need them you need them quick.  Number 2 was their lack of fruit-wood flavors.  I love apple, peach and cherry flavor pellets when cooking on my GMG.  The folks at GMG have heard our requests and developed a fruit-wood blend.   How would they compare to some of the pellets I have been using?  Well let me tell you.

I opened the bag for the first time and I was greeted with a fruity aroma.  I could not make out what fruit (as it is a blend) but it did smell sweet.  The pellets were lighter in color that the other brand I was using previously.  I don’t know that this makes a difference at all but thought I would report it anyway.  The pellets appeared to be well made.  They were solid and not crumbly and a variety of different sizes from half and inch to an inch long.  GMG claims that they have less dust than other brands of pellets.  I would tend to agree with that.  I have only ever used 2 other brands and GMG appeared to have less dust.  No scientific test to back that up just my 2 eyes checking.

I cooked 2 different meats with these pellets on 2 different days.  I had a 5 hour rib cook at 230 degrees the entire cook and a 12 hour brisket cook at 225 degrees the entire time.  I added a few different pellets at the end of the brisket cook just to make sure that I did not run out but do not think I used much if any of those.  All in all I got 17 hours of cook time from a 28 lb. bag.  I was pretty pleased with that pellet usage and the usage was right in line with what I usually use.

Results.  That is what we are all about at the end of the day.  Were the ribs and brisket good?  How was the smoke ring?  How was the flavor?  These are the true tests of how good the pellets really are.  rib 6-13Lets start with my ribs.  Excuse the bragging here but I do think these were right up there with some of the best ribs I have ever made.  Tried some new things with this cook.  I tried a new blend of spices (Drapers AP as a base), did not wrap them, and the pellets.  Look at that smoke ring.  It is huge.  The ribs did not have an over smokey flavor.  You could really taste the meat and the rubs used.  My eight year old son ate half a slab and he is like Mikey from the old Life cereal commercial.  He won’t eat anything.  Now for the brisket.  It was a good brisket not a great brisket but a lot factored into that.  I think I put a little to much rub on it and left it on about 30 min to and hour too long.  The bark was a little crusty and I don’t think I got the smoke penetration I was looking for.  It was a little roast beefy but good.

I have only one request for the good folks at GMG.  I would like to see the breakdown of the fruit-wood blend and what type of fruit-wood it contains.  The pellets performed very well during both cooks and I would not hesitate to use them again.  With the fact that GMG gives you 8lbs more that the leading pellet brand for the same price it is a no-brainer to go pick a bag up.  Check your local retailers for some new GMG Fruitwood Blend Pellets.  I highly recommend them.

 

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Code 3 Spices – Eating good with a cause

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While trolling through Facebook a few months back I came across a post from a company called Code 3 Spices based out of St. Louis, MO.  Code 3 has an always expanding line of BBQ rubs and they donate 10% of proceeds to charities involving the families of First Responders and the Military.  I contacted Chris at Code 3 and requested a sample to review for this blog and he was kind enough to send out a 3 bottle sampler pack containing Rescue Rub, Backdraft Rub and 5-0 Rub.  Here are my thoughts and how I used each.

Rescue Rub

This is Code 3’s all purpose rub.  It goes well on everything from veggies to meat.  I chose to use this to smoke 3 Boston butts for our upcoming Boy Scout camp out.  After trimming the butts and coating them with a little oil, I liberally applied about 1/3rd of the bottle over the entire butt.  I let the meat rest over night (5 hours) in the fridge with the rub on to let the flavors of the rub get into the meat.  Upon pulling the meat out of the fridge, I noticed that a nice kind of crust had already formed on the outside and that not a lot of fluid had been pulled out of the meat as some other rubs do.  I put the butts on my Yoder YS640 pellet grill using apple pellets for about 12 hours at 250 degrees until the internal temp of the meat was 195 degrees.  I then let them sit for an hour to rest and soak up some of the drippings in the pan.  I taste tested the pork while pulling it and it had a nice flavor with good balance and one heck of a smoke ring.  One ingredient did not stand out more than the other.  Overall a very solid all purpose rub.

Code 3 Rescue Rub Pork butt after being pulled.

