Ranch-ifried Zucchini (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

In my continued partnership with Hidden Valley® I'm glad to bring you another ranch-inspired recipe. Ranch is made for vegetables, and my twist on fried zucchini would be very welcome on your game day table, or even alongside a burger as a tasty alternative to traditional fries.

What's great about these is that they have a light and very crunchy crust, but there's no messy three-step breading process involved. Instead, the dry ranch dressing mix acts as a marinade while it coaxes water out of the zucchini, which then becomes the liquid for the batter. I then toss them in some spicy chipotle-seasoned flour before they take a short deep-fried dip. I think you'll really enjoy the tasty simplicity of these zucchini fries.

Ingredients
4 Zucchini
1 envelope (1 oz) Hidden Valley® Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix
1/2 cup Flour, all-purpose
1 tsp Ground chipotle
4 cups Peanut or canola oil for frying
Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing for dipping

Method
Cut the zucchini in half then slice each half into thick French-fry-size sticks, about 1/3" thick. Lay the pieces in a single layer in a shallow casserole dish (9" x 13"). Sprinkle the dressing mix evenly over the zucchini and stir the pieces to evenly coat them. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 45 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Heat the frying oil in a large heavy pot (I recommend cast iron) to 360º, and preheat your oven to 200º.

Combine the flour and chipotle in a small mixing bowl and mix well. Dust the zucchini with half of the flour mixture, toss with a fork and repeat with the remaining flour.

Working in small batches, carefully drop the zucchini into the oil, waiting a few seconds in between. Fry the brats until they are golden brown. Remove to a wire rack inside a lipped sheet pan that's lined with several layers of paper towels. Keep the fries in the oven as you cook the remaining batches.

Serve with Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dressing for dipping.

Ranch-ifried Zucchini (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Enjoy!

(Makes about four servings)

Disclaimer: I'm a compensated partner of Hidden Valley®.

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Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

It's no secret that I absolutely love my Pit Barrel Cooker. The thing is brain-dead easy to use and it produces some seriously righteous barbecue. Last weekend I ran across some decent beef back ribs and I took the opportunity to spank them with the PBC love.

I love beef ribs. I'll take one good barbecued beef rib (OK, maybe two) over an entire rack of pork ribs any day. The problem is that good beef ribs are hard to come by these days. However, there are a few times each year where you can use the power of mass marketing to your advantage. Just wait until after any holiday where people might serve prime rib or ribeyes. It just so happens that Valentines Day is one of those times, so I capitalized on it not once, but twice. I found some decent ribs that weren't trimmed to oblivion (as they typically are) and at a price that was just this side of shoplifting.

This isn't really a recipe, I just wanted to tell y'all about my cook.

I busted the ribs out of the pack and hit them on both sides with a moderate coat of the Pit Barrel Cooker Beef & Game Rub. I let them sit at room temperature while I started the Pit Barrel with Kingsford® Original briquets (20 minutes).

Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

I hung and cooked them for 90 minutes.

Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Then I wrapped them in a double-layer of heavy duty foil with a little beer and cooked them on the grate (rods inserted) for an hour.

Next I unwrapped them and cooked them on the grate for about 30 minutes while glazing them on each side with sauce.

I removed them from the barrel and let them rest.

Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

...just long enough for me to whack them up.

Pit Barrel Beef Ribs (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Then I ate a whole mess of 'em. They were divine! I also took some across the street to my Texas-native neighbor and he said that they were "really good". That's about all the quality assurance I needed.

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Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ Chicken Rub (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

I'm always eager to try new barbecue rubs. As a competitor I am especially interested in trying products that are winning big time out on the competition circuit. However, this particular rub had me so intrigued that I ordered some shortly after it became available.

Why was I so anxious to try the Slap Yo' Daddy Chicken Rub? Well, I've been a fan of Slap Yo' Daddy pitmaster Harry Soo since I saw him on the first season of the BBQ Pitmasters series in late 2009. He had many of the traits that I admire in any cook; he was humble, friendly, tenacious, highly-skilled, and you could immediately tell that he's a man who passionately enjoys his craft. He's also very open about his techniques and is willing to teach people. He strives to spread what he calls "barbecue happiness".

Then in 2010 I got to meet and compete against Harry here in Boise where he beat me (and most of the rest of the field) like a rented mule. He was on a serious tear that year, as he's been for his entire competitive barbecue career. I distinctly remember him going around to each team and offering to teach people how to build a turn-in box. It's exceedingly rare for a competitor to offer that kind of help to people who are there to beat you, but that's Harry. Since then he's gone on to be named 2012 KCBS Chicken Team of The Year.

