Smokin’ Steve’s Vestes (Hickory) Sauce


Growing up in Oklahoma City, there were several burger outfits (Charcoal Oven, The Split-T, Howards Hamburgers, and Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler) that specialized in char-broiled hamburgers with a variety of topping and sauce options. You could get the standard burger with mustard, pickle and onion; however, you could also order a burger with a good dose of hickory sauce. These were generally called a Theta Burger. I won’t go in to a history of these restaurants in this article, that’s another topic for another day, and a good one at that. We’ll get to the hickory sauce here.

I’ve made an adjustment or two and named my version of this condiment Smokin’ Steve’s Vestes Sauce. It’s a tomato based sauce with a nice kick of hickory smoke flavor. It goes well with, chicken, lamb, pork chops, franks, hot links, kielbasa, or a freshly washed finger, but it goes best with beef/bison hamburgers cooked over a charcoal fire..

Here we go:

Utensils required are a sauce pan,  range top and a bowl for mixing the dry stuff.

There are two components; wet and dry ingredients.The two components


Wet ingredients:

Wet ingredientsDump the following into a saucepan:

16 ounces of tomato sauce
6 ounces of tomato paste
½ cup of ketchup
1/3 cup of sorghum; molasses or dark brown sugar will substitute
1 ½ tsp hot sauce, (I like Texas Pete’s Original Hot Sauce for this stuff) but use what you like
1 ½ – 2 tsp of liquid smoke (I prefer Wright’s Liquid Smoke)

I use 2 tsp’s of liquid smoke, however, in making the sauce for the first time, start at 1 ½ tsp’s, taste it and go from there.

SmoothBreak out the whisk and combine until smooth.



Dry ingredients:Dry Ingedients

In a bowl add the following and combine thoroughly:

½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp chili powder

Dry to the wetOver very low heat whisk the wet ingredients in the sauce pan until warm. Add the dry ingredients and continue to whisk in order to combine completely. While whisking (not whiskey, but whisking; Okay you can have a shot if need be) mix up the concoction over low heat until it’s on the verge Doneof bubbling.


Let it cool for a few minutes and store in a glass jar with a good seal; a one quart canning jar will do the trick.

Ready to StoreStore in the icebox until ready to use.

This recipe will make about 24 ounces give or take, so a quart jar would be nice, use what you have, no need to run out and buy new stuff unless you really want to. I recommend steering away from plastic containers though. Vestes sauce will keep for months in the refrigerator.

The next time you grill some burgers give this stuff a try, I think you’ll like it. A nice dollop on top of a burger will fix you up.

That’s it for today! Happy cooking!!!

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Prime Rib on the Big Green Egg


After tuning up my Big Green Egg with a hefty cleaning, gasket replacement, thermometer calibration and some needed adjustments, it was time to smoke something; some meat that is. For the article with regard to fixing up your Big Green Egg snap this link:

After a couple of trial runs with some steaks, baked potatoes and the usual whatnot, I was secure that everything was working as expected; no leaks or wild fluctuations in temperature so it was time to give the revitalized Egg a run for my time and money.

20160121_180552The first smoking project was a nice hunk of bone-in beef prime rib left over from the last holiday season. This piece weighed in at four pounds with two ribs intact.

The roast was frozen as solid as a rock; some notes on thawing frozen meat, have a date in mind when the cooking is to be done. Remove the meat from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator. This is simply a safe handling practice. Beef is not suspect to the same bacterial offenders that afflict pork and poultry, but there’s no reason to take any chances. Let it thaw in the icebox for two or three days. Thawing time will vary according to the weight of the piece of meat in question, so give it some time. Use your head and plan the meal ahead and thaw the meat accordingly.

Once the roast is thawed out I like to separate the rib bones from the roast without 20160121_180742removing them completely. I’ll leave a little tissue intact at the eye end of the roast in order to keep the rib portion attached. The ribs will simply fold out. This allows for an additional area for seasoning. I’ll then tie the ribs back to roast with butchers twine, the long way following seasoning.

20160121_180352After the roast in question is thawed and has the ribs separated and ready to go, some seasoning needs to take place. I used ground rosemary and thyme, ground black pepper, garlic and onion powder and kosher salt. Combine20160121_180407 these items in a bowl and grind them up with your freshly washed hand. I won’t give any amounts for these seasonings because you need to do it suit your own taste. Stick a clean finger in there and taste it, it’s the only way you’ll get it right.

Grease up the roast with extra virgin olive oil; I prefer organic, however, use your own judgement. Give all exposed surfaces a nice coating of olive oil and apply the seasoning.

20160121_180952Once the roast is coated with seasoning ensuring the flap of 20160121_181111ribs are not neglected, as they need some love as well, tie it with butchers twine the long way, two bindings should do it. Cover it with parchment or waxed paper and again with aluminum foil placing it in the fridge to ruminate overnight. Why parchment or waxed paper? Because aluminum foil has a way of reacting with salt and acidic substances like tomato or citrus products. Parchment or waxed paper provide a nice barrier. No worries here.20160121_181705


The thawing and smoking process for a four pound prime rib of beef is really about a four to five day project. Two to three days for thawing; after thawing out the chunk of beef in question some seasoning is required which needs an overnight to do its thing.

20160123_130254On the day of smoking remove the roast from the chiller and allow it to stand at room temperature for an hour or so, in the meantime getting the fire ready. As I’ve stated before20160123_132638 I prefer a mix of charcoal; lump and briquettes. Placing a decent layer of lump charcoal in the firebox of the Egg, I’ll start the briquettes in a chimney, once their fired up and ready I’ll throw those on top of the lump charcoal which will get the whole thing going.

20160123_134240The wood of choice for this project was blackjack oak. Whatever your choice of wood for smoking, soak the pieces for a couple of hours prior to adding them to the fire. This procedure will provide for a good amount of smoke without killing the fire with saturated wood.

I started the smoking at 350F and reduced the heat to 20160123_13453520160123_134427about 275F after about 30 minutes. The cooking time for this piece is about 20 minutes per pound at 250F to 275F in order to reach an internal temperature of around 125F for a rare to medium rare roast; so for this four pound roast including the 30 minutes at 350F, I’m looking at a total time on the smoker of about 110 minutes, so slightly under two hours. Two hours won’t hurt a bit.

20160123_155021Once an internal temp of 125F is obtained remove the roast from the smoker and once 20160123_163324again cover with parchment paper and let it rest for 30 minutes prior to serving. Waxed paper may leave residue due to the heat. If you’re making other dishes which require a little time, put the meat in an ice chest and place a towel over the parchment covered roast. Shut the lid and it will be ready when you are.20160123_163336

Using this process while adjusting for your own needs, you’ll wind up with a slice of prime rib that is as good or better than what can be had at any beef joint in Las Vegas.

Try it out; use your own judgement with regard to seasonings, cooking time depending on the equipment used, and how rare you like your prime rib.

I think you’ll be happy with the result. Remember, every opportunity to cook is a learning experience which will help you hit that groove, that state of flow with regard to your cooking.

I am Smokin’ Steve, and I hope this gets you started. Enjoy!