Code 3 Rescue Rub Pork butt after being pulled.

Backdraft Rub

This is the spicy rub of the code 3 bunch.  While watching  a BBQ PItmasters marathon on Super Bowl weekend I got the idea from Diva Q to make chicken lollipops for the Super Bowl Party I was going to go to the next day.  This spicy rub was perfect for it .  It was not as spicy as a buffalo type seasoning but just enough kick for you to know it was there.  Coated half the lollipops with Rod Gray’s Eat BBQ The Next Big Thing BBQ (sweet) sauce and half with Angry Nephew’s BBQ (ghost pepper hot) Sauce.  The rub was complimentary to both sauces.  Backdraft Rub gave a little bite to The Next Big Thing sauce and gave a depth of heat to the Angry Nephew’s sauce.  Men liked the hot and Ladies and kids liked the sweet.   I received so many compliments on these that my wife made me make them again.

Chicken lollipops with Backdraft Rub.

Chicken lollipops with Backdraft Rub.

5-0 Rub

The last rub we come to is the 5-0 Rub.  It is a sweet and spicy rub.  I also detected a little bit of a smoky flavor similar to chipotle pepper.  I decided to use this rub on a tri-tip along with a little extra kosher salt.  I reverse seared the tri-tip and it had a really nice crust on it.  The combination of the smoke and the 5-0 Rub made this the best tri-tip I have ever made.  The heat was not overpowering and the sweet was very subtle.  I tasted beef first and spice second as an accent.  I really liked this rub.

All 3 rubs were great.  The only issue I had was with the clumping of the product.  It did clump somewhat in the bottle but a quick shake with the lid closed loosened it right up.  The rubs were very fresh, had good color and aroma and terrific taste.

Once again Code 3 Spices donate a portion of the proceeds to charities involving families of the Police, Fire, Ambulance responders and Military families.  They can also setup a fundraiser for your organization where the organization keeps 45% of what they sell.  This is good spice company, doing good deeds and making excellent BBQ rubs.  You can find them on Facebook and at code3spices.com .

 

 

 

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Eating out of the Box.

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We all seem to find ourselves in a rut sometimes. Whether it is the clothes we wear, the work we do or the places we go out to eat.  Living in Kansas City gives us numerous opportunities to go out for really great BBQ.  Literally hundreds of BBQ restaurants are located in the KC metropolitan area.  Why is it that we tend to migrate to only 2 of them?  When my family goes out for BBQ we tend to go to 2 of the biggest names in KC BBQ Oklahoma Joe’s and Fiorella’s Jacks Stack.  We love them both, get great service and terrific food, but what about all of the others?  Through Facebook, I got back in touch with a friend from high school.  He noticed some of (most of) my posts are related to BBQ.  We wanted to meet up for dinner and he suggested a BBQ joint that I had never been to.  I did not even know it existed and I drive by the area every day on my way to work.  This is not a review of the restaurant, as I did not sample enough off of the menu to give a full review.  This is just about the experience of going to a new place and having things that you would normally not have.  Eating out of the box and getting out of my rut.

My friend, Mike Anani, and I had been trying to meet up for dinner for well over a month and something always seemed to come up.  Finally we found a clear Saturday and made plans.  He knew I really liked BBQ and so did he.  He actually eats at a lot more BBQ restaurants than I do.  He said he had been coming to a new place for a few months and really liked it and wanted to share it with me.  Brobeck’s BBQ is the name of the place. Mike said it was in my neck of the woods.  My neck of the woods?  I had never heard of the place and was very sceptical if I would like it.  How could it be any good if I had not heard of it?

Saturday came and I managed to find Brobeck’s.  It is not really off the beaten path but is tucked away in the back of a strip mall, hidden from the major road I use to get to work.  The parking lot was full.  That’s a good sign that the food is good.  Mike and I walked in and got one of the last tables available and Mike began to tell me about a Ham Salad appetizer they had there.  Ham Salad I thought?  Yuck!  That sounds like something old people eat.  I had never had it before.  We ordered some.  The waitress who was very very sweet, brought it to the table in a bowl about the size you would use for cereal in the morning.  It was a huge portion.  The Ham Salad was served with crackers and Brobeck’s very own potato chips that they make at the restaurant.  It looked good. So I spread some on the crackers and dove right it.  It was fantastic!  I did not ask but I think they used BBQ smoked ham in it.  It was so good if I could get the recipe, I would make it at home and have it every day for lunch.  This was very unexpected.  I never wood have thought that I would have liked that.