Last November Harry and I met again at the Kingsford Invitational where he was a judge. During our time there they held a panel discussion where the judges discussed various aspects of barbecue and competition. It was during that panel that Harry said something that sparked some serious curiosity. He said that the secret to the color of his competition chicken is Tang. Yes, Tang, that NASA-born powdered orange drink mix. It struck me as so odd that I thought that I had misunderstood what he said. "Surely he didn't say Tang!", I thought to myself.

After the panel I found Harry and asked him about his unusual ingredient. He explained that he approaches his competition barbecue like a series of Lego-like components where each piece has to fit to make a perfect whole. His Tang epiphany came to him as he was working on the color block. It's this kind of unconventional thinking that shows what a masterful technician Harry is.

So, when Harry introduced his new rub I knew that I had to try it immediately. I wrote him an e-mail and asked if I still needed to use the coat of Tang under the rub and he replied, "It's designed to be used as the only rub so you don't need to add anything else or other products. It's championship chicken in one easy-to-use rub package." Ascorbic acid and artificial color are listed as ingredients, so clearly he has incorporated his secret ingredient.

To give the rub a true test I used it for a competition test cook using the instructions on the bag. I trimmed the chicken thighs, coated them liberally on all sides with the rub, then let them marinate several hours.

Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ Chicken Rub (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Just before cooking I touched up the rub to ensure that I had a nice uniform coat with no bald spots. Next I arranged them on the (oiled) rack for my Pit Barrel Cooker.

Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ Chicken Rub (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

I cooked them over plain Kingsford® Original briquets (no smoke wood) to an internal temperature of 170º.

For sauce Harry recommends, "KC Masterpiece® with honey, hot sauce to your liking, and diluted with apple juice so that the sauce goes on thinly and not goopy." For mine I thinned Sweet Baby Ray's Original with unsweetened pineapple juice and added some honey and Franks® RedHot®.

Using tongs I gently dunked each thigh in warmed sauce twice, letting them cook about 10 minutes between coats. Dunking ensures a perfectly uniform coating with no brush marks. It also helps avoid brushing the rub off of the skin.

I garnished a standard turn-in box, added the chicken, then closed the box for 10-15 minutes.

Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ Chicken Rub (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Here's a closer view. Check out that color!

Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ Chicken Rub (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

They were moist, juicy, slightly smoky, with just the right balance of salt, sweet, tang, and spice. The skin was bite-through. The thing that really impressed me is the great first-bite burst of flavor. That's exactly what you want for competition chicken because the judges typically take only one or two bites of each entry. You need a rub that really makes them take notice, and Harry's certainly does.

As you can no doubt tell by now that I recommend this rub very highly. It's not just for competition, so get some and take it for a spin.

Disclaimer: I purchased the rub at full retail price, and I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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Beer-Battered Brat Lolipops with Spicy Kraut Mustard (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

The great folks at Johnsonville recently sent me some of their limited-edition Cheddar Cheese & Bacon brats (available at WalMart), so I came up with this recipe just in time for the big game. These are a great way to serve brats to a crowd in a way that's fun, festive and finger-food-friendly.

Most folks know that boiling brats in beer with onions and then grilling them is the traditional preparation. Well, I reversed the process by grilling the sausages just until they are barely done, slice them into two-bite portions, then I dunk them in a hearty beer batter and let them take a deep-fry swim until they are golden brown and slighly crispy. I serve these lolipop-style on skewers with a spicy sauerkraut mustard.

Enjoy these and tip your cardiologist (he'll be jealous).

Ingredients
1 package (19 oz) Johnsonville Cheddar Cheese & Bacon brats
1 Egg white
1 cup All-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup + 2 Tbsp Ale (such as Shock Top Belgian White)
1 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Seasoned salt
2 Tbsp Corn starch
1/4 cup Spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup Yellow mustard
1/4 cup Sauerkraut, undrained
1/4 cup Applesauce
4 cups Peanut or canola oil for frying

Method
Start your grill and prepare for indirect cooking over medium heat (325-350º).

Beer-Battered Brat Lolipops with Spicy Kraut Mustard (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Grill the brats indirect for about 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145º. Remove the sausages from the grill to a platter and let cool.

Heat the frying oil in a large heavy pot (I recommend cast iron) to 360º.

In a medium mixing bowl beat the egg white to light peaks. Add the flour, ale, baking powder and seasoned salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.

When the oil is ready, slice each of the warm sausages into five equally sized pieces and toss them with the corn starch in a medium bowl.

Working in batches of five, use a skewer to remove each piece of sausage from the corn starch, knocking off the excess. Coat each piece completely in the beer batter and carefully drop them into the oil, waiting a few seconds in between. Fry the brats until they are golden brown. Remove to a wire rack inside a lipped sheet pan that's lined with several layers of paper towels.

Combine both mustards, the sauerkraut and applesauce in a small bowl. Blend well with an immersion blender until smooth.

Serve the sausage on small skewers with the mustard for dipping.

Enjoy!

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