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A Tune Up for The Big Green Egg


8481014772_436b7fa7b5_bI’ve owned a Big Green Egg (BGE) since January of 2009, about seven years, and I do a lot of cooking on it. I use it probably four or five times a week, this is much more than the average with a considerable amount of use at high temperatures. I use it for everything from the usual grilling and smoking, but baking as well. I’ve reached temperatures well over 700F, especially when I set the vents wide open and crank it up for a cleaning phase. A cleaning phase at very high heat is a good way to clean the cooking grid, plate setter and the inside of the Egg, reducing most of the build up to ash which is removed quite easily, however, as with anything else there is a catch, it wears out the gaskets over time, especially if there is any overlap to the inside.

I pressed the BGE in to service quite a bit during the last holiday season and it was 20160114_113540 - Copycooking fairly well, no major issues like smoke leaking out between the dome and the bottom half, however, the gasket was getting a bit crispy and the temperature was getting increasingly difficult to control, sure signs of some air leaks and the need for a gasket replacement as well as a little bit of adjustment.

Time for that dreaded maintenance; I had a replacement gasket on hand so I was waiting for a decent day to do the work. We’ve had some beautiful weather in southern Oklahoma in the New Year and few days ago happened to be the opportune time to do the work, so here goes…

Items required:

adjustable wrench, or suitable deep well socket and ratchet
wiping rag
some leather gloves
a thermometer (digital or analog) for BGE thermometer calibration
pan of hot water for BGE thermometer calibration
fine grit sand paper
paint scraper/razor blade type scraper
replacement gasket
additional adhesive (optional)
heavy duty dish detergent for cleaning cast iron top
abrasive pad or steel wool for cleaning the thermometer probe
a couple of old towels
heavy duty zip ties
coffee for the person doing the work

I’ve replaced the gasket on my BGE a couple of times, both of which without taking the unit apart. Replacing a gasket without doing a little bit of disassembly is really doing it the hard way. Taking the Egg apart offers a couple of advantages; flat working surfaces for gasket replacement and the opportunity to do some re-alignment with regard to the fit between the upper and lower halves.

Before I took the Egg apart, I did a little housekeeping; I removed the fire ring and fire box, cleared away all of the ash saving any usable charcoal for future use, and made sure all of the holes in the fire box were clear. I also cleaned the cooking grid. I used oven cleaner, but use whatever works best for you. I removed the dual function cast iron top as well for a good soak in dish detergent. This piece tends to get caked up with smoke residue so a good soaking and cleaning with a brush will ensure ease of use in the future. I have to say that Dawn Dish Detergent works well for cleaning this piece.

Disassembly requires some preparatory work. The BGE has an assembly of two steel bands which hold the top and bottom in place, but the latter versions of the band assembly also have a spring loaded hinge attachment that allows for ease in opening and a little downward pressure to provide for a better seal between the top and bottom. This attachment needs to be secured in order to avoid project ending mishaps. Springs like to get “sprung” and relax; remember this, it may save you a trip to the emergency room or the dentist with an embarrassing story to tell.

20160114_112022 - CopySecuring the spring hinge is easy; a couple of heavy duty zip ties on each side of the hinge will do the trick. Don’t take any chances with this apparatus; I’ve been around springs when the decide to get loose and the result is never pretty. Secure it; safety first, and securing the hinge assembly in its CLOSED position not only keeps it safe but provides for easy removal, re-assembly and any adjustments that need to be be made are that much easier.

20160114_113250 - Copy

In order to disassemble the Egg; once the bands are secured with zip ties, loosened and removed, take the dome and put it in a safe place and grab a couple of old towels and lay those over the edge of the bottom half on opposite sides of the unit. Remove the band assembly and 20160114_113320 - Copyplace it somewhere out of the way. Retrieve the dome and place it on the towels situated over the lower half, with the top20160114_115704 down. This provides for a steady and flat work area for gasket replacement on the dome.





Now for gasket replacement; I like to soak the old gaskets with acetone. This is the 20160114_113531 - Copystuff that’s used as nail polish remover. Wet down the old gasket with acetone and let it sit for a few minutes. In about the time it takes to go in and get a cup of coffee the offending gasket will be ready to peel off easily.

20160114_113659A paint scraper or one of those razor blade scrapers will make quick work of the job. After the old gasket is removed there 20160114_114311may still be some old adhesive and gasket fuzz left, simply give the surface of the ceramic components another dose of acetone, let it ruminate for a few minutes and continue; this is where the razor blade scraper really gives you an 20160114_113953advantage, you can just about get down to the factory surface. Keep scraping until you remove all of the old adhesive that you can. At this point I like to break out some fine grit sand paper, I had some 150 20160114_114536grit and it worked well. Gently sand the surface until its smooth and even with an eye toward any stubborn adhesive residue. It really shouldn’t take too much sanding if any.

Now for the gaskets. The stock gasket for the BGE is essentially a felt based, adhesive backed material and it works great. The last two gaskets I’ve installed were of the Nomex type. These are available all over the place especially on Amazon. The gasket I replaced this time was a Nomex and it had been on the Egg for a little over a year. I don’t think it was any better than the stock felt variety. I have a caveat for that statement; the gasket in question was installed without taking the Egg apart, a mistake on my end, and I had some alignment issues between the top and bottom half. Like I said, I use my BGE several times a week, and over the last seven years the bands have become a little loose, not sloppy loose, although enough to lead to some misalignment. This allowed for a less than perfect seal and caused me to remove the bands and do a proper gasket replacement.

replacement gasketThe replacement gasket will have an adhesive backing, but I like to use a little spray adhesive in addition. 3M makes some good spray adhesives; I’ll spray a little of this stuff on the ceramic surface and spread it out with my finger until the entire ring is coated. Keep a rag handy to wipe off any over spray.

Now it’s time for the replacement gasket. Peel off the paper backing and work 20160114_125828 - Copyyour way around the ceramic surface, moving a few inches at a time being careful not to stretch the gasket, which is easy to do. Apply the gasket with an eye toward the outer edge; any overhang into the interior will burn up the gasket from the inside out.

Once the end of the new gasket is reached cut the material where the ends meet. About a 1/16th of an inch overlap will provide for a tight seal without stretching the gasket. Perform this process on the upper and lower halves. Now it’s time for re-assembly.

Take the bands and set them on the bottom half of the unit; both ceramic components have a point of center; this is identified by a small counter sink drilled into the ceramic. Position the bands as close to center as possible and set the dome portion inside the bands, aligning the center points of the top and the bottom.

Arrange the bands so that the handle attached to the top band is centered with the center point on the dome. Now it’s time to tighten the bands. Ensure the top band is as high on the dome as you can get it; there’s a lip on the ceramic dome to keep the band in position, get as close to the top of the lip as you can. Tighten the bands a little in order to keep the components secure and test the seal.

20160114_145802Testing the seal is easily done with a dollar bill. I like to use four bills situated at different points. Put bills at the front, back and on each side. The bills should have some resistance when pulled; this signifies proper fit. Pay extra attention to the bill placed in the hinge area in back. It should have some resistance when pulled. The hinge area in back tends to be the most problematic due to the spring tension in a closed position. Once resistance is achieved when each bill is pulled in its respective position, tighten the bands.

