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I was really excited last month when I was contacted by the publisher and asked to review America's Best BBQ: 100 Recipes from America's Best Smokehouses, Pits, Shacks, Rib Joints, Roadhouses, and Restaurants. I must say that I'm now really glad to have had the opportunity.

This book is written by Ardie Davis and Paul Kirk. Both of these men are barbecue legends, and authors of several books. They have an astonishing knowledge of the craft and it shows throughout the book. That is no doubt why they both have the PhB (doctor of barbecue philosophy) after their name.

It's not often that I find a cookbook that is actually fun to read. They are usually very utilitarian, with little literary meat on the bones. This is clearly not the case with America's Best BBQ. I don't know what I enjoyed more, the authentic and varied recipes, or the barbecue stories and lore that they are steeped in.

While the book is historical, it also has an incredible variety of recipes. It includes everything from starters like Volcanic Goat Cheese, Rocky Mountain Oysters, and Fried Cheese Stick Grits, to Burgoo, to mutton ribs, and all the barbecue standards in between. The range of recipes is excellent. Even better, most of the recipes are from the originators themselves.

I found the following statement from the introduction very interesting.
"Each joint in this book is, in our view, one of the best in America. They are all on the same playing field, with varying strengths and weaknesses. That aside, we have each named our Top Ten joints in the back of the book."
Barbecue is very competitive and often chock full of ego, as is the restaurant industry generally. It's very refreshing to see the authors give their honest opinions about what they feel are the best.

If you love barbecue, its history, and great recipes, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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As one of the Tastemakers over at Foodbuzz, I was given the opportunity to review the Wild Mushroom Agnolotti offering from Buitoni's Riserva fresh pasta line.

My first thought was to make a simple brown butter and sage sauce for it, but in the end I decided to make an appetizer. I fried them and served them with warm marinara for dipping.

I only had one, as my ladies made relatively quick work of them, but I really enjoyed it. Next time I think I'll double the batch and hold some back.

Ingredients
1 package (9 oz) Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti (large ravioli)
1 cup Buttermilk
1 1/2 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce, warmed
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
Canola oil, for frying

Method
Add two inches of oil to a large heavy pan.

Using a deep fry thermometer, heat the oil to 350º.

While the oil is heating, put the buttermilk and bread crumbs in two medium bowls.

Dip each agnolotti in the buttermilk, dredge well in the bread crumbs and place on a baking rack.

Once the oil is to temperature, drop half (six) agnolotti in the oil, waiting a few seconds between each one.

Fry to golden brown (2-3 minutes), then remove to a clean section of the baking rack.

Sprinkle with half the cheese.

Repeat the frying and sprinkling for the remaining agnolotti.

Serve with the warm marinara.

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General's Grilled Chicken
If you've ever had General Tso's Chicken at your favorite Chinese restaurant, you will completely understand this twist on grilled chicken. If you've never tried General's Chicken (as it's commonly referred to), and you like sweet, sticky and spicy Asian sauces, give this a try.

The idea for the dry seasoning came from a co-worker who uses it on her roasted chicken. She brought me a packet of the seasoning and this is what I came up with. Thanks, Beverly!

As always, click the image to see the larger version.

Ingredients
1 whole chicken, cut up
1 packet Sunbird Phad Thai seasoning (Asian section of your supermarket)
2 Tbsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Sauce
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce (I prefer Lee Kum Kee brand)
1/4 cup Ketchup (Heinz, of course)
1/8 cup Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce (Asian section of your supermarket)
1/8 cup Rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Lemon juice
2 tsp Hot chile oil (or more to taste -- I prefer Mongolian Fire Oil)

Method
Rinse all of the chicken pieces well under running cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Coat all sides of each piece of chicken liberally with the Phad Thai seasoning and a sprinkle of the seasoned salt.

Put all the chicken in a gallon zip-top bag and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, whisk well to combine, and set aside.

Start your fire and prepare for indirect cooking at medium-high heat.

Grill the chicken indirect until the thighs reach an internal temperature of 155º.

Note: Keep the largest pieces of dark meat closest to the heat, and the white meat furthest away.

Brush a medium-thick coat of the sauce on each piece of chicken.

Continue cooking until the thickest part of the largest dark meat reaches 165º. Rotate the pieces close to the direct part of the fire until the sauce caramelizes nicely, then rotate them back to the cooler part of the grill.

Brush each piece of chicken with another medium-thick coat of the sauce, and remove to a platter.

General's Grilled Chicken

Let the chicken rest 10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy.

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BBQ Central
Last night I was again fortunate to be on Greg Rempe's BBQ Central Radio program. The award-winning host Johnny Dam of The Damage Report was filling in for Greg. He and his guest were fun to talk to. We discussed mentoring a new competitor, grilling tri-tip, and a little about my sangria recipe.

If you've never heard it, I highly recommend that you peruse the podcast archives and hear what you've been missing. Tune in each Tuesday and hear the show live at 9PM EDT on LA Talk Radio Channel 1 and thank me later.

Note: The show is also available on iTunes. Just search for "The BBQ Central Show on LA Talk Radio" (without the quotes). You can also listen to last night's show here.

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Over the past couple of months I have been fortunate to be able to mentor a new competitor. Shane Sapp of Quarter Ton BBQ (here in the Boise area) competed in his first competition earlier this month at the Big Chill Cook-Off in Kuna, Idaho.


I have to say that Shane is a fast learner and he had that fire in the belly that you really can't coach. He cooked like an absolute trooper, despite some nasty weather, and did very well. Oh, and he saved my bacon with a sleeping bag and tent heater when I locked my keys in my truck.

I thought his comments about his first outing would be a nice addition to this series. I sent him some questions and here's what he had to say:

Me: Overall, was your first competition experience better, worse, or about what you expected? Why?