After the appetizer, the waitress came over to take our dinner order.  She explained that they were famous for there ribs.  Famous I thought?  I have never heard of you but if it is the best thing you make I am all in.  I ordered a half slab of spare ribs with beans and fries.  The waitress explained that the ribs will come out dry (with no sauce at all) because they are so good you do not need the sauce.  This showed me the pitmaster is very proud of his ribs.  The waitress stated they had 2 sauces on the table Brobeck’s original which is sweet and tomato based and also Brobeck’s mustard sauce if we chose to use sauce.  She continued to say that they had a BBQ sauce bar.  Yes a BBQ sauce bar.  Brilliant idea.  This was a table next to the kitchen loaded with a number of sauces from KC Masterpiece to sauces from many local restaurants including Oklahoma Joe’s and Jack’s Stack.  Honestly, even though it is a great idea and I would like to get Draper’s Smokin Sauce on that table, I did not use it because I wanted to try Brobeck’s Original sauce.  It was tangy, and sweet with good flavor.  Good sauce overall.

Our meals came and my plate was overflowing.  Six meaty spare ribs with a serving of beans and a side dish of steak fries.  Outstanding.  I tried the ribs dry first and the waitress was right, they stood on their own with no sauce.  You could taste the smoke and the rub as very mild.  Not a lot of heat in the rub.  A good solid rib.  I tried it with the original sauce and the sauce  enhanced the flavor slightly but I preferred the dry rib.  What really made the dinner was the amount of meat and the flavor of the rib.  Out of the six ribs I could only eat three and took the rest home for lunch the next day. Overall it was an excellent experience for me and I would not hesitate to go back and try other things off of the menu.  The Ham Salad was fantastic and I would go there just for that item alone.  Maybe get a to go order for lunch during the week.  It is really addictive.

I know everyone has a favorite BBQ joint to go to but with all of the great ones out there you may be missing something special just down the road.  Something you drive by everyday and would never know it was there if someone would not have told you about it.  Look around, slow down and stop and smell the smoke once in a while.  Get out of your BBQ rut and try someplace new.  You may find a hidden gem or a diamond in the rough.

I would be neglecting my duty if I did not give you some info for Brobeck’s BBQ.  Their website address is http://www.brobecksbbq.com/.  Their address is 4615 Indian Creek Parkway Overland Park, KS 66207.  If you are in KC, check them out.

 

 

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Brisket with Butcher BBQ products

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Injecting meat to add flavor for BBQ is all the rage on the BBQ circuit.  Almost everyone (except Johnny Trigg) on BBQ Pitmasters was injecting some kind of meat .  I personally have used injections on turkeys and pork shoulders.  Some injections I have made myself and some I have purchased.  I had never, ever injected a brisket.  I wanted to try this out so I emailed the man that I knew could steer me in the right direction.  David Bouska from Butcher BBQ was the man to help me.  David is the owner of David’s Processing in Chandler, OK, Pitmaster of the Butcher BBQ cooking team and creator of Butcher BBQ rubs, injections, sauces and marinades.  I have seen Butcher BBQ at many of the contests I have competed in and he has always had good showings.  Infact he just won Grand Champion in Liberal, KS this past weekend.  When I emailed David and asked if I could have some products to review for Drapers, he was more than willing to oblige.  I asked David for all the ingredients necessary to cook a competition brisket.  What I received was a bag of Butcher BBQ Brisket injection, a bottle of Butcher BBQ Premium BBQ rub and a bottle of Butcher BBQ sweet BBQ sauce.  Here are my impressions of each.