Tighten the bands until the bolts bend a little. Repeat the bill test. If necessary, 20160114_145413 - Copyrepeat the process until proper seal is achieved. I had to repeat the process four times in order to get a seal that I was happy with. Be patient, this is an expensive piece of equipment that requires maintenance so while you have the time and you’re doing this anyway, take the time to get it right; make yourself satisfied with the fit. Use the bill test, it works.

unnamed[1]I had some gasket material left over so I ran a strip around the chimney where the cast iron top sits. This provided a nice tight seal between the device an and the ceramic component.

A tip with regard to the dual function cast iron top; this cast iron topdevice is cast with the Big Green Egg logo. Position the device with the logo to left; otherwise whenever the lid is lifted the vent on the device will swing open and need to be re-positioned. This is due to the location of the set screw; strange, but true… This positioning will put the set screw to the front of the Egg. This works for me…

While you’re messing around with the Egg you might as well give the thermometer some attention. This thing is probably all smoked up and needs some calibration as 20160129_145402well. The device resides in a small hole at the center of the dome, held in place by a metal clip. Pull the clip from the probe of the thermometer and it’s removed quite easily. Mine was had some smoke residue so I buffed it up with an SOS Pad removing as much of this crap as I could.

Now it’s time for some calibration of the thermometer; this implement is a spring style 20160129_145937device, meaning as the spring heats or cools it will move the dial pointer accordingly. The neat thing about the thermometers for the Big Green Egg is that they have a nut on the back of them for adjustment. Since you have it out get some pliers and mess around with it; move the nut left and right and you’ll see the dial pointer move.

Now for calibration, I use a pan of boiling water and a candy thermometer. Where I live, the elevation is about 1000 feet above sea level, so the boiling point is actually about 210F at 30 inches of barometric pressure, which is what we had the day I messed with it. This complicates matters, so I set my BGE thermometer using the Celsius scale.

I suggest employing a pair of leather gloves and a pair of pliers for this part of the project. Using a candy thermometer which attaches to the side of a pan, a pan of water and some heat, get the water hot. Stick the probe of the thermometer in the hot water holding the device by the adjustment nut with the pliers. Once the candy thermometer reaches about 100C, adjust the nut on the back of the BGE thermometer by twisting the thermometer with your free, gloved hand until the BGE thermometer reading matches that of the candy thermometer. Repeat the process several times to ensure accurate readings, adjusting when needed. This process is kind of tricky so use some care.

20160129_161054Once readings are attained between the candy thermometer and the BGE thermometer that are as close as you can get them with relation to one another, you’re done. Stick it back in the Egg attach the clip and that’s it. The idea is a proper temperature reading, or as close as you can get it anyway. This will provide for more accurate temperature readings and better fire control which will lead to a great finished product. All of this maintenance will make you look good and give you a more intimate knowledge of your cooking medium and its components.

Now with all of the items cleaned up, the ash removed, a new gasket installed 20160114_145441and any needed adjustments made; close the lid and walk away. Pick up your tools and any residual messes left behind, go inside and have a few cocktails and a TV dinner. The lid needs to be closed for at least 24 hours before firing up the BGE. This will allow time for the gasket adhesive to cure.

The Big Green Egg is no different than any other appliance/high end expenditure that you own. The rig that you drive needs the oil changed and some preventive maintenance to ensure that it operates as desired when you need it. The Big Green Egg is no different. With a little bit of maintenance, your Big Green Egg should work well when called into service, and for a considerable length of time. This is quality equipment and requires a small amount of care once in a while.

That’s all the maintenance and cleaning I did for my Big Green Egg, and I’ve been satisfied with its performance. A little bit of maintenance on the Big Green Egg or any other smoker for that matter will go a long way in facilitating ease of use and the desired outcome with regard to any future grilling or smoking project that you have in mind.

There you have it, maintenance on the Big Green Egg. Cleaning, adjustment and calibration should be applied to any grill or smoker that you may own to ensure that it operates as desired when used.

Remember, because it’s cold outside is no reason to stop grilling and smoking tasty meat delicacies. The Big Green Egg is made of heavy material and will function well in frigid temperatures without fear of cracking the ceramic.

Have at it and happy cooking!

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Traditional New Year’s Day Eats



steamThe New Year is only a day away and it gets me thinking about traditions in food that are supposed to bring about good luck and prosperity in the New Year. A lot of bars in my area will wheel out the dreaded steam table loaded up with pans of black eyed peas, cornbread, and a bunch of whatnot that can be had as the clock strikes midnight. Good luckcornucopia


Traditionally, black eyed peas, and jowl bacon are supposed to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year. I can’t say whether or not this is true, however, I will say a nice pot of black eyed peas, a pan of cornbread and jowl untitledbacon on the side will definitely help the old system recover from an evening of over indulgence, why is this?

I, Smokin’ Steve have an opinion about this. Salt is an hangoverelectrolyte, cornbread has some salt, fat and carbohydrates, the bacon has some salt, fat and protein, and the black eyed peas contain carbohydrates, salt, protein and fat as well. When these foods are eaten while enjoying a refreshing beverage, as in about a half gallon of water, there’s a synergistic effect involving the salt, protein, fat and carbs that will bring some water back into the cell structures of the body. Water rushes into the cells and the intestines literally through osmosis; a very soothing effect hence getting the New Year off to a smokin’ good start.

These dishes can be pretty much prepared the day before so whenever you get up on New Year’s Day all you have to do is put them on the stove or in the slow cooker and in the oven. By the time you feel like eating they’ll be done. The bacon, you can fry up when you get ready to eat.

This will give you a chance to use some of the awesome cookware that you received for Christmas, so I’ll give you a quick down and dirty on these recuperative dishes.

peasFor the black eyed peas, get a pound or so of dry black eyed peas and wash them off keeping an eye out for rocks. Dump these into a pot or slow cooker. Coarsely chop a small onion; red, yellow or white, whatever you have on hand and throw those in as well. Add enough chicken stock or bouillon to cover the peas by a couple of inches. Toss in hocka ham hock or a nice chunk of that jowl bacon and simmer. How long do the black eyed peas need to be simmered; until they’re done. My soon to be hung over friends, simmer the peas until they’re “al dente”; firm with a little give when chewed. Remember, the chicken broth and pork used for seasoning? You know, a ham hock or some bacon? These are complimentary flavors. They accentuate each other, hell I’m serious…

IMAG0134Now for some cornbread if you so desire:

6 tablespoon butter, salted or unsalted melted
1 cup cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs or 3 small eggs beaten
1 ½ cups of White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk
Heat your oven or grill to around 350F to 400F

Mix up all the dry ingredients in one bowl, in another bowl combine the wet ingredients and mix well. Add the wet to the dry and combine very thoroughly, until there are no dry pockets remaining. Grease up an 8×8 Pyrex baking dish, or a similar sized metal pan with lard, even if you use a non-stick pan still grease it with lard, it really imparts a special flavor. Pour the batter into your dish or pan and smooth it out. Bake somewhere between the temperatures listed above and check it at 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t forget to check it with a toothpick or a knife blade, if it comes out clean, it’s done; if the top is brown but the blade comes out just a little wet, take it out of the heat, cover with foil and let it rest for a few minutes, that should finish it off.