Shane: Honestly, it was about what I had expected. It was a great experience. I think it was primarily because I had the luxury of a veteran competitor showing me the ropes. Also, your blog gave me a pretty good rundown in your "Competition BBQ 101" series.

Me: What things, if any, did you learn during the competition that you would rather have learned before you got there?

Shane: Nothing really stands out as far as the competition side of things goes. Again, I had a pretty solid foundation built by my mentor. Maybe some details about the individual event, like the venue layout, would have been nice to have, but there are probably last minute details that affect the planning.

Me: What is the single biggest mistake you feel you made during the competition?

Shane: Going back to the whole mentor thing again, I ignored the advice I was given about my sauce. I decided to use something that I liked instead of one that might appeal to more people. To make matters worse, I didn't heat it up when I applied it to my two long cook meats. Also, I probably rushed my turn in boxes when I didn't need to.

Me: What part of the competition did you enjoy most? Least?

Shane: I really had a good time during turn-ins. I don't know whether or not that will sound funny to the veterans. It was rewarding to see what had started, for me 15 hours earlier, all come together. I had a high level of adrenaline and was excited to get my boxes turned in, in anticipation of the judging. Every other competitor you passed wished you good luck with a genuine smile on their face. They were good group of people for sure.

As far as the least enjoyable part, it did get down to 29 degrees during the overnight portion of the competition -- chilly.

Me: What comments or pointers would you like to share with other would-be competitors?

Shane: I would have to echo what both Hoss of Big Daddy BBQ and you told me -- use the internet. There is a ton of information out there. From YouTube to Greg Rempe's internet radio program, there are a lot of people showing and discussing how things are done. Community forums, like the Utah BBQ Association and The BBQ Brethren are great sources of information and feedback as well. I am not talking about getting "secrets" per se, but building blocks that some folks are offering out there that you can build on and make something of your own. Above all, have fun with it!

Thanks for your thoughts and very kind words, Shane. It was truly a pleasure to help show you the ropes and, of course, to cook along side you. I look forward to doing it again soon.

I encourage all of my fellow competitors out there to find someone who is curious and mentor them. We need to be looking to help those who are up and coming.

Previous installments:
The Gear
How It Goes Down
Tips For Success

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Patio Daddio SangriaIt's clearly a little early, but for some reason I had the burning desire to make some sangria. I like wine and sangria is just a great way to lighten up some red wine. It's a winey, fruity, refreshing and festive drink. Oh, and it's brain-dead easy to make.

You can use any red wine for this recipe, but I recommend something full-bodied, like a Merlot. You want the wine to be bold enough to stand up to the fruit and ice. As for brands, I really like Barefoot. The quality is worth about three times the price.

Ingredients
1 bottle (750 ml) Red wine (I recommend Barefoot Merlot)
1 Tangelo, sliced 1/4" thick
1 Lemon, sliced 1/4" thick
12 oz Ginger ale
1/4 cup Sugar

Method
Combine the wine and sugar in a large pitcher.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the fruit and stir gently.

Just before serving, add the ginger ale and stir.

Serve over ice in a large wine glass.

Enjoy!

Tip: Roll the fruit on your counter under the palm of your hand before slicing. This will help release the juice and oils.

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It's often said, and it's true, that the most dangerous knife you can use is a dull knife. A good sharp knife can make standard preparatory tasks much safer and less laborious. You say, "Well, that's a good point (no pun intended), but who has time to deal with all that sharpening and honing?!" Let's face it, knife sharpening is a major headache. Well, for me it used to be a headache.

Allow me to introduce you to the Warthog V-Sharp. This odd looking contraption makes quick work of knife sharpening and honing. It will give you a scary sharp edge with almost no effort. Rather than bore you with a bunch of my diatribe, I'd highly recommend that you watch the short videos that explain how the V-Sharp works. If you can slice a tomato, you can have sharp knives in almost no time.

To give you an idea of how well this thing works, I walked around a recent local BBQ competition demonstrating the V-Sharp to many of my fellow competitors. I sharpened eight knives in about 20 minutes, and that included walking and talking time.

If you value sharp knives and your time, get a V-Sharp.

Note: Click the image for a larger view.

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I am a fool for some good French onion soup. Unfortunately, most of the common restaurant fare is thin, salty and vacuous. It seems as though they just dumped some onions in some beef broth, let it reduce a little, then dish it up with a slab of bread and a glob of cheese.

You might think that this recipe looks like what I just described. What I am trying to do here is strike a balance between the real 'from scratch' thing and something that the average Joe can whip up in relatively short order. I wanted it to burst with flavor and richness, but with minimal effort.

OK, put on your best French pseudo-chef hat and let's get after it.

Ingredients

2 cups red onion, chopped medium (3/4")
1 can (10.5 oz) Beef consomme (Campbell's, of course)
1 can (10.5 oz) Beef broth (again, Campbell's)
1 1/4 cup Water
3 Tbsp Ketchup (Heinz, of course)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp Black pepper, ground fresh

1 cup Croutons, plain
1 cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated

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Method

Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat.

Add the oil and let it heat for 30 seconds.

Add the onions, salt and pepper, and mix well.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they become very tender and caramelize (turn light brown -- not burnt). This will take approximately 30 minutes.

Whisk the consomme, broth, water and ketchup in a mixing bowl until the ketchup is completely incorporated.

Add the liquid to the pan and stir to combine.

Simmer the soup uncovered at medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the soup into three equal servings (approximately 1 1/4 cup each) in oven-safe bowls.

Top each bowl with 1/3 of the croutons and then 1/3 of the cheese.

Put the bowls on a sheet pan and bake at broil until the cheese just starts to brown.

Remove from the oven, let stand five minutes then serve.

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