Butcher BBQ Bricket Injection

I mixed the injection according to the directions on the package.  I whisked the mixture until I could see no lumps.  It did not take long at all. The powder went into solution well and did not clog my injector needle.  The aroma from the injection was not what I had imagined it would be.  I expected to smell spices and a strong beef aroma and that is not what I received.  It was not a bad smell just not what I expected.  I went ahead and injected my brisket in a grid pattern all over the meat and let it rest overnight.  The package of injection stated to let it sit a minimum of four hours.  My brisket sat for about seven hours.  Overall it was a very easy to use product and any BBQ’r should have no problem including this in a competition or home cook.  I will give you my overall flavor review at the end of the article.  This is my brisket after it was injected.

 

Butcher BBQ Premium BBQ Rub

 

I was very anxious to use this rub.  It had sat in my pantry for most of the summer while I was at Boy Scout camp and on vacation.  I did not want to use it until I had time to cook a brisket.  This rub has a great color and added a beautiful bark to the brisket that I cooked that day.  It is a salty and sweet rub.  Salty at the beginning and sweet at the end.  No heat at all.  It was well balanced and I could see it complimenting  the meat not covering it up.  I gave the brisket a good coating of rub (I used almost half the 12 oz bottle) after I had finished injecting the brisket.  Place foil over the top of the aluminum pan and placed it in the refrigerator overnight (about 7 hours).  When I pulled the brisket out in the morning, I  re-coated lightly with more rub and on to the the pellet grill it went.

Butcher BBQ Sweet BBQ Sauce

I usually do not sauce the briskets I cook.  I just prefer to have my sauce on the side when eating brisket.  I used Butcher’s sauce the same way, on the side.  Butcher’s is a dark, rich looking and semi-thick BBQ sauce.  I do believe that it could be used in competitions and at home. I tasted it straight out of the bottle first.  The first taste I detected was the vinegar in the sauce.  The sweet came through next and the finish tasted like raisins.  I know that sounds a little funny to some people but it did give me that impression.  It was sweet with no heat at all.  The vinegar gave it a little bite but was not overpowering the sauce.  The color and the thickness would give a nice competition presentation.

Overall Impressions

The injection worked wonders for my brisket. I cooked it for 7 and 1/2 hours on the GMG Daniel Boone  untill it reached 204 degrees.  I cooked at 225 degrees the entire cook and wrapped when the meat reached 140 degrees.  I used BBQr’s Delight Apple pellets during this cook. The meat was very tender and juicy.  It would have been considered mushy for a contest but that is the way my wife and kids like it.  It had big beef flavor.  I do not think it would have been that beefy and flavorful without the injection.  I loved the rub.  The brisket had a nice bark that tasted great and I think the rub would go equally good on pork or chicken.  Now on to the sauce.  While it is not something I would dip my french fries in, it did taste great on the brisket.  Remember, I dunked mine as I ate and did not coat the brisket in it.  I tasted the sweet of the sauce first then the beef flavor of the meat came through second. Butcher BBQ has a full line of rubs, marinades, sauces and injections for you to try out.  I can attest they make one fine brisket.  This is my finished product.

 

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Product Review: Green Mountain Grill Daniel Boone Pellet Grill

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As a writer for Drapersbbq.com, it is my job to find interesting things to blog about.  Often I have to cold call different companies and arrange for samples to be sent to me to try out and review.  Small things like sauces or rubs are very easy to ship via what ever postal carrier you choose.  Grills and smokers on the other hand, those are a whole different story.  So right off the bat, I would like to thank Jason from Green Mountain Grills  (GMG) and Bob from BBQ Bonanza in Kansas City, KS for providing me this GMG Daniel Boone model to try out and review for our readers.  Jason made all the arrangements and Bob had the GMG delivered right to my front door, unpacked it and even loaded it with a few pellets.  They could not be nicer folks to work with.

The GMG brand is no stranger to us here at Draper’s BBQ.  Mike has owned a GMG for sometime now and I have a next door neighbor that has one as well.  Our intent is to give you a review through the eyes of a first time user (me) and a longtime owner (Mike).  We hope this will give you some helpful information if you are in the market for a new pellet grill.  You can read Mike’s long term review here.