Jowl bacon: Now, jowl bacon is meat from the cheek area of the face from ourjowl beloved pig. The meat is cured and smoked in the same fashion as slab bacon, same deal. Now here’s the kicker, with this type of bacon; when purchased unsliced, chances are it will have the hide intact. Most folks call the skin “rind”, watermelon has a rind; critters have skin, or hide. With the hide intact, I would suggest removing this stuff. When fried it becomes especially tough, and there’s no guarantee that all of the hair was removed when the poor thing was processed.

In order to remove the hide, turn the jowl skin side up and with a sharp, narrow blade knife get under the skin, pull the detached hide up with one hand and use the knife to skin the thing. Slice and fry it just like slab bacon. If you can buy this stuff sliced, buy it, it’s worth it, trust me. Hang on to the hide if you do your own slicing as this stuff makes really good seasoning for your black eyed peas, beans and stuff.

Put the sliced product in a freezer bag and freeze, it will keep for quite a while. By the way, if you own a slicer, use it. There you go, that should get you over the hump so to speak, add a nice romaine salad if you want with some of Smokin’ Steve’s Ranch Dressing for a great, recuperative meal.

I hope you have a fun and SAFE New Year’s holiday! DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE; remember there are folks out there just trying to do their business. The cops will be out in full force and if you get caught driving while blind, you were asking for it; shame on you…

I want to thank all who have visited Smokin’ Steve’s Blog this year, and there have been a bunch trust me. I hope you enjoy your visits to this site and continue to stop by when you have time. Thank you for making this a great year, I love you all. Be safe and we will talk very soon!

That’s it for traditional New Year’s Day eats, very simple and very tasty. Remember, if you like rock ‘n roll, check out, where rock lives; for a healthy dose nostalgia and discussion of a bygone era when rock music was fun, and still exhibited the characteristics of independent thought.

I am Smokin’ Steve, take care my friends!



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Smokin’ Steve’s Snack Dip Idea’s for New Year’s Eve


New Year’s Eve is tomorrow. Do you plan on going out or hanging around the hacienda, maybe having some friends over and watching some of these great college football games on the tube? If you’re staying home you’ll probably want some snacks to go along with your beverages of choice.

In regard to snacks what’s your favorite? Some celery and carrot sticks? I thought so, those aren’t mine either yet they do have their place, but that’s another article. They are pretty good the morning after with a big Bloody Mary though… Potato chips and or some manner of cracker will always fit the bill especially with some tasty dip. One of my favorites is onion dip.

If you’re tired of the store bought variety, take a crack at making your own. Homemade onion dip is very quick and easy and I’ll show you how.

This isn’t taking a packet of onion soup mix and dumping it in to a bowl of sour cream; a little higher echelon here, after all you are living the Good Life aren’t you…

Here’s what you need:

1 small yellow or red onion, diced; a dice is a smaller cut than a chop so take your time
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO for you Rachel Ray fans, and there’s nothing wrong with that)
1 cup of sour cream
½ cup of White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt (plain Greek yogurt is interchangeable)
½ cup of mayonnaise
*A nice pinch of kosher salt
*A nice pinch of coarse ground black pepper
*A nice pinch of garlic powder

*These nice pinches work out to about ½ teaspoon of each, you can always add more but you can’t take them out without starting over.

DSC_0208Give a skillet of your choice a nice douse of extra virgin olive oil and get it hot without smoking. Add the diced onion and cook over low heat, stirring often until the onions are caramelized; the sugar in the onion will bring about the caramelization.  Caramelized onions are dark brown and succulent. By the time the onions get very dark and tough or hard, they’re burned.

While the onions are doing their thing you can combine the wet ingredients (mayo,DSC_0215 yogurt and sour cream) along with the seasonings. Pay attention to the onions while they’re browning or they’ll get away from you and burn.

Dump the wet ingredients into a glass bowl and add the seasonings. Break out the whisk and whisk until thoroughly combined. The result should be nice and smooth.

DSC_0217After the onions are caramelized and not burned, remove them from the heat and let them cool for a few minutes.

Once the onions have cooled a bit; they don’t need to get DSC_0218cold, only off the heat for a few minutes; pour off any excess oil and combine the onions with the wet ingredients and seasonings. Here again whisk until combined. Shove the bowl into the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or so.

DSC_0236The dip will thicken up nicely; however, it won’t have the coagulated thickness or appearance of commercial dips. Why? It lacks the commercial thickeners that are used in the process of making that stuff.

This dip will cling to any chip, cracker or finger you feel like sticking in there, and the flavor is outstanding.

Now for a little variety. Serving only potato chips and a finger with some onion dip on it presents kind of a narrow selection for you and your guests. If you plan on having tortilla chips or as well some other Mexican snacks,  a little guacamole just might hit the spot.

This one is really easy and requires no cooking:

4 Ripe Avocado’s: A ripe avocado is firm with a little give; squishy soft is past its prime
1 small yellow or red onion diced
Canned, Jalapeno peppers diced, to taste. The sliced peppers work really well.
A nice pinch of kosher salt to taste
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Garlic powder to taste to taste
Onion powder to taste
Ground cumin to taste
Juice of one lemon or lime, strained

In a bowl combine the kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and ground cumin all to a degree that suits your taste. Don’t be afraid to mix up a decent amount of these ingredients. It’s better to have more than enough, besides you don’t have to add it all at once. This way you can adjust the flavor without having to stop and mix up another batch, or add each individually until you get it where you want it.

JalDice up your jalapeno peppers and onion. Now for the DSC_0206avocados; slice these in half the long way and remove the stone. If the avocado is ripe the stone will simply twist out. Take a spoon and scoop the avocado from the skin. Put the avocado in a bowl and mash it up with a heavy spoon, or if you have a mortar is-nasi-goreng-most-famous-indonesian-dish-L-KY_8WKAvocado_Whole_and_Crossectionand pestle put this device to use. It works great and the mortar makes for a great serving vessel.


Once the avocado is mashed up into a coarse paste add the following: diced onions and peppers, dry ingredients to taste and the lemon or lime juice. Thoroughly combine these components and taste it; since you mixed up a good amount of the dry ingredients simply add more until you get the flavor where you want it.

A hint about the lemon or lime juice; in order to extract more juice, heat the fruit for thirty to forty five seconds in the microwave, give it a firm roll, slice in half (cross way), juice and strain. A lot more juice can be had by warming up the citrus.

Guacamole (avocado) will turn dark due to oxidation once exposed to the open air for a while; the acid in the citrus juice will alleviate this issue as well as provide a tangy layer of flavor.

IMAG0006Simply combine the entire batch of ingredients well, chill and serve. There you have it, Smokin’ Steve’s Guacamole.



There are only a few food items that are better when made commercially versus what you can do at home; at the moment I’m at a loss to name any, well Vegemite maybe…

Try these out, you will not be disappointed.