Lets talk about the features of the GMG Daniel Boone model I cooked on.  The Daniel Boone features a 27×16 inch stainless steel grate for 432 sq inches of cook space.  Team that with a 13.5 inch clearance and you have a very large cook space.  The Daniel Boone weighs 152 pounds which makes it very portable.  Some pellet cookers can weigh over 300 lbs.  GMG gave this machine a digital control for easy use, a meat probe, utility hooks to hang your tools on and a thermal sensor to measure ambient temperature.  This thermal sensor tells the GMG to kick it into high gear if it is cold outside so you don’t have to wait for you grill to heat up in cold weather. GMG also equipped the Daniel Boone with a positive pressure hopper fan to prevent burn-back and a “fan only” mode with auto shut off to blow ash out of the firebox when you finished.  All of this for less than $800, making the GMG Daniel Boone one of if not the most affordable pellet grills on the market.  You can also purchase extras like a stainless steel (no warp) lid, a form fitting cover, a dome thermometer (to measure temps at the top of the grill) and a remote.  Bob was nice enough to include the remote with my Daniel Boone.  I was really excited to try that feature out.  Green Mountain Grills also includes an instruction/recipe book and an instructional DVD to help new owners.

Start up would have been easy if I would have read the instruction book that was given to me.  Being a man,  I did not read it until I became frustrated.  To start up the grill you must turn on the power switch then hold the increase temperature button.  I assume this is a safety feature so the grill does not accidentally get turned on by a child or accidental bump.  This is a very nice safety feature.  Once started, the grill begins to go through the motions of starting up and getting to temp.  The grill is automatically set to get to 320 degrees F, then you must set your cooking temp.  I lowered mine to 230 degrees F and opened the lid to help the temperature decrease.  This entire process took about 15-20 min.

Once I reached my desired temperature I put my brisket on and inserted the food probe so the Daniel Boone could keep track of the meat.  I turned on the remote control and headed inside to relax and watch the BBQ Pitmasters marathon on Destination America.  The remote worked flawlessly.  I could check the temp of my cooker and the meat with just the push of a button.  I waited until the meat’s temperature was 145 then I put it in a foil pan with some beef broth and covered it until it was time to take it off.  Total cook time for a 4.67 lb brisket flat was about 7 hrs and 45 min. This is a picture of the finished product. 

The next day, I wanted to test the Daniel Boone out as a grill.  I cooked a flank steak for fajitas.  I took the grill up to 500 degrees F (its maximum) for this.  The GMG took about 15 to 20 minutes to get to this temp.  I placed the steak on and heard the sizzle.  I could not wait to have those fajitas.  I took about 40 minutes to cook the flank steak to 155 degrees F.  This was longer than it would have taken me on my propane grill but the Daniel Boone cooked an incredible steak.  It was very juicy and flavorful and I did not have to worry about flare-ups with the GMG.  With the fan circulating the heat all around the food, I would almost call this smoke roasting vs grilling.  It takes a little longer to grill on the GMG but the result was just as good.  I did have substantial pellet usage while grilling at that high of temp so the cost to use the Daniel Boone as a grill is higher than a propane or charcoal grill but the products put out on the GMG were very tasty.

My overall impression of the GMG Daniel Boone model was excellent.  Start up was easy (once I read the instructions),  the cook was good, and the temp of the GMG only fluctuated a degree or 2 all day.  This was a very hot day in KC (high 101 degree F) and I did not use a lot of pellets.  My estimate was less than 5 lbs of pellets for the almost 8 hour smoke.  This pellet grill has a lot of high end features that you do not find on higher priced pellet grills.  I love the meat probe and the remote control.  I only left my recliner 3 times all day to check on the grill.  A few concerns I have about the GMG Daniel Boone are the thickness of the metal used in construction.  Will it insulate well enough in the cold weather months?  Will it warp and bend over time with the high heat of grilling?  Mike can probably address these questions in his review as a long time owner.  For the price,  I do not think you can beat this pellet grill.  It performs well under normal conditions, has some high end features that you wont find on higher priced pellet grills and the company has been very accommodating and easy to work with.

One footnote to my article:  The GMG Daniel Boone that I tested was an older model and may differ in specs from the current model.  Sorry for any confusion.

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