I am Smokin’ Steve, thanks for stopping by and enjoy your good life! PEACE!

Happy New Year!


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Smokin’ Steve’s Pizza


Tired of those Thanksgiving leftovers yet? I thought so…How about a homemade pizza? It’s still a holiday weekend;  lots of football on the tube yet, live it up man!

I like pizza, and I like it from wherever I can get it. Once in a while I’ll get tired of the commercial stuff, so I’ll make my own. That’s where the Big Green Egg (BGE) once again gets pressed into service.

DSC_0281Pizza baked over a charcoal fire lends it that brick oven flavor. Just fantastic and the flavors are undeniable. The great thing is you don’t need a BGE to make this happen. Any quality grill which will seal fairly well and can maintain a temperature of about 400F for a while, that is large enough to facilitate a pizza stone will work.

Here’s how I do it: First things first; I would definitely recommend a pizza stone. They’re available in various sizes and prices, so use your own judgement, but you can’t go wrong with a stone.

I get these pre-baked pizza crusts, and they come in a variety of thickness. I’ll usually go with a thin one, but use what you like; you’ve seen them at the grocery store so I won’t go into brands. The unbaked crusts that you can get in the biscuit section, those that can be made from a mix, as well as a crust made from scratch are all great; however, I would suggest pre-baking these before adding the toppings, otherwise the crust will get soggy.

Whatever is used, whether a pre-baked model or pre-baking one of the others, prior to adding the toppings whip out a brush and give the crust a nice coating of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on both sides. I like to cover my pizza stone with aluminum foil; I’m not generally a fan of aluminum, however, in this situation some foil over the stone can spare you some clean-up time; besides the acidic ingredients in the sauce shouldn’t come in contact with foil.

After a nice coating of olive oil on both sides, it’s time to give the crust a good dose of sauce. Make your own, or use a quality Italian red sauce or marinara. From a jar, I like the Classico Family Traditional sauce. If using an Alfredo style sauce be aware of the heat, this stuff may burn.

Spread the sauce evenly over the crust and add the ingredients of choice. DSC_0291Personally I like a nice layer of pepperoni followed by a heaping helping of mozzarella and parmesan. At this point I add my veggies. Some red onion, a can of those sliced mushrooms, sliced pepperoncini and sliced olives work for me.

If using the canned mushrooms, some type of canned peppers, olives and what not, break these out a little in advance, toss into a colander and allow to drain for a while, otherwise the crust will get sopping wet; nobody wants that, trust me… After adding the veggies of choice, throw a little more mozzarella on top; I like some cheddar at this point as well, and bake.

DSC_0292When you get your pie assembled, bake at 400F or so; if at a lower temp, bake a little longer, at a higher temp not as long.

With a pre-baked crust (which gives you an advantage) once the cheese is melted without burning, it’s time to take it off the heat. Don’t be afraid to stick a freshly washed digit into your pie. It should beDSC_0309 hot in the middle, if not attempt to scroll down the heat some so as to avoid burning the cheese and leave it on a bit longer.

DSC_0313Whether using a BGE or a grill of choice the result is a pizza with a wood fire flavor which is unmistakable.

This is something I thought you might enjoy while watching football after a hectic but enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

Is it time yet?… I’ll wait.

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Smokin’ Steve’s Yogurt Hack


imagesK1N01NXKIf you read my posts from time to time (if you do, THANK YOU!!!) you might recall that I really like White Mountain Bulgarian Yogurt. I like to use this stuff when I make cornbread,, and potato salad, among other things, besides that I like eating it; by itself, or with some fruit, very good stuff.

This ingredient when used instead of butter milk adds flavor and texture to baked goods that can’t be touched.

This style of yogurt is creamy, very tangy, and is great to use instead of sour cream or buttermilk in recipes. The best thing about this yogurt is that it’s full of live probiotic organisms, especially Acidophilus, Bulgaricus and Thermophilus.

These cultures are great for your stomach and intestinal health; if you’re having regularity issues or have recently had to use a course of antibiotics (which see fit to kill most of the beneficial bacteria in the gut) this stuff will set you straight.

Here’s the bad thing about this product, you can’t get it everywhere; if you live in a rural area like I do, good luck. I buy as much of this yogurt as I can get when I travel to one of the larger metropolitan areas. But I found a way around this inconvenience; I started making my own. I figured this junk is full of live cultures; I should be able to replicate this stuff somehow.

Here’s how I did it; initially I did some research with regard to yogurt making. No, I didn’t run out and buy a yogurt maker, I didn’t need one and you won’t either; besides I hate kitchen tools or appliances that are only good for a specific purpose, they waste money and space.

This method will work with any style of yogurt that you like as long as it is plain; meaning no flavorings what so ever, (flavorings and fruit can be added after the yogurt is made), Greek, Swiss whatever, as long as it’s plain and contains ACTIVE CULTURES. Active cultures, milk and maintenance of a reasonably constant temperature of about 110F for a considerable length of time will allow the little organisms to do their work.

For one quart of yogurt here’s what you’ll need equipment wise:

DSC_0321A sauce pan of around 1 ½ -2 quart capacityDSC_0318

Candy thermometer

1 quart glass jar with a lid; a canning jar will work, an old pickle jar whatever… I recommend glass though.

Some manner of maintaining a temperature close to 110F for a length of time:

Digital Dehydrator

Digital Dehydrator

This can be a crockpot with the ability to control the temperature; a large vacuum flask or a small ice chest with a heating pad; I used a large digital dehydrator.




Now for the ingredients:

Milk: whole or low fat milk will work fine

DSC_0264Yogurt: Must contain active cultures to use as a starter; plain yogurt of any style that you like is fine as long as it’s unflavored and alive.



The method:

Add just shy of one quart of milk to a sauce pan and heat it over low heat, using the DSC_0263candy thermometer monitor the temperature until it reaches 180F. Stir occasionally to keep the skin from forming. Once 180F is attained remove from the heat. In using the thermometer make sure the bulb is not resting on the bottom of the pan or you’ll get a reading that is influenced by the heat source. These things usually have a clip that will allow you to attach it to the side of the pan, in turn letting you adjust the depth of the thermometer into the substance being monitored.

After removing from the heat I pour the milk into the jar. Using the thermometer I’ll DSC_0258monitor the temp of the milk until it gets down to about 110F. Once 110F is achieved it’s safe to add the yogurt to get the whole process going. Adding the live yogurt at a milk temperature that’s too high will kill the live cultures.

After a temperature of about 110F is attained, add about five or six tablespoons of the live yogurt to the milk in the jar, put the lid on and shake well to combine the cultures and the warm milk.

DSC_0271Here’s the tricky part; you need some way to keep this stuff at roughly 110F for anywhere from six to twenty four hours, without wild fluctuations in temperature. This is where you may have to get inventive.  I used a Cabela’s digital food dehydrator. With this fine piece of equipment I was able to set the temperature and running time digitally which made it really easy.

What if you don’t have this luxury? I would recommend a crockpot or an oven you can set really low. If using a crockpot, wrap the sealed jar in a towel and place it in the crockpot. Toss in the candy thermometer so you can keep an eye on the temperature.  If you have an oven that can be set really low, set it at 110F and leave it alone. If neither of these options is available get a small ice chest and a heating pad. Wrap the jar with a towel and again with the heating pad and set the temperature accordingly. Once again throw in the thermometer and try to maintain a temp of 110F; you may have to tinker with the temperature control a little bit, but this method will work. The vacuum flask method I wouldn’t trust… That’s just me.

Leave the developing yogurt at the 110F level for anywhere from six to twenty four hours. The longer is stays at this temperature the thicker and tangier the yogurt will get.

Finished Product

Finished Product

The yogurt will develop after six or seven hours at 110F; start tasting it and when it reaches a flavor and consistency that you like it’s done. I prefer mine fairly thick and tangy so I go for the longer time settings.  Flavorings can be added after it reaches the taste and consistency that you’re after; just save a few tablespoons of the unflavored batch for your next effort.

Here’s the great thing, a one quart container of live yogurtDSC_0270 will make ten quarts of homemade yogurt. The math being as follows: 16 tablespoons=1 cup; 1 quart=64 tablespoons (4×16=64). Six tablespoons of live yogurt per batch will work into roughly ten quarts of homemade yogurt. This process can be repeated with the yogurt that you make following the procedure above, however, after time, like sourdough starter it will begin to wear out. Nothing lasts forever…

There you have it; great homemade yogurt and you won’t even need a Yak stomach for the process; I know, those things are hard to come by.

This is a fun process and you can really save a few bucks on yogurt purchases. A true example of the concept of compounding: taking a little bit of something and multiplying the outcome exponentially.

Try this out, you’ll be surprised! Thanks for stopping by and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

I am Smokin’ Steve; PEACE!


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Smokin’ Steve’s Sample Thanksgiving Menu


Below is a sample menu for a more or less “traditional” Thanksgiving meal. This menu is composed of selections that are overall relatively simple, quick for the most part and really flavorful. These items have served me well, and they’ll do the same for you, trust me. When used in combination with the advice given in the Cooking for Events article ( you can advance with your prowess in the kitchen.

Like Cooking for Events, this sample menu is meant to be used as a guide that you can either use in its entirety or take apart and use as you see fit, they are both something that can be referred to for years to come; guidelines are simply tools to be used as needed.

So here we go:

TURKEY: First, a word or two about turkey; chances are you’ll buy a nice frozen 8203749325_becf3eaca8_mturkey of suitable size and the thing will be as solid as a rock. You’ve got to thaw this thing out. You really have two choices so as not to make the entire crowd as sick as dogs; thaw it out in the icebox, this method is best but it takes forever. You’ll need to start the thawing process several days in advance. The other method is using COLD water. The water method will pretty much take care of it over several hours, the catch is you must change the water every so often to keep it cold. NEVER, NEVER thaw at room temperature. The deal here is the skin will thaw first, and the meat in layers; the slightly warmer skin and the gap between the skin and the meat sets up a prime environment for holiday killing bacteria. I advise use of one of the methods I’ve mentioned above.

SMOKED TURKEY: The key to flavorful and moist smoked turkey is brining. Here’s where another ice chest comes in handy. Get a container, I prefer an ice chest, (prior to use, sanitize the container with soap, water and bleach then rinse it out) and fill with enough COLD water to cover the bird. Now before sinking the turkey in the water, make a brine. Using kosher salt, (kosher salt with soy sauce works great as well) salt the water until it’s only slightly salty. Anything more than that will lead to a heavily salted bird.

Next add something for a hint of sweetness. Use dark brown sugar, molasses or real maple syrup (be forewarned maple syrup is expensive). This will allow for a nice sweet and salty combination. It will also give your bird that beloved brown color and a faintly crispy skin, which conceals a tasty, and moist turkey. You may need to add a little more salt once you add the sweetener just don’t go over- board. Sink your bird in the brine and add ice. Adding ice will of course help to keep the bird cold; chances are you’ll have to add ice a couple of times during the brining process depending on the container. Brine the turkey overnight.

Aromatics for the Cavity

Aromatics for the Cavity

It’s time to smoke the turkey; while the fire is getting up to temperature remove the bird from the brine. Let it drain well, and while it’s doing that chunk up an onion, red onions work great (they’re generally fairly sweet), and cut an orange and a lemon into chunks. Season the cavity of the turkey with salt and pepper, and likewise the citrus and onion. Leave the peel on the orange and lemon, the salt and pepper will bring out a lot of juice, and cause the peel to give up some of its essential oil. Stuff the cavity with the citrus and onions. A decent amount of flavor enhancement can be had with the use of these aromatics during the smoking process.

Smoking: I like to smoke turkey at 300F for about 20-25 minutes per pound. Do the math for the sized turkey that you have, and build your fire and smoke accordingly allowing enough time to do it right. The bird is done when an internal temperature of 165F is reached. At this point you’ll notice that the juices will run clear with no hint of red or pink.


Build a fire that is sturdy enough to last the entire process without having to add charcoal, interruption of the smoking to add charcoal will mess up your FLOW.

Smoke over indirect heat, as the drippings will surely cause the fire to flare up, in turn burning your bird, a drip pan works well here. I like to use a combination of lump charcoal and briquettes for flavor, heat, and a lasting fire. Smoke with the wood of your choice, soak the wood in water for a while, which will cause it to give up its smoke.

Chunk of Hickory Added

Chunk of Hickory Added

Brined Turkey, Ready to Smoke

Brined Turkey, Ready to Smoke

Blackjack, oak, hickory, pecan, apple or cherry are all great woods to smoke with. I avoid mesquite at all costs because this stuff tends burn very hot and if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up with a fire that gets away from you. You won’t need to add any additional wood; one nice chunk will do the trick, as the turkey will take on most of its smokiness in the initial stages of cooking. There’s no need to keep a heavy smoke going throughout the entire cooking process, in doing so will give the bird a bitter and acrid flavor. A little goes a long way.

Once the desired internal temperature is reached remove the turkey from the smoker and let it rest a few minutes before carving, this will allow the juices to redistribute.

If not serving directly, tent with foil and put into an ice chest. It will remain nicely hot until time to serve, provided you don’t wait too long.

*If roasting the turkey in the oven, use the temperature and cooking time per pound as stated above until the safe internal temperature is achieved.*

Now while your turkey is smoking, it’s time to work on side dishes:

Mashed Potatoes: Peel the potatoes (russet potatoes are probably the best for mashed potatoes) the night before and store in the icebox in some water until needed. The day of cooking boil them until they get tender without falling apart. Now mash up the whole works. Add REAL butter, and sour cream to taste. Now break out the hand mixer and mix until fairly smooth. Once finished, put them in their serving vessel cover with foil and put in an ice chest.

Green Bean Casserole: Again the night before, using frozen or canned green beans (frozen are best, however, if using canned be sure to drain them completely) add about four cups worth to a casserole dish, in a separate bowl mix up a half cup of milk and a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Pour the soup mixture over the beans. Stir in half a container of those French fried onions. Add kosher salt, onion powder and pepper to taste, topping off with the remaining fried onions. Bake the whole works at 350F for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly. Once these are done remove from the heat, cover with foil, and store in an ice chest.

Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes:  The night before, get three pounds or so of sweet potatoes, peel and boil over medium heat until tender, just not overly so and store in the fridge, storing in water is not required for these. This amount of sweet potatoes will be plenty for this dish and a pie as well. The day of cooking slice up the amount of sweet potatoes needed crosswise into pieces a couple of inches thick put them in a baking dish( two or three sweet potatoes will probably do the trick). In a sauce pan add about 1/3 of a cup of real maple syrup and three or four tablespoons of butter. Heat this until it starts to bubble. Pour this mixture over the sweet potatoes and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Bake at 350F for 5 to 7 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cover with foil and put in the ice chest.

Cole Slaw: Buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage or cole slaw, you know what DSC_0093I’m talking about. Very thinly slice some red onion and add the onion to the slaw. Now it’s time for the dressing:

Cream slaw: In a blender add about a cup of mayonnaise, half cup of sour cream and a half cup of white vinegar and blend all of this up. Now add sugar to taste, along with a pinch of kosher salt; the goal being a creamy, tangy and slightly sweet dressing. Put the slaw and onion mix into a sealable gallon bag and add the dressing, make sure the works are mixed well, and store in the icebox. Do all of this the night before. The next day the slaw will be very runny, as the dressing will leach a lot of juice from the cabbage. Just drain off the excess dressing, mix it up and serve.

DSC_0096Southern Style Slaw ( Use the same slaw mixture as above, however, the dressing for this style of slaw goes as follows:

1 cup of white vinegar
½ cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
Pinch of kosher salt-to taste
Pinch of coarse ground black pepper-to taste

Toss these ingredients into a *non-aluminum pan* and get it warm. Break out the whisk and whisk until the sugar is dissolved; adjust the seasonings to suit your taste.

*Remember aluminum combined with salty and or acidic ingredients has the potential for a nasty reaction. You DON’T want this trust me, so don’t mess around with it. Use stainless steel or heat safe glass.*

Once again throw the slaw mix into a sealable gallon bag, add the dressing and refrigerate overnight.

As with the cream slaw, the ingredients in the dressing will draw quite a bit of juice from the slaw mix, simply drain off the excess and there you have it.

Cornbread Dressing: Using Smokin’ Steve’s Cornbread recipe and here’s a link for that, just scroll until you find it or use a mix if you like.

This one kind of begs for a recipe so here you go; again this can be prepared the night before:

4 cups crumbled cornbread
¼ cup finely chopped celery
1 small onion finely chopped
1 ½ table spoons of poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup salted butter, melted
1 egg beaten
2-3 cups chicken broth, I recommend the broth be made with Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (no I don’t get a residual for recommending this stuff, it happens to have great flavor and works best for me).

Saute the onions and celery in a pan with the melted butter. In a mixing bowl combine all of the other ingredients except the broth. When adding the onions and celery, add them along with the melted butter that was used for sautéing to the cornbread mix. Just let it cool a bit before adding to the other ingredients so as not to cook the egg. Mix all of this stuff up well and put it into preferably a Pyrex or oven safe glass dish then add the broth to the desired degree of wetness. Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes or until a nice crust develops on the top, cover with foil and put in the ice chest. Again, prepare this dish the day before and all you have to do is bake it. The unbaked ingredients will meld overnight and really complement each other in the finished product.

Gravy: In a sauce pan heat up a couple of cups of water, add several teaspoons of the Better than Bouillon Chicken Base to taste. Bring to a light boil. In another bowl mix up an ample amount of cornstarch and water; mix this solution until it is thoroughly combined without any lumps. Take the cornstarch and water and drizzle into the simmering chicken soup base, stirring continuously. The broth will begin to thicken and take on a silky texture. Add the corn starch mixture until the desired consistency is achieved, just remember the more you add the thicker it gets. There you go, gravy. Make the gravy the day of cooking and serving, it takes only a few minutes to make it fresh.

Bread: Cornbread is nice, or some quality heat and serve rolls work well too. IMAG0134Avoidance of baking yeast bread will relieve some of the stress. Here’s the link to the cornbread, just scroll until you find it. Remember to make enough corn bread in separate dishes to facilitate the dressing, and a batch for the bread component of the meal.

Whisky Cranberry Sauce: It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce right? I like mine with whisky, and after all this cooking some shots are called for; some for me and some for the cranberries, a win/win situation! Here goes:

1 pound (about 4 cups) cranberries
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup whisky

Once again this dish will utilize a 350°F oven. Combine the first 3 ingredients in a 9×13-inch Pyrex or oven safe glass baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake until cranberries are tender and sugar is dissolved, stirring once, this usually takes about an hour. Remove from the oven and stir in the whisky. Refrigerate the cranberry sauce until it’s well chilled. (This stuff can be prepared 1 week ahead.) Transfer to a nice bowl and serve. Just awesome, trust me!   

Sweet Potato Pie: You just gotta have desert after a meal like this, and sweet potato pie will fill the bill, take the following:

1/3 cup of salted butter, softened
½ cup of sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
¾ cup of evaporated milk
2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon of quality vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon of kosher salt

In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Now add the evaporated milk, sweet potatoes, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt; mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pie shell. Again, this can be made the day before and all you have to do is bake it. Bake the pie at 350F for 35 to 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Store in the icebox until dinner time, take it out of the fridge and let stand at room temperature until serving time, this will knock just a little bit of the chill off of it.

There you have it, everything for an outstanding Thanksgiving feast. The great thing is, all of the stuff that requires baking will bake at the same temperature so if your oven is big enough they can be baked concurrently, they just get removed at different times. The stuff when done goes into the ice chests where it gets covered with foil and a towel, and it will remain hot until the turkey is done, and the whole thing is ready to serve.



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Cooking for Events




It happens every year when some holiday rolls around. Eventually we’re faced with feeding a crowd larger than our immediate family. The events can be the holiday meal itself, cooking as a charitable contribution or for the folks at work, whatever. It’s amazing when we move out of the comfort zone how our logistical shortcomings can really be exposed.

You know the feeling; faced with a challenge of this sort the old saying of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” has new meaning. It’s a lot easier when it’s applied to someone else. Face it, people are judgmental and they will talk. Don’t let that scare you, I’m going to give you some tips to help you improve your logistical skills, and gain a heaping helping of self-confidence along the way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been involved in events and somebody will volunteer to handle a certain portion of the tasking’s and they don’t deliver. It usually happens with events that involve some manner of barbecue offerings. You know the drill; people at work are always popping off about their prowess with fire and smoke, which yield mouthwatering meaty delicacies. It never fails, these folks will say “I’ll smoke a brisket and bring that”, when the time comes, they show up with some heat and eat from Wal-Mart.

Here’s what happens; everyone seeks approval, so they’ll throw their mouth into gear without getting their brain running. A day before they need to show up with food that is hot and palatable, the notion suddenly hits them that this is a chore they’re not mentally or logistically prepared for. We’re going to avoid this error; yes the first time may get a bit dicey, but you’ll pull it off, and impress everyone around you. They won’t say anything, but I guarantee if you mess it up they’ll say something, most likely to someone else.

The neat thing is every time you take on one of these tasking’s you’ll get better at it. The procedure will get easier and the whole thing will slow down for you, the result is much better food and a much easier time fulfilling your commitment.

You’ll most likely have to put in some overtime, maybe even lose some sleep, but you know what? It doesn’t happen every day, and the pay-off is a feeling that is beyond compare, not to mention the increase in skills and knowledge these opportunities provide! It’s worth it. You can do it, and pull it off with ease without getting overly stressed. Too much stress ruins the moment for you, as you know all too well.

This will be geared toward doing an entire meal, all of the dishes. This is suitable for major holidays, and other events as well, just apply what you need to what you’re going to provide. A piece of cake! No, really it is…

These events take on about five phases in my mind, planning, shopping, preparation, cooking, and serving. The process is about a four day endeavor, spread it out though; a day for planning, shopping one day, preparation the day prior and cooking and serving the same day. Timing is of the essence; nothing is more impressive than showing up with hot food, and not having to press a microwave into service except on a limited basis, if at all. The key is to prepare everything you can the day or night before.

planHAVE A PLAN: A week or so out is a good time to start planning; not so far out the event loses its urgency and not cutting it so close you don’t have time to follow through with the plan. Take into consideration how many people you‘re going to feed, and devise a menu. Don’t be afraid to do some research with regard to portion sizes, and prep/cooking time for the respective dishes you plan on doing. Cover all the bases; you know meat, side dishes, bread and some manner of desert, even if it’s just ice cream, and you can’t go wrong with ice cream, trust me.

Now about the menu, keep the number of dishes and their degree of difficulty to a manageable level. Don’t skimp, but less is kind of more; it’s better to have fewer dishes that are of high quality and prepared well than too many that wind up being half-assed; it shows.

When I say devise a menu, I mean WRITE IT DOWN. Put it on paper, or better yet make a folder on your computer, store your menu there. That way you have it for future reference as well as being able to print it out. A print copy is ideal; it’s portable and who cares if you get stuff all over it. A little bit of synergy takes place when you commit something to paper, it becomes real and tangible; a living document.

800px-Waiting_in_line_at_a_food_storeDO THE SHOPPING: Next of course is doing your shopping. It’s easier for me if I devote a trip to the store solely for the event at hand. That way I’m not thinking about buying stuff to stock up the house. I’ll do my shopping a day or two prior to the day devoted for preparation. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of preparing a dish, and realizing that you don’t have something on hand, which leads to having to stop, go to the store and all of that; this throws off the timing and in turn, that takes you out of THE FLOW.

When you go shopping, use a list, a detailed list. Don’t try to be a Jedi listemploying mind tricks to remember this stuff, you’ll forget something, trust me. A word about lists; make your list a day or so before you do your shopping, just like anything that is written, chances are some slight revisions will be made prior to your trip to the grocery store jungle. When to shop? No more than two days before, if possible a day before preparation is ideal. This reduces storage requirements and of course your goodies are as fresh as can be.

PREPARATION: Take any pains, measures or whatever necessary to do all preparation possible the day or night before cooking and serving. Again, make sure all of your supplies have been purchased and are on hand. This simple bit of planning and execution will greatly reduce the stress that is inherent with the cooking and serving day.

Besides if something goes awry you have a little bit of reaction time to either fix it, make it again, or do something else. Most, if not all of the prep work for side dishes can be done the day before; meats can be seasoned, marinated or brined, potatoes can be peeled and stored in cold water, salads can be made, vegetables can be made ready, casserole type dishes fixed all the way short of baking, as well as deserts, hot or cold, all stored in the icebox until it’s time to cook and serve.

$$NOTE$$: I mentioned earlier that if you are doing the entire meal, some manner of bread is obligatory. A word to the wise; unless you are IMAG0134especially adept at baking, keep it simple; corn bread is good, it’s easy, cheap, and if you mess it up, there isn’t a bunch of time and resources invested in a failed project, and corn bread goes with about anything; or buy some QUALITY heat and serve rolls or loaves. The same goes with deserts, especially those that require baking. Again, keep it simple, cobblers are easy and once again go with anything. Pies are easy too, the deal with pies is it’s generally not the filling that provides all the headaches, it’s the crust. Buy a QUALITY pre-made or frozen pie crust; frozen is better. Just fill it with something tasty and simple and bake accordingly.

COOKING AND SERVING: Since you’ve done all the prep work that can be done the day before, it’s time to cook. You’ve relieved yourself from a lot of the stress, anxiety and that terrible rushed feeling that never fails to lead to an inferior outcome. Depending on the serving time, start with ample time where all the menu items can pretty much be finished at the same time, one dish after the other. If you are smoking meat, or something that requires some significant time, use the backward planning principle and think back.

Suppose, I want to serve this stuff at 2:00 PM, and this meat will take approximately eight hours to smoke properly, I had better get the meat on no later than 5:30 AM. So I need to get up at 3:30 or 4:00 AM, get myself together, and start my fire no later than 4:30 AM. This allows an hour for the fire to get up to speed which you probably won’t need all of, if not it provides a little padding. Now add you’re travel time and back up from there. This is where ice chests come in.

It’s easy, yeah you may have to get up very early, or stay up really late the night before, and yes you’ll be tired but the rewards are something that money can’t buy. Money is great, but it can’t buy THE FLOW, or the overwhelming feeling of SUCCESS!

Now as your dishes begin to get done, you’ll naturally want to serve themchest hot, you may be travelling to some location outside of the home, what to do and still keep this stuff hot? Two words ICE CHESTS. Yep ice chests, procure two or three QUALITY ice chests of decent size, even cheap Styrofoam numbers will work in a pinch.

Anyway, these things are of course insulated, but to increase the insulation value, line the bottom with a nice thick towel, set your containers of hot food accordingly. Layer the dishes; cover with a towel on top, and start another layer over bottom layer that is if you have room, if not, break out another ice chest. Cover the top layer with a towel, and close the chest.

The hot dishes will serve to keep each other nice and hot, the towels provide insulation, and the ice chests one again provide insulation as well as facilitating easy movement and transport.

There you have it folks, Smokin’ Steve’s primer for cooking for the holidays and other events and pulling it off, while making your-self look like you know what you are doing, because you do!

These methods will work for you every time, trust me, and your food will be hot and tasty. The goal here is to have a successful meal, all the while in as much of a stress free of environment as possible. You’ll be surprised, once things begin to go your way, and you see some minor victories, you will get in to THE FLOW. The flow is an entire article in and of itself, but you’ll know it when you get it in to it.

Thank you folks for opportunity to provide this information and I hope it serves you well, with a goal and outcome of eliminating as much stress as possible and allowing you, the cook to enjoy the event as well.

I will provide a sample Thanksgiving menu that is fairly easy and will allow you to put into practice the methods in this article.

Don’t forget your rock ‘n’roll fix at .

I am Smokin’ Steve and I am out, PEACE!


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